Friday, December 18, 2009

The Holidays Clarify Our Pain

I have spent my fair share of Christmases crying under the Christmas tree in the dark, staring at the lights on the tree dreaming of the Christmas I want rather than the Christmas I have. This Christmas, I am joyfully anticipating family time, and I thank God that I don't anticipate crying under the tree this year. But I've had enough lonely Christmases in the past, longing for something different, to respect the fact that many of you who follow this blog are entering a season that puts a harsh spotlight on the losses in your life. Perhaps you lost something you had -- a child, a spouse, a parent, a relationship. Perhaps you feel the loss of something you long to have but have not yet gotten to hold -- infertility, singleness.

The holidays clarify our pain. They make it very clear exactly what we are longing for and exactly what we are mourning. It is very hard to distract ourselves from our losses during this season. If you find yourself in this place, spotlight shining on your losses so that you can not escape the pain whether sitting under the tree, singing a carol, buying a gift, or opening a present, here are some thoughts from someone who has been there before.

1) It's ok to feel your loss. Despite what you likely sense, everyone else is not enjoying the holidays unconditionally. You are not alone in your loneliness. There is not something wrong with you. Or actually, there is something wrong, but there is something wrong with all of us. So don't let the feelings of isolation go unanswered in your own head. You may feel that you are alone and no one else understands the weight of your loss you carry through the holidays, but the truth is that MANY of your brothers and sisters in Christ are carrying such burdens and you are not alone in your loss.

2) Holiday pain can also clarify what you do have. Screw turkeys and cranberry sauce. Forget gifts given and received. Stocking stuffers are over rated. Instead, understand that your circumstances also shine a spotlight on Christ. When you aren't distracted by (or enamored by as many of us are) Christmas frivolities, we recognize the void that can only be filled by one thing -- Christ Himself. It was during lonely Christmases that I discovered Colossians 1 and sat under a tree reading it to myself. It sustained me, not just for a season, but I've gone back to that passage for a lifetime.

I'll leave you with Colossians 1, this passage that tells us exactly Who arrived in the manger that night. As the holidays spotlight the pain of your losses, I encourage you to let God's description of His Son shine an alternate spotlight on all you have in Him this season.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

May your holiday season clarify your identity in Christ alone. See you in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bust Your Windows

Sometimes, I receive interesting insight from the juxtaposition between life in our fallen world and our simultaneous life in the Body of Christ. I was listening to the song classically titled, Bust a Window, and noted it's portrayal of revenge to the extreme.

I bust the windows out ya car
And no it didn't mend my broken heart
I'll probably always have these ugly scars
But right now I don't care about that part

...
I must admit it helped a little bit
To think of how you'd feel when you saw it
I didn't know that I had that much strength
But I'm glad you see what happens when...

You see can't just play with people's feelings
Tell them you love them and don't mean it
You'll probably say that it was juvenile
But I think that I deserve to smile

...
But it don't bring comfort to my broken heart
You could never feel how I felt that day
Until it happens baby you don't know pain

...
You broke my heart
So I broke ya car
You caused me pain
So I did the same

Even though all that you did to me was much worse
I had to do something to make you hurt yeah
Oh but why am I still cryin'?
Why am I the one whose still cryin'?

Ah, so classic! A precise, though poorly edited, look at betrayal and retribution. It makes sense -- they hurt me, I hurt them. The retribution only brought a brief sense of satisfaction. In the end, she's still crying. Retribution doesn't fix anything.

In contrast, I am reading Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Braun. I love the subtitle of the book, "Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds." The questions are complex, and Chris doesn't shirk away from the really tough questions.

He gives a really great summary of how to go about seeking forgiveness (whether you are the offended party or the offending party -- both are tasked by Jesus with making the first move).

1) Keep the circle small. "Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end." Prov. 25:9-10

2) Be gracious. "Being gracious means you are willing to grant forgiveness as a gift and you will not demand that the other person first pay a price." (p. 110)

3) No revenge, not even a little.

4) Listen first, and be prepared to ask forgiveness yourself.

5) Take the other person at his word.

6) Choose the time and place carefully.

7) Choose your words carefully.

8) Be patient and have modest expectations.

I was particularly moved and encouraged by Braun's words on numbers 4 and 5.

Forgiveness is seldom one-sided or simple. In a typical conflict, complex circumstances are involved. If you go to another person who has offended you, a good way to begin may be to say, "I have been so troubed by our interaction recently. It has really been on my heart. Have I done something to hurt you?" Then listen! Be humble. Don't react. Keep your cool. And if necessary, ask forgiveness in an unqualified way. p. 110

And

Do not try to determine the motives of another person's heart. If someone says to you, "I am sorry," take him at his word. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (I Cor. 13:7). p. 111

There is a better way to deal with betrayal than busting a window out their car. Jesus has a way that is centered on and empowered by His sacrifice on the cross. And it brings real transformation. It meets us at the most wounded places in our heart. If you find yourself strugging with bitterness in a complex situation of sin and betrayal, I recommend Unpacking Forgiveness and The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Troll Who Torments My Children

Whenever a blog topic begins rolling around in my mind, I can usually count on being attacked and failing royally either right before or right after I post the article. But that’s okay. This blog is primarily a lecture to myself, and it’s good to have documented on it what I know to be true even when I fail and must repent.

Today’s post on the Troll who torments my children was inspired by a friend’s recent status update on facebook.

“I really don't like the unfriendly, unbending troll who takes my children to school each morning. I've fired her several times, but almost every morning, she shows up about 15 minutes before we leave, jangling my keys.”

Oh how I identified with my friend. And apparently so did many other friends, for that one little status update generated quite the conversation. That nagging, mean spirited troll shows up at my house all too regularly. I hate her! And she usually shows up shortly after I’ve felt some self-satisfaction at my skills at crisis management on a particular day. Then suddenly, something happens, that straw that breaks the camel’s back, and the bitch voice comes out of my mouth. I look back and think “Where did THAT come from?” But I know exactly where it came from. It came from ME. My mouth, and my heart. Often, I don’t realize the troll has appeared until my boys look at me with that crushed expression that shines a mirror on exactly who I’ve become and how I’ve hurt them. And in that moment, the self-condemnation kicks in big time. I hate her! But in reality, I know she’s just me.

The troll fades, leaving in her wake crushed spirits and much regret. And I have found only ONE salve to the devastation she leaves behind---gospel repentance. It's not worldly sorry that only brings regret and looks for something other than Christ to make me feel better. That may work for a time, but it won't bring real change. In that moment of sin, I have to preach the gospel to myself. In Christ, I am no longer this woman and she doesn't have the power over me that I am giving her. I confess to my children and repair with them what I have harmed. Then I can walk forward believing in the awesome power that gospel grace has over our sins. (and I repeat that in the evening when she shows up again, and the next morning, and so forth)

I hate being that troll. But cross-centered repentance and restoration with my children is really beautiful. They are learning the gospel by watching me repent. And I see them better understanding repentance for themselves when they sin against each other. I would much rather them not learn repentance from watching me having to repent after repeated sins. But I am so thankful for the good news of all Christ has accomplished on the cross, for it alone can pick me up after another crushing defeat by the troll and turn it into something of gospel significance. And in Him, I have confidence that one day I’ll kick her butt into a place of irrelevance. Some days even now, I actually see her coming and start pelting her with gospel truths until she turns and runs for her life. Until the day that she is totally eradicated, I repent, and in light of the gospel, that alone becomes the lancing of my festering wound that begins the process of healing.

Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

2 Cor. 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Women, Children, Infertility, and God

In my Christian circles, I hear a lot about how feminism has diminished the high calling women have as wives and mothers. I saw a sign at a local community college that said, “a woman’s place in on the jobsite.” It was advertising a forum for women on careers in technical fields. But it was an obvious take off on the saying, “a woman’s place is in the home.” I feel pretty confident in the choices we have made for our own family, so I don’t resent such statements much one way or the other. But one thing I have noted is that in Christian circles, we often tend to overcompensate in our attempts to correct whatever wrong thinking we diagnose in our culture.

In regards to our role as women, I see a trend among conservative Christian women in feminist cultures to overcompensate by placing an emphasis on children and home that goes beyond what God intended and instructs. I’ve long thought that a husband and children can become an idol in a Christian woman’s life just as quickly as any feminist goal we are reacting against (I know this because I've been there, done that). I don’t think we ever really understand our idols until they are threatened. That’s when our responses indicate whether they or our God are our identity and security. We MUST differentiate clearly between being a good steward of the gifts God gives us and elevating those gifts to a place of idolatry. Do you stress over what kind of meal to bring to the sick? Is your identity tied to how well you impress the person who receives your meal? Are you embarrassed to have others to your house because it doesn’t meet a perceived standard of hospitality? When your child acts out at playdate, are you humiliated? Do you beat yourself up? Or if you do not have husband, child, or house, do you feel that your life is in a holding pattern until they come along? Are you secure on who you are IN CHRIST? Does it sustain you even when you can't, despite your best efforts, live up to the perceived standard in your Christian culture of what a godly Christian woman looks like?

I’ve posted before about singleness in our marriage centered Christian culture. I’d like to end this post with some particular thoughts on infertility. This is for those of you who value the high calling of motherhood and long to raise a brood to love Jesus. But despite your good desire, you are coming to realize your powerlessness to make this happen. How do you not just exist, but live abundantly, in a culture that values children so much? Do you know enough of the character of your God to believe deeply in His goodness despite these circumstances?

If You Were Coming In The Fall
By Emily Dickinson

If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Dickinson must have been long acquainted with the frustration of waiting. Though likely written about a lost love, her poem well articulates the annoying problem of waiting for a child with no indication of when (if ever) your wait will be over. If you have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, you have likely experienced feelings similar to the bee Dickinson describes that flies about your head threatening its sting but never fulfilling its threat. Wouldn’t you just rather KNOW? Many couples go for years without getting pregnant with no documentable problem with either spouse. What do you do? How long do you wait? Should you try to adopt?

God often uses WAITING in Scripture to accomplish His purposes. Lamentations 3:25 promises that the Lord is good to those who WAIT on Him. But what do you do in the waiting? How do you deal with emotions and fears that buzz around your head threatening you like Dickinson’s goblin bee? Here are some common questions and concerns faced at this stage of life along with Scriptural answers for each.


1) “I prayed and I’m still not pregnant. I’m afraid God’s answer will be NO.”

God invites perseverance in prayer. The parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18 was given to us for the express purpose to teach us to not give up in prayer. Though God is sovereign over this process and has before the foundation of the world established His plan for our lives, He still invites us to nag Him in prayer. And in that persevering prayer, He promises a peace over our hearts and minds that will transcend our ability to understand. What a gracious God!

Philippians 4 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 18 1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "
6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

2) “God isn’t good and He isn’t working for my good.”

Oh, but He is! God is notorious for using the worst of circumstances to work the best of things in His children’s lives. This is His trademark. Think of Job, Joseph, Hannah, Ruth, etc. He brings bad circumstances into our lives, forcing us to lose our life so that we may truly find it. Then He teaches us the meaning of true abundant living. Dying to ourselves is painful. But believe that the work He is performing in your life defies expectation. This is fundamentally Who our God is.

Romans 8 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Hebrews 11 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ...6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Matthew 10 37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

3) “Why did God give me a desire that He refuses to fulfill?”

The desire to be parents is certainly God-ordained. But desires out of line with sufficiency and satisfaction in Christ are devastating. God often uses unfulfilled desire in Scripture to accomplish His purposes. Consider Hannah’s classic example. Without her long unfulfilled desire, she would never have been willing to give her son up to service in God’s temple. No one can say for sure why God is allowing this unfulfilled desire in your heart. But you can trust that it is consistent with His character and that He is working in your desires to accomplish His will. Psalms 37 speaks of God’s working in and through our desires. But consider the context. The general exhortation of the chapter is to be patient and not worry when evil people seem to be winning and your desires are slow to be fulfilled.

Psalms 37 3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD ; trust in him and he will do this: ... 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;

4) “There is no way I can be satisfied with this stage of life.”

Godly contentment is possible! At issue is the tension between actively pursuing the God-ordained act of raising children and resting contentedly in this waiting time. God is working good things in your life at this stage. This stage of infertility can be a sweet time of friendship and sharing in your marriage. It could be a time to minister to others in far away locations. Maybe God has called you to a time-consuming ministry in town you won’t be able to do later when you have children. Despite His waiting to fulfill your desire to have children, He has prepared works in advance for you that will contribute to a life of abundant joy—even at this stage.

Ephesians 2 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Philippians 4 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

I Timothy 6 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Psalm 90 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

5) “How much time and money should I spend seeking fertility? How far is too far?”

Short of creating embryos that will be discarded (some may disagree with me here), this decision is up to you, your spouse, and your conscience. There will be times for you to go forward with treatments and times for you to step away from the process. Only you can say at what point you stop trusting God and start trying to manipulate your way around His will. He is sovereign over this process, and He opens and closes the womb. Through His common grace, He has given doctors good knowledge on this subject. It’s always wise to be informed as long as that information doesn’t cause you to trust in man over God.

Psalm 20 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalm 40 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

6) “I am bitter and jealous towards others inside and outside the church.”

These emotions are common but never justified. We must deal with them simply as the sin they are. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin. We have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit working in us to conform us to the image of Christ. We DON’T have to give in to these sins. Rebuke yourself when you see this attitude surface. Repent to Christ and force yourself over the hurdle to be kind and honest to those you resent.

Genesis 30 1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I'll die!" 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?"

Romans 13 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

Romans 6 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

7) “How can I have a meaningful relationship with women who have not been through this struggle?”

If women who have not struggled with this issue seem to respond to you callously, give them the benefit of the doubt. Most likely, they are simply ignorant of the emotional battles you are facing. Educate them honestly about your situation. Women who love Christ will appreciate your honesty and want to come alongside you in support during this time. It is essential that church members mutually share individuals’ burdens. This speaks to the heart of what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Paul was honest about the hardships he suffered so that his brothers and sisters in Christ would be unified with him in both the sufferings and the comfort of Christ.

I Corinthians 12
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. ... 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

8) “I think God is punishing me.”

Many Scriptures already listed address this concern. God constantly works negative things in our lives for our good and His glory. The story of Job is the classic example of God bringing horrible circumstances in the life of a believer DESPITE his uprightness of character and obedience. According to Job 1, it is because of Job’s righteous character that he is picked for this burden. Satan accuses Job of obeying God only because God is good to Job. If God brings hardship to Job, Satan believes Job will reject God. So Job’s story is about proving God’s worthiness to Satan. In hardship or blessing, trial or glory, God is worthy of praise and adoration. Like Paul’s sufferings, God is working in your life to make known to heavenly powers that He is worthy of praise.

Ephesians 3 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Job 1 20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

I hope this gives food for thought for first making sure your desire for children is not idolatrous, and then second dealing with the phenonemon God often uses to change us into His image --- giving us a desire for something He says is very good and then making us WAIT for the fulfillment of that good desire.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Pink Fluffy Bunny Women's Bible Studies

Every third rainy Tuesday or so, my book ends up in the top 100 sellers on Amazon's Women's Christian Living section. That's the top 100 books selling on Amazon aimed at Christian women. It's a depressing section for me to read through. There is a lot of emotional fluff out there masquerading as Bible study -- stuff that quotes chick flicks and romance novels more than it does Scripture. Then there are some Bible studies that quote Scripture, but they don't deal with Scripture in context. They just pick and choose the verses that support their topical agenda. And that gets on my nerves as well. Even among the more conservative, reformed authors, the books tend to be singularly focused on the topic of women's roles. Where are the simple, focused Bible studies?

I am now reading a Bible study on Hebrews geared toward women that absolutely should be on that best seller list. It's called Hoping for Something Better by Nancy Guthrie. I have only just begun this study myself, but I have been blown away by it so far. Nancy does exactly what I think a Bible study geared toward women should do.

1) Walk STRAIGHT THROUGH Scripture! We have sold women in the church a lie -- that the stuff specific to them in Scripture is made up of a piecemeal compilation of small sections of Scripture from a few select places in the Old and New Testament. Ephesians 5:22 isn't the only Scripture particularly applicable to women in Ephesians. The WHOLE BOOK of Ephesians is written to women. Men too. But don't make the last part of Ephesians the only part we speak particularly to women. Stop it, women authors!! The women in your realm of influence need the whole counsel of Scripture. And they will benefit from hearing it from the perspective of a doctrinally sound, well grounded woman. I'm not at all saying that women can only learn from women, but I do believe that there are some perspectives that we can best communicate with each other.

2) Relate Scripture back to the real issues facing women! Nancy has walked through great hardship and does a very good job of relating to women at the heart of our insecurities and fears. And she shows why Hebrews is relevant to these issues. There is no pink fluffy bunny content here.

As I talk with women in various locations of various Christian backgrounds, I get the feeling that women really do want more than topically driven fluffy bunny Bible studies. I don't think they sell very well currently and so publishers don't seem to realize the value of these types of studies. If people start using Nancy's study of Hebrews, I hope 2 things will happen. First, I think you and the women in your study will grow in Christ and your understanding of His Word. Second, I think publishers might realize this is a need and start pursuing and publishing more Scripturally based Bible studies geared particularly to women.

If you are Hoping for Something Better (in terms of life in general and women's studies in particular), I highly recommend this study.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

War and Peace

Isaiah 2
1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths." ...…
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

I love the imagery of this prophecy. They will beat their swords and spears into farming equipment! Not only will they not be at war anymore, they won’t even need to train for war in preparation. This is what happens when God’s kingdom is established, His dwelling place is chief among the mountains, and all nations are drawn to Him. The question is if this prophecy has any relevance to you and I in this day and age. I submit to you that it does, and that we are wise to consider its implications.

As John the Baptist preached, the kingdom of God is truly at hand. Yet, we also witness daily all the ways that God’s rule has not yet fully taken over our world. The classic passage on this tension is Hebrews 2:7-8. (Speaking of Jesus)

7You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8 and put everything under his feet."
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.

What Isaiah 2 gives us is a vision for what the kingdom of God looks like when everything is fully subject to Him. It gives us a trajectory for our own lives as well. This is where we are heading. Toward PEACE.

The Apostle Paul opens every one of his epistles with a salutation of grace and peace toward his audience. This isn’t a meaningless introductory phrase but the heartbeat of his message again and again. Peace through grace. It’s peace with God first and peace with our neighbor second, and it is singularly available through God’s free grace extended to us through Christ’s death on the cross.

But aren’t we at WAR? I’m not talking about physical war necessarily, but what is commonly referred to as spiritual warfare. I hear this terminology often in Christian circles. “We are at war.” “Be on guard.”

And this is all fine … to a point. The Bible does use this phrasing, and it is true that while we are on the trajectory toward ultimate peace, we are to guard ourselves diligently against Satan’s attacks. However, my experience with the war phrasing has raised several red flags. The primary one is that many times, Christian groups aren’t clear with whom we are at war. If you are intent on fighting a battle and unclear on whom the enemy is, beware anyone who gets in your way!

So here are my thoughts today on spiritual War and Peace.

1) If you use the terminology of war, be clear on who the enemy is. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. People aren’t the enemy. Paul is especially clear on this throughout his epistles. We love people. We pursue people always in hopes of rescuing them from our real enemy in the heavenly places. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. Don’t aim your weapons at other people. Fight FOR the heart of the one who is ensnared by Satan. Leave the 99 and seek after the 1. That one heart is not your enemy--he or she is ensnared by your enemy.

2) While guarding against aiming your weapons at living individuals God has likely actually called you to pursue, do feel free to aim your spiritual weapons at yourself. We put to death within ourselves those things that serve unrighteousness. Examine yourself for the snares that Satan is attempting to use to undermine your walk with God.

3) Remember that our trajectory is toward peace. Keep your eye on the prize -- peace through grace. And don’t accept less. Don’t be content with severed relationships in the Body. Don’t accept collateral damage as a reasonable option in a church. Pursue the wounded. Reconcile the broken relationship. As God’s kingdom is ushered in, genuine, authentic peace wins as the result of gospel-centered reconciliation at every level.

We must have a strong grip on the deep implications of Christ’s words on the cross, “It is finished!” He fought the last battle. He has conquered sin and death. The rest are skirmishes putting the final touches on His great victory. If you understand what His kingdom looks like when it is finally fully upon us, you will then be able to recognize those things that do and do not mark movement in legitimate kingdom growth. The enemy loves to make us call good what God calls evil, and he loves even more to make us suspicious of what God calls good. We don’t necessarily think it is evil. We just think it is lame. But in the end, God’s grace wins the heart of all those He has called to Himself. Peace through grace in Christ will have the last word. And we are moving full speed toward that day.