Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Still More Pursuing Peace

Ephesians 5:15-20 gives more guidance on finding peace. Rather than finding a temporary peace in drunkenness, the apostle Paul instructs to be filled, not with spirits that you drink, but with the Spirit of God. Wisely make the most of every opportunity; Christians are people of action for good in a world in which many act for evil. Note: Act wisely. Carefully examine charges against others. Avoid gossip. Also, he says encourage and seek encouragement from other Christians by instructing one another in song. When we sing, we do so to teach and encourage, not just to enjoy a pleasant melody or to rock to a pulsing rhythm. This speaking to one another in song also conveys an implied task, assembling to worship with other Christians. It is when we meet together in worship that we speak to one another in song. We do not find peace in isolation. Adopt an attitude of gratitude, “always giving thanks to God for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we search for problems or mistakes, we will find them. When we search for evidence of God’s grace, we will find peace.
John 6:51-58 also gives guidance in our search for peace, but the words of Jesus there may frighten or even disgust us at first, just as they did many of those who first heard them. Jesus says here in riveting terms what he says more mildly in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” Follow Jesus and you find the path to peace. This is not an easy path. It is not for the faint of heart. The words of Jesus here led early opponents to accuse his disciples of cannibalism. Those accusations were false. These words also have significance for us when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, something early Christians made a point to do when they met together. But eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Supper do not exhaust the meaning of these words. Jesus calls us to follow him with fervent faith and intensity of spirit. We obey his will, whatever the consequences. I give a word of caution here: We always must beware of thinking what we want is what God wants. Study hard, pray hard, and determine God’s will after careful consideration of the facts. Then act in faith with trust in God. Jesus says here that if we follow him with a consuming faith, we will find life - we will know peace. Many people left Jesus when he spoke this call to radical discipleship. Peter however understood, and told Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When we give everything to Christ in faith, when we die to sin, and are buried in baptism, we arise into a new life, Romans 6 says. In that Christ focused life, we find peace. To be sure problems remain. Like David, like Peter, like Paul, we will still stumble as we go forward. But if like them, we maintain our focus on our Savior, we will reach our goal.
I began by talking about international, community, and personal searches for peace. Most of our lesson has concentrated on the personal search. I submit to you, however, that peace in the community, in the nation, and in the world, begins as each individual finds peace and seeks to help others find the way. Pursuing peace does not mean avoiding conflict, letting people abuse others, or refusing to interact with others because after all, they are not perfect. The passages and examples we have examined counsel us to pray for wisdom and the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to tell truth, to avoid slander, gossip, and to make the most of every opportunity, to assemble and sing songs of instruction and joy with other Christians, and to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Our course of action is to follow Jesus with an intensity and fervent focus that may frighten our friends until they realize that we have found a peace that they too can share. So today, we stand before Jesus. Are we focused? Will we act for him? Now is not the time to cower or to say, I can do nothing. It is the time to say, “Just as I am, Lord, I come.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Still Pursuing Peace

Yesterday I started to write about pursuing peace. Next we turn to the perspective of a Hebrew poet, perhaps King Solomon’s father David, in Psalm 34: 9-14. Do you seek peace? Seek the Lord. Fear him, abstain from slander, and tell the truth. Aggressively seek peace. The admonition to “Seek peace and pursue it” is quoted in the New Testament. We cannot accept continual conflict. We must keep on searching for answers. We reach the goal of our quest, Psalm 34 insists, by speaking truth, by treating others fairly, and by avoiding evil and doing good. We reach our goal however not merely by doing good deeds, but by living with direction – We seek the Lord. As Jesus said (Mt. 6:33), “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pursuing Peace

We seek peace, but peace eludes us. It slips away just when we think it firmly in our grasp. Whether that peace is internal, a local community’s, or international, all of us know the frustration of searching for harmony in a discordant world. For decades, world leaders have labored to achieve peace in Palestine, to bring unity to Afghanistan, to forge territorial integrity, governments that respect people and use resources wisely in Africa. Those efforts continue. In our own nation, opposite ends of the political spectrum profess to fear greatly what will befall our society if the other side pursues their agenda fully. Tensions continue between races and between people from different economic, educational, and religious backgrounds. In our homes, anger, cynicism, distrust, and harmful lifestyles disrupt domestic bliss. Even within ourselves, we find ourselves echoing those words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Where can we find the peace that eludes us? I want to examine passages of Scripture that identify paths that lead away from peace and roads that lead to it. I want to conclude by describing a course of action that will lead us to an enduring peace.
Let’s look first at a young man who has just assumed a position of national leadership: King Solomon of Israel, son of David. 1 Kings 3 describes how after the king had spent a day in worship to God, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever want me to give you.” In response, Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern his people and to distinguish between right and wrong. In his dream, God looked favorably upon his response and promised him that if he would walk in his ways and obey his commands, he would grant him long life. Solomon, however, did not always do that. Several biblical passages describe how he strayed from the course in his latter years. The book of Ecclesiastes, many believe, describes his spiritual quest for peace. The writer, perhaps Solomon himself, describes how he searched for peace in wealth, in education, in all kinds of pleasure, and in excess. It all was in vain. Solomon’s search is reflected in the choices we and our contemporaries make. People crave wealth. They gamble, steal, invest, and work long, hard hours of overtimes to achieve it. Scholars go to school endlessly and then seek to stay one step ahead of rivals in research and publishing. Soldiers push for perfection in fitness, or seek peace in the freedom of speeding on a motorcycle. They drink too much alcohol or try to out do their peers in terms of sexual conquests. We too fail. Financial recklessness produces the kind of economic wreckage plaguing many of our countrymen. Too many soldiers are dying in motorcycle accidents. Alcohol abuse contributes to spouse abuse; suicide rates increase on our military posts and among our youth in general. Solomon concludes in the final verse of Ecclesiastes, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man, for God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." I will continue this subject in my next posting.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thoughts on Gospel Meetings

I went to gospel meetings as a child. I very vaguely remember one when I was four when my father told me the preacher was named N.B. Hardeman. I also heard Guy Woods and a host of others. I remember sitting in congregations where Christians expected someone to come down the aisle for baptism. I confess that I took my infant daughter to two gospel meetings in the first month of her life. Reuel Lemmons held her in his arms; Guy Woods shook her little hand. I know about the RVers who sacrifice their time and give it to the Lord. I was part of a congregation last year that though known as a progressive church regressed (I'm joking here) in having them and had more baptisms that week than in the rest of year: people who weren’t going to church anywhere, who came from very different economic strata, and were of various races. Those gospel meetings of my youth, if nothing else, added to my knowledge of the God’s word, and to my love for congregational singing, and to my awareness that there are people in the world who truly are lost, who need an excuse and a venue to hear good news, who sometimes are the people who are there every time the church door opens, looking for a crumb of gospel. It troubles me that some people disparage congregations who give their members and their community extra opportunities to hear a message about Jesus. I truly regret that some belittle Christians who travel hundreds of miles (when perhaps older in poor health themselves) to walk down the streets of strange cities and talk to people they don't know about Jesus. Let’s look for the grace of God at work in our churches and our history. Let's give our neighbors a chance to know Jesus and how we relate to him. Gospel Meetings or Revivals may not be the best way to present the Gospel in our time. They are however one method that can strengthen congregations by renewing evangelistic zeal, by increasing the biblical knowledge of members as well as visitors, and by introducing preachers from other places (which might actually build unity).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Taking Time to Play

A visit to Disney World this last week impressed on me just how stressed I had allowed myself to become. It took two days for me to relax enough to enjoy playing and learning as my wife and I visited three of the resorts. The most restful day was the last one, which we spent at the Animal Kingdom. Seeing a variety of animals, walking through educational venues, and enjoying such comedic animated shows as "It's Hard to be a Bug!" really rejuvenated me. While it is critically important to work, we also must take time to laugh and to love.