How do I Achieve Peace AND Be Holy?

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Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12.14, ESV

Peace is an elusive, hard-won, state of affairs.

One party may feel at peace while another is ramping up efforts to overturn it. World leaders made flowery overtures about how they longed for lasting peace after World War I. Unfortunately, their desire to humiliate the Germans via reparations payments simply set the stage for another world war.

These past several years have been anything but peaceful, and the past few weeks have been downright nuts. I don’t care where you stand politically—both sides are behaving like sugar-hyped, bickering siblings. Continue reading

Acceptance: what it is and what it is not. (Comparison Cure#2)

This is the third post in the series on Comparison cures. To read the previous post, click here.

storm coming

“Live the life you want to live”

“Don’t drift through life. Get where you want to be.”

“How could you let that happen to you?”

“You need to try harder”

Would you say that those are fairly common phrases? I hear them or read them almost daily. So many high-powered people talk about how you are the only thing holding yourself back from a “better” life.

If you have ever seen “The Princess Bride,” then you’ll remember the shrilly little man named Vincini who keeps blurting out the word “inconceivable!” Finally, after several inconceivably conceivable events, his companion, Inyigo Montoya turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” When I hear people say the above phrases or use the word “better” I feel a bit like Inyigo Montoya. I don’t think it means what they think it means. Only God really knows what is best. Sometimes the worst things that happen fashion our hearts to be more like the Lord and less like the world.

So often we think we’ve been dealt a bad hand. We see God as unjust and unfair—though I daresay we only think it in our heart. The truth is, Satan is trying to pull us away from God by any and every means possible. Satan will use wealth and prosperity to create pride, apathy and complacency. He inspired concentration camps to create despair and hopelessness. He destroys families, feeds loneliness and abandonment so that people will seek help outside of God, falling deeper into his clutches. God is not unaware of what goes on, and we are never beyond his reach. God is able to transform any agonizing trial into something glorious if we accept the situation and allow Him to work.

Think of it this way: imagine that a father has told his son that they are going to get ice cream. Through no fault of the father’s, the ice cream shop they frequent has suddenly gone out of business. The Father tries to explain to his Son that there are alternatives, but his little boy is too busy crying and stomping his feet to listen. The Father understands that his son does not understand the unpredictability of life and tries to help him. However, if the little guy is going to ignore the reassurance of his father (and alternate plan to go to another shop) and instead chooses to kick and scream, there will be no ice cream, but a firm reprimand instead.

There is nothing wrong with being upset/hurt/disappointed, but where do you take your pain? Do you allow it to be your focus or do you turn and listen to the Father? Do you accept things and place them in God’s omnipotent hands or do you rage against the machine hoping that all your fighting will change things?

So much of our trouble in comparing ourselves to others is our unwillingness to accept both blessings and trials. But lest you think acceptance is defeat, guess again.

Acceptance is not lazy resignation.

When I hear individuals talk about success, they place those of us “less successful folk” in the lazy category. They look dubiously on the person who sighs and says, “that’s just the way it is” as if they are too complacent. In one way, they are right. We cannot just drift about as though we are fated to have it good or have it bad. We must always work toward our improvement and the improvement of those within our sphere of influence.

However, there are times when things just turn nasty and we have to determine our course of action. In life, we often find ourselves in the midst of a sudden storm. What is our usual reaction? We get upset, we cry, we analyze, we fret, we throw up our hands in defeat—we do everything except turn it over to God. The best course of action is to accept the situation, not in defeat, but as an acknowledgement of reality. People who commit suicide feel resigned to their lot and they think that death will alleviate their pain and the pain of others. What it usually does is create more destruction and grief.

No, lazy resignation is NOT acceptance.

So, what is acceptance and how will it help cure our comparison ills?

Acceptance is Situational Awareness

In law enforcement and the military, a huge portion of their training deals with this idea of Situational Awareness. Those men and women don’t get to create their circumstances. They go where they are needed and often find themselves in some sticky spots. The first and best thing to do is to be alert, sober, vigilant and highly observant. If, for example, an officer finds himself in a place where there is a suspect running down the road on foot, the first thing is to be cognizant of what they look like and where they are going. Are there other suspicious people around who might cause the officer harm? Are they going into a place where they can be cornered? Where is the nearest backup? They have to take the situation as it is and decide what to do with it.

As children of God, there will be seasons of life that are painful. They are not of our making, but are the result of living in this decaying world. The first step is to be aware of the reality and to guard ourselves against the tricks of our enemy (Satan). It’s acceptance of fact. If you jump off a cliff, you’ll die. Someday, the people you love will die. At some point, you will die. There will always be people who grasp for power, control and tyranny. There will always be people who reject God. Companies go under. Jobs disappear. Cancer creeps in. Bad people get good things and good people get bad things. That is reality, however awful it may be. Be aware of it, be on guard against Satan and set your mind on the blessings that you have in the moments that you have them. Lastly, remember the greatest reality of all—this life isn’t the end. Someday we’ll have an eternal life and that’s the better thing.

Acceptance is Trust in God

I’ve been reading the book of Daniel over the past few days and I still marvel at how much Daniel and his three friends placed their trust in God. I wrote about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a previous post, so I won’t expound on them here. What jumped out at me in this reading was in Daniel 6. It’s a familiar account to many children about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but the den part wasn’t what struck me.

Here is part of the account:

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

~ Daniel 6.3-10, ESV

Notice a few important details. Daniel was given a great deal of power in the kingdom and things were only looking up. He had integrity. He was respected. In spite of being away from his homeland in Israel, life was good for him. What these men were planning to do had the potential to destroy him. He would lose every earthly thing—power, wealth, respect, and, of course, his very life.

On the other hand, if he did not continue to serve God, He would lose everything of value—his relationship with God.

Does Daniel weep bitter tears and ask God why these things are happening? Does he try praying in secret so they won’t find out about it?

No.

He didn’t hesitate. He went up to his room, got down on his knees and started praying; And not just praying, but praying visibly. He wanted them all to know, without doubt, that Daniel’s loyalty was to God and not men. He accepted the reality of the situation and made the choice to put his life in God’s omnipotent hands. He trusted that God would take care of him, either in this life or the next.

After being delivered from the lions’ den, the account says this in verse 23: “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Acceptance is seeing the storm and trusting that somehow, God will pull you through it. When we accept the good and the bad and place it in the hands of the Lord, we have peace. When the fear starts to grip your heart, take it to the Lord in prayer. You will never find peace or rest until you do that.

I want to conclude with this excellent poem by Amy Carmichael:

He said, ‘I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places,
They shall be filled again.
O voices moaning deep within me, cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction
Shall stir me and sustain;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavour lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life’s riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will submit; I am defeated.
God hath depleted
My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings, why will ye not cease?’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow
Will to His son explain.’
Then did the turmoil deep within me cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.

 

Day 21: Quiet Time

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

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The house was still and silent save for the soft snores of the chocolate lab lying on her bed in the far corner. I sat evaluating the budget and making my to-do list for the following day. No interruptions. No demands. Just the soft airy silence of night.

I got up and peeked in on the children. My oldest was curled up snugly under the covers. My middle daughter was splayed out and lost in dreams. My youngest child lay on his stomach with his bottom up in the air. All quiet. All sleeping. All peaceful.

The evening had become the best part of the day. It was a time for quiet reflection. A period in which I could process the day’s events and prepare for tomorrow’s. With our current life changes, my quiet time has shifted from late evening to early morning. I get up before the sun to read, pray and exercise. It’s a great way to begin the day.

My children have had “quiet time” as part of their routine from an early age. It’s about thirty minutes to an hour of time they spend alone doing something quietly. They can read or play, but they have to be quiet. It accomplishes many things: it allows us to get things done distraction-free, it teaches the kids to entertain themselves quietly, and it gives us a break from each other. Those may sound negative, but they’re not. It’s good to have a little break so that we don’t end up getting on each other’s nerves. There’s fewer sibling quarrels and I rarely hear the words “I’m bored” because they know how to keep themselves busy.

I am thankful for quiet times, no matter when they come. They fortify, refresh and nourish the mind.

Coffee Chat 7 – How can I be a peacemaker?

coffee chat

I love a good discussion with a friend over a steaming cup of chai, but since I can’t gather all of you at a comfortable cafe, I’ll have to be content with this little corner of the Internet.

I want to thank each and every person who has come to these coffee chats and commented. I have thoroughly enjoyed your insights and inspiration! Thank you for your time.

This week, I want to talk about peace and conflict.

Where would the world be if England had rolled over and played dead when Hitler assaulted them with his Blitzkrieg?

Where would the world be if the United States of America had chosen to turn a blind eye to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941?

Where would we be if Jesus Christ went along with the folks who wanted to make him an earthly king?

If there were never resistance to evil, there would never be peace.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4.4, ESV

I’m going to step out on a limb here, and I beseech your patience and mercy.

The apathy within the church towards sin makes my blood boil.

So often, people become “members” of their local church so they can have friends or the approval of family, but they don’t care much about the approval of God. They want to keep doing whatever it was they were doing before—fornication, adultery, porn-addiction, alcoholism, selfishness, greed, pride, hate—and the people in the church, not wanting to be cast as “judgmental” go along with their sin so as not to create waves. They don’t want to push them away, so they remain silent. “Let’s not preach about selfishness, it’s too negative.” “Don’t rebuke brother so-and-so for causing so much trouble in the church or else he might leave.”

When Jesus resisted the calls to be made a king, he put himself into conflict with the people and with the leaders. They didn’t want the will of God, they wanted earthly triumph and vengeance against the Romans. He engaged in conflict in order to make peace with God on our behalf. Until he died, we had no way to be in that state of peace.

The church gets corrupted when it decides that it doesn’t want to engage in conflict with worldly desires—pride, selfishness, greed, conformity—to remain at peace with God.

There is no Switzerland in the war with Satan. There is God’s side and there is Satan’s side.

There is no neutral territory.

The point is this: Peace cannot be achieved without conflict.

In Matthew 5:9, in Jesus famous “Beatitudes” he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

James also writes this:

Who is wise and understanding among you? 

By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3.13-18

I am not someone who takes pleasure in conflict. I like harmony.

And yet, I don’t often feel harmonious with the church. More often than not, I feel anger and frustration. I feel overwhelming vexation by acceptance of sin, weakness of leadership, acquiescence to stupidity “in the name of peace,” and compromising truth “in the name of unity”.

Am I wrong to feel this way? Am I at odds with God?

If I am right in my feelings, what in the world am I supposed to do about it? Simply stewing in my anger doesn’t help anybody.

How can I help my brothers and sisters in Christ without sinning towards them and towards my God?

How can I be a peacemaker?

Be still. Now.

If I could describe my life during college, racing from class to class, pulling all-nighters, working, performing, meeting up with friends, making it to worship and Bible classes, the picture below would be an excellent illustration—racing around like a roadrunner and loving every single minute:

roadrunner
Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner. Copyright Warner Bros.

The picture below more accurately illustrates what I have felt like (more times than I care to admit) since college—still running faster than the speed of the earth’s rotation and slightly rabid at times with a little humorous nuttiness:

hammy
Hammy the Squirrel Copyright DreamWorks Animation.

Most of the time, I feel like I’m racing to outrun a deadline or some other pressing danger. If I’m not running that way, I’m hopped up on adrenaline, getting slightly crazy to outrun the latest deadline or impending trouble. My hair might stick up strangely in a few spots…

My reaction when faced with trouble is either to be overwhelmed by it or spring into immediate action and reaction. This past week has been so crammed with surprises and major life changes that it honestly feels like a month has passed, rather than seven days.

Yesterday, while addressing the demands of the day and contemplating next steps for our immediate future, I got an email from my mother. She has been studying Nehemiah. I love the book of Nehemiah. There are abundant lessons to be learn and, Lord willing, I’ll be writing about them in the future.

She sent me a section of commentary that could not have come at a better time:

Nehemiah 2:1-3

1. He had the faith to wait. (Nehemiah 2:1-3)

Since the Jewish month of Nisan would be our mid-March to mid-April, it would indicate that four months have passed since Nehemiah received the bad news about the plight of Jerusalem. As every believer should, Nehemiah patiently waited on the Lord for directions; because it is “through faith and patience” that we inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12). “He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16). True faith in God brings a calmness to the heart that keeps us from rushing about and trying to do in our own strength what only God can do. We must know not only how to weep and pray, but also how to wait and pray.

Three statements in Scripture have a calming effect on me whenever I get nervous and want to rush ahead of the Lord: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13); “Sit still … until you know how the matter will turn out” (Ruth 3:18, NKJV); “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). When you wait on the Lord in prayer, you are not wasting your time; you are investing it. God is preparing both you and your circumstances so that His purposes will be accomplished. However, when the right time arrives for us to act by faith, we dare not delay.
(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)

I read it, smiled and went on with my day, not anticipating the torpedo that was about to land in our lives, creating additional shockwaves.

When my spouse called to tell me the latest surprise that work had delivered us, my instinctive reaction was to panic. If you have seen the movie Over the Hedge by DreamWorks Animation, picture in your mind the scene where Hammy the squirrel looks up at the ominous hedge, thinks for a split second and then races left and right to see what this hedge thing is all about. He comes back and says, “It never ends!” and “It never ends that way too!”

Almost immediately after that surge of rising panic, the words I had read that morning flashed into my mind.

“Stand Still… and see the salvation of the Lord.”

“Sit still… until you know how the matter will turn out”

“Be still, and know that I AM GOD.

Instead of jumping up and rushing around in a frenzy, I sat still.

Literally.

I prayed right then and there. I didn’t get up and go find a quiet place. I stopped right where I was and prayed silently. I suddenly understood fully what Amy Carmichael meant in this poem:

He said, “I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God to-morrow
Will to His son explain.”
Then did the turmoil deep within him cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in acceptance lieth peace.

~Amy Carmichael
(for full text of the poem, click here.)

Whoa.

I sat still. I prayed.

The anxiety evaporated. Instantly.

The peace came. Instantly.

Timing is everything. That encouraging email from my mother could not have come at a more crucial moment in my life.

Are you rushing around trying to stay ahead of the game? Are you facing an overwhelming situation?

If you are there, then read, re-read and fix your mind on Psalm 46, where the oft used verse “Be still” comes from:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Listen to the Words of the Lord. He is like a father talking to a trembling child:

Be still.

Be calm.

I am in control.

And my friends, He really is.