no neutral groundYou know this series we are in is really interesting.  We have been able to talk about some really big subjects like grace, and The Bible, and Following Jesus, and community and last week Kim and I had a chance to talk to you about serving others.  Serving others is a really big deal here at MRC and I felt like we really had to go after the importance of living our lives as Jesus lived his.  I wanted to open your eyes to how Jesus actually lived, because for me personally I found myself trying to live like Jesus and often would put myself in a bad spot in the process, and it certainly was not my goal.  As you study how Jesus actually lived his life you realize the importance of actually doing what Jesus did.  He served.  He gave and gave and gave of himself, but He showed us a very intentional pattern of living so that we could also live as He lived, serve as He served and do it in a healthy way!  Serving others can be just as life changing for you as it is for the person you serve but it is so important that as we lay down our lives and live as Jesus lived that we actually do what He did!  Remember that key verse from last week?

1 John 2:6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did. NLT

Jesus showed us how to live sacrificially AND on purpose at the same time.  He showed us that there is a pattern of life that we all must follow if we want to be like Him and do it in a healthy and sustainable way.  This was a big deal for me to share with you because it can be a very big challenge in my own life.  I can very quickly say yes to all the good things in life that people want me to do and really hurt myself in the process…so that talk really mattered to me last week because it hit such a challenging area of my own life.  Well this week we are again going to jump into something that is very challenging for me on a personal level because it kind of goes against my instincts.  It is again found in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  I have not pulled any punches with you.  I have told you that Jesus’ teaching is often very opposite to how we think as people.  Because of that it becomes very challenging to live out which is why we all need God’s help to do it…and why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to help us!  Well, I’m not sure there is an area that is more challenging for me personally than what we are going to be talking about today.  Today we are going to talk about what it means to be a peacemaker, rather than a peacekeeper.  There is a huge difference between the two…so here we go!  Here’s the challenging statement…

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

So this is from that opening portion of the Sermon on the Mount called “the Beattitudes” where Jesus is really rattling off a lot of one liners by saying; “your blessed when _____________.”  And here we see an interesting one…blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.  Many people read that and just kind of move on, not really sure what it means.  Many others however read it and think that we need to never have confrontation or conflict, which sounds very Godly, very peaceful…and frankly it sounds good to me too!  How many of us really like confrontation or conflict?  For a lot of people, I think we seek to avoid it and we can look at this scripture and see that maybe we should avoid it.  But there is a problem with that way of thinking.  And I want to look at that this morning.  Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker…I mean he is called the “Prince of Peace” right?

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  NIV

So Jesus came to give us peace.  He says we will be called sons of God if we make peace…but for being the Prince of Peace…Jesus sure seems to get into a lot of confrontations doesn’t He?  Jesus doesn’t seem to avoid conflict and a lot of times when I read the Gospels, He seems to be right in the middle of it!  So what am I missing here?  I mean he is constantly confronting issues with the Pharisees and Sadducees and Teachers of the Law right?  He doesn’t back off of the truth…ever!  When there is something wrong he steps up and mixes it up with people big time!  I have one story in my mind that makes me wonder…does this sound like The Prince of Peace?

John 2:13 When the Passover Feast, celebrated each spring by the Jews, was about to take place, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. 14 He found the Temple teeming with people selling cattle and sheep and doves. The loan sharks were also there in full strength. 15 Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather and chased them out of the Temple, stampeding the sheep and cattle, upending the tables of the loan sharks, spilling coins left and right. 16 He told the dove merchants, “Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!” 17 That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” (MSG)

So how can this be?  How can Jesus teach about peace making, yet seem so confrontational at times?  Here is he is so consumed with zeal for the temple that he physically removes these merchants with a whip!  Well the fact of the matter is that he came to bring peace to this world.  He is the ultimate peace maker…so The Prince of Peace confronts sin, confronts wrongs, he flips tables, he drives people out of His Father’s home, I mean He physically drives them out in this case!  How can this be?  Well the reality is that you may have to flip a table or be in a confrontation once in a while to make peace…well that doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to do now does it?  Well that is what we need to talk about today.

Here is the deal, we can read Jesus’ words and confuse something about being a Peacemaker verses being a Peacekeeper.  The reality is that keeping the peace and making peace are two very different things and it’s something I would like to look at today because I think for me personally I would rather Jesus would have said blessed are the peace keepers, because as I look over my own life I really lean towards peacekeeping rather than peace making because frankly peace keeping, well it is just easier.

So what is the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking and why does it matter?  Well it’s actually a really big deal, so let’s look at these two things today.

First what is a Peacekeeper?  A peace keeper is someone who is doing just that, keeping the peace.  They often guide conversations away from things that might cause issues or stress.  Basically a peacekeeper avoids confrontation or conflict.  They will change the subject…they will not speak out truth.  So what happens?  Well they do produce moments of peace but it doesn’t last and typically leads to a bigger mess in the process.  This makes me think a lot about my own life…I can tell you a lot of stories about leading at Lobar or leading as a soccer coach or even here at MRC where I knew in my heart what should happen, but I didn’t speak out truth, I took an easier route around the confrontation, and it always came back to haunt me later.  It’s funny in the name of keeping the peace I often caused bigger issues down the road…but let’s not go to my issues that is way too personal.  Let’s use something that we can probably all relate to.  Have you ever watched shows like American Idol or X Factor?  You know the shows where they find some amazingly talented singer and they go on to be a star.  But they go through round after round of brutal judgement to get there?  Well a lot of you probably like me didn’t necessarily watch those shows to see the great singer win in the end…we were watching for the horrible singer who comes out there belting it out and just makes a mess of themselves.  It’s a lot like watching ski racing in the Olympics…you and I both know you are only watching it for the wrecks!  Well there is something sad about that, but it’s hard to look away as we watch those first few episodes to see the really, really embarrassing moment when that poor child steps out there on National TV and sings really, really poorly.  But there is often a question that we all ask right?  Why would that person’s parents ever let them go out on national TV and humiliate themselves like that?  Well I will tell you why…they are keeping the peace, rather than making the peace.  They don’t want to tell their child the harsh truth that they aren’t a good singer and shouldn’t move forward with that dream.  That would hurt their child that they love so much right?  This is peacekeeping at its finest.  Yes they avoided the hard conversation sharing the truth with their child…so they avoided a hurtful moment and allowed the child to go on TV to hear the truth from some mean judge like Simon Cowell.  By being a peacekeeper they didn’t speak the truth, and allowed major pain to come further down the road.  Or they are just one of “those” parents who thinks their kid does nothing wrong but that wouldn’t fit the message so let’s stick with the peace keeping thing.  I find it really interesting that we all look at the truthful judge as mean, but what is actually harsher?  Is it speaking the truth or not speaking the truth and allowing your child to go on TV like that to be the laughing stock of a nation?  I could argue that the mean judge is being more loving than the parent, because he is being truthful.

With peacekeeping there is no change of action or behavior and while a peacekeeper thinks they are being nice or loving or even Christian by not speaking truth, they can actually be allowing dysfunctional living or in some cases sin to continue in someone’s life that they care about!  Or they can just allow them to be humiliated on national TV!  Listen this is a challenging thing because we know as a Christian we are called to get along with each other and to pursue peace right?  I mean it’s in the Bible somewhere right?  Yes it is…Paul goes there alot…

1 Corinthians 1:10 I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common. (MSG)

All through scripture we can find references to pursue peace, to get along with each other but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we ignore poor behavior or agree with everything everyone does!  We are to live like Jesus lived…and he definitely didn’t keep peace, He made peace.  I think peacekeeping is pretty easy to slide into, but it isn’t who we were called to be.  Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers…do you see why this is such a big deal?

So what is a peacemaker?  A peacemaker is someone who creates peace by standing in their spiritual authority.  Peacemaking is not always nice.  It is not avoiding confrontation.  It is often messy and for someone like me it can be challenging because it isn’t the path around hard conversations.  It will take work and it will take emotional energy.  A peacemaker is a problem solver.  They won’t keep their mouth shut when they see improper behavior.  While a peacekeeper often just wants to blend in, a peacemaker will stand out because they stand in truth.  They will hit nerves with people who often aren’t looking to hear the truth, but what they want to hear instead!  Does this mean the peacemaker just tramples over people with reckless abandon?  No!  This is not about being obnoxious but about being willing to stand in truth and love people enough to say the difficult thing when it’s needed.  Peacemakers understand something really important…that love without truth is compromise and Jesus isn’t ok with that…even in the name of peace, we do not compromise right and wrong.

Matthew 5:19 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. (MSG)

So in verse 9 we get this teaching from Jesus about how blessed the peacemakers are, and we now know a peacemaker will not blend in…they will stand out and stand up for truth in love.  So I don’t see any irony in what Jesus says just a few moments later…

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  NIV

A peacemaker will stand out, because they will stand for truth.  That truth is the light, it is the salt that preserves the meat.  We are to stand up and stand out, now here’s the deal.  That may mean that not everyone on this planet likes you and let’s be really honest we all want to be liked right?  I know I sure do at times, but I’m also coming to realize that I haven’t been called by God to win a popularity contest but to be the light in this dark world.  We are to stand out, not fit in…and truth will stand out.  Here’s what is interesting though…a peacekeepers will be much more popular with people.  They will be loved by everyone!  Why is that?  It’s because they tell people what they want to hear regardless of the truth and do you know that our Bible would actually call that sin?

Ezekiel 3:18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You are going to die,’ and you don’t sound the alarm warning them that it’s a matter of life or death, they will die and it will be your fault. I’ll hold you responsible. 19 But if you warn the wicked and they keep right on sinning anyway, they’ll most certainly die for their sin, but you won’t die. You’ll have saved your life. (MSG)

YIKES!  How can that be sinful?  Doesn’t it seem nice or more loving to just not speak the truth or not confront the issue at hand?  I mean I am a softy, and this seems to be caring right?  I mean we don’t want to hurt their feelings right?  Well if you think about it, how is it more loving to allow them to continue down that wrong path?  Let’s go back to the American Idol illustration for a minute…if you think about it, is it really more loving to allow that poor child to go on National TV and make a fool of themselves or to have that awkward, yet loving conversation behind closed doors, saying sweetie I love you but you aren’t gifted in singing.  So if you think about it that mean judge is probably more loving!  At least he is being honest!

Peacemakers are confrontational at times but it is done in love, and it doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.  I think again we see Jesus teaching us something that really goes against our natural instincts.  I mean there aren’t too many people who really enjoy conflict or confrontation but the reality is that we are called to be peacemakers.  We are called to stand in truth and love, and the reality is that if we love one another we will be truthful and in that truth we are pursuing and making peace.

You know it’s funny here at MRC we try very hard to bring clarity and truth.  We often say that you will know who we are from the moment you walk in here…and that is very important to us.  We also know that it can mean that some people will know they like us, and some people will know that this definitely isn’t the place for them.  As a Pastor and disciple of Jesus I understand that and I know that it is important to be able to draw that line in the sand.  It is important that some stay and some don’t.  But to be very transparent as important as I know that is as a disciple of Jesus, I can tell you that as a person that can be hard for me to see someone walk away.  When they hear the clarity of our message and say this isn’t for me it hits the human parts of me hard even as important as I know that is to us as a community.  I know that Ken and I have labels with everyone…I am the “cryer” and he is the “brimstone” and I think it’s interesting that Ken or even I can be perceived as harsh or even a little mean.  We are trying to share truth, to clearly communicate and sometimes that means disagreeing with something someone else is doing.  Sometime it means apologetically defending the mission of Christ, and of our church.  So do we hate you if we share loving truth?  Is it easy for Ken to stand there and have the hard conversation with you?  No, but he loves you enough to do it!  We are called to make peace not keep it, and that means that we will have to speak truth…and maybe not be all that popular at times in the process.  Do you find it at all ironic that Jesus tells us to be peacemakers and then says this next?

Matthew 5:10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. 11 “Not only that — count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. (MSG)

Being a peacemaker is hard because people may not want to change.  It’s hard because they may not want to do anything different and they may not be ready to receive what you are saying.  They may not come back with a big old thank you, but may push back instead.  Being a peacemaker is hard because it can mean not everyone will like you in the end, and let’s be honest, we all like to be liked right?  I believe that is the hardest thing about being a peacemaker.  You won’t win everyone’s approval.  I think for me personally that is the root of the issue, in my flesh I want people to like me, but I know in my soul that at times that just can’t be.  This is a challenge, but we all want to be called sons of God right?  I know I do!  So if you want to become a peacemaker there is something you are going to have to do.

You need to spend time with God.  I know, I know I say this every week but here is the reality…the more time you spend with God the more the focus shifts off of you and onto Him.  For so many of us it’s easy to want to win the approval of people, we want to be liked.  The more time you spend with God the more you begin to wrap your mind around this huge concept.  That God loves you and that He approves of you…this stops us from falling into the trap of trying to win the approval of people, because let’s face it, that is a never ending battle and you will always have someone who doesn’t like you…you can’t please everyone, especially when you speak truth.  Solomon nails it here…

Proverbs 29:25 The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in GOD protects you from that. (MSG)

When we begin to spend time with God we begin to lose that disabling fear of not pleasing people and we understand our greater goal is to please God…and we start to understand that we don’t have to earn his approval!  He is pleased with us.  He loves us.  He already approves!  This is such a challenge but as you seek God first that pull to win over public opinion will begin to go away.  Not saying you won’t have your moments…we all do, but I do think this is the biggest challenge of peacemaking.  We don’t want to upset anyone, and frankly the truth can upset people.  Jesus says that we are to feel blessed when someone is hard on us because we are speaking truth especially in God’s name…because it means the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

So I have to tell you as I looked at the teaching schedule and realized what I was going to be talking about this week I was a excited for sure…but it also really challenged me because being a peacemaker isn’t easy.  Over time with God, and years of experience it gets easier, but we care for others, and we do care how things hit them, and this can be hard for those reasons.

This is a hard lesson to understand because so many of us would look at someone who is pursuing peace as someone who is avoiding the hard conversations.  Someone who is avoiding conflict, and not making big moral stands…in fact for many of us we would see a Christian life as someone who never stands up and confronts anything right?  We don’t want to make any waves right?  Well there is a problem with that.  Jesus didn’t live that way.  He stood up and challenged those who needed challenged.  He confronted those who needed confronted and he flipped over tables and physically removed those who needed removed from some situations.  He did it because He loves us enough to steer us away from sin, from wrongful living, which steers us away from certain death.  So He was willing to stand up for truth, and not allow us to experience more pain in order to remain popular.

Jesus was a peacemaker so we should also be peacemakers.  We know by now we are are called to live as He lived and this is how He lived.  It doesn’t mean it will be easy…sometimes we need to flip a table in the process.  Sometimes we must fight through all our human instincts so that we can be called sons and daughters of God and you know what, when that is our focus we can stand up and stand out and make peace in our time here on Earth.