Monday, February 27, 2012

Be a Peacemaker….Cause an Uproar!

The fifth chapter of the book of Matthew records what is traditionally referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount”. Contained in this discourse is what is known as the       “Be-attitudes” (emphasis mine). Jesus lays out a blue print for us here to build upon if we wish to be blessed. Today, I want to focus in on the final Beatitude; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

One can imagine that the role of a peacemaker is both an admirable and a challenging one. Throughout history, we have seen individuals who have brokered peace agreements between warring parties. These men and women have received praise and been held in high esteem as the results of their efforts. Now they may even be awarded special honors such as the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their accomplishments. Is this what Jesus had in mind? I don’t think so.

Isaiah 9:6 refers to Jesus as “the Prince of Peace”. That being said, we can easily consider Him an expert in this matter. As the foremost authority on the subject of peace, Jesus had some thought provoking, and at first glance, seemingly contradictory things to say about this.

Speaking in Luke 12:51, Jesus said: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No I tell you, but division.” He went on in the next two verses to describe how He would be a source of contention and dispute that would penetrate all the way down on a family level, separating fathers and sons, mothers and daughters and so forth. Speaking again in Matthew 10:34, Jesus stated: “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” I don’t know about you, but these kinds of words make me squirm in my seat. I’m not sure I like the sound of this.

What seems contradictory appears in Jesus’ statement in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.” Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? On the surface it may look that way. Let’s did a little deeper and find some answers and possibly some “peace”.

Throughout the books of the Old Testament, a picture of the coming Messiah was developed. Messiah would come and free the Jewish people from captivity. He would restore them to their land, give them payback for their losses, subdue and punish their enemies. This is true, and this aspect of Messiah’s appearance has yet to be fulfilled. There is another portrait of Messiah which is neither grand nor glorious. It is the exact opposite. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah contains one of the most comprehensive descriptions of Messiah as the “suffering servant” and the “man of sorrows”, who would be rejected by His own despite the sacrifice He would make. These two different descriptions are polar opposites of each other and the rabbinical teachers could not reconcile the two. To relieve the tension, the prevailing teaching was this; the “suffering servant” is a description of the nation of Israel. Now the concept that Messiah would come as conquering hero was retained and became the expectation of the Jewish people right up to this point in time. Leave it to Jesus to stick a pin in that balloon.

When Jesus said that He was not coming to bring “peace on earth”, He was stating, that at that point in history, He was not coming to establish His Kingdom here on earth. He probably ruffled a few feathers when He did not take a stand politically against Rome, and even admonished the people to pay their taxes. Our IRS agents would be considered cookie pushers compared to the tax collectors of that time. On one occasion we know that Jesus purposely removed Himself from a situation because He knew there would be an attempt made to make His a king. Some bible scholars believe that the real reason Judas betrayed Jesus was to force the Lord to establish His Kingdom. Jesus did say he would bring a sword, but it was not like the weapon of that day. While He did not come to instigate the revolution that so many were looking and longing for – He did turn the whole world upside down and radically change the course of history.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, which means, nothing missing and nothing broken. If this type of peace was in full force in all of our lives, there would be no need for cease fires, truces and treaties. Jesus was talking about receiving a quality of life where every area in our life that had experienced brokenness would be repaired. Anything missing would be replaced. An individual could be made completely whole in every area of their life: spirit, soul and body. This would not happen automatically. When Jesus talked about “bringing” peace in Matthew 10:34, bringing has the connotation of throwing something out without caring where it fell. Peace was not going to be scattered around like “pixie dust” (although it would be much easier if it was). Repairing a broken object takes work; finding a missing piece or part takes time and effort. Both are worth whatever we spend in order to get the job accomplished. This is the role of the peacemaker.

Did you say you are not qualified; you lack the necessary skills needed? Not a problem. There is no reason to feel compelled to “fix the world”. There are three people that you can spend the rest of your life working with who will provide you with more than enough practice. Let me introduce you to: me, myself and I!

Working through the peace process in our lives can be very far from calm and soothing. It can be uncomfortable and even painful at times. Jesus never subscribed to the band aid method of wound treatment. He is always about opening it up, cleaning out all the junk, dressing it and nursing it back to complete health. There may be a scar. There may not. Either way, the crippling effect of the injury will be gone, and healing will have come. As we allow Him to pinpoint areas in our lives where we are lacking peace, and follow his prescribed treatment, our lives will dramatically change. Our circumstances may or may not improve: they may even become more difficult and trying. No matter what happens, we are now operating on a higher level of stability and calm that we have not experienced before. We become more and more peaceful.

We may be surprised to find that this puts us in an excellent position to help others who are working through their “stuff”. We can afford to be more patient with those who do not even realize that they have “stuff”. We understand, we have been there. We are relieved of the need to jump in and fix things. We can go the extra mile to smooth things out on the surface, temporarily. This is not an attempt to sidestep conflict or to avoid making waves. The purpose is to build a foundation for future resolution. If and when the time comes, we can help that person through their peace process.

Will pursuing peace always be smooth sailing and all pie-in-the-sky? Probably not. Can it get messy and unpleasant? More than likely. Will it ruffle some feathers, cause misunderstandings and even hurt some feelings – probably. After all, Jesus expected those same reactions and a got them. That never stopped Him; don’t let it stop you. Be a peacemaker – cause an uproar! You will be blessed and be a child of God.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dear Prudence, Won’t You Come Out to Play

Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all your thy getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

I wisdom dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.
Proverbs 8:12

As I write this the words from an old Rod Stewart song, which are so appropriate for this post, come to mind.

“I sincerely believed I was so complete. Look how wrong you can be”.

It is possible to find kernels of truth in the most unusual places and at the most opportune times.

Proverbs 4:7 states “Wisdom is the principle thing”, therefore, getting wisdom should be the most important undertaking of our lives. Early on in my Christian walk, I decided to make this my endeavor. I wanted to learn everything I could about God and the Bible. My goal was to be a walking, talking vault of knowledge, possessing a plethora of facts from important details to seemingly trivial minutia. I approached gaining wisdom as an intellectual pursuit, not necessarily learning truth that could change my life. I wanted to be a “Bible scholar”. Pardon me as I stick my finger down my throat and gag at this thought. Feel free to participate if you wish. Somehow I developed the idea that acquiring more and more knowledge would, somehow by osmosis, change me without any real effort on my part. And it did, but not in the way I had planned. I became the person described in James 1:22 – a person who hears the Word but does not do it and winds up deceived. And I was. In fact, I had become quite a modern day Pharisee. I pursued the letter of the law that kills and ignored the spirit of the law that gives life. Ouch! Chad and Jeremy once sang, “Yes, the truth often hurts the heart.” It is painful to admit this mistake that wound up costing me so much, but it is the truth. Fortunately for me, and the rest of the world, I never went to Bible school. I could have easily become more of an intellectual snob, and even less in tune with the spiritual than I had accomplished on my own. Please don’t send any hate mail, I am speaking only about myself and not the many that have gone this route and thrived.

Proverbs 8:2 says that Wisdom has a roommate whose name is Prudence. I equated that name with the Pilgrims and the Puritans. That name brought to my mind the picture of a character straight out of Gary Larson’s “The Far Side”. Huge, hulking and hunchbacked, Prudence had a countenance resembling the prunes she needed to relieve her intestinal congestion! Puritans always struck me as a very somber lot, terminally serious, with little or no time for levity or frivolity. Considering they left the then known civilized world, endured a long, difficult and dangerous voyage and built a whole new life from scratch could explain their serious disposition. When we see or even experience a natural disaster that forces people to totally rebuild their lives, there are resources the Pilgrims never had. We have Home Depot and Lowes, FEMA (jury is out on that one), the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse and many other charitable organizations to step in and assist in the reconstruction process. The Pilgrims had God, themselves, the Indians and a determination to build a life where freedom to worship God as they saw fit was possible. No wonder they were so narrowly focused and disciplined.

The Hebrew word for prudence is intriguing. It has two almost diametrically opposed meanings. Only when used in the book of Proverbs does prudence mean to have good judgment and to be sensible. When used elsewhere its meaning has the negative connotations of being crafty, shrewd, wily or simple in terms of being easily persuaded, gullible, immature and naive.

I do not remember there being a single, defining, “aha” moment that made me aware of the hole I had dug for myself. I did begin to experience a real dissatisfaction with my walk with God. I felt that something was missing and that there had to be more than what I knew. I read a book authored by A.W. Kenyon where he discussed the difference between sense knowledge evidence, mental assent and real Bible faith. Sense knowledge evidence says; “Seeing is believing.” Faith says “Believing is seeing.” Mental assent is intellectually agreeing with what you know, but not practically applying what you have learned. This is a safe way to live. You rarely make mistakes because you seldom attempt anything, because, that would take faith – and it is faith that pleases God.

Slowly I realized that the knowledge I had acquired could be a strong foundation, if I would build on it. This is where I needed to get acquainted with Wisdom’s friend Prudence. I needed to learn how to put faith to work; to take it from just being a theory and putting it into practice. Faith is active, not passive. Faith is now, not sometime in the past or just for the future. Faith includes fighting, standing, resisting, trusting and at times resting. Faith speaks a desired end, not what presently exists, with the expectation that its declarations will come to pass. Faith must be exercised in order to grow and become strong. Faith is a gift from God, given to each one of us. Gradually it dawned on me that, “he who knows the most, spiritually speaking, does not win.” He who applies what he knows succeeds. Wisdom has the answers and directions we need. Prudence provides the road map for the course Wisdom has laid out for us.

I still seek wisdom, because, it will never stop being the principle thing, however, this is no longer just an intellectual pursuit. I do study and strive for accuracy but I am really searching for the spirit and not the letter of the law. On the way to Wisdom’s house, I catch myself singing this tune.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day.
The sun is up, the sky is blue. It’s beautiful, and so are you.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Plan a Funeral?…No Throw a Party!

When the wicked thrive, so does sin. But the righteous shall see their
downfall. Proverbs 29:16

…when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. Proverbs 11:10

Do you plan a funeral or throw a party? It seems that scriptures show that at some point the wicked “get what’s coming to them” and crash and burn (no pun intended). If that is a reason to rejoice, why don’t I feel like breaking out the party hats? Perhaps, someone would hint, “because you are not righteous”.

Au contraire mon ami, but I am. If this sounds like an outrageous claim, keep reading. You’ll learn why I believe I can make this statement.

Luke 15:11-32, a portion of scripture that is familiar to many people, is the parable of the Prodigal Son. This well known story of restoration showcases a father’s unrelenting love for his wayward son. It is also an example of the righteous seeing the downfall of the wicked and rejoicing.

In a nutshell, there is a man who has two sons. At some point the younger boy decides that life at home is a drag and approaches his father and asks for his inheritance. Most people are discreet enough to wait for their benefactor to die, but this youth was too impatient. Note to any children reading this post…don’t try this at home.

Surprisingly, the father agrees to his son’s request. He turns over about 1/3 of his net worth to the boy (his share based on the premise that there were only two sons). It was not unusual for a father to release some of an inheritance before dying, but not the entire portion. With his new found wealth in hand, the son heads off into the sunset and becomes that generation’s Bill Gates based on his entrepreneurial prowness….NOT! He heads straight to Partyville. Life is good, plenty of friends and fun. But then, the unexpected happens…a “black swan” event occurs. The country where he resides experiences a famine. His friends and his money dry up and wither away. His option, 
if he wants to survive is, get a job.

This made me wonder. Was the young man always someone who avoided work
and now had no marketable skills to offer? Or, had the high life reduced him into someone an employer considered unreliable and undesirable? The only job he found was feeding swine. Adding insult to injury, the pigs were fed food that was better than what he had to eat. Finally, one day, the light bulb came on, he came to his senses and he repented.

Uh oh, she used the “R” word. If the hairs on the back of your neck just stuck straight out, and your blood pressure skyrocketed, I understand. I used to hate  that word. “Repent” brought up images of a preacher in a three piece suit, with big hair, a beet red face, slinging sweat and pointing his index finger at the “heathens” (and in some cases the heathen Christians) and screaming; “Repent,  or you’re going to hell.” That approach always made me run, not to the altar or God, but as far away as possible.

To many, the word repent has very negative connotations and this is unfortunate. In biblical terms to repent means, to change one’s mind or to think differently. Graham Cooke, a favorite speaker of mine, would say; “Have another thought.” It also means to change one’s mind for the better. Put another way…come up to a higher level of thinking.

That is exactly what the young man did. He remembered life at his father’s  house. The workers always had enough food and plenty to spare. Compared to his present situation, going home and working as one of his father’s hired hands would be a vast improvement. He had no expectations of being reinstated to his former status as a son; he was coming back as a laborer. Life at dad’s house was looking much better than it ever had before.

While he was gone, his father watched, waited, and hoped for the boy’s  return. One day, on the horizon, off in the distance, the father saw a familiar form. Filled with compassion, he raced to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I doubt the boy expected this type of a reception. He reacted by apologizing, admitting his wrong and asking for a second chance; not as a member of the family, but as a worker. His father would have none of this. He had the servants bring clean clothes and sandals. He then gave the son the signet ring. This was not only a sign of the father’s restored confidence in his son, but also, an affirmation that the boy was his son. The father was not interested in lamenting over the past or wallowing in regret over what could have been. “Kill the fattened calf”, he cried, “it’s party time!”

The father immediately reinstated the boy to his former status as a son. He did not 
put him on probation or evaluate his performance for a period of time.  As far as the father was concerned, the past (or the wicked phase of the son’s life) had perished. The father’s actions covered the son’s past mistakes and made him right (or righteous) with the family. This was a reason to celebrate and rejoice, not mourn.

Scripture says that when a sinner repents, the angels rejoice. There is a party
atmosphere in heaven. God has no reason to celebrate when one of his children slips into hell. He will never see them again. The separation is permanent and irrevocable, but He must let them go there if that is their choice. When a sinner does repent, God does what the father in the parable did. He covers that person with His robes of righteousness and gives the penitent a place back in the family of God. From God’s perspective the old is gone, the wicked has perished and now He, the Righteous One, and the angelic hosts of Heaven rejoice, for His child is back home.

Romans 5:17 states that there is a gift of righteousness that we can receive from God. I gladly accepted God’s offer. This is how I can say that I am righteous. It is not based on anything I have done, it is pure grace from God. The father in the parable gave the son full restitution of his status and right standing in the family, not based on anything the boy did, but totally on the will and grace of the father.

When I look back on my life I can see where so much of the person I once was is 
now gone, and good riddance. I am by no mean perfect, and I know that I could be much further along if I would have been more cooperative with the Spirit of God working in my life. That being said,  when I look back at who I once was and what He has transformed me into….plan a funeral?….no way,  let’s have a party.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Hidden Purpose of Praise

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by
the praise he receives. Proverbs 27.:21


I always thought praise was supposed to make me feel good; stroke my
ego; boost my self-esteem. Test me? "Tests, I don't need no stinkin
tests". (apologies to Bogey and the cast of Treasure of the Sierra
Madre).  Praise is designed to make me feel appreciated and loved.
It supposed to be a form of positive reinforcement to help propel me
to step up my game, try harder and stretch myself to new limits. It is
all of these, and one I had never considered.

Praise a test? I don't particularly like taking tests so can I drop
that element from the equation? Can I keep the warm and fuzzy parts
and skip the heat? Apparently not.

Praise is likened to a crucible or a furnace. The purpose of these is
to refine the silver and gold in order to remove the dross and
impurities. This involves fire and intense heat. It does not
sound like an open book test but more like the final exam for a brain
surgeon. It seems like there is a high probability that at worst this
will hurt at and at least be very uncomfortable.

So, how is something that is supposed to make me feel good end up
being a trial by fire? Praise has a way of revealing what is really in
my heart. This is not a bad thing. The fire of the refining process
does not destroy the precious metal, it removes any contaminants.

Let's supposed (and this is a stretch) that Little Mary works really
hard all year at her studies and at the end of the year she is named
the "Student of the Year for Academic Excellence". Her teacher applauds
her for the hard work that resulted in achieving this goal, and
rightfully so. This is not a fluke or a lucky break. This is a well
deserved honor that was earned with much effort and sacrifice on her part.

Little Mary is thrilled. She is enjoying the fruit of her labor.
Perhaps, winning this title was a goal worth working for, and was
really a dream of accomplishing considering her competition. Now
the impossible has become reality and Little Mary is overcome with joy
and sheer satisfaction in a job well done. If we could freeze frame
this segment of her life, Little Mary has avoided the test of praise.

Life does not exist in a state of suspended animation and now Little
Mary has an opportunity to enter the testing phase. She comes home
from school and shares the good news with family and friends. Her
parents are elated. Her siblings and friends are happy for her.
After the initial excitement dies down, everyone goes back to life as
usual, except Little Mary.

Having tasted center stage, Little Mary may be tempted to stay put in
the fading limelight. She is a star, after all; a bit higher than
everyone else; the new standard to be measured by. Her whole
perspective of those around her is changing. Now she is on a different
level; a cut above the rest; a legend in her own mind and heading for
a fall. It is true she earned the honor and recognition that she
received. It was an acknowledgement of her achievement. However, it
was not an endorsement of her superiority as person over everyone
else. The fiery test of praise is bringing to the surface not so
nice ideas and opinions that she has deep in her heart. Little Mary is
a very proud person and pride is the forerunner to a downfall.

Little Mary has probably noticed a shift in the attitude of those
around her. They seem to avoid the subject of her great triumph. "They
are just jealous," she tells herself. "They wish they were me." Little
Mary is so convinced that she is so much better that she starts to slack
off in her work habits. She doesn't need to work as hard as "everyone
else" because she is "special". She is quick to let everyone know
this. She is blind to the look of annoyance and contempt in the eyes
of those around her. She thinks the gulf that is growing between
her and others is the result of their inability to come up to her

One day, the unthinkable happens. The awards are handed out and Little
Mary not only does not win, she is not even in the running. The
pedestal she has set up for herself has been knocked out from under
her feet and a new reality dawns - she is no different than anyone
else. And it hurts. It is like going through a fiery furnace and
getting cooked.

Does this mean that praise is wrong? Absolutely not. Praising someone
is a way of validating them (providing that it was genuine praise and
not flattery which is a quick trip to the blast furnace). It is
important to be able to receive recognition and accept and appreciate
it. The problem is when we get out of balance. On one hand, like
Little Mary, we can develop a higher opinion of ourselves than is
warranted. And on the other hand, deflection of any positive affirmations
can be an attempt to manipulate other to affirm us even more. Both
extreme ends of the scale are pride.

The next time someone pays you a compliment, gives you a pat on the
back, and acknowledges the great job you!!!! Just kidding.
Instead, let the sound of your local Emergency Broadcast System
run through your mind. BEEEEEEEP, This is a test of the Inflated Ego
Meter. This can be a real emergency. Please stay tuned to the
condition of your heart of hearts and the voices in your head that are
telling you how great you are. Failure to do this could result in a
trip through the blast furnace. BEEEEEEEEEEP.