I just spent a few minutes reading the news headlines, and that was enough for me. The internet can be a wonderful thing, but one of the downsides is an absolute overload of information. A steady stream of this in our diet is surely bad for us, and we really do need to be careful about ingesting too much. But one good thing is that it certainly does keep the problem of the sinfulness of mankind in front of us - there is no forgetting it while reading today's news. We have a few choices in life when faced with such a broken world: we can despair, we can pretend that everything is okay, or we can do something to make the world better. I really love that third option! But, what can we do?
Recently, we were teaching at a student conference. My assignment led me to spend a significant amount of time in the book of Romans, chapter sixteen. We were using the salutations in Paul’s letter to this thriving early church in Rome - the capital city of what was arguably the most powerful and significant empire in the history of the world - as a snapsot into what the early Christian church looked like. It truly is a fascinating and thought-provoking study; men, women, Jew, Greek, Roman, young, old, rich, poor - all were represented in the leadersip of the New Testament church.
As I prepared, I could not help be struck by one of the last sentences in the chapter. It captured my attention like a bolt out of the blue…
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
This has got to be one of the most intriguing sentences of all time. It seems so contradictory, but is quite effective to make us pause and dig a bit deeper to understand. Can our God actually be peaceful if He crushes things?
The Peace of God is such a beautiful thing. We know that the shalom peace of God is part of His character. It is His wholeness, completeness, and contentment, and is available as a gift to every believer. But for today's thought, we must understand that peace can also be a term that has meaning only when juxtaposed with its counterpart of strife, or war. When used in this sense, we cannot understand one word without the other.
Since that dark day in the Garden of Eden, when man and woman disobeyed God and plunged of the cliff of sin and selfishness, the battle for the souls of mankind has been raging. The wicked prince of this dark world does all he can to steal, kill, and destroy, and to keep men and women fighting and striving with one another - remember the news headlines? So deep is his hatred for God, Satan seeks to keep men and women bound in chains of darkness and oppression, to keep mankind in perpetual hatred of one another, and to keep man and God separated forever.
But though our sin and selfishness made us His enemy, God Himself fights for us and rescues us. This is why the angels sang on the night of Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, goodwill to men on whom His favor rests!” When the Messiah was born, the end of the war was near. When Christ was crucified, the death blow was indeed struck - not to our Great God, but to Death itself. Jesus’ sacrifice paid the price for our sin and rebellion, bringing the possibility of peace between man and God again.
In every war, the winner of the battle sets the terms of peace, and the loser of the conflict must accept them. The enemy of our souls would have every man, woman, and child believe that there is no hope for mankind - that we are doomed forever. But Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The winner sets the terms of peace, and through Jesus’ finished work on the Cross, there can be peace between God and man as well as between man and man.
When Jesus delivered His great, revolutionary teaching on the Kingdom of God, the listeners were amazed. We are still amazed today. The Kingdom of God is utterly different than any kingdom or system we see here on earth, where the most ruthless and powerful often make it to the top, and where the one who has the most money or the most weapons or the loudest voice often ends up in power. But Jesus preaches of His Kingdom, which is entirely other - to win you must lose, to live you must die, and to love you must give yourself away.
In the beginning of this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers the Beatitudes, which are a description of what men and women who walk with Him in His Kingdom will look and act and be like. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” God graciously invites us to join Him in HIs Kingdom work of peacemaking. The battle is won, and He is patiently waiting until the most prisoners of war have been rescued and brought back into His Kingdom by those of us who accept this commission to be peacemakers in God's name.
At the student conference, one young man stood up to give a testimony of a wonderful thing God had done in his life. He happens to be the younger son of our good friends, Scott and Crystal. Even if I had not already known who this student was, I could have easily guessed after a minute or two - he is so remarkably like both his mother and his father. His tone, his mannerisms, and his words were unmistakable and everyone who knows the parents can see that this is their son.
In the same way, Jesus says we will be known as God’s children when we do what God has asked us to do with Him - make peace. This is what He does, so this is what we must do, with His tone, mannerisms, and words. Our assignment is to go and make disciples of all men and women (Matthew 28: 18-20) and to show them how peace with God is possible, and how peace with other people is possible. This is our mission, this is our call, this is what we must be about. This is precisely how we can make a difference in this hurting world.
The question becomes, am I a maker of peace or still a participant in strife? Do I properly reflect God as His son or daughter - do people look at me and see God, or do they just see more of the same old stuff the world has to offer? What do our churches reflect, our marriages, our relationships with family and friends - are we fully submitted to God and His peace? If we cannot honestly answer that we bring only peace and not more strife, then it is time for change. If we are to be peacemakers, then there is no room in our lives for strife. We must love one another, forgive one another, and choose to believe the best about one another.
When we take our place as sons and daughters of our King of Peace, and rightly represent Him, we can look at our college campuses and cities and know, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” God has done the hard work; He has saved us and made a way for peace. Now let’s bring it.
Make It Count
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
- 2 Timothy 4: 7-8
We are already two weeks into 2020 - a new year and a new decade! This year is special in my heart because it was exactly 30 years ago that I started a new chapter in my life, finishing high school and moving away to college in Stockton, California. I had no idea what lay in store for me there, but God’s plans turned out to be infinitely better than any of my own. During that first year at university, I met my wonderful husband, and both of our hearts and lives were gloriously revolutionized by Jesus. I am so grateful for all He has brought us through and for how amazing our experience has been so far.
As this new era begins, I am mindful of how quickly this life passes. Honestly, I cannot remember taking much time to process the turning of the new year and new decade in either 1999 or 2009 - in the former I had a three-year-old and an infant, and in the latter the girls were thirteen and ten. Eli and I were serving as campus pastors, and living the rich, busy life that comes with that season. Now we are in a different place - no less rich or even busy, but quite different nontheless. Now I can look back and see a full thirty years behind in my adulthood, and that makes me pause and take a personal inventory of my life. Have I made it count? Am I on a good trajectory of physical, mental, and spiritual health and of usefulness for the Kingdom of God?
I am delighted to say that the readers of this blog range in age from teenager to ninety years old. That means that some of you can see as many or even more years behind you than I can, and others of you are just beginning your race. I know from years in the ministry that it is quite normal for young people to be full of faith and zeal and hope. Interestingly, the same is true for many Christians as they near the end of their race. It is during the long decades in the middle that it is difficult to keep our eyes on the goal of Heaven forever with Jesus, and with as many people as we can bring with us. It is hard in this sleep-inducing, broken world to keep our attention fixed on the big picture and reality of God’s Kingdom.
One of the greatest lessons I learned in college took place in the swimming pool. I was a swimmer throughout all of my childhood, but have not a single fast-twitch muscle in my body, and so was recruited to swim the dreaded mile. This is the longest and most boring race in all of sports to watch - 1650 yards, which is 66 lengths in a 25-yard pool. It is also a very difficult race to learn to do properly.
My college coach was very wise. He taught us to view the race not as a whole, but as three distinct sections: the first 550, the second 550, and the third 550. When you swim a mile, 550 yards seems like a cakewalk, so we learned to tackle the race one 550 at a time.
Further, he taught us that the entire race is not won at the beginning for the person who starts the fastest, or even at the end depending on whether you can rally yourself to finish strong - the entire race is most often won by the person who is still paying attention and giving great effort in the middle of the middle 550. How easy it is to drift off and think about something - anything - else while you are swimming such a long race! How many times you get to the end and wish you had remembered to keep going strong in the middle. Of course, you can still finish if you forget about the middle, but you cannot get back the ground you lost.
As we enter a new year and a whole new decade, may the Lord help us to be mindful of our race - that we would fight the good fight and keep the faith.
-For those of you just beginning, keep going strong! Those of us just ahead of you are cheering for you and believe in you, and will do all we can to help you. Start your race with good, healthy habits and a strong committment to God and His Kingdom so you can look back years from now with no regrets, confident that you made these years count.
-For those of you nearing the end of your race here on earth, keep your eyes on our beautiful Savior and finish powerfully. Your life and testimony are so impactful to the ones following behind you, and you have such great wisdom and guidance to impart. Sow hope and life deeply into the younger generations.
-For those of us in the middle of the race, let us strive to give our best effort here. May we not get to 2030, should Jesus tarry, and wish we could do the entire decade over again. May we not fall into the temptation to live for selfish gain, or to remain for even one more day in deeply-engrained unhealthy habits. May this decade be one of life and health and hope, and of great purpose in the Kingdom of God as we long for His appearing.
Are you ready for a fresh start in your walk with the Lord in 2020? Kingdom Minded is a great tool for you and your small group to learn to walk with God in health and wholeness. Click the link to order your copy today!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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