On Peacemaking and Self-Defense

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

Thank you to everyone for the kind words and gracious support of Jason Comerford and me as we co-taught on Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” last Sunday.

I always feel, after preaching, like way more needed to be said about a specific passage than I actually had time and space to say. And I think I felt this more acutely last Sunday morning than I ever have before.

21-beheaded-by-ISIS

Last year ISIS beheaded 21 Ethiopian Christian martyrs on a beach in Libya.

After the sermon a friend challenged my assertion that “peacemaking sometimes involves the use of force.” Now, I believe this is fundamentally true. Dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an incredibly violent act, but it brought a forceful end to a war that most historians believe would have dragged on for several more years, costing hundreds of thousands more Allied and possibly millions of Japanese lives in the process.

Jesus, the Ultimate Peacemaker, paid the ultimate price for peace between us and God. And that price was a violent death on the cross. The cost of true peace is sometimes very high.

At the very end of our time together, Sebastian asked what Jesus meant by His statement, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Is this a justification for violence? Are Christians to wage crusades in order to propagate an enforced peace throughout the world? If the answer to this question is “Yes,” then how are we any different from        fundamentalist Muslims who believe that sharia and the caliphate must be ushered in by acts of terrorist violence?

I think the answer to these difficult questions lies in the cross and the example of Christ as He approached it. We must understand that the cross was an incredibly violent and ultimately unjust act: sinful man crucifying an innocent and sinless God.

After He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, seeing that Peter had pulled out a sword and was seeking violently to defend His Lord, Jesus instructed: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

Jesus said He had the power to call down at least “twelve legions” of angels … and in terms of the Roman Army, a legion was at least 6,000 soldiers, and often more. So 12 legions of angels would be at least 72,000 angels.

The question is, how powerful is one angel? One clue can be found in Isaiah 37:36.

Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!

You heard that right—one angel singlehandedly defeated 185,000 soldiers in one night. Doing a little math, therefore, shows you that 72,000 angels should be able to successfully take on an army of at least 13.33 billion soldiers!

No doubt this gave Christ a comfortable margin of error if He did indeed choose to fight that small handful of Roman soldiers rather than submit to the cross.

And I think that’s the whole point. Even though He had the power to defend Himself, Jesus willingly accepted the violence of the cross, both “for the joy set before Him” and because it was the will of His Father. True peacemaking is willing to pay the price!

Peacemakers don’t go out and take up a sword in order to forcefully institute some sort of kingdom of God on earth. Instead of taking up a sword, they take up a cross. They lay down their lives.

Armed with knives and guns, a group of ISIS terrorists marched a group of 21 Ethiopian Christian men out onto a beach in Libya in early 2015. They forced them to their knees, then beheaded them.

Who were the peacemakers in this scenario? Jesus told Peter, “Those who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Those 21 Christian martyrs entrusted their lives to Jesus.

I have a close friend, the husband of a coworker at World Vision, who was kidnapped by Communist rebels in Ethiopia when he was a young man in a Christian high school there. He and 89 other Christian students were lined up along a ditch, their hands tied behind their backs. Terrorists pointed machine guns at them and ordered them to recant their faith in Jesus. “Deny the name of Christ, and live,” they were told.

Eighty-one of the students recanted. My friend was one of nine who refused to do so.

Thank God it was a false threat. These young people were beaten and tortured, but not killed. Later, the government of Ethiopia, at the urging of the leadership of that Christian school, found and rescued alive those 90 students. Today my friend is an evangelist who preaches Christ to crowds in the tens of thousands in his homeland of Ethiopia. In obedience to the gospel, he was willing to lay down his life for the name of Christ, and Jesus chose to give it back to him to use as He saw fit.

Blessed are the peacemakers. My friend is one of the most blessed people I know.

How about us? Jesus may give us the power, the capacity, to defend ourselves against evil. Will we use it? Or will we choose to “take up our cross” and trust Him instead? That’s what true peacemakers do.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Compelled to Action

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Brian Sharpe

Over the years there have been themes that God has brought out through teaching or experience. On the Evangelical Free Church ReachStudents ministry team I serve on, in staff meetings, in training seminars, and just as God teaches me through His Word, He has been calling me to intentional living. The problem is, it is easy getting caught up in what needs to be done immediately — the tyranny of the urgent. You think, “If I don’t do it, then no one else will.”

I am a doer. I like being a doer. I will help in most situations. If a storage room needs cleaned out, I will help. Pastor Martin often says I need to focus. This is a part of intentional living: having in mind the things that are important so you will focus on them, doing everything in your power to stay on track and accomplish the “big rocks” (most important to-do items) in your ministry and life.

As a believer in Jesus, in life and ministry I have two main foci that need to rule everything I do: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Jesus was asked the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” His response summarizes the most important thing that you and I can do with our lives. There is no bigger rock in life or ministry.

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

These verses should form the basis for our everyday intentionality as believers. They should be what we live for, what makes us tick. When we build our lives around them, our hearts and lives will change. We will be different.

What defines you? What are your “big rocks”? If we desire to live intentionally, we will ask these kinds of questions. Then we will be compelled to action. That’s where we need to be. We need to be moved from being hearers of the Word to being effectual does of the Word. This goes along with the beatitudes. When we live as God calls us to live in the beatitudes, action will result. James 2:18 says that others will see our faith by what we do. We are saved by faith, but that faith compels us to action. I know I have a long way to go to live intentionally, but I need to start the process. I need to ask the questions and allow the answers to shape the way I live.

A couple years ago I was listening to a sermon. This statement the pastor made will stick with me for the rest of my life: the way we live shows us who is on the throne of our life. So, once again, what defines you? What are your “big rocks”? Knowing what your “big rocks” are will help you see who or what is on the throne of your life. Take time this next week and ask yourself these questions. Evaluate how you are living and be compelled to action.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Great Expectations

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Jeff Foerster

My expected delivery of a short treatise on how the philosophy behind Star Wars has infiltrated the Christian church has been pushed back past its opening date. This coming polemic will simply have to wait, as I myself uncovered, and will here reveal, something simpler and much greater: hope. In this age of Islamic terrorism, economic instability, and frequent natural disaster, hope has by many been relegated to the category of “four-letter word.”

You may not be able to accomplish all that you ever dreamed, but you will be able to accomplish all that God has planned for you! He knows the end from the beginning and knows you better than yourself. He has plans that are greater than you can imagine or could ever craft if you had a thousand years for planning and another thousand to execute; but, do you believe this? Will you trust that being the servant of all here on Earth can lead to greatness for eternity? (Luke 9:48, 22:26-27)

I tell you these words with truth, but true hope does not originate with me; neither does it come from you. This is good news! Being a hope-filled person doesn’t require boundless energy, nor a gregarious personality brimming with enthusiasm. It doesn’t require me to listen daily to talks from motivational speakers or to make lists of happy things. I am not the source. Nor are you. God alone is the source of all hope, for hope requires promise, and promise requires power to fulfill it; He alone is able.

JeffLastWordI have hope because of Jesus. I have hope because our Savior was promised from days of old. I have hope because Jesus lived a life bent not on His own glory, but to seek and to save the lost, declaring the great news of the Father He was sent to deliver. I have hope because Christ despised the cross, but went willingly, becoming a slave to the will of the Father. I have hope because He died, showering the ground with His blood in order to shower me with forgiveness and mercy. I have hope because Messiah rose from the dead so that you and I could have life eternally! I have hope because Jesus is coming back again for all those who love Him. I have hope because heaven and earth will one day become one as God makes His dwelling among men forever and ever, amen!

I wanted to stop writing there. I wanted to end with an exclamation point, and where do we go from here? But “go” we must. Inspiration without action is futility; it is a love song never given voice.

Just as thankfulness is a choice, so too, embracing hope requires the will. Hope requires bending the will to focus on what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1), Living in hope is faithfulness of the heart. It requires an attitude, a pathway of conscious decisions to divide thoughts into two camps, those that please Christ and those that should be crushed, bound, and burned.

How do we “choose” hope? Again, hope is not all butterflies and lollipops and Cheshire smiles. It is lived out among struggles, and difficulties, and sorrows. It requires a firm adherence to the truth, and a reliance upon God to administer it with integrity. Choosing hope announces the unstoppable power of our Creator and affirms the loving-kindness and persistence found in His grace.

It is a choice – a choice to see the day not as a set of circumstances with dictates defining reality, but as a series of opportunities to express thankfulness, trust in His promises, and take action in steps small and large. If you find yourself staring into broken circumstances and listening to voices telling you, “It doesn’t matter …” or, “No one will know …”, or “How many times do I have to …?” At that point recall the words of God, what he has said about you and His promises for you: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). In addition, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). God has plans for us, for good, and we can demonstrate our faith in Him and hope in these promises.

Choose obedience like Abraham did. He was a man who “went forth” from everything known when God called him to do so. Now, God has not called all to travel to unknown lands or to sell all that they own and give to the poor, but He has called each of us to obedience to the clear commands of Scripture. Allow me to engage you in two practical steps:

  1. Pray for God to reveal His commands as you read the Scriptures. Pray for His power to obey those commands He lays upon your heart by your eyes and through your ears.
  2. Refresh your view of the Ten Commandments as Jesus describes them -asking God how you might step out in faith to obey from the heart, honoring God when no one else may know, when you don’t see a reward on the horizon, save for pursuing a closer relationship with the Almighty, even if you’re not sure how obedience and trust work together toward that end.

Embrace obedience for sure, but above all know your Bible and keep your eyes and heart fixed upon our Savior (Hebrews 12:2). May your adoration forever be poured out to the One who loved you before the foundations of the world!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Who Is the Gate?

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

Fountains of the Deep - The Shield - www.LarryShort.com

In a sculpture titled The Shield, a mysterious figure known as “The Guardian” stands watch at the gate of the Garden of Eden. This artifact is central to Larry’s novel, Fountains of the Deep, with each of the three animals depicted representing an important part of the story: stag (hunt), lamb (rescue), and serpent (deluge). Don’t miss it, in display in the Fellowship Room this Sunday morning.

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22–24)

* * *

In Pulse (Elim’s young adults group) different leaders moderate a verse-by-verse chapter study each Friday night. Participants have developed a rather silly tradition whereby when nearly any question is asked, they might playfully shout out, “The answer is Jesus!” and everyone laughs.

I suppose we’ve encouraged this unruly behavior. When we studied the book of Genesis last year, we did so through the lens, “Where do we see Jesus in this chapter?” That question would be asked after each and every chapter, and always spawned a great discussion. As it turns out, “Jesus” usually is the right answer!

Jesus shows up in some surprising places in the Old Testament, if you look carefully for Him. While in my 20s, I wrote a novel speculating about some of the circumstances leading up to the great Flood of Genesis 6-7. In it I wonder aloud about whether it was Christ Himself, a mysterious figure known to earth’s early inhabitants as “The Guardian,” who wielded the flaming sword at the gate of Eden. My novel, Fountains of the Deep (available to Elimites this weekend only as a free download on Amazon—visit my website for details), is a work of fiction, but one cannot help but question exactly Who the guardian of the gate of Eden might have been when one reads passages such as John’s account of seeing the transfigured Christ in Revelation 1:12–13:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man … coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Many Bible scholars believe Christophanies (a physical manifestation of the Son of God) abound in the Old Testament. Whether Jesus was present among those guarding the gate of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 may be a matter of fanciful speculation. There is one gate, however, we know Jesus guards closely, and it’s the gate to God’s sheep pen. In John 10:9 Jesus says:

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

Eden was designed to be a place of eternal fellowship with God. Man broke that fellowship when he disobeyed God, so God appointed a flaming sword (representing throughout Scripture His Word, which is also the very name for Christ bestowed in John 1) to bar a mankind that had repudiated God from dwelling in a holy place of perfect fellowship with God.

That’s the state you and I were in … until that same Word became the Gate once again! Now, as a result of His blood shed for us, He becomes (according to John 10) a Gate designed to admit His sheep into perfect fellowship in God’s presence, rather than keeping them out! The future is bright indeed for those who reenter this particular gate. And the ticket is simply an obedient, listening ear of faith.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice.” Are you listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd, the Guardian of the Gate? Would you know it, if you heard it? If you’ve never yet done this, commit yourself today to following Him with all your heart back into a place of perfect communion with the eternal God. It’s a simple step of faith, and you can take it today, regardless of your life circumstances. Please don’t put it off; call the church office or any pastor or elder. We would love to help you take that life-changing step!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.