It's four days until Christmas. One of the most needed messages during this time of the year is God is your PEACE. The stress and anxiety of gift giving, busy schedules, family dynamics, loss, grief and living make PEACE seem distant this time of year. But Isaiah 9:6 says that Jesus, the child in the manger, would be called a Prince of PEACE. All those who were touched by the Christmas story were promised peace. The angel told Zechariah, the shepherds, Mary, "Don't be afraid." The angel said that the announcement of Christmas would bring the blessing of peace in Luke 2:14.
Peace was prophesied. Peace was promised. Peace was provided.
So where is it now?
While Americans tend to be myopic when considering their experience, everyone's experience, there is no doubt that world peace seems impossible, which it is if you understand spiritual things from a biblical perspective.
Here's a newsflash: Global Peace Index 2018 says the world is less peaceful today than at any other time in the last decade. Here is the list of things you can do to bring world peace. (Try not to laugh)
1 Start by stamping out exclusion
2 Bring about true equality between women and men
3 Share out wealth fairly
4 Tackle climate change
5 Control arms sales
6 Display less hubris, make more policy change
7 Protect political space
8 Fix intergenerational relations
9 Build an integrated peace movement
10 Look within
Of course, none of these things will produce world peace because there's sin in the world and the Prince of this world is Satan.
The kingdom of God through the coming of Jesus Christ offers real and LASTING peace for anyone who lives in that kingdom (both now AND forever.) Jesus himself said that the peace he offers is NOT like the peace the world gives. (John 14: 27) The peace of the world plays on your fears. The peace of God requires your trust. They say there are 365 references in the Bible to not be afraid. That's one for each day. (Phil 4: 6-8; Isaiah 26:3,4; John 16:33; Rom 14:17 are just a few of my favorites.) Gideon first gave God the name "Shalom", which means peace in Judges 6 during a time of great fear and trouble in Israel. And God IS Peace. He is three persons who work together in total unity. There is never a lack of perfect harmony between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is always PEACE. The characteristic will be the mark of his kingdom and should be the mark of every follower who bears the name of Christ.
Peace comes from exercising faith in the character of God and His Word. We can have peace in the midst of challenges when we remember that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It is not the absence of trouble any more than joy is the absence of sadness. It is all about being in the presence of God.
And so here is my recipe for PEACE this year. These are the things you can do to bring peace into your life...and it IS available NOW.
Recipe for Peace in your heart.
-Practice Presence. (Learn to walk with God ALL day)
-Grow a heart of thanksgiving.
-Intercede for others.
-Practice spiritual disciplines. (Col 3:5-14. This involves choosing life over death in your moment-to-moment choices.)
-Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.
-Keep your eyes on Jesus (Trust)
I actually wonder if people are interested in peace. It is available and they can have it. I believe the gifts of Christmas as celebrated during Advent: Hope; Joy; Peace are the marks that every Christian must bear if they are to shine in such a way as to attract others into the Kingdom of God.
The future kingdom of God will be peace-full. Isaiah 11:1-9 prophesies this place of perfect peace.
This Christmas, my prayer for you is the blessing of God in Romans 13:15 that brings all three of these Kingdom characteristics into one verse:
"May the God of HOPE fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Come quickly Lord.
One of my favorite things to do when teaching children Bible stories is role play. The old adage, ‘kids say the darndest things’ is true for a reason. Recently, we were doing a Christmas production in a friend’s home using some simple dramatic conventions to tell the story of Christ’s birth. Afterwards, Samson, the four-year old of the house said that he wanted to play a part of the story. So, I dressed him up as the shepherd and I played the angel (typecasting) and we set out to recreate the scene when the angel appears to the shepherd. We gathered some makeshift props like the dog playing the sheep, which was harder to control and a mop handle for a staff. Then lights, camera and action! Samson acted afraid when the angel appeared. He showed surprise at the angel’s announcement and then wonder at the good news. Then….scene change. We traveled across the living room to the kitchen where Mary and Joseph were with the child in a stable. We recruited a couple of innocent bystanders eating cheese and crackers and grabbed a paper plate for the manger. The closest thing we could find to play the baby was a stuffed teddy bear. But no questions were asked as we entered the scene. I led him to the place with the line, So the shepherd said, ‘let’s go see this thing that the angel spoke of. When the shepherds arrived at the place where the baby laid, they bowed down. Samson took his cues perfectly. Sometimes, I like to give the kids a chance to adlib to see if they really understand what is going on in the scene as opposed to being directs as to what to say. So, I said, “And the shepherd said…..” Without lifting his gaze from the ‘manger’ he nodded and sweetly said, “Praise God.”
Wow. That’s it isn’t it? May the wonder and awe of Christmas surprise you with a greater revelation of the wonderful gift of God this Christmas.
Drain the Swamp! Donald Trump is not the first person that tried to do that. The religious establishment during the time of Jesus Christ was a cesspool filled with leaders that were mostly concerned with holding on to power. Jesus represented a real threat to their way of life. Disguised under the banner of ‘protecting the people’ from heresy, they created a campaign based on lies and fake news to destroy him; which they certainly did not.
Jesus called these people “Hypocrites”. It is derived from the Greek word “hupokrites” which means, “An expounder or interpreter of dreams, then an actor. That is what the Greeks used to call a stage player who acted under a mask impersonating a character. A counterfeit.” Ironic how the word parallels today’s ‘celebrities’ who espouse morality and preach how we all should live, while they live lives that are completely to the contrary. It’s easy to feel the same agitation that Jesus felt against the spirits of his adversaries.
In Luke 12: 1b, Jesus says, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which IS hypocrisy.” He called out their sin for what it was. They were hypocrites when it came to telling the people how to live and then living as if the same laws didn’t apply to them. They were somehow ‘above the law’, a reference I’ve heard leveled at our president during these impeachment hearings. Again, the hypocrisy of just that statement alone is astounding.
And in every case where Jesus confronted them, their response was always the same, “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to plot ways to kill Jesus….” (Luke 22:2…and others.) I love what Luke 13:17 says, “When he said this, his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” (I have to admit that I do delight in how the president is winning in the battle against his/our adversaries.) Meanwhile, his enemies have been trying to destroy him since before he took the oath of office.
I can’t help but see the parallels of today’s political theatre. It is evident that the hypocrites of our Congress are trying to crucify a duly elected president because he represents a threat to their power. And there is no argument to be made when facts do not matter and deception reigns. Logic is thrown out the window and emotional tirades rue the day. President Trump is no Messiah (as his predecessor was labeled), but he clearly stands for values rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldviews. And those values, including nationalism, are vehemently opposed to whom the real villain is in this melodrama: GLOBALISM.
How long President Trump can stem the tide of these forces remains to be seen. But for now, at least, I am grateful for his leadership. I know there are many who disagree. But I see the parallels in Scripture and know the struggle is ultimately “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” (Ephesisans 6) And so, I’m reminded to keep praying.
Jesus didn’t succeed in ‘draining’ the swamp before he died. But his death made the way for the swamp to be drained. He ushered in the kingdom of God for all who believe and gave us power and authority to do the work. I am with President Trump and all he is trying to do. But he will not drain the swamp in his lifetime.
This swamp will be drained only when it is ruled by Jesus Christ. SOON.
Phil 4: 4,5, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, “REJOICE”. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. “
Joyful, joyful we adore thee
God of glory Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt our hearts of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day.
These words were penned by Henry Van Dyke in 1907 in a poem called “Ode to Joy” and set to the tune of Beethoven’s last symphony, “Hymn of Joy”. It is as joyful a melody as you can imagine in this life and I find myself singing it regularly during this season of Advent.
In Luke 2: 6,7 it says, “While they (Mary and Joseph) were there (Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Who among us can deny the joy of announcing a child is born to us? If you have children, do you remember waiting to tell someone that you were having a baby or that you were expecting a grandchild? The joy is evident in the way we tell others.
I longed for a good father-son relationship growing up. When I held my first born, a son, I felt all the possibilities in the world; a healing had begun in my spirit. My very first words to my son as I held him in my arms were, “We’re going to be best friends someday.” What JOY there is in announcing a birth. As a matter of fact the angels appeared in the very next scene with this pronouncement: “Behold I bring you good tidings of GREAT JOY.” It was like the extended family telling everyone the good news. And they SANG.. JOY was everywhere. Did you know that singing is one of the most joyous expressions we know?
This type of joy is not just a reflection of the moment. It is a reflection of God. Do you know that God experiences emotion? He is a personality. He’s not emotional. But to deny God’s emotions is to deny that he possesses personality. The Bible shows us he experiences anger (Ps 7:11; Deut 9:22),; laughter (Ps 37:13, 2:4), compassion (Ps 135:14, Judges 2:18), grief (Gen 6:6, Ps 78:40), and jealousy (Ex 20:5, 34:14) and others. He also experiences JOY. (Zeph 3:17, Is 62:5, Jeremiah 32:41).
The word “Joy” in the New Testament is “Chara”, which means, “inner gladness, delight or rejoicing. It’s always used to signify happiness based on spiritual realities independent of what happens. Do you see? Joy is not happiness. Happiness is based on what happens. Joy is an abiding sense of God’s spirit REGARDLESS of what happens. The Bible speaks of the joy we possess in Phil 4:4, 1, Thess 5: 6-8, Hebrews 12:2, and Rom 14:17, among others.
All of creation is joyful. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” One of the attirbutes in creation that reflects the attributes of the Creator is and should be JOY. Psalm 19:1,2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies declare his handiwork. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they reveal knowledge. Can you even imagine the sky on the night of Jesus’ birth. The star itself was a galactic testimony of JOY and good news.
Jesus was joyful. He portrays a picture of himself in Luke 15 as the shepherd who rejoices over one lost sheep. Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in a recent video series of Matthew’s Gospel, played the part using ‘joy’ as the character’s spine. He was a joyous Jesus. Hebrews 1:9 says Jesus was anointed with the oil of joy!
And the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians says that the Spirit is JOYFUL. My point? Ps 16:11 says, “IN His presence is fullness of JOY”. The FULLNESS of joy. The Trinity; FATHER, SON, and SPIRIT, are all characterized by joy. Creation is joyful. What about us? What should be an identifiable marking of every Christian? You guessed it….JOY.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), Jesus said that the Master of the house rewarded the faithful servants and said, “You have been faithful in the small things, there fore I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into your master’s happiness (JOY) prepared for you since the beginning of time.” Hebrews 12:2 even says that Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him. There is not doubt that heaven will be filled with JOY as we abide in the Kingdom of God and the presence of the Holy Trinity. Heaven is certainly going to be a joyful place..
During the events of that first Christmas, the Bible says that Mary pondered all these things in her heart. No doubt these expressions of joy were a great blessing. But just a few verses later, in the same chapter, Luke talks about an event that happens at the Temple. A prophet named Simeon, who has been promised to see the Messiah, warns her that a ‘sword shall pierce your soul, also.” What parent can’t relate to that? They say children step on your toes when they’re young, but as they grow, they step on your heart; Once a parent, always a parent. And you can be assured that your kids will bring you some grief. Joy and sadness go together, just like the movie “Inside Out” so wonderfully portrayed. (Even if you never seen Pixar’s Inside Out, I recommend it.) The Bible says, “Consider it all (pure) JOY when you suffer trials of many kinds…” Trust in God and His purposes for your life bring not only brings peace. It brings joy.
The christian will go through trials and tribulations and even the dark night of the soul. Seasons are biblical. Emotionally-healthy spirituality understands that you won’t always be happy. But joy is abiding. If you don’t have joy, you need to stop and reflect. Meditate. Where am I in my walk with Christ? Is this a dark night of the soul where God is refining my faith in a fire. (If you’re wanting to know more about this biblical reality, I recommend the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero.) Am I practicing the disciplines necessary to be in God’s presence. It is there that I find joy, even fullness of joy. Is there something about this season in my life that God wants to reveal that will build my character and extend his purposes in me? Remember in Psalm 51:12 that David says ‘restore to me the JOY of my salvation.” This was his cry during the dark night of his soul.
For many, Advent is not a joyous time. The loss of loved ones or tragedy or the dysfunction of life and family gatherings make it difficult. If grief has stolen your joy during this season, I encourage you to get counsel or seek help or look outward and not inward in regards to this lost sense of joy. While sadness and happiness may not coexist, joy and sadness can. Let the anointing of JOY cover you this blessed season.