Peacemakers

Peacemaker: A person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries. —Lexico.com
I made an important discovery this past Friday. Since mid-June, I’ve been taking a prescription medication to get rid of toenail fungus. I have been taking this Rx one tablet a week (every Friday), and the prescription is for 36 weeks.

Over the summer I began to notice that I was irritable a lot which is not normal for me, although I didn’t let it show when I was out and about doing the normal things I do (shopping, running errands, etc.). I also acquired a feeling of tiredness that was getting worse as the weeks went by, and my face and mouth felt dry all the time, too.  None of these symptoms are normal for me as I tend to be a perky and optimistic type person with a fair amount of energy, and I’m in good health with normal (not dry) skin.

As I progressed through Week #14 on the medication (taken on September 11th), the irritation and tiredness was just getting to be too much. At first I thought it might be caused from a pandemic-induced malaise, as in “Will this pandemic ever end?” Adding to the pandemic, I also experienced a failed attempt (twice) at acquiring an apartment in a senior apartment complex–the first time in May, and then again in July after I had waited for over two months for it to open up the second time.

In trying to secure an apartment at that senior apartment complex where I had been offered an apartment the first time in May, the day before I was scheduled to move into that apartment I was informed that their compliance department determined my income did not qualify me to rent that particular apartment after all. I was blown away that they waited until the day before I was scheduled to move into it to inform me that I didn’t qualify for it. Two weeks later I was told that I did qualify to rent a different apartment there at a higher rent price, but I’d have to wait two months before it would be available for me to rent in July. That, too, fell through.

So I’m still in the process of looking for an affordable senior apartment, and I have been looking for an affordable senior apartment for as long as it takes to conceive a child, give birth, and then watch that child grow to be old enough to attend kindergarten and progress to 1st grade. That’s a very long time.

Irritability and tiredness–it would be perfectly understandable to feel that way given what I’ve mentioned above; however, even in the worst of times I tend to be the perky type, almost always in a good mood, with lots of energy and a “never give up” attitude.

On Week #15 of taking my Rx, I dutifully got my tablet out to take on Friday, September 18th, when a thought occurred to me that it just might be this prescription medication I’ve been taking for the past 14 weeks that is causing my irritability, tiredness, and dry skin and mouth. Since I only take it once a week, I didn’t give it any thought that it might be this prescription medicine that was causing my unexplainable symptoms. However, before I swallowed another tablet, I decided to look up the side effects online, and guess what?

Yes, you guessed it–mood swings, irritability, excessive tiredness and dry skin/mouth are listed among the much longer list of possible side effects. Well, I decided right then and there that tablet #15 was not going down my throat (toenail fungus or not).

It took ten days from the time I took my last tablet on 9/11 for the drug to get out of my system (that was yesterday), and, just as if a dark, heavy cloud had been lifted off of me, I realized yesterday afternoon I was back to my perky, optimistic, always in a good mood (well, mostly), energetic self.

YAY!!!

The lesson learned? It might not be the pandemic or bad circumstances that are causing irritability, bad moods, or tiredness. It could also be caused by a prescription medication.

I mention this for one very good reason. Being a Christian, we are often encouraged to keep a “stiff upper lip” and be “cheerful” even in the worst of situations. While that is not bad advice, it is often like something Greg Laurie, Senior Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, states in an article published on September 17, 2020, titled, What the Bible Says About Self-Defense and Justice,” regarding the Sermon on the Mount. He states:

In the Sermon on the Mount, you will find some of the hardest statements Jesus ever made. When I say hard, I mean difficult to put into practice—at least for me!…

…Turning the other cheek. Going the extra mile. Loving your enemies. These are high standards! (Quote source here.)

If these are hard things to do under normal circumstances, imagine taking a prescription medication that actually makes it even worse! Fortunately, for something like toenail fungus, it is not life threatening for me to quit taking the medication that was causing my irritability, moodiness, tiredness, dry skin and who knows what else it might have been causing. So please don’t read into what I am saying about taking prescription medications as any kind of advice to stop taking them. Consult your doctor first before you quit taking any prescription medications.

What I am saying is that in my case for several weeks I wondered why I was feeling the way I was feeling as it was absolutely not normal, and I wondered if I was doing something wrong that was causing me to feel this way physically, and out-of-sync spiritually, too. However, I was doing nothing different then I had been doing before I started feeling irritable, grouchy, and wretchedly physically tired after I started taking the Rx. I was even starting to feel hopeless, and if you knew me, you would know I just don’t “go there”. Discovering that the Rx was causing it was like a lightbulb moment.

However, now that I have discovered why I felt the way I did all summer and came up with the cure for it (to stop taking the Rx), it brings me back to the article I mentioned above by Greg Laurie titled, What the Bible Says About Self-Defense and Justice.”

We do live in interesting times especially in this year of 2020, and we still have six weeks to go before the Presidential election takes place with the division between the two parties and in the public square (which has already been red hot) getting hotter the closer it gets to Election Day (November 3, 2020).

Greg Laurie opens his article, What the Bible Says About Self-Defense and Justice,” with this paragraph:

Justice is something everyone is talking about these days, and rightly so. Social justice, racial justice, systemic justice—these have all been terms used in public discourse. And they do raise an important question for the Christian: How do we create a society that is truly just? Some point to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as guidelines for how we should govern society, but is that what Jesus intended when He spoke them? (Quote source here.)

As Laurie states in the first quote I quoted from his article, he mentions how difficult it is to put into practice what Jesus stated in his Sermon on the Mount–things like “turning the other cheek,” “going the extra mile,” and “loving your enemies”–that are high standards to meet. In his article he has several sections titled, “Individuals vs. Governments,” “Governing Authorities,” and “Turn the Other Cheek.” In the section titled “Individuals vs. Governments,” Laurie states:

…The Sermon on the Mount was not given as a set of principles by which we govern our society. They are principles for individual Christians to be a light and example to the world.

If somebody means harm toward another, a police officer is not supposed to “turn the other cheek.” If we as a nation are attacked by a foreign power who wants to destroy us, we are not supposed to “go the extra mile.” There is a place for self-defense. There is a place for standing your ground. There is a place for protecting your citizens.

The biblical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount was given by Jesus for believers to live by—not for governments to govern by. The role of an individual is to practice mercy while the role of a government is to practice justice.

If you want to know how a society should be governed, look at Exodus 21. It is referenced by Jesus when he says. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” Exodus 21 continues: “hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” This was the Hebrew civic justice system. Its purpose, according to Deuteronomy 19:20, was so that “the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you” (NASB).

Justice under this arrangement was never carried out by the victim, but by the legal system. It was a merciful law because it limited judgment, matching the punishment to the offense. (Quote source here.)

Laurie goes into more detail in the section titled, “Governing Authorities.” In this section he explains how God has established both governments and the military, and how God has even established the use of force when necessary, and he cites Romans 13 (source here).  He also cites 2 Timothy 2:3-4 stating that the Bible uses a soldier as a model of what a Christian ought to be and how we should follow Jesus. At the end of this section he states:

It’s important that we have a correct understanding of these things. God has established human government to administer justice. It is acceptable for Christians to defend themselves and to exercise their rights. Even the apostle Paul, when he was falsely charged and beaten, exercised his rights as a Roman citizen. The Bible is not saying that the Christian is supposed to be some kind of a doormat. (Quote source here.)

In the last section of his article titled, “Turn the Other Cheek,” Laurie states:

…There are times, for the sake of the kingdom and for the salvation of a soul, we should take the hit. We are to turn the other cheek. We should go the extra mile. The idea is to do what you can to reach a person with the gospel.

Paul said in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (NKJV).

Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. This is not so much about someone just coming up and punching you in the face. It is more the idea of an insult that is offered. Back in these days to be slapped in the face was a deliberate insult—a demeaning and contemptuous act.

Our modern equivalent would maybe be to spit in someone’s face. It doesn’t physically hurt, but it is insulting and angering. It could be using certain words or gestures. When it happens, you want to do it back, or do something even worse. Jesus is telling you not to retaliate.

Is this easy advice to live by? Absolutely not. It is very hard. But even if you struggle with it, the objective is to try to win others to Christ. Jesus is saying, “Go further than they ask. Don’t just give them your tunic. Give them your cloak. Go the extra mile.”

Back in those days the Roman soldier had the right to ask any citizen to carry his armor for a Roman mile. Jesus says, “You know what? If they ask you to carry their armor, take it for the Roman mile and then go for an extra mile. So you do it for the glory of God.”

Go further than that which is required. Do it for the sake of the gospel. Do it to win the hearing of the person that you are trying to reach. Try to turn your enemies into friends. Try to win them over. It blows people’s minds when they see a Christian willing to forgive. A Christian willing to turn the other cheek. A Christian willing to go the extra mile. (Quote source here.)

In a devotion published on February 24, 1994, in Our Daily Bread, titled, A Misunderstood Command,” by Herbert Vander Lugt (who died in 2006), who served as Senior Research Editor for Our Daily Bread Ministries and had been with the ministry since 1966, he wrote:

“Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
Matthew 5:39

Today’s Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

Geoffrey, a dedicated believer, took seriously our Lord’s command about turning the other cheek, yet he misunderstood the meaning of what Christ taught. When a man struck him, for example, he turned the other side of his face to his assailant and allowed him to hit it again. He said, “I have now fulfilled the Lord’s command.” Then he proceeded to pound his foe into submission. That’s quite obviously not what Jesus had in mind.

The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy also misinterpreted this command. He said that we should be completely nonresistant when people steal from us or hurt us. His theory was that the wicked would soon be so ashamed that they would correct their ways. But his logic was wrong. Society doesn’t operate that way. Without the restraining force of the police, the wicked would completely overpower decent, law-abiding citizens.

What then did Jesus mean when He told us that we should turn the other cheek? He was saying we should not let the desire to get even dominate our lives. Instead, we should be governed by the principles of giving and forgiving. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we can do exactly what Jesus commanded. (Quote source here.)

In answer to the question, What did Jesus mean when He instructed us to turn the other cheek?”, GotQuestions give this answer:

…Much of the material surrounding Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek [see Sermon on the Mount] complements the nature of His coming, which was characterized by mercy, sacrificial love, and longsuffering toward sinners. At the same time, Jesus affirms the “last is first” principle upon which the kingdom of God is based. For instance, He tells us to go the extra mile for someone who abuses us (Matthew 5:41) and to love and pray for our enemies instead of holding enmity against them (verse 44). In summary, Jesus is saying we need to be pure inside and out and as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world.

A word about the “slap” that Jesus says we should endure. Jesus here speaks of personal slights of any kind. The slap (or the “smiting,” as the KJV has it) does not have to involve literal, physical violence. Even in our day, a “slap in the face” is a metaphor for an unexpected insult or offense. Did someone insult you? Let him, Jesus says. Are you shocked and offended? Don’t be. And don’t return insult for insult. Turn the other cheek.

Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse is helpful: “Suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of all is, that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember, that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort” (Concise Commentary, entry for Matthew 5:38).

Turning the other cheek does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in danger. Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is simply a command to forgo retaliation for personal offenses. He was not setting government foreign policy, and He was not throwing out the judicial system. Crimes can still be prosecuted, and wars can still be waged, but the follower of Christ need not defend his personal “rights” or avenge his honor…. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with Paul’s words from Romans 12:18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you…

Live at peace. . .

With . . .

Everyone . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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The Power of Persistence

I don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been a challenging year so far here in America, and to top off everything else that has already occurred and is still ongoing, a very heated and divisive Presidential Election is only 62 days away.

Three words keep coming to mind when I think about all that has already transpired this year. Those three words have very similar meanings, and they are: (1) resilience (the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns); (2) perseverance (continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition); and (3) persistence (the act or fact of stubbornly continuing to do something; the act or fact of continuing to exist longer than usual).

In a word search on Google using these three words, one of the first links I came across was this short devotion published on December 28, 2017 titled, Faith Produces Persistence,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that is the sixth-largest megachurch in the United States (source here). Here is that devotion (note: all three of those words stated above show up in this devotion):

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

Faith unlocks the promises of God, it shows us the power of God, it turns dreams into reality, and it gives us the power to hold on in tough times.

God doesn’t always take you out of the problem. He stretches your faith by taking you through the problem. He doesn’t always take away the pain. He gives you faith-filled ability to handle the pain. And God doesn’t always take you out of the storm because he wants you to trust him in the midst of the storm.

I remember reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, a young Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Holocaust before being sent to Nazi concentration camps. After World War II ended, she said that the people who lived through those camps were those who had the deepest faith. Why? Because faith gives you the power to hold on in tough times. It produces persistence.

Study after study has shown that probably the most important characteristic you could teach a child (and that you need in your own life) is resilience. It’s the ability to bounce back. It’s the ability to keep going. Nobody goes through life with an unbroken chain of successes. Everybody has failures and mistakes. We all embarrass ourselves. We all have pain. We all have problems. We all have pressures. The people who make it in life have resilience.

Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to resign as pastor at Saddleback Church? Just about every Monday morning! I say, “God, it’s too big. It’s too many people, too much responsibility. I’m not smart enough. What am I supposed to say to that many people? Get somebody else who can do a better job than this.”

Yet God says, “Keep going.”

Where do you get the resilience to keep going? Faith. It’s believing God could do something at any moment that could change the direction of your life, and you don’t want to miss it, so you keep moving forward. It’s believing that God will give you exactly what you need when you need it as you learn to rely on him to accomplish his purpose in you.

This is the testimony of Paul, a great man of faith: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

What is God’s purpose of adversity in your life?

How has faith helped you persevere through a difficult time in your life?

Faith doesn’t always take you out of the problem. Faith often takes you through the problem. How will this truth shape the way you respond to the problems you face right now? (Quote source here.)

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should “always pray and never give up” in the form of a parable titled, The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Here is that parable from the NLT:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

GotQuestion.org states the following regarding this parable:

The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8) is part of a series of illustrative lessons Jesus Christ used to teach His disciples about prayer. Luke introduces this lesson as a parable meant to show the disciples “that they should always pray and never give up” (verse 1, NLT).

The parable of the widow and the judge is set in an unnamed town. Over that town presides an unjust judge who has no fear of God and no compassion for the people under his jurisdiction. In the Jewish community, a judge was expected to be impartial, to judge righteously, and to recognize that judgment ultimately belongs to God (Deuteronomy 1:16–17). Thus, the judge in this story is incompetent and unqualified for the job. Justice was not being served.

A needy widow repeatedly comes before the judge to plead her case. According to Jewish law, widows deserve special protection under the justice system (Deuteronomy 10:1824:17–21James 1:27). But this unjust judge ignores her. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up.

Eventually, the judge says to himself, “I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:4–5, NLT). The widow gets the justice she was seeking. Then Jesus explains His point: if an uncaring, unfit, ungodly judge answers with justice in the end, how much more will a loving and holy Father give what is right to His children?

We do not always get immediate results when we pray. Our definition of swift justice is not the same as the Lord’s definition. The parable of the persistent widow demonstrates that effective prayer requires tenacity and faithfulness. A genuine disciple must learn that prayer never gives up and is based on absolute trust and faith in God. We can fully count on the Lord to answer when, where, and how He chooses. God expects us to keep on asking, seeking, knocking, and praying until the answers come (Matthew 7:7–8). Disciples of Jesus are people of persistent faith.

The parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge is similar to the parable of the persistent neighbor (Luke 11:5–10), another lesson in Jesus’ teachings on prayer. While both parables teach the importance of persistence in prayer, the story of the widow and the judge adds the message of continued faithfulness in prayer.

Jesus presents a final quiz on the matter at the end of the parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge. He asks, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8, NLT). Just as Paul stresses in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, continual devotion to prayer should be a way of life. The Lord wants to know if He will find any faithful prayer warriors left on the earth when He returns. Will we be among God’s people still praying at Christ’s second coming, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10)?

Faithful, never-ceasing, persistent prayer is the permanent calling of every true disciple of Christ who is dedicated to living for the Kingdom of God. Like the persistent widow, we are needy, dependent sinners who trust in our gracious, loving, and merciful God alone to supply what we need. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 26, 2020, titled, The Power of Persistent Prayer,” on apastorsview.org by Dr. Jim Denison, co-founder and the CVO of Denison Forum, he writes:

2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.

It started as 1973, with the impeachment proceedings. Then it became 1918 with the coronavirus pandemic. It added 2008 (and maybe 1929) with the recession. Then it added 1968 with racial issues. None of the last three will end any time soon, and we can add the election this fall.

Psychologists distinguish between acute stress, something we experience in the face of immediate but short-term challenges, and chronic stress, which is ongoing and debilitating. Of the two, chronic stress can especially lead to depression and other physical and psychological challenges.

If you’re like me, the chronic nature of our challenges is becoming discouraging and worse. Your congregation probably feels the same way.

In this context, I wanted to share a reminder that has been encouraging me in recent days, one drawn from what is perhaps Jesus’ most misunderstood parable.

A rude neighbor

You know his story in Luke 11 about the persistent neighbor who knocks at a friend’s door at midnight to ask for bread he can serve a guest. The man’s reluctance is understandable: Common homes in Jesus’ day were one room, with one window and a door. The first two-thirds of the room was a dirt floor where the animals slept for the night. The back one-third was a raised wooden platform with a charcoal stove around which the entire family slept. For this man to get up at midnight he must awaken his family and then his animals just to get to the door.

In Jesus’ story, the neighbor gets up despite all this—the rudeness, the inconvenience, the breach of social custom—because of the man’s “impudence.” The Greek word means “shameless refusal to quit.” He simply will not go away until the man gives him what he wants. And so he does.

So Jesus concludes: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 9). The Greek could be translated literally, “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Practice persistence with God.

A loving father

Now, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us? First, let’s dismiss what it doesn’t mean.

Jesus is not teaching that we can wear God out if we ask for something enough. That God is the man inside the house asleep, but if we come and bang on his door loud enough and long enough, he will give us what we want. Even if he doesn’t want to, if we keep asking, eventually we’ll receive what we want.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that very theology preached: if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for. Whether you want to be healed, or be wealthy, or anything at all, just ask in enough faith and it’s yours.

That is absolutely not the point here. Jesus is using a very common rabbinic teaching technique known in the Hebrew as theqal wahomer.” Literally, “from the light to the heavy.” Applied here, the point is this: if a neighbor at midnight would give you what you ask if you ask him, how much more will God answer our requests when we bring them to him.

They must be in his will, for his purposes and glory. This is no guarantee that enough faith will ever obligate God. It is a promise that if this man would hear his neighbor, how much more does God wish to do the same.

Why persistent prayer is so powerful

How does Jesus’ story relate to our need for persistent prayer in these challenging days?

Let’s admit that persistence in prayer is difficult for our fallen culture. Many in our secularized society are convinced that the spiritual is superstitious fiction. To them, praying to God is like praying to Zeus. If it makes you feel better, go ahead. But don’t persist in your prayers as though they make any real difference.

Our materialistic culture is also convinced that the material is what matters. Seeing is believing. You cannot see beyond the immediate, so why would you persist in doing something that doesn’t bring immediate results? If God doesn’t answer your prayer now, why keep praying it?

In the face of such skepticism, why do what Jesus taught us to do? Because persistent prayer positions us to experience God’s best.

Praying to God does not inform him of our need or change his character. Rather, it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.

Persistent prayer does something else as well: it keeps us connected to God so his Spirit can mold us into the image of Christ. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives in ways he cannot otherwise. The more we pray, continuing to trust our problems and needs to the Lord, the more he makes us the people he intends us to be and empowers us for the challenges we face.

An invitation from God

Jesus’ story invites us to define our greatest challenge as a pastor in these days. Name it before your Father. Continue to pray about it, knowing that persistent prayer connects you with his power and wisdom. Know that as you knock, the door will be opened, by the grace of God.

I walk in our Dallas neighborhood early each morning. This week, I came across a yard sign that impressed me greatly. It proclaimed: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” The first is true because the second is true.

There is hope for our past because Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and then rose from our grave. There is hope for our present because the living Christ is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). There is hope for our future because Jesus will come for us one day and is building our home in paradise right now (John 14:1–3).

Hope is alive because Jesus is alive. Why do you need to practice persistent prayer to him today?

It is always too soon to give up on God. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples (and that includes his followers today) in Luke 18:1

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

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