Peace

One of the most obvious ironies of the Christmas season, is that it is supposed to be marked by peace.  Peace on earth, we say, as we jam more into our calendar than any other time of year, as we spend more money that we don’t have than any other season, as we travel more places where we really don’t want to go then any other time of the year.  Peace on earth, they say as we search for the one rogue Christmas tree light that caused all the other Christmas lights to go out.    

At least we get to spend more time with our extended families than any other time of the year, so at least one thing isn’t stressful.  Not at all, right?  Some aren’t laughing because it’s too soon, isn’t it?   

This morning, we are going to be talking about peace.  Peace is one of those magnificent qualities virtues available to the person who has placed his or her faith in Jesus.   Along with other marvelous virtues like Faith, Hope, Love and Joy, peace comes to us as a gift from God himself.  And it is available to you this Christmas season.  You can live a life of peace.

This week as I was studying this word, I went to the concordance on BibleGateway.com, a concordance is a tool that will produce for you every instance that a word in the Bible appears.   See how easy it is to become a bible student?

So here, I typed in the word, “Peace” and I notice that there are 89 times in the NT where it appears, and then it will list for me each and every occasions.

And if you do something like this, you will notice a few things.  For one thing, it’s pretty obvious that the Bible uses peace, the same way we do in our normal usage of the word.  And what I see is there was two different ways the word is used.

Sometimes, the word refers to a cessation of hostilities.  Two people, or groups of people, who were at odds with one another, are no longer.  There is peace, where there was once conflict. 

The Bible says that placing your faith in Jesus leads to this kind of peace in two arenas.  First?  Through faith, you and I can have peace with God. 

As in any conflict between two people, there is usually an unresolved issue that stands between them.  You don’t have peace with someone that you are at odds with without coming to terms with whatever that issue is. 

And the issue that stood between us and God was our sin. 

Now sometimes, the way one chooses to create peace is to declare the issue between us, “Not a big deal”.  I am going to deal with this issue between by choosing to forget it.  I’m going to choose to say, this is not a big deal.

I suggested last week that it would be good to send yourself some notification on your phone at Thanksgiving to remind yourself that, not everything is a big deal.  I hope that you did that and that it was helpful.  Not every small slight needs to be dealt with.  And as we enter the craziness of Christmas, it might not be a bad idea to remind myself of this truth every day.

But that said, there are some things that are big deals, right?  Slighting me by announcing your dislike of the casserole I made is different than say, you slapping one of my kids.  I might be inclined to overlook the first, but I’ll be paying you a visit for the second, and I’ll bring hell with me.

Not everything is a big deal, but some things certainly are.  Sin is a big deal to God.  Sin is a big deal. 

Why?  Well sin has ruined his creation.  It’s ruined us.  It’s jacked up the earth.  And we will never get healthy as a human race until something is done about sin.

All sin is primarily a sin against God.  But sin is a big deal to God because of what it does to us.  Sin in life is responsible for so much hurt and pain.  Spiritually, our sin acts as an anchor that drags us away from Him and if left unchecked will drag us all the way down to the depths of hell itself.

Ignoring sin would be the most unloving thing God could do.  We in our sin would be unable to approach him, unable to walk with him, fellowship with him.  We would forever be excluded from his protection and provision.  Something had to be done to address the issue that stood between us and God.

And at Christmas we celebrate God’s answer to the issue between us.  God became a man.  He lived a perfect life, he threw open the gates of heaven so that whosoever will, may come to Him.  He willingly took our sins upon him as he hung on a cross, and when he died our sins went into that tomb with him.  Three days later he arose and left our sins behind in that tomb. 

The thing that stood between God and us, was finally and firmly finished.

Romans 5:1 tells us  Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Now this is one of the greatest passages of all times.  And notice that four of the five magnificent virtues show up – faith, hope (confidently looking forward), joy, peace, and if we kept reading this passage, well find love showing up just three verses later.

All of these five traits weaving a beautiful new tapestry of life for us, It is the life that comes to us after we believe that Jesus really did enough to take care of the thing between us and God.

Through faith we are made right.  Through faith, peace with God.  The end of hostilities between us.  A new chapter begins, and the heading of the chapter is, “A walk with God”. 

Now the second type of peace that comes through faith is a peace that comes between people who once were perhaps at odds with one another.  And in the first century, the greatest divide in the mind of jewish people was the divide between Jews and Gentiles.

And a big issue in the first century church was the realization that through faith, The things that normally divided and separated humans from one another – cultural forces, economic differences, and racial divisions – can be put away for good.

Ephesians 2:14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

I think one of the wonderful aspects that faith in Jesus brings is a uniting of the tribes.  In the Old Testament there is a story about the building of a great Tower in Babel.  And it was there that divisions among mankind were first introduced into the world – different languages and races and nations. 

If the tower of Babel divided the human races in Genesis, then the tower of the cross of Jesus unites us once again.  And so we care about people in Mali because through faith they are our brothers and sisters.  And we care about the orphans in Haiti, because they are our little brothers and sisters. 

Jesus united us.  We are united in our need for a savior.  We are united in our faith in Jesus.  We are united in our purpose to bring the good news of Jesus to the world. 

Faith in Jesus brings us peace – an actual end of division between us and God, and us and other human beings. 

So one sense of the word Peace is – a cessation of hostilities.  But there is another sense to the word peace.  And it’s this sense that I want to spend the rest of our time talking about. 

If one were to look up the word Peace, you would notice that the apostle Paul loves the word peace.  Paul wrote 13 books in the NT.  We call them books but they were actually letters that were written to groups of people that lived in cities, like Rome or Corinth.  And he also wrote letters to people, like Timothy and Titus.

Interestingly, he begins every single one of his thirteen letters the same way.  He starts them with a prayer that they would be people who are filled with peace.

Check it out…

1 Corinthians 1:3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

This greeting, or a greeting very similar to it, begin every one of his letters.  And so the big idea for this morning, comes from Paul, who wrote ended his second letter to the Thessalonians by write Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.  2 Thessalonians 3:16

May God give you his peace at all times and in every situation.

What does it mean to have his peace?  This kind of peace refers to the character trait we call poise.  The internal state of remaining calm.  Of not freaking out.  It’s the ability to weather the storms of life, without swamping your boat!  And this kind of peace is very personal.  It comes from God to you personally.

Did you know that it is God’s ultimate plan for you to be a person who display poise in tough circumstances?  It is something for you personally.

The bible claims that when we place our faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and resides inside of us, and begins to grow fruit inside of us.  And the Bible says the poise – inner tranquility – is part of the fruit basket delivered to us by the Holy Spirit. 

We can become the kind of people who can life their life without being crushed by fear and anxiety.

Of course, since love is also part of the fruit of the spirit – along with things like kindness, compassion – these traits cause us to care deeply about the welfare of others.  And because we are loving people from time to time we will carry the burdens of others with them in their pain.

But we will be able to do so without being swamped with anxiety or fear about how things are going to turn out.  We can care about others without concerns tearing us up on the inside.  The bible insists that it is possible for us to become the kind of people who can smile – at all times – and in every situation. 

Paul prays that we will become the kind of people who have inner peace at all times and in every situation.  Such a great prayer. 

All times, in every situation, it’s possible to have peace.  It’s possible for your heart to be guarded from the harsh realities of life.  It’s possible to have peace – even as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. 

But the fact that Paul prays for that implies it is not easily learned.   But it can be learned.  Paul learned peace.  He was not born with it.  In Philippians 4 he tells us that it was something he learned.

12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 

Again – notice it is something Paul says he learned.  So let’s back up a few verses in Philippians 4 and see if we can pick up how Paul trained himself in peace.  And I’d say we see two things that Paul does in times of stress that helps him learn to be able to maintain poise at all times and in every situation

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

Philippians 4:8

If we want to learn how to develop inner peace, then the next time we feel our anxiety start to flare up, we are going to stop and think.

This is the opposite of what many people do.  Many people try desperately to stop thinking about their problems.  Right?  How many people have turned to alcohol or drugs to numb their pain, to help them stop thinking about their stress? 

But the Bible tells us to do the exact opposite.  It tells us to think. 

You won’t find that on many self help therapy books for dealing with stress.  As a matter of fact, I went to google to find out how the internet suggests one copes with stress and anxiety, and this was their result.

Notice that it’s all about techniques – take a time out – deep breaths, get extra sleep – and there is certainly nothing wrong with those things.  They are good – but they will not ask you to think. 

#1.  Stop and think about the meaning of life!  No!   That’s what’s stressing me out!

But Paul tells us that he learned how to be a person with inner peace at all times and in every situation, and for Paul it meant thinking. 

What are we thinking about, specifically?  Things that are true.  Think about doctrine.  Think about theology.  Think about what we know – apart from our emotions – to be true about God and how God is described to us in the Bible.

Make yourself aware as possible about God and His love for us.  Read the Gospels and ask yourself – what does Jesus tell me God is like? 

Turmoil, stress, fears – you know what they are?  They are attacks on what we think we know to be true about God.

See, when we place our faith in Jesus, our eternal destination is secure.  There is nothing that can separate us from God.  We’ve moved from death to life.  Darkness to light.  Nothing can change that reality.

So what does our enemy, the devil, have left to do to us?  He is only left with trying to make us doubt God’s goodness and love for us.  The only option that is left to him is to try to make our life miserable by saddling us with debilitating doubts and fears.  He wants is to feel alone – as though God is distant or uncaring.

So Paul tells us that he has learned how to deal with stress – meaning, he wasn’t born with the ability to roll with the punches – he learned it and he wants us to learn it too.

And he tells us to think.  And when we think about God and we study what Jesus teaches us about God we learn that God is All powerful, All good, and ever present. 

These three things are all we really need to know.  He is all powerful.  There is nothing he cannot do.  He is all good – meaning he is using that power in a good way, for our benefit.  He is not mean.   And he is ever present.  So no matter what life throws our way, we know we will not walk through it alone.

David wrote Psalm 23 – even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me. 

From time to time we recommend books – we recommended the Ragamuffin Gospel last week – perhaps this Christmas, put a book on your wishlist that deals with the theology of God.  Because when times get tough, you want your brain to be able to latch onto something that is more stable than an emotion. 

Emotions are strong, but they aren’t stable.  They aren’t solid enough to be able to fend off something as powerful as fear.  Prepare your minds.  If we want to embrace peace in our lives, then we have to be willing to think with our head.

May the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.  2 Thessalonians 3:16  You can be this kind of person, yes you can, but it start with thinking.

Secondly, the passage tells us to thank. 

Phil 4:6  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

It’s worth noting the sequence that Paul lays out.  Usually God gives us something and then we thank him.  Last week we were challenged to think about 50 things we are thankful for…  And so we thought about what we have, and then returned thanks.

But Paul tells us to thank God before we get his answer.  Why?  Well, it makes sense if we are thinking about God.  Once we get our heads on straight that God really does love us, and really is with us, and really is working all things together for good, then we can thankful before we find out his answer.  Because we know that whatever the response, it’s the right answer.

When I was in high school, I became friends with a student named Jody.  And Jody was kind and godly and I had something of a crush on her.  And when the time came that I worked up enough courage to ask Jody if she wanted to ‘go out’ with me, I was crushed to discover that the feelings were very much one sided.

And I remember being crushed and thinking – God, don’t you know that Jody is perfect for me?  I want to marry this girl!

The funny thing is, that I did marry Jody.  Just a different Jody.  See, the time I was praying, God was saying, just wait.  You got the wrong Jody.  There’s a Jody that far outshines them all! 

Author Tim Keller, who is one of those authors that I think you will not go wrong if you read any of his books, he said this once while talking about praying with thanksgiving.

He wrote that God says, “When a child of mine makes a request, I always give that person what he would have asked for if they knew everything I know.”

Do you believe that?  How we answer this will determine if we are anxious people or peaceful people.

Every moment in your life, even catastrophic ones, pass through God’s good, wise, powerful hands.  He knows how best to govern our lives.  And we can live at peace knowing that he cares.

SO the next time we find ourselves staring down some anxious thoughts or moments – we are going to do what Paul did.  We are going to think – about God and His nature and his great love for us.  And we are going to thank him that whatever happens, we know we can trust the outcome as being ultimately good.

In closing I want to share the story of Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna.

Horatio was an American lawyer who married a I believe she was Norwegian woman named Anna.  They lived in Chicago and were strong followers of Christ.  In November of 1873, Horatio’s wife Anna and their four young daughters set out on a trip back to Europe for vacation and I’m sure to catch up with her side of the family. 

During the journey there was a collision with another ship and their ship sank in the Atlantic Ocean.  226 people perished, including all four of his daughters.  His wife, Anna, was miraculously found alive by a rescue ship as she floated, unconscious, on debris. 

When she arrived in England she sent a cable to her husband – with only two words.  Saved alone.  Horatio quickly set sail for Europe to be by his wife’s side.  And as he passed over the very spot where the accident occurred, the very spot where his daughter died, Horatio sat down and penned the words that would become one of the most well known hymns in history.  He wrote these words… 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

What did Horatio do at the apex of his grief?  He thought about what he knew to be true of God. And he thanked him that even in that horrific situation, he had peace like a river attending to his soul.

May the Lord of peace himself give you his peace like a river at all times and in every situation.  2 Thessalonians 3:16

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