John 16:25-33 – I Have Overcome the World

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (New International Version)

Imagine you are with Jesus in the Upper Room celebrating Passover. And your Lord tells you he is leaving – going back to the Father. After three years of hard and incredible ministry, there is palpable grief in the room. It’s as if you got sucker-punched. You want this time with Jesus to never end….

Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior of the world, does not forget you. The Lord is concerned and careful to provide wonderful words of assurance: Father God loves you. I give you my peace. I have overcome the world.

Whenever we encounter trouble; in those times when grief seems to be swallowing us whole; and when all is dark and we cannot see our hand in front of our face – it is in these moments the Lord comes alongside us and communicates a loving divine presence which grants us the peace of settled rest, even if and especially when our troubling situations do not change.

If you have had a life largely free of struggle, the privilege of knowing where your next meal is coming from, and the assurance of having your most basic needs met, then understand many people throughout the world know nothing of this experience.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean those needy persons are unhappy, discontent, or bitter. Love and peace are neither bound nor limited by adverse circumstances. In fact, we know love and peace in a much deeper way whenever we have been hated and in conflict. That’s because love thrives and flourishes in an environment of hate; and peace takes root more surely where there is disharmony and misunderstanding.

If everything always goes our way, how then would we know the Lord’s great grace to us? How would we ever know God as Provider unless we were in want? How would we know Christ as the Healer unless we were broken? How could we ever know resurrection unless there was a crucifixion?

Jesus specializes in the improbable and the impossible, in landing on the Island of Misfit Toys and airlifting the discarded to be a gift to the world. You see, this is precisely how we overcome the world: We love and serve, just as our Lord did. Since he overcame, we walk in his footsteps.

The acquisition and presence of peace is anything but passive. Peace has been achieved through a bloody cross and settles within the spirit through an active pursuit of harmony, wholeness, integrity, and love.

Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so, we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. (Romans 5:1-4, GNT)

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:17-19, NRSV)

God’s peace and love is free, but it is not cheap. It is obtained smack in the middle of worldly troubles.

May the peace of God be with you, my friends.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are the fountain of all peace, spiritual and temporal. We humbly pray, in your great goodness grant us that peace which the world cannot give, that we may ever live in your fear, obedient to your commandments, to the end that you may deliver us from all our enemies, through your dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Isaiah 60:15-22 – A Renewed Vision of Peace

Isaiah 60 by Margaret Nagib

Instead of being abandoned,
    hated, and forbidden,
    I will make you majestic forever,
    a joy for all generations.
You will suck the milk of nations,
    and nurse at royal breasts.
    You will know that I am the Lord, your savior
    and your redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob.
Instead of bronze I will bring gold;
    instead of iron I will bring silver;
    instead of wood, bronze;
    and instead of stones, iron.
I will make peace your governor
    and righteousness your taskmaster.
Violence will no longer resound throughout your land,
    nor devastation or destruction within your borders.
You will call your walls Salvation,
    and your gates Praise.
The sun will no longer be your light by day,
    nor will the moon shine for illumination by night.
The Lord will be your everlasting light;
    your God will be your glory.
Your sun will no longer set;
    your moon will no longer wane.
The Lord will be an everlasting light for you,
    and your days of mourning will be ended.
Your people will all be righteous;
    they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot that I planted,
    the work of my hands, to glorify myself.
The least will become a thousand,
    and the smallest a powerful people.
I am the Lord; at the right moment, I will hurry it along. (CEB)

The people of ancient times typically had a love/hate relationship with prophets. After all, the Lord’s messengers gave verbal punches to the gut with bad news of judgment. But they also were bearers of good news, as well. So, it is important to hold both judgment and grace together. We need to always keep in mind that, despite human foibles, grace exists and is the grand operating force in God’s big world.

Good news turns to great news when there is a realization that judgment is deserved, yet it won’t have the last word. God’s grace always prevails in the end. God has a tenacious resolve to work out good for people, not ill. Although the Lord dispenses justice, sometimes with a firm hand, there is an unflagging commitment to divine love which will shine through the darkest of times.

God expertly knows how to make a reversal in people’s situations from hopeless despair to incredible fortune (and, I might add, vice versa). The Lord truly has plans of goodness and well-being for humanity. Humiliation and powerlessness will give way to exaltation and empowerment. Peace will eventually overcome both the human heart and human institutions.

Salvation and deliverance from the ills which plague both body and soul comes from the God who specializes in penetrating the blackest darkness with overwhelming light. And it is much more than personal well-being. Isaiah’s prophecy communicates a cosmic vision of peace which thoroughly works its way in all the shadowy places of the world. It is a vision of a new world and new life.

Because of God’s action in a broken and bruised world, we can make some bold and hopeful theological claims for God’s people:

  • God’s good grace and steadfast love are the superior forces in the church and the world. Because grace and love are pure gifts from the Lord, they are not dependent upon whether we deserve them, or not. The sheer fact that we need them is what prompts God to give generously and unsparingly. A new heaven and new earth are coming. Sin and death are not permanent.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Revelation 21:1, NRSV)

  • God is the center of every good thing that was, is, and is coming. God’s world runs on God’s providence and power, and not on human agency. God is in control. All the Lord’s good promises shall not fail but will be realized. For the Christian, those promises are ultimately fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When circumstances are at their worst, faith is at its best.

In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:37-39, CEV)

  • God’s promises extend well beyond the “spiritual” to all of life. God’s peace will work its way into the fabric of the whole world, not just individual hearts. God’s benevolent kingdom and ethical will shall be done on earth as it is always done in heaven. Just as every human institution and all creation have been profoundly touched by sin, so everything will be touched by grace and renewed. Our prayers are to encompass this grand scope of God’s renewing vision for the world.

May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:11, NLT)

God’s plans are more than good and gracious; they are cosmic in their scope and include an expansive realm of peace which is so incredible that the Lord’s glory will overwhelm all darkness and shall shine forever. Human sin might seem as though it is so pervasive as to win the day, yet it will not always be this way. God’s light will penetrate, overcome, and dispel guilt, shame, and disobedience. And it has already begun…

Almighty God give us a new vision of you, of your love, of your grace and power; and then, give us a new vision of what you would have us do as your people, and an awareness that in the strength of your Spirit we can do it to your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 1:68-79 – All I Want for Christmas Is Peace

Welcome, friends! In a move of incredible mercy, God leaped down and came to live with us, giving us the peace of divine presence. The Word is present and lives among us. Click the videos below and let us worship the Lord for the indescribable gift of peace…

Luke 1:68-79
Zechariah’s Song | Official Music Video (WCC Worship)
May the Peace of God – Kristyn Getty, Margaret Becker, Joanne Hogg

“I leave you peace. It is my own peace I give you. I give you peace in a different way than the world does. So don’t be troubled. Don’t be afraid.” -Jesus (John 14:27, ERV)

All I Want for Christmas Is Peace

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:  to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79, NIV)

This beautiful psalm and prophecy came from the old priest Zechariah. It is a praise to God for the Christ about to be born; and, a prediction of Zechariah’s own son, newly born, as one who will prepare the way for Jesus.  This benediction speaks of better days to come, pointing forward to peace (shalom) spiritually, politically, and relationally.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well past the childbearing years.  In fact, Zechariah is portrayed earlier in Luke’s Gospel as something of a stereotypical grump.  After being taken up to the temple in a golf cart because he could walk so well anymore, Zechariah was confronted by an angel and nearly lost his dentures out of fear.  The angel Gabriel told him that his wife would bear a son who will prepare the way of Messiah.  Zechariah then gave a sort of “Hmpff!  That’s not likely, Sonny.  Look at me and my wife.  Are you sure you have the right couple, and the orders in heaven didn’t get screwed up?”

Gabriel was not very keen on being doubted, and it earned Zechariah losing his voice until John the Baptist was born.  It was after Zechariah had nine months to think about that encounter, and experience watching a child grow in his wife’s womb that, after John’s birth, Zechariah was a changed man.  He went from just one of many old priests in Israel, to being inspired by the Spirit and singing the praises of God.  We can almost imagine him acting like Fred Astaire, picking up his cane and dancing with joy.

Nativity of John the Baptist, an Eastern Orthodox icon, 15th century

Our lives are not so different than Zechariah in this respect:  We are a complex concoction of both fear and joy that could combust at any time in either direction.  We sway back and forth from fear and anxiety to joy and gratitude.  Certain words can swing us to one extreme or the other: finances, pandemic, politics, religion, the future.  They can create in us either immediate tension or smiling happiness; tomorrow they might do just the opposite.  Zechariah went from anxious to elated, fearful to joyful.

We live in a toxic world filled with polarizing opposites and entrenched stereotypes of others.  We vacillate between love and hate, pursed lips of anger and dispositions of peace.  So, how do we rise above the heated rhetoric that exists in our world?  How are we going to deal with all the disharmony and vitriol? By possessing the peace given to us in the prophecy and promise of Jesus.  Our feet need to be guided in the path of peace.

Jesus came to give peace.  All the words of Zechariah’s inspiration point toward the harmonious peace of salvation, rescue, and forgiveness.  The time was finally coming when there would be peace in its fullest sense – wholeness and thriving in life which was unprecedented and unthinkable before Jesus. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. captured the biblical sense of the word “peace” well when he said, “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, tension or war – it is the presence of some positive force, justice, good will, brotherhood.”

We are to live the Christian life and have a ministry in the church and the world without fear.  Instead, we are to focus on what we are called to be and to do.  Jesus rescues and delivers so that we will have forgiveness of sins which enables us to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness, without fear.

Few good things in life just materialize out of thin air. Whether it is losing weight, getting in shape, building trust and relationships, or reaching out to make a difference, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into just about everything of importance.

Peace rarely just happens.  Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus.  And it must be pursued.  Practices of peace must be engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level.  Yes, obtaining peace is difficult.  Yet, we instinctively know it is worth it.

Spiritual health comes through cultivating the peace of God in our lives. It requires avoiding chronic negativity and embracing the positive. It depends upon reconciliation and making things right with others. It necessitates pursuing Jesus with heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Rather than focusing solely on problem solving, we need to reframe our situations to a fresh vision of peace, wholeness, integrity, spiritual growth, and relational health.

Zechariah, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave us a vision of a future full of peace, joy, and thriving.  The name “Zechariah” means in Hebrew “God remembered.”  God has not forgotten his promises.  The time has come to take hold of the vision God had from the very beginning to walk with humanity in continual fellowship and happiness in the garden, a place of abundant growth, beauty, and health.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression today, globally. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. And, of course, depression can lead to suicide.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in this calendar year of 2020, figures have been as high as 40% of American adults suffering from either mental health issues, substance abuse, or both. The CDC has also taken notice of the rising figures of suicide in this country, which has been growing steadily for the past thirty years. This year alone, nearly 50,000 people will die by suicide in the United States. Perhaps it goes without saying that large numbers of people lack peace in their lives.

Beginning nearly ten years ago, a new kind of study has come from a task force put together by professionals across a wide spectrum of disciplines known as the World Happiness Report.  Every country in the world is ranked according to criteria such as the gross domestic product, social support, healthy lifestyles, freedom to make choices, lack of corruption, and both negative and positive outlooks on life. 

The United States has yet to make the top ten list on happiness.  Even with our vast resources, we are, collectively speaking, a very unhappy people.  I believe the most interesting finding from the World Happiness Report was their conclusion as to what makes one country happier than another.  The Report consistently concludes that citizens of the happiest nations on earth continually find a steady stream of peace and joy in three sources: their families, their rituals/traditions, and their religion.

It will be hard to find joy in our lives through our Christianity if we are not experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ. Christian liturgical rituals and observances of seasons like Advent help remind us we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are seven practical ways we can implement the peace we have in Jesus Christ today:

  1. Slow down, pause, breathe, and pray.

Do not worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)

2. Exchange fear for the presence of God.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV)

3. Listen to music, sing, or make music yourself.

Encourage each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19, ERV)

4. Have a “go to” word, phrase, or Scripture verse. One of my tried and true verses:

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. (Psalm 23:1, CEB)

5. Unplug for a time and close your eyes. Closing your eyes reduces visual distractions and allowing for better focus. Several studies have shown that closing the eyes is the simplest way to change your state of mind. 

We live by what we believe, not by what we can see. (2 Corinthians 5:7, NCV)

6. Use some aromatherapy and activate your sense of smell. When you slow down to smell something, you tend to breathe more deeply which slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure. And this allows us to give off a peaceful scent.

Through us, God brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15, MSG)

7. Say “no” and set healthy boundaries.

Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So, she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. There is only one thing you need. Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, GW)

May the peace of Christ guide you into the path of peace and be with you, now and forever.