Thanksgiving and Peacemaking

I wrote this a while ago for one of our enewsletters, but I think it would be appropriate to share here as well.

It’s a bit of a tradition to include Colossians 3:15 in the eNews that comes out closest to Thanksgiving: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” The apostle Paul makes a clear and intimate connection between peace and thankfulness here. Have you ever meditated on this connection? Do peace and gratitude go together in your mind?

Paul uses an interesting word here (the only time it is used in the New Testament) when he exhorts us to let the peace of Christ “rule” in our hearts. The original sense of the word “rule” was that of the role of an umpire. In sports, an umpire is the administrator of the game, making sure rules are not broken and order is maintained, and making key decisions as to what happened on a certain play. In the same way, the peace of Christ is to be the administrator of our lives. It will govern the decisions we make. It will keep us from “breaking rules.” It will maintain order in our churches. And when any situation is in question, the peace of Christ will make the final call. So a peacemaker is one whose heart is truly “umpired” by peace–not just any peace, but the peace of Christ.

After emphasizing why the peace of Christ is to reign in our hearts (because we are members of one body who are called to peace), Paul then adds, “And be thankful.” The idea of being thankful is much more than an afterthought–it is intimately connected with the peace he just discussed. This peace of Christ is a grand and glorious gift from God, and we are to be thankful for it. We should consider it as precious to us. By recognizing its value and being openly grateful for it, we have even more motivation to both make and keep peace. A thankful church is not likely to be a conflicted church. Yes, thankful people demonstrate the reconciling peace of Christ ruling in their hearts.

So among all the other things you give thanks for as you gather this Thanksgiving–the blessings of the past year and God’s faithfulness to you–we hope that you pause to give thanks for the peace of Christ. And may it rule in your hearts throughout this coming holiday season.

Church Uniform

I’ve been contemplating lately the benefits of wearing a uniform to church.

From what I understand, there are a couple of reasons that schools require kids to wear uniforms. One of them is for (this sounds so ridiculously redundant) uniformity. When you make kids all wear the same thing to school, it reduces the competition that inevitably arises from kids trying to look better than the next person. I went to college with a number of people who had gone to private schools, and all of them had some sort of uniform. When they got to college, they actually had a fairly limited wardrobe because they’d worn the same thing 5 out of 7 days for the last 4 years (summers excluded). Whereas they had initially chafed against the idea of being told what to wear, and wearing the same thing over and over, it actually brought them a certain kind of freedom because they never had to worry about picking out an outfit. They also never had to feel the need to compete: everybody was on the same level in terms of what they wore to school.

Another benefit (as I understand it) is that, especially in lower income areas, it gives the kids something decent to wear. I know that’s the case in the mission schools I’ve worked at in Guatemala. Sometimes these kids’ only decent clothes came every year when their school uniform was issued. Again, it levels out the playing field, but this time it’s bringing everybody up to a common standard of dress, whereas in fancier schools, it’s more like bringing everybody down to the same level. Regardless, it keeps everybody dressing in a way that school officials have determined is appropriate for their school.

We don’t necessarily realize it, but we DO have a church uniform, and it serves the same functions as a school uniform does. On Sunday in church, my pastor was talking about how we try so hard to make ourselves look good, but what we end up wearing amounts to nothing more than fig leaves. Or, the phrase “filthy rags” springs to mind, but scholars tell me clothing isn’t really what Isaiah had in mind. So we’ll go with “fig leaves.” So many times, we show up at church thinking that we’re looking so nice, that we might even be contenders to win the Spiritually Best Dressed award; but our efforts to look good turn out to be more of an Emperor’s New Clothes charade. We’re practically naked when we try to dress ourselves.

The good news is that Christ provides our uniforms, and we all come robed in his righteousness. Our attire (not just for church, but for all of life) is more beautiful than we could imagine. Like the kids in the mission school, we could never aspire to come up with something so nice on our own, and here it’s handed to us free of charge. And there can be no competition – we’re all wearing the same thing, cut from the same cloth, making us all equally beautiful and appropriately dressed not only for school but for the most incredible feast. No need to chafe about the monotony of wearing the same thing or being told what to wear – it’s a standard of dress that brings freedom, joy, camaraderie and beauty.

That’s a “uniformity” that can genuinely contribute to unity!

Conflict is an Opportunity — New Video Interview with Tim Lane

Tim Lane, executive director of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, was in our offices a few months ago and sat down for a few minutes to talk about the radical concept of “conflict as an opportunity.” If you’ve been hanging around us for a while, it might not strike you as a radical idea; but do you remember the first time you heard somebody talking about opportunities and glorifying God in conflict?

In this video, Dr. Lane goes on to explain how the Gospel brings us an alternative response, so that we don’t need to respond to conflict in our old ways, but so conflict can bring us to growth and maturity in Christ.

Tim Lane: Conflict is an Opportunity from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.

Ken’s Article on Financial Crisis is Now Available in Spanish!

Thanks to our good friend Lucymarie in the Dominican Republic, Ken’s article “Rising Conflict in a Falling Economy” is now available in Spanish.

 Click here to read the article: Resurgente Conflicto en una Economía en Decadencia

Please feel free to print this or pass it on electronically and share it with any Spanish-speakers you know who might find it interesting.  And, as always, we value your feedback!

Overlooking an Offense

Yesterday on his blog, Tim Challies answers this question from a reader: “How do you discern when to take something up with a person and when is it something to just let go (is it ever right to just “let it go”?).”

He starts his answer by looking at Scripture verses that seem immediately applicable to this question:

Proverbs 17:14 says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” This tells me that there are some situations in which strife is unnecessary and even unhelpful. A couple of chapters later we read “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Put these verses together and we realize that we are not required by God to confront a person every time he or she offends us. In fact, there are times when we should not confront a person. And honestly, if every person I have offended confronted me every time I sin against them in some way, I would be an awfully busy guy. There are times when the best course of action is to leave our offenses between the offender and God.

He then directs his readers to Chris Brauns’ book Unpacking Forgiveness (which I am still slowly working my way through) and a thought process that Brauns draws out in order to help us understand when to overlook an offense and when to address it. I encourage you to read Challies’ points in full (and Brauns’ book!), but here’s a list of the main points:

  1. Examine yourself
  2. Examine yourself again: are you right?
  3. Determine the importance
  4. Look for patterns
  5. Be sensitive
  6. Seek counsel

I would also add a couple of key questions that Ken Sande asks in chapter 7 of The Peacemaker, regarding the question of “When are someone’s sins too serious to overlook?”

  • Is it dishonoring God? (of course, all sin dishonors God, but he’s saying if someone’s sin is visible enough to obviously and significantly affect a Christian’s or church’s witness)
  • Is it damaging your relationship? (if you are unable to forgive an offense and your thoughts, feelings and actions are altered for more than a short period of time)
  • Is it hurting others? (if it results in significant harm to you or others, either directly — e.g. drunk driving — or indirectly, like encouraging another Christian to behave in a similar manner)
  • Is it hurting the offender? (physical harm like drug abuse would be an example, but also if you see long term damage in the person’s relationship with God or other people … this is looking out for his or her interests)

Of course, all of these questions call for a great deal of wisdom, because there is rarely a clear-cut answer. That’s why I appreciate Challies’/Brauns’ points 1 and 2: Examine yourself… and Examine yourself again!

Church Split Reconciled…20 years later

This video is incredible — it tells the story of a church split that happened 20 years ago (but was still festering) and how God led those churches through a process of reconciliation and “remarriage” under the conviction that obedience to God required forgiveness and that they could do more for the Kingdom as one united body.

Church Split Reconciliation from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend, and remember to check back to Tara Barthel’s blog over the weekend for her liveblogging of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation’s annual conference. There’s a session up now by Mark Driscoll that I can’t wait to review over the weekend!

Live Blog on Addictions

Tara and I are both in Philadelphia for the CCEF conference, and she’s “live blogging” the pre-conference training today. Addictions can be at the center of all kinds of marital, family, and church conflicts, so it’s a relevant topic to peacemaking.

Tara’s quite a fast typer, so it’s pretty much like being there. Surprisingly so. And it’s quite edifying, too. We both have a high degree of respect for these CCEF guys. I invite you to follow along (or read it later) yourself:

Pre-Conference Session on Addictions/CrossRoads Curriculum

UPDATE: She’s started a new post on David Powlison’s “What is Biblical Counseling” this afternoon. See link below.

Pre-Conference Session on “What is Biblical Counseling?”

Creating Communities of Grace

Last week, Tara B pointed us to Tim Chester’s post on Communities of Performance vs. Communities of Grace. He has another good one on the subject from a few days ago: Creating Communities of Grace.

As a reminder, Tim previously described a community of grace as one where”[we acknowledge] that we are all sinners, we are all messed up people, all struggling, all doubting at a functional level. But grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome, all are Christians (there are no lesser Christians)… When [broken people] come together they accept one another and celebrate God’s grace towards each other. They rejoice that they are all children of God through the work of Christ. And they remind one another of the truths each of them needs to keep going and to change. It’s a community of grace, a community of hope, a community of change.”

I’d encourage you to click over and read the whole post, but here are his 7 main points for what we can do to help create a community of grace in our churches:

1. Make the connections (between teaching grace and what it looks like in daily life)

2. Welcome the mess

3. Stop pretending

4. Stop performing

5. Eat and drink with broken people

6. Give time to change

7. Focus on the heart

What a rich list! My prayer for myself today is that I won’t think of this as something that other people in my church or community need to do ( thereby placing myself in judgment over them), but that God will show me very tangible ways that I can be an agent in creating a community of grace this week.

Three Emails and a Meeting

I received more than three emails on Friday at the office, but three really made an impression on me.  And then a meeting, which consumed almost all of my afternoon.  It was a day of weighty matters, and they blended together in my mind as I reflected on them over the weekend.

Email #1 was just a brief note, received by one of our staff members and passed on to several others whom she knew would be concerned.  It was from a CERT candidate who lives and serves in Zimbabwe.  By way of explanation for submitting some homework after the deadline, he simply opened with this statement: “The situation in our country has totally collapsed.”  This brief statement just pierced my heart; what does “total collapse” look like for a country that has been out of food, water purification chemicals and other basic infrastructure for months?  Where speaking for justice is an invitation for persecution? In a country where a bag full of paper money won’t even buy you a loaf of bread?  What does ministry look like there?  How does a church, seminary or other ministry even function?

And then email #2, from the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.  “Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq,” it pleaded.  “They are suffering from violence and extreme persecution.  They are battling fear; we are concerned about a potential massacre.”  This is a time when we can stand in Christian solidarity with members of our body who are suffering.  To do so is our calling, our privilege and our responsibility.  “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).

Email #3: about ministry among one of the most difficult and violent people groups in Africa, the Karamojong of Uganda.  The report is that members of two warring tribes have embraced the gospel mandate to reconciliation and have established a peace village where local pastors are committed to growing as servant leaders, where there is food in the midst of a drought, and where there is cooperation instead of the cattle raiding that has historically defined their relationship to one another.  This is not without cost: one of the original “peace elders” was martyred, but God is using basic principles of biblical peacemaking to sow seeds that have been watered by this blood and even now are bearing fruit.

And then an afternoon meeting discussing our ministry’s challenging financial position.  We are not alone: the whole world is suffering in the current economic climate.  There are fear, uncertainty, and shortages, even in a country known for its excesses (see Ken Sande’s call for a peacemaker’s response to this climate).  All are also true within the walls of Peacemaker Ministries, perhaps at a historic level for us.  And so the lessons of the morning’s emails come home:

  • From Email #1, God is committed to building his church, even in the leanest of times. In fact, this is where the church will shine – as others are clinging even more tightly to their possessions for the illusion of security (but what difference does $1,000 or $10,000 or even $100,000 in your bank account make when you are at 2 million percent inflation? At the end of the day, you all have nothing). There are churches in Zimbabwe who are, as Paul says of the Macedonian church, giving out of their poverty: feeding the homeless, the orphans, the elderly when, by almost any standard, they have nothing to give. How much more can we see ourselves as the objects of God’s care and be generous and confident in the midst of our scarcity.
  • From Email #2, “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). History shows that God’s people almost always come out of suffering stronger, purer, better suited for service in the Kingdom. I have a quote hanging above my computer at work that says, “God’s people are like bells: the harder they are hit, the better they sound.” My prayer for the PM staff during these lean times is that we would grow closer to the Lord and to one another, that our commitment to our mission and our ability to carry it out would increase as a result of the next few months (or years?) of trusting God for our ministry’s (and, therefore, our personal) daily bread.
  • From Email #3, the ministry of biblical peacemaking is still as desperately needed as ever, and teaching how the Gospel impacts our relationships is a seed-planting activity from which God is still pleased to produce much fruit. We discussed at our meeting how, despite our uncertainty concerning the future of Peacemaker Ministries, we have no doubt that the ministry of biblical peacemaking has not run its course, that we are just beginning to see major inroads in both the domestic and international arenas (and, as Ken noted earlier, this economic crisis is yet another wonderful opportunity for peacemaking). The Gospel is indeed good news, and we are dedicated to carrying out the “ministry of reconciliation” that he has committed to us (2 Cor 5:19) for as long as the Lord sees fit.

Do all of these emails and meetings fit together?  In a very real way, they do (here I turn to preaching to myself).  They speak of God’s people from all corners of the world who are facing challenges, “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 4:13), and in one another’s sufferings. They speak of God’s people who are seeking to trust and obey rather than given into fear and unbelief.  They speak of a people who, despite our weaknesses and the fact that we will give into unbelief, are held securely in the arms of a Heavenly Father who loves nothing more than to generously and abundantly meet the (true) needs of his children.  In fact, our Heavenly Father is obligated to do only what works for our good because of the blood that Christ shed for us.  Not only did Christ’s death and resurrection purchase our eternal salvation, but Christ also purchased God’s eternal benevolence toward those of us who are united to Christ by faith.  THIS is good news, and God will give us all — Zimbabwean, Iraqi, Ugandan, American — the strength to bear up under whatever trials he sends our way, until the day of Christ Jesus.  “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Reconciliation and the Image of God

Regardless of one’s political views, the election of America’s first African American President has caused the nation to reflect again on racial reconciliation. In the short video below, Ed Gilbreath a friend and partner of Peacemaker Ministries, reflects on how diversity creates a fuller picture of the image of God:

Diversity and The Image of God from Peacemaker Ministries on Vimeo.