Peace

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

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Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

Pursuing Peace without Man-Pleasing

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing?

  • Recognize that pleasing God is your most important priority. This takes the pressure off of other relationships.
  • Enjoy the fact that you will ultimately be judged by God, not men. But let this put the fear of God into you too. Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
  • Remember that you aren't the ultimate judge of others and that your conscience or judgment could be wrong.
  • Recognize that God has established a natural hierarchy of relationships for you (spouse, children, immediate family, church, friends, etc.).
  • Remember that truly loving others means that you are opposed to anything that would threaten their good. This means you don't agree to things that are against God's revealed will, against God's design, or against your conscience.
  • Seek to have a pleasant disposition that is gracious toward others. When you disagree, don't do it in a way that stirs up unnecessary strife. We've all been around people who agree with us in a way that makes us want to distance ourselves from them.
  • When you disagree, agree to disagree. Do this in a way that recognizes the disagreement clearly (don't give a false impression) but charitably (speaking the truth in love).
  • Be quick to forgive. Colossians 3:13 Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

 

When Finding Peace Is a Battle

What do we do when it feels like we're trusting God, yet we still feel like we don't have peace? Our anchor for peace is what is taught in Isaiah 26:3-4 and elsewhere: subjective peace requires reliance on God. But what happens when we are asking God for faith to rest in Him, and we still don't seem to be enjoying peace? What do you do when the battle for peace doesn't seem to work?

First, we must never lose our anchor.

We often take our eyes off of God and focus them on our problems. This results in frustration and turmoil. God, our Everlasting Rock, hasn't changed, but our thinking is more informed by our circumstances than our relationship with God. So, look to Jesus, run to God in faith, asking Him for grace to trust Him and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Second, we must never blame our circumstances.

Circumstances are not an excuse for our failure to trust God. It is my fault because I fail to trust God. Sin around us cannot be an excuse for our lack of peace. Think about Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. Their circumstances couldn't have been much worse, yet they were singing hymns to God. What is your response when you face difficult circumstances? Do you rest in God, or do you take your eyes off of the Savior?

So … we can't lose our anchor or blame our circumstances. But living at peace with others in this world still requires great wisdom. It is possible to enjoy peace with God, yet not enjoy peace with all men. What do we do at those times?

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul teaches believers that we should pursue peace with everyone with great effort. The point is that being at peace with others requires intentional focus. As much as it up to us, we ought to be at peace with others.

What the New Testament says here, it also says elsewhere. Consider the following passages:

  • Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
    • Paul is referring to something more than a casual nod of the head. He means that having peace with others requires intentional focused effort.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    • The eagerness in verse 3 has the idea of expending every effort. We should exercise ourselves toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should give our best effort and be diligent in the pursuit of peace.
  • Hebrews 12:14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
    • “Strive” is the same word for “pursue” in Romans 14:19. It is used negatively to speak of persecution–in other words, persecutors, pursue or chase after believers. We should chase after peace with great zeal.

How do we live at peace with everyone, without getting into man-pleasing? We'll consider that question in the next post.

Self-Assessment for Peace

Isaiah 26:3-4 teaches that we can enjoy peace by resting on God. But how do you know if you actually have peace?

You might not be resting in God if…

  • You worry a lot.
  • You view yourself as a victim of your circumstances, rather than a child of God radically loved by God.
  • You think about your problems more than you talk to God about them.
  • You talk to others about your problems more than you talk to God about them.
  • You struggle to sleep at night because you can't stop thinking about your problems.
  • You try to manipulate situations, rather than trusting God's care for you.
  • Your view of the people around you is big, and your view of God is small (i.e., thinking about people in relation to your problems more than you think about God in relation to your problems).
  • People ask you what's wrong, and you didn't even realize your feelings were showing.
  • You are always believing that other people have it better, that your life is harder than average.
  • You find yourself irritable and impatient, when there is very little provoking you.

If you find yourself in need of peace, what can you do to get peace?

  • Ask God for grace to trust Him more. “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
  • Read and meditate on God's Word, focusing on the person and work of God. Ask yourself what you're doubting about God's character.
  • Stop. Listen to God and His Word, pleading with Him for faith. Psalm 62:8 Pour out your heart before the Lord; God is a refuge for us.

 

Benefits of Peace

Resting on God brings peace to God's children. What are the benefits of peace?

Peace doesn't mean that life will be easy, that God will make us rich and give us an easy life. It does mean that in the midst of life, God will be actively caring for us. The blessing of peace includes the benefit of God's intense care and guarding. Paul talks about the peace of God this way: Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. God guards His people with peace. When you are weary and want to give up, trust in the Lord who guards your heart and mind with His peace.

God ordains peace and acts for His people, working in our behalf. How can we see God acting for His people? The greatest evidence of this is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ–bearing our sins in His body on the tree, intervening between God's wrath and God's people. As we act, relying on God, He is actively working in us and through us. In the book of Hebrews, Christ sat down, after He accomplished the atonement for our sins. We rest in God, complete in Christ, who has credited all of His good works to us. But there are other ways that God actively cares for His people.

What does it mean for God to care for and act for us?

  • Child-rearing – we seek to raise our children faithfully, but make mistakes; God is working for us; perhaps you have a child who has left your home, turned his back on God, and now all you can do is pray.
  • Sharing the gospel – we share it in our feeble way, and God acts for us.
  • Difficult situation at work – we try to resolve an unresolvable situation; God gives us grace to persevere.
  • Peace in marital relationship – as we trust the Lord, He will act for us, bringing peace in ways that we never anticipated.
  • Peace when we're afraid – as we rest in the Lord, He will guard us, acting as our protector.
  • Peace for the single person – as you wonder when God will bring a spouse and are tempted to trust in that one, to trust in that wedding day, God will be your peace; you are complete in Christ.
  • Decision making – we are finite and imperfect and will make many wrong decisions, humanly speaking; yet, in the midst of those, God is there, working in our behalf, sanctifying us, acting for His people.

 

Obstacles to Peace

We can enjoy peace by resting on God. But what about the times we don't have peace? What keeps us from enjoying true peace? To what sorts of things do we look for peace, other than to God Himself?

Alternative sources of peace:

  • Addiction: we may use sexual addiction, drunkenness, or drug addiction as a means of temporarily forgetting about life's troubles.
  • Distraction: some of us lose ourselves in music, movies, video games, or other entertainment.
  • Workaholism: we may work ourselves to the bone, trying to forget about the rest of the noise in our life.
  • Family: family relationships–a very good thing–can be a way of escaping from heartache around us. Our society is more frenetic than it's ever been, and we use the pace of life as a way of escaping.
  • Busyness: some live life so busy that we don't have time to stop and think about our problems?

Even when we don't “create” other sources of peace, we often lack peace. What gets in the way of our peace?

Obstacles to peace:

  • Lack of faith/trust in God (child)
  • Failure to obey God in areas that are clear
  • Harbored secret sin
  • Conflict with others
  • Replacing trust in God with trust in men

Any time we replace our trust in the Lord with reliance on men, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Have you replaced God, the Everlasting Rock, with little human rocks? Human leaders will fail, whether they are leaders in the political arena or in your local church or in your family. If you're a parent, you know the taste of failure quite well.

Saying that leaders fail isn't a defense of failure and sin or saying that human leadership shouldn't be held accountable. They should be. The fact that we should be enjoying peace isn't an excuse for human leaders, meaning they can get away with what they want, since we should be experiencing feelings of peace and harmony. However, if human failure is shaking your confidence in God, then you've got your confidence in the wrong place. You're not leaning on God; you're leaning on your own understanding and on the people around you. Leaders are accountable to God and before God, and you stand accountable before God too.

God is the source of our peace, and the way to peace is trust and reliance on Him. The result of that should be a sense of rest before God and a sense of rest in our place in the world. Perfect peace is God's gift to those who rest on Him. The leaning into, the resting is passive. In other words, God works in our behalf as we rest in Him. It's sort of like needing surgery–it's something you have done, but it's something that you rest in the power of another to accomplish.

Do you know peace in God? Peace is a gift from God for those who trust in Him.

 

Peace in a Noisy World

We live in a world full of noise. When was the last time you stopped for a moment…just to listen? No music, no headphones, no filling the space with artificial noise–just taking a moment to listen.

There's nothing inherently wrong with noise, but turmoil around us often results in frustration in us. Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the noise of life? What do we use to shut out noise? Typically, we create more noise–like music, video games, or a movie. In a world like that, what can we do to enjoy true peace?

Objective peace with God comes through Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. True peace cannot come through an inner fight for peace or through the offering of imperfect good works to God. God brings peace to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, His eternal Son.

This objective, external peace between sinners and God that can be accomplished only through the blood of Jesus. But there's also a subjective peace with God that God's redeemed people can experience as we grow in our trust of Him. What about when God's children struggle to find subjective peace? How do we find it? Isaiah 26:3 gives us the answer: we can enjoy peace by resting on God. Isaiah 26:3-4 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

God keeps us in peace. Peace is something we can and should fight for, but it is ultimately something God brings, not something we can produce ourselves. Our battle for peace is not so much a battle for peace as it is a battle for faith in the true God. As we trust in the Lord, He brings peace.