Peace

We all want peace and we want it now. We want peace at work, we want peace in our churches, peace in our families, and peace in the world. 

In the Bible, we learn some things about peace. Not all of what the Bible says about peace is what we want to hear. We learn that Jesus did not come to bring peace to all our relationships. We sing Christmas songs about peace on earth and we expect peace to be within our grasp. But, in Matthew 10:34-35, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

So, we have a problem, peace is not guaranteed. At least, not when it comes to how we interact in the world in matters of faith. Love for and devotion to Jesus Christ conflicts with those who love the world. While those in our world see multiple paths of salvation and enjoy self-satisfaction, others have identified the only path to salvation in Jesus Christ. 

We know peace was a heavenly promise born in a manger. We know peace came through faith in His work on the cross. We know peace. While this peace may not be a reality in our relationships with others, this peace can be a reality in the souls of those who know the Prince of Peace. 

Isaiah 9:6 says, “For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Last week, we lit the candle of peace on our Advent wreaths and we prayed for peace to reign in our hearts. While others look for peace through substances and things, do we seek the Spirit of peace to fill our hearts? While others seek peace by compromising their values and beliefs, do we stand firm in peaceful resolve as children of a holy God?

We forget to listen to and live according to God’s holy Word. In the distractions this season brings, we forget the focus and purpose of this season. The peace God offers is a peace that passes all understanding. It is a peace that knows that Jesus has been born, not to remain a baby in a manger, not to be reduced to a children’s story, but to be revered and worshipped. Jesus Christ, born as a child, suffered and died on the cross of Calvary that all who believe in Him may not perish but have everlasting life (Jn.3:16). 

True and lasting peace is knowing the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Joy

This week, we lit the candle of joy on our Advent Wreath. Have we lit the flame of joy in our hearts?

Advent takes us on a journey of discovery of hope, love, and peace that brings us everlasting joy.

As we wait with expectation for Christmas and revisit the stories of Jesus’ birth, we are reminded of the joy of the season and the joy Jesus Christ brings to our lives.

Our decorations brighten dull walls. We celebrate with living plants and trees and they remind us of the new life we share in Christ. 

We add light and remember the darkness that once was. Jesus Christ brought the light of joy into our lives.

In this season, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the coming One.

We listen to the stories, sermons, devotionals, and music, and our hearts are filled with joy.

John 1:6-8 says that John the Baptist was not the light but that he “came to testify to the light.” John came to spread the good news and to help prepare the way.

So, in this season, may the joy we find in Jesus Christ take us beyond the decorations of leaves, trees, and garland. May the joy of the Lord prepare the way to decorate and brighten our souls. May the joy of the Lord cause us to respond with hope, peace, and love for God and others.

Love

“Love.” What a beautiful word. We all want to love and be loved. One who has felt loved is better able to give love and receive love from others. Those who have been abandoned or abused find love to be a difficult concept. Love can be miscommunicated and misunderstood. Love can be unspoken and unexpressed. Love can be lost, found, built, and broken. 

Love is more than a feeling. Love is a decision. We decide to begin and remain in relationships. We decide to join and be faithful to our churches. We decide to start and build our families. We decide to help one another. We decide to love. We are all made to love and be loved. Love is best received by a heart that has been properly prepared.

Isaiah 40:3 says, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Last week we lit the candle of love on our Advent wreath as an expression of our preparation to receive the love for God into our hearts. If you have been abandoned or abused, love lights the way toward your healing. If you have failed to love or feel loved, the love of God waits for you. God made the decision to love. God sent love in the form of His only Son, Jesus Christ to die for your sins. God decided to love.

So, we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” now as a response to God’s love and as a way to “prepare the way of the Lord” and to “make his paths straight” as we let God’s love in our hearts. In this Advent season, may we decide to welcome God’s love in our hearts. Let us decide to express our love to God with our time, talents, and resources. May we decide to show love to others and be the expression of God’s love to the world.

Hope

When we were children, we hoped for our long-awaited presents on Christmas morning. Every year, we hoped for short school days and long summers full of friends and fun. We hoped for fun family vacations, our favorite foods at meal time, excitement, happiness, and security. We had hope. 

Sometimes, at times our hopes were crushed. Our classes seemed to last forever, summer went too fast, vacations were cancelled, mom decided to cook liver and broccoli, friends moved away, families broke up.

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent. As many of you know, there are five candles in an Advent wreath that symbolize hope, love, joy, and peace. Just think about the power of these words. Hope, love, joy, peace. The center candle is, of course, the Christ Candle. Jesus Christ in our world makes all of these things possible. 

Hope is a powerful thing. Hope can make hard times bearable. As adults, we hope to finish school, for better jobs, big families, a winning lottery ticket, growth in our churches and growth in our finances.

Unfortunately, hope sometimes seems hard to find. We have to drop out of school, we lose jobs, our marriages crumble, our churches decline and our finances are depleted.

Mark 13:24-27 says, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

What do we do when our hopes are unfulfilled? We continue to hope. We do not hope to run away or escape. We hope to see the fulfillment of hope. We hope to see the Son of Man. We hope to see Jesus Christ. We hope to become. We to become the hands and feet of Christ in a dark and evil world. We hope to become the love of God to those who feel unloved. We hope to become the source of joy to others through our service and by our presence. We can become instruments of God’s hope, love, joy, and peace in our homes, workplaces, churches, and communities.

In this Advent Season, we sing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel because we long to be people of God. We long to become people of hope.

Thankful

My life has mostly been one of privilege. I imagine most of the people reading this can say the same thing. We are reminded time and again how fortunate we are. When we were children and complained, our parents would remind us that other children did not have what we did. As adults, we complain and then we see others in much worse situations. Why do we complain sometimes and at other times are thankful? I believe there are two reasons; thankfulness is both a matter of perspective and of choice.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How can we be thankful when we are out of work? How can we rejoice when our health fails, when we are lonely or discouraged? We rejoice because we make a decision to do so. We are thankful because we choose to focus on that which is good.

During this Thanksgiving week, I encourage you to focus on that for which you have to be thankful. Focus on friends and family that are still around. Focus on fond memories. Focus on the love that God has for you. His love for you is so great that he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for your sins. In Jesus’ sufferings we find solace that he relates to our deepest pains and struggles. Jesus knows your pain. Jesus chose to bear your burdens. So, let us choose to leave our burdens at his feet. Let us choose to be thankful.

Living By The Spirit

Gal 5:25-6:10

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Living by the Spirit is a great challenge because we are made up of flesh.

We are prone to conceit, competition, and envy.

When speaking to the Christians in Galatia, the Apostle Paul assumes the Christians there are not only able to detect others transgressions. Detection is not judgment. It is a statement of fact. But, once detected, we must do as he said in Chapter 6, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

May we be able detect our own sins, to be open to others helping us find our blind spots and to bear one another’s burdens.

More Than We Can Handle

Romans 8:28

“28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. “(NRSV)

In Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths, Rev. Hamilton pointed out one that is commonly believed, “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” While I don’t believe God brings evil into our lives, I do believe life does. When terrible things happen, we look for someone and something to blame. The truth is, terrible things happen because we live in an imperfect world.

Satan is loose and sometimes life sucks. It is in the suckiest moments of life that it helps to remember Romans 8:28’s promise. All things working together for good necessitates a loving relationship with God and being “called according to his purpose.” When we love God more than ourselves, our perspective changes from inward to outward. When we realize we are all called to a higher purpose, we stop making excuses and start creating opportunities for success.

May God help us choose love, stop making excuses and trust God to work all things “together for the good.”

Free

Romans 6:22-23 (NLT) “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This week we celebrate our freedom and give thanks for those who fought so bravely to secure it. Our freedom was bought at great price and our response should be to live our lives with gratefulness and honor.

In the same way, Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins with His blood so we may live forever. Along with that payment comes our responsibility to live our lives with holiness. Though we have been made free, we have made ourselves slaves of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Thankfulness drives us. Gratefulness revives us. Freedom enslaves us to do what is right because that is what we want to do and how we want to live.

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/chain-broken-link-freedom-297842/