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Archive for June, 2014

Christian Values: Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matthew 5:9

The importance of peace in Christianity can hardly be overstated. Of the many desirable characteristics the Bible encourages, only three are referenced more frequently, according to research done by Ben MacConnell on Christian values. In both the Old and New Testaments, peace is a repeating theme. Often, Scripture describes the process of attaining peace between tribes or nations. At other times, one individual is encouraged to make peace with another. Perhaps most challenging are the passages calling us to find peace within ourselves, as well as to make peace with God.

We cannot understand peace without considering security, for the two are inseparable. Through the ages, nations have invaded other nations in order to protect or to enhance their security interests. Invading countries want more land, more resources, or more access to strategic locations. Anytime our security is threatened, our sense of peace is also threatened. Likewise, when someone threatens those in our charge, such as our children, we are likely to react in less-than-peaceful, even violent ways. A certain level of security is prerequisite to peace; and where our security is, there our heart will be also.

Some consider peace to be the absence of tension. Tension threatens our security, and thus, our sense of peace. Most of us do not like tension in our lives and strive to eliminate it. Indeed, excess tension is a common cause of physical and emotional maladies. In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer discusses the tension between reality and possibility. He writes, “…we must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge.” Parker believes we too often settle on less-than-desirable solutions to conflicts because we desire a quick release of the tension. Rather than taking the time and doing the work required to attain a mutually beneficial resolution over the long term, we seek the quickest and easiest way to peace, even if that peace is short-lived. Unresolved sources of tension tend to recur.

At its core, finding peace is an individual pursuit, and what we depend upon for our security is where we will find our peace. If we seek security in money and material possessions, we will always feel insecure because those types of treasures are easily lost to us. According to Matthew, it is the peacemakers who will be called the children of God. Based upon the life and teachings of Jesus, a peacemaker does not simply strive for the absence of tension. A true peacemaker finds his or her security in God, and then works towards solutions to problems that honor the dignity, interests, and worth of all involved. Security in God comes from the belief that God loves and values us as we are; and that reassurance is sufficient in and of itself for a strong sense of inner security. Peacemakers recognize that true peace is not a short-term endeavor. They understand their individual efforts may actually increase tension for a time, and ultimately may only contribute a small portion to the overall goal of bringing peace to the world. Even so, working for peace is what children of God do, and external peace necessarily begins with internal security.

Come home to church this Sunday. Find your peace in the Prince of Peace.

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Christian Values: Happiness

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.   Psalms 84:10-12

In Ben MacConnell’s study of Christian values, happiness came in at number five. Of all the instructions contained in Scripture for living a righteous life, references to happiness occur more frequently than all but four other ideals. In his work, MacConnell researched the frequency of use of the 20 characteristics he identified for the study, as well as their related synonyms and antonyms. Important related terms for happiness likely included joy, pleasure, delight, and contentment.

Some may feel happiness, while pleasant to experience, is not an important ideal to strive for as a Christian. One might argue, correctly, that happiness is a fleeting emotion that can result from distinctly non-Christian acts, such as making fun of another. Others would say there are no guarantees Christians will have an easier life than non-Christians will, so how can happiness relate to following Christ? Personally, I believe one needs to consider the context in which happiness occurs in the Bible, along with its synonyms of joy and contentment, in order to understand Godly happiness. Certainly, earthly parents desire happiness for their children, so why would our heavenly Parent desire less for us?

Followers of Jesus find joy in his presence. The Psalmist says, “…a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Likewise, “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Christian happiness is not a fleeting emotion, but a perpetuating state of mind growing from a strong relationship with the Almighty. In that holy relationship, believers feel secure, loved, and valued. The love of God helps followers transcend the challenges of days, weeks, months, and even years of hardship. When one’s life-foundation is solid, deep, and immovable, the life built on that foundation is better able to withstand whatever storms and hardships come at it. Christian happiness sprouts from that type of a spiritual foundation, one that gives us reason to live with optimism and joy, finding pleasure in simply being a part of God’s creation regardless of the current circumstances. Everyone desires happiness, so being happy is an effective evangelizing tool when others seek the source of our joy.

Come home to church this Sunday. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…

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Christian Values

For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young – let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:2-7

What does it mean to be a Christian? What characteristics distinguish a follower of Christ from the rest of the world? The Bible is full of instruction, but what recurring themes are found in Scripture as a whole? Ben MacConnell, of the Direct Action & Research Training Center (www.thedartcenter.org), asked similar questions, which led to a research project on Christian values. He was particularly interested in the prevalence of the principle of justice in Scripture, but his work considered and compared 20 different ideals commonly associated with Christianity. MacConnell chose specific values, along with their relevant synonyms and antonyms, and searched for their frequency of use throughout Scripture. He summarized his findings in this word cloud, where the values found most frequently are in the larger fonts:

Christian ValuesThe top five Christian values, according to this research, are love, justice, service, peace, and happiness. With the vast variety of instruction provided in Scripture, I find this list insightful. Many different authors, from diverse times, cultures, and backgrounds, contributed to writing the texts of the Bible. Attempting to wrap one’s mind around a central message can be challenging.

Values are guides for action. They are perhaps most useful when expressed as questions by which we measure our words, thoughts, and activities. For example, does what I am about to do reflect my love for others? Will my work make life more just for another? Whom will I serve by following through with my intentions – what persons will benefit? Am I increasing peace in the world and within others or destabilizing it? Do my actions increase the happiness of those around me? Assessing our work with value questions helps to assure we are aiding in the ways we intend, and helps keep us from doing harm in ways we may not be aware of otherwise.

Studying the most commonly mentioned character values in Scripture is useful in determining how best to act like a Christian. One who studies Scripture and seeks to emulate its guidance cannot overlook these five characteristics. In future Life Notes, I will focus each of these five, individually, and explore them further. These ideals are a good starting point, developmentally, for anyone seeking recognition as a Christian.

Come home to church this Sunday. Learning Christian values will help us live them.

Greg Hildenbrand, ContemplatingGrace.Com

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Déjà vu, All Over Again

 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. Acts 17:29

Do you recognize the people in either of these pictures? I will give you a hint – both are high-school age musicians, and both guys are pretty full of themselves. To me, the person on the left appears to emulate the image of the person on the right. 

Justin Bieber

Most of you will recognize Justin Bieber, teenage heartthrob, on the left. Some may guess the picture on the right is me in high school, a teenage heartthrob wannabe. Perhaps the images are not so strikingly similar, but I saw an image of Justin Bieber in a restaurant the other day and it reminded me of, well, the me of years ago.

We are a very image-conscious society. Within the physical limitations of our genetic wiring, most of us strive to portray a particular image. When we look in the mirror, who do we want to remind people of – Justin Bieber? In general, we all possess a random combination of physical characteristics from our biological parents. But who do we imitate, physically? More importantly, who do we imitate spiritually? From the beginning to the end of the Bible are reminders that we are created in the image of God. We are God’s offspring, God’s children. Surely we bear a resemblance to God, just as we do to our parents. God expresses in an infinite variety of wonderful and beautiful ways, although there are recurring patterns that resemble one another – things that makes us think we have seen this before. Like the pictures above, for example.

I believe there are common traits shared by those seeking to emulate God. Among those characteristics are love, justice, mercy, service, and peace. Those God-like characteristics are just as recognizable as any physical image we attempt to portray, and a whole lot more useful to humanity. The molds of spiritual superstars are like déjà vu, all over again — repeated throughout history – holy images waiting for aspiring disciples to emulate. Unlike our physical features, which tend to deteriorate over time, our spiritual qualities mature and expand. The physical attractiveness of Justin Bieber, like that of Greg Hildenbrand, will lose its boyish charm as he ages. When we consider whose image we seek to reflect to others, it is wise to choose an image that will improve over time.

Come home to church this Sunday. And if you want to see how Justin Bieber may appear a few decades from now, come to FUMC Lawrence and take a look!

Greg Hildenbrand

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