I have been offered peace

Christ: Our Peace

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.  Ephesians 2:14 NAS

“Annie” sat in my back yard in Africa and showed me her scars.  “This is where he hit me with a belt.  This is where he got me with a tree branch.” Sadly, the culture in the country where I served believed a man had every right to keep his wife in line by hitting her.  And his family was welcome to join right in.

“My mother-in-law was the worst,” Annie told me.  “She’d drag me out of the hut and call my husband to come beat me.  She’d get furious if I didn’t help her cook.  Sometimes, she even hit me herself.”

And so, Annie fled her little village to go live with her own mother in the capital city, where I met her. We became fast friends, and after a time, she gave her life to Christ.  Once a week, we’d have a Bible study on my porch.  Annie couldn’t read, so what we really had was a story-telling session.  I’d either tell a Bible story in her language or play one for her on tape, and then I’d ask her all sorts of questions to help her understand and apply those truths to her life.  Week by week, we walked through the life of Christ.

The day we covered the crucifixion, I asked her this question: “Jesus died on the cross saying ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’ Since we are supposed to be like Jesus, is there anyone you need to forgive?” 

Annie thought a moment.  “Yes,” she said.  “My mother-in-law.  Just a few days ago, she sent a messenger from our village to me to beg my forgiveness, because she is old and ill.  She can no longer cook or even bathe herself, and there is no one to take care of her.  She asked me to come back and do it.”

I sat there with my mouth open.  Really?  Forgive the monster who drug you to your snake husband to have you beaten?  Quite frankly, when I’d asked the question, Annie’s mother-in-law and her husband were the furthest people from my mind.  I despised them.

And yet, I knew the culture.  Old women were cared for by their daughters-in-law.  There were no nursing homes, no state institutions to step in.  Men didn’t fill the role of caregivers, and there are some things a son can’t do for his mother anyway. 

Annie and I sat there in the shade of my porch for several quiet moments.  “I need to go home and do it,” she said.

And she did.  She traveled back to her rural village and moved in with her mother-in-law.  She cooked for her.  She fed her.  She helped her to the outside latrine, and she bathed her – the woman who had made life hell.  Annie’s husband was around, but she didn’t get back together with him. When her task was done with her mother-in-law, she left again.  But for the time she was there, he left her alone. He could not strike this living picture of Christ’s forgiveness.

Annie made this verse come alive for me.  Jesus was truly her “peace,” the peace between herself and her husband’s extended family.  No power on earth except Christ himself could have worked that kind of forgiveness in Annie’s heart.  It was forgiveness of deed – she took action on it.  I still stand amazed.

When Paul wrote this verse, he was talking about Jews and Gentiles, two groups who had been brought together in Christ despite their differences.  He Himself is our peace, able to take down the dividing walls of Jews and Gentiles, husbands and wives, estranged siblings, two co-workers, factions of church members, parents and kids.  With Christ in our lives, we can truly forgive.  We can act on the forgiveness.  We can have peace.

Christ – our peace.

I have been offered peace

Peace When Life isn’t Peaceful

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:27, NASB
Can there be peace in the midst of a storm?

I remember a word image a friend painted in a study she’d written several years ago. Imagine a storm, fierce and tumultuous, raging across the prairie. Picture a tree, bending in the angry wind, and in that tree, see a nest with a mother bird covering her tiny chicks. Label that image ‘peace.’

It’s been a long time, but I still have that image in my head. It resurfaces every time I think about peace. It’s an incredible picture, and one that demands thought.

Peace . . . In the midst of a terrifying storm. But why? Peace is a back massage, the smells of lavender and the gentle chords of soothing music in the background. Peace is placid waters on a comfortable summer evening. Peace is a fall afternoon in a hammock, swaying to the rhythm of a musky breeze.

But a storm? Not peaceful.

There’s the difference. Right there. I changed the word, didn’t I? Just because a setting is peaceful doesn’t mean that I have peace. Conversely, because a setting is difficult doesn’t mean that I can’t have peace.

Peace isn’t a set of circumstances. Peace is an anchor that drops in deep waters, beneath the currants that shift with the weather. It is the truth that undergirds reality.

Peace where it isn’t peaceful. God’s peace. The kind I want. Don’t you?

I have been offered peace

Think Peace

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise – dwell on these things. Philippians 4:6-10 HCSB

The tears streamed down my face, smearing my makeup.  It was embarrassing.  I was on an airplane, for goodness sakes, and people were staring.  I wanted to look nice when I stepped into the terminal, and  those chances were shot, too.  I’d be arriving with a red nose and runny mascara.

What had happened to evoke this unwanted and unstoppable display of emotions?  During the flight, I’d read a sad, sad novel – about imaginary people facing a fictional situation.  The despair welled up in my soul … but, nothing bad had actually happened to me or to anyone else.

Ever watched a horror movie and felt terrified in a perfectly safe, locked house located in a pleasant, low-crime neighborhood?  Yeah, me too.

My point is this: emotions follow thoughts.  Think about a sad story: feel sad.  Think about a scary movie: feel scared.  Wherever my brain is, there my heart will go. That is why Paul commanded us here to think about true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, praise-worthy things.  And he said it in the context of God giving us peace – that blessed, restful assurance that God is in control.

This is a beautiful Biblical promise: If I pray with thanksgiving, God will give me peace that surpasses understanding, peace that doesn’t depend on my circumstances.  The key there is the thanksgiving part.  Sometimes, the things I am praying about are so grim that there is nothing in those situations for which to be thankful.  But I can always thank God for his character, for his ability to intervene, for his power and goodness.  I can always thank God for blessings he’s given – past and present. And as my mind travels to those pleasant truths, peace descends.

On the other hand, if I pray and then choose to dwell on the impossibility of my dilemma, if I choose to lay awake worrying or making up scenarios as to how to solve the problem or how it could get even worse … I’m not going to have peace.  I’m going to have emotional trauma. Who would choose that over peace?  Unfortunately, me … more times than I’d like to admit.

Today, may I dwell on the truth that Christ will never leave me, that he is working all things together for good in my life because I love Him.  May I spend lots of time pondering the honorable, commendable traits in the people around me and the situations that challenge me.  May I think about the things my children do that deserve praise instead of punishment. Bring on the peace, God.  I’m ready.

I have been offered peace

Peace in Wisdom

My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart. . . ~Proverbs 3:1-3, KJV

Sometimes there is confusion, even among believers, about obedience to God’s Word. We live in the age of grace, do we not? Yes. So, should I continue in sin, so that grace may abound? (Paul’s question, not mine). May it never be! (Also his words—Romans 6).

I’m thinking about God’s offer of peace—that I may live in peace if I maintain my hand in His. That equation requires obedience. I hear (and think myself) now and then about how we are not bound by “church rules,” and that’s true. We’re not Pharisees. But we are to be girded by God’s rules, because they were not given intended as chains, but as a hedge of protection.

Hear me here: I’m not hinting that if we dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ‘t’s’ that God  is then obligated to make our lives easy. He left us the book of Job to dash that illusion. But, as I’m gazing over the landscape of my past, I blush at how many times I’ve lived without peace because I’d neglected the ordinances of God. Disobedience has a price, and often lack of peace comes with the tag.

Walking in the wisdom of God requires me to put my hand in His, and in that grip there is peace. The question before us is this: are we hanging on to that generous offer, or have we turned our own way?

I have been offered peace

I Have Been Offered Peace: A Joint Post

You will keep in perfect peace the mind that is dependent on You, for it is trusting in You.  Trust in the Lord forever because in Yah, the Lord, is an everlasting rock!  Isaiah 26:3-4 HCSB

From Susan

I am burdened with a weighty issue today.  Perhaps, by the time you see these words, dawn will have broken and my situation will have resolved itself.  But, in the moment that my fingers strike these keys, all seems … murky.

Jen and I take turns picking weekly topics for this blog.  This week, mired in my difficulty, I chose: “I Have Been Offered Peace.”  Notice that I didn’t title it “I Have Peace,” because quite honestly, for most of the past few days, that would be a lie.  I haven’t had any peace at all.  Have you ever been there? 

But my lack of peace has not been because God did not offer it.  Indeed, Jesus came to earth with the title “Prince of Peace.”  The Bible is full promises of peace – that internal tranquility that transcends circumstances.  But peace is conditional.  It requires that I choose to trust God, and it is withheld as long as I am not doing so.

These verses in Isaiah tell me I can achieve peace if I put my mind on God’s rock-solid, eternal character. If I discipline my thoughts to trust Him, I will have peace. Ah, but a mind is wily thing to discipline!

From Jen

When peace like a river attendeth my way

When storms, like the sea billows blow

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul

I’m a little baffled how Horatio G. Spafford was able to pen these words. The man knew turmoil. He knew storms. He knew devastation. And yet he wrote “it is well.”

No, not just it is well. It is well with my soul. I’m guessing Spafford had grasped onto the peace Christ had offered. Jesus didn’t promise placid circumstances. He offered peace—and not as the world gives. Soul peace, rooted deep, anchored in the unchangeable nature of God. It is there, in His hand. But I have to put mine in His and stay there to take hold of such a peace.

While it’s mind-blowing to think of a man penning this beloved hymn as he grieved the death of his children, it’s also incredible to think that I have been offered the privilege to hold the very hand of God.

If only I would hang on. Wily discipline, indeed.