Romans 5:1-5 – Maybe There Can Be Peace…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (New International Version)

Today, there are millions, perhaps billions, of people without peace in this world.

Maybe…

Maybe there isn’t much peace in your life. Because of that unsettled icky sense of agitation, your mind is somewhere else. It could be that you are upset about something that has happened or are worried about something that is going to happen. 

Maybe the lack of peace has to do with another person. They did or said something, and it’s been grinding on you. So, you are having conversations with that person in your head for which you will probably never say aloud. 

Maybe you have to deal with someone else who doesn’t have peace, and it’s creating stress for you. And you are wondering when things will settle down.

Maybe the lack of peace runs much deeper than your immediate circumstances and plans. 

Maybe every day, day-in-and-day-out, you are not quite sure about where you stand with a person or a group of people.

Maybe you aren’t sure about how you stand with God. You wonder whether God is really pleased with you, or not. 

Maybe you aren’t even in touch with your lack of peace because you are an expert at pushing whatever feelings you have so far down that you think you’re fine. But you really aren’t.

Maybe you are a perfectionist…

Perfectionists are never at peace. The specter of perfectionism always hangs in the air. There’s a steady stream of “should have’s,” and “could have’s” making noise in your head. Your work, no matter how good, is never good enough. “I should have done better.”  “I ought to do better.”  “I must be better.” 

Instead of viewing life’s opportunities as challenges to be welcomed, the perfectionist sees life as one unending mountain to climb, never quite reaching the top. 

The constant companions of perfectionistic people are disappointment, condemnation, frustration, and perceived failure. There is, for them, an internal world of self-loathing based on the lie that I am not enough – I have to be perfect. Peace, for the perfectionist, is a pipe dream.

Maybe we could focus a bit on God…

The Christian God is a triune God, existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – the great Three-in-One. The Trinity is the basis for all we are and all we do.

All of life is grounded in the triune God. God exists in perfect unity and harmony. God is God’s own community of glorious love. God’s glory is primarily seen on this earth through creation, through us, God’s creatures.

Glory is revealed as we reflect the image of God stamped on us in creation. Since God is love, God’s people are to be characterized by love – loving God, loving one another, and loving neighbor. God’s people are meant to exist together in unity and harmony, reflecting the very nature of the Holy Trinity. 

Yet, after the creation of the world and humanity, man and woman fell into guilt and shame through bucking God’s design for people. Ever since, God has been on a mission to reclaim the lost glory.

Maybe we need to focus on the Son… 

The ultimate expression of God’s mission was the sending of the Son to this earth. It is through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension that the way has been opened to a renewed relationship with our triune God.

The way is now clear for us to experience real practical peace. It has been achieved through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since God has initiated a rescue mission for us by sending the Son, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God. 

To be justified means God made us righteous – has made things right between us. God has also provided access for us to be right with each other and the rest of creation. To put this in a contemporary vernacular, we ask God, “Are we good?” and God responds, “We’re good.”

Since then, we’re good with God, we have peace with God. 

Since then, that is true, we cannot try and get peace by another way.

Peace does not come through doing the right things, and by being a good person. 

Peace does not come through trying to obtain feelings of peace.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict – of just keeping people from strangling each other and harming one another. 

Peace cannot be achieved by trying to relieve anxiety through better effort. 

Maybe grace is the answer…

The antidote to perfectionism, the resolution to feeling a lack of peace is unconditional approval from God. 

Grace is the elixir of life. 

Grace is the thing a perfectionist cannot work to obtain, and the thing that truly helps. 

Grace is freely given; it is a gift.   

Grace (God’s loving unconditional acceptance of us) is the true way of peace.

Some folks have so tied themselves to impossible performances and conditional love that the gift of grace is hard to accept. 

Change won’t happen overnight, and that’s okay – because God deals with us according to grace, not by earning spiritual merit badges. 

The renewal that brings transformation is a process, not an event. In Scripture it’s called “sanctification.” So, it’s important to enjoy the process. 

When you’ve caught yourself going back to the pigsty of perfectionism, instead of beating yourself up, go ahead and laugh at yourself and your own fallibility. Perfectionists take themselves way too serious. Anytime they can lighten up, it lights up the face of God (in a non-performance sort of way!).

Maybe peace is possible…

Peace delivers us from our brokenness.  Again, let’s return to the triune God. There is perfect peace within Father, Son, and Spirit. God is perfect unity, harmony, and love.

Peace means living, working, and playing together. 

Peace means experiencing wholeness, integrity, and contentment, even in the midst of hard circumstances. 

Peace means being a peacemaker.

The late Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, got into television because he didn’t like TV. During spring break of his senior year in seminary he encountered television for the first time. What he saw repulsed him because he saw people demeaning each other and not having peace.  

Fred Rogers worried that TV programming would create a generation of emotionally-bankrupt children. Faced with the decision to either sour on television itself or work to restore the medium, he chose the latter. He dropped out of seminary and began pursuing a career in broadcasting. Fourteen years later, he created a television show that shaped entire generations of children, running on PBS from 1968-2001.

Mr. Rogers was a devout Christian who rarely talked about his faith on the air. Yet, his show infused our society with beauty and grace. “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you,” he’d famously sign off. “There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” 

In many ways, the lasting legacy of Mr. Rogers will not only be the greater emotional stability of generations of children, but also his wonderful example of peace and how to restore the world through basic human kindness.

Maybe the path of peace is different than I believed…

Having all our circumstances like we want them is not the basis of experiencing peace. That’s being delusional. Peace doesn’t happen whenever everything goes our way.

Instead, we are to rejoice in all our circumstances, even the ones which cause suffering – because they the Holy Spirit’s means of teaching us to experience the peace we long for.

Suffering is our triune God’s way of weaning us off all that divides and antagonizes so that we can attach ourselves to God’s peace. 

One of the most read Christian books of all time was written in the 1500’s by a French woman known as Madame Guyon. She saw the disunity of the world and the lack of peace in our individual lives as stemming from our lack of practicing God’s ways. 

Much of the world doesn’t know what to do with suffering, and does not accept it, because people want their own way with everything.

War and Peace by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

To know God’s peace, we must practice just the opposite – by refusing all personal desires we have, whether good or bad. Why? Because the practice of refusing our own will breaks it free so it can attach to God’s will.  

We need our brains to be rewired in saying “no” to ourselves.

The other part of Madame Guyon’s practice is to accept every circumstance, even difficulty and suffering, with joy and thanksgiving. 

We can learn to say “yes, thank you” for each hard circumstance, whether good or bad. As in the case of Mr. Rogers, the evil we observe can spur us toward making peace in this world. We detach from personal desires so we can attach to what God wants to do.

Peace, on the practical level, comes from persevering under suffering and rejoicing in it. Why rejoice? Because suffering produces character and character hope. There cannot be hope without suffering. 

God the Father called God the Son to suffer; and God the Spirit leads us into suffering so that we might know peace and hope on a daily basis.

Conclusion

Abandon everything to God. Let it go – every dream, every personal desire, everything you have so that you are free to know God’s will for your life. 

Accept each circumstance you face with joy and thanksgiving. The Trinitarian love of God is poured into our hearts through every circumstance of life, even if it is difficult and hard. 

When we practice abandonment of our wills and acceptance of our circumstances, the result gives us hope, the confident expectation that nothing in our lives happens in vain. 

Every situation can lead us to know God and experience peace. This is very different from simply believing in the Trinity; it is to daily experience the Trinity. 

Glorious God, make your presence known through our worship, our prayer, and our reading of your Word. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, within you lies unity, love, justice, peace, and power.

Fill our outstretched hearts with your Spirit and encircle us with your love. Make yourself known to us in new and challenging ways. Empower us to forsake every will but your own.  Inspire us toward your peace. Do with us what you will, through Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 John 2:18-28 – Who Is the Real Enemy?

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (New International Version)

Identifying the Antichrist is almost a spectator sport amongst some Christians. They seem to enjoy advancing particular persons as the archenemy of Christ and the Church.

Throughout Christian history, bloodthirsty kings and ruthless dictators have typically received the moniker of Antichrist. When the Protestant Reformation came along, five-hundred years ago, the Catholic Church often got labeled as the great enemy of Christianity.

The mudslinging that has gone on between different Christian traditions throughout the centuries can make any contemporary political war look like a powder puff football game.

Although some Christian groups tend to view the antichrist as a single enemy, setting-off a bomb of world-ending trauma, the earliest Church, following the teaching of the Apostle John, understood antichrist not as an individual, but as a class of people who deny Jesus is the Christ. 

It has become much too vogue in some circles of Christianity to identify and label enemies outside their small groups, leading to a xenophobic attitude of distrust and finger-pointing toward all kinds of people.

 

The fingers, however, must first be directed within our own house. It behooves us all to take up the instruction of John to let what we have heard from the beginning abide in us. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 

We are to embrace basic core cardinal truth given us. Then we will not be deceived by some supposed enlightened teacher who detracts from Trinitarian theology.

It is the last hour – but not because of some politician, tyrant, or religious figure. It is the end-times because Jesus has accomplished redemption for us, and the only event left is the return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. 

Therefore, we must all live with the possibility and tension that it could be today. We are to be prepared. Proper preparation comes through proclaiming Jesus in all we say and do – not by obnoxiously ginning up fearmongering through pointing fingers at those we don’t like. Rather, we emulate our Lord in the way of loving God and neighbor.

When a person or group gets labeled by us as “enemy” or “antichrist” then our hate for them seems divinely justified and sanctioned. God, however, is the judge; not us. We are to follow the ethical instruction of Jesus to love our enemies, not curse them through declaring certain persons a “monster,” “devil,” “animal,” or some other non-human label.

Weaponizing words in a verbal war, which supposedly defends Christianity, only shifts the focus off Jesus and onto how horrible another is.

One of the great problems in our world, including many corners of Christianity, is that we assume we already know what another believes. So, we fail to listen. We cannot care as we ought because we’ve already formed our judgment.

“The moment someone attaches you to a philosophy or a movement, then they assign all the baggage and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it to you. And when you want to have a conversation, they will assert that they already know everything important there is to know about you because of that association. And that’s not the way to have a conversation.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Within Christianity, there is more we have in common across the various traditions, than that which is different. Yes, spiritual charlatans exist. Let’s just make sure we have done our due diligence in listening to another and being curious before we form our opinions.

Despite the differences, the exchange of ideas and debate among various Christian groups in the early centuries of the church helped to clarify and form a sound Christology. While it may be difficult to avoid labeling individuals in an increasingly complex society, we must act in good faith and make the effort.

Perhaps we have already met the real enemy… us.

Gracious God, you are the Divine Gardener who cares for us with love. You call us to see the beauty of each branch united to the vine, the beauty of each person united to you in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

And yet, too often the differences in others make us afraid. We withdraw into ourselves. Our trust in you is forsaken. Enmity develops between us. Come and direct our hearts. Help us to live from your forgiveness so that we may be together and praise your name.

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, light the fire of your love in us so that suspicions, contempt and misunderstanding cease in the church. May the walls that separate us fall. Amen.

Luke 4:38-44 – Every One of Them

“Healing” by Ivan Filichev, 2014

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So, he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the most fundamental truths about the person of Jesus is that he heals all kinds of people. 

Even people who know very little about the historical Jesus know that he was a guy who brought healing to people while he was here on this earth.  For many Christians, the fact that Christ healed people is almost a “ho-hum” moment because we are so familiar with the Gospel stories about him doing the supernatural. 

Observation: Christ Healed Every One of Them

Yet, as with most Scripture stories we encounter, we really need to slow down a bit and let the story sink in. Then, we are likely to make simple but profound observations of the text. One of those observations is this: When people brought the sick and infirmed to Jesus, he healed every one of them. Christ laid his hands on each and every one of them and cured them.

Every one of them, Jesus healed. There is apparently no disease, no infirmity, no sickness, no malady, and no situation too much for Jesus to heal. Without exception, no matter the problem, every individual who came to Jesus was healed by Jesus. 

Observation: Every One of Them Were Healed Through Others

Here’s another simple but profound observation of the story: All those who had any who were sick brought them to Jesus. In other words, those needy folks didn’t come to Jesus on their own. It was their family, friends, and neighbors of the sick persons who brought them to Jesus for healing.

It is good to care for the sick. It is also good to encourage them to look to Jesus for their help and healing. Yet, it is also very good when we bring them to Jesus ourselves. 

Perhaps one of the main reasons we are not seeing more healing and new life in the Western church is because we are not bringing the needy to Jesus. Maybe it is our lack of faith and action, and not the sick person’s, that prevents healing from being realized. 

Methinks that a profound dearth and lack of prayer for others might be at the core of all the physical, mental, and spiritual sickness that abounds in this world. So, let us bring people to Jesus so that he will heal and cure every one of them.

A mosaic of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, from a Byzantine Church, c.1100 C.E.

Observation: Christ Cares about Every One of Them

Jesus accepts, heals, and cures those at the margins of society. The sick, infirmed, and demon-possessed were the most marginalized people in the ancient world. They were at the mercy of a caring relative, that is, if they had one. If not, the only way of making it was to beg and rely on public charity. Yet, that was difficult because, in many cases, depending upon the illness, they were considered impure. No one would get near them. They couldn’t participate in the community.

But Jesus welcomed them. He took the time and attention to place his hands on each one of them. Their divine healing was much more than physical; being cured meant they no longer needed to be at the margins, unaccepted and unwanted. Jesus was giving them full inclusion to society.

The good news of Jesus Christ consists of meeting the holistic needs of people for health and community. Our Lord desires to integrate excluded people into society. If that takes the miraculous healing of sickness to do it, then Jesus will make it happen.

Observation: Christ Looks to Heal and Care for Every One of Them, Besides Just Us

It can be a real temptation to believe that our little group has the corner on Jesus. We don’t. Jesus was given for the life of the world – not just a few people who look, think, and act like you and me. In today’s story, the people didn’t want Jesus to go. That’s understandable. Yet, Christ left them because there were others in need of healing of both body and soul.

Christ’s mission is so much broader than we sometimes see or expect. Evangelical Christians camp on saving the soul. Progressive Christians hang their hat on social justice and the real physical needs of people. In reality, the gospel involves both body and soul. To only focus on one aspect is to truncate the gospel as only okay news, not good news.

I would argue there is far too much proclaiming of okay news today. Christianity needs a full-orbed gospel that addresses the holistic needs of people, just like Jesus did. It needs a robust Trinitarian theology with the love of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit delivering souls from spiritual death and saving bodies from worldly injustice.

Anything less is simply picking and choosing what we want and trying to keep Jesus to ourselves. Let’s not do that. Instead, let’s preach the gospel, a kingdom message in which the power of God comes upon people – transforming them from the inside-out and bringing them from the outside-in.

Healing God, we bring to you all those who are discouraged, depressed, diseased, disordered, and damaged in some way by the sin of this world. Cure them by your mighty power so that they will be included into our communities, as well as your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

Hebrews 5:1-10 – Our Great High Priest

Mosaic of Jesus Christ in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (New International Version)

The New Testament letter of Hebrews is perhaps the most Christ-centered book in all the Bible. If you like Jesus, or are at all intrigued by him, this is the best place to go, outside the four Gospels.

Hebrews deliberately points out and exalts the supremacy of Jesus Christ over the Old Testament prophets, the angelic realm, and even Moses and the Law. And, as today’s New Testament lesson insists, Jesus is superior to the old Levitical priesthood because Christ is our salvation. His priesthood is from a different and better order.

With all this talk in Hebrews about Christ’s superiority over everything, some might expect a focus on his deity. Yet, it is the humanity of Jesus which gets the most attention. The actual lived experience of Jesus on this earth is the highest qualification there is to intercede between God and us.

Jesus, as a true bona fide human person, had to learn obedience just like the rest of us. He went through all the hardships and sufferings of life, too. Jesus was dependent on prayer, just as we are. And he was heard by God the Father because of his reverent submission.

One of the great deceptions which can befall Christians is that Christianity is all about strength, victory, and glory. That, however, is only part of the story. If Jesus needed to learn and grow by means of suffering, then how much more do we need to be spiritually formed through the adversities, challenges, and heartaches of life?

Jesus Christ proved himself through his obedience to God. Even though he himself was God, he submitted himself to being human with all of it’s limitations, weaknesses, and pains. Through it all, Christ maintained perfect submission and obedience to the will of God.

All of this means that Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, is eminently qualified to be our great high priest. Jesus can relate to us. Jesus knows us. Jesus understands what it’s like for us. And Jesus has dealt with the endemic issue of guilt and shame once for all through the cross.

So, what does this mean for you and me? Without a realization of who Jesus is, what he did for us, and continues to do for us, we easily take Christ for granted and slip into spiritual lethargy – and perhaps even spiritual self-loathing – and needlessly suffer in loneliness and despair.

The truth is: Jesus Christ loves us. He has become our high priest, the one who is able to intercede for us – constantly taking our prayers and advocating for us to God the Father.

Let Christians everywhere be reminded that we serve a Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Spirit – who conspires to do what is best for us, at all times. There is a divine community of three persons, the Holy Trinity, who work seamlessly and with perfect unity to provide deliverance from sin, death, and hell. The God whom we serve is both willing and capable to meet our most pressing needs.

Here are 17 ways we can live into being mature Christian believers who are spiritually growing in the grace of God:

  1. Realize God has called you to be holy and righteous and has given you everything you need to do so. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
  2. Be an integral part of a Christian faith community so that you can be encouraged and encourage others. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  3. Listen to the counsel of others and discern what is good and what is not. (Philippians 1:9-11)
  4. Stick to a consistent regimen of Bible reading and Scripture study. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
  5. Find good books to read and go through them carefully. (2 Timothy 2:15)
  6. Seek to obey Holy Scripture with all your heart. (Psalm 119:89-96)
  7. Persevere and keep growing spiritually. (Hebrews 10:35-36)
  8. Pray continually, realizing your utter dependence on Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  9. Always look for ways to praise God and serve Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:1-7)
  10. Consider the consequences of your words and actions before you say and do them. (Galatians 6:7-10)
  11. Enjoy God and God’s people. (Philippians 4:4-9)
  12. Understand that the Christian life is not always easy. (Philippians 1:27-30)
  13. Be patient: Spiritual growth and maturity take time. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
  14. Use the spiritual gifts given to you for the benefit of others. (Romans 12:3-8)
  15. Make plans with other like-minded persons to become spiritually self-disciplined. (Proverbs 27:17)
  16. Pursue genuine and intimate spiritual friendships. (2 Corinthians 7:1-4)
  17. Engage in spiritual conversation and prayer around the Bible’s contents and message. (Colossians 4:2-6)

Gracious Father, we pray for Christ’s Church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.