Fruits of the Spirit Series: Peace

17 06 2016

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

Welcome to the next installment of the Fruits of the Spirit series!  I am so thankful and grateful that you have come to this site!  If you’ve not been following this series thus far, please go back to the beginning and catch up!

I have a confession, first of all, I had another peace entry written, but then the shooting in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando changed all of these things.  If given guidance, I may publish that later, but I do want to re-write this entry in light of this event.

The Peace Alliance offers a few statistics on violence, some of which are listed below:

  • Violence causes more than 1.6 million deaths worldwide every year. Violence is one of the leading causes of death in all parts of the world for persons ages 15 to 44
  • A World Heath Organization report estimates the cost of interpersonal violence in the U.S. at more than $300 billion per year.
  • 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex.
  • On average, the cost of violence related only to paying for police, justice, corrections and the productivity effect of violent crime, homicide and robbery is $3,257 for each U.S. taxpayer or $460 billion for the United States economy.
  • The 20th century was one of the most violent periods in human history. An estimated 191 million people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of conflict, and well over half of them were civilians
  • In 2005, 5,686 young people ages 10 to 24 were murdered–an average of 16 each day.

This is not an exhaustive list.  I’ve just included some of the facts that really stirred my heart when I thought critically about this.  When I think about violence, I think wars, I think mass casualties, I think of governments and armies.  But, my thinking is skewed.  If you look at the statistics, I think it’s safe to say that the large majority of violent acts occur between individuals and not in wartime.

When I meditate upon these statistics and that conclusion, I realize something very profound.  Violence is not a problem of how, it’s a problem of why.  Gun control is a great attempt at reducing violence, but it only takes care of the HOW, and not the WHY.  Reduction in ammunition, gun buy-back problems…they all take care of the HOW we wage violence upon each other, and not curing the root of the problem.

What is the Root of Violence?

When I started to think on this topic, I decided to look back on the first violent act ever committed.  So I looked to the Bible.  I looked at the account of Cain and Abel.  I’m not going to cite the whole story or post it here, but the basic premise of the story goes that Abel was favored.  Cain got jealous because of his favor, and so he took a rock and stoned Abel to death.  The violent act there was the result of human emotion given free reign over Cain’s heart.  And what happened as a result?  He is punished by exile.

Is the rock to blame?

No.  The rock was just sitting there, minding its own business, you know…being all rock-like.  Suddenly, somebody picked it up, and did something with it.

Someone had to do something.

Therefore, the root of violence is not in the guns, it is not in the weapons, it is a disease of the heart.  And not only is it a disease of the heart, but it is the failure of that person to be intentional in allowing the emotions to not control oneself.

How do we solve the problem of the heart? Trust.

It’s not that easy.  Like most things dealing with spiritual things, it is a discipline, a choice that you have to make, in order to grow and to be more peaceful.  It is something that you have to understand what is asked of you and what is expected of you, as a believer, and as a follower of God.

When anger seeks to destroy our peace because we have been wronged against by a brother or sister, scripture is obvious, we have to trust that God will get his vengeance for us.  When we take matters into our own hands, our first impulse is violence, but scripture is clear:

  • Hebrews 10:30-For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

  • Romans 12:19-Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

  • Isaiah 57:21-There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Scripture is clear, that it is not up to us to get even, especially through violence.  It is not my job and it is not your job to get even.  Mother Tereasa best explains this through her quote in the following image:

motherteresa

When we start dealing with issues of violence, we must realize that the idea of violence and peace is an issue that is much bigger than us.  It’s something that we all contribute a small part of, but as a whole, the problem of violence lies with a need for a world-wide change in the heart.

How do we see a change in the heart?

Well, there are several things, the first is major.  We’ve got to be intentional about keeping close to God.  That’s it.  This and this alone causes the rest of the steps to fall into place.  We must be intentional about prayer, worship, time with God, study of the scriptures.

The second is this:  Live out what you believe.  As you study in scripture, you will notice some commands, some things that God expects of us, and we must live them out, in both large ways and small.  Scripture has some really prevalent truths about living with people and pursuing peace.  But it’s not enough to just know what scripture tells us to do.  We have to live it out.

Third, make sure the things that you advocate for, also pursues peace.  If you advocate for a war to be waged, consider if that war is going to actively promote peace.  Sad to say, but war for the greater good of getting to peace is still war, and it is still something that we should avoid advocating.

But….that does not fix it on a wide-scale!

You’re correct.  Until all of human population sees the validity of controlling human emotions and trusting in a larger-scale move of the great deity….peace will not happen.  Because it is an issue we have to fix of the hearts of men and women, there’s nothing out there that we can do to force others to turn their methods to peaceful ways.  However, we can do our part in our own little worlds to bring about peace in the way we relate to each other, and by investing time in organizations and efforts to bring about change.

Some statistics from the Peace Alliance again:

  • Nonviolent resistance campaigns tend to succeed because nonviolent methods have a greater potential for eliciting mass participation — on average, they elicit about 11 times more participants than the average armed uprising — and because this is the source of major power shifts within the opponent regime. Mass participation that draws on diverse segments of society tends to empower and co-opt reformers while cutting off hard-liners from sources of support. When such participation is nonviolent, it increases the chances of pulling the regime’s support from the leadership, allowing security forces, economic elites and civilian bureaucrats to shift their loyalties with less fear of bloody retribution.
  • In West Philadephia High School, within two years of implementing a Restorative Discipline program, incidents of assault and disorderly conduct dropped more than 65%.
  • After the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (in Longmont Colorado) implemented its Community Restorative Justice Program, recidivism rates among youth dropped to less than 10% in its first three years.
  • Washington State Life Skills Training programs in schools (Social and Emotional Learning) show that for a $30 per student cost, benefits are around $1290 — a $1260 value.  At the national level, benefits are estimated to be $810 per student.
  • A study on the cost-effectiveness of early intervention to prevent serious crime in California, showed that training for parents whose children exhibited aggressive behavior was estimated to have prevented 157 serious crimes (such as homicide, rape, arson and robbery) for every $1 million spent. In fact, training in parenting skills was estimated to be about three times as cost-effective as the so-called ‘‘three-strikes’’ law in California.

There are many more statistics like this, but the big conclusion that I can come to from these statistics is that preventative efforts work.  Get involved, advocate.  Don’t just stand by.  Go ahead and participate in efforts that promote peace!

And maybe, just maybe, we will see a little change in our world.

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Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

2 06 2016

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment in the Fruits of the Spirit Series.  You can find the Introduction here and the first entry on love here.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

The second topic or characteristic of the fruits of the spirit is joy.  Joy doesn’t always mean being happy.  In fact, joy as represented biblically could be defined as “Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.”  So joy is a source of happiness, but it is not happiness itself.  Instead of happiness, a good synonym for joy would be contentment, not happiness.  Happiness wavers, but joy doesn’t.  It’s something deeper.

For that reason, I turned to scripture and noticed several different things.  I first noticed the things that can destroy our contentment,  reasons to be content and how to be content.

Destroyers of Contentment:

  1. Insecure People. It’s so easy to allow people to have the power to destroy our contentment.  Living life with other people is just plain hard sometimes.  People don’t always have the same goals and the same aspirations as I do.  People don’t always agree with me.  People are not always so easily able to swallow their pride and move on with life.  Insecurity is an ill that plagues many people.  Insecure people put their faith and sense of identity in other people.  Unfortunately, other people are not a secure place.  As one songwriter put it once “Our hells and our heavens are a few inches apart.”  The true place of our security has to lie in the secure things.  You don’t tie a boat to a stick in the sand, where the waves reach the stick.  You tie a boat to something that can be anchored down, that cannot move.  Something that is secure.  People are like those sticks along the shoreline.  Some small bit of turbulence or pain comes, and it’s very hard to hold on to the stick.  In fact, the people we often put our security in, have their own stuff to deal with, and they can’t be the anchors for us.  We have to place our trust and our security in what God says about us, and in the love of God.  It is steady.  It doesn’t matter what is going on, but God’s love still stands, his faithfulness is an anchor upon my heart and will not be moved.  But people?  They can be moved all of the time.  In fact, they can get insecure, jealous and selfish too.  They can lash out on us, or themselves, simply because of their insecurity.  You and I cannot afford to be tossed about on the waves.  James 1:2-7 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  The believers of God, they need to be secure in God.  They can’t waste their lives and their time by being unsteady and insecure.  We must be sure.
  2. People who are intentional about creating conflict. Sometimes, we don’t make the wisest choices with who we spend our time with.  Sometimes, we surround ourselves with people who just seem to have a knack for causing all of this stress and drama.  Honestly, I’m not sure why we do so!  I guess it’s to keep us from being bored or something.  Whatever the reason, we keep them around, and we often add fuel to the fire.  I’ve tried to think and contemplate why people enjoy this drama, and I looked in First Timothy 6:5-7 and found this:  “and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  As I thought and studied on this word from the Bible, I realized that perhaps the financial gain concept doesn’t just apply to money alone.  I think it applies also to the concept of whatever we think will happen as a result of becoming closer to God.  See, in this time period, those who had money were said to be closer to God than the poor. Of course, Jesus came along and kinda destroyed that thought, as seeing that he was homeless and all.  But anyways, the people who think that whatever they’re doing gets them closer to God, are the ones that cause “righteous friction” that is constant and never-ending.  For example, there are people that I do not agree with.  When I was actively trying to keep these people in my life, it was difficult to maintain the peace and contentment between us, because it’s hard to remember that we don’t do anything to reserve our space in heaven, and we can’t argue our way to the pearly gates.  Because in the end, we are all in the same state, barren as we came, and barren we will leave.  Don’t let yourself get wrapped into the illusion that you can gain entrance just by being right or “righting” someone who I think is wrong.  Usually, when I think I’m wrong, I push the issue until my point is made.  That is where I am in the wrong.  I’m to pursue peace and pursue contentment with things as they are.  If I do not, then it robs me of my contentment.

Reasons to be Content:

  1. The body of Christ depends on it. There are numerous joys that can occur when we are united with a body of believers.  There are so many benefits from  being in accord with believers.  I cannot stress enough, the value of belonging and associating with believers.  However, one of the temptations of being united with believers is that we often find that it is very easy to be discontent with one another.  The reason for this is that it is easy for us to not remember that we are all human, and we can’t always all exceed expectations.  Try as we might, our best will never be good enough.  Even though we are imperfect, we are still to look past the imperfections and focus on the joys.  It is easy to find discontentment.  In fact, Philippians 2:1-2 says:  “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  To me, that is instructing believers that if we want to enjoy the benefits of the body of Christ, then we must also be in one accord, without divisions that are so easily to pop up when there is discontentment.
  2. Because God has delivered us and he delivers us. Psalms are full of this theme.  God delivers us.  It’s not just from war, or conflicts, although those are important.  Actually, we probably experience a lot of deliverance from this, more than we realize.  But what we often do not realize, is that we can be delivered from harmful situations.  And we can find deliverance from bad things.  We can find protection.  David echoes this understanding in Psalm 43, when he says:

 Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

David’s understanding of this and his reflection of his understanding is that we have a place to go, a refuge to enter into, someone who is actively on our side and is working things out for us, to help us, and to deliver us from this life and into the next.  Despite how bad things get, despite how hard they may get, we have salvation, and we have ultimately, the assurance of eternity with God.  And that, it should help us to last beyond the present state of being.  More often than not, we forget that we will be delivered, and we focus on the bad parts of life, on the apparent futility of it all, such as David did in verse 2 and 3.  But after that moment of self-pity, he ends with the image of being lifted high on the holy mountain, at the alter of God, where his home is made, where he will find peace.  It’s hard to remember that.  It’s hard for us to remember to focus on the fact that in the end, when it’s all over and done, the struggle we experience now is just a momentary bruise.  That’s it.  It’s not a broken bone, it’s a bruise.  Here today, and gone tomorrow, because that’s the way that this world operates.  If we could just focus on that, if we could only focus on the fact that this is all just temporary, our problems would seem not so large anymore.

Conclusions:  How to Be Content

Joy is marked by contentment, in which the soul is at peace with the world and with the people that you live with.  Joy is something that is hard to obtain, and I, myself, have to continuously fight with myself to keep the joy there.  It’s not about happiness, because happiness is an emotion, which is as unstable as a hill on a fault line.  Instead, joy is a state of being, a decision that I’ve made.  We have to decide to be joyful and content in God.  No one else will make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  And it’s not so easy sometimes.  But it is totally worth it.

So now that we see all of the benefits of contentment…how do we become content?

It’s both quite simple and very complicated.

We gotta grow.  We gotta be intentional about growing closer and closer to the one that made us, and the one that sustains us.  The more and more that we grow, the more and more that we’ll let go of the things and people that don’t help us be content, and the more we will chase after and find the things and people that will help us to be joyful.  I cannot express enough, how we must continually pursue the things that help us to be joyful, regardless of our circumstances.

Not a new conclusion, not a new message, and not a new object for us to do.