Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Peace of God (Philippians 4:4-7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man went to visit his psychiatrist.   He said:   “Doctor I am anxious all the time.  I can’t sleep at night.”   The doctor said: “I am finding it difficult to understand the source of your anxiety.  You have a luxury townhouse, a motor home, three cars, a powerboat, and you’re planning another trip to Hawaii.”  The patient replied:  “Yes, I know, doctor, but I only make $100.00 dollars a week.”

What worries you most today?   There is certainly no shortage of things to be anxious about.    There is insecurity about the future, rapid and overwhelming social change, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, fretting about relationships, concern about the costs of education, worries about our health,  radical Islamic terrorism, natural disasters, crime, the challenges of raising children, climate change, and maybe I better stop before you all go home.

It’s no wonder people search for peace of mind.  It’s an age old quest.    Where do people search for peace?  In money and the dream of financial security, in the comfort of food, in plastic surgery, in denial and avoiding problems; in drugs and alcohol, in nutrition and exercise, in meditation and religious faith, in the life of the mind, in music, in travel, in nature, in self-help books, and staying busy to name but a few. You decide which of these examples are healthy and which are unhealthy pursuits?  Jesus spoke about peace in his teachings.   He often said Peace be with you.  Isn’t that a beautiful word?  Peace. What did Jesus mean?

First,   the peace Jesus speaks of does not mean being completely free from life’s problems or the absence of conflict or adversity or sorrow or escaping the storms of life.  God’s peace is an in-spite of peace.  In spite of disappointments, and in spite of uncertainty and difficulties, God promises peace.

Second, Christ’s peace is not something that the world can give.  You can’t buy it or manufacture it or import it.   You can’t order it on Amazon.com. which frankly surprises me because you can order everything else there.  Peace is a gift of grace.  God’s peace is a gift to his followers.  Jesus said to his disciples; “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.”   It comes only from God and the world cannot take it away.  God’s peace is a different peace; it’s a unique peace, a peace from above.    God’s peace can surprise us and come when we least expect it.

Third, the peace of God comes from knowing, claiming and remembering your identity.  Say to yourself – “I am a child of God.”  “I was baptized into God’s family.” That’s your identity.    You belong to God, you belong to God’s family, you are known by God, you are created in His image, you have abilities from God.   God loves you.  Your sins are forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross, before you were God’s enemy, now you are God’s friend.  It’s knowing that God is for you and not against you.  You are free to accept yourself because God accepts you as you are.

How do we know God knows us?  Listen to the Psalmist: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away.  You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.”

Fourth, the peace of God comes when you believe you are living in accord with God’s purpose.   You believe you are living the life God wants you to live. You trust that God is working out his purposes in and through your life. You know God is using you for His ends.  You know you are loving and serving and worshiping and witnessing in the light of your faith.  You are confident that God is carrying out His will in your life for His glory.   Having an identity and a purpose rooted in God, is basic to experiencing God’s peace.

Fifth, scripture says: “Rejoice always, again I say rejoice.”  Even in dark and disturbing times, you are able to perceive rays of light, glimmers of light, surprises of grace, unexpected blessings, small joys where you can praise God.  Make it a habit to be alert in your spiritual life.  In prayer let God know everything in your heart and everything that is on your mind.

The letter of Philippians says turn your worries into prayers; worry less, pray more.   Rejoice in the Lord and pray daily.  Is that rationale?  Is this logical?  When we are dealing with the peace of God we are dealing with a mystery.  It is a mystery which transcends our understanding.    You may think – “How come I feel O.K. when things around me are not O.K.?  Am I sick?”  Despite things swirling around you, you have an inner calm.   The peace of God is a blessing which goes beyond our understanding.   It’s alright if you don’t understand it.  You and I don’t have to.  All we have to do is open our hearts and minds, receive it and experience God’s peace.

Sixth, what is the aim of God’s peace?   Philippians says: “The Lord is near, do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayers and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God’s peace will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   Your heart will be calm rather than troubled, minds will find courage, rather than being afraid.  The peace of God stands like a sentry to restrain life’s hostile and negative forces and offer serenity in place of conflict and courage in place of fear.   God’s peace puts our anxious thoughts at rest.   It puts our anxious hearts at rest.  It is a peaceful confidence and a peaceful rest.  It is a time of quiet when things around you are in an uproar.  It is an inner assurance, a feeling of tranquility.  How long does it last?  That’s up to God.   God’s peace is a sense of well-being which comes from the presence and graciousness of the Holy Spirit.  Can you recall such times in your life?

The peace of God means different things depending upon your circumstances.   Like when God grants you inner forgiveness, when you have struggled with a memory which has plagued you with guilt, or when you suddenly feel an inner-strength, an inner-power to face and overcome something that was sapping your strength.  Something you thought would surely defeat you.  It is like a time when you are suddenly filled with hope, where once you were trapped in despair.

Do you want to experience God’s peace?  Then learn to know Jesus better, walk closer with Jesus.  Spiritual peace is a by-product of your faith, and Christ’s power, presence and inspiration in your life.   Our spiritual journey with Christ is where we learn to know him, love him, confess to him, and follow him.   God’s peace arises out of a commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

The late Christian author Catherine Marshall wrote:

My friend had a spiritual experience aboard a plane bound for Cleveland, waiting for takeoff.  As she settled into her seat, she noticed a strange phenomenon. On one side of the airplane a sunset bathed the entire sky with glorious color. But out of the window next to her seat, her friend could only see a sky dark and threatening, with no sign of the sunset.

As the plane's engines began to roar, a gentle Voice spoke within her.  "You have noticed the windows. Your life, too, will contain some happy, beautiful times, but also some dark shadows.  You see, it doesn't matter which window you look through; this plane is still going to Cleveland. So it is in your life. You have a choice. You can dwell on the gloomy picture. Or you can focus on the bright things and leave the dark, ominous situations to Me. I alone can handle them anyway. The final destination of being at home with me is not influenced by what you see and hear along the way. Remember this and you will experience my peace.”

I close with the blessing of Aaron, the brother of Moses:  The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and grant you His peace.  Amen!

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