Preparing For Peace
PREPARING FOR PEACE
We prepare for a lot of things in this life. Much of our preparations are in the case that something bad happens or because of the fact that we cannot hold onto things in this life. We prepare for war in case conflict breaks out, we buy insurance in case we get sick, we save for retirement because we know one day our bodies won’t be able to do all they used to do, we take pictures of our children because we know precious moments fly by far too fast. We spend so much of our time preparing for things to go wrong we have forgotten how to prepare for things to go right. Jesus said we would have troubles in this life. But he did no say blessed are the doomsday preppers, the worry warts, and those who will crush their adversaries to get ahead. He did not even say blessed are the peacekeepers. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9). How do we prepare ourselves to become peacemakers? How do we prepare the way for the Prince of Peace to bring peace into our lives? Zechariah says that the ministry of His John would be one of repentance to prepare the way for Jesus.
The word for repentance here is the word metanoia. It is more than just trying to change our behavior. It is adapting different values. It is taking off one pair of glasses and putting on another. It is a change in perspective, it is a rewiring of our brains and our hearts. In English we are familiar with the word paranoia. In Greek paranoia literally translates as being beside oneself, being against oneself, which is a good description of paranoia. But metanoia means to be above oneself. It is to see things as they truly are. Our text suggests that if we repent we will be able to serve God without fear. When we serve God without fear Jesus will lead us into the way of peace. Jesus offers us peace. But it is hard for me as your pastor to guide you into peace of Christ if I do not have peace myself.
Last week I was hanging out with some friends. I don’t know what you guys talk about with your close friends. Maybe you talk about the army/ navy game. My group of friends was talking about idolatry. We were talking about what idols we make in our lives that turn our attention away from God. You may think that to be a strange subject of conversation to have with your friends. But I am a pastor. And we are a strange lot.
At first I said my idol was American. Of course I was referring to the epic show American Idol, which is a singing competition on Television. As you all know I do love my puns and word games. But then I got serious and I thought deeply about it. I replied,
“I guess I just expect things to go wrong.” One of my friends replied to me,
“So your idol is fear.” It was as if this person was looking into my heart and saying something that was deep inside of me. Something I had never been able to put into words until that moment.
“Yes,” I replied. “I guess it is.”
How do we know what our idol is? How do we know the thing that is competing in our hearts with God? 1 Peter 1:7 says that testings come to judge the genuineness of our faith. And proverbs 27:21 says that “the crucible for silver and the furnace for gold but a person is tested by being praised.” Who we are is revealed not when we are prepared. Who we are is revealed when we are under pressure and when we are praised. Who we are is revealed when we are in a crisis and when we are on the mountain top. Because it is in these situations that we tend to lose control of the pretenses we present to others. Controlling ourselves is different than the fruit of self control that is mentioned in the scriptures. Controlling ourselves is a discipline that comes from our effort, our flesh, not our heart. If we rely on our will power we will fail in times of pressure and praise. The Biblical idea of self control and the peace that comes with it is not a fruit of our effort is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23) As Paul tells us the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
What do you do when you are stuck in the dark pit of death? What do you do when you are at the pinnacle of success? Are you filled with the works of the flesh? The flesh is not our physical body. It is instead our sinful nature that has yet to be transformed by Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us the works of the flesh are, “ sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies.” Fear is not mentioned on this list. But the Bible tells us so many places to not be afraid that I think we can count it in there as something that God does not want us to partake in. All these things are idols. How do we free ourselves from our idols? I think the Bible gives us two steps.
- Admit that we love our idol
- Ask For Help
First, we must admit that we love our idol. Paul expresses his struggle with sin in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Maybe you have felt this way. Maybe you have an idol an issue that you have struggled with all your life that you just can’t seem to overcome it. It comes out when you are under pressure or being praised. You hate that thing and you feel like a pretender and a hypocrite. You feel like you are acting. The scriptures would say that is because we are acting. We have not had a full change of heart. We have paranoia not metanoia. Our hearts are against ourselves for we do not see from God’s perspective. We can’t free ourselves from our idols because we have not admitted the truth. We love our idols. This is what Jesus says in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” We worship idols because we love our idols. If we say otherwise we are not telling the truth and we cannot be set free. If eating broccoli were a sin you would not have to tell me to not eat broccoli. Because I hate the taste of broccoli. But if eating Chick Fil A were a sin I would be lying if I said I hated eating Chick Fil A. Because I love Chick Fil A. Honesty with ourselves is the first step towards repentance. It is the first step towards peace.
I love fear. I love being afraid. I don’t like the feeling of being afraid. I don’t love the tightness in my chest, the nervousness, the paranoia, the impulse to cover and protect myself, the havoc it reaps on my relationships and my physical, mental, and spiritual health. But I do love fear. Because I believe fear protects me. Because I believe if I cut myself off in fear then I don’t have to look stupid when I make a mistake. If I cut myself off in fear I don’t have to risk trusting people and being betrayed. I am afraid of being rejected. And because I love and worship fear in my heart I evoke the very thing I am afraid of in others. People have rejected me because I have been fearful. But on a deeper level I have rejected myself. Because I have loved darkness and not the light. And to get better I have to admit that. I have to admit that I love fear.
Second to be free of our idol we must ask for help. I have been afraid to admit it but I attend other worship services in the area in the evenings. I was afraid to admit it because I thought you would think I was being disloyal. But I love you all. And I attend other worship services not because I don’t want to be with you all but because I want to be fed so I can feed you all better. I want to learn from teachers that I admire so that I may teach you better. I can only lead you in your walk with the Lord as far as I have gone with the Lord.
A couple of months ago I attended a church service where the pastor did something that made me profoundly uncomfortable but stuck with me. I don’t remember the text but this preacher was preaching on asking God for help. And he started talking about his annual performance review. This preacher is the pastor of a fairly large church in the area so the church hires a professional firm to do the staff’s performance reviews. And every year for at least a decade this pastor received the same critique. He needed to be more open and listen to people. I was made profoundly uncomfortable by him talking about this because I have found that being vulnerable before your congregation is a precarious line to walk. In the feed back I have received over my career I have been told two things over and over again. I doubt myself too much and I always think I am right. And I don’t know how both things can be true. And I don’t know what to do about it. In preaching you want to be confident enough that people believe what you are saying but also humble enough that they don’t believe you think you know it all. And I don’t know how to do that. I try to be vulnerable with you all but in the process I risk casting doubt on myself and burdening you all. I try to speak with authority about God’s Word. But I risk you all thinking that I am prideful and full of myself. Spiritual pride and self doubt are too opposite problems that I have dealt with for most of my career. And I don’t know what to do about it.
So to see this pastor being honest about his performance review in front of hundreds of people was extremely uncomfortable for me. I wanted to cry out, “Bro, don’t do it!!!!!! Turn back!!!! This is a bad idea!!!!!” But this pastor didn’t turn back. He just wasn’t afraid. He added some humor in there. He joked around a bit. But he expressed how he cared about his people but he just didn’t know how to change. He didn’t want it to be that way. But he didn’t know what to do. And then he brought out a sermon analogy that deeply affected me. He showed us a sign. At first I thought it was a Help Wanted sign. The type you might see in a store window. But instead it was a “help available” sign. I don’t know where he got that sign. I have tried to find it online and I could not. But what an unusual sign to put in a window. What would you do if you were walking down the street and you saw in a shop window a sign that read, “help available.” I would take a second look. I wouldn’t know what to make of it. I have never seen a help available sign in my life. If we saw a sign like that would we go into that shop and ask for help? Or would I be too afraid to be vulnerable? This pastor said he didn’t know what to do. He had read all the leadership books he could, he loved his staff, he was open to feedback, he had thousands of people to coming to his church, and if it was an issue of his outward behavior and his knowledge the issue would be solved. But it was deeper. It was in his heart. And he admitted publicly that he didn’t know what to do but ask God for help. Psalm 46:1 says God is a very present help in times of trouble. The Bible is not a self help book. Instead it is a book that commands us to ask for help. Perhaps you have heard the quote God helps those who help themselves. This is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin but apparently was first spoken by a man named Algeron Sydney in 1698. In any case that is not what the Bible says. Isaiah 40:29 says he gives strength to the weary and increases the power to the weak.
I could quote all the scriptures to you about not being afraid. But if it were an issue of a studying the scriptures on not being afraid I would be a daredevil. I would be jumping out of an airplane with Shirley Bueche, which by the way even if God helps me with my fears I am not jumping out of an airplane. I have been humbled in my life. But that is different than humbling myself. And the hardest thing to do is to ask for help. First we are to ask God. We are to cast our cares upon him for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). He says that if we bring everything to him in prayer and supplication, not asking why are you doing this to me God, but what are you doing with me God, he will grant us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I don’t know how to do this but to ask God to teach me. It is not about a way of acting it is about a way of being.
I love my fear. And I don’t know what to do. But the scriptures say we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 5:6). We will bear fruit if we do not give up. Peace isn’t a discipline, it’s not a state of mind, it’s not the power of positive thinking, it’s not the fruit of our labor, it’s the fruit of the Spirit. It grows as God grows it in us. The thing about fruit is you can’t control how fast it grows. Each fruit has its own season. If we pick it before it is ripe it won’t taste good. If we wait too long it will spoil. We can cultivate the soil to make more fruit grow. We can provide more water and sunlight and get larger fruit. But the fruit grows on its own. We are not in control of the seasons we only tend the soil. And if we tend to the soil that has no seed we are not preparing for a harvest we are just playing in the dirt. Have we asked for his word to dwell in our hearts richly (Colossians 3:16).
I don’t know how to find peace. I only know how to prepare for peace. Admit that you love your idol and ask God for help. Be open that God may use others so ask others for help too. Take help wherever and however you can find it.
I don’t know how to find peace. But I do know this. Just as John the Baptist went before Jesus to prepare the way for Him, Jesus has gone before us to prepare the way for us. He has gone beyond the veil, beyond our hopes and our fears, beyond our words, beyond everything we know and love. There is an anchor for our souls beyond the veil (Hebrews 6:19) where Jesus has gone. There is an anchor in the midst of the storm. But we can only prepare for peace. We cannot plant the seed. We need God’s favor. And tonight as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace His favor shall find us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.