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Posts Tagged ‘peace’

A Challenging Peace

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34

“For a child has been born for us…and he is named…Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

The season of Christmas is identified as one of peace. Unfortunately, our world is never at peace. There is turmoil across the planet and across the street. For too many, there is violence across the room. In Isaiah, Jesus is named the Prince of Peace; yet in Matthew, he claims not to have come to bring peace, but division. Father against son; daughter against mother; nation against nation. How do we reconcile the Prince of Peace described in Isaiah with Jesus’ own words in Matthew? I believe the answer is in our understanding of peace and what it requires. Jesus invites us into a different kind of peace – a non-violent peace built upon justice that we seldom see modeled or taught.

In war, “peace” comes when one side is beaten into submission and reluctantly surrenders to the other as a last resort. In business dealings between competitors, “peace” sometimes comes through acquisition, often as a hostile takeover. Peace gained by force is not peace, but only a delay in the conflict. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, when your only tools are knifes and forks, you have to cut something. In other words, when getting our way by force is the only way we know, the violence cannot end. The only peace we know is but a temporary reprieve, as the defeated attempt to rebuild themselves to a level of strength sufficient to strike back at their oppressors.

A lasting peace comes by willing surrender and carefully crafted consensus, and the peace of Jesus requires both. As individuals, we surrender to the positional and divine authority of Christ. The consensus required is one that respects, values, and includes all of creation in all of its wonderful diversity. It strives for unity of being, not uniformity. When all are recognized as being created in the image of God, none can be left behind or excluded. When we consciously submit to the higher knowledge and power of God, we willingly take our place as equals with our brothers and sisters in the family of God. There is no longer a need for anyone to forcibly take, nor withhold, anything from anyone else. We understand our blessings are not ours to hoard; rather, our blessings are gifts from God and are multiplied in their sharing (see John 6:1-14). We live in an abundant universe, and there is plenty for everyone when no one stockpiles beyond their need.

In Matthew 10, Jesus uses the language of violence to clarify his purpose, saying he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. The context of the verse and the entire life of Jesus, however, indicate no violent intention on his part. Jesus’ words are a call to war, but to a war on injustice, exclusion, and suffering. These are the underlying causes of violence in our world. We have the capability to eliminate much of what keeps large swaths of humanity in bondage and desperate need. Do we have the will to do so, however? The perpetual habit of reacting to the violence instead of identifying and resolving the underlying causes gets in our way. I think it is to us – those with more than enough – that Jesus points his sword. Until we commit to eliminating the sources of violence, there can be no peace. True peace cannot come to any until it comes to all. And peace cannot come to all until everyone has their most basic needs met. Unless we follow Jesus’ command to love one another our reality will divide us like a sword, and there will be no silent night.

We cannot attain peace by physical or emotional violence, nor is peace possible in the absence of justice. There can be no peace until everyone has adequate shelter, enough to eat, and recognition as a child of God. This is the different sort of peace of which Jesus speaks. We wonder why others attack us, steal and beg from us, and in our wondering we answer our own question. We are why there is no peace on earth. Serendipitously, we hold the key to attaining peace on earth, uncomfortable and challenging though it may be.

 

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Life Notes

Original Love

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:5b

The essence of Emmanuel is love, and love manifests in relationships. Through the birth of Jesus, God chose to be in relationship, physically, with the people of the time. Today, God chooses to be in relationship with us, spiritually. God reaches to us, but until we reach back and accept God’s invitation, there can be no relationship. At the point of our reciprocating, we come to know, recognize, and respond to God’s favor. Otherwise, God’s love is like a radio wave being transmitted, but not received. God speaks, but the message is not heard.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish to share a song of Love-come-to-earth. You can listen to it on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Go to the “Music” page, select “Songs of Christmas,” and click on “The Love That You Are.” Here are the lyrics:

The Love That You Are 

On this night, in the holy silence

Bright star light, pierce the deepest, darkest heart

With the Love that you are… 

Baby’s cry, from a lowly manger

Brand new life, come this night to save us all,

With the Love that you are… 

Holy Savior, Prince of Peace

Love incarnate, sin redeemed. 

Emmanuel, our Messiah

Here on earth to dwell, with a new life to impart,

From the Love that you are… 

Holy Savior, Prince of Peace

Love incarnate, sin redeemed. 

On this night, in the holy silence

Bright star light, pierce the deepest, darkest heart

With the Love that you are,

With the Love that you are.

This Christmas, may you fall into a relationship with Love: Emmanuel – God with us; God with you! That relationship is where true love originates.

Merry Christmas!

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An Allegorical Christmas, Part 3 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

“Big things come in small packages,” we sometimes say. Regarding the Christmas season, we are often referring to jewelry, gift cards, and other items that may have great value belying their small size. The Christmas story tells of another small package – the birth of the Christ child. In Luke 2:10-11, the shepherds hear from an angel: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The story of the worship of a newborn — deemed as our Messiah before the child can even speak – is difficult for some to accept. Where does this part of the Christmas story leave those who doubt its historical validity? Fortunately, as with most of the Bible’s seminal teachings, there is a profound message in the story regardless of whether we accept it as fact. In the case of the boy King, there are at least two common misunderstandings: the deeper relevance of “a child” and the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

The deeper aspect of smallness has to do with being childlike. This does not mean being in a child’s body, but perceiving with the openness of a child’s mind. Young children have few preconceived notions about life and about others. A childlike brain is like a sponge that soaks up everything around it, free of judgment or prejudice. As we age, and certainly by the time we are teenagers, many of us have our minds made up about most things in very divisive ways – I like this, I do not like that; that person is my friend; that person is my enemy. As adults, some of us simply solidify our adolescent biases. We close our minds to other options and influences and call it wisdom or steadfastness. Truly, it is neither. There is nothing wise about a closed mind. One lesson of the boy King is that we need to redevelop the openness and curiosity of a childlike mind.

As we consider God coming to earth as a baby, we are encouraged to remember that small is not insignificant. Meek does not mean weak. Caring for others does not include being abused by them. The peaceful imagery of Isaiah – of the wolf living with the lamb, and the calf with the lion – must be perceived through the mind of a child to be believed. The story reads more like a Disney movie than an adult narrative. With our fixed vision, there is no hope for peace. We cannot imagine the possibilities because that type of imagination requires a child. “A little child shall lead them.” Yes, a little child shall lead us, but that little child is not insignificant, weak, or an easy target for abuse. That little child is a King, and we must become like little children to gain the wisdom to follow.

Come home to church this Sunday. Allegorical Christmas blessings!

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Life Notes

Broken Hearts are Roomier

Then it was that, broken in spirit, he began to lose much of his arrogance and to come to his senses…    2 Maccabees 9:11a

Don’t look now, but Christmas time is here. The season that is supposed to be about new birth, fresh starts, hope, peace, love, and joy too often manifests differently. At least it does if we are not intentional about keeping the annual Christmas chaos at bay. What often happens to me is I give in to the pressures of buying gifts, decorating the house, and attending every party possible. These should be joyful activities; but when overdone, they become burdensome. Before long, the stress of unmet expectations has me exhausted, miserable, and ready for the season to be over – often before it has truly begun. There is not room in my life for the Christmas clutter and for preparing my heart to receive the Christ child. I do poorly trying to do both, so I feel it best to choose one and let the other have whatever space remains. Granted, with two grown children, it is easier to choose the Christ child than it was some years ago.

The problem originates in the limits on our time, money, and heart-space. We can only fit so much into our days, only spend so many dollars, and only give so much of ourselves. At some point, there is no more space in our schedule, our budget, or our heart. When we reach that point, something must break, and I suggest it be our hearts. I am not recommending a literal breaking of the heart itself, but a breaking – a reassessment – of what we consider of primary importance in this season. Our heart, in this metaphor, represents our highest priorities. Why should we be upset if we do not meet someone else’s unreasonable expectation? Is that really our problem? Why would we place similar expectations upon ourselves? When we break something unnecessary out of our heart space, we immediately make room for something else. We must be careful, however, that we do not choose another shallow, poorly screened lover for that now-open space. Being discerning is appropriate whenever we allow something inside of us.

I do not know anyone who claims to have ample time for self-reflection and study of the deeper meanings of Christmas and the impact the season should have on us. When we break our hearts away from unrealistic and unproductive pressures, I suggest filling that space with prayer and meditation. My new book, Uncovering God in Christmas, is intended to help (see details below). In her song Coming Around Again, Carly Simon sings: “So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.” Open a space for the Christ child this season. Allow that Holy Presence to change you from within by making room for the new birth. It will be the best gift you receive this Christmas!

Come home to church this Sunday. Fall apart, come broken, and come back to Christmas.

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Life Notes

Let My Words Be Few

Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.

Ecclesiastes 5:2

Since the season of Lent, I have been practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. I am an early riser, and I begin my days sitting quietly in God’s presence. I relax and quiet my mind, which is no easy task. Random thoughts pop in and out of my head constantly. I acknowledge them and let them pass, determined not to engage in an internal dialogue with any of them.

I have always considered prayer as a conversation with God, so silence is not a typical sort of prayer. Some classify the practice of silence as contemplation or meditation, although I think of those as states of focusing on something in particular. Being in silence is different, not unlike the difference between talking to a person and simply sitting in their presence. In her final days of life, I sat in the presence of my mother quite a lot. She could not communicate, nor was she conscious of her surroundings, except in brief episodes. I would talk to her, but I would quickly run out of things to say and fall into silence. In retrospect, I think I felt closer to mom during the times of silence.

Talking to God, as in prayer, is a comforting and healing practice. Particularly when no one else will listen or understand, we always know we can go to God. I think, however, there is an additional level of communing with God, and that is in silence. When we are silent, when our thoughts have stopped and there are no distractions, we begin to feel the deep, loving presence of God around and in us in ways we cannot otherwise perceive it. Words cannot describe the presence of God because it is beyond words. There is no need to talk, no need to listen, no need to analyze – only to be.

Clearly, I could drone on about silence and stray even farther from the core message of this Life Note; but I will not. Except to say, in keeping with the theme of letting my words be few, that Life Notes will not be published again until June 18. If you experience withdrawal, there are years of Life Notes in the archives on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Otherwise, enter the silence and be.

Come home to church this Sunday. Shhhh!

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The Morning of Christmas

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us. Matthew 1:23

 ‘Twas the morning of Christmas, when Love came to earth,

By way of a tiny and humble child’s birth;

His parents had traveled so far from their home,

For the census decreed by Augustus, in Rome.

Arriving in Bethlehem, with no place to stay,

The new baby slept in a manger of hay;

With cattle and donkeys and sheep at his side,

This animal stable was home, for a time.

Angels announced the birth on that night,

To seekers and shepherds and sinners alike;

“All glory to God!” the heavenly host chimed,

“And peace on the earth to all of mankind.”

Beneath a bright star, the news was proclaimed,

Of God come to earth in the form of this babe;

A child who would grow and remake us anew,

And cover the sins of me and of you.

On the morning of Christmas, the Prince of Peace came,

To reconcile souls with their Maker, again;

God with us, Emmanuel, forever to dwell,

On the morning of Christmas, and all year as well!

May the true light of Christmas find its home in your heart today – Merry Christmas!

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Ebbs and Flows 

Then I got up and walked in the field, giving great glory and praise to the Most High for the wonders that he does from time to time, and because he governs the times and whatever things come to pass in their seasons. –2 Esdras 13:57-58

Kansas is in the middle of what has historically been considered Tornado Alley. Tornado watches and warnings are as much a fixture of spring here as are Robin songs and Red buds. Like most self-respecting, life-long Kansans, when the sirens wail, I am more likely to be on the porch looking for the tornado than in the basement hiding from it. The past couple of years, however, Tornado Alley seems to have significantly shifted, much to the chagrin of our mostly basement-less neighbors to the south and east.

Last winter, Kansans learned the meaning of a Polar Vortex, where bitterly cold Arctic air pushes farther south than normal and stays for an extended visit. This unwanted imposer arrived again this year, much earlier than last. In the Midwest, we normally take the ebbs and flows of the weather in stride. We say the ever-changing seasons keep us healthy (cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze). We accept the alternating cold and hot temperatures like coastal dwellers accept low and high tides. We observe the patterns of Nature’s rhythms – some as predictable as the moon’s phases, others seemingly random – and we endure. As I observe a weather map showing the expected push of the current Polar Vortex, I wonder how far south I would have to travel to get out of the bitterly cold air. Everything around us is constantly changing, but most humans insist on staying put and being victimized by the conditions around them. Some mobile beings react to the natural ebbs and flows of nature by fleeing, while others go into hibernation. Not us, however – we stand, firmly planted, trying desperately and vainly not to change.

Perhaps nature’s ebbs and flows mirror our spiritual and emotional lives. Different environmental forces come and go, washing over us like the current of a river, before rushing on to points downstream. Boulders residing in midstream wear down over time, and so do we. Like the sedentary beings we are, we stand firm in the stream, fighting the natural tendency to float with it.

I am not suggesting we should roam like wandering nomads at the first sign of difficulty. Perhaps we could become a little less rigid, however, a little less proud, and a little more flexible. Perhaps instead of standing stubbornly in the muck of our own biases, we could move a little to the left or to the right in order to ebb and flow with the times, as well as to restore a sense of harmony – harmony within our being, with our environment, and harmony with each other. In life, as in music, harmony is beautiful when done well.

Come home to church this Sunday. Let the ebbs and flows of the Spirit wash over you.

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