Peace Problems

Peace is arguably the most difficult thing to obtain and keep. There are so many inside and outside forces trying to steal it from us. War, both literal and figurative. Physical, mental, spiritual afflictions. If I had a dollar for every time I talked to someone who was worried or stressed out who said, “It’s always something,” I could’ve stayed in bed this morning instead of going to work.

Some would probably argue that this is a result of our fast-paced world, and one could even go farther and say that Christmastime is the worst for it. Expedited shipping, the bustle in stores, planning parties and dinners, driving all over the place, working overtime to be able to afford it all, and maybe the added pressure of making it all seem effortless (if that kind of thing is important to you).

But if we operate under the knowledge that God’s word is timelessly true, then we have to know that God’s promises of peace were just as true and necessary for people back when the words were being written as they are now.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that everyone’s struggle for peace is the same. I don’t live in a country where land, resources, and families are currently torn by war. I don’t have to face every day with heartache and confusion about needing to make amends with someone I love who I’ve hurt. And I assure you that while I don’t have a lot of money, I’m not scrounging for food, scouting for a place to sleep, or standing in line at a homeless shelter. No, my struggle to find peace and my entire relationship with peace is vastly different than many, many other people’s on this planet. And yours probably is too. Because while all of our peace problems may differ, all of our peace problems certainly exist.

As I mentioned last week, the Israelites were looking for a savior. They were looking for a king who would ride in and rescue them from the Romans and all their other problems.

They never got what they were looking for in a physical, earthly manifestation. Jesus wasn’t a government gladiator or born in a palace or a battle-tested warrior or even a soldier.

But He was the Savior everyone needed and none deserved.

In this realm, Jesus certainly promoted and provided peace, although not to the extent the Jewish people had hoped. (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…” (John 14:27, NIV), etc.) But in the spiritual realm, Jesus is constantly fighting and leading in more ways than we can imagine. Saving us from our past, future missteps, and often ourselves.

Most often, peace rests in our minds rather than a tangible or outer form. So it makes sense that this would be where Jesus would work the most since it’s usually where we need it most.

Prince of Peace is one of the most fitting titles bestowed upon Jesus (Isaiah 9:6). I mean, just look at His life and words. Just try reading the story of His birth without feeling a great sense of tranquility.

The Israelites may not have gotten the peace they were searching for, but they would’ve gotten more than they could’ve even asked for had they only taken God up on His promises.

Let’s not make that same mistake. I may not know your problems, but I’m certain you could use more peace in your life. Why not look to the Prince of Peace and the God who’s never broken a promise? Take Him up on it. He will give you a peace that transcends any and all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

By Carrie Prevette

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Peacemakers

There are many dualities within the Christian faith. God gave the Mosaic laws and then provided a Way for imperfect people to stand a chance at keeping them. Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the sacrificial lamb. Jesus is both God and man. There are faith and deeds (and navigating the true ways those two connect). Then there are the themes of war and peace throughout the scriptures and the doctrine.

For a large part of the Old Testament, people and countries go to war. Such is true of any time or tale with kings and kingdoms, but it is very evident that these wars, be it in cause or effect, are tied to God and faith.

In the New Testament, we see less physical war and more spiritual war, as is perfectly demonstrated when Paul writes of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-17.

Edward Leigh Pell said, “The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of peace, but you cannot establish a kingdom without war. And the army of Christ is still on the fighting line. The moment we enlist in His service, we find ourselves face to face with forces of evil which call for all the fighting spirit we have and more. And what we lack, He will supply.”

The kingdom of Christ is a peaceful one. One trip through the Gospels makes it very clear that Jesus promotes peace and encourages us to be peaceful.

This is reflected in what Paul writes in Titus 3:1-11.

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:1-2, NRSV).

This is coming from a man who spent a fair amount of time in jail. So at the risk of people thinking Paul is being hypocritical, I want to clarify what Paul means here. He’s saying to obey laws that don’t contradict our faith and to object peacefully if the law is counter to our faith. When Paul was told by officials to stop preaching, he didn’t comply because it went against his beliefs. When he was taken to jail, he didn’t fight authorities or resist or make matters worse. He went peacefully.

Paul also says to show “every courtesy” (NRSV), “true humility” (NLT), or “perfect courtesy” (ESV) to everyone, meaning that the politeness and niceties we show should be full and consistent with everyone we meet.

Now, I work with the public, so I understand how difficult this is, but as hard as it is when there are or are not imminent consequences, we should be good and show humility for their own sakes because that’s a sign of God in our lives and because it’s worth passing such notions and actions around.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (Titus 3:3-8, NRSV).

Such a beautiful, hopeful picture. I’d say the full accuracy of it surely passes our understanding. What Paul writes here is the heart of our faith: that God is love and righteousness and that those qualities working in tandem offer all of us hope and salvation. It’s such an even playing field because none of us are good enough on our own. Not a single soul. God knows that, knows it better than anyone and loves us all anyway. Nothing I’ve done or could do is capable of earning God’s love because humanity is that sinful and because I cannot earn what’s already been freely given.

And this follows well with what Paul wrote before. By extending humility to everyone, we can better understand God’s perspective, and that can lead to seeing others as God does. Which generates empathy and love. It’s not to say that it becomes easier or that it’ll happen with everyone all the time. But it can happen, and it changes you.

“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).

As peaceful as the kingdom of God is, it’s not without its disagreements. The early church, consisting of people who knew Jesus personally, disagreed on certain things. There are far more Christian writings than what are included in our Bible, which I’m sure didn’t go over swimmingly with the authors of said excluded documents. So Paul is by no means dismissing the possibility or eventual reality of conflict arising between believers. He is simply saying to avoid them, and when they’re unavoidable, handle them well.

There is no way for all believers, or even all people (in a more broader perspective), to stay in harmony with all things all the time. That’s simply unrealistic. It doesn’t mean, however, that we should go looking for ways to create division or even celebrate it. To do so would not be the spirit of peace or the heart of Christ.

We may war against evils and principalities, but it doesn’t mean that we should war with each other. Jesus called the peacemakers children of God, meaning that peace is an inherent part of God’s character. Even if we can’t all agree, we can certainly all get along. We just have to be willing to try.

By Carrie Prevette

Advent with Abstract: Christ

Jesus came the way we all do. Rumor has it that the manger scene was quiet, and perhaps it was, but I imagine Jesus came into the world screaming and crying just like you and I did. Sure, He met the world surrounded by animals instead of doctors, but His entrance was just the same. He traded His place in the womb for His place in the world. He was just like every other baby, but there was something different about Him.

Fast forward several years, and the boy couldn’t be found. Mary and Joseph went back into town and searched for Him. Maybe Mary mumbled about how she’d just seen Him when they loaded up their belongings to go home. Perhaps Joseph stopped a group of kids who looked to be Jesus’s age and asked if they’d seen Him. Regardless, they found Him in the Temple. He wasn’t sitting in the back with His arms crossed. He wasn’t sitting at the teacher’s feet, looking up in admiration. He was the teacher. All eyes were on Him as He spoke, and I can picture them with their jaws dropped. Teacher or not, Mary scolded Him, told Him how they’d looked everywhere for Him. He said, whether out of sass or genuine confusion, that they should’ve started at the Temple knowing He would be about His Father’s business. He was just like every other kid, but there was something different about Him.

Skip ahead many years. Jesus goes to His cousin John, who was baptizing people, and He went prepared to officially accept His calling and ministry. When He went under the water and arose, a dove flew by and a voice said, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was like every other believer, but there was something different about Him.

He searched for disciples. He wanted people to teach. He knew they would learn one day and lead the next. People who would ask questions one day and answer them the next. People to grow the Kingdom He was building. But He didn’t look to the upper crust or the spiritual leaders or those of good repute. He looked on fishing boats and in tax collection agencies. He looked for the rough and the zealous. And He didn’t coerce them. He simply said, “Follow me,” and they did. He was like every other leader, but there was something different about Him.

He hung on the cross. The miracles, the traveling, the people He helped, the people He forgave, the parables, the Pharisees – it all led to a bloody display on a hill. Some only saw the blood; it’d been in their eyes from the start. His wounds were big and dirty. His feet, hands, and head bowed as much as they could under the weight. The sky darkened and suspense blew across the onlookers. He said, “It is finished,” and He died. He died as we all will (although in a far worse fashion), but there was something different about Him.

The difference? He never faltered. He gave out hope, peace, joy, and love perfectly. He was the Son of God, and He knew it. In 33 and a half years, He changed the entire world. And when He died, He came back to life, scarred but not defeated.

He came back for you. His resurrected life gives us life. He came back for the times that we verge on death and need to be brought back ourselves.

He did it all for you. Everything all the way back to leaving His throne and walking among precious, imperfect humanity. That baby in the manger? He looks cute and innocent. But He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. He was there when Earth was formed. He alone has what it takes to rescue you completely. Humanity’s hope laid in a manger, and He changed everything.

By Carrie Prevette

Advent with Abstract: Joy and Peace

Mary’s first reaction was fear.

Who could blame her? Motherhood isn’t something I long to pursue. If I were to ever marry a guy, and he truly wanted children, I’d be willing to concede, but it’d be the ultimate testament of my love for him. Kids are a certain lack of freedom and a responsibility to look after someone and raise a functioning member of society. They are screaming and crying turning into tantrums and slammed doors. They’re waking up early and filling out all sorts of forms and spending unreal amounts of money. And always wondering if you’re doing a good job.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a mom who wasn’t at least a little scared or nervous about having kids. There’s so much one has to do or be careful of; there are so many ways to mess up. There’s this tiny human who you love, and you don’t want to let him or her down or ruin the child.

But Mary’s case called for even more concern than that. She was a young, engaged virgin who stood to lose a lot if the whole situation was handled badly. Joseph, her betrothed, could’ve ditched her with varying degrees of hurt and suffering. He could pursue a public, messy divorce, which would’ve ended with Mary being stoned. Or he could’ve pursued a quiet divorce with a few witnesses and an exchange of money. Mary’s family could’ve disowned her. Out of context or in disbelief, Mary’s situation would’ve been scandalous and disgraceful to the family. Sure, they would lose a worker and a means of provision, but they would have two less people to provide for. Yes, Mary had every right to be afraid.

God chose wisely (as always) when He chose Mary, because once Mary listened to the angel, she chose faith. When Joseph perused his heart and his options, when Mary journeyed to see her also-pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, when she traveled with Joseph to Bethlehem, Mary constantly and consistently chose faith.

What’s more, Mary was beyond being content. She was even beyond being happy. She was joyful and peaceful.

That’s certainly a credit to Mary’s personal strength and mindset, and I wouldn’t dream of denying that or failing to point that out. But as with everything, and I think Mary would agree with me wholeheartedly, it’s really more Jesus’ doing than her own.

Psalm 21:6 (NRSV) says, “You bestow on [the king] blessings forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.”

1 Peter 1:8 (NLT) reads, “You love [Jesus] even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”

Jesus says in John 14:27 (NLT), “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

And He goes on to say in John 16:33 (NRSV), “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

God identifies as love, but joy and hope are also intrinsic parts of His character. So much so that to know God is to know joy and hope. To be in His presence, in any capacity, fills one with joy. To have a relationship with Him is to be filled with peace.

Mary went from fear to gladness so quick because she knew who was with her. She knew who put her where she was and she knew who was growing inside of her. It gave her joy that she couldn’t describe or explain. It gave her an unshakable peace. She got to walk every day with the source of it all. She knew Him better than any other human could.

How much joy and peace do you have right now? Are world events, awful as they are, getting the better of you? Are your eyes opening and focusing on a cruel world that worsens daily? Do you feel yourself slipping further into worry, becoming more and more disheartened?

If that’s you, you’re not alone. And if that’s you, I’ve got some good news.

Like Mary, your joy and peace start with faith. God loves you and longs to take care of you. He wants to be your refuge and your rock. He can do and be all of that for you in a world that will only hurt you. You just have to put your faith in Him. Isn’t that a small price, a small risk, for inexpressible joy and otherworldly peace?

I pray that as Christmas approaches, you will all find the joy and peace you need. I pray that you’re filled with such gifts and blessings that only God can provide. Because that is why Jesus came, the precious baby that He was. That’s why He lived, accepting His calling and the persecution that came along with it. That’s also why He died a brutal, criminal’s death that was most undeserved. He came for love, joy, and peace, and He came to give it all to you.

By Carrie Prevette

23

Psalm 23 is the most well-known psalm there is. People know it by heart. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard someone sing it before (which is appropriate because it’s a song, but also a bit odd because people don’t really do that anymore). It’s a great source of hope and comfort for many people.

But I’ll let you guys in on something: I don’t particularly care for Psalm 23. It’s not that I dislike Psalm 23. It’s just that I can’t think of a time it’s ever moved me greatly. I can take it or leave it. I’ve yet to reach a point in my life where Psalm 23 speaks to me, but I’m glad it’s there if I ever do desperately need it.

I’m not saying this to belittle the hope and peace anyone gets from this scripture. Hope is hope. You should get it wherever you can and hold onto it. And what I think about something shouldn’t affect the experiences you’ve had. If Psalm 23 was there for you in some dark or tough time, I say cling to it and shout its praises.

Everything in Psalm 23 points to peace and comfort. Green is a very calming color, and green pastures make us think of more rural settings where everything is slow and usually quiet. And the waters are described as “still.” They aren’t rushing or roaring; they’re perfectly still. David says that he isn’t afraid simply because God’s there. The rod and staff indicate that God will help and protect him. David says that God blesses him, even when he’s surrounded by his enemies, and he knows that those blessings will always be with him.

It’s a series of lovely scenes. First peace then blessings then prosperity.

David was a great man of God. He wasn’t perfect in any sense, but he followed after God with all of his heart. He made some bad decisions. He was forced to deal with some serious consequences. He sang songs of love to God when everything was going well and sang songs of anger to God when he was upset with how his life was going.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

That’s us. That is each and every child of God. We’re on cloud nine and worshipping when it’s all going well and we see God’s movement in our lives. And when we’re down and out, we turn away from Him. We fall, we falter, and we reach up for God’s hand even when we know we don’t deserve it.

The closeness we see between God and David isn’t only for God and David. It’s special, yes, because everyone’s relationship with God is unique and individual. But there’s nothing stopping us from reaching that same level of intimacy with God. Even if we can’t express it as well as David does in Psalm 23, we can surely feel it in our hearts and souls. The only things that can hinder us from doing so are the things we allow to stop us.

Look at Psalm 23 again. This time, look specifically at the verbs. To begin with, they’re in present tense. David isn’t talking about the past or talking exclusively about the future. He’s talking about the here and now.

God is a very present God. We talk about the past – what He did, where He brought us from. We talk about the future and all the grand plans He has for us. But it feels like we never talk about the present, and I think it’s because a lot of times, the present isn’t that great. There are bills to pay and decisions to make and disagreements and trials. Oh, it may be better than our past, but it’s not nearly as good as our future. Or maybe it’s not quite as good as the past and we’re looking forward to the next mountaintop. What David is showing us here is that it doesn’t matter what our present situation is like. God is still God. If it’s grim or if it’s great, God wants to go through it with us, and He wants to bless us at this very moment in time.

The second thing we notice about the verbs in Psalm 23 is that they are active. The verbs are strong and they’re certainly happening. David doesn’t doubt what God’s doing or that He’s doing anything. He knows that God’s up to something, that He’s working in David’s life. Even if it didn’t seem like it, David knew it was happening.

The third thing we notice about the verbs is that God is usually the subject in front of them. God’s the one moving and acting here. David does something every now and then and an inanimate object will serve as a subject occasionally, but it’s mostly God. David shows us that this tranquil state he’s reached, this mound of blessings he has, is due to God. He shows us that it’s not about him or his victories or his deeds, but all of it, every last bit of it, is about God.

I’m sure when David wrote Psalm 23 that he didn’t expect it to be published and be handing out hope to people centuries later. He meant it as a song of worship, a song he would use to glorify God. He probably didn’t care what came of it so long as it made God smile and showed God’s power. And no matter how anyone feels about it, I think we can all agree that it certainly does both of those things.

By Carrie Prevette

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