No God, No Peace – Know God, Know Peace

When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.  –        Proverbs 16:7    

 

 

 

We last looked at The Fruits of the Spirit nearly one year ago and The Sermon on the Mount just short of two years ago. I have no valid excuses for these long stretches of writing easier, less provocative, more “casual” pieces while being so inattentive to two very important studies. However, today’s adventure in blogging will attempt, in some small way, to make up for lost time by combining The Sermon & The Fruits, as they intersect on a very important subject…peace.

 

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “peace is its own reward”, but what exactly is peace?? It is typically defined in a variety of closely related ways: freedom from war, harmony, agreement, calm, tranquility, serenity, quiet, undisturbed state of mind, absence of mental conflict, contentment, acceptance, and the absence of anxiety. However, to understand the Biblical meaning of peace we must first look at three other words.

 

The Greek word most often translated as peace is eirene, which means “joining what had previously been separated or disturbed.” It is frequently used to signify “setting at one, quietness, and rest.” It doesn’t just mean the absence of conflict but takes into account everything that makes for a man’s highest good. Thus, eirene also indicates inner satisfaction, contentment, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ & content with its earthly lot, and the serenity that derives from living a full life.

 

The Hebrew word charash means “to hold one’s peace”, quiet, silent, rest, and a few different nuances depending upon the context.

 

The final word we need to know about is shalom, one of the most significant theological terms in Scripture and therefore not at all unfamiliar to most Christians & Jews. Shalom has a wide semantic range stressing various shades of its basic meaning…totality or completeness…that include fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, community, harmony, tranquility, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, safety, rest, favor, fulfillment, and wholeness. Much like eirene, it implies that which makes for man’s highest good.

 

So we can see that, Biblically speaking, peace is much more than the absence of war. In its fullest sense, it expresses our hope of reconciliation and redemption that can only be found thru the blood of Jesus Christ. Peace cannot be achieved with drugs, sex, money, fame, power, food, possessions, or any of the other numerous ways in which we distract ourselves. None of those things work, and the evidence is abundant: divorce, substance abuse, ulcers & heart attacks, crime, and suicide. Romans 14:17 specifies that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 8:6 warns that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

 

President Ronald Reagan long ago opined that “a people free to choose will always choose peace.”, but is that really true?? Of course Reagan was using the word peace in the limited context of “absence of war”, and in that regard he was probably right. But using the Biblical interpretation of peace I have my doubts as to whether most people would purposely and enthusiastically choose it. We live in a society that mindlessly runs “the rat race”, eagerly “climbs the corporate ladder”, anxiously anticipates the latest ultra-violent movie or TV show, bashes God at every opportunity, actively promotes conflict in all aspects of life, glorifies deviant lifestyles that go directly against the will of God, and profits off the misery that results from all of this worldly strife by mass producing drugs that claim to cure all that ails us. Philippians 4:6-7 instructs us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”, yet we all know people who are so mired in anxiety, misery, unhappiness, depression, and fear that they’ve forgotten how to be happy. Matthew 6:31-34 says  “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Ancient Greek storyteller Aesop once said that “a crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety”. Judging by the ample waistlines of the masses and the robust business for Xanax, Cymbalta, and Prozac I’d say we’re doing things all wrong.

 

The Biblical concept of peace is total and profound. Peace is much more than having a restful state of mind…it is our access point to the power of God. Without peace we are unable to implement our spiritual gifts and successfully do the work of God. It touches upon our relationship with God, with our inner self, with other believers, and with the world at large. We sustain peace with God by believing & trusting Him. We preserve peace with our fellow man by eliminating strife, discord, conflict, & dissension. We achieve peace with ourselves by refusing to live in guilt or condemnation and recognizing that God is greater than all of our sins. If a person is of a pure spirit, then peace tends to follow because a pure-hearted person is at peace within himself and is not self-centeredly seeking to impose their will on others. Self-righteousness leads to conflict. Conflict forces a fight-or-flight response. Peace is a dynamic experience of harmony that promotes total well-being. Peace is not passive, but rather is the product of God’s active involvement in our lives. Hebrews 12:14 tells us to “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord”. 1 Peter 3:10-12 says “He who would love life and see good days let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it, for the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their prayers. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Romans 14:19 advises us to “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” Peace is something to be sought after and pursued. Peace is NOT pacifism. Peacemakers confront issues thru the prism of God, while pacifists choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that evil does not exist. Peace is not the absence of conflict but the ability to handle it effectively.

 

Our first priority should be to find peace with God. C. S. Lewis definitively states that “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” Those who delight in God’s law are blessed, but sinners experience misery & unhappiness, conflict & chaos, tragedy & heartache. The Bible connects peace with trust, meaning that when we trust God, His nature, and His plan we can attain true peace. It is when we try to figure things out on our own that we run into difficulties. 2 Corinthians 13:11 admonishes us to “Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” Perfect in this context means “perfection in knowledge, grace, and holiness”. Of good comfort means “to encourage, advise, and pray for others”. So in order to obtain peace, we have to seek after God, grow in our faith, do for others, and live in harmony with others.

 

The Beatitudes tell us that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” You may recall that “blessed” simply means “happy”. Therefore peacemakers will be happy. Notice it does not say having peace will make us happy…we must be peacemakers. Again, peace is an active, dynamic byproduct of a relationship with God. My Dad used to tell me that “winners make it happen, losers let it happen”. Too many Christians sit back and wait for God to do all the heavy lifting. It isn’t that God can’t do…well…anything & everything. He can. But remember…Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. It doesn’t say God will do everything…it says I can do all things through Christ. In other words, we have to put in some effort…the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears…and Jesus will provide the strength necessary for the task. My mother used to become incredulous about parents who would do their children’s homework for them. How were the kids supposed to learn anything?? She always told my sister & I that she would gladly help us but she would not do it for us. I believe that God wants us to meet Him halfway. We all know that one sided relationships don’t usually last. It requires a partnership of two people. God won’t just hand us peace on a silver platter…we must put forth the effort and build a relationship with Him.

 

Of course the question we humans tend to ultimately ask is “What’s in it for me??” We want to know that if we actually have to get up off the couch we will get something out of the deal. And you know what…God delivers. Only He doesn’t give us material things. Instead He provides wisdom, comfort, love, and yes…peace. We are promised the peace that surpasses all understanding (which in our humanness we, of course, try to understand).  James 3:17-18 says that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy…the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” In the 1996 classic film Jerry Maguire the titular sports agent tells his wife “You complete me”. That’s what God does for us thru our relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 13:11 says to “become complete, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace”, promising that “the God of love and peace will be with you.”

 

Jesus reassured His disciples before his…departure…that  “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Thank you Jesus for that awesome gift…if we would just take the time and make the effort to enjoy it.

 

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part 1

Nearly one year ago, right after Easter, I exited the church in which I grew up and had attended regularly since I was a child. I had not returned until today.

The cause of my initial exit is trivial, important only to me. There were valid issues, but some problems can just as easily be blamed on my own neuroses, stubborn pride, and failure to deal with disagreements effectively. However, the bigger reasons for my nearly yearlong sambatical, as well as my abrupt decision to return to the fold, are worth delving into because I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there are numerous disenfranchised Christians who, like me, have felt a growing chasm between what they are seeking versus what organized religion in 21st century America currently offers.

My friend The Owl, who is much more devout and genuinely devoted to living a Christ-like life than most folks I know (including your humble Potentate of Profundity), says that the church has become too worldly. He hasn’t found a “home church” in a long time, even though, to his credit, he still occasionally gives it the ol’ college try. He has most certainly spent more time in close proximity to pews & steeples than I have in the past year. However, his devotion, strong faith, and heartfelt determination to, as my Dad would say, “live life closer to the foot of the cross” despite not having close ties to a church has been influential in my own thought process. After all, a church is just a building, right??

Ah yes…a building. There’s a building. There’s land. There are bills to pay, things to buy, and stuff to maintain & repair. These things make money necessary. Fundraising becomes an obligatory evil (atleast in smaller churches). Committees are formed. Disagreements are either argued about or fester quietly for years. Folks jockey for position. Egos are bruised, feelings are hurt. All the sudden instead of focusing on Christ and His teachings, we spend a half hour on Sunday morning with Him…theoretically…at the center and the rest of the time running the business that the church has become. Even worship service is bogged down by meaningless ritual, incongruous nods to secular pop culture, screaming children lacking manners & discipline, and squirmy, visibly disinterested adults who are merely fulfilling an obligation but clearly have no sincerity of purpose. I honestly believe that most adults are more attentive when they shell out $8 at the local cineplex for some profanity laced, overtly sexual, ultra violent CGI crapfest than they are in church. And many are undoubtedly more passionate about a host of other pursuits…golf, fishing, watching the game or the race…than they are in worshiping God and spreading the good news of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I have been right in the thick of the hypocrisy. I’ve been that disengaged, disinterested, distracted person just going through the motions and only giving my bare minimum (or less) focus to The Lord. I’ve been the person who attends all the committee meetings and helps out with all the fundraisers but has merely a cordial (at best) relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve been the person who attended church on Sunday but sinned freely and capaciously the other 6 days of the week. But at some point something either broke or awakened inside of me and I decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. This discontent with my Christian walk culminated with me walking away from the church.

It really all began nearly 6 years ago during what I call My Unfortunate Incarceration. I’ll spare those not “in the know” the details and just give the Cliff’s Notes version of my sad tale. In April 2006 I landed in the hospital with an ulcer on my tailbone. 6 weeks in the hospital were followed by 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility. That was followed by an entire year homebound until, at last, I had the surgery that probably should have been done right off the bat. Another month in a hospital, a second shorter stint in a “skilled” nursing facility, then a few more months at home finally ended with me resuming normal activities after having, in essence, lost 2 years of my life in my early 30’s. I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I must admit that given the chance I’d skip over or significantly alter that time period in a heartbeat.

Looking back it was during those long dismal months that…atleast subconsciously…the yearning for a closer bond with The Lord blossomed yet I began to grow apart from the church. After all, besides my Dad, sister, and an aging, perverted, hard headed, yet genuinely kind & decent cousin all I had was Him. Regretfully though, instead of embracing the opportunity to cultivate that relationship I chose to wallow in a newfound bitterness caused by being “out of the loop”, “out of sight, out of mind”, and left in solitude by people who I am sure were blissfully unaware they were doing anything wrong. These were the days before Facebook allowed us all to stay in constant contact with hundreds of people across the globe on a daily basis. My Dad & sister would run into people who’d say “Tell Sam we’re thinking about him & praying for him”. I didn’t buy it. I just wanted them to take 10 minutes and give me a call. I was lonely, bored, and probably depressed, yet few people outside of my immediate family seemed to give a damn. When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery my friend Greg & his wife Jenn…who live in Texas…came to visit. Sure they were in town for his father’s wedding (or maybe it was his brother’s), but that visit meant the world to me. It was aggravating that friends that lived thousands of miles away found the time to make contact in my hour of need but others who lived much much closer…many of them “church family”…did not.

Blessed Are the Meek

Thus far in our examination of The Sermon on the Mount we have learned that to be happy God wants us to be poor in spirit and He wants us to mourn. And now it is time to learn why, in order for us to be happy, God wants us to be meek.

 

Meek can be defined as “enduring injury without resentment (and face it…a lot of us do resentment really well, like a beloved hobby), deficient in spirit and courage, submissive, not violent or strong, docile, spiritless, tame, yielding, and soft.” There’s no way around it folks…in 21st century America being meek isn’t really considered all that desirable of a trait. It’s basically a good way to have others take advantage of you, walk all over you, and leave you in the dust. Being meek is being a loser…or atleast that tends to be the human perspective. Not surprisingly, God seems to view things differently.

 

The Greek word for meekness is praos, which literally means “’to be gentle, humble, considerate, and courteous”. The Greeks used it to describe the tamed state of domesticated animals. In other words, God is telling us that to be trained, to be under control, to be focused on The Lord as our Master will make us happy. I am sure many of us have pets that we command to sit, stay, fetch, etc. Is your pet unhappy?? Probably not as long as you feed it and give it love. Do you love your pet and do anything you can to make its life comfortable and happy?? Of course. Now I am not saying that we are pets or that God thinks of us that way. I am just trying to illustrate that our definition of meekness is erroneous. It should not imply weakness, sadness, or passiveness… it implies an inward strength and poise. jesuschildIt merely means that a person is approachable and kind. It means that a person is not temperamental or harsh…they are even tempered. A person who is meek walks in Godly peace and stays focused on their duty. Meekness does not seek vengeance because that is The Lord’s. A person who is meek knows that their life is nothing without God. Psalm 37:11 tells us that “the meek shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”. But what does it mean to inherit the earth?? I believe it has a dual meaning. First it means that if we bear this fruit we will receive our reward in Heaven. But I also think it means that if we exhibit the quality of meekness our earthly lives will be better, contrary to the poppycock that society tries to feed the masses. Our human goals of being strong, tough, and independent often lead to arrogance, selfishness, and a superiority complex. And even if they don’t, we need to ask ourselves what the endgame of our actions might be, or rather what we hope might be our reward. Too often the rewards we spend so much time and effort seeking…money, power, notoriety and all the fun stuff that comes with those things…come at the expense of a relationship with God. Instead we are to seek God with a meek heart, full of humbleness, submission, and humility.

 

One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. And one of the best parts of the movie is when Costner explains to James Earl Jones that when he was 17 years old he was fighting with his father, that he said something awful, packed his bags, and left. Jones asks him why he said and did what he said and did, and Costner replies “I was 17”. I think we all go through that sort of rebellion, to varying degrees, when we are young. As Christians we sometimes go through it as well. But ultimately, if we grow in our faith and bear fruit as we should then that rebellion is suppressed. If we are continuously rebelling against God then we are not bearing fruit. If I, at the age of 37, still acted like I did when I was 17 people would look at me like I was crazy. So why then do we think it is okay to become stagnate in our faith and not exhibit growth, i.e. bear fruit?? Why do we get so caught up in how the world tells us we should act and what the world tells us our goals should be?? Why do we buy into the idea that we need to be ambitious, aggressive, and must assert & promote ourselves in an effort to take what we want?? Why are the ideals of humility and politeness so frowned upon??

 

Obviously we need to change our mental and emotional paradigm, becoming more like what God wants us to be rather than what society tells us we should be in order to compete. The question is…how?? I don’t want to sound like a broken record here folks, but the answer is the same as usual. The only way we can begin to bear the fruit that God wants us to is to become more like Him, and the only way to do that is to forge a closer relationship with The Lord. Pray. Study your Bible. Surround yourself with positive, uplifting, inspirational friends, images, and entertainment. Faith is a living, breathing thing that we must practice, not just read about. James 1:21-22 tells us to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only”.  Do you think Joe Montana became a great QB without practice and effort?? Did your family physician just decide to become a doctor and start treating folks overnight?? Are attorneys, accountants, teachers, and engineers people who just happened to fall into a great job?? No, of course not. Success demands a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Meekness may just require more conscious practice than any other fruit, if for no other reason than it goes against everything that is ingrained into us from the time we are wee tots through grade school and high school and on throughout our working adult lives. But in this case success cannot be defined in terms of money, fame, or power. The only successful outcome is eternity in Heaven. So it is up to you…will you choose to buy into what a flawed and sinful world tells you is right, or will you choose meekness and bear the fruit that God tells us He requires??

 

 

Blessed Are They Who Mourn

For those who don’t know me personally, a significant thing to note is that I am a paraplegic, having been born with a condition called spina bifida. I JesusDoves_mediummention that fact only to lay the foundation for a bit of fatherly wisdom imparted to me long ago by…well, my Dad. He told me many times as a small child, that even though someone might come up to me, pat me on the head (people do that to handicapped kids long past what is typically regarded as an appropriate age), and express sympathy for my plight, they likely haven’t gotten out of sight before they’ve forgotten all about me because they have their own issues and problems and don’t have time to worry about me and mine. That lesson taught me much…a healthy cynicism, a sense of self reliance (because sometimes no one else can be counted on to truly give a darn), the realization that the world owes me nothing, and…for the purposes of this adventure in blogging…the understanding that sincerity can be quite shallow and not always all that sincere.

 

Jesus tells us that to be happy we must mourn, which doesn’t sound like much fun. Mourning is what we do at funerals, and really…who wants to do that all the time?? But let’s put aside preconceived notions and approach things from another perspective. Just as being poor in spirit means that we must be humble enough to realize we need God and should not try to live life on our own terms without His guidance, so does this passage require us to shun our prideful nature and submit ourselves to God’s grace. Allow me to reference James 4:1-10, which says:

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”


This is where sincerity…and our lack of it…comes into the picture. Let’s be honest…we’re human beings, every last one of us…which means we’re not perfect and we’re occasionally going to royally screw things up. And even though God is just and we will all eventually face judgment, God’s grace is a free gift available to us right now. He desires a relationship with us and wants us to turn to Him in times of joy, times of tumult, and everything in between. However, along with being screw-ups we’re also pretty stubborn and prideful. How many times have we wronged someone and apologized, but done so only half-heartedly and for selfish, specious reasons?? God knows when we’re not really sorry, and that kind of lackadaisical faith is not what He seeks. When we go against the will of God we need to sincerely seek forgiveness, not with a prideful heart but with a heart full of genuine sadness, a heart in mourning because of the sin we have committed. God will not accept a flippant, disingenuous apology. It is only when we ask for God’s mercy in an authentic fashion that He will give us true comfort.

 

I won’t even pretend to be a religious scholar and know all the idiosyncratic differences between every major religion or especially every denomination within those religions. But I do have a basic yet growing understanding of The Bible and the ways of God. I have difficulty believing that doing a few hand gestures or ducking into a booth and glibly telling another human being about one’s mistakes is a ticket to Heaven. I mean no disrespect to anyone’s religion, but on the other hand I think “religion” is sometimes the problem instead of the solution. We get too caught up in meaningless rituals and just go through the motions. When we sin we brush it off and try to work our way out of it. That may work in a health & fitness situation, where a brisk jog around the neighborhood or an intense workout at the gym can legitimately offset that hot fudge sundae we had for lunch, but God requires more. He wants intense anguish to pierce our hearts when we go against His will. Does that mean God wants us to be in a constant state of misery?? Of course not. But there’s an easy way to avoid that misery – don’t sin!! Easier said than done?? Sure. Believe me, I know all too well. Does that mean we just give up and quit trying?? No. And when we do mess up, forget the hand gestures or telling some fellow human being that isn’t any more special than you just because he wears some fancy duds. Get on your knees (or not…not even THAT is a necessary rule) and cry out to the Lord in prayer, asking for His forgiveness expressing true repentance.