Is Peace with the World a Reasonable Goal?
Prince of Peace

By now you may have heard about Christian celebrities who have either renounced their faith or are in the process of losing their faith.

The most recent celebrity to do so is Marty Sampson, a lyricist long associated with Hillsong and whose songs many of us have sung in our churches. Sampson wrote:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.”

He has since deleted the comment and qualified it by saying he was “struggling with many parts of the belief system that seem so incoherent with common human morality” and his faith is on “incredibly shaky ground.”

Struggling with doubts and questions is not unusual. Of course, few Christians have the kind of public platforms that people such as Marty Sampson and Josh Harris have.

But as Sampson tries to figure out how to get his spiritual life back on solid ground, it’s worth asking about his goal. Is his goal peace with the world, as he mentioned? Because if it is, then Christianity will never give him what he’s seeking, as these Bible verses attest:

  • Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
    ~ Romans 12:2 ESV
  • “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” ~ James 4:4 ESV
  •  “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
    ~ I John 3:13 ESV

With growing animosity, our culture has set itself against the God of the Bible. Yes, to the point of hatred, including hatred of those who identify as Christ-followers. Even so, Christians are not to respond with hate in return. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

But loving our enemies is not the same as being at peace with the world. For the foundation of a Christian’s faith will always put us at odds with a world system that has declared itself too wise to need God and too independent to be accountable to Him. A world which, at best, mocks our faith and, at worst, kills Christians who profess to belief in the God who sent His Son to die for those who hate Him.

Is Sampson, along with others, willing to obtain peace with the world at the cost of compromising or renouncing his Christian beliefs? Does he understand it’s those beliefs that engendered the hostility to begin with?

What about you and me?

  • Is peace with the world worth losing peace with God (Romans 5:1)?
  • Is acceptance by our culture worth giving up the acceptance we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:6)?
  • And is the temporary approval of the world worth losing our eternal identity in Christ (Galatians 1:10)?

Peace—real peace—is found in a relationship with the Prince of Peace. A relationship with the world apart from Jesus Christ can only provide a poor imitation.

The Christian life is the sum of more than just singing emotional songs and quoting Bible verses. It includes a willingness to endure suffering and the loss of the approval of others. Jesus Christ showed us what that looks like:

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Easier said than done? Yes. But not impossible, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, the choice is ours to make.

What will you choose?


 
Anniversaries of Grief and a Year of Firsts
Grief
Image by Manie Van der Hoven from Pixabay

Anniversaries are usually celebrated. They often mark days we want to remember. Days of joy that make us thankful. Birthdays. Wedding anniversaries. Adoption days.

But we mark some anniversaries reluctantly. Wishing the day did not exist. Hoping it’s all just a bad dream. The memory of those days brings grief, not celebration. Sadness, not joy. We look back, not ahead.

This past week contained one of those days for me. It marked the first anniversary of my husband’s graduation to heaven. “Graduation to heaven” sounds so much better than “death.” But it doesn’t change the fact that, either way, decades of marriage are suddenly gone.

You probably have similar anniversaries in your own life.

The loss of someone precious.

A traumatic accident.

The end of a marriage or other long-term relationship.

This kind of anniversary represents an event thrust upon us. A day we have no choice as to whether to accept. It’s there. The elephant in the room.

So what’s the point? If God uses all things to work together for the ultimate good of His children (Romans 8:28), how do we process these events? How can they possibly work good in and for us?

Here’s some of the “good” I experienced this past year:

  • The end of myself as I’ve learned reliance on my heavenly Father in a new & deeper way.
  • Development of perseverance when it’s difficult or lonely or I’m just plain weary.
  • Learning humility in asking for help.
  • Accepting a new identity as I’ve had to check a new box: widow. Yet married or widowed, both labels are overridden by my most important identity: a child of God
  • Cultivating a new perspective of the future by accepting uncertainty and embracing God’s sovereignty.
  • And finally, appreciating the reality that heaven feels closer and more real because a part of my heart is there.

As I wrote in a recent social media post:

One year today.
One year since my life partner was called Home.
One year that can feel like one day, and other times, one decade.

One year of living without the one who divided my sorrows and multiplied my joys.
One year of pursuing challenges without my strongest cheerleader. 
One year of learning to live without the one who loved me unconditionally, covered my weaknesses, and celebrated my strengths.

One year of swimming in the sea of my heavenly Father’s grace through His Son, Jesus.
One year of finding comfort in the Holy Spirit who showed me how to enjoy the gift of shared love, and who shows me how to rest in His peace now that it’s gone.

One year of living in hope, looking forward to the day when years will never be counted again.

How are you processing the losses in your life?
How has God grown you in the process?


 
How Well Are You Known?
Know and Be Known

Twenty years ago, I moved from New York City to a much smaller city in Florida. More of a small town, actually. I welcomed the fresh air, the slower pace, and the improved quality of life.

But I also needed to make some adjustments…

  • About a week after our move, after a particularly long day unpacking boxes, we tried getting a pizza delivered. Several phone calls later, we discovered nothing remained open after 10PM.
  • The satellite post office near our home closed for lunch each day.
  • I was late for church one morning because a cow stood in the road and a sheriff’s deputy blocked the street with his car while we waited for the cow to move.

One of the biggest adjustments I had to make was in realizing I could not leave the house without running into someone I knew. Someone from church or from our neighborhood. Someone from the interdenominational Bible study I attended or from the non-profit agency where I volunteered. The anonymity of living in a big city disappeared faster than a bag of M&Ms® at a chocoholic’s convention.

But that was nothing compared to what I’ve experienced lately on the Internet. Facebook seems to know exactly what ads fit my interests. One order on the Barnes & Noble website resulted in emails touting products geared to my interests. The website Spokeo.com contains detailed information about me and anyone for whom I might be searching.

Total strangers seem to know me very well.

To know and be known – truly known – is our deepest desire. Even the apostle Paul noted, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

God created us to know and be known. He created us to be intimately related to Him. He revealed Himself in His Word using a variety of names and attributes to help us know who He is and how He works. We learn from His Word that He is perfectly righteous and just, absolutely faithful and merciful, and truly trustworthy and holy. And because He is who He is, we can trust the most intimate facets of our life to Him. His Spirit resides in His children and nothing surprises Him – He knows the ugliest details and loves us anyway.

When we’re in a right relationship with the Lord, we’ll have the confidence to be vulnerable and transparent in our relationships with others. To know and be known is a gift, not just with God, but with fellow travelers on the road of life.

If you’re not as intimate with the Lord as you would like, what will you do about it?


 
Spiritual, Religious, or Christian?
Spiritual, Religious, or Christian

Is being spiritual the same as being religious? And are either of those the same as being a Christian?

A recent Barna Group study, revealed that despite a growing indifference among millennials, they have an openness to different forms of faith-sharing.

The Barna Group noted,

“For instance, non-Christians and lapsed Christians who say spirituality plays a significant role in their life, and / or that they have unanswered spiritual questions (more “spiritually curious” types), tend to be more open to a variety of settings to explore questions of faith. On the other hand, those who say otherwise (less “spiritually curious” types) are less open.”

The phrase that caught my attention is, “non-Christians and lapsed Christians who say spirituality plays a significant role in their life….” This quote reminded me of the substantial difference between spiritual, religious, and Christian.

Many people identify as spiritual who want nothing to do with religion in general or Christianity in particular. Spirituality is related to an interest in humanity’s inner condition—the non-material facet of our existence. But spirituality can also include interest in psychic or mystical activity.

Those who identify as religious may also identify as Christian. But these terms are not synonymous. Religion can refer to a belief in a variety of gods and is usually related to a particular method of worship.

These worship practices are often transactional in nature. For example, worshippers follow certain practices in return for expected blessing from the God or gods they worship.

Many Christians can fall into this trap, as well. It’s why they become angry or bitter at God when bad things happen. They expect a quid pro quo for their good deeds, saying things such as, “I’ve gone to church every week and served in ministry. I give money to charity. So why did you allow this to happen to me, God?”

Biblical Christianity goes far beyond both spirituality and religion, even though all three terms are often used interchangeably. True Christianity is about an intimate relationship with the one, true, living God—the God who gave us the greatest gift: the gift of a restored relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. This relationship is based on the new life the Holy Spirit brings, not on what we demand God to do for us in exchange for our worship. 

Timothy Keller once said, “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.” What an accurate description of the difference!

So how do you identify yourself: spiritual, religious, or Christian?

Do you find God useful…or beautiful?


 
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