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The Peacemakers

September 19th, 2014

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

If modern entertainment is any measurement of what the world thinks of peacemakers, it places a very low priority on them. I am trying to think of the last time, or any time, I have seen a drama or read a story written in the last fifty years that emphasized something other than revenge, punishing the guilty, and hurting those people we think are evil – and to be honest I cannot recall very many stories about making peace. Since marketing is what drives these matters, one would suppose that in the commercial world themes on forgiveness and reconciliation do not appear to be as appealing to people or as profitable to advertisers as themes on punishment, humiliation, and revenge. A good movie ends with the bad guy being punished, not forgiven and reconciled to those he hurt.

Which simply means that the world is in a greater need for peacemakers than it realizes. The need is so great, they are not even aware of the possibility, let alone the urgency of the matter.

Peacemakers must learn to encourage two factors in restoring people to one another: forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness means to let the anger in your heart die, to cease to strive for revenge and shame. Some sins of others can be forgiven and the matter dropped. Other sins demand some sort of payment or some justice to be done due to the seriousness of the offense. Forgiveness requires that we acknowledge that someone has sinned against us, but choose not to hold on to the offense, rather to release it in to the hands of God. Forgiveness is impossible without the recognition of wrongdoing, or there is nothing to forgive. If I say, “That is okay – it was nothing,” then I cannot forgive for I did not admit that any wrong was done. If I say, “Your offense hurt me but I forgive you,” then that is true forgiveness.  If I go a second step and show kindness to the offender, then that is grace.

Reconciliation means that the relationship is restored. Some problems between people are so severe and the pains go so deep that all that reconciliation may take time. “Once bitten, twice shy,” is an old saying, and in this world when someone hurts us we do not feel we can trust that person again. But at least in the Christian faith we should make an effort to reconcile, to give the relationship the possibility of being restored. Peacemakers at least establish between people a cessation of hostilities.

This is why gossips are so often tools of the devil, for they prevent healing and reconciliation. “Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarreling stops” (Proverbs 26:20). So to be a peacemaker means to avoid gossiping, to avoid stirring up the matter again, to promote unity and kindness.

Peacemakers must also promote understanding between people. Conflicts tend to repeat themselves unless deeper issues are dealt with, and this can only happen when people seek to really hear one another and try to understand.

In today’s world there are some people whose ideology prevents reasoning. Al Qaeda has no intention to reason with anyone. They see moderate Muslims as evil people who need to be killed or converted to their way of thinking. In fact, they see the whole world like this. In their view everyone fits into two categories: them and everyone else. The forgiveness that brings reconciliation is only possible if both parties cooperate.

And from that extreme example we can also think of people who are serial wounders of others. As soon as you make peace with them, as soon as you get close to them, they wound you again. They do not know how else to be. This is why the Bible exhorts us to “bear with one another” in Christian love. This is why Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). If we have let go of the offense, if we have forgiven the other person, if we have committed ourselves not to gossip about it, if we have confessed our own fault in the matter, if we have prayed for the person and blessed them and declared a cessation of conflict between them, if we have sought to understand them and their perspective, then we have done what God has commanded.

Declare peace toward those around you – especially your fellow believers – and promote understanding, patience, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. Your reputation will be special. Not everyone will understand or appreciate what you do, but for those who do they will see you as a true child of God.

Beatitudes

The Pure in Heart

September 18th, 2014

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Matthew 5:8

At first glance this beatitude seems out of place, that it belongs to the first four that have to do with our relationship with God, and not in the next four that focus on our dealings with man. But we need to look twice, for this blessing is in the right order. The connectedness lies in where we must be pure in heart – here on this earth, among the fellowship of fallen humanity – and those who allow their hearts to be the exclusive domain of the Spirit of God, who do not long for friendship with the world system, which inevitably brings us into conflict with God, whose hearts are singular in their affection toward God, those who are pure in heart have a different sight in life, they have a different vision of life, they see what the impure cannot see – they see Who the impure cannot see, namely they see God.

To take the reality in this life, of sin and evil and compromised values, and to put it aside, allowing our hearts no corruption, allowing our lives only the pure influence of Holy God, lifts us into the vision of God. This is a beatitude that calls us to spiritual retreats, to withdrawing often from the world’s influence, as best we can, and to feast on God’s Word and on His holiness, to be alone with His Spirit and in the fellowship of committed Christians.

There is tremendous spiritual meaning in these thoughts, and we ought to often withdraw from the world to be in a healthy spiritual climate – just as Christ often led His disciples on brief retreats, just as Christ Himself often withdrew for solitary times of prayer and communion with God. It is nonsense to say that the messages and influences of the world do not upset us spiritually, for clearly they do, clearly they distract us from God and tempt us toward evil. The devil would be happy for us never to set aside any time for God, to never turn off the world’s influence and to turn on God’s influence in our hearts.

My favorite method is to take a day or half a day, or even an hour, and take a book of the one of the great devotional preachers – Andrew Murray or Oswald Chambers or A.W. Tozer or others – along with my Bible and to read, meditate, and pray. I have found that it is better that I not set a goal to read so many pages in these times of retreat, but to just let the Spirit lead me to read and meditate on what He has for me to know. To let Him lead me to confess my sins, to meditate on His goodness, to understand how magnificent our God is, to praise Him and to thank Him. Purity of heart must be God’s achievement in our lives, and not anything that we achieve. Yet He calls us to participate with His Spirit, to cooperate and listen to His leadership in our hearts.

Purity of heart means the utter humility of our souls. God said in Isaiah 57:15:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Holy God dwells in impenetrable light, “in a high and holy place,” and the only exception He makes is to dwell in the heart of those who are contrite and humble. This is the idea behind Christ’s beatitude of the pure in heart. As the Spirit enables us and guides us we should confess our sins and let Him do His work of purifying our hearts, and if we allow Him to do this our vision of life will be different. Rather than see the corruption around us and within us, rather than being drawn away by the lusts and the pride of this world, we will be drawn to Him who is perfect and holy.

Christians without the uplifting vision of God’s holiness tend to be morose, negative, condemning, and judgmental – or they become compromised themselves with sinful associations with the world. They criticize the sinfulness of others, and of the world in general, but they do not have the hope of Christ that things could be different. But the pure in heart look into the most evil situations and see the hope of Christ overlaid upon it. Forgiveness, redemption, and salvation is possible. To live in purity of heart and to see God enables the Christ follower to bring the hope of Christ into the world around him.

Beatitudes