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Posts Tagged ‘peace’

Advent : Day Two

Image by RHADS

Art by RHADS

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. [I Corinthians 1:4-7, NIV]

I imagine what it would be like to have someone send me this message. There is so much promise in these worlds: the promise of someone praying on my behalf, the promise of God’s presence, the promise of God’s grace, the promise of God’s gifts, and the promise of a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. I am comforted and encouraged.

So often, I see myself sucked into a habit of self-condemnation and perfectionism. I feel inadequate and unable to accomplish anything. I am overwhelmed by the daily demands of my life, much less trying to add outreach and ministry to others. And in the midst of this comes the holidays and all those questions about trees and decorations and shopping. Even the church itself has its pressures to serve and plan. Julian of Norwich

If I could just hold on to this prayer for me. For you.

For this reason, I believe Julian of Norwich wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”  It’s the grace. Everything will work out. As a friend of mine has always said: worry don’t work.

And so, for this day, I will take a breath and do what I can. I have everything I need to accomplish what is needed today. And God has tomorrow.

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We are living within patterns and cycles. Nature teaches about the seasons; each year the same and yet each year different, affected by a combination of forces, some human-made, some divine.

harvestLove and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest. [Psalm 85:10-12, NIV]

Here’s how I imagine this verse playing out: love and faithfulness are the human response. Out of the meeting of love (unconditional love, that is), faithfulness springs forth. What is faithfulness but trust and dependability and truth. Love is the ground from which these are born. Righteousness is the yardstick that emanates from God. It is only in God that righteousness and peace can dwell and prosper together. But here is the promise in this verse: as our love and faithfulness grow here in this three-dimensional world, God sees and we are blessed.

But what then is the harvest that God is blessing? I remember an old friend was adamant that a believer “bearing fruit” meant bringing more and more people to the Christ. I always felt like he was notching his spiritual guns. But today, I find myself leaning to a different understanding.

The harvest is the result of seeds planted, tended, and reproducing themselves. Wheat makes more wheat. Apple seeds make more apples. I am not a single seed but many. All humans are a composite. We see some of our reproduction capabilities in our families. If we are bitter, we bear more bitterness. If we are selfish, we teach the same (most often by example). But, if I love, then love is born in others. If I am faithful, a synergy is created like an unstoppable wave. Love and faithfulness are the strongest and most powerful forces and yet, the least appreciated. Instead, we have cheapened love to mean sex and heaped faithfulness with a list of exit clauses and “what ifs.”

These are the ones to practice and nurture: love and faithfulness and then righteousness and peace will pour down like rain.

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listeningWhat does it mean to listen to God?

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants [saints]—
    but let them not [re]turn to folly. [Psalm 85:8, NIV, 2010 with words inserted from 1984 version]

When I was in acting school, we used to have a teacher who tried to teach us how to center down into ourselves, to experience “constructive rest,” to align our bodies, to know “neutral” in ourselves. Much of that time was spent on the floor and breathing. At the time, I was simply too immature to appreciate what she was trying to accomplish. One of her exercises required us to listen: to listen to the sounds outside the room, then inside the room, and then inside our bodies. In a way, this is technique that can also be used to settle the mind down in preparation to listen to God. It’s pretty hard to listen to God while being busy doing other things. [Unless anyone has cultivated the habits of Brother Lawrence, and his Practice of the Presence of God.]

But I believe, more than anything else, that the heart must be prepared to hear before listening will occur. It is up to me to establish that environment, like preparing garden soil to be sown. I can help this preparation of the heart along by reading or singing or breathing.

In this process, I should also know the subject matter. In other words, I believe the most productive listening is done when focused on a situation or topic or question. (And I don’t mean a yes or no question, but a more open-ended one, that allows room for God to expand the answer.) But here is the vital key: I must be at my wit’s end, so to speak. If I really want my heart to be open to the voice of God, then I must know that my resources have been expended, my “way” has not worked, my solutions have been exhausted.

surrenderOtherwise, I think my very human tendency, once I “hear” God’s response, is to compare it to all the other answers out there. It’s not the way God works. If I am truly coming to the God of the Universe for help and illumination, then I can’t treat the answer as though God is simply weighing in on the possibilities like another girlfriend at a kaffeeklatsch.

Do not, then, go to God lightly. For in the breadth of this one verse, Psalm 85:8, there is a warning about returning to our folly (our own way). To ask God, the Holy Spirit, to help and then to choose another way, is, indeed foolishness.

In the older 1984 NIV version, the translation reads that God promises peace to his saints. In later years, this term has been replaced with culture friendly phrases like “faithful servants” or “the holy people He loves.” We are adverse to calling ourselves saints and yet I know it’s not a word to be taken lightly, it is the one that speaks of total surrender to the Christ. A saint is totally sold out to God. A saint hears God and listens and then acts upon the information.

Clearly, the opposite of a saint is a fool.

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When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,

My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;

In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.  [Psalm 27:2-5, NAS]

enemy proverbI am to walk in confidence and pray so since the promise is plainly spoken, my enemies will fall before and I will dwell safely. But there is no promise of the timetable. And I must remember this. I may be safe in the stronghold, but the outer keeps and lands around my stronghold may suffer pain or loss or injury. There is no promise of a pain-free life, just a promise that no enemy will prevail.

Who are these enemies anyway?

Are there, literally, people out there who want to specifically do “me” harm? Are there people who would intentionally hurt me? I don’t think so, not really. Of course, if I put myself in dangerous places, if I travel in war-torn areas or walk the streets of brutalized neighborhoods, I might indeed become a representative of everything someone hates: while, middle-class, Christian female. For some, that might be enough. I cannot say or expect that I, as an individual, would be excused from misfortune or injury in that situation.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure my biggest enemy is within, that “old self” who continues to look for footing and place where none should be. It is that untamed part of me that kicks against surrender to the Christ Spirit. That part of me continues to behave like a stubborn step child, unwilling to adapt to change, and unwilling to live under spiritual authority.

The prayer, then, makes sense: to remain in the “house” of the Lord (that inner stronghold). For me, this passage has more depth than simply going to church on Sunday mornings. The words ring truer when I consider the house of God within me, that shelter of the most high, where the Spirit meets me willingly and lovingly. This is the place for I have free access to the God of the Universe, where I can see and feel the light ad beauty of God.

The more familiar I become in this place, the more clearly I can experience true peace, and that clamoring enemy and the traps of the worldly concerns have less and less power. Here is the core of worship.

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kissandmakeupTherefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. . . . Be reconciled to God. [II Corinthians 17-19, 20b]
Big word: reconciliation. How often do you use that during the day? And yet, we are doing it every day.
As a parent, we are reconciling our children all the time: settling disputes, making compromises, restoring harmony. At work, we do the same, particularly if we work, as I do, in public service. Sometimes my front desk feels like nothing more than a complaint department.
The key to reconciliation is a willingness to participate in a two-way conversation. Both sides have to agree, both sides have to be in the game.
In the case of God, through the sacrifice of the Christ, the door is open for a permanent relationship with God. Many old rules have been cast aside and a new covenant was forged. But, we still have to go through the door and, as it were, sign our copy of the deal. It’s not that the deal is not a good one or that we need to dicker, we just need to recognize it for what it is, an offer to start over.
Here’s what is amazing to me. It’s never too late to “kiss and make up” with God. This offer is eternal.

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Photo by James Thobe

Peace is another word for God as is Light and Love and Jesus. I seek and I find and then I must pursue the next seeking and the next finding.

I Peter 3:11
They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14]

Through the course of this Lenten study on seeking, I have discovered that seeking is also asking, it’s an internal process, an acknowledgment of now and a need change, it’s humbling, it’s sowing, it’s trusting in both the process and the results, it’s repentance, it’s persistence and desire (as strong as thirst in the desert), and most of all, it’s learning to recognize the One who is sought. It’s a cycle of findings.

Like any other spiritual practice, it’s a discipline and requires both mindfulness and diffidence. This is a journey for the long haul. This is a lifelong practice.

I lose the sense of process so quickly along the way. My personality is one that prefers projects (beginning, middle, and END). I want to get there. I want to see the finish line so I know I’m going the right way.

But, alas, the walk of faith is not built this way. I know it in my head and yet, I keep trying to change the rules of engagement.

In nature, every season has a new challenge, it’s either too wet or too dry, too cold or too hot. Predators abound as do victims. Disease finds root and spreads. Death appears unyielding and potent, but then new life springs up with even more vigor, like new growth after a devastating forest fire.

Hope and faith are the fuel of seeking.

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Meandering Passage: Light Ahead

After all, peace is fleeting, fragile and easily broken. Peace is readily distracted. Peace is coy, difficult to find and keep. And worst of all, peace is relative to our perceptions and experience. Peace is not simply the absence of violence. Peace is intentional.

Psalm 34:12, 14
Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, . . . Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Before I can even consider the pursuit of peace, I must first turn from evil and do good. In other words, peace is impossible in the midst of evil-doing: lying, cheating, gossiping, coveting, envying, gluttony, resenting and hating, just to name a few. And then there are the more obvious crimes of evil among peoples and nations: murder, adultery, stealing, bribery, destruction, uncontrolled ambition.

How badly do I want peace? Am I willing to turn away from bad habits in the name of peace? Or, is it just a kind of talk, a warm fuzzy type of wishful thinking. Is it like hoping to win the lottery. Am I waiting for some outside force to give me the desire to change? If I just had this or that, then I could change. If my husband was better, different, stronger, more loving and attentive, more anything, then I can change? If my children were more obedient, considerate, thoughtful, reliable, or successful in school, then I can change? If I had a better job and a housekeeper, a cook and a complete wardrobe, then I can change?

Then I can exercise every day and stop eating emotionally, then I can stop hiding my “white lies,” then I can stop judging and gossiping, then I can stop envying my contemporaries for their apparent successes. Then…. then…. then?

Here’s the most likely solution. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not turning away from the evils and mistakes all at once. It’s in baby steps. And for each turning, there is a puzzle piece to the mystery of peace. Each time, I choose to walk away from the gravitational pull of sin (error, offense, pride), the path to peace is lit up just a little more.

Do I love life? Real life. Expansive, balanced, thrumming life? Or, have I settled for less?

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