Practicing Peace ~ Jesus Calling: February 11-24

How do we “practice” peace?

In a previous post, I described the practice of thankfulness as being a discipline in one’s life. And as with any discipline, you only become more familiar with what you are practicing the more that you practice. As with thankfulness, I believe that practicing peace will not only bring Jesus into our daily lives, but it will also bring us closer to the mind of God.

The first element of practicing peace is believing that Jesus is who He says He is. There was much told to us about Jesus long before He was born — 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that “a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14) and “…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) The exact meaning of Immanuel — God With Us — was then shared by the angel who appeared to Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, in a dream to comfort and encourage him as well as remind him that Isaiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled (Matthew 1:20-23).

When we practice peace, we must understand that peace is not something that can be attained by delving more and more into ourselves, but by delving more and more into the person of Jesus. In the man of Jesus we not only have God With Us, but also the Prince of Peace and the source of all peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) We can dwell in this Peace, we can clothe ourselves in this Peace, we can abide and rest in this Peace. 

The second element of practicing peace is understanding that our thoughts are precious to God. We have to believe that He has an interest in how we choose to go about our day in terms of where our thoughts lead. Not only must we “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) but we must also trust that the Holy Spirit that lives within us will help us to think the thoughts of God. Practicing peace means choosing to spend our time focusing on God’s presence — a choice that we may need to make thousands of times each day — instead of choosing to focus on our problems and limitations.

Practicing peace means abandoning yourself to His will, tackling fear, and relinquishing control. Facing problems as they come instead of anticipating them. Exercising trust and being thankful in all circumstances. Focusing on what He is already doing in your life instead of striving to imagine what you wish He would do. Laying our weaknesses before Him with the assurance that He knows us intimately and that he accepts us completely.

I know, it sounds difficult if not impossible. But we take courage in God’s abundant promises: If you are in Christ you are a new creation — the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not only is nothing impossible with God (Luke 1:37), but He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). And, thankfully, His grace is sufficient for us and, mercifully, His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Friends, enjoy the practice of peace.

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Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 6

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

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This commandment is simple and to the point, yet Christians continually struggle to determine what exactly this commandment means for us. Does it mean “to kill” or “to murder”? Does this commandment apply to animals? Suicide? War? Does it apply to the accidental killing of another person? Does it apply to the government’s killing of a convicted criminal? Does it apply to the unborn? These are extraordinarily difficult questions that many people believe are not up to our government to decide.

God ordains and even orders the killing of others in many stories of the Old Testament. Is He allowing Israel to break the fifth commandment? According to Hauerwas and Willimon, “All life is God’s. In the Bible, when killing is done, it is done under the agency of God, not by individuals or in service to the state, for only God is to kill and to make alive.” (page 80)

How is this commandment fleshed out further in the person of Jesus Christ? Jesus makes no attempts to soften or simplify this commandment, but makes it more comprehensive by including anger, insults, and demanding reconciliation from the offending parties. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser…” (Matthew 5:21-25a)

The women of Grace Chapel were asked the following question: “How can you be guilty of breaking this commandment without killing a person?” Here are some of their answers:

  • You can murder someone’s reputation, hate them, wish they were dead, or even simply dead to you and out of your life.
  • The New Testament says that hatred of someone is equivalent to murder.
  • Hate kills a relationship. Then love can’t be shown as God would have you do.
  • You can take a person’s reason for living or his livelihood, or demean him.
  • You can be hateful towards someone in thoughts, words, or actions.
  • If you hate someone you have already committed murder in your heart.
  • It is possible to “kill” the image of God in others without slaying the person.

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For Week 7, please read Chapter 6 on the Sixth Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. Why is sexual conduct taken so seriously by God?
  2. What does this commandment prohibit besides adultery?
  3. How can you break this commandment without being married?
  4. Why does our culture make this commandment so hard to keep?
  5. What does this commandment mean to those who are single?

“Dealing With the Easter Dilemma”

David and I are big fans of Chuck Missler, author and founder of Koinonia House. His thoughts on Easter (below) should challenge all Christians to closely examine the way we choose to celebrate this holiday and to be sure that our manner of celebration does not cause our brothers to stumble. (Also check out his super-interesting article “What Really Happened at “Easter”?)

May we rejoice in the resurrection of our Savior!

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The Easter Season is here, complete with baskets and cellophane grass and chocolate bunnies in every store. While we enjoy the chocolate bunnies and malted eggs, it’s pretty obvious that cellophane grass has absolutely nothing to do with the Resurrection of our Lord. This time of year brings with it the annual uncomfortable question; what should we – as Christians – celebrate?

The term “Easter” itself alludes to the pagan roots of the holiday. The name comes from the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar (also, Astarte). It was the pagan preoccupation with fertility that linked rabbits’ rapid breeding with the golden egg of Astarte. Passover, and therefore the Resurrection of Jesus, occur in the springtime. As Christianity spread, the celebration that Christ had conquered death came neatly at a time when the pagan world was celebrating the renewal of nature after the death of winter. And so, today we have Easter egg hunts at churches across America on Resurrection Sunday.

Is that good? Should we, as Christians, allow remnants of pagan celebrations into our celebration of Christ? For those who understand that Easter’s fuzzy bunnies are really the residue of ancient Babylonian fertility religions, there seems to be two choices.

1. Reject Easter Traditions: Some Christians separate themselves from the remnants of those old fertility religions. They remember Christ’s Resurrection and forgo all the chocolate and hard boiled eggs. They may even celebrate Passover, and Jesus as the Passover Lamb. They rejoice that he was raised again as the Firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18) on Sunday, the Feast of Firstfruits.

2: Make Use Of Easter Traditions: Some Christians, on the other hand, see the Easter traditions as another opportunity to spread the Gospel and use the eggs as teaching tools.  Some take 12 plastic eggs, for example, and fill each one with one object from the story of Jesus’ betrayal and death and his raising from the dead. The eggs contain things like coins, a sponge, nails, and a cross while the last one is empty, representing the empty tomb. Other people dye eggs, using each color to symbolize a different aspect of Christ’s death and resurrection (red stands for his blood, etc). There are dozens of ways that Sunday School teachers and parents have incorporated the current Easter traditions into the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Which is the better way?

We do not face this issue only at Easter. Most Christian holidays have leftover pagan traditions mixed into their celebrations. Do we stop giving out Valentines because boys and girls paired up for the (loosely connected) Roman festival of Lupercalia? Do we stop hanging mistletoe because it was once a part of fertility rights – or throw out Christmas altogether because the Romans celebrated Saturnalia in late December? Are those things unholy because they were once connected to paganism? Or can we use them as opportunities to spread the Gospel to our secular culture? How do we deal with these things according to the Word of God?

To The Jews First:
God gave Israel a law and a sacrificial system that would help them understand how the death of the Messiah could pay for sins. He gave them the Passover so they could understand that the blood of the Lamb would protect them from the wrath of God. God gave Israel feasts that stood as prophetic symbols, as types, of His plan for redemption. The Jews were primed to understand the purpose and mission of the Messiah, and while the eyes of many were blinded for a time, Jesus clearly stated that he came to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24).

Yet, Jesus came to save the whole world. The Gospel was for the Jews first, but also for the Gentiles according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 49:6, Acts 10:45, Rom. 1:16). The purpose of Israel was to be a light that shined the truth of God to all peoples.

And Also to the Gentiles:
When evangelists in the Early Church went out to preach to the world, though, the pagan nations did not have the same background that the Jews had. They had sacrificial systems as well, but without the precious subtleties provided by the Law. They did not have the same feasts and laws to give them a cultural understanding of the messages they were being given. The missionaries had to find ways within the existing pagan cultures to help the gentiles appreciate who Jesus was. St. Patrick in Ireland was not alone. Many early Church evangelists incorporated Christian teachings into existing celebrations, “Christianizing” those traditions.

Whether that was a good or bad thing has long been the subject of debate.  Some argue that those celebrations are not in the Bible and that mixing Christian beliefs with pagan traditions is at best distracting and is at worst a form of bowing the knee to those false gods.

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” (2 Cor. 6:17)

Others argue that Christianity has sanctified those celebrations, making the unholy holy.

“Unto the pure all things are pure:” (Titus 1:15)

Paul and Plato:
The Apostle Paul, sent by God to minister to the gentiles, believed in making the most of every opportunity (1 Cor. 9:18-23). Paul is famous for his use of Greek culture to get ideas across to his Greek audience. He constantly makes allusions to Plato with statements like, “…which are a shadow of things to come,” (Col. 2:17) and “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” (1 Cor. 13:10). Do Paul’s frequent allusions to Plato indicate that Plato himself was inspired by God? No. Rather, Paul made use of Plato because his Greek audience understood Plato, and he could use Plato’s ideas as tools to help gentile minds understand the truth about our lives in Jesus Christ.

Was he right to do this? Didn’t he run the risk of making people think he was legitimizing the many unbiblical ideas Plato had? That’s a good question.

Yet, Jesus appears to have done the exact same thing. Jesus makes a puzzling statement in Acts when he knocks Paul (still “Saul” at that time) off his donkey on the road to Damascus. He says, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks,” (Acts 9:5).

“Kick against the pricks” is a phrase used multiple times in Greek plays, including in Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and The Bacchae by Euripides. In both cases it has to do with a mortal’s stubborn defiance. In The Bacchae, the mortal Pentheus has the god Dionysus bound, refusing to believe that he’s a god. Dionysus tells Pentheus, “Better to yield [me] prayer and sacrifice than kick against the pricks…”

Does this reference mean that Jesus himself was anything like the god Dionysus? Of course not. It also does not indicate that Paul would suffer Pentheus’ fate of being torn apart by wild women   Yet, the idiom would have instant meaning for Saul of Tarsus with his education in Greek literature.   It would also have had meaning to those in the Greek culture to whom Paul told his conversion story.

Tripping Our Brothers:
What do we do today? Hunting Easter eggs hardly makes children think of Babylonian fertility goddesses, and there is nothing intrinsically evil in eggs or chocolate rabbits. At the same time, we do have knowledge of the Feasts of Israel, the original celebrations meant to point the way to Christ. How should we behave?

Here is what Paul says on the matter. “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean,” (Romans 14:14).

If you believe it is wrong to give your children Easter baskets, then it is wrong for you to do so. If, however, you are fully persuaded in your conscience that it’s harmless fun, then rejoice in your liberty. Paul says about these sorts of things, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,” (Romans 14:5).

And yet, we have a responsibility to not cause our brothers to stumble. “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock…” (1 Cor. 8:9, 11).

We should do nothing that could harm our fellow Christians or cause them to do something against their own consciences. We need to do everything we do with the heart of Christ, with love, and not out of pride or selfishness or judgmentalism. After all, the whole point of any Christian celebration is to bring glory to God. Let’s make sure every decision we make it focused on that goal.  [And if we can enjoy some chocolate at the same time, then may God be glorified in that as well!]