Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Seeking the Peace of Christ: Christianity and Peacemaking

Seeking the Peace of Christ
Christianity and Peacemaking

Click here for an updated and reformatted version of this series.

 

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2010 by Mark D. Roberts

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Seeking the Peace of Christ: Introduction

This is the first part of a series I’m calling: Seeking the Peace of Christ: Christianity and Peacemaking.

Peace
is essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt about it. Consider,
for example, these passages from the New Testament Gospels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14, KVJ) 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. (John 14:27)

Then there are these verses from the writings of the Apostle Paul:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1) 

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17)

Do
not worry about anything, 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
your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7).

Of course then there’s the classic statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9) 

So peace is essential to Christianity, and Christians must surely seek to be peacemakers. Right?

Unfortunately,
it’s not that simple . . . or, at least, we Christians have complicated
what was meant to be simple. When it comes to the matter of
Christianity, peace, and peacemaking, we encounter several perplexing
problems. Three stand out in particular.

First, theologically
conservative American Christians (like me) have tended to think of
Christ’s peace mainly if not exclusively in terms of personal peace
with God and the inner peace that follows from this divine
relationship. Now let me say at the outset of this series on Seeking the Peace of Christ
that I passionately believe that you and I can have personal peace with
God through Christ. I also believe that one result of this peace is
deep, inner tranquility and a sense of well-being, the of God “which
surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7). I would never deny the wonder
of these dimensions of peace, and will not do so in this series. But I
would contend that the peace of God, as revealed in Scripture, includes
much more than we evangelicals sometimes think. It’s not that we are
wrong in what we believe about God’s peace, but that we believe far too
little.

The second problem with peace is that we who speak
English tend to think of peace in negative terms, as the absence of war
or other kinds of conflict. When two sides in a war come together and
sign a treaty, then peace has been achieved. Or when a husband and wife
finishing fighting, we might say that have worked out peace in their
relationship. But this sense of peace falls short of the biblical
vision. As you’ll see in this series, the Bible speaks of peace as
something far broader and grander than merely the absence of conflict.

peace-protest-5.jpgThe
third problem when it comes to Christianity and peace is that the
language of peacemaking is often used among more theologically and/or
politically liberal Christians to describe a certain kind of political
stance in the world. Peacemaking is often aligned with full on
pacifism, or, at least, with a strongly pacifistic anti-military
stance. In my experience in a mainline denomination, so-called
peacemaking often goes hand in hand with vigorous, partisan criticism
of the United States. Now I’m not suggesting that this political
perspective is necessarily right or wrong. But it does confuse matters
if we want to understand the biblical notions of peace and peacemaking.
The way many Christians use this language may keep those who use it
from missing the biblical sense(s) of peace. Moreover, evangelical
Christians can associate peacemaking with liberal theology, while
politically conservative Christians can assume that one who talks about
peacemaking embraces a liberal political agenda. Bible-believing
Christians can almost forget that Jesus was the one who blessed the
peacemakers, and therefore we had better figure out what this means so
we can join them.

As we begin this series on Seeking the Peace of Christ,
my goal is uncomplicated. I want to grapple with the biblical
understanding of peace, so that we might experience the fullness of
God’s peace in Christ and be agents of peace – yes, peacemakers – in
the world. Tomorrow I’ll begin to lay out the biblical vision of peace
by starting at the beginning.

 

Click here for an updated and reformatted version of this series.

 

Paradise: A Vision of Peace 

I have seen Paradise . . . well, sort of. Let me explain.

A few
years ago my wife and I were camping in Kings Canyon National Park, a
deep valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. On the first
morning of our stay, we packed a lunch and headed off along a trial
that ran beside the South Fork of the Kings River. As we meandered
through the pine and cedar forest, the trail gradually climbed up the
narrowing canyon. After about four miles of uphill hiking we came to
upon the dazzling cascades of Mist Falls. Suitably named, the falls
cooled us with the mist that showered our trail. Clambering up the
trail that had become quite steep, we finally arrived at the top of the
falls.

Before us lay an exquisite sight. The valley above the
falls became wider and flatter. The river that rushed through the gorge
below was now placid as it flowed gently between verdant forests and
blooming meadows. The granite walls of the glacier-carved valley shone
in the bright Sierra sunlight. Locating a perfect spot for our picnic
lunch, Linda and I drank in the tranquility of our heavenly realm. No
wonder it was called “Paradise Valley.” And, no wonder that peace
should pervade a place called “paradise.” (Photo: Relaxing in Paradise
Valley)

Kings-Canyon-Paradise-5.jpgParadise
and peace: these two ideas are inseparable. I can’t imagine being in
paradise that was anything other than peaceful. Moreover, when I think
of experiencing real peace, that sounds like paradise to me. I know
lots of people who would readily agree: the mom with young children who
cherishes those rare moments when her kids are asleep and the house is
quiet; the harried manager who takes an extra minute in the stillness
of his car just to calm his soul after work; the high school student
whose jammed schedule allows no time for sleep. Then there are folks
who find themselves in heartbreaking conflicts with family or friends.
Others experience a war on the inside as old fears and wounds haunt
them every day. Many in our world today confront life-threatening
violence in their communities. Peace in relationships, in our hearts,
in daily life – now that would be paradise indeed.

Most of us are familiar with the Old Testament word for “peace.” It is shalom. For Hebrew speakers, shalom
has a much richer and fuller significance than the English word
“peace.” Whereas we sometimes limit the idea of peace to the absence of
conflict, shalom includes far more. It comprises notions of
wholeness, completeness, soundness, and prosperity. The Psalmist sings,
“Those who are gentle and lowly will possess the land; they will live
in abundant peace” (Ps 37:11, literal translation). God’s promise of
blessing to Israel through Isaiah uses similar language: “I will make
your towers of sparkling rubies and your gates and walls of shining
gems. I will teach all your citizens, and their peace will be great”
(Isa 54:12-13, literal translation).

In the Old Testament,
peace is also inseparable from righteousness and justice. These latter
concepts are embodied in one Hebrew word that connotes
right-relationship between two or more parties. This word is usually
translated as “righteousness,” referring not only to doing morally
correct deeds, but also to living rightly in relationship with others.
Righteousness is also closely connected to justice, because the
righteous person acts with justice in the civil or judicial sphere. The
necessary link between righteousness and peace can be seen, for
example, in Isaiah’s vision of a future day when a righteous king will
reign over Israel and God’s Spirit will be poured out upon the people:

Then
the wilderness will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will
become a lush and fertile forest. Justice will rule in the wilderness
and righteousness in the fertile field. And this righteousness will
bring peace. Quietness and confidence will fill the land forever (Isa
32:15-17, NLT). 

With a similar picture in mind, the
Psalmist looks forward to a time with God’s salvation pervades the
nation. It that day one will proclaim, “Unfailing love and truth have
met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed!” (Psa 85:10).

In
biblical perspective, therefore, the absence of conflict is only the
bare beginning of peace. True peace includes personal wholeness,
corporate righteousness, political justice, and prosperity for all
creation. That’s exactly the way God intended things to be when he
created his garden, his paradise. (Our word “paradise” comes from a
Greek word that described the elegant parks of ancient Persian kings.)
Perhaps no term better describes God’s perfect paradise than
“peaceful,” a world full of wholeness, righteousness, justice, and
prosperity.

The creation accounts in Genesis reveal the peaceful
dimensions of God’s masterpiece. Not only do we find no evidence of
conflict in the first chapter of Genesis, but also we sense that all
relationships are sound as creation works together to fulfill God’s
purposes. That same picture is confirmed and clarified in Genesis 2.
There creation is pictured as a garden both beautiful to the eyes and
filled with delicious food (Gen 2:8-9). Adam will work in the garden
and it will produce abundant fruit with minimal toil. The
right-relationship between God and Adam is seen in God’s generous
provision for Adam, in God’s ongoing care for him, and in his complete
obedience to God’s command (Gen 2:18-25). When the Lord creates a
female companion for the man, the relationship between the two people
is also full of peace. They share intimate fellowship with each other,
naked in body and soul, completely without shame (Gen 2:25). In their
lack of shame we also sense the peace that fills their own souls.

The Old Testament conception of peace is closely related to the New Testament notion of fellowship. In my book, After “I Believe,” I showed that the New Testament Greek word for fellowship, koinonia,
might better be translated as “intimate fellowship.” When we have peace
with God, we live in intimate fellowship with him. Similarly, peaceful
(peace-full) human relationships are also characterized by koinonia.
What could be more intimate than the fellowship shared by the man and
the woman in Genesis 2? Peace, intimate fellowship, righteousness,
justice, these interrelated qualities characterize God’s perfect
paradise. They reveal God’s intentions for how we are to live. In a
nutshell, we’re to live in peace.

Paradise Lost and Peace Destroyed

I my last post I showed that peace, in biblical perspective, is closely
related to the idea of paradise. God created the world as a place of
peace: justice, harmony, fellowship. Through the end of Genesis 2,
peace prevailed in God’s good creation.

Unfortunately, however,
the story doesn’t end in Genesis 2. Even as my wife and I had to leave
Paradise Valley eventually (see my last post), the first humans
couldn’t remain in God’s perfect creation. Linda and I left
voluntarily, however. Adam and Even were kicked out of their paradise.
And, whereas Linda and I left our valley in its pristine state, Adam
and Eve ruined everything, not only for themselves, but for the rest of
us as well. In fact, they disrupted the peacefulness of God’s entire
creation.

How did this terrible thing happen? When he was
created, Adam was told by the Lord that he could enjoy the fruit of all
the trees in paradise, save one. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil he was to avoid completely (Gen 2:16-17). When the
serpent enticed the woman to eat some of the forbidden fruit, she
disobeyed God’s command and was joined by her husband in an illicit
feast (Gen 3:6). All of sudden, peacefulness was shattered.

Immediately
after they disobeyed God’s command, Adam and Even felt shame about
being naked. They felt the need to hide from one another and from
themselves. They no longer had peace between each other or even in
their own souls (Gen 3:7). When God came to enjoy fellowship with them,
they tried to hide from God as well (Gen 3:8). Sin had also destroyed
human peace with God. (Photo: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve in the
Sistine Chapel)

adam-even-sistine-expulsion-5.jpg

Once
God found the cowering couple, he explained the dire results of their
actions. The intimate partnership God had designed for man and woman
would be replaced with oppressive domination. The woman would fulfill
God’s command to bear children, but only with intense pain (Gen 3:16).
The man would also continue to till a garden, but now he would fight
against thorns and thistles as creation itself turns against him.
Whereas God intended humans to live forever in his peace, now they
would die, both physically and spiritually (Gen 3:19). Finally, as the
ultimate demonstration of what sin has destroyed, God banished Adam and
Even from paradise. They could no longer enjoy the perfect, peaceful
creation God had intended for them.

The story of Adam and Even
grips our hearts because it is not simply an ancient account of two
people and their tragic mistake. It is our story as well. It is our
personal tragedy. We share in this story both because Adam and Eve are
our spiritual ancestors and because we mirror their behavior in our own
lives. Like the first humans, we have rebelled against God. Thus we
live outside of God’s paradise. We yearn for the peace for which we
were created, but never experience that peace, except in bits and
pieces. Though we were meant to live in peace with God, our neighbors,
our world, and even ourselves, we experience brokenness in all of these
relationships.

One of the things I find most attractive about
Christianity is its realistic appraisal of human life. Some religious
traditions minimize or even deny the reality of sin and its results.
Suffering and evil are considered to be illusory. The Bible shows us,
on the contrary, that these sorry states are all too real. God doesn’t
try to sweep them under the rug of religious pretense, and neither
should we. Thus when terrible things happen in our world, when
terrorists murder innocent people, when tsunamis or hurricanes wipe out
whole cities, when rich CEO’s steal from their hapless shareholders,
Christians should not be surprised. Sad, yes; horrified, indeed; but
not surprised.

Yet, at the same time, we must not fall pretty
to cynicism or fatalism. Though we face the pain of this world head on,
we don’t surrender to it. Unlike some philosophies and religions, we do
not believe that suffering is essence of material existence. Beneath,
the reality of suffering there is the goodness of God’s creation. That
the bottom, there is God’s peace. As Christians, we live fully in this
world, facing its brokenness head on, but not trapped forever within
it. Though peace was truly destroyed in the fall of humankind, the
Creator of peace remains. And he has a plan to reestablish peace
throughout his creation. I’ll have more to say about this in my next
post.

The Peacemaking Mission of Jesus

So far in this series I’ve shown that God created this world with the
intention that it be full of peace. But human sin twisted God’s
creation, so that brokenness now pervades that which God had intended
to be so peaceful. Yet God has not given up on his creation, nor on his
creatures.

In the Old Testament God promised to mend that which
had been lost in the Fall by reinstituting peace on earth. Through
Ezekiel, the Lord looked forward to such restoration for his people:

And
I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I
will give them their land and multiply them, and I will put my Temple
among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their
God, and they will be my people (Ezek 37:26-27). 

Peace
will come by God’s effort. The result will be material blessing and,
most importantly, a mended relationship between people and God. The
prophet Isaiah brought a message similar to that of Ezekiel:

How
beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who
announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who
says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isa 52:7). 

Notice
how God’s peace is integrally related to his salvation, to the
restoration of his reign on earth. When God saves, he will restore his
kingdom so that those who live under his rightful rule will experience
the fullness of his peace.

Isaiah’s vision of God’s future
peacemaking effort takes an unexpected turn in the next chapter. There
the prophet describes God’s Suffering Servant, “a man of sorrows,
acquainted with bitterest grief” (Isa 53:3). This Servant suffers, not
because of his own sins, but so that we might be forgiven for our sins.
“But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we
might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!” (Isa 53:5). God
would restore peace on earth, but only through one who took upon
himself the penalty for human sin.

Jesus entered the world as
the one who would fulfill the mission of the Suffering Servant, thus
bringing divine peace. Even before Jesus was born, one of his relatives
proclaimed what God was about to do:

By the tender mercy
of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to
those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet
into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79) 

Upon the occasion
of Jesus’s birth, angels filled the sky with praise to God. What did
they sing? “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to
all whom God favors” (Luke 2:14).

Peace on earth sounds just
great, doesn’t it? It also sounds like something you might read on a
tacky poster in college dorm, or like something cooked up by a
politician to win a few extra votes in the next election. Or it sounds
very much like something a British Prime Minister once said, to his
ultimate shame.

In March 1938, Germany absorbed Austria under
the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Then, turning his eyes to
Czechoslovakia, Hitler and his generals drew up a plan to take over
that sovereign nation as well. As war between Germany and
Czechoslovakia seemed imminent, the Czechs looked to their allies,
France and Great Britain, for help. But the French and the British were
eager to avoid a war with Hitler’s military machine.

In
September 1938, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, in
partnership with French leaders, began negotiations with Hitler. Things
appeared hopeless, however, because Hitler insisted on Germany’s right
to annex a substantial portion of Czechoslovakia. Yet Prime Minister
Chamberlain was so eager to avoid war that he caved in to Hitler’s
demands. Hitler did promise, however, to resolve all future differences
through consultation rather than military action. A trustworthy promise
to be sure! (Photo: Chamberlain and Hitler)

chamberlain-hitler-5.jpgIn
October 1938, Neville Chamberlain returned to jubilant crowds
throughout Britain, announcing that he had achieved “peace with honour.
I believe it is peace in our time.” Of course we know the rest of the
story. Within months, Hitler had annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia and
would soon invade Poland. “Peace in our time” was no peace at all
because it failed to remedy the root cause of the strife: Hitler’s plan
to dominate Europe.

Similarly, the biblical slogan “Peace on
earth” doesn’t mean much unless God deals with the basic human problem
of sin. Peace doesn’t come along just because baby Jesus was born in a
manger. It isn’t a by-product of Christmas cheer or other happy
thoughts. Jesus’ birth was only a prerequisite to his final peacemaking
effort, something we celebrate during Holy Week, not during Christmas.
As a human being, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus represented us on
the cross. He bore our sin as had been prophesied for the Suffering
Servant in Isaiah 53. His death dealt a fatal blow to sin, the root
cause of human brokenness and separation from God. Because Jesus was
crucified, we can have peace in all of its fullness (Isa 53:5). Paul
triumphantly celebrates Jesus’ peacemaking work in the opening of his
letter to the Colossians:

For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ, and by him God reconciled everything to
himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means
of his blood on the cross (Col 1:19-20). 

The peace God
intended for creation – once lost because of sin, often promised by the
prophets – God reestablished through Jesus by “his blood on the cross.”
For this reason Paul can say simply of Christ: “he himself is our
peace” (Eph 2:14; NIV).

But what are the dimensions and
implications of the peace Jesus has wrought on the cross? What kinds of
peace can we expect to experience through believing in Jesus? I address
these questions in future posts in this series.
peace.

Peace with God Through Christ

So far in this series I’ve shown how God intended his creation to be
full of peace. This intention was broken but not destroyed when the
first human sinned against God. Yet God had a plan to restore his
shalom on earth, a plan focused on the life, death, and resurrection of
his Son, the one who fulfilled the role of the Suffering Servant of
Isaiah.

How do we experience God’s peace? It all begins when we
enter into relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As we put our
trust in him, Jesus not only promises us eternal life in the future,
but also he invites us to begin to experience that life right now,
however incompletely.

Peace-God-Balrog-5.jpgWhen
we receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice through faith, we can
have peace with God: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s
sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our
Lord has done for us” (Rom 5:1). Where once we were God’s enemies
because of sin, now because of Christ we have been reconciled to God
(Rom 5:10-11). The strife between us and the Lord has been overcome by
his grace. (Photo: I grew up looking at pictures like this one in
evangelistic tracts. The point, obviously enough, is that only through
Christ can we have peace with God. Well, okay, the pictures I grew up
with didn’t include a Balrog. That’s my addition.)

I realize
that this way of thinking about people and God will seem strange to
most of us. Even many Christians tend to think of those who are not
Christian as being basically good, as being in touch with God to some
extent. We think of non-Christian people more as seekers than as God’s
enemies in need of peace with God. And, indeed, those who don’t know
the Lord may be seekers. But they are also, in a profound sense, both
separated from God and opposed to God. Yet God has extended an offer of
peace through Jesus Christ. Faith means receiving this offer, putting
down our opposition to God, and entering into a peaceful relationship
with Him.

Peace with God begins when we experience
reconciliation through Christ, but it doesn’t end there. When Paul, a
faithful Jew, speaks of “peace with God,” he thinks of the Old
Testament concept of shalom. Peace with God includes intimacy,
blessing, and the unimpeded flow of divine love. It encompasses
everything God had intended for his relationship with us. When we have
peace with God, we begin already to live in the restored creation, even
while we yearn for that restoration to be completed. Once our peaceful
relationship with God is renewed, the other dimensions of peace will
follow, including peace with ourselves and peace with others. I’ll
explore these dimensions in future posts.
peace.

Inner Peace Beyond Understanding

Jesus promised to give his followers supernatural peace:

I’m
leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I
give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or
afraid (John 14:27). 

After Jesus ascended to heaven, he
gives this peace through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Peace is one
aspect of that which the Spirit produces in our lives (Gal 5:22).

The
inner peace given by God isn’t like the peace provided by the world,
according to Jesus (John 14:27). It isn’t peace that depends upon
outward circumstances or inward rationalizations. Indeed, God’s peace
often comes when events or reasons would provide just cause for worry.
As Paul notes, God’s peace “is far more wonderful than the human mind
can understand” (Phil 4:7).

If you’ve never experienced this
kind of peace, all of this talk can sound rather dreamy and
unrealisitic. But millions upon millions of Christians have known
supernatural, inexplicable peace precisely in situations that would
seem to demand fear and distress. The great hymn writer Charles Wesley,
who wrote such beloved songs as “Hark! The herald Angels Sing,” lived a
full life of service to Christ. Early in his 79th year, however, his
health began to falter. As sickness dominated his body, Wesley knew
that he would soon die. His doctor, who regularly visited his bedside
during the last days, described Wesley’s attitude in the face of death:

He
possessed that state of mind which he had been always pleased to see in
others — unaffected humility, and holy resignation to the will of God.
He had no transports of joy, but solid hope and unshaken confidence in
Christ, which kept his mind in perfect peace. 

Lest you
think that only the unique heroes of Christian history have such peace
when death approaches, I have sat with many ordinary saints in the
hours before their passing. These also known the perfect peace that
once filled the heart of Charles Wesley.

Obviously, I have not
yet confronted the imminence of my death. I’m hoping to delay this
experience for a quite few more years. But I have known the peace of
God that is “far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.”
Such peace first came to me when I was in junior high. My father worked
as a computer analyst in the aerospace business in Southern California.
After Americans finally landed on the moon, zeal for space exploration
waned and federal funding dried up. My dad lost his job and remained
out of work for many months. The expenses associated with supporting a
family of six continued, however. Before too long my family’s financial
situation was very bleak. I was panicked, afraid that we would lose our
home and be forced to move away from our friends and family. I felt
afraid as I had never felt before. My world seemed to be crumbling
before my very eyes.

I vividly remember lying awake one night,
envisioning the worst case scenario for my family. I just couldn’t
escape from the grip of fear. In desperation I cried out to God for
help. “Please take care of us,” I pleaded, “help Dad to get a job.
Don’t make us move. Help us!” In that moment I sensed God’s lavish,
comforting presence as I had never known it before. Though I didn’t
receive any reassurance about my family’s financial situation, I felt
utterly, uniquely, supernaturally peaceful. My worries evaporated in
the warmth of God’s love for me. Without knowing what lay ahead for my
family, I knew beyond any doubt that God would take care of us.

In
that watershed moment of my life I experienced for the first time the
gift of incomprehensible peace, that which I couldn’t understand and
which really made no sense at all. I also learned that such peace
comes, not by human effort, but by God’s grace as we turn our hearts to
him. The prophet Isaiah understood this truth when he said to the Lord,
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts
are fixed on you!” (Isa 26:3). Paul reiterated this same thought,
making more explicit the connection between fixing our thoughts on God
and prayer:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about
everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more
wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your
hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7).

What a marvelous promise! What an astounding reality!

Havergal-Frances.jpgFrances
Havergal lived in the mid-19th century. A faithful and talented
Christian, she wrote many beloved hymns, including “Take My Life, and
Let It Be Consecrated.” her relatively short life was filled with
difficult challenges. When she was eleven, her mother died. Shortly
thereafter her father remarried. Frances’s stepmother came between her
and her father, causing deep hurt to the girl. As a young adult,
Frances became chronically ill. Even to get up from her bed was
painful. Yet she continued to live actively, especially in her song
writing ministry. During one of her periods of illness, she composed
these words:

Like a river glorious,
Is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious,
In its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth,
Fuller ev’ry day;
Perfect, yet it groweth,
Deeper all the way. 

Stayed upon Jehovah,
hearts are fully blessed;
Finding, as he promised,
Perfect peace and rest.

Perfect peace in the midst of severe physical pain, that’s beyond our comprehension. It’s a gift from God.

Peace Among People, Part 1

Peace with God and peace within our souls do not exhaust the
potentialities of peace through Christ. Scripture connects inner peace
specifically to peace among people: “Let the peace that comes from
Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all
called to live in peace” (Col 3:15). If divine peace reigns within us,
it should touch the rest our lives, especially our most important
relationships in family, among friends, and in church. But the peace
Christ impacts an even broader set of human relationships than these.

Paul’s
letter to the Ephesians lays the spiritual foundation for peace among
people. After first showing that the death of Christ leads to our
personal salvation (Eph 2:4-10), Ephesians 2 goes on to explore the
corporate implications of the cross, focusing on the fundamental
division between Jews and Gentiles.

For Christ himself
has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one
people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate
us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded
the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles
by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as
one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death,
and our hostility toward each other was put to death (Eph 2:14-16). 

The
death of Jesus not only brings reconciliation between individuals and
God, but also creates reconciliation among people by exploding the
hostility that keeps us from living peacefully together. It’s crucial
that we pay attention to what Paul is teaching here because sometimes
we get so excited about the personal relevance of the cross that we
neglect its corporate implications. We end up proclaiming the
possibility of peace with God and peace within ourselves without
mentioning peace among people.

But God’s plan for you includes
more than reconciliation with him, however essential and foundational
this reconciliation is. On the basis of peace with God, you can have
peace with others as well, an essential dimension of God’s perfect
peace. Notice, too, that peace among people is not limited to a few
close relationships. It transforms the relationship between Jews and
Gentiles. It impacts races, ethnicities, and even nations. The Old
Testament foresaw that the righteous king who comes humbly, “riding on
a donkey . . . will bring peace to the nations” (Zech 9:9-10). When
Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he came to die so that God’s
peace would pervade all peoples and nations.

I didn’t always
think of God’s peace in this way. I grew up focusing on Christ’s
provision of peace with God, within my own soul, and with my closest
companions. Biblical passages that spoke of the social and political
dimensions of divine peace could be reinterpreted to fit my
preconceived notions of peace. I could easily ignore the texts that
connect peace with righteousness and justice, or else relegate them to
the future when Christ returns.

Yoder-Neufeld-Ephesians-4.jpgBut
when I was in graduate school, my best friend was a Mennonite pastor
who conceived of God’s peace much more fully. While not denying the
central importance of peace with God or the blessings of inner peace,
Tom spoke passionately of the broad dimensions of biblical peace. He
helped me take seriously passages from Scripture that I had ignored or
misinterpreted, especially the latter half of Ephesians 2, which shows
how Christ’s death makes peace between hostile peoples. He also showed
me the rich meanings of the Hebrew term shalom, a word that I had
understood to refer primarily to the absence of conflict. Through Tom,
I realized that I had truncated biblical peace to fit my own values,
needs, and preconceptions. By his influence, I came to embrace the
richer and truer sense of biblical peace, recognizing its
interconnectedness with righteousness, justice, and wholeness in all of
life. (Photo: Tom Yoder Neufeld’s watershed interpretation of Ephesians
can be found in his commentary on this New Testament book, which I highly recommend.)

Peace Among People, Part 2

In my last post I began to lay out some of the broader implications of
Jesus’ life and death. He came to bring peace, not only between God and
people, but also among people. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose
from the grave to restore peace to a broken world. Wherever there is
conflict, whether inside individual hearts, or within families, or
among brothers and sisters in church, or between different ethnic
groups, or even between warring nations, Christ “wages peace” as his
disciples wield the paradoxical power of the cross. This power is
paradoxical because victory comes through the embodied proclamation of
Christ’s own powerlessness.

It would be a great error to think
of the social dimensions of peace as simply whitewashing social evil in
a grand attempt to “make nice.” It’s all too easy for us to confuse
peacemaking with “nice-making.” This was also true in Jesus’ own day.
Some Jews believed that, if he were the Messiah, Jesus would usher in a
season of painless prosperity. To these mistaken folk Jesus said,

Do
you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I have come to
bring strife and division! From now on families will be split apart,
three in favor of me, and two against – or the other way around. There
will be a division between father and son, mother and daughter,
mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (Luke 12:52-53). 

Does
this passage contradict everything else we have read about the
peacemaking work of Christ? No, because it must be interpreted in its
unique context. Jesus is speaking in Luke 12 to those who expected a
superficial peace, a peace that was really no peace at all because it
failed to deal with the true cause of human brokenness. Many of the
Jews in the first-century equated peace with the expulsion of the
Romans. “Get rid of foreign rule and we’ll have peace,” they thought.
But Jesus came to bring an unanticipated kind of peace. His peace would
address the root cause of human suffering. His peace would be offered
to people who were not Jews, even to the hated Romans.

Arch-Titus-Rome-5.jpgAs
Jesus pursued his peculiar peacemaking mission, he engendered plenty of
strife. His failure to fulfill Jewish expectations led to his being
rejected by his own people, while his insistence on the presence of
God’s reign brought about his crucifixion at Roman hands. It would have
been so much easier for Jesus if he had simply joined the Zealots, who
fomented violence against Rome, or the Sadducees, who tolerated
partnership with the Romans, or the Pharisees, who by the time of Jesus
focused on personal piety instead of social reformation. But Jesus was
unwilling to settle for a peace that was no peace. He resolutely
pursued the all-encompassing peace that comes only when sin is
abolished and God’s rule is reestablished on the earth. (Photo: The
Zealot desire for “peace” apart from Roman rule ultimately led to the
destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, a sad fact of history that is
memorialized on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum.)

Jesus’
statement about strife and division should warn us not to equate the
absence of conflict with true peace. There are families, for example,
which appear to be peaceful only because the head of the household is a
tyrant who uses emotional and sometimes physical violence to institute
order. Churches sometimes pride themselves on avoiding conflict, but
they do so only because the pastor has learned to silence open
discussion through his authoritarian leadership. And there are nations
that are not at war, but in which wholistic peace cannot be found.

When
we look for peace, we must keep before us the concept we find
throughout Scripture. True peace will always include
right-relationships, just treatment of all persons, wholeness in all
dimensions of life, and divine blessing to boot. Sometimes the path to
true peace must pass through strife and division before it arrives at
its destination.

What does all of this mean for you
personally? It means that, no matter how much you enjoy peace with God
and within your own heart, you must also pursue the corporate aspects
of shalom. In a nutshell, you must be a peacemaker. I’ll turn to this
in my next post.

Being Peacemakers in Church, Part 1

Jesus said it bluntly: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be
called children of God” (Matt 5:9). Time and again the rest of the New
Testament echoes his high regard for peacemaking:

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Rom 14:19; NIV).
Bind yourselves together with peace (Eph 4:3).
Try to live in peace with everyone (Heb 12:14). 

Each
of these passages sets peacemaking within the context of Christian
community. We seek to live in peace as part of our fellowship together.

Martin
Luther was correct. The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed a mighty
fortress, against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. But
individual Christian communities are sometimes quite fragile.
Frequently, they shatter because members seek their own good, rather
than the benefit of the community as a whole. The sow seeds of division
by their selfishness. But, you and I are called to be peacemakers
within our churches, to preserve the unity and seek the wholeness of
Christian community. Paul’s instruction quoted above, “bind yourselves
together with peace,” falls within a broader exhortation to church
unity:

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other,
making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always
keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together
with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have
all been called to the same glorious future (Eph 4:2-4). 

We are to make peace among our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are one body together, united by the one Spirit.

How
can you be a peacemaker in your church? Note carefully Paul’s wise
counsel. First, “be humble and gentle” (Eph 4:2). Don’t think too
highly of yourself, but consider others better than yourself (Phil
2:3). If you have a complaint or criticism, communicate it with
humility, realizing that you could be wrong. And in all interactions,
treat people with gentleness, remembering that they are precious to God.

Second,
you can make peace within your fellowship by being “patient with each
other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love”
(Eph 4:2). This call to patience implies that those around you will
frustrate you with their slowness. They won’t repent quickly enough.
They won’t serve actively enough. They will pray too long or not pray
enough. Yet you must put up with their faults and weaknesses, even as
they must put up with yours, thank God! It is certainly right to
confront a brother or sister who sins. But patience is necessarily for
all the little things others do that aren’t sinful, but just bothersome.

Jack-Davis-MDR-3.jpgWhen
I read verse 2 with its call to humility, gentleness, and patience, I
immediately think of one of the founding members of Irvine Presbyterian
Church, a man named Jack. Jack was on the search committee that called
me as pastor, as he had been on the first committee that called Ben
Patterson, the founding pastor of the church. Jack had retired after a
successful business career. He was the most respected and beloved man
among church members – a well-deserved honor. When I arrived at the
church, I quickly noted that Jack also had a room named after him, the
only room in the church named after any person, living or dead. It was
apparent to me that Jack had great power within Irvine Presbyterian
Church. (Photo: Jack and me quite a few years ago, when I had a lot of
hair.)

Jack could have used his power to dominate me, but he
never chose to do so. Instead, he always used his power in a
Christ-like manner. He was a strong, outspoken supporter of my ministry.

As
is natural, however, at times he believed that my leadership was
lacking or misdirected. Jack would make an appointment to see me. After
affirming my ministry and reassuring me of God’s call to be pastor of
the church, he would tell me what was bugging him. Every single time he
did this with humility, gentleness, and patience. Jack could have
wielded his power to coerce my agreement. But he never even tried to do
it. He could have wounded my spirit by pointing to his superior wisdom.
He never did that. He could have said that he was sick and tired of
trying to help young pastors grow up. But he never said anything like
that. When Jack and I finished our meetings, I always felt encouraged.
In Jack’s woodshed there weren’t any switches, just abundant peace and
lots of wisdom.

In my next post I want to say a little more about being a peacemaker in church.

Being Peacemakers in Church, Part 2

If you are going to make peace within your church, you must “make every
effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3). Church unity is
not something you can take for granted, but it is something to be
sought with vigorous effort. Where you see the beginning of division,
snuff it out. If two church members are stuck in disagreement, help
them to understand each other. If something about the church begins to
get on your nerves – and, believe me, something will! – don’t complain
behind the leaders’ backs or threaten to leave the church. Rather, talk
directly and humbly with those who are responsible. Don’t ever brandish
the “I might leave” threat unless you’re facing a major issue of
intractable heresy or unrepentance. (I once heard a faithful church
member threaten to leave if the high school minister didn’t start
sending out flyers on time. No kidding!)

In his letter to the Colossians Paul mentions one other activity that is essential to peacemaking within the church:

You
must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who
offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive
others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love.
Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the
peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one
body you are all called to live in peace. (Col 3:13-15) 

Peacemaking
requires forgiveness. Over and over again, our Christian siblings will
hurt us. That’s too bad, but that’s the way it is. If we hold onto the
offense and the pain, if we formulate plans to get even, if we fail to
forgive or pretend to forgive without actually doing so, then we will
contribute to the demise of our Christian community just as much or
more than the one who wronged us. When we do forgive, however, our
relationships with be renewed and the body of Christ will strengthened.

Tim-HH-MDR-4.jpgI
remember a time when an elder named Tim helped the leaders of Irvine
Presbyterian Church resolve a contentious discussion about worship.
While he served on our elder board, Tim was an exemplary leader. He
also drove me crazy at times, and I generously returned the favor. Both
Tim and I are fairly active thinkers and robust communicators. We tend
to like our own opinions a lot and to defend them vigorously. (Tim, in
fact, is an attorney who once argued a case before the U.S. Supreme
Court.) When Tim and I disagreed about something, the conversation
could get hot. Both of us would sometimes end up saying things to each
other that were more than a little inappropriate. No cussing or fist
fights, just barbs that poked too hard or insinuations that punched
below the emotional belt. (Photo: In this picture, I’m on the left, Tim
is on the right. Our mutual friend Hugh is in the middle. Tim and I had
the opportunity to travel together. Here, we’re in Florence, Italy.)

But
Tim and I never let those offenses lie. On any number of occasions we’d
be on the phone the next day, asking for and granting forgiveness. As a
result, the leadership of our church was stronger. Our relationship,
far from being injured, grew into deeper fellowship. Today, Tim is one
of my dearest friends, even though we live half a country apart. My
experience with Tim illustrates that genuine forgiveness not only
preserves peace, but also makes it better.

In my next post I want to discuss one of the most important contexts for peacemaking: the family.

Peacemaking in Families

In my last post in this series, I spoke of the centrality of
forgiveness in peacemaking. While I’m speaking of forgiveness, I want
to say a word about peacemaking in families. Everything I have said
about peacemaking in church applies equally to family life. Humility,
gentleness, patience, unity, and forgiveness belong at home.
Unfortunately, home is often the toughest place to live out these
virtues. When I come home from work, after a day of exercising
humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness in my work life, I’m
worn out. My children might get the last bit of peacemaking I can
muster, though sometimes they don’t even get the dregs. My wife, Linda,
however, can get pride, insensitivity, impatience, and unforgiveness.
If she’s had a bad day too, you can imagine how much peace will bless
our marriage that night.

As I grow in Christ, I’m learning to
live my faith at home first and foremost, not last and least. But
because I’m so human, as are my other family members, forgiveness
pervades our household. Without forgiveness, we’d soon build up walls
of hostility that would damage our fellowship and reflect poorly on the
Lord. That’s the state of many families today, including many Christian
families. Husbands and wives have substituted nice-making for genuine
peacemaking, thus storing up bitterness against one another. The same
is often true of other family relationships. Only forgiveness,
forgiveness modeled after God’s own forgiveness and inspired by God’s
own Sprit, will bring wholeness – shalom – to our families.

Sometimes,
forgiveness is lacking because one who has wronged another is unwilling
to admit the offense and ask for forgiveness. Now we can forgive even
if someone will not own up to having wronged us. But it is much easier,
emotionally, to forgive one who says, “Yes, I was wrong. I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.”

Nate-Dad-Backpacking-3.5.jpgParents
can be especially resistant to admitting to their children when they
make mistakes. I remember a time, years ago, when I was confronted with
the question of whether or not to apologize to my son, Nathan. He had
done something wrong, so I responded with a stern lecture and taking
away some of his privileges. Yet, even as I finished with Nathan, I
realized that I had been harsh and unfair. It occurred to me that I
should apologize. But the thought of humbling myself before my young
son and asking for forgiveness made me most uncomfortable. It would
have been so much easier just to move on in the hope that we could
forget the whole incident. Yet, as I thought and prayed about what to
do, it seemed right to humble myself enough to apologize to Nathan and
admit my error. How else would he learn how to admit his own mistakes?
How else would he learn how to forgive? (Photo: Nathan and I, preparing
for our first backpack trip.)

So I sat down with him, explained
that I had been unfair, and asked for his forgiveness. I felt
embarrassed and awkward. Nathan responded by saying, “Sure, Dad” and
gave me a hug. I felt so much better! More importantly, I was beginning
to teach Nathan how to be a person who admits his mistakes and who
forgives others. I was being a peacemaker in my own family.

Throughout
my years as a pastor, I have witnessed deeply moving examples of
forgiveness in families. I’ve seen children forgive a father for his
years of alcoholic abuse. I’ve seen husbands forgive wives who have
been unfaithful in their marriage. And I’ve seen wives do the same.
God’s grace enables us to forgive, genuinely and fully, what we could
never do on our own.

But forgiveness is not pretending that
everything is okay. If a husband is physically abusing his wife, for
example, she does, in time, need to forgive him. But this doesn’t mean
she should simply stick around and take the abuse. Forgiveness doesn’t
turn us into human doormats, and it doesn’t take away the need for
wrongdoers to confess and repent.

A Christian leader I know has
a terrible temper. He has said and done things in anger that are
clearly sinful. Yet, to my knowledge, he’s never truly confessed his
sin to those he has wronged and asked them to forgive him. He seems to
assume that his fellow Christians owe him forgiveness, which is true,
of course. But it’s only half of the equation. The other half includes
his willingness to admit his mistakes and seek forgiveness, not to
mention to be held accountable for his behavior.

Peacemaking is
not just something that happens “out there.” It begins in our closest
relationships, in our homes and marriages, in our families and
friendships.

Peacemaking in the World, Part 1 

As I’ve shown in my recent posts, our peacemaking task begins right in
front of us, in our closest relationships at home, at work, at school,
and at church. But it doesn’t stop there. As God’s peacemakers, we must
take the message and substance of peace into the whole world. I am
discussing the global dimension of peacemaking after the ecclesial and
familial, not because the global is less important, but because we can
hardly commend the peace of Christ to the world if our primary
relationships are fractured and contentious.

How can we bring
God’s peace to the world? First of all, we do so by announcing the
peacemaking work of Christ on the cross. Telling the good news about
Jesus is essential to any Christian peacemaking effort. This good news
invites others to renounce their sin and to be reconciled to God. Thus
it opens the door so that they might begin to live in God’s peace and
to join the ranks of divine peacemakers.

I am not suggesting
that every single time Christians seek to make peace we must go through
the basics of the Gospel. Surely we must be sensitive to the people
whom we are seeking to help and to the context of the conversation.
But, I must confess that I am concerned about the tendency, especially
in some mainline denominational peacemaking efforts, to minimize or
neglect the good news of Christ. We seem to think that we can make
peace among people without mentioning the One who alone is the source
of true peace. This, it seems to me, misses the essence of truly
Christian peacemaking. (Photo: A cross in the Chapel of the
Transfiguration, at Grand Teton National Park.)

teton-cross-5.jpgSecond,
we bring God’s peace to the world by holding up the cross of Christ as
an example to emulated. Though the world might scoff at Christ’s
paradigm of self-sacrifice, it shows us all how to live.

Of
course if we speak of Christ’s sacrifice, we must also exemplify it in
our own behavior. Scripture teaches us to do this in one of the most
significant and challenging passages in the New Testament:

If
then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy
complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full
accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of
you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let
the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in
the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:1-11 

Notice
that Christ’s emptying of himself serves as a paradigm for our own
behavior. It teaches and calls us to be people of love and humility,
people who care deeply about the interests of others. Thus, we who
profess the cross of Christ must live cross-shaped lives if we seek to
extend the peace of Christ into the world.

Tomorrow I’ll have more to say about how we make peace in the world.

Peacemaking in the World, Part 2 

Yesterday, I suggested that we make peace in the world, first of all,
by announcing the peacemaking work of Christ on the cross. Second, we
bring God’s peace to the world by holding up the cross of Christ as an
example to emulated. Today I’ll offer two additional aspects of
peacemaking in the world.

Third, we extend divine peace into
the world by living peaceably each day: “Do your part to live in peace
with everyone, as much as possible” (Rom 12:18). Notice that we are to
live peaceably with “everyone,” those inside the church and outside of
the church, those in our families and those at our workplace, the
servers who wait on our tables with extra consideration and the “stupid
idiots” who cut us off in the parking lot.

This is, of course,
much easier said than done. It’s not all that demanding to tell others,
especially if they’re geographically far away from us, what they need
to do to live in peace. But it’s really quite challenging to live
peaceably with others each and every day.

Fourth, we bring
God’s peace to the world by seeking his righteousness and justice.
Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his
righteousness/justice” (Matt 6:33). Most translations refer only to
God’s “righteousness,” but the Greek word carries both connotations.
Jesus maintains the Jewish interconnection of righteousness, justice,
and peace. We would expect as much from Jesus, since he is the
fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy as the Prince of Peace who will rule
forever with “justice and righteousness” (Isa 9:6-7). He is the one who
brings good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom to
the downtrodden (Luke 4:18).

In practical terms, how do we seek
God’s righteousness and justice? We treat all people with respect and
dignity, even and especially those who are most helpless and
defenseless. We make sure our practices and policies reflect God’s
revealed values, even when we operate in “the world.” We use the power
and opportunity given to us to be people of biblical justice. We don’t
turn the other way when we see injustice, but invest our energies so
that God’s justice and righteousness might take form in and ultimately
transform our world.

vietnam-protest-5.jpgThis
last activity, doing justice in the world, has been the cause of
considerable debate and conflict among Christians. When I was young, I
watched Christians pummel each other verbally over American involvement
in Vietnam. For some, a Christian commitment to peace demanded
immediate withdrawal. For others, Christian values required that we
free the South Vietnamese from the domination of communism. In the
1980s, I had Christian friends who protested against the American
nuclear arms build-up, even to the point of being arrested in acts of
civil disobedience. I had other Christian friends who committed their
professional lives to helping the U.S. make nuclear weapons. They did
this conscientiously, believing that their efforts would further the
cause of peace in the world. Within contemporary society, some
Christians focus their efforts on justice for the unborn, while others
ignore this issue altogether, claiming that racial injustice deserves
our primary attention.

I can’t begin to resolve these complex
issues here. But let me offer a few words of guidance. Even though the
relationship between Christian peacemaking and political activism can
be confusing, we may not forget about it. Scripture calls us to make
peace in every dimension of life and to seek justice in this world.
Many peacemaking actions are clearly taught in Scripture and therefore
require little debate. Feeding the hungry, building a home with Habitat
for Humanity, sponsoring a child through World Vision, embracing
someone from an ethnic background other than your own, caring for
inmates through Prison Fellowship – all of these actions and countless
more are clearly biblical (see, for example, Matt 25:31-46). Invest
yourself in doing that which God obviously favors, without spending all
your time debating the difficult issues and doing nothing tangible.

When
it comes to the tricky issues, however, and we all must face them, let
me urge you to seek God’s wisdom in Scripture. Many advocates of social
causes, including many Christians, do not ground their efforts in God’s
Word. Thus they easily go astray, either in goals or in strategies, and
usually in both. Usually, when we seriously try to discover God’s will
for a particular issue in Scripture, we’ll discover that our
assumptions and biases and commitments need to be adjusted in light of
God’s truth.

Peacemaking in the World, Part 3

When I consider Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers, I think of a ministry
in Hollywood, California called “City Dwellers.” In my last years at
Hollywood Presbyterian Church, I was privileged to watch this ministry
grow. It flourishes to this day, now as part of DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection).

City Dwellers was, in part, a response to God’s word through Jeremiah:”But seek the peace [shalom] of the city to which I have sent you in exile, and pray to the Lord for it, because in its peace [shalom] will be your peace [shalom] (Jer 29:7).

Members
of the City Dwellers team moved into one of the neighborhoods in the
city of Hollywood, a barrio of filled primarily with lower class
immigrant families. Violence, crime, poverty, injustice – all were
common in “the neighborhood.” They sought God’s shalom for that community.

City
Dweller teammates were usually young adults who commit to spend a year
living in Hollywood as peacemakers. Their ministry was multi-faceted.
They shared the gospel and their possessions with their neighbors. They
shepherded children and encouraged parents. They sought justice for
people whose ignorance of American society and the English language
made them easy targets for oppressors. They fed the hungry and visited
prisoners in jail. They comforted mothers whose children were shot in
drive-by shootings. They taught young people academic skills and they
taught them about Jesus.

Was City Dwellers an evangelistic
ministry? You bet. Was it social action? Undoubtedly. Did it seek
healing for the sick and the brokenhearted? No question about it. Did
it model and proclaim the peace of Christ? In everything that it did.

Jay-Dec-Hulk-5.jpgI
remember watching with amazement a Bible study led by Jay, one of the
first City Dwellers. He had gathered a group of Hispanic boys around
ten years old. Jay called them his “Bible study,” but they did much
more than study together once a week. Jay shared his life with these
boys and they shared theirs with him. As the boys grew up, some of them
started looking more and more like the gang-bangers in the
neighborhood. Others found the strength to stay away from risky
involvement with gangs. But no matter what, Jay loved those boys and
they loved him back. Because of Jay’s loving witness, many of them also
grew to know the love of God personally and to love God in return. What
a joyful sight at Jay’s wedding, where several of these young men were
dressed up in their tuxedos, truly Jay’s brothers in Christ. (Photo: I
don’t have any pictures of Jay with his “Bible study.” But I do have
one of Jay celebrating his son’s birthday. Jay is the green one. Here’s
a piece of advice: If you ever meet Jay, don’t make him angry!)

City
Dwellers is not alone among Christian ministries in its “whole gospel”
approach to ministry. I can think of several ministries that are
wholistic in their exercise of peacemaking. World Vision touches
millions of people throughout the world, backing up the message of the
gospel by providing food for the hungry and seeking justice for the
downtrodden. Habitat for Humanity brings peace to families by helping
them to afford their own homes. In the process of building houses, the
good news of Christ is proclaimed and demonstrated as people from
different walks of life dig ditches, put up drywall, and paint walls.
This list could go on and on, for there are millions of Christian
ministries, including churches, that reflect the call of Christ to
wholistic peacemaking. You can join this effort by becoming an active
partner of one of these ministries, often in conjunction with your own
church.

The Peace that Lies Ahead 

When Christians seek justice for the oppressed, or when World Vision
mobilizes the church to care for victims of famine, or when churches in
a community get together to build a house with Habitat for Humanity,
you catch a glimpse of the peace that lies ahead. When a church group
builds a home for people who have never before had adequate shelter or
anything other than a dirt floor upon to sleep, you can see the dawning
of the future. When a husband and a wife choose forgiveness over
bitterness, or a person of power chooses the way of servanthood, you
taste a morsel of the messianic banquet yet to come. When people whose
lives have been imprisoned by brokenness find wholeness and freedom
through Christ, you peek through a window into eternity. Every time
God’s peace invades our present existence, we get a foretaste of the
infinitely greater peace that will someday envelope heaven and earth.
(Photo: Two of the leaders of Irvine Presbyterian Church in a building
project in El Niño, Mexico, near Tijuana. Over the years, this church
has build dozens of homes for families.)

Tim-Ginger-nailing-5.jpgGod’s
people have looked forward to this time for centuries. The Old
Testament prophet Isaiah, for example, had a vision of divine peace
conquering the whole world:

In the last days, the Temple
of the Lord in Jerusalem will become the most important place on earth.
People from all over the world will go there to worship. Many nations
will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to
the Temple of the God of Israel. There he will teach us his ways, so
that we may obey him.” For in those days the Lord’s teaching and his
word will go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will settle international
disputes. All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and
their spears into pruning hooks. All wars will stop, and military
training will come to an end (Isa 2:2-4). 

To update the
imagery a bit, someday tanks will be turned into tractors and silos for
nuclear missiles into grain silos. God’s peace will have won the war.
Human fellowship with God and with others, damaged through sin but
never completely lost, will be refreshed perpetually in the river of
divine peace.

The last book of the Bible, the Revelation of John, reveals the future in images reminiscent of Isaiah:

Then
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old
earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy
city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a
beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the
throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! he will
live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with
them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more
death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are
gone forever.” (Rev 21:1-4). 

God will not obliterate
his creation, but renew it to match his original intention. He will no
longer be separated from us because of sin. The work of reconciliation
will be completed and we will live with God, just as we were supposed
to from the beginning. Intimate fellowship with God, lost in the fall,
regained in the cross, will be fully restored. In place of sorrow, we
will delight in the fullness of joy. Bathed in God’s peace, we will
once again inhabit paradise.

Christians are people who live now
in intimate fellowship with God and with God’s people. In these
relationships we experience genuine peace, yet not the fullness of
peace. By the indwelling Spirit, we step into the future, enjoying
peace with God and all its benefits . . . but only in part. We walk
intimately with God, even though sin keeps nipping at our heals, and,
every now and then, tripping us up altogether. We share life with our
Christian brothers and sisters, sometimes loving each other as Christ
has loved us and sometimes clobbering each other like a bunch of
squabbling siblings. Already we can see heaven arising on the horizon,
but the dawn tarries.

The biblical vision of the peace that
lies ahead helps draw us near to God. It enables us to trust him in the
midst of a world so filled with brokenness and strife. This vision also
motivates us to be peacemakers, even when our notions of peace and our
approaches to peacemaking seem naive to a jaded, worn out world.
Finally, the biblical picture of peace yet to come binds us together
with other Christians in a fellowship of hope. To quote from the
Apostle Paul once again:

May the God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow
with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13). 

Knowing God’s Peace: Some Practical Advice

As a pastor for over twenty years, I frequently chat with people who
want to know the peace of God, but find it elusive. Their question -
and perhaps your question as well – gets right to the point: How can I
really know divine peace each day?

I’ll try to answer that
question, but before I do I want to offer a couple of qualifications.
First, the peace of God isn’t the result of some formula. It’s not
something you can produce with magic. Rather, it’s a result of
relationship with the living God, a God who cannot be put into a neat
little box.

Second, I must confess that I can also let the
experience of God’s peace slip away from me. I have always been a
chronic worrywart and I easily let little things disrupt the Spirit’s
gift of inner peace. That doesn’t invalidate what I’m about to say,
however, because my advice comes from the Scripture, not from my own
inconsistent experience. I simply want to be honest about my
shortcomings.

nate-swan-sunset-5.jpgPeace
is a gift from God. Every individual experience of peace rests, at its
base, upon the peacemaking work of Christ on the cross. Knowing peace
each day is, therefore, a blessing from God:

The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace. (Psa 29:11). 

May the Lord of peace himself always give you peace no matter what happens. (2 Thess 3:16).

Divine
peace, whether in our hearts or in our relationships, comes from the
hand of God. If you are lacking peace, don’t try to make yourself feel
peaceful. Don’t begin with breathing exercises or soothing
rationalizations. Rather, turn your heart to the Lord. Cry out to him
for help. Spend time with him on a regular basis. I am always impressed
by how much more peacefully I take on the problems of the day when I
have begun that day with Christ. Since peace of mind and heart are his
gift, this should come as no surprise (John 14:27).

The more
you focus your mind upon God and the things of God, the more you will
dwell in his peace. This theme appears throughout the Scripture. Isaiah
says to the Lord, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you,
whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isa 26:3). Paul writes, “To set the
mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life
and peace” (Rom 8:6, NRSV). If you are struggling with doubt or worry,
I’ll bet that your mind is focused somewhere else, probably on yourself
and your problems. Ask God for the grace to set your mind upon Him, and
you will come to know his peace.

Prayer becomes the principle
context in which this work of “mind-setting” occurs. In prayer we
meditate upon God’s mercy and love. In prayer we lay our worries at
God’s feet. You and I need to adopt Paul’s advice to the Philippians as
our own:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about
everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more
wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your
hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7) 

Our
individual experience of God’s peace depends, to a great extent, upon
our participation in the community of God’s people. When we struggle
with all those feelings that squelch God’s peace within us, our
brothers and sisters in Christ will listen to us, pray for us, and
encourage us. If you want to know God’s peace each day, make sure you
don’t seek it alone.

In a nutshell, the peace of God is a by-product of genuine fellowship with God and his people.

Becoming a Peacemaker: Some Practical Advice

Once again I want to address a very practical question, the kind of
query I get from people who want to take God’s truth and live it out in
their daily lives. So here’s a question that I can imagine being asked
by such a person: “Mark, there are so many ways to be involved in God’s
peacemaking work that I feel overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to
start. I care about so many different issues. What should I do to begin
living as a peacemaker?”

First, look at what is right in front
of you. Chances are that you’ll find numerous opportunities to be a
peacemaker right in your own home, or in your classroom, or in your
office, or in your neighborhood, or in your church. Ask the Lord to
show you how you can share his peace with those who share your life
each day.

Second, ask God for direction concerning which
ministry of peacemaking to invest in. Beware of the tendency to get
over-involved. Doing more than you have time to do will quickly steal
away your inner peace, and thereby enfeeble your attempts to be a
peacemaker for others. Frankly, I’ve watched too many well-meaning
Christians exhaust themselves so much in various worthy causes that
they have little time left for their own families. Not a good
peacemaking plan!

Third, what is your passion? Often God directs
us through our convictions and strong feelings. If you have an abiding
concern about racial injustice, for example, that may be God’s way of
directing you to a ministry committed to racial reconciliation. When we
act on our passions, we tend to have more energy and
“stick-to-itiveness.” My only word of warning is that sometimes people
who are passionate about an issue can have such strong emotions that
they don’t think clearly about it. (Photo: Many members of my church in
Irvine had a passion for orphaned children in Swaziland. Many
individuals and families from the church went to serve these children,
building dorms, schools, and churches.)

swaziland-orphans-ipc-5.jpgFourth,
always seek God’s will through studying and meditating upon Scripture.
You may hear the Spirit’s voice as you reflect upon what the Spirit has
already said in the Bible.

Fifth, allow your Christian community
to help you discern where to invest your energies as a member of God’s
peacemaking team. When your brothers and sisters listen to you and pray
with you for guidance, they’ll also help you to distinguish between
God’s call and your own immature enthusiasm.

Sixth, don’t just
sit there, do something! Now I don’t mean to suggest that you rush
unthinkingly into some long-term commitment. But all too often
well-intentioned people think about all the good they could do in the
world without lifting a finger to make a real difference. So, even if
you’re not sure what you’d like to do for years and years, find some
short-term cause and get busy.
family.

 

 

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