Around the corner from my home was a community garden. It was located in the midst of a number of businesses on one of the main roads of the city. This garden became a popular place for a large homeless population to gather and they eventually claimed it as their own. Being so close to our home, we would regularly stroll by the garden on our family walks. There was never a shortage of shirtless men with matted hair lying on the benches with their bottles and a number of others smoking their cigarettes. Then one day, the garden was gone. The city came in and bulldozed the garden upon request of the landowner who also owned a business on the same property. There was no warning that this was going to take place and an outcry from the community ensued. Everyone in the area had an opinion about what had happened. The greatest concern was for the homeless people who had made the garden one of their places of socialization. Local business owners and residents have since attempted to organize various events for the homeless population. I love and admire the compassion that is being shown for our city’s homeless people, but at the same time something didn’t sit well with me. I spent over a month trying to figure out how to articulate the feeling, and only now is it becoming clear.
The now-displaced homeless folks who sheltered at the community garden represent a large group of people operating from a place of hopelessness every single day and yet that was never a problem for the people around them. It was like everyone, myself included, simply labeled this group as ‘homeless’ and were content with leaving them in that category. We as a society operated in agreement with the hopelessness these people identified with. But are they hopeless? The more life people live, the more we seem to accept things the way they are presented to us. We naturally place people in categories in order to justify applying different standards and values to them. For example, imagine one of these homeless people who was passed out on a bench with their half-empty bottle of liquor had been your junior high science lab partner. They grew up in your community and you may even have considered them a part of your social group at one time in your life. The likelihood of being able to write-off this person would substantially decrease. If that person is our sibling or child, our hearts ache the more. When the barriers we create become blurred, the right kind of compassion is released. This world is depraved and opening ourselves up to intimacy with broken people is so often painful so we build walls to protect ourselves. But often these walls allow us to justify our differing standards and expectations of people around us.
Peace To You
These barriers that enable us to accept groups of people as being less than us are the result of a fallen world. They are the terrible residue of an identity lost. If mankind was made to reflect God’s glory on this earth as smaller versions of God Himself, anything short of that is lost potential. I have two sons and two daughters that are smaller versions of me and my heart yearns for them to accomplish far more than I ever have. The yearning of the Father intersected with human history at the moment when Jesus died and God enthusiastically tore the barrier of the veil apart. It was He, Himself, Who removed the wall between us. It was then that peace, or wholeness, was restored to us. We are now free to reach our created potential as image bearers. We are able to have a new spirit within us that is from God Himself and gives us assurance of our identity and victory.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)
As recipients of our new spirit that is capable of communicating with God’s Spirit, we are equipped with the capability to carry the presence of the Creator of the universe with us. This only comes with us first receiving the Spirit, then submitting to the Spirit, and allowing our mind to be transformed. When our minds are being led by the Spirit we most completely reflect the heart of God. When people encounter us in this state of a pure heart they encounter God through us. The more we allow ourselves to reflect God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will, the more we will naturally exhibit His presence and our gentleness will make known to all that the Lord is at hand (derived from Romans 12:2 and Philippians 4:5). As we operate from a place of sacrifice we become carriers of Shalom. Peacemakers operate from a place of shalom, or completeness in God, and work to make the aroma of earth to match that of heaven.
Blessed are the Peacemakers
Peacemakers don’t see people as their fallen version, but made whole as God intended the person to be (see 2 Corinthians 5:16). God created each person in His image, imbuing them with objective worth and value, even the homeless person passed out on the bench. When Jesus walked the earth, people’s standards were raised as He encouraged all who came to Him to be who they were created to be. Anything that made a person incomplete was made whole. The only way someone was left incomplete is if they resisted His will and love. Jesus is the Son of God and the Prince of peace. As the Son, He came bearing the presence of God and exhibiting the love of God, and we are His co-heirs. Peacemakers do not condemn, but they convict and encourage in love. Condemnation sees a person's fallen state as their identity and labels the person as such. Conviction looks to who they were made to be and, in love, encourages them to a higher standard. Peacemakers kindle “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) The peacemaker is always about the Father’s business because he is in constant communication with Holy Spirit. That translates to a person who is willing to share in Christ’s sufferings so that they also may share in His glory. This is a person that is not self-seeking or prideful but humble, regarding others as more important than themselves. Furthermore, the peacemaker submits their speech and thoughts to God, seeking His wisdom in their responses. Peacemakers bring healing. Just like the 72 disciples that went out before Jesus, the peacemaker brings healing when the peace they bear is allowed to rest. Their willingness to allow the righteous Judge to abide in them brings emotional, spiritual, physical, relational, and cultural healing. Peacemakers bring the kingdom of heaven, or shalom, and for that they are blessed.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.(Matthew 5:9)
The above paragraph may seem impossible for any person to do, and I agree it is. The only way it can be accomplished is by recognizing that we can not do it and to give it over to God. At first, the ‘giving it over’ will be moment by moment. Like when our anger begins to rise up in response to what a politician did or said, when someone treats us less than the 'image bearer' that we are, or when we are being socially shamed and ridiculed for our convictions. At times we may fail in the moment, but even then God does not condemn us, but lovingly encourages us to become the righteousness of God that He made us to be. God doesn’t keep record of the failures of those under the covering of Jesus' sacrifice, but celebrates victories in Him. The goal is to keep striving forward towards Him and to not believe the lies that come into our head when falling short. Every moment we allow ourselves to be used by God, surrendering our feelings to His righteousness by viewing our neighbor as God intended them to be and not as their fallen state, we are a peacemaker. As we give more and more moments over to God and experience the joy and peace we receive from it, we will find ourselves doing it naturally. That is how transformation starts.
Next post will expose some of the lies people believe that keep them from becoming peacemakers.