Monday, December 7, 2015

Dec. 6, 2015 Advent 2 - PEACE

Today's Advent topic is Peace. Peace is a recurring theme in the Advent / Christmas Season.

Opener:
Get with a partner (not your spouse) and come up with a definition of peace.

What were some of your answers?

Lecture & Discussion
We all need peace don’t we? Peace in our broken families, peace in politics, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts? We need peace everywhere, don’t we? But is that possible?

According to the Bible it is; and what makes this season so special, is that Jesus’ coming made it all possible. The Bible has a lot to say about peace. It mainly talks about three kinds of peace that everyone needs and that’s what we're going to look at this morning.

A. Peace WITH God
The first kind of peace Jesus made possible - the one that makes all the other two we're going to mention possible is peace WITH God.

Wars and Rumors of War
I read somewhere that there have been almost 150,000 wars in human history. The shortest lasted 40 minutes (between the British and Zanzibar). The longest lasted 335 years (Netherlands and Sicily). Our nation is currently involved in wars on multiple fronts. As the Bible says it, there are "wars and rumors of war" most anytime you care to check. But there’s one war that not many people even know is going on and that’s the war between us and God. Did you know that if you’re trying to live your life apart from God the Bible says you’re at war with him? In Colossians the Apostle Paul, writing about Jesus’ coming in the flesh to save us, said, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds…but now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body…” Col. 1:21-22

You Can't have Peace in your life as long as you don't have peace with God.
If your outlook on life is that you’re going to run your life your own way – you’re going to do your own thing – you’re going to make your own decisions - then whether you know it or not, you are at war with God – you’re his enemy, and what you need more than anything else this Christmas is to be reconciled to him. Why? Because you can’t have peace in your life as long as you don’t have peace with God. Jesus Christ came to do bring us peace with God

How to Have Peace With God
How do you do that? How do you make peace with God? The Bible tells us in Romans 5:1. It says, “Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you know that means? It means you can’t get peace with God by being good. You can’t get peace by attending a new Sunday School class or by attending church or by memorizing the Bible. You can only make peace with God, the Bible says, by having faith in Him. Faith made possible by Jesus’ birth. 

B. Peace OF God
The second kind of peace Jesus made possible is the peace OF God. The order is important here. After you get peace with God through faith in him, then you will begin to experience the peace of God in your heart. We’re promised that in Scripture. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You [God] will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” and Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

How does this work? How do we get the peace of God in our lives? Well, we get it again, as you may have noticed in the verses above, by faith in God. But how does faith in God bring peace to our everyday lives?

The best way I know to explain it is from personal experience, and that is that trusting God – belief in him – changes the way you "keep score" life. During the fall of the year we have one of those magical ESPN times when multiple sports are going on at the same time. Since it's the Fall, football has cranked up, but baseball is still going on. Meanwhile, The NBA and the NHL are both involved in their preseason games. Imagine what would happen one night if suddenly someone switched the referees and the rules of the sports from one to the other. What if the NFL was required to follow baseball rules and scoring, and the NBA used NFL rules and scoring? Imagine the havoc that would bring!

What I’m trying to say is that many people are playing football but keeping score using badminton rules and scoring – life doesn’t work too well that way.

What if, on the other hand, we began keeping score in life the way God intended? If we did, everything would change including game strategies, the type players you’d recruit, and the equipment teams would use. When you place your faith in Christ everything changes about what you value in life, about how you conduct yourself, who you hang out with, your goals, how you spend your money, everything! Most important of all, you begin playing for an audience of One instead of trying to please the whole world, or trying to please people you don’t even know and who don’t really care.

A recent study by Duke University may be helpful for those among us who remain skeptical of the claims of faith about the peace of God. This scientific study found eight factors that contribute greatly to what they called, “peace of mind.”

1) The absence of suspicion and resentment. Nursing a grudge was a major factor in unhappiness – got any grudges?
2) Not living in the past. An unwholesome preoccupation with old mistakes and failures is unhealthy and leads to depression.
3) Not wasting time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change. Cooperate with life, instead of trying to run away from it.
4) Forcing yourself to stay involved with the living world. Resist the temptation to withdraw and become reclusive during periods of emotional stress.
5) Refusing to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.
6) Cultivating old-fashioned virtues such as love, humor, compassion and loyalty.
7) Not expecting too much of yourself. Feelings of inadequacy are inevitable when you think you’re superman or superwoman.
8) Finding something bigger than yourself to believe in. Self-centered egotistical people consistently score lowest in any test for measuring happiness.

These very things are the new ways of “scoring,” the “new rules” Jesus came to usher in. Because he came we can forgive, we can live in the present not the past, we can accept who God made us to be and we finally realize we aren’t the center of the universe. Because Jesus came at Christmas to bring us peace we can have not only peace with God, but also the peace of God in our hearts. That’s why Christmas matters.

C. Peace with OTHERS
But there’s one more kind of peace Jesus’ coming made possible I need to mention. Once you make peace with God, and then you get the peace of God in your heart, you can begin making peace with OTHERS. Again, I can’t stress enough how important the order is here. You can’t skip steps, or ignore the ones you’re not willing to follow. I used to see this all the time when I was a pastor. People came to me crying about their broken relationships. They'd say they’ve prayed about the situation, and talked to the other party. They claim to have tried everything, but it is obvious from hearing what they have to say they don’t have peace with God themselves, nor do they have the peace of God in their own heart. You’ll never have peace with others unless you have both these other kinds of peace first.

In some of his most famous teaching Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” Matthew 5:9. And Paul said, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” 2 Cor. 5:18.

God wants us to be peacemakers, reconcilers. Why? Because relationships are always worth restoring. Because life is all about learning how to love and one of the ways we do that is God puts us in situations where we have to rub shoulders with folks who we don’t feel very loving towards, even though we know we should.

I have prayed a lot about this particular kind of peace because of its absence in some of my own relationships. It’s also been on my mind because this time of year, especially, we seem to be thrust into situations where we’re around people – in some cases even family – that we realize we don’t have this kind of peace with.

I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding about this kind of peace in our lives. I think sometimes we mistakenly think that being reconciled with someone means that we have to agree with everything the other person says or does. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to agree about everything. God doesn’t expect us to agree about everything – even Jesus didn’t do that with everyone he came into contact with.

There’s a fundamental difference between reconciliation and resolution. Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. When we focus on reconciliation instead of resolution, the problem loses its significance and often becomes irrelevant. Jesus said, “love one another,” not “be clones of one another.”

What I’m trying to say is you can reestablish a relationship even if you’re unable to resolve all your differences with that person. Every month I reconcile my checking account. When I finish my computer program prints out a list of outstanding checks. My account is reconciled and in balance even though some items are still outstanding. These “missing checks” are identified but I don’t dwell on them – instead I feel good about the fact that the account has been reconciled.

Good Christian people often have legitimate, honest disagreements and differing opinions. We can disagree without becoming disagreeable. God wants unity, not uniformity and we can walk arm in arm without seeing eye to eye on every issue.

There will never be peace on earth until there is peace among nations. And there will never be peace among nations until there is peace in the home. And there will never be peace in the home until there is peace in the heart. And there will never be peace in the heart until the Prince of Peace – the one who came to bring us peace – reigns in our hearts. That's the peace the angels sang about in the sky above Bethlehem that night so long ago…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Verses and Questions for Discussion

Verses

Key verse: Luke 2:14 KJV
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2:14 KJV

Other verses to think about:

Romans 5:1
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Proverbs 16:7
“When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

Isaiah 26:3
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

John 14:27
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

John 16:33
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:6-7
 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer 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 minds through Christ Jesus.”

Matthew 5:9
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

Questions:

1. How would you define "peace?" What is it?

2. Is "peace on earth" even possible?

3. What does Christ, or Christmas in particular have to do with peace?

4. What is the "peace that passes all understanding" referred to in Philippians 4:6-7?

5. How can we get this peace?

6. Do you believe Christians are called to be peacemakers? If so, what does that look like?

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