In Search of Irene

It’s that time of year – decorations, parties, presents, travels, coordinating with coworkers for time off…and each of those in abundance. During this time of the hope of and increased search for peace, many are busier than ever. And the situation isn’t helped by having to be wary of people stealing your gifts while they’re sitting in your car, or thinking of how to deal with THAT relative at the get-together…or a thousand other things that could go wrong.

 

Our language is infused with idioms dealing with peace – peace and quiet, leave someone in peace, no peace for the wicked, peace offering. Beyond just the words and phrases using the English “peace,” there are other not-so-obvious “peaceful” words. The Pacific Ocean is named because it’s relatively smooth sailing. Irenic efforts seek peaceful reconciliation.  The name Irene means peace; similar to the church father Irenaeus. Shalom is the Hebrew word and concept of peace (though it means much more than just that). Jerusalem means City of Peace (or it could mean Possession of Peace, or Foundation of Peace).

 

Despite this constant desire and search for peace, this world is not peaceful. Peace today seems to be thought of in a couple different ways by the world (meaning, the non-Christian world). One way is a personal tranquil state of being – harmony with other individuals; personal security and safety. The second way is on a group, even a national, level – national safety and security; group rights to prevent bullying; organizations devoted to human rights.

 

The world has the concept partly right – true biblical peace applies to both the individual and group level, and it is a state of tranquility, harmony, and safety. What the world has wrong, though, is that it seeks peace only on a horizontal level, only on a human-to-human level. The Bible’s concept of peace includes a harmonious and tranquil relationship with the Triune God.

 

The world sometimes has the strategy for peace half right – they fight for it. The Bible calls for Christians to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. “Keeping the peace” means that one doesn’t rock the boat; one doesn’t mess with the establishment – in many cases, things are OK, so one shouldn’t do anything to make it worse (it’s not a matter of making things better, but of keeping the status quo because upheaval and disruption are painful).

 

But the Christian is to, in a certain instances, fight for peace. We are to be at peace, but peaceful is not the same as passive. Jesus brought the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), and with that we are to make peace. True biblical peace often entails some kind of confrontation. Confrontation isn’t just simply fighting with someone; it can be as simple as “I’d like to talk about something you said the other day.”

 

The Bible tells us to live a quiet life, so there’s an aspect of being a pacifist (different than a passivist). But that exhortation is prepended with “as far as it depends on you.” Sometimes, we have to struggle for peace. The Holy Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control to deal with otherwise fearful situations (this explains why the non-Christian typically enacts “peace” by using fear-filled tactics).

 

You can win the struggle for peace during the holidays by being the one to choose. An oft-neglected word, which is a compete sentence, is “No.”  (though there’s no requirement to be a jerk about it – search for ’50 Ways to Say No’ and you’ll find plenty of options for saying No without being rude). It’s OK to say No. It’s OK to stay home. It’s OK to opt-out…not just this year, but every year.  If you go to a party, then you be the one who chose to go. If you travel for family, then you be the one who chose to take that invitation. If you don’t go or don’t give, it’s your choice which you made based on your current situation for you and your family.

 

In the end, the biblical idea of peace is that of wholeness. It’s a wholeness of relationship with Christ and wholeness with other people. And just as the Magi in their search for the Holy Child, the search for peace can entail intense preparation and hard work.

We need to spend more time learning from Jesus, the Prince of Peace. This idea is succinctly and emotionally shown in the story of Martha and Mary. It’s not a story pitting spiritual education against “grunt work.” It’s a story of the heart. It’s a story about anxiety vs. tranquility, about etiquette vs. righteousness, about being perturbed vs. being at peace.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Choose and Make a Merry New Year!
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Thankful, Even When You’re Not Ready

There’s a phrase that goes, “Already, but not yet.”

When a real war is being fought, there will be a “decisive battle.” At that point, the war has been won, but it won’t really be over until all has been communicated and everyone has gone home. Already, but not yet.

In baseball, if the batting team is down a point or two, and it’s the final bat of the game, with the bases loaded, and the batter hits a home run – the game has been won! But not until everyone actually runs to home base. Already, but not yet.

(Stick with me – this really has to do with thankfulness…)

In the Bible book of Habakkuk, in chapter 3, verses 17-19, we read, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

The kingdom of Judah had sinned greatly, and God’s punishment for that sin was to send the Babylonian empire against Judah (here’s some background information, if you want to get into details: https://bible.org/article/introduction-book-habakkuk).

But God, being a good God, was also going to protect His faithful people in the midst of the takeover, would restore Israel, and then would judge Babylon.

In the verses above, before all of the takeover started, Habakkuk was saying to the people, “Already, but not yet.” Peace was on the horizon – just not yet. God has won – you just haven’t seen it yet.

Frederick Douglass – a man who was born a slave around 1817*, but educated himself, escaped slavery, and went on to being famous as an abolitionist, suffragist, preacher, author, editor, and diplomat – had a hard life, but through harder work and reliance on Christ, he trusted that He would free him. First was spiritual freedom, then physical freedom. But there was an arduous time between the two. Already, but not yet.

There are plenty of people today who are undergoing trials – neighbors, those foreign to us, friends and family, coworkers. I suppose one could rightfully assume that everyone you come in contact with has some trial. They may be the next Habakkuk or Frederick, but they may not be. Because all people are made in God’s image, giving people hope is not relegated to the famous and influential, nor just to those who we hope will become so. We only know “now,” and that’s where we have to act.

Those who trust in God also hope in God. Those who hope in God also thank God. Those who know Him know, by faith, that He will bring salvation. Habakkuk gives us the famous verse, “The just shall live by faith.” Habakkuk 2:4, echoed in Romans 1:17.

Because we hope in God, we can, like Habakkuk, thank the triune God for what He hasn’t delivered yet – restoration, salvation, complete reconciliation. We are saved, but not yet; we are whole, but not yet; we are perfected but not yet.

On the practical side of things, for those who have the means, sponsoring children through Compassion International is a great way to spread hope. Those children who are unsponsored lack one or more of the basics of life – clean water, good food, hygiene, clothing…things that those of us with means can easily take for granted. (Here’s a fun video about this: http://www.charlottestories.com/local-charlotte-church-released-christmas-video-thats-going-viral-4-million-views/). Sponsorship provides these things. And you, the sponsor, provide the personal side of things. All of these children have hope, but they may not know who to thank. When you sponsor a child, you’re the immediate one they will thank, yet each one also needs to know that the one they really need to thank, the One who led you to sponsor them, is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

You can let them know that they’ll graduate – just not yet. They’re already stronger – but not yet. They’re already better off than they were – but maybe they don’t see it yet. It’s astounding to think that, through Compassion, my family and I can have a positive, even life-changing, effect on people in other countries! In a simple way, we can help transform others’ lives.

Everyone has, or will have, tough times. We need to work together, to encourage each other, to exhort each other to hang in there, to hope in God, and be thankful for His good gifts, even if He hasn’t sent them yet.

*Because slave birth records weren’t kept (or even made), Frederick’s father was unknown to him, his mother was kept from him often, and she died when he was ten, we don’t know when he was born. Later, he chose February 14 as his birthdate because his mother had called him her little valentine.

Called to Compassion

Jesus said in Matthew 7:12 – “Do to others as you’d have them do to you.”

This doesn’t come with a promise – it’s something the Christian is called to do as part of the Christian life.

While there isn’t any kind of adjective to prepend to Gospel (e.g., Social Gospel), there is, within the Gospel itself the call that those already transformed by it should work to transform the lives of others with the power and resources provided by the Holy Spirit.

There’s more reading below, but here’s a 2-mt. video about Compassion and the joy of singing along with others:

 

One might ask, “Why do I need to spend my money to help someone?” You don’t need to – you are called to help in whatever way you can. There are plenty of ways to help others – prayer, helping clean houses, sending a letter, helping with a garage sale, calling to see how they’re doing…just to name a few that cost no money and don’t take much time.

But in the Kingdom, the general rule is that we are to be ready to spend money to help others.  In Ephesians 4:28, the last part of the verse says, “that they may have something to share with those in need.” In the verse, it’s directly speaking to those who have been thieves, and they need to correct their behavior by earning an honest living. The principle of the verse is that those who make money need to do what they can to have at least a little extra for those in need.

Ayn Rand was a progressive thinker in American economics. An ideology that she highly disliked was charity. Giving with no expectation of return was, to her, completely foreign to her concepts of economics. Ayn Rand was very capitalistic, but not at all Christian. What’s interesting about her and others who espouse those views of economics is that even they know what charity is – giving what you’ve worked for with no hope of getting something in return. When it comes to making and saving money, charity makes no sense. It is very counter-secular.

Christians need to approach charity that way – we give because people need help. Of course, those who follow Christ often “get” something for giving – joy from knowing that we’ve given; lessons we can teach our children. In many cases, we get a tax deduction (though you can opt out of that). In some very small way, we do give as Christ gave…selflessly, so that others may live and draw closer to God. But we don’t get, and shouldn’t expect to get, anything physical in return – we give without thinking, out of any extra we have. Many people around the world probably won’t have any issue with giving to poverty-stricken children, but they may take issue with us giving so that those children can grow to be men and women of Christ.

Sponsoring a child thorough Compassion is charity. We give out of our abundance to help transform the lives of others. And we need to do this selflessly.  We often use our money to enjoy the nice things in life – good food, decent house, a car, family, times with friends, travel. It’s very easy to get into that groove so much so that it becomes a rut. At that point, we tend to ignore the darker side of life on earth – the devastating effects of sin.

Not one of us gets to dodge sin and its effects, so no one can claim that someone else has a perfect life. But those of us in the “have” category tend to dodge some of the more visible effects of the fallen world (effects such as lack of food or lack of clothing) by both buying more than what we need and thinking that others can obtain those things if they just work hard enough.

In moments of reflection, maybe often when confronted by images on TV or the internet, we know that others suffer. We may turn a blind eye or deaf ear to those images and sound bytes, feeling uncomfortable.

Compassion International seeks to bridge the gap between the world of abundance and the world of lack. They do this by giving those who have extra the opportunity to give to those who lack the basics of life. Each individual who enjoys the basics can help those in poverty travel over that bridge to wholeness.

$38/month is what it takes from you. After that, beyond that, what you give is free. You can write letters, you can pray, you can send coloring pages, you can send photos. Sure, you can give birthday and Christmas money, but that’s not required. Out of your abundance of a little more than a dollar a day, you can change a life.

As we see in the Bible, people tend to listen to spiritual salvation after their physical lives have been provided for. The Christian doesn’t give SO THAT people will become Christians; we give because Christ gave all before any of us gave any. But the unspiritual need to see that the Christian cares for them, for what they know – they know only the cares of the body, and they’re inundated with unanswered questions about the spiritual life.

People are physical and spiritual. Many times throughout Scripture we see God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the people of God first showing others the power and love of God by demonstrating God’s ability to provide for the physical. After they see that we care about their troubles, they can proceed to trust Christ with answers to their spiritual questions.

So whether we seek to show love to the non-Christian or the Christian, we do it the same way – we provide the basics of both the physical and spiritual lives of the other.

Christ has provided each Christian with some kind of abundance. Are you sharing that abundance, even non-monetary, with others?

I encourage you to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. You may not have the money – if not, then you’re not called to sponsor at this point, since God hasn’t given you the means. For those Christians who have a spare $1/day, it’s something to consider. Christ is the One who calls us to give selflessly, and Compassion is one trusted way to do that.

My Word for 2017

We all need something to hang on to, right? It could be a routine, a promise, a plan, a ritual  – we just simply need to have a series of lifelines. That’s what gives us hope, and hope is foundational to living.

I’ve got many lifelines, plenty to hang on to. Plenty to do, lots of plans, loads of responsibilities, numerous good things going on. So why have a word? Because this just seems like the year to do it.

I know “word of the year” has been popular for some years, but I’ve had enough to do without adding something else. This just seems like a good year to do something different.

With all that goes on, I’ve been more into action items and daily life. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy what I’ve been doing. I’m all for action and living and enjoying life. Maybe the Word challenge is a way to encapsulate what I’ve been doing and thinking, rather than being something else to do. Maybe this word of the year for 2017 is actually a metamorphosis for last year’s cocooning activity.

My word for 2017 is: Why?

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Over the past year, it has become clear to me that I need to know more about why I’m doing something. Why do I make the rules that I do for my children? Why do I workout? (or, why don’t I workout?) Why do I respond to this-and-that situation in the way that I do? Why eat healthily (yes, it’s “healthily” instead of “healthy” if you wondered, but it’s not a big deal – just anticipating a question about it)? Why do I dress, or dress our kids, the way that I do? It’s also to remind myself about why I work, why I’m married, why we homeschool, etc. It’s in the reminders that I learn even more.

Not everything can be answered with a Why, but far more is made clear when I ask the question and get down to the motive.

It’s not that I’ve been doing things without knowing why – I have been to the best of my ability. But I’ve reached another point in growing up (something we all need to reach at various times throughout life). I’m at the point of refining what I do and what my reasons are for doing them.

The main principle behind this “Why?” refinement is this: Do I do what I do because I fear God? Or because I fear Man? (Matthew 10:28; Psalm 118:6; Proverbs 29:25; Hebrews 13:6)

Case in point: Have I made society’s dress code equivalent to Scripture’s code? Scripture has limited advice on how we dress, and one main point is to dress modestly. This past weekend we all stayed the night somewhere else. One of our younger ones ended up, for Sunday morning, with a dress shirt and…sweat pants. At least the pants were black – a good power color, and the goes everything. I wanted to be upset – how could he chooseTHAT?! Doesn’t the boy have any sense? He doesn’t have fashion sense (he’s like me), but AT LEAST get some decent pants.

But was his action a lack of will? Or was it lack of skill? It was a lack of skill. So what if he doesn’t have matching clothes? Any onlooker can tell he’s dressed modestly. Are my standards biblical? Or am I afraid that someone would say, “Your boy sure doesn’t know how to dress, does he?” Maybe he doesn’t know how to pick matching clothes, but that is not anywhere near a moral failing.

Why do I do things? Why do I think the things that I do? Is godliness my motivation? Is my impetus Christ-likeness? Or is it making sure that people don’t make fun of me or my family?

I want to delve into my motivations so that I can please Christ, not man.

Why am I writing this post? Am I trying to prove to someone that I can do it (wanting “man’s” praise)? No, I’m not. As any writer really wants to do, I’m writing so that I can share my burdens and encourage you, the reader, on to Christ-likeness.

Happy New Year!

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