Tag Archives: peace

What Christians need: Grace, Peace…and Titus? Titus 1:1-4, Part 5

14 Jun

What do you need? A million bucks? I often daydream about how a million dollars would free up my life. But that’s not really what I need. What do we need? We conclude this week’s blog posts on Titus 1:1-4 today looking at what Christians need.

If you haven’t read the previous four posts, I encourage you to pause reading this one, and jump back to part 1 and start there. The previous posts will set the stage for this one.

Then turn to Titus chapter 1, verse 4, and you’ll see that the author of this letter, Paul, mentions a name: Titus. Who is Titus?  Titus is the guy that PUal is writing to, and in the previous posts we saw that Titus was one of Paul’s most trusted associates in ministry. Paul dispatched Titus to go to the Island of Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where previously they had traveled and helped establish churches. Titus has a mission to help those churches, a mission that we will learn about much more next week when we study Titus 1:5-9. For now Paul greets Titus in this letter, calling him, “My true son in our common faith.”

Titus was not Paul’s biological son, but instead Paul led him to faith in faith in Jesus.  Paul was his spiritual father.  Fascinating, isn’t it, that we can have sons and daughters in the faith?  Paul had reached out to Titus to help him understand that there is hope in Jesus.

Who is your Paul?  Who is your Titus?

Church attendance across the country is declining.  People are less and less interested in Christ.

What do we do?

Some stats say that 80% of people who are invited to church will say yes, especially if you commit to be there with them, pick them, go out for breakfast, and then go to the worship service together.  But a vibrant relationship with Jesus is about much more than one hour per week at a worship service.  Paul calls Titus a son.  That’s a deep family word that means Paul was deeply invested in Timothy’s life.

Faith Church recently had an excellent Discipleship Training session, and our trainer, Clint led us to conclude that discipleship involves the following: Meet weekly with a few other people to study and apply the Scriptures with the aim of multiplication. Here is what each part of that description looks like.

Meeting weekly – needs at least this frequency to build momentum and relationship

With a few other people – beyond 3-5 people is too large. Also team up and have two leaders. Recommend same gendered groups.

Study & applying the Scriptures – the Bible is essential to disciple-making.

With the aim of multiplication – keep growing and splitting the group.  Initial group can be to study one book of the Bible, and then re-eval.  But have heart to grow.

And what does Paul say to Timothy?  He starts with “Grace and Peace,” a very typical Pauline greeting.  What does Paul mean?  Why does he share this?  Is it just perfunctory?

Grace is defined as “a favorable attitude toward someone or something—‘favor, good will.’ (Louw & Nida).  Paul is saying to Titus, “may you have favor, may you have good will.”

And may you have peace, which is defined as “a set of favorable circumstances involving peace and tranquility.” (Louw & Nida) Sounds very good, right?

Grace and Peace.  We need that. 

Notice that these are not grace and peace from Paul.  Instead Paul says that the grace and peace are from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Though Paul calls Titus his son, he properly refers to God as their Father.  Paul is not truly father to Titus.  God is father of them both. 

And from God, from Jesus, there is grace and peace.

Let those words settle on your heart and mind today.  In one sense it was just a customary greeting.  In another sense, there is something deep and important grace and peace.  We need grace and peace from God.

I’m reading the story of Brian Johnson of Bethel Music, and his struggle with anxiety.  He said that it was a struggle for him as a child, but for 15 years he experienced grace and peace, until adult life and ministry got intense, especially as Bethel Music started growing.  The anxiety returned.  Maybe you’ve felt that with work, with raising a family, with finances, with school, with friendships.  There are many pressures in the world.  Do you need grace and peace? 

Paul reminds Titus that grace and peace are rooted in God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  Brian Johnson says that for him, in the moment of panic and anxiety, that is when God became real.  I sense Paul would say the same thing.  Jesus is the truth, and in Christ alone we have the source of grace and peace.  Turn to him in prayer, in his Word, not alone, with others (with your Titus!). Turn to Jesus, the source of grace and peace.

Should Christians take up arms? [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 4]

10 Jan

How should Christians view war?  We are not the nation of ancient Israel which had a special covenant with God.  We are the church, and we are under a new covenant.  So from this passage in Deuteronomy, we can learn God’s heart, but we have to also take into consideration the new covenant we have with God, and that is found in the teaching of the New Testament.

There are those who look at Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, especially in the Sermon on the Mount when he says to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, and to “Love your enemies.” These Christians look at the prohibitions against killing in both the Old and New Testaments, and they conclude that war is never right.  Our Mennonite and Amish and Brethren friends are examples.  They hold to what is called pacifism, or peace.  No war, period.  They would list Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr as examples of what is called non-violent resistance in order to deal with injustice.  They would not serve in the military, receiving conscientious objector status in a draft.  What they hold to is a completely legitimate and viable understanding of New Testament teaching.

Then there are those Christians who look to other teaching in the New Testament, and they conclude that war is right in certain specified conditions.  They see Paul, in Romans 13, for example, teaching that God instituted governments to restrain evil.  From that they create what is called just war theory.  Here “just” is being used not in the sense of “only”, but in the sense of “right”.  In other words, what are those are circumstances when it is just or right or legal for one country to wage war against another? 

Of course there are many viewpoints on this, disagreements, but here are the most common points of what is called Just War Theory: 

  1. For one nation to go to war against another, they must have a just cause – Usually this boils down to self-defense.
  2. Next, war must be a last resort – All means of diplomacy must first be tried and tried again.
  3. War must be declared by a proper authority – A recognized sovereign nation.
  4. War must have right intention – The cause must be justice, not self-interest. 
  5. War must have a reasonable chance of success – Count the cost, particularly to human life.
  6. The end must be proportional to the means used – For example, don’t use nuclear weaponry for a small border dispute.

And in fact that last point is related to what we see in Deuteronomy 20 verses 19-20 where God says to Israel, “when you bring a siege on a city, don’t cut down fruit trees to build your siege works.”

On the one hand, this is simply wisdom.  You need food! So don’t cut off your source of sustenance.  Think about the needs of the army, and plan for the future because when you eventually occupy the land, you’ll need those trees for food. 

But on the other hand, there is also a principle: when in war use self-control, don’t allow yourself to use anything and everything to make war. 

So Just War Theory sets a high bar.  I once heard a lecture from a Christian speaker from the Center for Public Justice applying just war theory to some of America’s wars in the past.  The most obvious war considered to be just was our involvement in the Allied cause during World War 2.  In that war multiple unjust aggressors were not going to stop invading nations and slaughtering millions of people until they ruled the world.  After Japan bombed our naval base at Pearl Harbor, we committed our military to the cause, sacrificing much.  The Allied mission to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy in World War 2 is widely considered to be a just war. That doesn’t mean that every Allied action in the war was just.

But the speaker that day made a surprising comment.  He said that the American Revolution might not have been a just war!   Was it possible that our forefathers, when they rebelled against the British, did not meet those six standards of just war?  Maybe.  I’ll let you think on that!

My church and my pastoral credential is with the EC Church, our denomination, and we are not pacifistic.  We believe that when there is just cause, one nation can enter into war against another, to restrain evil, and we believe that Christians can in good conscience serve in the military.  But because this is an area of theology where Christians disagree, including Christians within the same church, each individual should hold their view with love and grace towards one another.

What I want to be clear about, though, is that Christians and the church should never use violent means to accomplish the mission of God. Sadly we have a poor track record of doing just that, most famously perhaps in the Crusades. We must call any military or violent action of the church what it is: sin. And we must repent of it, over and over. The mission of God is accomplished in love, humility, selflessness, following the example of Jesus who gave his life for the world.

War & Peace [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 1]

7 Jan

As I was studying Deuteronomy 20 last week, I had songs going through my mind. War songs. Anti-war songs. It is interesting to me that there is in our culture an intersection of war and music. Then again, I suppose music touches all aspects of life. And, perhaps, so does war. I wanted to start my sermon with one or two of these songs, maybe a representative piece from each side of the war debate. There are so many songs about war and peace, so I asked my son to help me mash-up one of each. My younger kids later told me that it was a very weird way to introduce my sermon. See what you think:

How do you view war?

As we return to our study of Deuteronomy, we come to chapter 20, and it is all about war.  Deuteronomy is written with a backdrop of war.  The people of Israel were a nomadic, traveling nation, with an army.  They left Egypt as slaves 40 years before, but in the intervening years, they had been transformed into a nation with a military, having fought battles here and there.  Read the first chapters of the book of Numbers, for example, and it refers to the men 20 years old or older that are able to fight.  That brings us to Deuteronomy where they are encamped on the eastern side of the Jordan River, getting ready for their most significant battle yet, the conquest of the land of Canaan.  This is a people at war. 

Earlier in the book of Deuteronomy, particularly in chapters 2, 3, and 7 we talked about war.  This goes back to the fall of 2017, and I remember thinking back then, “Why did I choose to preach through Deuteronomy?  All this talk about war?”  That was over a year ago, and so we’re going to talk about it again today.  One final time in this study of Deuteronomy.  And we need to talk about it.  The USA has been at war for almost 16 years…did you know that?  We invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003.   Then go back through our history, and it has been one war after the other.  We, too, are a nation with a context of war. 

Can Deuteronomy help us at all?  Turn to Deuteronomy 20.

Verses 1-4 are very straightforward.  Moses is saying to the people, “When you go to war, and the enemy seems more powerful than you, do not be afraid, God is with you, and God fights for you.”  Remember that this was a major issue for the people.  They had sent spies across the river into the Promised Land of Canaan, scoped out the land, and most of the spies came back saying, “All the people over there are giants, and we will surely lose.”  But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said, “No…God will fight for us…we can take them.”  Moses is reminding the people that God, the one with unlimited power, is on their side.

I find it interesting that the priest is the first person described as addressing the people.  Look at verse 2, and it says the priest will speak before they go into battle.  It seems that Moses is not speaking chronologically here.  The words “into battle” give the impression that the message from the priest is a final encouragement before the army engages the enemy.  It is a reminder to the army of the reality of God at work.  But Moses lists it first in the chapter showing its thematic preeminence.

This is a principle that can carry over to us.  God is with you, he is for you, no matter what you are going through in life.  Israel was not to trust in their own ability, their own weaponry, the size of their army, or the wisdom of their officers.  They were to trust in God’s power.  From the moment they left Egypt 40 years prior, this was a principle they were to build their nation on: that God was with them and would fight for them.  Humanly speaking, there was no way they should have won any of the battles they fought through the whole process.  They were a nation of slaves, with no military training, no history, no experience, while the nations around them were much stronger and experienced.  But Israel had God who has ultimate power.  The whole point was that they should trust in him.  We should trust God too.  The principle is not saying that we can wage war whenever we want, and God will put his stamp of approval on it, if we just somehow trust in him.  No. The principle in these first four verses is that we must trust in God and depend on God about anything difficult or scary that we are going through.  But how do we do this?  I regularly struggle with how a person actually places their trust in God. It has to be more than saying, “I trust God,” or believing it in our minds. What do we do with our bodies, our choices, our possessions, our time, our relationships, that show we trust in God? We’ll come back to this question at the end of the series. 

Check back in to part 2, as we continue looking at what God says about Israel’s army.

How to be a peacemaker (shocking lessons from an “insane” person!)

3 Aug

Image result for seek peace and pursue it

All week long, we’ve been looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches a very difficult thing to do: when people insult you, ask God to bless them.

Is Peter saying you can never defend yourself?  I would submit that Peter would answer, “No. You can defend yourself. But there is a right way and a right wrong to defend yourself.”

First of all, if you are abused, report it and get safe.  We live in a country where there is legal recourse to deal with abuse.  That is a very good thing.  Not all countries throughout history have been like this.  There are certainly Christians living in places around the world even today where they are physically abused, maybe sexually and emotionally too, and they have no recourse.  Imagine how difficult it must be for them to hear Peter’s words.  They might not be able to get safe.  They too, however, can bless those who persecute them.

Thankfully, ours is a country where abuse and persecution are not tolerated.  But I think here in his letter Peter is primarily thinking about how interpersonal relations in a church family can get ugly.  Meanness.  Unkindness. Gossip. In those cases he is not saying, “Do not stick up for yourself.”

He is saying that there is a difference between aggression and assertiveness.  We do not need to attack back.  It will only make things worse if you attack back.

I once heard Ravi Zacharias say: “When you throw mud at others, you not only get your hands dirty, but you lose a lot ground in the process.”  When people are evil to us, or insult us, we are not to get revenge.  Instead, as I said yesterday, if they insult you, eulogize ’em!

Peter supports his argument with a quote from the Old Testament.  Psalm 34:12-16 to be exact. Psalm 34 is a fascinating psalm written by the great poet, warrior, king of Israel David. And it has a wonderful backstory.  The subtitle of Psalm 34 tells us that David wrote this psalm as he was reflecting on a really difficult situation in his life.  At the time he was a fugitive, on the run from his father-in-law King Saul who wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21 we read that David made the surprising decision, after retrieving Goliath’s sword (the same Philistine Goliath from Gath whom David had killed years earlier), to go to enemy Philistine territory, and of all places the city of Gath.  Can you tell that David was under a lot of pressure and maybe not thinking straight?  He arrives at Gath, and the Philistine leaders there are very suspicious.  In their eyes David was the most well-known Philistine killer.  Not only had he killed their hometown hero Goliath, but in the years following, he had commanded Israelite armies that had killed thousands of other Philistines.  Now he is in their town, hoping for asylum?  David sees their reactions, their doubt, their fear, and he starts thinking “Uh-oh…did I just make a horrible decision coming here?” This would be the Philistines perfect opportunity to get their revenge on David. So what does he do?  He acts insane, to the point of allowing drool to dribble down his beard!  I encourage you to read the account for yourself.  It’s quite a vivid episode in David’s life.  Find out how the Philistines reacted to his insanity ploy!

That is what David was thinking about when he wrote Psalm 34.  The whole psalm is amazing and deserves lots of attention and further study, but Peter only quotes verses 12-16, so that will be my focus here.

I’ll start in Psalm 34 verse 11, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” I see David in Psalm 34 as older man, wanting to pass on wisdom to his grandkids.  Telling them the story of the time he pretended to be crazy, and then saying these words.  And what does he say?

He starts with: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days…”

You probably don’t have to look hard to find people who love life and desire to see good days. So for those who want that, what do you have to do?  David has some specific instructions.

He says, “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Four things that line right up with Peter’s teaching, and can be summed with: control your mouth!  That means not speaking any evil or lies, no matter what has been done to you.  Then do good.  Turn from evil.  Finally, seek peace. Actually pursue it.

David is not just saying, “be a peaceful person;” he is saying the we should be actively pursuing peace.  Seek it out, make it happen. When you pursue something, you strive for it, and it often takes intense effort.

David, therefore, is not just reactive; he is teaching a proactive seeking of peace.  When our seminary president, Tony Blair, spoke at Faith Church a few years ago, he made a comment I’ll never forget, “mature Christians deflate drama.”  Peace-seekers reduce drama.  And that can be hard work, but it is necessary work in the life of a church, family, workplace, or neighborhood.

This does not mean you agree with people all the time.  It means that you handle things in such a way that drama is reduced.  This goes back to verse 9 and choosing not to react back, or fight back against someone who has been evil to you or insulted you.

Finally look at verse 12, where David personifies the Lord.  God is spirit.  He doesn’t have a body.  It’s hard to know how to depict God.  When I illustrated this part of the sermon, I chose a lion for the slide because there are times in the Bible when God is described as lion.  He’s not a lion.  But look at how David uses human body parts to teach us about the Lord.

Eyes – on the righteous

Ears – attentive to their prayer

Face – against those who do evil

What a comfort!  No matter what is going on in our lives, our God knows, our God hears, and our God defends.  That means we can take hope in the Lord and do good, loving those in the church family, even when people are unkind to us.  He knows, he is on the side of the righteous!

If they insult you, eulogize them!  Guess what I learned this week?  I should love eulogies!  I should be eulogizing all the time!

What should Christians do about War and Peace? – On the 15th anniversary of 9/11

9 Sep

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On September 11th, 2001, Michelle and I were in Kingston, Jamaica.  We had been there for a year as church-planting missionaries.  That morning I was down the road at our co-workers house feeding their rabbits.  Our co-workers, the Kay family, were out of town, and we were taking care of things for them.  Michelle called me on my cell phone.  She said, “Go inside and turn on the Kay’s TV, there’s been an incident in New York City.”

I urgently finished feeding the bunnies, ran inside and switched on our co-workers’ TV.  In Kingston, normal cable packages had plenty of American TV, so coverage of 9/11 was easy to find.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  What was going on?  I realized I was alone, and I didn’t like that feeling at all.  What I was seeing on the TV was momentous, and I needed to be with my family.  I finished up at my co-workers and headed up the hill to our house, where Michelle and I watched the TV the rest of the day in shock.

We also had a very strange feeling of disconnectedness, being away from our country when it was going through something so awful.  While none of us knew what the future held, as there could easily have been more attacks coming, we still wanted to get home.

Do you remember how you felt on 9/11?

In the days and weeks before 9/11, we were finishing up our time in Jamaica.  We had actually  purchased our airline tickets home before 9/11 happened, scheduled to fly home two weeks after 9/11.  It was sketchy there for a few days whether or not we’d be able to fly, or if we would have to wait a while.  But we didn’t have to wait.  I remember, however, as news coverage about 9/11 was nonstop for a long time, that there as another feeling growing inside me.  Anger.  Frustration.  My country had been attacked.  Thousands of innocent people had lost their lives.  It was a horrible injustice, and I wanted to see it righted.  I daydreamed about signing up for the CIA to work on combating global terrorism.

But was that the right response?  Was I just angry and getting aggressive?

This Sunday is the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, now called Patriot Day.  To prepare I watched a couple YouTube videos showing network news coverage of that day.  I was thinking that it would be good to show a short video summarizing the events of 9/11 so at the outset of our worship service we could remember and pray.  I clicked through videos, and it was like reliving that morning all over again.  I was doing exactly what many of us were doing 15 years ago, eyes glued to the TV.  It was raw.  There’s no way I could show that in a worship service.  Huge jet planes ramming into the Twin Towers, massive fireball explosions, and finally, the towers imploding on themselves in giant clouds of dust and debris.  First responders covered in soot, rushing into piles of rubble.  Not to mention the tragedies at the Pentagon and Shanksville.  When you see those images you don’t immediately see the lives lost.  But those lives are the greatest tragedy of 9/11 and the war that followed, a war that still continues to this day.  Watching those videos, thinking about lost lives, I started feeling very upset again.

On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we would do well to ask “What does the Bible say about war and peace?”  It is not so clear-cut as you might think.  How should Christians think about war and peace?  In Lancaster County we have a long heritage of religious traditions that advocate for non-violent peaceful resistance.  We also have many Christians that ardently support the military.  Both support their cause from Biblical teaching.

Who is right?  Who is wrong?

We’re going to talk about that this Sunday at Faith Church, as we continue our series on Life in These United States.  We welcome you to join us!

When peace and quiet seem impossible to come by

28 Aug

Anyone else out there feeling a longing for some peace and quiet in life?

We have our men’s retreat at Twin Pines coming up in a month, and I’m really looking forward to getting away. Up to the mountains. Last year we devoted time at the retreat for personal prayer.  I decided to pray while I hiked to the top of a ridge.  It was a blue skies kind of day where you could see for miles.  I hardly ever get that kind of time alone.

I know that it is a longing I’ve been feeling personally for a number of months now. A young man in our congregation decided to take a few months to hike the Appalachian Trail after graduating from high school.  As I look at his regular updates and pictures, I’m jealous.

The peace and quiet of nature beckons. Last year my third son and I read a series of books known by the name of the first book, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.  13 year old Brian Paulsen, surviving a plane crash, is stranded in the Canadian wilderness, and must learn to live with just a hatchet. As we read, we were spellbound by life in the wild.  Through the series, even though Brian is rescued and returns home, nature beckons.  He must return, and he does time and time again.

Nature’s call to us is so appealing because our day-to-day lives tend to be a harried, frenetic.  How many of you feel pressure from work, from school, from family, and yes, from church?  I know I do.  How often have you thought, “There’s not enough time?”  Or “I need to work more so I can make more money to pay the bills” but you know you’re already stressed out.  The solution is complex, but you know you need to get away.  Maybe you’ve got some vacation days to use or lose.

And so you make plans.  A day off, a weekend away on a retreat, a vacation.  You search online.  You invite family and friends.  You share details, book hotels, trade text messages and emails as the excitement builds.  Finally the day arrives, and you’re packing the car, gassing it up, getting everyone out the door…and your boss calls.  There’s an urgent need at work.  Really urgent.  You know the feeling.

How do you react when you’ve got a day off planned, and something comes up at work and you have to cancel your plans?

Do you ever feel irritated? Do you ever just wish for some peace and quiet?

Jesus was looking for some peace and quiet one day. In fact he got his plans set.  He wanted some time with the disciples.  They had just come back from their first ever mission trip, and Jesus wanted to take them on a retreat.  They headed off for a town 6 miles away, but one that was somewhat isolated.  Ah yes, some vacation.  Some time to revel in the peace and quiet.  Time to talk about their trip.

Guess what happens?  That’s what we’ll find out tomorrow.  Faith Church will hold another Worship in the Park, and we invite you to come along.  We meet in the middle pavilion of East Lampeter Community Park on Hobson Road.  If you’d like, you can check out Luke 9:10-17 ahead of time.

Follow up to Joy & Peace (aka “resting in the liver”)

13 Aug

What an amazing Sunday!  We got to celebrate with seven people as they were baptized, proclaiming their faith in Christ and their desire to be his disciples for life.  That visual image of moving from death (under the water) to life (rising above the water) is so clear.

Through those baptisms on Sunday we saw a bit of what Jesus meant when he said he came to give us abundant life.  We also learn about that life through the Fruit of the Spirit.  On Sunday we took a brief look at Joy and Peace.  Very similar to the difference between “Like and Love”, which is the difference between opinion and conviction, we talked about how we can experience joy and peace despite the circumstances.  James reminds of this when he says “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. 

Wow.  Read that a couple times reflectively.  James knew what it meant to rest in the liver, which is, by the way, one way some cultures talk about peace.  In our culture, the heart or stomach or mind is the seat of our emotions.  But liver?  Yep, the liver.  We might say “give your liver a rest,” but when we say that, we’re not talking about emotions!  In some cultures they feel emotion is centered in the liver like we say we feel it in our heart.  Just different body parts, that’s all.  Same phenomenon.

The question is how do we properly deal with our emotions.  James is essentially saying “Use your mind (consider) when you are dealing with life’s crap (it) to control your emotions (joy).”  Consider it joy.  Yeah, it’s that simple.

Yeah, right.  Simple?  Try impossible.  Or at least it can seem that way.

So I came across this very helpful article.  Check it out.  Maybe it will help you grow joy and peace in your life.  Another excellent resource about emotions is the book The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allendar and Tremper Longman.  I urge you to begin a study of it.  Have you contacted a friend to help you?  Why not meet with them week by week until you finish studying the book?  We’re growing fruit this month!  Maybe discussing it more here will help too?