Ruled By Peace

About a month ago, on choir Sunday, I was eating breakfast in the consecration room between worship services and talking with one of the guitar players.  As we got to know each other, he said something that surprised me and really made me think.  Before he met Christ, he said, he was into playing heavy metal, but he gave it up because he felt like it was no longer compatible with his faith.  I asked why that was; couldn’t he begin writing songs with a positive message instead and reach out to the same demographic as before?  He shook his head. “Christian music is an entirely different genre altogether.  I don’t like it when artists take a worldly genre and try to slap a Christian label on it.  You see, even if I were to give Christian lyrics to my music, heavy metal is not Christian.  It’s angry music.  Not peaceful music.”

This idea intrigued me, but I didn’t think too much about it again until recently when I came across a couple of passages in Colossians and Ephesians.  I encourage you to read the whole section to better appreciate the context, but I will paraphrase below:

Colossians 3:5-15.  Rid yourself of anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, because you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self.  As God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves instead with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Ephesians 4:22-5:21. Put off your old self and be made new in the attitude of your minds.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

When I read that, I started thinking about it in big picture terms.  What characterizes a life of peace?  Let me add a little disclaimer that I don’t get offended or “judge” people who drink or swear.  Because honestly, when looking at these concepts, using euphemisms for swear words means the same thing; and I don’t think alcohol is necessarily wrong, but I think it can be, just like comforting yourself by overeating or numbing yourself by — I don’t know, compulsive shopping, or whatever it is you depend on instead of allowing yourself to be filled with the Spirit.

It’s not a matter of doing something wrong, but of having the wrong mindset.  Thinking about it in terms of what my guitarist friend said, I realized that the reason Paul condemns “filthy language” and “unwholesome talk” is because profanity is a language of anger, not of peace.  The same goes for yelling any kind of euphemism in anger.  It’s not the swearing that shouldn’t be there; it’s the attitude.  Likewise, he speaks against drunkenness because it often leads to debauchery.  We all know how the crazy parties go: blaring music, strangers hooking up with strangers, people puking all over the floor.  Later, it turns into hangovers and unproductivity.  At best, it’s an artificial way to relieve stress other than allowing the calming peace of the Spirit to rule your heart.  At worst, it’s disorder and confusion — not the fruit of the Spirit or the outward expression of His reign.

Those of you who think you’re golden because you don’t drink or curse, don’t consider yourself exempt from this.  Look a little deeper into your heart.  What are you ruled by?  Do you show evidence of the Spirit’s presence?  Or do you freak out when you’re late for work, or when your kids track in mud, or when anything else goes the slightest bit wrong that you can’t control?  Do you choose stress and anger?  Or do you choose peace?

The other day, I came across this post by Joanne Kraft that neatly tied up the package of my wandering thoughts and put a bow on top.  You can read it here. In the post, she talks about how her home and family have always been surrendered to the Spirit, and people can literally feel His presence in the place that they have dedicated to Christ’s rule.  I teared up as I read it, remembering how every week that I worked at Deer Run, on Sunday afternoons before the kids came, I would walk around my cabin touching every bed frame and praying over the cabin, asking God to bless it as a safe space and inviting His peace to rule there.

And thinking through all of these things, I want to live a life of peace wherever I go and wherever I settle down.  I want to create a home where, in the midst of the chaos and disorder of this broken world, broken people can tangibly experience the spiritual rest and calm that Christ offers.  A home where no voices are raised in anger, where stress is cast away and confusion has no place.  A home that is ruled by peace.

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Church Work that Transforms

A brief “bulletin article” I wrote for my theology class.  I may or may not have turned it in last minute, so it’s not my best work, but I think there’s an important concept buried beneath the wordiness.

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“Don’t get so caught up in the work of the Lord, that you forget the Lord of the work.”  This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, No Compromise.  It helps me to reevaluate and refocus my efforts when I start feeling burnt out on church work.  It reminds me to keep God at the center where everything revolves around Him, rather than compartmentalizing my life and seeing “church work” as distinct from my daily life.

When we ask ourselves what church work should look like, we first must ask ourselves what church work really means.  What constitutes mission?  Is it a mission trip?  A children’s ministry?  Or does it encompass far more?  If we exclusively relegate church work to the sacred sphere and continue on about our secular work without letting the gospel transform the way we engage in daily living, we miss the blessing of God’s redeeming work in the world.

I love the way Chris Wright phrases it in his book The Mission of God’s People: “We need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess.  And by God’s incredible grace we have a gospel big enough to redeem all that sin and evil have touched.”  As God’s people – as the Church – we have the opportunity to live within His redemptive purpose.  Our whole lives are active reflections of the work that God is already doing in the world.  And the most incredible part is that He has gifted each of us with exactly the right personality traits and talents to impact the world in the special way that He calls us.  There is a place and a purpose for each one of us that we can only find when we see our lives with God at the center, impacting every arena in which we live and work and do business.

So what should church work look like?  It should look like a natural extension of our lives.  If we give every part of our lives to God for His purposes, including the “secular” realm, church work becomes an integrated part of our holistic mission rather than a compartmentalized responsibility that can burn us out easily.  So let’s take a step back, look at the big picture, and accept God’s invitation to get on board with what He is doing in the world – this is the true work of the Church.

there’s something bigger going on here.

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose?

The last thoughts of a teenager with a little bottle of white pills relate to purpose. How they never found it.

The last thoughts of a martyr tied to a stake relate to purpose. How they found it and are willing to give everything for it.

Your last thoughts will relate to purpose. Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

The teenager who just took his own life may have heard at some point that God loves him. But for some reason, it didn’t make a difference. Why?

Because it doesn’t matter that God loves us if he leaves us there.

You see, we’re used to telling people that God loves them and can forgive their sins as if it’s the end of the story. But it’s really only the beginning.

Here are some questions to think about. You already know the answer because I already gave it to you. (My first draft of this post started with the questions and made me sound slightly heretical, so I thought it would have more impact if I introduced it a different way.) But think about it from the perspective of how you grew up, or what you’ve always believed. Have you ever asked these questions? Or was it too dangerous to ask these questions, in case you couldn’t find the answer?

Does it matter that God loves us? Does it really make a difference?

What is grace, anyway? What has it done for you? Or is it just some abstract concept of God’s love that you talk about without really understanding why?

If we’re “sharing Christ” with someone to “bring them to salvation”, what does that even mean? Why should they care? Why do they need the love of some intangible, invisible being they can’t fathom?

Because God doesn’t love us just to love us. If that’s all there is, our lives will still be…empty. If the story ends with “God loves you”, it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless.

Last fall, I almost gave up on my faith. A lot of you don’t know that about me. Now you do. You’re welcome.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this, and I don’t have the time to go into all of them now, but essentially I began to focus on all the little issues and to let them distract me from what was really going on. How do you interpret this passage of the Bible? How are we supposed to make it relevant for today? What was right and wrong? Was anything right or wrong? I wrote in my journal, “How is it even possible to live as a Christian in this day and age? I’m starting to think it’s not. Maybe it’s all just some big joke.”

I was totally lost. I felt like nothing mattered. But nobody could know that, oh no. I was Miss Blog Queen and the one everyone depended on for the right answers. So for several months I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, but I kept going to church like a zombie and tried to feel my way through the darkness that had become my life.

In December, something clicked again. I was thinking about the 10 commandments, specifically “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” All of a sudden, I was like, “I know that doesn’t just mean swearing.” I wrote this blog post. Things didn’t turn around overnight, but that was definitely one of the turning points because I realized that there is something bigger going on here. In the end, it wasn’t about the little things. There was a big picture. There was a big story. There was a purpose.

There is a happy ending to this story, by the way. By the very end of December, I was desperate for truth. Desperate for purpose. Praying for God to change me no matter what it took. He answered that prayer with Passion, right after New Year’s. And without telling my entire testimony, I’ll just say that Passion radically changed me. That was the defining time that I can point to and say that I have never looked back since then. Because I found my place in the bigger story.

You see, I knew all along that God loved me. But that in itself was not enough to make a difference. I was a pretty good person anyway; did I need grace that desperately?

YES.

Because grace is far more than Jesus coming to save us from a stolen piece of candy or a swear word. In the words of Dr. Lavender, “Jesus came to rescue you from the brokenness of a misdirected life. It’s not about, you know, thinking the wrong things while you’re eating a cracker. It’s about fulfilling the purpose for which you were created.”

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose? We’re looking for purpose because we lost it a long time ago, back in the Garden of Eden. And God won’t fit into your story because you were made to fit into HIS! This whole time God has been working to restore creation back to the purpose for which he created it. Forgiveness of sin is not an end in itself but a means to an end: God gives us grace to return us to what we were made to be.

And it is absolutely vital that we understand this. We need to understand it first for ourselves. Where do we fit into the bigger story? How do all these little moments of our lives work together to actually mean something?

And once we understand that, we have to relearn how to evangelize. We’re not just bringing people to salvation — what is salvation? We’re not just towing them into church — what is church? We’re helping them recover their purpose in God’s story — because what is salvation but restoration? What is church but the embodiment of God’s mission?

Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

The Big Picture

You know when you’ve been thinking about a lot of different things and processing what other people have said, and all of a sudden, all of these seemingly unrelated thoughts come together in one realization? That happened to me today. It might not sound impressive, but here was my revelation: God does not give nit-picky commands. The guidelines in the Bible are all about lifestyle, not moment-by-moment decisions. Individual decisions are important because they shape our character, but God is not waiting to zap us for the smallest infraction. We need to step back and take a look at the big picture, because we will never find God in bits and pieces of misinterpreted Scripture.

So here’s a couple of specific thoughts:

1. Lying. Why would God bless the Hebrew midwives for lying in Exodus 1:20 when one of the Ten Commandments is “you shall not bear false witness”? Not everything is black and white.  First, this command refers more to falsely accusing your neighbor. Second, being honest has to do more with integrity than following the letter of the law. Also, if I am out getting your Christmas present and you ask where I’ve been, I find it perfectly acceptable to twist the truth. If you later accuse me of sinning, I will laugh at you.

2. Using God’s name in vain — “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Deuteronomy 5:11). This verse is often interpreted very narrowly, something to the effect of “Don’t say ‘oh my God’.” But if we interpret the 3rd commandment as being about cursing, I think we trivialize it significantly. I think it encompasses a much broader concept. I think it encompasses a lifestyle.

When you think about it, what is a greater misuse of God’s name than to call yourself a Christian and lead a life that draws others away from the truth? Identifying yourself with Him while going your own way is the worst form of hypocrisy. If you’re going to bear the name of Christ, you must bear the cross as well — anything less is truly using His name in vain.

So if you happen to hear someone swear, before you gasp and point fingers, really think about this command and then take a look at yourself. At some point in your life, have you not misused God’s name in a much more serious way?

3. The role of women in the church. I realize that this will probably create a lot of controversy among readers. But this is the only way it makes sense to me. I do believe that men and women were created to fill different roles, but I think Paul’s passages on women in the church are taken too far. Some people believe that because women are not supposed to “teach” men, it is wrong for them to witness to men as well. I say heck no. Again, it’s a big picture thing. As a woman, do you live a life of humility and grace, allowing men to be leaders? That’s what important, not splitting hairs over what you are and are not “allowed” to do.

These are all lifestyle choices. In the end, what will people say about you? How did you live your life? I think the big picture is more important than interpreting rules too narrowly. After all, look at the Sermon on the Mount. What is the constant refrain? “You have heard…but I tell you….” Jesus clarified the guidelines people had distorted, pointing out that it was all really a matter of the heart. When asked what the #1 commandment was, he replied that the entire law is summed up simply in one word: love.

So step back. Look at the big picture before you try to put the puzzle together. And I think you’ll find, as I did, that maybe it’s not so complicated after all.

Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 12:49 am  Comments (1)  
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