you are a dove hidden in fire.
your flames have grown wings
and flown
through my soul.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I
give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
—Jesus of Nazareth, encouraging his friends before he returned to heaven
(John 14:27)

A few years ago I wrote a short drama for the Christmas service at my church. In the play, a father and his daughter are decorating their Christmas tree. They goof around for a while, and then the dad says, “Hand me that angel over there so I can top this bad boy off.” (Actually Jeff Williams, the actor who played the dad in the sketch, came up with that line. It was so good I had to keep it.) So his daughter, Jessie, reaches for a decorative angel to put on the top of the tree. Here’s how the sketch plays out from there:

JESSIE: (looking at the angel) Dad, can I ask you something ?

DAD: (still busy with the tree, distracted) Sure, honey. What’s that?

JESSIE: Didn’t the angels say something like, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men?”

DAD: Yeah, of course they did, Jessie. Peace on earth. That’s what Christmas is all about.

JESSIE: Well, then, why weren’t they right?

DAD: (after a beat) What do you mean?

JESSIE: Why isn’t there peace on earth? At school my teacher said we might go to war with Iraq, and then in Israel they’re always fighting. And people are still making bombs and blowing up buildings, right?

DAD: Well, yeah . . .

JESSIE: So why weren’t the angels right, Daddy?

DAD: Um . . . they were. I mean . . . I always thought they were.

JESSIE: (handing him the angel) I wish they were, don’t you,

Daddy? Don’t you?

(Freeze. Fadeout.)

That’s how our Christmas Eve service started. The audience just sat there stunned. It was great. We really freaked people out because we actually brought up the questions they’d wondered about but had been afraid to ask: “Were the angels right or not? If they were, how come there isn’t peace on earth? How come there isn’t goodwill toward men? If Jesus really is the Prince of Peace, he must have an awfully small kingdom. Is he or isn’t he?”

And those are good questions, because our world isn’t at peace; I don’t know if it’s ever been. Peace doesn’t live on our planet; it only drops by once in a while for a brief visit on its way through the neighborhood.

So were the angels right or not?

Some people believe that Jesus came to rule in Jerusalem over an earthly kingdom and that when the Jews rejected him, it ruined his plans. I don’t agree with that interpretation of his life. Jesus himself said, “I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” ( John 18:36). Taking that into account, along with what he said about his peace being different from the peace this world gives (see John 14:27), I think Jesus came to our planet to invite us to an otherworldly kingdom and offer us an otherworldly peace.

As long as there are greedy, grabby, power-hungry, mean, stupid people on this planet, peace between nations isn’t going to happen. And as long as our hearts fight against God, we aren’t going to have peace in our lives.

Jesus offers us something different: a fresh relationship with God and the chance to receive true peace in our hearts—a peace that begins now and stretches toward forever.

I didn’t used to think I was at war with God. I didn’t used to think I was at war with anybody. But when I met Jesus and heard him say, “Follow me,” I realized every time I didn’t follow him, I was fighting God. Every time I chose to go my way instead of his or to think of myself first instead of others or to flirt with temptation—or basically to act as I had been acting my whole life—I was battling the almighty.

Realizing how deeply rooted your war with God is can shake you up. I’m still reeling from that discovery.

The angels were right. He came to bring peace; it’s just that our definition of peace is all messed up.

Our world will always have hatred and prejudice and nuclear weapons and terrorists and suicide bombings. Light and darkness will always clash. We will never create a heaven on earth. Jesus knew that. On our own we can’t even imagine true utopia, let alone initiate it.

Jesus never promised a world without poverty or war or turmoil. In fact, he said we would always have the poor with us and that deception, danger, and conflicts between nations would only escalate as the end of the world draws nearer.

The peace Jesus offers isn’t the absence of conflict; it’s the adventure of knowing God’s presence moment by moment forever. It’s a deeper peace than the world can offer—peace with God. True harmony again. Echoes of Eden. The story comes full circle. Easter resonates with the costliest kind of hope and the most intimate kind of peace. A peace Paul says “is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand” (Philippians 4:7).

But it takes humility to admit that your life has been at war with God and that you need to reestablish your relationship with him once again. That’s why so few find the narrow way or walk the footpath toward life. Because it’s hard to be that honest with God. It hurts. It’s humiliating. It’s a lot easier to cling to our old lives and self-centered priorities.

That’s why his followers are so few.

It’s so easy to get tangled up in the nets of everyday living. Yet the irony of life is that a full and cluttered heart is more empty than an empty heart aware of its emptiness. Peace will never come from clutching many things but only from letting go of all but one thing—Jesus.

Because the more we cling to this life, the more we wrap ourselves in its shallow comforts, the more death will bite when she comes to call. But the more we let Jesus untangle us from the baggage of this life, the freer we’ll be to become vagabonds of heaven.

the more i die to myself,
the more i
slip from the claws of death
and tumble into the freedom
of life.

The soul that’s full of ambition and pride is the soul that’s full of the emptiness of self. The soul that’s drenched in the submission of surrender is the soul that’s full of the fullness of God.

Peace will only come into our lives when we realize that the war is over, that we can lay down our arms and stop fighting. After all, God is not the enemy of our hearts.

We are.

God isn’t out to get us; he’s on our side. He has been ever since the beginning of time when he began dreaming of us. When he fell in love with us.

Jesus declared a truce and signed the peace treaty with his own blood.

Here is the message of Easter: The war is over. Stop battling God. Stop wounding yourself. He’s not the enemy. He’s the one offering the terms of peace.

Truth always draws a line in the sand. That’s why Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” ( John 18:37 NIV). We’re not on the side of truth until we’re on the side of Jesus. The question each of us must ultimately answer is this: which side will I find myself on when the curtains close, when my boat finally leaves the shore?

Don’t look for Jesus in the pages of history; he’s dwelling beside you in this present moment. Don’t search for him in the cemeteries of religion; he’s as close as your next breath and as near as your heartbeat. He offers a peace beyond understanding, a fresh start, a new relationship with God that lasts forever.

Jesus’s words to Martha are just as true today as they were twenty-one centuries ago. And his question is just as important: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this?” ( John 11:25-26, emphasis added).

Belief will open the door to the miraculous in your life.

Life has won.

Death has lost.

The curse is over, and the wedding is about to begin.

touching the unseen

your spirit is searching for a child of its love.
make me an ember again.
i feel it descending on the wings of a dove.
make me an ember again.
the flutter of your feathers,
the touch of your grace,
the chance to finally gaze at your face,
blow over my heart and rekindle the flame.
make me an ember again.
o spirit! o breath! o right wind of light!
burn off the shame and ignite me—
make me an ember again!