Time Alone With God Daily Devotionals: Love And Peace On Earth

Time Alone With God Daily Devotionals: Love And Peace On Earth

Written by Pastor Phil Stout

P With Those Who Hurt Us

Monday, September 12 — Saturday, September 17

Monday, September 12

Read: Matthew 5:9

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Consider: I grew up at a time when peace was controversial. I was a child during the war in Viet Nam. Our country was sharply divided. It seemed that every day protests and counter-protests were highlighted on the nightly news. But it wasn’t just the domestic response to the war that took center stage. The war itself was always in front of us. The Viet Nam war was the first “living room war”—the first war that we watched on television in almost real time.

Though I was a child, I vividly remember the polarization. Families were torn apart and relationships were severed. I heard stories about people who accused their parents of hate, while their parents accused them of treason. It seemed that there was no middle ground. How could there be? You were either in favor of America’s involvement or you were against it. Or so it seemed to me from my elementary and middle school vantage point.

Of course, peace is still controversial. But, why? Doesn’t everyone want peace? The military general wants peace and the anti-war activist wants peace. So, why do we fight over peace?

We know why. We don’t actually disagree over our desire for peace, but we have basic disagreements over how peace can be achieved.

So how can we even begin to talk about Jesus’ blessing on the peacemakers? We can only begin by looking through the eyes of Jesus. So when it comes to peacemaking, we can’t look at the polarities of our world. Our world offers two options—fight or flight. But Jesus always offers a “third way”—or more correctly stated, a new way.

This week we want to try to see peace—shalom—through the eyes of Christ.

Pray: “Lord, in my encounters today, I may be given the opportunity to be a voice for peace or a source of division. That opportunity may come upon me unexpectedly. So please give me your eyes and ears. Give me your heart. Help me to be a child of God—a peacemaker.”

Tuesday, September 13

Read: Ephesians 2:11-18

11Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

Consider: Part of the reason that peace is so hard to achieve between individuals, groups and nations is that we tend to view peace as a win or lose proposition. Someone has to be victorious and someone has to surrender. Someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. Someone has to win the argument and someone has to concede.

But that’s not Jesus’ standard for peace. His equation is 1+1=1.

“For he…has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (Ephesians 2:14)

So if you get into an argument with your spouse, the question is not, “Who is right?” The question is, “How can we become one?” “How can we destroy ‘the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’?” And Jesus taught us that the manner in which we approach someone we love is the manner in which we should also approach someone we are tempted to hate (Matthew 5:43-48).

That takes humility. We all believe we’re right. We all believe that we will be affirmed when others see it our way—when others admit that we are right and they are wrong. That kind of thinking is pretty central to our egos. But Christ asks us to lay aside our need to be right and asks us to take up the task of building bridges—forging peace.

Now, of course, there is no denying that sometimes right and wrong are pitted against one another. Sometimes you are right! Peacemaking is not an exercise in ignoring your convictions or abandoning your principles. That’s a terrible caricature of peacemaking. But it does mean putting people first. It means always seeing the image of God in others—even our enemies.

Pray: “Lord, you focused on me instead of focusing on my sin. You chose reconciliation with me rather than my destruction. You were right and I was wrong. Yet you saw me as an image-bearer of God rather than seeing me as the sum total of my sins. Give me your eyes as I seek to be an agent of your peace in the lives around me today.”

Wednesday, September 14

Read: Matthew 5:38-39

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Consider: Turn the other cheek. Could there be a more difficult command? Could Jesus have been serious when he taught us this response to evil?

Perhaps no other command has been as misunderstood as this one. And it’s not an abstract issue. It touches real life. As a pastor, I have had women ask me if they had to allow an abusive husband to beat them—if they had to go home and live in that hellish environment. Of course, the answer is an emphatic no! It is not God’s will for anyone to be abused. So what was Jesus saying?

There was a cultural subtlety at play that we don’t want to miss. In that day, if a person struck you on “the right cheek” they were using the back of their hand. (They always used their “clean” hand, their right hand.) A back-handed slap meant that they were treating you as a slave, an inferior, a sub-human. Jesus was telling people that they were not sub-human, they were not inferior and they didn’t deserve abuse. So to “turn to them the other cheek” was to say, “I’m your equal. I will not allow myself to be treated as sub-human. But I refuse to act toward you in the hateful manner that you acted toward me.”

That is why we always talk about Jesus’ “third way” or new way. We don’t return evil for evil. Yet we don’t allow evil to go unchecked. We take a stand for what is right. Yet we do it humbly, in a nonviolent manner, thereby giving dignity to ourselves and to our enemies. We don’t allow ourselves to be abused and we don’t abuse.

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third day that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.” — Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Pray: Thank you, Lord, for my inherent dignity—a dignity given to me by your image in me. Help me to always see that in me and in everyone. Help me to stand against injustice in your way, not the ways of this world.”

Thursday, September 15

Read: Psalm 85:8-13

Context
8I will hear what God the LORD will say;
For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones;
But let them not turn back to folly.
9Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.

10Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11Truth springs from the earth,
And righteousness looks down from heaven.

12Indeed, the LORD will give what is good,
And our land will yield its produce.

13Righteousness will go before Him
And will make His footsteps into a way.

Consider: There is a beautiful Hebrew greeting that you hear from time to time—shalom. At its most basic definition, this Old Testament word means “peace.” But there is so much more to shalom that we need to embrace.

We typically think of peace as the absence of hostility. When fighting ceases, we call it peace. But that is not all that God wants for us—that alone is not God’s shalom.

We’ve all heard of cases in which two brothers had an ongoing war of words over many years. They may have finally grown tired of it and stopped seeing each other altogether. Or they may have gotten to the point where they could see each other, but remained silent about their differences. Open hostilities had ceased. But that’s not peace. That’s not shalom.

Shalom would come to that family when those two brothers were reconciled—when the severed relationship was restored. Shalom is the presence of wholeness, justice, righteousness and peace. I love the way the psalmist says it…

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace (shalom) kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

We were created for a deep, lasting shalom with God and with one another. So we undertake the hard work of listening, forgiving, restoring, reconciling, humbling ourselves and seeking what God has wanted for us all along.

Pray: God gave Moses a blessing that the priests were instructed to give to the nation of Israel. Let’s pray that blessing over ourselves and all people this day.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you shalom.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Friday, September 16

Read: Romans 12:9-21

9Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Consider: One of the Latin words for peace is pacem. This yields other peace-related words to our English language. When a general brings peace to a war-torn area, it is said that he pacified the region. A person that is against the use of violence is called a pacifist.

The problem with these words is the manner in which we understand them today. For example, the word “pacifism” (a word that is very distasteful to many people) is not the same as “passive-ism” even though that’s how many people hear it. And when we think of “pacifying” someone, we don’t think of bringing peace. We think of sticking a pacifier in a baby’s mouth so Mom and Dad can get some sleep. (Well, I guess that is a form of peace.)

Making peace and being passive are not the same thing. In fact, Paul says that working for peace is anything but passive.

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Peace is something for which we work and fight. But we don’t fight in the same manner as people have done throughout the ages. We have a different king who leads a kingdom that is unlike any of the kingdoms of this world. So we use different weapons.

That’s why we are constantly called to Jesus’ “third way”—his new way. Paul summarized it powerfully when he said…

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17, 21)

The ends do not justify the means. To use sinful practices to accomplish good goals is still sinful. As Paul said, we totally disagree with those who say, “Let us do evil that good may result” (Romans 3:8).

So we humbly and creatively—under the power of the Holy Spirit—search out the weapons that God wants us to use in order to overcome the evil within us and all around us.

Pray: “Lord, teach me what it means for me today to ‘overcome evil with good.’ Remind me that love is more powerful that any weapon that can be used against your kingdom.”

Saturday, September 17

Read: Matthew 5:3-9

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Consider: In Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek and in Paul’s admonition to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), we’ve seen this week that peacemaking is central to our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. In his Sermon on the Mount and throughout The New Testament, Christ calls us to this work. And it is daily work. We can practice peacemaking every day and every hour of our lives.

How? Again, we must return to the idea of shalom that we looked at Thursday and the biblical concept of justice. When our lives are given to others—when we embrace the lonely, lift up the fallen, minister to the hungry (no matter what kind of hunger they experience)—we are practicing justice, righteousness and shalom. Peace is justice and justice is peace—“righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10).

And in this expansive view of peacemaking we see the Beatitudes—the blessings of Jesus—fulfilling one another.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:6, 9)

Every time we allow our hands to be the hands of Christ and every time we bring the presence of Christ to someone who suffers, we are engaging in the high calling of peacemaking.

It takes the mind of Christ to do so. It takes selflessness. It takes a perspective on life that transcends our own needs and agendas. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why peacemakers are considered “children of God.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pray: As we did last week, let’s end the week by praying the Prayer of St. Francis…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

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