Sunday, 25 October 2015

Rethinking the Fruit of the Spirit

I like this. It reminds me of what I've sometimes mused about, and that is, Why is it that some Christians seem to always have such a look on their faces that one wonders if perhaps they were baptized in lemon juice or vinegar? Likewise, and contrary to the way some of us seem to present ourselves, "Sour Grapes in not a fruit of the Spirit!"

Granted, we can all have bad days in which some (or even all) of the fruits may seem to be strangely absent in our lives, but obviously that does not then mean that we are no longer Christians; it just means that we're having a bad day.

Galatians 5: 22-23 gives us a list by which we can measure the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and I would argue, discern it in the lives of others. These characteristics are:

    • love
    • joy
    • peace
    • patience
    • kindness
    • goodness
    • faithfulness
    • gentleness
    • self control

As I look at that list, and as I look back at my past few days, it's obvious to me (and probably a few others too) that I have some work to do in order to get back on track to where I would like to see myself. I don't want to project that look of sour grapes. There's no blessing for others in that.

How about you? Does the list accurately describe you? If so, praise God! If not, know that He doesn't think less of you for missing some of them; it just means that God isn't finished with you yet, and like me, you're still a work in progress. For that too, we can praise Him. Peace.

Photo Source: Unknown

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Perfect Peace: Sometimes, Scripture Says It All

Sometimes there's nothing profound or enlightening that can be said. Sometimes it's best to let Scripture say it all without thinking that we have something more to add, for to do otherwise, may be misconstrued as simply another pat answer. Sometimes meditating on the Bible is really enough. As I wrestle with some of the struggles in my life this week, and as I read of the pain of other friends on social media and promise to pray for them (for what more can I do?), I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Philippians. Maybe that really does say it all. Maybe there really is nothing more to be said. Maybe this really is enough. Oh God, have mercy!

"Be rejoicing in the Lord always. Again I say, Be rejoicing. Let your sweet reasonableness, your forbearance, your being satisfied with less than your due, become known to all men. The Lord is near [in that His coming may occur at any moment]. Stop worrying about even one thing, but in everything by prayer whose essence is that of worship and devotion and by supplication which is a cry for your personal needs, with thanksgiving let your requests for the things asked for be made known in the presence of God, and the peace of God which surpasses all power of comprehension shall mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Maybe the preceding comes across as a "pat answer" too; I hope not. But I believe that, when there are no words, there is God's Word. Meditate on it. No matter whatever else the world throws my way, no matter whatever else the world throws your way, God is not oblivious to our pain. May we find the necessary strength and desire to pause and to look to Him, rejoicing somehow despite the circumstances, and despite the pain, and may He grant each of us the miracle of His perfect peace.

Perhaps we too can still find a way to "rejoice" in the pain of our circumstance. God bless.

Italic Text: Philippians 4: 4-7; Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament, An Expanded Translation
Photo Credit: Fatima, Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Internal Peace: It Can Be Learned

I was sitting in my hotel room on yet another business trip, and was feeling a little unsettled. My wife and I had been texting back and forth on a host of subjects, including the importance of making the seeking of personal peace a priority in our lives, something which that day, was clearly lacking in me. Perhaps you can relate.

But how does one find personal peace? What does personal peace look like? In this stress-filled hustle and bustle world that we’ve created for ourselves, can personal peace even be found? Isn’t the very concept of personal peace somewhat of an anomaly, and perhaps even, utopian?  What would bring us personal peace?

Just before his arrest, Jesus spent some of his last hours sharing with his disciples some of the things that would soon be happening. He predicted His betrayal by Judas, His denial by Peter, and His own death. I can only try to imagine what the disciples must have been feeling upon hearing these things. Do you think they might have been feeling a little unsettled too? I think they were, and Jesus knew it, for He then began to try and comfort His disciples. He told them,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14: 1-4; NIV).
Poor Thomas still didn’t get it, and he questioned Jesus on it further. Sometimes I’ve done that too. Despite being a Christian for many years, I too can still get stressed out and overwhelmed with it all; I too need to hear again Jesus’ gentle words to Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The Inheritance

I think we need to hear that, to really hear it, before we can move on. If we don’t hear and accept that, what Jesus would soon say to His disciples about personal peace probably will lose some of its impact. At the very least, we may find ourselves relegating some of it to the proverbial “pat answer” status that no one really feels comforted by. So let’s look at it again: Jesus said that He is “the way and the truth and the life.” Once we see that, it becomes easier to see that the solution to all my unsettledness, valleys, and inner anxiousness – is Jesus. The answer to my soul’s restlessness, to my lack of personal peace, is found in Jesus; He is “the way and the truth and the life.” He has the answers to all our unsettled peacelessness, and He alone is the answer. Listen to what Jesus then told His disciples in their dark hour. He said,
"Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled]. ... I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you] (John 14:27; 16:33; Amplified).
I’ve read that a hundred times before, if not more. Yet this time it all translated a little differently as I slowed down and really chewed on the words for a while. The peace of Jesus is not just given, but it has actually been bequeathed to me, just as someone bequeaths their property to another through a legal will after they die. The personal peace of Jesus is mine! Likewise, if you are a true Christian, then it is as if you and I have inherited this divine peace together, as joint siblings in Christ. It’s ours for the taking.

It’s important to note that Jesus’ peace is not as the secular world sees and gives peace. What does the world’s version of peace look like? Perhaps it is best summed up in that anonymous mantra, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Whenever I’ve heard that, I’ve often wondered, “Wins what?” The fact is, all the toys in the world, and the money with which to buy those toys, though often high on the list of the world’s idea of personal peace, is a vain hope. Can any of that really give us peace? No. If the thieves don’t break in and get your treasured pseudo-peacemaking possessions, the moths and the rust will be sure to destroy it (Matthew 6: 19-24). 

Why was I feeling unsettled that evening in my hotel room? It’s a long story and one whose details are probably best not shared here. Yet Jesus seemed to be saying don’t allow yourself to go there; don’t permit it! Part of me wanted to say “That’s easier said than done,” yet at the same time, I doubt Jesus would have said such a thing to His disciples (and to me) that if it were not possible. Sure the world is full of stressors and trials and distresses and frustrations, yet Jesus says that, perfect peace is not only possible, but He has actually bequeathed exactly that to you and me. The only question is, do we believe it? And if so, what are we going to do about it?

Learning the Lesson

Building upon what Jesus said above, I think that the Apostle Paul gives us a hint as to how we might achieve that elusive personal peace. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Let’s meditate upon that a bit.

Paul says that contentment, or personal peace, is a “learned” thing. Even Paul didn’t come by it naturally; he had to learn it, and as with all learning, I’m sure he didn’t graduate from this learning overnight. Life wasn’t easy for him either; he had plenty of hardships along the way that I’m sure left him unsettled a time or two as well. Paul was frequently locked up in prison, he was severely flogged, and exposed to death. Let’s listen as he tells the story:
I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten with Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11: 23-28; The Message).
Not to belittle any of our struggles and difficulties, for they are all significant and real in their own right, but my woes seem pale in comparison to what Paul endured. More amazingly, though, is that through it all he “learned” to be content and at peace. No doubt there were probably times when he thought he had arrived, only to break down at yet another calamity. But at the end of his life, as an old gray-haired man in Nero’s prison, he had somehow found perfect peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Pressing Onward

So where do we go from here? Do we really need to “learn” to be content when Jesus said that we’ve already inherited His peace? I think we do, because we do not come by perfect peace naturally. We can practice all sorts of immorality naturally enough; we don’t need to “learn” how to sin, but we do need to “learn” to be content in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in. The devil doesn’t want us to have perfect peace, and he will oppose us in the quest to obtain it, just as he opposed Paul. But like Paul, I believe that you and I can defeat the devil’s schemes as we “learn” to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). Only then will we also find perfect peace.

Am I there yet? Have I already achieved this perfect peace? No, but I’m learning. And one thing that I found in this quest is that, the more I am concerned with the welfare of my fellow man (regardless of their faith or lack there of), the more peace God blesses me with. Conversely, the times in my life that I seem less concerned with my fellow man’s welfare, the less peace I have in my own spirit. Maybe that’s not so surprising after all, especially when I think of how much God loves our fellow man (John 3:16).

Finally, in the words of that great Aaronic priestly blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6: 24-26). Amen.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Reconciliation: Mending Nets When We Catch Nothing

In the January 17, 2015 issue of The EconomistKAL's cartoon (page 7) depicted the aftermath of what was obviously a bloody battle with dead soldiers strewn around the rubble of the city in which the battle took place. The cartoon depicted three dogs walking through all this destruction, and the one dog says to another: “It all started with an argument over whose God was more peace-loving, kind and forgiving.” The reality is that our newspapers are filled with the consequences of “broken nets.”  How can these nets be mended?

The New Testament reports how one broken net was mended. Peter, whom Jesus had called the Rock upon which he would build his church, had denied and betrayed him. In shame and distress Peter returned to his old trade of fishing, but that night he caught nothing (John 21:3). One wonders how Peter, the Rock, must have felt thinking how he had abandoned his best and most trusted friend, and now he could not even catch a single fish. His life lay in ruins.

The touching story about the resurrected Jesus meeting Peter spells out what to do and not to do when nets have to be mended. Following the unsuccessful fishing expedition, Jesus blessed him with an abundance of fish so that the nets could not hold them; but he did not confront Peter in so many words about his failure; he did not lecture him about how to do better next time; but he asked some fundamental questions that for both were at the root of their relationship. The question was: “Do you love me?” English readers often think that Jesus hammered Peter with the same question three times. It was not the same question three times over. The difference lies in the fact that two different words for love were used: “Agape” and “phile.” Agape connotes a giving or sacrificing of self for the other, while phileexpresses a sense of less demanding friendship, which in modern Greek means “a kiss.” So, what then are the three questions? In the first and second question, Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him to the point of sacrificing himself for Jesus. In both cases, Peter responded that his past was evidence that he was not capable to such total giving of himself to Jesus that might involve giving up his own life for Jesus, but in his responses he affirmed the bond of “phile” love, in effect saying “you are my friend.” In his third question, Jesus picked up the difference and said, OK, Peter, I recognize your point, and, using the word “phile” which Peter had used, he asked in his last question, “do you love me as a friend?” When Peter affirmed that, saying “Lord you know everything (including my denial and betrayal), Jesus said to him: “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked were you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God). And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (See John 21: 1-19). With these last words Jesus reassured Peter that there is nothing wrong with professing phile love at this stage, but that over time this will blossom into agape love.

Does this story tell us something how broken nets might be mended?

So, what then is the approach that can help net menders in our broken world? In the first place, finger pointing and argumentation by would-be net menders achieves nothing. What matters is starting sympathetically where people are, not where they ought to be and not to give up on people after a first failure. That is the “pastoral approach” reaching out to the distressed.

The effect described in the story of Jesus meeting Peter, even without finger pointing and argumentation, is that the beneficiary of Jesus’ care, Peter, was brutally honest with himself, recognizing his failures and limitations. No one had to tell him that in so many words. Jesus' forgiveness and understanding and Peter’s understanding of his situation and his honesty with himself restored a broken relationship.

Would such an approach work in individual Christian congregations when broken nets are in evidence? Would it work among different Christian denominations? Would it work among Christians and non-Christians? Would it work in purely secular settings? Would it work in strained relations among countries?

If so, what is stopping us from pursuing such an approach?
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Guest Blogger: Thank you to my father, Gunter Rochow, for sharing as my guest blogger. I really appreciate your insight on this important reconciliation topic. I think it's something that we all need to hear and meditate upon.

Photo Credit: Bob Garlick (Flickr Creative Commons). The photographer says that the picture was taken in the Granville area of Vancouver, BC, Canada. What drew me to the picture was the pain in that little girl's face; it gripped my heart and brought tears to my face. It made me wonder about modern "runaways," who like Peter in the post above, also are often "catching nothing," other than a few miserable coins in their beggar's cap.

Perhaps in some ways, I'm a "runaway" too. Perhaps in some ways, I too have missed catching all that God has for me. Again, as suggested in the post, it's not about pointing fingers as to the "why" they're there or what we may perceive that they did wrong. Rather it's about sharing the unconditional "agape" love of Jesus, because their nets need mending too, just like yours and mine often need mending. Maybe, just maybe, that little girl will one day also meet the resurrected Jesus ... and she'll meet Him in you or me. Do we care? If so, what is stopping us from actually doing something about it? I wonder.

Something to think about. Peace and blessings.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

What If There Really Is A Simple Cure for Disunity?

I remember leafing through an old issue of National Geographic that included a feature on the artic wolf. It told of how a pack of wolves targeted several musk oxen calves who were being guarded by a number of adults. As the wolves approached, the musk oxen bunched together in a semi-circle with their deadly rear hoofs facing out. The calves were safe during a long standoff with the enemy. But suddenly trouble happened. A skirmish developed among the adult musk oxen and a single ox broke ranks, which caused the rest of the adults to scatter into nervous little groups. Suddenly the calves were left alone to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived.

The story reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders that after his departure wolves would come and not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). As with all generations since then, today wolves continue to attack the church. However, I cannot help but wonder, just as in the story of the wolves, if their potential damage is greatly reduced, if not outright eliminated, when unity in the church is maintained. All it takes, though, is for one member to break ranks, for one brother or sister to not stand united, and suddenly the rest of us become easy prey.

If that is true, and I think it is, I cannot help but wonder sometimes why we don't spend greater effort to guard against disunity in the body of Christ. Have you ever wondered about that? Now I don't pretend to have all the answers on this plague in the church, and I recognize that in many ways the problem can be quite complex with many variables, still I cannot help but think that there may be a much less complex answer to some of these issues than we make it out to be. Here's a few of my thoughts as I was musing over some of the things that divide us.

Unfortunately Disunity Often Happens

Disunity can be traced all the way back to Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4:5 we read that Cain was very angry. Why? He was angry because his brother Abel’s offering was accepted by God, and his offering was not. As far back as the second generation of mankind, there has already been disunity. Isn’t it amazing how fast sin grows? We all know the rest of the story, how Cain’s angry spirit got the best of him, and he ended up murdering his brother. Obviously that’s not the best way to deal with disunity!

Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23; NIV)

Disunity has reared its ugly head throughout church history. It’s obvious that Jesus recognized this, for why else would he have prayed for unity in the church? The point is, why would Jesus pray for unity if disunity were not a real issue? Even the disciples often exhibited a spirit of selfishness, competition, and disunity. Through denominationalism and other anti-Christ "dissensions and factions" (acts of the sinful nature, Paul says in Galatians 5:20), we too are capable of the same things. Ever stop to wonder what Jesus thinks when he sees his divided church today? Stop and think about that for a minute. Forget all our excuses by which we typically justify our disunity; what do you suppose Jesus thinks about it? It must break his heart! It was the Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks who commented, “Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous.

When Disunity Happens, Then What?

When disunity happens it’s easy to get mad or retaliate, or even get even. I suppose one option would be to be like Cain and attack our brother, but what would that solve? It’s interesting that, while most of us would never condone such actions as Cain’s, we too still often are known for attacking our brothers with words which are just as vicious, and maybe even more so. It is interesting that Jesus seems to place anger in the same category as murder (Matthew 5: 21-22). In that case, maybe we all are already murderers like Cain. Hmm, now there’s a sobering thought!

And then there are those who choose to leave a certain fellowship because they feel they’ve been attacked and treated unfairly. I know I’ve done that; maybe you have too. Yet the one thing that we could (and should) be doing about those we don’t see eye to eye with, we usually don’t do. What is that? It’s praying for (if not with) those we don’t agree with. Stop and think about that. It’s a tough thing to do, isn’t it?

It’s easier to pray only for those closest to us. None of us would find it to be a chore to pray for our immediate family members and closest friends. We can do that without even blinking an eye, it’s that natural. I’m reminded of something else Jesus once said to his Pharisee host. He said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite to poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14: 12-14; NIV). In the same way, it’s easier to pray for only those closest to us, because after all, there's a good chance they're praying for us in return.

Jesus’ example is that he didn’t pray for the disciples alone. Those closest to him were the disciples, and he did pray for them too, but hid didn’t pray only for them. He prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone” (John 17:20). Who else was he then praying for? It was for those who would yet believe through their message. In other words, he was praying for you and me. Ever wonder what the church might look like if we began in earnest praying for those who are not (yet) in our inner circle of close friends? Imagine getting into the habit of deliberately praying for those who we don’t necessarily see eye to eye with. I’m convinced it would transform the church. But there’s more.

I’ve discovered that it’s almost impossible to stay angry towards those that we pray for. It’s natural for us not to see eye to eye on everything, but try asking God’s blessing on that person that we disagree with, and something almost miraculous begins to happen. By praying for that person, we soon begin to see the things that divided us become less and less, and perhaps actually disappear altogether. I wonder if that is why Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Imagine what would happen to our little corners of this rock called Earth if we each began to do that? Hmm.

Rediscovered Unity Leads to Growth

Rediscovered unity leads first of all to individual Christian maturity. How so? I can’t help but thinking that it takes a person mature in their Christian walk to really live out Matthew 5:44. It takes a committed Christian to love their enemies and actually pray for their persecutors. Bottom line is, we each would do well to concern ourselves with our own spiritual walk before we worry too much about the spirituality (or lack thereof) of others.

Rediscovered unity also leads to growth in an evangelistic sense. In Jesus’ prayer he said, “So that the world may believe” (John 17:21). What happens if the world begins to believe the Gospel message? That’s easy; the universal church grows, and by default, our family grows. Most people aren’t stupid. Unfortunately many a non-Christian has (rightly) called Christians hypocrites. Why? Because we speak of God being love and of loving our neighbours, and then we turn around and even fight amongst ourselves, often over even petty theological issues. What does that communicate to the world? It communicates hypocrisy! Jesus said, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know” (John 17:23).

We Won’t All Think Exactly Alike, but That’s Not the Point

We will never all worship the same way, we will never all believe precisely the same things, we will never all organize our local churches the same way. But that’s also not the point of Jesus’ unity prayer. Christian unity must transcend differences and be joined in genuine and unpretentious love for one another, as opposed to simply a love for our own traditions, rituals and creeds. The point is, especially when there is disagreement, there is reason for prayer. Prayer is important at the best of times. Perhaps it’s even more important at the worst of times, however; the times when we’re confronted with our differences, and not seeing eye to eye.

Maybe I'm being utopian, but what if there really is a simple cure for disunity? Would we even want it? Maybe, as with all calls for change, it starts with you and me. May our prayers become: "Lord, give each of us a heart to pray for those that we have a hard time appreciating and that we don't see eye to eye with. Amen."

Something to think about. Peace.

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Other related posts that may be of interest to you:

The Piggy in the Middle

of Live and Let Live

Heresy Helper