Blessed are the Peacemakers

Matt 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
In a time of revolution and upheaval, and following possibly the most violent century on record, it seems almost laughable that there could possibly any real hope of bringing peace into the world. Yet Jesus seems to think that there are peacemakers and that they have some special relationship with God. So what is it that these peacemakers do and why such a special relationship with God?
The first thing we need to come to grips with is our understanding of peace. The definition we commonly accept, the absence of war, is woefully lacking in-depth and has little to no relationship to the Biblical understanding of peace. We have become so accustomed to wars, both global and local, that we have accepted the absence of bullets flying and rockets falling as somehow constituting peace. By such a definition the blessed peacemakers would be those who get the bullets and rockets to stop. When I was a child and through my teenage and early adult years, the United States and the Soviet Union were not shooting at each other. Yet there was no peace. We called that time, The Cold War. Nobody really felt that we were at peace. During elementary school we had regular drills on what to do in case of nuclear attack. Our neighbors actually built a bomb shelter in their back yard. It was not a time of peace.
The most commonly known biblical word for peace is the Hebrew word shalom. It means far more that just the absence of bullets and rockets. When you great someone with shalom you are pronouncing that you pray their world is one filled with the joys, blessings, and contentment that can only come with a right relationship with God. True peace is about healthy relationships of openness, trust, and love.
The ultimate blessing of Shalom is when you are at true peace with God. This is not a concept that is readily considered in our world. Most people seem to assume that since they are not in a fighting war with God that they must be at peace with God. After all, God would never be mad with us would He? Isn’t the idea of an angry God an ancient, superstition born out of ignorance? Not according to the Bible. Because of our sin we are literally at war with God. We fight against the reign of God in our lives. We worship anything but God. We act as if things are fine because we are not standing on the mountaintop shaking our fist at God and He is not hurling lightning bolts at us from the heavens. Yet the Bible says that “since we have been justified though faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:27 Prior to coming to faith in Christ we are not at peace with God. We were still God’s enemies. Yet out of His love for us, while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us so that we can have true peace, peace with God as out Father.
So how does this fit with the blessed peacemakers of The Beatitudes? If you have peace with God you have something that you should be sharing with others. You become and ambassador for Christ. Consider what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God as reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”
So the peacemakers are those who are giving their all to see that people are reconciled to God. Why are they called sons of God? Because they are following in the footsteps of the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was given the ultimate ministry of peacemaking on the cross. There is nothing more important that you can do for someone than to help them find ultimate peace with God through Christ. That doesn’t mean that efforts to stop the bullets and rockets are waisted. They are extremely important. But we should never settle for the lack of such things as being true peace. We humans are so very prone to accepting something that falls short of the God’s best design for us. We accept the good and fail to experience the great.
If you have been reconciled to Jesus, then you need to be a peacemaker and give yourself to the ministry of reconciling others to Him. If you have not been reconciled with God, the with Paul, I implore you to do so. You will never have ultimate peace in your life until you do.

Finding Inspiration in the Amazon

On Sunday I received my boarding pass for the first three-hour leg of my flight to Manaus, Brazil. I have to tell you I was a bit disappointed when I realized I had a middle seat. Part of the disappointment is that I know somewhere there is a computer program that always figures out how to put the three largest guys in the same row together. But being generally adaptable, I shrugged and knew I would sleep anyway.

After I arrived at the training center for church planters I could only laugh about my middle seat. The first man I spoke with was a church planter from far up the Rio Negro, the largest tributary for the Amazon River. He has the nickname, “jungle-boy”. In part because he is all of 5’2″ and skinny. But more because three years ago he was lost in the jungle for four days before finally making his way close enough to a village that he could make contact with people. In order for Jungle-boy to get to the training center he first had to paddle for 2 hours in a dug out canoe to get to a larger tributary. There he got in a small motor boat for 3 hours, then a larger boat for 2 more hours and finally a bus for 7 hours. That’s him on the left of the picture with the striped shirt.

Along with about 80 other people, all of whom had similar travel stories, he came to learn more about Jesus and improve his ability to minister to people in need. These indigenous church planters come to the center just outside Manaus twice a year. They come hungry for the truth of God’s Word and for the fellowship of their fellow laborers. They don’t have seminary degrees or even Bible College training. Most of them came to faith in Christ because the Presbyterian Church of Manaus sends large boats up and down the river to provide medical care, food, clothing, education and the message of Jesus. Once coming to faith they continued to grow and now are planting churches in the very villages they grew up in. Most of them make less than 100 dollars a month but they are delighted to serve others and share the hope of the Gospel. They will never be mega-church pastors. Most of their villages are only 50 to 70 families. The next closest village would be a couple of hours away on foot or canoe.

After spending the day training these amazing people, I was asked to teach in the city for three hours in the evening. The audience was completely different. These were not villagers from up and down the rivers but instead people who live and work in Manaus, a city of 1.8 million people. They were 40 Bible College students who are working towards becoming pastors and missionaries. They packed into a room that in the states we would feel crowded with half as many people. All of them have regular jobs and included at least one lawyer and a couple of I.T. guys. Yet on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights they gather from 7 to 10 to learn about the Bible and ministry. They were so engaged and had so many questions that we went till 10:30! In fact the regular instructor had to call a halt to all the questions and bring and end to the evening. There were no students looking at their watches for the time to leave. None of them left early. All of them were extremely grateful that I came and talked with them.

What struck me was that in both settings these folks counted it a privilege and a joy to dig into God’s Word and be trained to serve others in Jesus name. They couldn’t get enough. Their questions and comments reflected people who wanted to do their best and invest themselves completely in whatever the Lord had for them. They understood the life and death nature of this thing we call ministry. But they also laughed and joked like people with no cares in the world. These are followers of Jesus who are aware of how far they have come because of Jesus and they want to bring as many people along as they can. They are all about serving the Lord and others. No body is worried about their career, or image, or how to spend vacation, or complaining about how stupid their boss is or how unfair their company is or that they had the middle seat. None of them feel cheated in life. Instead they seem to really count it all joy that they share in the life, ministry, and even hardships that come from the fellowship they have with Jesus.

The Church Planters at the Training Center with me in the front middle
Worship during one of the church planter training sessions. Different language, same God
Felipe Santos translating into Portuguese for me. He was amazing as always

Why I Bonsai

People often ask me about my hobby of doing Bonsai. What got you interested? Why do you do it? There are a couple of reasons that all merged together one day several years ago.

First of all there is the plane fact that Bonsai trees are flat-out amazing. When you see a three-foot tall pine tree that under normal circumstances would tower 60 feet over your head, who doesn’t stand in a little bit of awe. So ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by the science and the beauty of Bonsai.

Second, as I was doing a year-end inventory of my life and character I really sensed that one of the things I needed to work on was patience combined with perseverance. By that I mean that willingness to wait on something that would a long time and the drive to stick with it for years if need be. I have had far too many 80% finished and sensed that the next step God wanted me to take in the development of my character could be learned through Bonsai. It actually fits far better than I ever imagined. One of the things I have learned about Bonsai is that no tree is ever finished till it is dead. Now I have “finished” several trees, especially in the early days. At one point my wife asked if I was growing trees or collecting empty pots. She asked this as she looked at the collection of a half-dozen pots, that sat like ceramic grave stones, in honor of the trees that once lived in them. But once I learned to keep them alive and thriving it became apparent that you never finish with a Bonsai. It is always growing till it dies.

That idea, that you are never finished with it, it is always growing till it dies, is one of the many lessons of the Christian walk that I have seen paralleled in growing my trees. As a follower of Jesus, I will never be a finished product until the day the Lord calls me home and completes the transformation of my character in one dazzling moment. Any Christian who is not regularly working on his or her growth in Christ does not understand that in this life we are never a finished product. We are always being pruned and shaped by the Lord.

Another aspect of Bonsai that I find wonderful is that you can Bonsai any type of tree. Lots of people think that Bonsai is a particular type of plant. They think of a pine or juniper and The Karate Kid snipping a piece of one of Mr. Miagi’s trees. The fact is, Bonsai is the art of making a tree small enough to grow in a pot. Bonsai literally means, “tree tray” or tree in a tray or pot. So I have pines. junipers, Ficus, azalea’s, elms, boxwood, and holly trees all of which have been “bonsaid” and are growing in pots on even on slabs of marble. That brings up another lesson in faith. There is no one single picture of what I Christian is. There is amazing variety in the material that God works with. Christians come in all sorts of colors, ethnic and language groups and from every conceivable culture.

This is usually a 40 foot tree. It is about 3 ft now and planning on getting smaller

The Chinese Elm to the left is usually a 40-60 foot tree. It is about 30 inches tall and I    may even make it a bit shorter. It loves colder climates and drops all it’s leaves in the    winter. Six weeks ago it looked like a dead stick. With Spring arriving I have to trim the  leaves back every week.

The landscape to the right is a group of Ficus. It stays green year round and when we get a frost I have to bring it inside. The marble slab that it sits on is about three feet wide.

This is my newest project. It is a holly that I dug out of our yard after working with it from   time to time for about three years. Eventually it will move out of the training pot and into     a shallow ceramic Japanese pot. I love the windswept look and plan to make it even more   dramatic.

What should be the same about all Christians and is true of all Bonsai, is that ideally  they look like smaller replicas of the original. The ultimate goal for me when someone  looks at one of my trees is not that they say, “oh a Bonsai”, but that they say, “that looks  just like a real tree”. The ultimate goal for me when someone looks at  my life as a  Christian is not that the say, “oh a Christian”, but that they say, “that looks  just like  Jesus”

When I cut a branch off a tree, or wire the trunk to move in a certain direction, or cut off a  bunch of leaves, it always has the purpose of conforming that tree into the ideal, full-grown, mature tree. Paul says in Romans 8:29 that we are being conformed into the  image  of Christ. That is  the reason for the struggles, hardships and joys we have. It is to  make  us more like Jesus. When the Lord cuts something out of your life, when he forces you to grow in a certain direction, when he cuts a bunch of unnecessary decoration from your life, it is always with one goal in mind. It is to conform you to the ideal of a full- grown, mature follower of Christ. One who people will look at and say, “that looks just like Jesus”.