December 13, 2010

If I Had Stuck to My Notes for the Message on The Nativity


Today we are continuing with our series titled Go Bigger by looking at the Nativity story...If you are looking for a good Nativity set you might want to check out this ad and give this guy a call. It certainly sounds like a deal!

Christmas is a great time of year. I love the lights and the decorated trees...I love giving and receiving gifts...I love the Christmas movies...like Elf...the best Christmas movie ever!

And I love making new traditions and keeping old ones. We have a few traditions that I really like...every year we hide one of Bri’s Christmas presents and then send her on a hunt to find it. We use little notes with clues on them to lead her around the house.

And every year, Lori, Bri, and I set up the Nativity scene in our house and talk about the story of Jesus’ birth. I do this because it is easy to believe that Christmas is really about all that other stuff, and I want Bri to know that while all the other stuff can be fun and good, the real meaning of Christmas is much simpler and tremendously more important.

But I haven’t always loved the Nativity story. I have only come to love the story of Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus within the past couple of years.

You might think, “Your a pastor...aren’t you supposed to have always love the nativity story?”

And the answer is “No.” I haven’t always loved the nativity story because it always seemed a little too clean for me. The Biblical explanation, at face value, is lacking in details. And in some areas of modern Christian culture there is a desire for things to be clean, shiny, and have a soft glow around everything. There are nice pictures of the nativity with Mary smiling, the baby Jesus glowing, and a fuzzy dream-like aura surrounding the whole thing...I mean look at these pictures. This woman was supposed to have just given birth to a child in a place where cattle and donkeys fed...and she looks...happy! I don’t know of any woman that would look that good after giving birth or be that happy after having done it in a shed with cows looking on.

Lori and I have only one child, and while Lori delivered by C-section, she went through a tremendous amount of labor. And anyone who has given birth or been near someone giving birth can tell you that Mary is not going to be that cheery, that glowy, that clean.

So, I just found the portrayal unrealistic...until one day I was walking through a Christian book store of all places and found my answer. Tucked in the back corner of a Christian bookstore, I found a nativity scene that started to change my perspective. It had Mary laying back on Joseph’s lap, some of her hair draped across his leg and some of it stuck to her face from perspiration. Both she and Joseph had this look of utter exhausted, mixed with awe, mixed with uncertainty. It was an amazing piece. The artist was very gifted to be able to portray the couple in that way.

I was able to find a few pictures online that come close to this...

I couldn’t afford it, but I have never forgotten it because I always had this suspicion that the nativity was a bit messy. So I started doing a little research. Digging in to the passages of Scripture and the cultural setting of the stories of Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Magi, and the birth of Jesus, and found some interesting things.

This morning, I am going to do something a little different. We are going to do a kind of character sketch of the main players in the Nativity. I am going to attempt to pull out a few points based on each of the characters in the story that help us understand the story and what it means for us as we move forward. I’m boiling a lot of information down...so hold on.

So first, let’s look at Joseph: Matthew 1:18-25
Have you ever noticed that there is not one single Christmas song or hymn about Joseph? He is completely neglected in Christian history and almost completely forgotten in Scripture.

Joseph was placed in a tough situation. He was a faithful, law-abiding Jewish male. He obviously had a love for God, and for Mary. And he was put in a tough situation. The woman he was betrothed to was found to be pregnant. This was either by his doing or by someone else’s doing.

The text sets us up a bit by telling us that Joseph was a good man and faithful to the Law. He knew that he wasn’t the father of this child. So this put him in a bit of a situation. If he were to continue with the marital plans, Joseph would be announcing that he was the father of this child and that he and Mary had been impatient. Even though they were betrothed to be married, they were not, and the child would be considered illegitimate, and the family ostracized by their community.

If he were to remain faithful to the law and guard his own integrity and reputation, he was going to have to divorce her. There were two ways to do this...openly with a public trial or the quiet but costly way.

Joseph, not wanting to expose Mary to public disgrace, decided to divorce her quietly. This would have cost Joseph a good bit of money. Today, we simply call, email, text, or change our Facebook status to give the other person the old heave-ho...But Joseph would be forfeiting a lot. Marriage was a legal and spiritual act, but it was also an economic act. The family of the groom would pay the parents of the bride a sum of money to compensate them for the loss of their daughter in the household.

If Joseph divorced Mary publicly, he would receive all the money he and his family had paid to Mary’s family back...but because he was divorcing her privately Mary’s family was entitled to keep the dowry that had been paid.

The dream here in Matthew definitely explains Joseph’s change of direction. He went from pursuing divorce proceedings to accepting Mary as his wife and claiming paternity of the child that was not his. Joseph was told to name the child...which in this culture only the father of the child had a right to do.

I find it odd that Joseph is often overlooked in the story of Christmas. Here is a man that did not defend his reputation or integrity in the face of a very difficult situation. He definitely was not taking the easy road...was being obedient.

I often find that my obedience is not easy. God asks us to follow Him, and then explains what that means for us. I have been asked time and time again to be obedient and very few times have been easy. I was asked to give up my career plans and pursue the ministry. I was asked to forgo the traditional route of the pastoral career in established churches, and have now planted one church and we are working on this my second...you never know where your obedience will take you.

God is going to ask you to be obedient...it isn’t always safe. It isn’t always easy. It isn’t always going to turn out well in the eyes of the world.

But I take courage from the story of Joseph. A man that was more concerned about being obedient to God than he was about his reputation and others perceived his integrity...He simply obeyed.

Mary: Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Mary, who receives a lot of emphasis in the story, is definitely deserving of our respect.

Mary would have been somewhere between the age of 13 and 20, and was being asked to accept the most phenomenal of situations. The angel Gabriel told her that despite the fact that she was a virgin, she was going to have a baby. Who was she going to tell? Who would believe this incredible story? There are many today who still do not believe this fantastic tale of the virgin birth.

When she first heard the angels words, I am sure questions of: What will Joseph think? and what will my parents think? were topping her mind. She has just been faced with one of the toughest situations anyone has ever had to deal with. And despite all these questions and doubts that must have swarmed her mind, I want you to hear Mary’s response, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

For Mary, being the mother of God’s messiah, was going to be a road filled with derision, put down, sorrow, and heartache. Her reputation as a godly woman—was shot to pieces. She would be forever known as the woman who got pregnant before her wedding. Feel free to add any derogatory word you have heard to help you imagine what she went through.

Every woman in Israel prayed they would one day be the mother of the Messiah, but no one expected this.

Mary and Joseph were placed in a difficult situation, and yet they both obeyed. Despite all outward appearances to the contrary, they were obedient to the will of God.

In the church membership class at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, the pastor tells potential members, “I don’t know why anyone would want to be a member of this church. Being a member of this church means we are going to ask you to attend services and tithe regularly. We are going to ask you to serve in a ministry of the church, and serve other people outside of the church. We are going to ask you to take responsibility for your spiritual growth, and it means you can no longer park in the visitor’s parking spaces close to the door. Being a member makes you no different and gives you no more privileges than anyone else in this church; it just gives you more responsibility.”

I would say that is what being a follower of Jesus means—Joseph and Mary were no different than any other lost, broken, and hurting person walking down the street. They had no more privileges than any one else; they were given more responsibility. And when we sign on to follow Jesus, we are asked to do that same thing. Obedience isn’t easy, and any Christian who says it is is a liar. It isn’t easy, but it certainly is worth it.

The Shepherds: Luke 2:8-20
In first century Judaism, many people groups were not welcome to enter the Temple area due to laws of cleanliness. Shepherds were one of those unwelcome groups. These men worked in the fields, watching over the sheep that would be used in the sacrifices at the Temple, but were considered unclean and unworthy of entrance into Temple.

Because they were unable to be part of the Temple, they were unable to receive the benefits of the sacrifices, they were unable to hear the Scriptures read, they were unable, according to the Jewish beliefs, to be in the presence of God—because God’s presence was in the Temple. They were separated from God and from “normal” Jewish people...so like other groups of “unclean” people, they banded together because they were on the fringe of society.

There were other reasons, of course, that people didn’t want to be around the shepherds. I haven’t lived with sheep in the fields for several weeks, but I have spent a few days backpacking in the woods without a shower. And I noticed something—people don’t like to be around you when you stink. People who stink seem to be able to associate with other people who stink because their stink seems to cancel each other out, but no one from the outside wants to be around this stinky person. And because these shepherds lived in the fields with their sheep, they stunk. They smelled like sheep.

They also had a reputation for being rather off-color. I can imagine these shepherds sitting around the campfire, watching the sheep, telling dirty jokes filled with expletives of the day. They were a rough group. A group that was not welcome to be part of Temple worship, and as a result, unwelcome to worship in the presence of God...so they lived they were out of God’s presence.

So I find it very interesting that when God became part of our world, He did not send His angels to the house of the high priest. He did not send His angels to the any of Pharisee’s homes. He did not send His angels to the homes of any of the good, Temple-going folk. God sent His angels to this group of rowdy, course, dirty-joke telling shepherds who smelled like sheep.

These shepherds, whom the religious leaders had barred from Temple worship, were the first people God invited to worship Jesus at the manger. With all their pains and problems, they were invited into the presence of God. His life was no different. Jesus continued to reach out to the tax-collector/traitors, to the prostitutes, even to the Pharisee. Everyone rejected, sent away, those who were lost, broken, hurting—Jesus called them all to find the peace and love offered by God.

Today, He continues to call for people to receive His love and forgiveness. He works through lost, broken, hurting people like you and me to tell other lost, broken, hurting people about His love and acceptance. He desires that His church be a place that invites, welcomes, and loves those who have been rejected and hurt, the smelly and unlovable, those who tell dirty jokes and fill their speech with curse words.

Don’t hear that and think I’m saying people shouldn’t become more like Christ as they grow closer to him, but we shouldn’t expect people to walk in here and have their act together when we first meet them.

Matthew 9:12-13 says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” NIV

The Magi: Matthew 2:1-18
Technically, if we were being completely true to history, the Magi were not at the manger. The Bible tells us their visit took place sometime within the first two years of Jesus’ life, but they are included in every Nativity scene you find. Even though they aren’t technically part of the birth narrative, they do play an important part in understanding the impact of Jesus’ birth.

For thousands of years, people have looked to the stars. Some looked for information, some for enjoyment, and some looked to the stars for guidance. Magi looked to the stars for guidance, but differed from modern astrologers. They gave counsel to Kings and rulers, and worked in the area of the sciences of their day. They studied the heavens to determine seasonal changes, calendar and time, and to foretell important world events.

The star in the East was just such an event. So when it appeared in the sky, these men packed up their belongings, and headed out to find the one who had been born King of the Jews.

The Magi were from the region of the old Babylonian empire—the site of current day Iraq. This was the same Babylonian Empire who had conquered and taken captive the people Israel more than 1,000 years before.

The journey was long. It would take at least a year to travel from their region to Israel. It probably took longer because of the size of their traveling party. Typically when we think of the visit of the Magi, we think of three men carrying boxes. First, the Bible doesn’t tell us how many men came. Second, men of this stature and wealth would never travel alone, especially with the dangers of such a journey. Their party could have easily been a couple hundred people: soldiers, attendants, and slaves—not to mention the animals needed to carry the equipment and necessities for such a journey.

What I find interesting about this passage is that the leading priests and teachers of the law, men who understood, studied, and sought to live out Scripture, knew where the Messiah was going to be born, and yet they did not even attempt to search for Him. Not one of them offered to go along with these foreigners.

I can’t imagine the confusion these travelers must have had. “This is your King,” they must have thought, “and you are not interested in going to meet him!” “What kind of people is this!” they must have thought. “They are expecting the arrival of their Messiah. They know what city He is to be born in, and yet they seem uninterested.”

These leading priests and teachers of the law should have been the first to search for the Messiah, but for some reason they did not. They should have been the first to worship at His feet, and they weren’t

Instead, it was a group of foreign-born men of a pagan religion who offer us a profound example of what it means to worship...

First, joy was their main feeling...It would be awkward if we translated the original Greek directly to English for verse 10. It simply says, “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” If we translated it literally it would say something like, “They rejoiced with great joy at seeing the star.” They were filled with joy at what they were about to experience.

Second, they bowed down. In Middle Eastern and Asian cultures bowing is a sign of respect, and the lower a person bow, the more respect and honor is being given. For men of this stature, wearing their robes and finery, to bow to an infant was a big deal. And not just bow, the text tells us that they lay prostrate before the child; meaning they laid flat out in front of Him...now that is show of worship.

Third, they brought gifts...and not just any gifts...they brought the finest they had. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. God has set things up differently than any other religion in the world. In other religions you give to a god to appease him so that he will do good things for you. When we enter the presence of God to worship we bring him our best out of joy because we know He has already given us His best—His Son, Jesus Christ.

This leads us to the centerpiece of our Nativity...

The Infant Jesus: Luke 2:1-7

God’s desire was to bring blessing, grace, and peace to His people and to His world, and the Messiah is the one prophesied to bring that peace. Everyone in Israel longed for the day when the Messiah would come and bring peace, but they misunderstood how He would do that and many missed Him entirely.

They expected a mighty warrior and they got a defenseless infant. They expected a Triumphant King entering the city on a white horse, and they got a misunderstood prophet and teacher riding a donkey. They expected a warrior to overthrow the Roman government, and they got a suffering servant who defeated the kingdoms of this world and established His own kingdom through His death.

No one expected Jesus, and yet it was this unexpected Messiah that gives us the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation with God (Romans 5:1-2).

Conclusion
Let me wrap this up by reviewing what each person teaches us...

In Joseph and Mary we discover the need for an obedience that costs us something. We see that this obedience requires an absolute trust in the goodness of God even when we don’t see it.

In the Shepherds we are challenged to see people as God sees them. People far from God are being called into His presence to worship...often entering long before the good, church-going folk even realize who they should be worshipping.

In the Magi we see a model for worship...joy, humility, and sacrifice for a God who has given His very best for us.

And in Jesus, we find forgiveness and reconciliation with God...even when we don’t deserve it.

They say that a sermon should have one point and make that strongly...I have failed because you got several different points this morning. But I hope that you are able see God’s hand at work in the Nativity, and God’s hand at work in your life through these characters.

I apologize for the quickness with which we had to look at these characters because they offer us a lot of insight into our relationship with God, and can change the way we view the Nativity. Go back an read all the Scriptures attached to the sections, and spend some time this season reflecting on the story that helps define who we are as Jesus’ followers.

December 11, 2010

A Review of Chasing Francis by Ian Cron

I recently received the book Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale by Ian Cron to read and review.

It is the story of Chase Falson, the pastor of a large evangelical church, who comes to a crisis of faith. His crisis leads him to melt down in the pulpit, and he is asked to take a leave of absence to get things together. During his leave he visits his uncle, a Franciscan Monk, in Italy and rediscovers his passion for Christ and the ministry through St. Francis of Assisi.

I enjoyed the book, and took only 3 days to read it in its entirety. The prose is simple, and the story-telling is easy to keep pace with. While it is not over-loaded with history or information about St. Francis, it does offer insight into Francis' life and ministry. It challenges you to reconsider the foundations of what many modern expressions of church are based on (hint: the modern American evangelical model may have strayed in its expression of the faith).

This is another call to reevaluate our foundations as a church, and to consider some alternatives to modern American evangelical practice of the faith.

I do feel like I'm reading from a page taken from Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey. It was a good book, but offered a style that is now reproduced here in Chasing Francis. I do find it interesting that Ian Cron places these words in Chase's mouth, "I'm beginning to see that there's a difference between art that trusts beauty's simple power to point people to God and Christian art that's consciously propagandistic." I definitely agree with the sentiment, but find it odd to see it in a book, written as a novel that is definitely trying to get us to believe in a certain way of doing church.

All in all this is a good book, and a good read.

#ChasingFrancisSpeakEasy

December 6, 2010

If I Had Stuck to My Notes for the Message on Peace



In Leviticus God makes some very bold and wonderful promises to His people (Leviticus 26:3-9):

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.
God was promising them peace, but even if you just skim the Old Testament, you will discover that they did not follow His decrees or obey His commands, and so their history is littered with wars, violence, and captivity. Some have read the Old Testament and seen an angry or vengeful God, but I think that is wrong. What we see is a gracious and loving God who loves His people and give them chance after chance to do what is right while they stubbornly refuse. He postpones their punishment time and time again until eventually it can be restrained no more; so they suffer the consequences of their actions.

I mean listen to the sorrow in God’s statement in Isaiah 48:17-18
“This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
‘I am the LORD your God,
who teaches you what is best for you,
who directs you in the way you should go.
If only you had paid attention to my commands,
your peace would have been like a river,
your well-being like the waves of the sea.’”
All they had to do was obey God’s commands, and they would have had this amazing peace. But, the Israelites are not alone. They couldn’t obey God’s commands and laws. They couldn’t keep His covenants. And so they didn’t have peace.

We have the same problems. We can’t keep God’s commands and laws. We can’t keep His covenant. And so we live in a world that without peace. The world is desperate for peace. Wars, riots, crime, political unrest, gang violence, terrorism, genocide, jihad...on a more social and community level we struggle with family dysfunction, alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, arguments, depression, worry...it all adds up to a world without peace.

And yet we keep looking. We keep hoping and believing that somewhere, somehow, sometime we will find peace.

Governments make peace treaties. People protest for peace. Militaries fight to restore and keep peace. And still peace slips through our fingers like sand at the beach.

But we keep looking. Many people are optimistic that peace will happen. I believe it will, but not for the reasons they think peace will come. Because they believe that the human spirit will eventually win out and peace will come. Many others are tempted to be pessimistic about the possibility of peace, because they they look at the human spirit and see the darkness and evil that human beings are capable of causing one another.

Neither of these are an option for those of us seeking to live out the Gospel. We cannot be optimistic because of the power of the human spirit...because we recognize that we are a fallen humanity. We are stained and damaged by sin and separated from God. So peace, true peace is not a possibility on our own. But if we are truly focused on living out the Gospel, we can’t be pessimistic either because we know that God has promised peace, and ever promise He makes He keeps.

So lets take a few steps back, start from the beginning, and build a framework.

First, biblical peace is not like our peace.

The biblical word we translate as “peace” is a word you may have heard before. It is the Hebrew word shalom. In the New Testament its Greek equivalent is eirene. These two words represent one of the most theologically significant ideas in the entirety of Scripture.

The root of the word means totality or completeness. But there are additional nuances the Bible gives to the word. These nuances include fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, wholeness (both individual and communal), community, harmony, tranquillity, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, success, and prosperity.#

You see peace is so much more than just an absence of conflict. It is this all consuming, complete tranquility and security with God and our fellow human beings. This requires justice. This brings about success and blessing. This is wholeness for both you and I individually, and you and I as we live in community together.

Shalom became a standard greeting for Israelites because in wishing shalom to another person you were praying a blessing over them that God would bring wholeness to their physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual lives. This was more than just a standard greeting, it was a prayer for the person being greeting.

When most people think of peace, they think of an absence of conflict. If war stops...there is peace. If gangs don’t shoot each other...there is peace. If one country no longer bombs another country...there is peace. We speak in terms of “keeping the peace.” Someone once asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”

And the answer is “No!” we can’t all just get along because the problem is much deeper than just removing the conflict. But biblical peace is deeper. It is shalom. It is not the absence of conflict. It is the the presence of justice. It is the presence of wholeness in people’s physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual lives.

I hate confrontation, and will do almost anything I can to avoid it. I begin to sweat, my heart beats faster, I get this nervous and unsettled feeling, and I get this strong desire to run away. I’m fat so anything that makes me feel like running has to be a strong emotion...or the last piece of something. But I have found that somethings need to be dealt with; because when I avoid the confrontation I have only postponed the problem, and most likely made things worse. I think I am keeping peace, but I am actually undermining true peace by removing conflict with bringing justice.

I found this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."The Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

It isn’t those who are actively fighting against a cause that are the most dangerous. The most dangerous people are those who just want things to settle down and go away. So in the name of seeking peace they have actually subverted true peace, and made things worse.

If we want shalom for our lives and for our world we have to find something deeper than the flimsy substitutions for peace the world offers. We have to seek after true peace.

After years and years of struggle and turmoil, the Israelites knew that only the Messiah could bring true peace.

Isaiah 9 holds the famous words prophesying the Messiah: Isaiah 9:2-7
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
God’s desire was to bring blessing, grace, and peace to His people and to His world, and they knew the Messiah would be the one to bring that peace. So when the angels announced in Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The shepherds knew they were being invited to see the Messiah.

Everyone in Israel longed for the day when the Messiah would come and bring peace, but they misunderstood how He would do that and many missed Him entirely. They expected a mighty warrior and they got a defenseless infant. They expected a Triumphant King entering the city on a white horse, and they got a misunderstood prophet and teacher riding a donkey. They expected a warrior to overthrow the Roman government, and they got a suffering servant who defeated the kingdoms of this world by establishing His own kingdom with His death.

It was this sacrifice, this unexpected Messiah, that brought the possibility of peace by reconciling us to God (Romans 5:1-2). We can’t even begin to fathom true peace much-less try to bring peace about until we have found peace with God. It starts deep within us.

Jeremiah 31:33 hints at the problem, “‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

We, like the Israelites try to fix the problem from the outside. We use peace treatise, protests, negotiations, and force to bring about peace. On a personal level we use rules, organizational structures, or we avoid the conflict and keep our mouths shut...but all of these are external. They exist outside of us, and so they are insufficient to bring about peace...because until we have peace within, with God, we cannot have peace.

That is why the Great Commandment starts with love the Lord your God and then moves to love your neighbor. One of the commandments is not greater than the other, it is just a reality that you must be developing right relationship with God in order to develop right relationship with your neighbor.

Yesterday I posted the rest of this quote from Vatican II on my blog. If you want it, I can give you that web address, but I wanted to share this quote because it ties this point in with our next point...

“Earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.

For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.”
When we allow Christ to bring peace into our lives, then we must become instruments of God’s peace to the world.

I used to pray asking God to do certain things. God please make this or that happen, and it wouldn’t. Please meet this person’s need or that person’s need. Then I realized that God has always used human beings to bring about His will. He blesses and multiplies their efforts and results, but He will not do the work for them.

God will bless the crop and the harvest, but He expects the farmer to plant the seed. God will bless the results of a person’s labor, but they have to actually show up to work and clock in each day. God will bless our work toward peace, but He expects us to be peacemakers.

St. Francis of Assisi, speaking to the brothers in his monastery, said, “Brothers, we have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

Peace will not come unless we work to bring it about through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we need to be people of peace. The world doesn’t trust us as a church to do that. They see us bickering over theological differences. They hear us talk disparagingly about people in “that church over there.” They see us protesting in judgment of people. They see us supporting war and violence as a way to bring about peace. And so they don’t trust us to be agents of peace.

There is a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It probably wasn’t his, but it certainly reflects his life and the point of this message...
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

We in the Vineyard understand the idea of the “already and the not yet.” There is a sense in which the things of God are made available to us here and now...and there is a sense in which, because God has not fully restored everything, that we are still lacking. And our search for peace is a prime example.

We catch glimpses of peace, but it will not be until Christ returns and fully restores this world to the way He intended it to be that we will find peace in its fullness.

In Advent the church reenacts the preparation for the coming of the Messiah into our world. We spend four weeks in a preparation mode waiting in expectancy for the coming of the Messiah as an infant on Christmas Day. But there is a second aspect to it...Advent serves as a reminder that we are preparing for coming again of our Messiah. Just as the coming of the Messiah in Bethlehem initiated the peace process, there is coming a day when peace will reign, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and lions will lay down with lambs...and so I say “Come Lord Jesus, make it so...and in the mean time, enable me to work for your peace wherever I go.”

December 4, 2010

Peace and Vatican II

I'm speaking on Peace this weekend, and probably will not be able to make room for this quote...but it is good. What a great quote from Vatican II:
“Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice. The common good of humanity finds its ultimate meaning in the eternal law. But since the concrete demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes on, peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly. Moreover, since the human will is unsteady and wounded by sin, the achievement of peace requires a constant mastering of passions and the vigilance of lawful authority.

But this is not enough. This peace on earth cannot be obtained unless personal well-being is safeguarded and men freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their inner spirits and their talents. A firm determination to respect other men and peoples and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace. Hence peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide.

That earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.

For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.”

December 2, 2010

Peace

This weekend I'm speaking about peace. I found this song, and felt a little inspired. Matisyahu is a Jew and Akon is Muslim...these two preforming together says a lot.