Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where Peace Grows

Last night, after a “peaceful” and relaxing day in Santa Barbara, our family drove home to a much anticipated good night’s rest…and it was, until about three in the morning when the sound of a car crash and broken glass awakened us from sleep. Startled by the sound my wife Lisa sprang out of bed to see what was going on but didn’t see anything suspicious. Naturally, I stayed in bed (so much for the man of the house doing his part). But in the morning, we saw the stop sign across from our house (that symbol of law and order) smashed and bent all the way to the ground. Obviously someone (no doubt intoxicated) had failed to negotiate the turn and plowed into it. I thought for a moment about this person who was obviously in need of “peace.” It was another reminder to me of the “un-peace” that is part of our daily lives…whether it’s the lack of peace between parties arguing about health care, or between family members, or between nations, or within our own fractured souls. We all want peace -- especially the shalom of Scripture…which means “wholeness” in all dimensions of life -- but how to achieve it, that’s the question. As Paul addresses the main conflict in Philippi from a prison cell (Phil. 4: 2-9) we learn from where his own peace comes, and how this same peace can grow in us.

Peace grows in the community…that reconciles and rejoices in the Lord. Paul writes: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord….help these women for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel…. Rejoice in the Lord always…. Let your gentleness be known to everyone” (Phil. 4: 2-5).

Peace flows from the community that reconciles in the Lord. Paul begins making references to the need for unity in the Philippian church back in chapter 1, but now he addresses the main problem: “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” Notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about the nature of the disagreement. He simply urges them to get along. Consider for a moment what a great help these women obviously were to Paul for he says that they “struggled beside” him in the work of the gospel: The greek verb sunathleo is a strong word that means more than baking cookies side by side for the annual church potluck. It literally means to fight or contend against a common enemy or to labor together. As Jesus’ followers, we will disagree on secondary issues…on politics…on the best way to provide healthcare… on the causes of global warming… on where to send our children to school, or where to sit in church. In the Book of Acts, we learn that Paul and Barnabus disagreed about bringing John Mark with them on their 2nd missionary journey: so they agreed to disagree! What Paul insists is not that these women agree on every point of personal preference…but that they be of the same mind in the Lord. That is, that they refuse to allow their disagreements to become more important than Jesus; that they pursue wholeness and not allow division; that they never forget they are family, sisters in the Lord.

As one example, my own congregation, like many, has had disagreements about worship music; but I think we know that we cannot let such differences divide our community. Our commitment to show forbearance toward one another and to embrace different styles of music is God-pleasing...but it is regularly tested. It is the enemy who wants to sow division and selfishness, generational strife, and a spirit of grumbling. We hear Jesus call out to us: “I urge you to practice forbearance, to be patient with one another, to forgive one another, and to love one another for my sake!”

Peace flows from a community that reconciles...and peace flows from the community that rejoices in the Lord. Paul has said again and again that we have cause for rejoicing. We have cause for real hope about the future. Why? Because we are rejoicing in the Lord. If he is the reason for our life together, he is also the reason for our deepest joy. This joy is directly related to the call to gentleness in v. 5. For this word signifies an attitude of gracious humility in situations where I could legitimately insist on my rights but for the sake of others do not do so. There is a freedom which Christ gives us not to always be the winner, not to always need the last word; it’s a gentleness that promotes reconciliation and it's the fruit of a joyful heart that trusts God to work everything out for the good.

But notice that Paul calls upon his “loyal companion” which may refer to an individual or the entire church "to help" these women (The verb sullambano literally means “to take and to bring together” those who may be the furthest apart. Imagine that you are watching a rock concert in a stadium of 100,000 people. As the concert nears its emotional highpoint, you happen to see see a friend in the front row with your binoculars and then, by chance, you see another friend at the top of the stadium with whom your first friend has had a petty disagreement. Though they haven't spoken for over a year, you are moved to be the "loyal companion." You walk to the top row of the stadium, grab your friend by the hand and lead him down to the front row where you join his hand with the hand of your other friend. Caught up in the joy of the moment, they realize that there is more that unites them then that which divides them -- and that "something more" is you and the friendship that you share. That's sullambano... taking and bringing together, the ministry of reconciliation. The work of reconciliation and re-joicing in the church is not someone else’s responsibility: it’s my responsibility and yours…given to us by Christ himself as part of his healing ministry. Jesus not only longs to bring peace and wholeness to broken bodies, he longs to bring his peace to broken relationships. And we are his helpers in that task.

Secondly, peace grows in the heart that prays…about every area of life. “Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4: 6-7). The wisdom that Paul offers here was not untested. Remember that Paul had to do battle with anxiety too. He says as much in chapter 2 when he talks about sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi so that he may be “less anxious” (2:28). Paul was facing the possibility of execution, not to mention the burden of caring for the many churches that he planted…but he learned that in prayer this anxiety was lifted…and that the peace of God surpassing understanding stood guard over his heart and mind.
Look at the breathtaking scope of prayer here! Paul says, “in everything” let your requests be made known to God. Perhaps you’ve rolled your eyes at the idea of praying for good weather at your kid's soccer game, or for a parking place at the supermarket. Sure, our prayers should also focus on more serious matters, but Paul says we can and should pray about every area of life – no exceptions. N.T. Wright rightly reminds us that “If it matters to us, it matters to God.” This is what Brother Lawrence called, “Practicing the Presence of God” – inviting him to be our inseparable companion and friend in every aspect of our lives, realizing that he is already there with us, to speak and consult with at any moment. Now when it comes to anxiety and worry, Paul zeroes in on two types of prayer: asking and thanksgiving. Let’s take them in reverse order.

There is nothing like giving thanks to counteract worry, grumbling, and self-pity. As God’s people we have so much to be grateful for…the gift of his people, friendship and family, daily provision, the privilege of knowing and serving him, the promise of his forgiveness and eternal life. Thanksgiving always seems right…but is asking things from God really OK? Jesus encouraged us to ask the Father for things, remembering that he longs to give “good gifts” (Matt. 7: 10) including the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13) to those who ask.

You love your children. You would do anything for them. You clothe them, you feed them. You provide for their education. But you have worries and concerns about them. You carry around great bundles of wishes for your children. But have you asked the Father about them? Jesus says, “Just ask.” You are a student. Perhaps you’ve grown up in the church. Intellectually, you have a firm grasp of the Christian faith. Still, you have doubts. You are struggling with moral issues. You are seeking answers. You wish that God would make himself more real to you. But have you made it a prayer? Jesus says, “Just ask” Work is a daily grind. The people you spend 8 hours a day with are demanding, critical, and they care nothing about God. It’s a challenge just to get up in the morning. You talk to yourself and others about your problems all day long. But are you talking to the Father about your work associates? Jesus says, “Just ask”. You have a friend with a health problem. You’re concerned about it. Who wouldn’t be? You’ve told them, “I’ll be keeping you in my prayers?” Are you? Are you talking to the Father about this person? Or are you just practicing the “power of positive thinking”? Jesus says, “Just ask!”

Finally, peace grows in the mind that is focused…on God’s goodness “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4: 8). Today we’re deluged with digital billboards that change their message every five seconds; pop up adds on our computer, commercial slogans on t-shirts, caps and the seats of other people’s pants. Our bodies are tattooed with messages, and images. At Dodger Stadium, I saw the words, “Think Blue” and then on the Jumbo Tron, a cancer hospital flashed the slogan, “Think Cure!” Then, an airship floated by later that was essentially telling me to “Think Beer.” How is a guy supposed to make up his own mind?!

When a program tries to make a change to my computer, my anti-virus software gives me an alert message. “Do you want to allow this potentially harmful change to your registry?” Each day I make choices about what I am going to allow into my mind, my thoughts, and set before my eyes. The evil one would much rather have us focus on what is untrue, impure, unjust, ugly, vicious, and blameworthy rather than on what is “true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy.” As Roger Daltrey used to sing, let's "get on our knees and pray we won't get fooled again" (The Who, Won't Get Fooled Again)!

And we won't...if we'll open God’s word and let it inform our thoughts and attitudes each day. We won't as we come to worship and focus each week on the truth of the gospel through music, art, prayers, and the spoken word. We won't if we'll commit ourselves to a community where we discuss and “consider” again the divine principles upon which one may build a life. We won't as we intentionally serve others, practicing selflessness instead of selfishness. No doubt some will object: “Heah! I want to be open to think of anything, imagine anything, see everything. This is America!” Just remember that you must also take the consequences. Dallas Willard remarks: "If you choose to step off the roof, you can’t then choose not to hit the ground" (Renovation of the Heart, p. 159ff.) Of course, random thoughts are beyond our total control, but what we intentionally dwell upon is. Luther said, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Paul ends this section with a promise that the God of peace will be with those who practice what they have learned. “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (v. 9). Friends, it takes more than reading a blog or hearing a sermon about this…it takes practice. Do I ever worry? Of course I do, but I've discovered first hand that the gift of peace and wholeness is given to the those who reconcile and rejoice in the spirit of gentleness and forbearance. I have learned that the gift of peace and wholeness is given to those who know they can pray, rather than worry, about every aspect of life. I have enjoyed the gift of peace and wholeness when I have focused my mind on the goodness of God rather than its opposite. So let's get busy practicing what we've learned…asking for God’s gift of wholeness as we seek to mend broken relationships and be reconciled with those with whom we have disagreed; seeking prayer about those things that worry us today, and focusing our minds on the goodness of God and his promises for those who come boldly to his throne of grace!

No comments: