Weeping, peacemakers, and more

The following is adapted from a devotional I delivered to the Regenerate 7 ministerial alliance June 30, 2016.

This morning, my city officially tallied its 14th homicide of 2017. In 2016, we had a couple of high profile murders – two police officers were executed in their patrol cars – but we had only 13 homicides all year. If we continue on pace, we will more than double the homicide rate from last year.

Moreover, this latest murder happened just outside an elementary school. Five hundred children were reading stories and working on math problems just feet from this crime scene.

On a personal note, it was the third homicide in the last year within a two-mile radius of our church and my home.

Certainly, we are not at the same level as Chicago, New York, or LA. In fact, for the most part, my city is a fantastic place to live. I feel safe standing in my lawn and riding in my car. Yet this latest homicide gives me pause.

Ours is a city in desperate need of peace.

To their credit, city officials, the police department, and countless others work tirelessly to realize that peace, but the fact is that much of what they do is limited to a reactionary role. That is, there is little that they can do until after something bad has already happened. They can only react to bad situations after the fact.

The Church, however, is different. We are called and empowered by the grace of God to be proactive, to not just decry violence and crime, but to actually make peace.

For so long, we in the Church have defined success in terms of buildings, bucks, and butts: the bigger and more spectacular your building, the more money is in your coffers, and the more people you have in the seats of your sanctuary, the more successful you must be. But is that what success in the Church is really supposed to mean?

This past Sunday, I preached from Acts 9:31. This one verse, I told the congregation, serves as a sort of intermission, summarizing probably ten years of Christian history between the fulfillment of the first two-thirds of the Great Commission – the Church was effectively witnessing in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria – and the start of the final phase of the mission: witnessing to the ends of the earth. In this verse, the author, Luke, observes that the Church enjoyed a time of peace and strengthening. The word translated here as “peace” is considered the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word shalowm, which means peace, tranquility, well-being, and prosperity. Summarize all of that: success.

And what did the success of the Church look like in Acts 9:31? (1) The people lived in the fear of the Lord. That is, they were committed to revering the Lord, aligning themselves with Him, and living holy lives. (2) They were encouraged by the Holy Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit instilled them to do the right thing even when it was scary, inconvenient, unpopular, or outright costly. And (3) they grew as a direct result of these things.

What if we redefined success in the Church to mean more people living more godly lives and, conversely, fewer people living lives steeped in sin. That would mean fewer people committing crimes, addicted to drugs, living lives of violence, and more. Further, what if we redefined success in the Church to mean fewer divorces, lower poverty, and more peace in our neighborhoods?

Indeed, in Matt 5:9, as Jesus introduced his Sermon on the Mount and the very crux of all His teachings to His disciples, our Lord pronounced, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Google defines “peacemaker” as “a person who brings about peace.” The Bible makes quite clear that peace is to be the centerpiece of the gospel message and the Christian life. In Luke 10, for example, Jesus dispatched the 72 with instructions to extend peace to everyone they met. Paul bid the Romans in Romans 12:18, as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with everyone. And James pronounced that the peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Indeed, we are called – commanded, really, to create peace in this world, but how shall we accomplish this overwhelming task? Notice what Jesus does not say:

  • Blessed are the news reporters and gossips, the ones who sit around all day every day talking or “praying” about the bad stuff that’s happened.
  • Blessed are the bystanders who stand by and merely watch as bad things go on.
  • Blessed are the superpowers. Back in the days of the Cold War, when the world had two superpowers, some of us here today will recall the arms race which maintained “peace” by ensuring that, if war ever broke out, everyone would die. We should not engage in an arms race to beat the forces of evil in this world at their own game.
  • Blessed are the superheroes who rush in to save everyone. If you’re there and can help, then by all means, do so. But never forget that this world already has a Savior, and His name is Jesus.

How, then, do we make peace in our city? 6 years ago, after a period of heavy rain in June 2010, the Lake Delhi dam on the Maquoketa River in eastern Iowa failed. My parents live in Monticello, a small community just downstream of Delhi, and when word of the dam’s imminent failure reached the community, everyone who was able came to fill sandbags to hopefully save the town. Hundreds of people worked for days to protect key facilities and such, and even then, when the dam burst, the floods all but destroyed 50 homes, 20 businesses, and numerous other structures. The city’s sewage treatment plant was also flooded, leaving residents of Monticello without sewer services for some time afterward. Subsequent investigation revealed that shortcuts taken during the construction of the dam and in repairs and reinforcements made since had all contributed to the failure. Millions of dollars in damages downstream could have been averted if only a few thousand dollars had been spent upstream.

The answer to the question of how we make peace in our city is that we in the Church must look and work upstream. What would happen if we in the Church offered conflict resolution services and helped neighbors and families mediate and reconcile tension before they erupted into all-out conflict, did things to encourage community pride and cohesion, and proactively addressed issues which are directly related to violence and crime? Indeed, what if, more than emergency financial assistance, we offered job training and job fairs? If a lack of education is a problem, why do we not offer tutoring, college extension courses, etc.? How would our community change if we offered counseling for struggling families and support for broken ones?

To be certain, this list is far from exhaustive, and some churches are already doing these things. There is, however, much more to be done. So much, in fact, that it often seems overwhelming to those who are doing the work. Where do we begin?

Luke 19:41 is a good place. There, as Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem just a week before He would go to the cross, He lamented, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

And he wept over the city.

Do we realize how many movements of God began with someone weeping?

  • Jacob and Esau wept together when they were reconciled
  • Joseph wept before the relationship with his brothers was restored
  • When the angel confronted Israel at Bokim, the people wept before they offered sacrifices to the Lord.
  • When the messengers from Jabesh Gilead reached Gibeah with news that the city had been besieged and was on the brink of destruction, the people wept before the Spirit of God came powerfully on Saul.
  • Hezekiah wept bitterly before God healed him
  • Ezra and the Israelites returning from exile wept before they cleansed the camp of the sin of intermarriage.
  • When Nehemiah heard of the plight of Jerusalem, he wept before God moved the heart of the king and enabled him to rebuild the walls in an astonishing 52 days.
  • Jesus wept, and Lazarus came back to life.

Why were so many movements of God preceded by someone weeping? Because weeping only happens when we have taken ownership of the problem and it means something to us.

Our city doesn’t know what will bring it peace, but we do. His name is Jesus. But He won’t move in power in Des Moines until we – His people, His body – have taken ownership of the problem and been wrecked by it to the point of weeping.

When was the last time you wept for your city?


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