THE PEACE POLE – WORLD PEACE DAY

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. [Romans 12:18,21 (NLT)]

peace poleCOVID kept us from the Botanic Gardens for well over a year. When we finally returned to one of our favorite places, we came upon a peace pole planted among the palms, bamboo and bromeliads. Although a similar pole is in the city park downtown, I don’t remember seeing one here when last we visited. These poles are just two of the more than 250,000 that have been erected in over 180 nations.  Symbolizing the oneness of humanity, the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” are written in eight different languages. The languages chosen for this pole were English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hawaiian, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish—the languages of people who, like us, live at the 26th parallel north. Peace poles stand as a visual reminder to pray for peace on earth and to think, speak and act in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Forty years ago, the United Nations designated today as the annual International Day of Peace (commonly called World Peace Day). In 2011, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate it as a day of cease-fire and non-violence. They ask every person and nation to halt hostilities and fighting for this one twenty-four-hour period. Unfortunately, I doubt the world can make one hour, let alone twenty-four, without aggression, hostility and bloodshed. Hopefully, you and I can go longer than twenty-four hours without conflict or violent behavior!

The causes of world conflict are many and, according to the UN, include poverty, social inequality, hunger, dwindling natural resources, water scarcity, environmental decline, disease, corruption, racism, and xenophobia (an intense fear of foreigners). This year’s theme, “Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World,” continues the UN’s focus on finding ways to overcome those causes. Indeed, as our world struggles to recover from what seems to be a never-ending pandemic, we can see how the underprivileged and marginalized have been hit the hardest. In the last eighteen months, we have seen both the best and the worst of our fellow travelers on this planet. This day is a reminder that instead of fighting with one another, we should join in fighting mankind’s common enemies!

As Christians, we have the peace of God—the peace that passes understanding—but we must be more than possessors of peace. Jesus calls us to be makers of peace but erecting a peace pole is not enough! We can start by bringing peace to our little corner of the world, beginning at home and then moving on to work, school, church and community. Our peacemaking efforts, however, can’t stop at the borders of our neighborhood or even our nation. We must take Christ’s message of peace out into the world by thinking, speaking, and acting in the cause of peace. While we each have an obligation to improve the various conditions that promote conflict, changing people’s circumstances is just a beginning. For true peace, the peace that is found in a relationship with God, we must change people’s hearts.

World peace, while a lofty goal, is not something I expect to see in my lifetime. Nevertheless, we each must do our part.

We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ spoke much of peace on earth. [Henry Drummond]

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

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 (NLT)]

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FARMA – Part 2

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. [2 Corinthians 9:6 (NLT)]

Illisnois corn field - farmWhile we often reap what we’ve sown, farmers don’t plant on one day and expect to harvest the next and neither should we. No matter how good the soil, it usually takes about two weeks for a corn shoot to appear and two to three months before it’s ready for harvest. Spiritual farming is even less predictable than growing corn and we shouldn’t expect immediate results after sowing seeds of God’s love and Word. Rarely does an apology yield instant reconciliation, words of correction yield an immediate change, or our first witness produce an instantaneous conversion. It often takes considerable plowing and sowing to soften a hardened heart.

In both agriculture and “farma,” even with the best seeds, richest soil, and the farmer’s diligence in tending the field, not every seed sowed will survive to harvest. Between insects, wildlife, and weather, millions of farm acreage are ruined every year. For example, between 2020’s derecho windstorm and its late summer drought, nearly one million acres of crops in Iowa were destroyed. When seeds of God’s love and Word have been sowed, instead of animals or weather, it is Satan who ruins the crop. Just as wildlife steal soybeans and corn, he tries to steal every seed sown in God’s name. Just as hail and wind can break a cornstalk, by breaking down people with storms of his making, the enemy attempts to keep seeds of righteousness from maturing.

Sadly, not every seed will bear fruit and not every hand extended in love will be accepted. Not every person to whom we witness will respond, not every hearer will believe, and not every soul will be saved. Nevertheless, we are farmers in God’s world and our job is to cultivate His fields and sow His seed. Like the local farmers, we don’t give up when the crop is slow in coming or the enemy ruins the harvest. Even if we have to replough and reseed, we faithfully continue to do our part by sowing the seeds of God’s love and Word.

With nearly a third of the world’s population Christian, there are plenty of potential farmers. Unfortunately, that percentage has remained about the same for more than a century and appears to be dropping. Apparently, we haven’t been sowing anywhere near enough seeds to defeat the enemy and bring forth a bountiful harvest.

He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” [Matthew 9:37-38 (NLT)]

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FARMA – Part 1

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

zinniaFound in Buddhism and Hinduism, the concept of karma is the idea that how you live your life now determines the quality of life you’ll have after reincarnation. Christians, however, believe that “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,” [Hebrews 9:27] which means that karma, with its continual opportunities to get it right, is not compatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, the karmic idea of good and bad actions yielding similar consequences—that “what goes around comes around”—is present throughout the Bible. Because many of the Bible’s metaphors about cause and effect have to do with agriculture and farming, a pastor friend likes to call this concept “farma.”

When a seed is planted, it will produce a harvest only of that particular plant. Apple seeds only produce apples just as just as corn seeds only yield a harvest of corn. It’s much the same with people—we usually get whatever we plant in our relationships. More often than not, the seeds of kindness produce more kindness and thoughtfulness, the seeds of patience yield a harvest of patience and perseverance and, when truth is planted, the planter typically reaps truth and trust.

If, however, we plant weeds, that’s exactly what we’ll get. Just as thistle seeds won’t yield roses, seeds of rage won’t produce peace, those of confrontation won’t yield harmony, and seeds of selfishness won’t produce generosity. The harvest from seeds of deceit will probably be more lies while disloyalty reaps betrayal. We can’t sow hate and expect affection and compassion won’t bloom where callousness has been planted. When we sow discord, we should expect a harvest of conflict in return.

Good farmers and gardeners think seriously about the kind of seeds they’ll plant. They not only look for seeds that will yield a bountiful crop but also for ones that are resistant to weeds, disease and pests. Perhaps we need to spend some time every morning determining the sort of seeds we will plant in our lives and the lives of those we encounter during the day. What kind of crop do we want? What can we plant in the garden of our lives that will blossom into a bountiful harvest of good?

We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all. [Dorothy Day]

My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same. [Job 4:8 (NLT)]

Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

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WE CAN’T STAY IN SWITZERLAND

Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. [Matthew 12:30 (NLT)]

The Gospel is of such a nature, as to its offers and its claims, that it cannot tolerate indifference. [John Broadus]

The Matterhorn

I often say my daughter is our family’s Switzerland. If a dispute should occur between family members, while she is a sympathetic listener and wise advisor, like Switzerland, she remains neutral. Although staying impartial about certain issues is possible (and prudent when it involves family), there can be no neutral territory when it comes to Jesus.

We can be indifferent as to who wins the ball game, unsure of an explanation, apathetic toward a cause, impartial when it comes to a spat between our children, undecided about a candidate, and neutral about where we go for dinner but we can’t be wishy-washy when it comes to God! If we’re not fully for Him, we’re opposing Him. We can’t stay in Switzerland when it comes to believing in Jesus!

Indecision about some things carries serious risks. That was demonstrated last month when TikTok star Megan Alexandra Blankenbiller posted her final video from her hospital bed. As she struggled to catch her breath, Blankenbiller pleaded with her followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Rather than being anti-vax, she just hadn’t made up her mind about the vaccine. “It was a mistake,” she admitted while adding, “I shouldn’t have waited.” Nine days later the 31-year-old died. The previous month, an Alabama doctor urged the undecided to get their COVID-19 vaccine shots. In a Facebook post, Dr. Brytney Cobia wrote about her once healthy young patients who suffered from serious COVID-19 complications. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Even though it’s too late for people to get vaccinated once they’re infected, as long as people have breath in their bodies, it’s never too late to decide about Christ! That day on Calvary, as the unbelieving criminal hung beside Jesus, he mocked our Lord one minute and then professed belief in Him the next. Because Jesus assured him that, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” we know that last minute conversions are possible. Nevertheless, it’s not a smart idea to wait until the last minute. After all, people who wait until the 11th hour to repent might die at 10:30! St. Augustine said, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”  While the choice we make about a vaccine will not affect how we spend eternity, the choice we make about Jesus will!

Deathbed repentance is burning the candle of life in the service of the devil, and then blowing the smoke into the face of God. [Billy Sunday]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6 (NLT)]

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FELIX

Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” [Acts 24:24b-25 (NLT)]

flame vineFelix was the governor of Judea from 52 to 58/59 AD. A Greek who became a freedman under the reign of Emperor Claudius, he’s described as a cruel, immoral, and corrupt governor by ancient historians Josephus and Tacitus. Tacitus called him “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king in the spirit of a slave.” As Judea’s governor (or Procurator), his job included procuring funds for Rome which Felix accomplished mercilessly while lining his pockets as well. That it took 470 soldiers to safely escort the Apostle Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea indicates the lawlessness of his time.

In Acts 24, we meet Felix as he conducts an inquiry into the Jews’ charges against Paul. After hearing the accusations of the Roman advocate Tertullus, Paul launched a strong defense against the false allegations. Perhaps uncomfortable with Paul’s reference to the righteous and unrighteous, Felix adjourned the case until the arrival of Lysias, the garrison commander who saved Paul’s life in Jerusalem.

A few days later, Paul again appeared before Felix. Joining the governor was Drusilla, his third wife and the granddaughter of Herod the Great. She’d left her husband, King Aziz of Emesa, for Felix and, like her uncle Herod Antipas (the one who beheaded John the Baptist), her marriage was illegal since she was neither divorced nor widowed. I imagine the shameless couple didn’t take kindly to the Apostle’s words as he spoke of righteousness, self-control, and the coming day of judgment. Frightened by Paul’s message, Felix sent him away, saying he’d call for him again when it was more convenient.

Although the governor frequently called for Paul to talk with him over the next two years, Felix never decided Paul’s guilt or innocence. Scripture tells us the corrupt man was looking for a bribe, but surely it didn’t take Felix two years to realize a payoff was not forthcoming. I suspect the governor was drawn to Paul’s message but, unwilling to repent, he couldn’t commit to the Way. The corrupt and powerful man was caught between two incompatible worlds—if he chose Christ, he would end up relinquishing his position, influence, ill-gotten wealth, and even his wife. Unwilling to do so, Felix thought himself a freedman, when, in fact, he was in bondage to his sinful way of life. Eventually recalled to Rome, Felix never decided about Paul or Jesus simply because it was inconvenient. Let us not make the same mistake!

The two sworn enemies of the soul are “Yesterday” and “Tomorrow.” Yesterday slays its thousands. Past sins plunge many into darkness and despair. … Tomorrow slays its tens of thousands. Vows, promises, resolutions are never fulfilled. “Some other time,” many say, when urged to repent and believe. They fail to realize that now is the acceptable time. [Herbert Lockyer]

Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. [Romans 6:16-18 (NLT)]

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OR ELSE

My child, do not reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t get angry when he corrects you. The Lord corrects those he loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in. [Proverbs 3:11-12 (NCV)]

little blue heron“Baby Blues,” a comic strip by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, portrays the MacPherson family and the frustration, craziness, and humor that come with parenthood. Perhaps because I had a boy like him, my favorite character is the middle child, Hammie. Without a doubt, the inventive boy is a handful but he’s delightful in his own special way. When Zoe, his older sister, comments that he’s stopped making his usual annoying noise, he explains: “Mom used the three magic words.” When Zoe asks, “Please and thank you?” he clarifies, “Stop or else!”

Like the MacPhersons, the three magic words at our house were “please” and “thank you.” However, like Hammie’s mother, there were times I gave my children the option of obedience or facing the consequences with the other three: “Stop, or else!” Of course, the “or else” is an empty caution unless there’s an understanding of what “or else” entails.

The Old Testament is filled with God’s warnings of “or else” to the Israelites; sadly, it’s also a chronicle of their repeated failure to listen and obey Him. Time and time again, they disregarded God’s law, rejected His prophets, fought among themselves, worshipped other gods, and participated in pagan practices. They couldn’t say they weren’t warned by all the judges, kings, and prophets God sent to them so they shouldn’t have been surprised by the famines, floods, droughts, wars, exile, and oppression that resulted from their disobedience. Those afflictions, however, didn’t mean God had been unfaithful to His people. On the contrary, He was completely faithful to his words of warning. By withholding His blessings, the people got exactly what God said they would.

The book of Judges is a series of “Stop or else!” stories. Time and time again, after their disobedience, the Israelites faced the consequences of oppression by people like the Philistines and Ammonites. They eventually repented, called to God for help, and were granted relief. Although a period of peace followed, they were slow learners and the cycle would repeat: obedience gave way to disobedience and they again faced God’s “or else.” Nevertheless, just like Hammie’s patient and loving mother in the comic strip, God never gave up on His people.

Like a good parent, God gives fair warning and provides his people with plenty of opportunities to change their ways. Jesus warned us about sin, Satan, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness, materialism, greed, and false teachings. He clearly told us there are consequences to sinful behavior: the wages of sin is death, there will be a day of judgment, the unrighteous won’t enter the Kingdom, unbelief brings death but belief brings life, and the day of His return will come without warning. Scripture tells us how it will end—we can’t say we haven’t been warned!

It is the wonder of the grace of God that he has given such warnings. If we do not listen and turn from our evil ways, and so suffer awful judgment, then it is not the grace and love of God that is lacking, but the fault of our unrepentant hearts which refuse to heed the revelation of God, and spurn his love. [Georgina W. Everingham]

Our fathers on earth disciplined us for a short time in the way they thought was best. But God disciplines us to help us, so we can become holy as he is. We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way. … So be careful and do not refuse to listen when God speaks. Others refused to listen to him when he warned them on earth, and they did not escape. So it will be worse for us if we refuse to listen to God who warns us from heaven. [Hebrews 12:10-11, 25 (NCV)]

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