Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I am not a great reader. A book has to be really good (and really short) for me to finish it. That's probably a big part of why the book I wrote is short and concise. I just don't have the endurance to read much more. But every now and then, I stumble upon a book that grips me. The first I remember was the Chronicles of Narnia as a middle school student. Then as an adult, Desiring God gripped me. I had thought the Bible taught that loving God and loving others was the most important thing, but I rarely heard that emphasized or lived out in my Christian circles. Then someone gave me Desiring God and it seemed like the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear as I read it, "No, Wendy, you aren't mistaken in what you have read of Scripture. I really do mean that loving me and loving others is the most important thing." I remember underlining every other sentence in the first few chapters, so gripped by Piper's articulation of this thing that the Holy Spirit had been whispering to me through Scripture.

Well, I have now had a second experience like that. It involves The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. A beautiful friend gave it to me on my birthday because she knew I had been wrestling with what the gospel is supposed to look like in conflict. The subtitle of the book is "A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict." Wow. It has spoken to me at a really profound level. I have experienced my share of conflicts in the church over my three decades of Christianity. For the most part, I have been on the sidelines watching others in conflict, pondering in my heart the questions each conflict raises. Isn't there a better way to deal with conflict in the church? Isn't the gospel relevant in how we deal with our opponent? Shouldn't the greatest command to love God and love our neighbor inform how I deal with conflict? I read Scripture that gives me the answer to these questions, but I question it all because I have so rarely gotten to witness gospel-centered conflict resolution in my experiences in churches and Christian organizations. This book has changed all that.

I have had to discipline myself not to underline every word that I have read so far in the book (and no, I haven't finished it yet). There is so much Scripture in it and so much wisdom in how the gospel informs the human condition. He defines conflict as "a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone's goals or desires." I have loved the illustrations I have read so far. Sande speaks from experience, and the situations that he shares from his own life are beautiful examples of the power of the gospel to reconcile seemingly hopeless situations.

I am going to leave you with a series of quotes from the book that have stuck out to me so far. I hope you will consider getting this book whether you are in the midst of conflict right now or not. This book breathes applied gospel grace. I feel certain it will encourage you in the gospel.

"Peacemakers are people who breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodnes and power of Jesus Christ, and then they bring his love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life." p. 11

"As a former engineer and now a parachurch ministry leader, I have observed how even the most difficult workplace issues can be resolved constructively when even one employee decides to breathe grace in the midst of conflict." p. 11

"These principles have also proven to be universally countercultural. No matter what race or country we come from, none of us is naturally inclined to obey Jesus' commands to love our enemies, confess our wrongs, gently correct others, submit to our church, and forive those who hurt us. In fact, left to our own instincts, we are disposed to do just the opposite." p. 13

"When we realize that God has mercy on those who confess their sins, our defensivenss lifts and we are able to admit our wrongs. As we accept and benefit from the way the gospel lovingly shows us our sin, we are inspired to gently correct and restore others who have done wrong. And as we rejoice in the liberating forgiveness of God, we are empowered to go and forgive others in the same way. Through the gospel, God provides both the model and motivaton for peacemaking!" p. 14

"People who use escape responses (in conflict) are unusally intent on "peace-faking", or making things look good even when they are not. This is especially common in the church, where people are often more concerned about the appearance of peace than the reality of peace." p. 28

"When people lash out at you, it is sometimes symptomatic of other frustrations." p. 35

"Jesus says, 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.' (Luke 6:27-28). Clearly, we are NOT released from the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, even when the neighbor is hating, cursing, and mistreating us. Instead of reacting harshly or seeking revenge, God calls us to be merciful to those who offend us, just as he is mercilful to us (Luke 6:36). We cannont serve others this way in our own strength. We must continually breathe in God's grace (through the study of his Word, prayer, worship, and Christian fellowship) and then breathe out his love, mercy, forgiveness, and wisdom to others through our words and actions." p. 35

And the line that has stuck with the most--"Every time you encounter a conflict, you will inevitably show what you really think of God." p. 33

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mid-life Crisis

A friend and I were talking recently about the battle for hope. At the time, we were both at what could possibly be called a mid-life crisis. For me, the crisis came from the fact that I finally realized I had very na├»ve notions about what the good life in Christ would look if I made all the “right” decisions. I have always expected a “good” life. If I made the right Christian choices, God would honor them by giving me physical blessings. Instead, Christian maturity teaches me that God is good, and that is supposed to sustain me when life is not.

When thinking today about the hope I’m supposed to have, I found this verse.

Ps. 33:17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Even as a Christian who was raised in the church, I cannot believe how many different “warhorses” I have looked to over the years in hopes of rescue. My warhorses are always linked to some type of circumstantial change—but they NEVER rescue me the way I expect. They are always a false hope. They let me down every time.

The Bible talks about hope IN God …

Psalm 39:7 "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

… and hope FROM God.

Psalm 62:5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

The Bible uses the term hope differently than we often use it in English. The Hebrew word for hope is also translated expectation. I get the idea of sitting in the middle of my struggle and looking longingly for rescue. But where do I expect this rescue to come? My problem has been first that I look to the wrong things for rescue and second I do not necessarily recognize rescue when it comes. From past experience, I know that God’s choice of rescue is both unpredictable and consistently better than my visions of rescue, but I cannot predict His mode of rescue for the future.

I am learning that only God can rescue and am aware of the futility of setting my expectations on anything or anyone else. I still don’t know exactly what rescue looks like. To summarize, I often don’t really know what I’m looking FOR, but my hope is that I do definitely know Who I’m looking TO. And that makes all the difference.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Discipline v. Punishment or Parenting Our Children the Way God Parents His

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Proverbs 3:11-12

Years ago, I read an article online (that I can’t find now) by John Piper on how Christ took the full punishment for our sins and now everything God does toward us is out of His grace. That thought prompted me to study the difference in punishment and discipline and changed how I thought about discipleship in general. One of the great benefits of being adopted into God’s family is that we receive His discipline. Most likely, you do not think of that as a benefit, but that’s because many of us have warped views of discipline and its purpose. What is discipline? According to The American Heritage Dictionary discipline is “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.” The problem is that the vast majority of us have experienced a warped form of discipline from those in authority over us. Many times, authority figures said they were disciplining us, but what they really were doing was reactively punishing us—not to train us in right responses but taking their anger out on us for our wrong ones. In light of these practical experiences, we tend to confuse discipline and punishment theologically as well as practically.

God has worked in my heart first to understand the difference theologically. According to Romans 8:1, Christ bore the full weight of our punishment for sin on the cross, and we are no longer condemned for our sin. This is the very good news of the gospel! Then in verse 29, we learn that God’s plan before time began is to transform us into the likeness of His Son. This is why we need discipline (i.e.- training in righteousness).

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death….

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son….

Instead of punishing us for our sins, God the Father poured out His full wrath for our sins on Jesus at the cross. Now, God disciplines us to mold us into the image of His Son, purifying us by rooting out the sin in our lives and replacing it with behavior and attitudes that reflect Christ. I love that the English words discipline and disciple are so similar. That’s because they reflect very similar concepts.

Now I am a parent. And I realize as I pour through Scripture and Christian books on disciplining my children that I really need to go no further than Jesus’ own example. I believe God’s calling is for me to parent my children the way God parents His. But I’ve wrestled long and hard over what this looks like practically for me with a 2 and 4 year old. I do not want to reactively punish them. “Oh you hit him? Then I hit you (or put you in time out or take away your candy or whatever). End of story.” By the way, please don’t get distracted by the ideas of spanking and timeout. This post isn’t about that per se. It’s about quick retribution, guilt, and shame. It’s about punishing in reprisal instead of discipling in righteousness—all things we easily choose but are the exact opposite of how God parents us.

I want to train my children in righteousness using the grace, love, and kindness that God shows us. But it has been hard to figure out what that looks like in practical terms. I am thankful for what may seem an unusual resource on this Christian journey—my secular community preschool. They have a strong philosophy of discipline instead of punishment, and it has been fascinating to watch it in action. My son has been one of the more physical children there. I have learned much watching the working adults intercept him as he’s acting out, show him the harm he’s causing, and work with him to repair it with the other child. He doesn’t have to go sit in a corner—he has to make it right! He has to deal with the consequences. And the working grownups are trained to not take no for an answer. And you know what? It is DRAINING. Sticking with a situation until it has been correctly resolved can be a long process. Punishing a kid reactively is a lot easier than staying in a conflict until it has been reconciled correctly and until the kids have learned the lesson. Training in righteousness is work. Maybe that’s why so many of us default to mere punishment so easily. “I don’t care what’s going on in your heart. I just want you to STOP this behavior right now.”

I am by no means an expert on this. I have only just begun the journey of parenting my boys. I have made many mistakes and expect to make many more. But what I am excited about is how walking this journey with my boys is correcting weaknesses in my understanding of the gospel and my suspicions with the concept of grace. I love that disciplining them has forced me to take a hard look at my views of God (and vice versa). And I am hopeful for the future as I rest in the simple idea that my calling is no greater and no less than to be like Christ—to parent my children the way God parents His. He is both the way I am empowered to do this and the example to which I look for guidance. He is the means and the end. By His grace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Love/Hate relationship with the Church

I'm in a mood to rant. I'm ticked off with the church. Not A church. THE church. By definition Biblically, I'm talking about the global, eternal church--the Body of Christ, the thing He gave His life for to reconcile to Himself. I'm convicted even as I write that definition. How can I be ticked off with Christ's BODY?!! But I am. I have no time or energy left to deal with the sins of society in general because I am so inundated with the sins of Christians (my own sins included). It seems for every step forward I see of gospel proclamation, reconciliation, and kingdom building, I see 6 steps back by Christian individuals or groups who bite and devour one another.

It's the self appointed Christian watch blogger who violates every characteristic of Biblical love in I Corinthians 13 in calling out another Christian (that they have never met) on their sin. It's the Christian couple who despite years in the church neither seem capable of letting go of their rights and breaking the cycle of returning sin for sin. After years of sitting under the gospel, neither gets that Jesus washed Judas' feet and let him kiss Him in the garden even though He was fully aware of what Judas intended to do. It's the Christian leader who cannot admit that he sinned against someone under his authority--like admitting his sin will somehow undermine everything and it will all come falling down on his head. But I do it too. I sin against my boys and then try to justify and hide it because I still can't believe that admitting to my sin and asking their forgiveness won't undermine my authority. Surely the gospel doesn't mean that I am supposed to admit my sin to those under my authority. Surely it doesn't mean that I must return love in the face of betrayal. God couldn't possibly expect me to pursue someone with kind, patient, longsuffering love when they have sinned publicly ... could He?

Paul has a good word on this in Galatians 5

3You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. ...

19The acts of the sinful nature (also called the deeds of the flesh) are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

I was especially burdened about this as I sat in my church's class on Ephesians
week before last. Paul gives this beautiful picture of what Jesus is doing for
the church.

Eph. 5: 25 - 27 ...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

I raised my hand in class and asked the question that agonizes me at times--why doesn't the church look anything like this?! How do I maintain hope when I am bombarded with evidences of the Church's failings? It seems that I only get to witness the biting and devouring of one another. And the young but wise pastoral intern leading the class told me something along these lines.

The deeds of the flesh are flashy. Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy stick out like a sore thumb. They disrupt. They are loud. They are obvious. The fruits of the Spirit, on the other hand, are quite subtle. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--these don't shout for attention. In fact, when God's people are demonstrating such fruit from their heart, it is likely accompanied with humility and quiet sobriety. Let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing, and all that. Christians living out what the Spirit is working within them are not going to shout out on their blogs or facebook page all the ways they lived out the fruit of the Spirit that day. Those things just aren't compatible.

His encouragement to me was that God is building His church and transforming Her into His beautiful spotless bride--that for every obvious deed of the flesh, there were many more quiet deeds of the Spirit behind the scenes. The private conversation of spiritual encouragement in the church parking lot. The anonymous envelope of money slipped into a mail slot of the unemployed worker. The phone call to the suffering friend. The meal dropped off at the house of the sick. Loving the unlovely. Joy in the midst of suffering. Peace while surrounded by conflict. And so forth.

Now, as I reflect on just the last week, I realize that I have personally witnessed way more of the beauty of Christ's Body than the ugly. For the one conversation reflecting bitter conflict and dissension, I had three conversations that reflected the love, joy, and peace of the Spirit. A friend shared with me how the example of Christ and hope of the gospel equipped her family to return kindness for evil. Though I have read negative blogs, I also read of a church's work with paroled convicts to help them reenter mainstream life and how their people had embraced and lived out the gospel's message of reconciliation. And in my own home, when I confessed my sin with my boys and prayed to God with them to forgive me and help me not get angry, it worked. It didn't undermine my authority. It reconciled our relationship and they seemed more ready to listen to me and be honest about their own issues.

One day the heavens will shake, and as much that is worthless crumbles to the ground, the light of the glory of Christ's Body will first shine through the fissures and then break forth with great beauty and perfection. I believe in the radiant Son of God. But attached to my belief in Jesus the Head is a belief in His promises concerning His Body the Church. He is building His kingdom, and she will be radiant, clothed in splendor when we finally get to see her fully.

I am ready for that day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Convicting Thoughts from Oswald Chambers

My sister loves Oswald Chambers and regularly draws my attention to the reading from My Utmost for His Highest for a particular day. We were both struck by the reading for May 1.

2 Corinthians 5:7 we walk by faith, not by sight.

For a time we are conscious of God's attentions, then, when God begins to use us in His enterprises, we take on a pathetic look and talk of the trials and the difficulties, and all the time God is trying to make us do our duty as obscure people. None of us would be obscure spiritually if we could help it. Can we do our duty when God has shut up heaven? Some of us always want to be illuminated saints with golden haloes and the flush of inspiration, and to have the saints of God dealing with us all the time. A gilt-edged saint is no good, he is abnormal, unfit for daily life, and altogether unlike God. We are here as men and women, not as half-fledged angels, to do the work of the world, and to do it with an infinitely greater power to stand the turmoil because we have been born from above.

If we try to re-introduce the rare moments of inspiration, it is a sign that it is not God we want. We are making a fetish of the moments when God did come and speak, and insisting that He must do it again; whereas what God wants us to do is to "walk by faith." How many of us have laid ourselves by, as it were, and said - "I cannot do any more until God appears to me." He never will, and without any inspiration, without any sudden touch of God, we will have to get up. Then comes the surprise - "Why, He was there all the time, and I never knew it!" Never live for the rare moments, they are surprises. God will give us touches of inspiration when He sees we are not in danger of being led away by them. We must never make our moments of inspiration our standard; our standard is our duty.

Oh, wow. I am beyond convicted. I don't want to walk by faith. I want to see God in tangible ways every day. I want to hear Him clearly speak to me. I want to see Him clearly move in my circumstances. And I am threatened when He is silent in my circumstances. Though I say I believe Scripture is God's revelation, my response to it when He is silent otherwise shows I do not find it sufficient at all. I am feeling convicted, and that is a very good thing. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and the just shall live by faith, not sight. I hope this is an encouragement to you as it has been to me.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Gospel and the Law

Holiness. Obedience. Righteousness. These words are not naturally well received by any human, and I have personally had enough bad experiences in the church to find them particularly threatening. Talk to me about grace. Or love. But don’t talk to me about the law. My study of Ephesians (which I've mentioned briefly before) is really changing how I think about this. God does not save us BY our obedience, but he does save us FOR our obedience. And though the concepts of obedience and holiness have been well abused by religious legalists of every persuasion, we cannot give these words over to them and lose their true meaning and God’s good plan for the obedience of his children.

In God’s design, obedience and holiness mean at the most basic level simply following God and being like Him. He is both the definition of what it means to be holy and the channel by which we can obey Him. He is the means and the end. And His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). If you are weighed down by the ideas of obedience and righteousness, you have let the wrong people define those terms for you.

This message on the 10 commandments was preached at church 2 weeks ago, and I found it a VERY helpful lesson on how we are to think about the law on this side of Christ. Thank you Jay-Thomas Hewitt for your clear, concise discussion of this.