Shaping Peace Together

One of my favorite sports is football because of the number of people it takes to make even one play successful. It’s such an important reminder, especially in this year that we’re navigating through, that we are part of a team, we do need the other players on the team to help us with things we’re not capable of doing including help our lives run smoother, and we have a responsibility to contribute too. Today on International Day of Peace the UN is using the theme of “Shaping Peace Together,” encouraging and reminding us that it’s only together that we’ll be able to achieve a level of peace that empowers us to make the world a better place, one where we’re not constantly trying to rebuild.

Can you imagine if we had been in the middle of a war when the virus started to take over our world? It’s been difficult enough to be working through the many racial injustices and natural disasters we’ve faced this year, I can’t imagine if our nation or other nations were also sending men and women into war or that there were families in danger zones. I suppose it’s a small thing to be be thankful for this year in a year where there have been so many challenges.

Looking at the Bible one of the things that has always stood out to me is the huge variety of people that God taps to contribute. He uses big players, small players, people who aren’t known by name by most even if the story they’re part of is well known, people whose very small actions played a role in the lives of some of God’s bigger players, and of course tons of teamwork (even if the players don’t see it as teamwork).

Mark 16:15b says “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” One of the big topics that the New Testament tackles is that Jesus blew open the door on who was welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven. Historically it was known to be only Jews, but in the New Testament it was revealed several times and in several ways that God wants to save everyone who is willing to be saved. Yes, sometimes people like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa come along and do the work of bringing the gospel to tons of people, but more often than not, the gospel is spread person-to-person, just like peace is spread.

Yes, you can absolutely make a statement that you want everyone to choose peace and even make a law or rule about it. But it’s only when the individuals of a town, county, state, nation or world choose to step up that peace is truly possible. So on this day meant to encourage peace, how can you help peace spread further and be a reality to more people?

Satisfyingly Quiet

I love writing, it’s why I blog multiple times a week on several blogs and write newsletters and a devotional each week (I also happen to love to read both fiction and non-fiction, but one doesn’t necessarily relate to/influence the other). Sometimes when I sit down I’ve got something really specific on my mind or heart to write about, other times I’m sparked by something I read in an email or saw in the news, other times I’m sharing about something I saw out and about in the world, sometimes I write about something seasonal that I probably write about every year in one way or another.

Monday when I sat down to write this blog post I had a couple of ideas to write about but I kept getting stuck. I’m sure if you ask any author even those who are extremely prolific with book writing/publishing and put out several books a year can tell you that sometimes they sit down and either have a block or decide that everything they’ve written so far is better off deleted than shared. Sometimes like in any other aspect of life you decide that you’ve given it your best effort and accept it as it is, or decide that it’s going to fulfill the bridge purpose it has (i.e. it bridges between two books/posts/topics) because not doing something is not an option or you’re being too picky on yourself.

But as I was reflecting on what to write today I came back to something we’ve taken a bit of a step back from in recent days/weeks, and that’s quiet time. We sure had a lot of it in the earlier months of the year, but now we’ve gotten back into some social gatherings and the busyness that comes with autumn and school and I don’t think we’re stopping to reflect and listen and be peaceful and just appreciate being alive like we did several months ago. We’ve scaled back and made changes that can benefit us long term, but I don’t think we should lose the appreciation for life or the quiet moments that we added to our lives through the challenges of this year.

Yes, we like when we talk to God and when He talks with us. Yes, we like when we’re able to gather together, or at the very least chat on the phone or by video chat. But there’s something fulfilling and satisfying about being quiet and just hearing nature or being alone with your own thoughts or just sitting and meditating with God. So this week as you make plans (however tentative they may be) for the rest of the month and maybe the rest of the year, I encourage you to plan in some quiet time each day, or at least each week to give yourself time and space mentally and physically to just be.

Representing Jesus

Over the past week my heart has been breaking all over again with regards to some of the people that we share this world with. We’ve learned in recent days of violent acts with no pursuit of justice, and tons of rude, inconsiderate and violent acts of people towards others with regard to social distancing, masks and plain and simple human courtesy and decency. We’ve seen many signs of people supporting each other in whatever ways they can right now, but there’s also been an embarrassing amount of lost human decency over the past few weeks. Almost as if the virus has had two different influences in the population: one good, one bad.

Colossians 3:17 says “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

There are lots of ways that we can live up to what this verse says, and Jesus certainly showed a whole variety of them. Sometimes we are a representative by doing or talking about spiritual things, but more often than not it isn’t specifically about or through a spiritual action or word. After all, faith is a very personal practice. Yes, God asks us to share about Him with the world, but there’s a lot more that goes on in any person’s life than what they share with the world, and God has a personal relationship with each of us.

But there are some words are used in the Bible and encouraged by Jesus that speak to the most basic ways to be a representative for Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). You don’t have to have one specific faith practice to be able to do any of them, nor would it be assumed that you were of a faith practice by doing any of them.

There’s still a lot of struggle to work through, a lot more patience that’s needed from all of us around the world, and a lot more teamwork than we’ve probably ever seen before. I can’t answer to the medical and scientific side of this virus, but I can definitely answer to the human side and where it has to go from here. If we aren’t willing to accept the value in the lives of the other humans around us, if we aren’t willing to be patient with each other, if we can’t learn to truly care for others even a fraction as much as we do ourselves, then we’ll never be able to even come close to realizing the dreams we have for our world, let alone be able to look back on this virus many years from now with any kind of positivity or pride.

Peace and Quiet

This year for December’s devotionals I’m going to be sharing about the topic of Advent. If you’re not familiar with Advent, it’s a tradition that’s been in religious circles for hundreds of years, most typically practiced with an Advent wreath that has candles around it (typically 4 candles around the wreath and one in the center), although there are other traditions. For those who do celebrate Advent with a wreath, the candles can signify different things depending on the faith group you belong to, and I’ve always associated the Advent wreath and candles with some specific words, which we’ll be talking about throughout the month.

While it’s not a traditional week one topic, I wanted to start the month by talking about peace. For people of faith one of the first words that comes up when we think about Christmas is peace. There’s always been an association of Jesus in the manger with a peaceful, perfect night with some gentle sheep and local shepherds gathered around. Rarely is giving birth a quiet, peaceful experience, and if you’ve been around an infant, there’s some peace and quiet, yes, but there’s also noise and smells and needs to take care of that often interrupt sleep for the adults. The same is true for sheep, they aren’t exactly great at creating peace with the noises and smells that they make.

Peace is sometimes about our circumstances, including that picture perfect moment we imagine in the manger or that moment we’re all gathered around a Christmas tree. But peace is also found in the words of Psalm 46:10 which says “”Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”” and Luke 2:19 which says “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (after the shepherds stopped by and told them about the angels).

We each have a choice how we approach and take in this holiday season. We can choose to be bringers of peace into the world, or we can choose to add to the chaos. I would encourage you to celebrate this holiday season with the wonder that Mary experienced and take the time to be still and experience all that is going on around you, and all that God is doing too.

Peace and Gratitude

Saturday is both International Peace Day and World Gratitude Day. Both gratitude and peace are topics that we talk about a lot and are so crucial to our society becoming a healthy community rather than one fraught with tension, hatred and violence. Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how you can have more peace in your life and how gratitude can positively impact your life.

Let’s start with gratitude. Why? Because having more gratitude towards life and each other can help increase the amount of peace we have and spread into the world. A simple place to start infusing your life with gratitude is to say “thank you” more often. Say ‘thank you’ when someone holds the door open for you, say ‘thank you’ when you remember where you put something, say ‘thank you’ when someone helps you with a project at work, say ‘thank you’ when you get a gift, say ‘thank you’ when someone hands you a plate at a meal, say ‘thank you’ when you wake up, say ‘thank you’ when you go outside and see a beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds, say ‘thank you’ when you get good news, say ‘thank you’ when you get done with that day’s top priorities.

Those are just a few of the opportunities each day you may have to be thankful, but with each one comes the opportunity to say out loud or just think the words ‘thank you’ to reinforce to others and your own brain the good things that have happened. Having lots of gratitude in your life doesn’t mean that things won’t go wrong or won’t be discouraging from time to time, but if we’re more focused on being grateful we won’t be the wet rag in our relationships, at our places of employment, or on social media, the person who contributes to the violence and hatred in the world.

So how do we have more peace in our lives? Start by saying ‘no’, ending relationships, and leaving situations that hurt you physically or mentally. Making separation, however big or small especially to start, from the people and situations that tend to get us into trouble, increase our stress levels and cause us hours and days of anxiety, frustration, angst and hurt will help us create more peace in our lives. You may not be able to make full separations from some of these situations now or ever, but the more separation you can make, the more you can do to remove yourself from situations you know will trigger you, the more opportunities you’ll have to put yourself into situations that will be good for your physical and mental health and leave you with a feeling of peace.

Like many other things, gratitude and peace begin with you. You can’t make anywhere near the impact on the world around you if you don’t start with your own life first. What role do gratitude and peace play in your life?

Thoughts on Violence, Peace and Healing

Again in the past days and week we’re struggling with three shootings and people killed and injured. It’s still in early days to know the reasons behind shootings and if there was a specific target (and we rarely get the full story), but regardless of why it’s heartbreaking and hurtful to think about.

When it comes to topics of faith we talk a lot about peace and love, but what I really wanted to talk about today was the fact that there is another side to this. Ephesians 4:25-28a, 31 says: “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. If you are a thief, quit stealing….Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”

These verses talk about the very real fact that we deal with anger, bitterness, and rage. Few if any people are truly immune to the darker emotions of life. Experiencing them from time to time doesn’t mean that we’re evil, it just means we’re human. The choice we have to make is how we deal with those emotions: do we respond to them by killing others or going to workout at the gym or talking through them with a counselor? Two of those are healthy ways of dealing with those emotions, the other isn’t.

God is the God of healing among many other things. He can heal our world, our hearts, our minds, our relationships and our emotions. But we have to be willing to let that happen and we have to invest in making that healing happening by avoiding our triggers, learning to take breaks before things escalate, doing what we know is good for us, and spending time with people who are good for us. This week I encourage you to pray for healing for our world, for people to continue to step up and admit the struggles they’ve faced and how they’ve gotten help for it or that they need help, and for everyone to be open and sensitive to the fact that what they see is likely only a small part of what’s going on in a person’s life. This is both an individual and a community battle, we can’t get it done alone but we have to start with ourselves.

This is an excerpt of my weekly devotional, learn more and subscribe here

Time for Quiet

One of the things that Jesus didn’t have much of while He was on earth was quiet. Yes, there are some recorded moments of Him trying to find some quiet, but He wasn’t really here for much quiet time, He was here to share a message with others, and the primary way of sharing that message was through words. He did a great job sharing that message and inspiring people to continue spreading that message long after He was gone.

But what about those quiet moments? Jesus did have a couple, one of the more famous ones is the story of Jesus sleeping in a boat during a big storm in Matthew 8. The story goes that Jesus was taking a few moments to Himself to have a nap but when the storm burst upon them, His disciples were afraid so they woke Him, He calmed the storm and they were amazed.

If even Jesus needed naps and quiet moments, don’t we more so? Why have we let our society and lives get so focused on activity levels and productivity? Why don’t we include things like naps and/or quiet time as part of our regular schedules? Why do we have to work through lunch and eat at our desks? Why do we rarely have 2 minutes to ourselves?

Maybe it has to do with the fear of being left behind or not being good enough or missing out on important things. Some countries and businesses are doing research into schedules and numbers of work days in a week and productivity, and you may remember the book that came out several years ago that shared the possibility of having a 4 hour work week. I don’t know that all of us could manage or even want a 4 hour work week or a 4 day work week, but I do know that we need to find a better balance in our lives so that we can experience more peace and feel less rushed and pressured.

If Jesus can take a break, I think we all can as well. How will you begin to incorporate peace and relaxation into your life on a regular basis?

On a Mission of Peace

Yesterday here in the US we took the time to remember the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice and died in the line of duty to their country. It’s a solemn and serious day, one that many suffer through because we reached an unavoidable situation where it was necessary to fight and go to war and put their lives on the line. Don’t get me wrong, I know that some people only can listen when they’re practically smacked in the face by the strength that can only be stated through violence/the military. I fully support the soldiers past, present and future, and their families. But I wish that we didn’t have to resort as often to violence and war.

So as I was working on my weekly devotional over the weekend, I ran across a couple of verses that spoke not only to the real work of the men and women of the military (the men and women of the military are typically known as those who fight, but what they’re really doing is working towards peace for more people), but also to how the large percentage of the rest of the world who aren’t in the military can help us advance peace in the world too.

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5-6

Romans 15 is an encouragement to choose to live in harmony with each other. I really think it is a choice, it’s something we could easily skip (and many do), but I think that we would all find we enjoy life more when we’re working together on life rather than fighting or being stuck in our own ways and not considering the needs or health of others. We’re also reminded that it’s our opportunity as followers of Christ to be the ones to start that journey and turn things from potentially adversarial to supportive. But because of that relationship with Christ we also have some extra tools when it comes to making peace:

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18

James 3 lays out a whole lot of ways we can create better, healthier, happier, more peaceful relationships, using the wisdom and heart we get from God. It is a lot to take in or try to do all at once, so I would pick one or two and start with that and work up to adding more in, or if you like more variety in your life you can pick 7 and alternate through them on a daily basis each week. Even if you just picked one and worked on it for the rest of your life, you would be making a positive impact on the people you connect with and helping to create more peaceful communities. What will you do to honor our military and advance peace in [your corner of] the world?

A Life of Mindfulness

One of the things I enjoy about Lent is how it encourages us to really be mindful about our lives and what goes on in them, where we go, what we say, how we live, the choices we make. People talk about the importance of taking time to meditate, and I certainly believe that quiet time can help you work thoughts or problems out or just help to find a little peace in all the chaos of life today. But some people struggle to find time to meditate and some struggle with the concept of sitting and being still and quiet. Which is where being mindful comes in.

Being mindful means that you’re attentive and aware according to the dictionary. Mindfulness is an opportunity for anyone to be more present in the moment, to be more conscious about what’s going on around them and what they’re doing and how they’re treating others, to think more before speaking or acting, and to be more appreciative both to the universe/God and others.

While most of us have (many) more tomorrows in front of us all we’re promised is the moment we’re living now. Being mindful can help you enjoy today and all yoru days more thoroughly, to make better decisions that will serve you both presently and in the future, to invest in the relationships that add the most value to your life, and make decisions that will positively impact the people and world around you. It can also help you be more even tempered and more at peace even with the chaos of the world and all the commitments we take on.

If “right now counts forever” as Dr. R.C. Sproul said, what are you doing with your right now? Is it something that you want to look back on forever? Will it help you build a better tomorrow? Are you working for more peace in your life and the world? What are you doing with your day today?

Peace for Christmas

One of the things that has always amazed me about the Biblical Christmas story is the amount of peace Mary has around the whole situation. It’s entirely likely that she was a teenager when she had Jesus (historically that’s when they often married). Today we’ve got a bunch of TV shows that show teenage pregnancies, and we’ve all been teenagers at one point in time, but imagining what it would be like to not only a mother but the mother of Jesus at that age is more than a bit intimidating. And yet after talking with the angel and hearing everything she seems remarkably accepting and at peace about everything.

It would take an incredible amount of trust and faith in God, yourself and in your partner to step into that situation. It’s not clear what Mary’s family thought of everything but the Bible does share about Joseph’s initial struggle with it, and the story as far as the participants is different than it may have been because of the forced trip to Bethlehem. But if you remember one of the key figures in Mary’s life, her cousin Elizabeth, was not only supportive, she was given a baby by God as well (John the Baptist).

Sometimes we have to take big steps of faith in our lives, especially if we can see how important or beneficial it would be. I know we sometimes struggle with change because it can be easier to not make changes and change typically makes waves for us and others. But what if you knew that forward moving journey had a big payoff in the end? It’s a lot more encouraging and calming to know that there’s a definite good result in the journey.

If you’re not at peace with the journey you’re currently on it’s time to take another look at that journey, your attitude and the people in your life. Are you trusting God to guide you? Are you at peace with the decisions you’ve made for it? Do you have the support you need to move forward successfully? Why don’t you have peace at the moment? What would bring you peace in this situation and during this journey (other than to be through it already)?