The Word of God and His promises are true; He will take care of you. If you’re weary or weighed down, lay it at the Lord’s feet and walk into the wonder of peace.
If I had to guess, I would say there’s probably one thing that’s true of each of us today. We’re all anticipating our lives getting very busy in the next three weeks.
Just think of all the things you have to get done in the next three weeks before Christmas. If you’re a planner, you have your list. And being here is just one thing on the list.
I mean, think about it. We cram 80 percent of all the parties we’re going to attend in a whole year into a three week period. If we plan it just right we can go to 4 or 5 in one night and not enjoy any of them.
Then we decide to redecorate our entire house inside and out in three weeks.
And since we have so much time, let’s buy something for everyone we’ve ever met.
Let’s bake every cookie we’ve ever heard of. And let’s consume three times the number of calories we would normally consume, every day for three weeks.
And just to make it even more fun, let’s think of everyone we’ve ever known in our life and send them a letter. Or if you’re creative, write a poem, chronicling the events of the past year. And let’s not forget coordinating outfits for the family Christmas photo.
Then to top it off, for those of you who have kids, let’s let them out of school for two weeks. And let’s plan every great movie of the year to be released during that two week period so we have to take them to the movies every other night.
How many of you are tired just thinking about it?
Well, there’s good news. And I want to begin today by asking all of us to just take a deep breath.
And let’s just lay aside our distractions and focus for a few minutes. Let’s focus on why we’re here today.
Listen for a moment as I read a passage in Luke 2.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14
You’ll hopefully hear or read that passage several times in the next three weeks.
Today I want to focus on one word in that passage.
I believe it’s the greatest need we have at this time of year.
It’s actually something God calls us to in Colossians 3. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Colossians 3:15
God is calling us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. We are called to peace — to become a peace-filled people.
I don’t know if you knew this, but peace is a big business in America. Everyone thinks they have the key to it.
Just for fun, I looked up books about Peace on Amazon. There are thousands of books about peace. A lot of them are self-help books that help you find peace in your inner life.
There were some interesting titles, like: Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time
One was called: Inner Peace for Busy People: 52 Strategies for Transforming Your Life.
Which is interesting. I’m looking for inner peace because I’m busy, and then I have to work through fifty-two more strategies to find it.
Everyone thinks they have the key to peace.
Dr Phil said, “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you’ve started and never finished.”
I took his advise, and I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn’t finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot and a box of chocolates.
I’m feeling really good.
Alright, the truth is, very few people in this world are at peace. Most of us carry a high degree of stress, and anxiety, and tension in our lives.
And it’s because we don’t live in a world that promotes Christ’s peace reigning in our hearts. We don’t live in a world that produces peace-filled people.
There’s a great book called Margin by Richard Swenson.
He says that 4 out of 5 people in the United States described themselves as stressed out.
Here are some of the things he contributes to this:
He says people waste a lot of time doing things that are meaningless and that contributes to stress.
Did you know that the average person spends eight months of their lives opening junk mail.
The average person spends one year searching for misplaced objects. And the average misplaced object has been moved only ten inches from its original place.
More than 37 million Americans are on Prozac.
30 percent of them have misplaced their Prozac so they’re even more anxious. I’m kidding. I just made that one up.
In 1850, the average person slept nine and a half hours per night. That was the kind of rest people got. In 1942, thanks to electricity, it was 8 hours per night. Today, the figure is less than seven hours a night and declining.
There are 70 million people in the US with sleep disorders. We live in a society where exhaustion is an epidemic.
And we’re entering into this time of year, the Christmas season. This is the time when we’re trying to remember the coming of the Prince of Peace.
What word, more than any other word, do we find on Christmas cards? It’s the word “peace.”
But for the average person, this is the most frenzied, frantic, rushed, hurried, exhausted season of all.
It seems like it starts earlier and lasts longer every year.
We have neighbors who one year had their Christmas tree up on Halloween. It turns into a marathon — decorating, shopping, traveling, wrapping, eating, returning, mailing. The pressure just increases.
How many of you here would affirm at least one of these categories? Either you don’t have all your Christmas shopping done yet or all of your decorations up or all of your holiday events planned or all of your presents wrapped. How many of you have at least one aspect of the holiday season unprepared and you’re feeling some pressure about it? Raise your hands, would you?
How many of you didn’t realize that in fact Thanksgiving is already over?
Now, for over two thousand years now, part of the rhythm of the life of the church has been the season of Advent, to remember the coming of the Prince of Peace.
It was a way to remember that salvation is not primarily about my frantic efforts. It’s primarily what God has done.
So I want to lay out a challenge for us today. I want to give us a goal during this Christmas season, that between now and Christmas, you and I will learn to allow the peace of Christ to reign in our hearts.
The word Paul uses is an interesting word. It was used of an umpire in athletic events in those days — one who made the final call in an athletic contest.
Once the umpire decided, that was it.
Paul says it ought to be that way in our hearts. The peace of Christ ought to have the final word. It ought to just reign in our hearts.
There are two questions I want to spend our time talking about. What is this peace of Christ? And how do I pursue it?
And I want to make it our goal that we allow the peace of Christ to reign in our hearts.
Alright, what is the peace of Christ? Here I want to paraphrase this statement by Dallas Willard:
The peace of Christ is the settled assurance that because of God’s care and God’s competence, this universe is a perfectly safe place for me to be.
Although it doesn’t look like it.
But I can just live in that, just as the writers of the New Testament did.
Paul said, “What can separate us from the love of God?” Then he lists all kinds of terrible things that seem to be peace-shattering in this world: danger, famine, sword, persecution, death itself. All of these things that seem to shatter peace.
Paul says, “No, I’m convinced that none of them, nothing can separate me from the love of God. I’m convinced that this universe is a perfectly safe place for me to be.”
And when you live in that subtle assurance, it changes your life.
A mom is awake in her bedroom and there’s a real bad thunderstorm going on. She’s a little concerned about her young son.
Then there’s this tremendous flash of lightening and crash of thunder, so she starts down the hallway because she knows he’s going to be terrified.
But much to her surprise, he’s coming towards her down the hallway, and he has a big smile on his face. He says, “Mom, you’ll never guess what. I was looking out the window at the storm and God took my picture.”
He was convinced, this little boy, that God was at work and, therefore, that the universe was a perfectly safe place for him to be.
You have to come to grips with this. Is the universe a safe place for you to be, in spite of all of the apparently peace-shattering things that go on?
This is the settled assurance that Jesus lived in.
There’s a story in Matthew 8 about Jesus and his disciples in a boat while there’s a big storm.
Of course, Jesus has to go through storms just as his friends did.
But in this story, the disciples are frantic. And what does Matthew say Jesus is doing on the boat during the storm?
Now why does Matthew include the information that Jesus is sleeping? Why is that important enough to be recorded?
I believe Matthew wants us to understand what Jesus knew about life in the hand of his Father — that given the care and the competence of his Father, Jesus is convinced that the universe was a perfectly safe place for him to be.
So there’s this tremendous storm going on, but he lives in this settled assurance so he sleeps right through it.
Now, the disciples went to Jesus — which was a good thing for them to do. They went to him. They trusted that Jesus could do something to help them. They had faith in Jesus, but they did not have the faith of Jesus. Do you see? They did not, as Jesus did, live in the settled assurance that they were safe in the hands of God.
They had some faith in him — that’s a good thing — but they did not have his faith yet. They did not have the faith of Jesus.
What would it look like for me to have that kind of peace, for the peace of Christ, the peace that characterized Jesus to reign in me?
Well, my anxiety level would go way down. I would have the subtle trust that my life was safe in the hands of God.
I wouldn’t be tormented by my inadequacy. I’d be an unhurried person. I might be busy, I might have a lot of things to do, but I would have the inner calmness and poise that comes from living in the presence of God.
I wouldn’t say so many of the foolish things that I say because I wouldn’t speak without thinking.
I wouldn’t be defeated by guilt. I’d live in the confident assurance that God’s love is going to be with me forever.
I would trust God enough to give, I wouldn’t have to hoard.
This is one of the things that worry does. When the peace of Christ doesn’t reign, worry makes me focus on myself, worry makes people selfish and small. It robs me of joy, robs me of energy, robs me of compassion, robs me of life.
There’s a real strong relational component to peace. “If it’s possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” Paul said to the church at Rome.
I don’t avoid confrontation. The peace of Christ is not placating people. But imagine how much less hostility there would be in your life if you didn’t need to compare or judge or compete with others.
A person in whom the peace of Christ reigns would be an oasis of sanity in a world of craziness and confusion.
A community in which the peace of Christ reigns would change the world.
And we’re called to let the peace of Christ reign in our hearts, yours and mine.
Now how do I pursue it? If it is such a life or death deal, how do I pursue it?
Well, one quick caveat before I get to how we pursue it; I want to say one way that is not an option for Christ-followers. I want to be real clear on this because it’s often confused.
One way that is not an option for Christ-followers is to try to make my primary goal in life living in peaceful, comfortable circumstances.
That’s not what letting the peace of Christ reign is about.
The peace of Christ is not an individualistic search for easy living conditions.
Why do I bring this up?
I don’t know how many of you have noticed this, but there have been a number of articles in recent months about a trend in America to return to small towns.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong necessarily with moving to a small town, but the trend of these articles is about how people are fleeing the city, fleeing problems, fleeing away from the poor, trying to get away from the uneducated, trying to get away from places where life is dangerous or uncomfortable to find a safe, quiet, comfortable place to live.
Well, that was not the way of Jesus. He did not look for a way to get away from troubled people or troubled areas.
Jesus knew a troubled heart. When the death of Lazarus occurred, “He was deeply moved and troubled. He shuddered,” it could be translated.
Or in John 13:21 writer says:
Jesus was deeply troubled in his heart and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”
Because Jesus loved Lazarus when he faced death — the enemy of human beings — he knew a troubled heart. Because he loved Judas, when he faced betrayal and Judas’ spiritual death, he knew a troubled heart.
Paul was the same way. 2 Corinthians 11:28, after he’s listed stonings, beatings, hunger, all kinds of problems that would make most people in our day look for more comfortable circumstances, Paul says:
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
The peace of Christ reigning in us is not about the search for comfortable circumstances.
Some of you here, you shepherd a little flock, and you know when someone in that little flock starts to get off course your heart is troubled.
You raise children, and you hope desperately that they will live at home with God, with their Father. And you know that sometimes when they’re not, your heart will be troubled.
Some of you go to the city to care for the homeless and the poor, and when you’re there your heart is troubled.
We all pray for friends and family members who are hostile to God and resist him. If you do that for long, you’ll know a troubled heart.
So don’t think that the peace to which we’re called is something as small as just a search for comfortable circumstances. That’s not it.
We’re called not just to peace, but the peace of Christ, which is not so much about the external world — although it will have consequences for our circumstances — but it reigns in our hearts.
There’s three strategies for pursuing it, and I’ve tried to boil them down to one word each. If you’re taking notes — three practices to become the kind of people in whose hearts the peace of Christ reigns.
I have three words for you.
The first one is the word Thinking.
There is a way of thinking that leads to the peace of Christ reigning.
This comes from Colossians 3:16:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Choose a word of Christ to dwell on.
Now, word means a thought. A word is a thought expressed.
The idea is to have the thoughts of Christ — the kind of thoughts that he would think — the things that he taught us. To have them dwell in me, to run through my mind richly. In other words, so that they overflow into my life — the word of Christ.
Words like where Jesus says, “My advice to you is don’t worry. Consider the flowers of the field, the birds of the air. They live in the hand of God, and you are infinitely more valuable to God than them. So my advice to you is don’t worry.”
Or in John where Jesus says, “Peace I give to you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t be afraid.” The word of Christ dwelling in you richly, the right kind of thinking.
So my encouragement here is, choose a thought from Scripture that leads you to peace and let it dwell in you. Think about it, savor it, remember it, just live with it between now and Christmas.
For instance, here’s a real good verse for people who worry. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
You just let that get way down deep in you. You remember some time when he has.
Let me share a story with you.
This is written by Isaac Canellis. He writes about one Thanksgiving when he was growing up.
Isaac’s parents pastored a little Hispanic church. They were very poor. He writes that sometimes they had problems paying the rent, which was $26 a month in the projects where they lived.
Well, Thanksgiving was coming up, and Isaac watched the offering real carefully in the weeks leading up to it. They collected the offering in a little tambourine, and he was hoping for turkey on Thanksgiving, but he was real concerned because they had so little money.
This is what he writes:
Soon the holiday was upon us. I could hear the tambourine rattle as a few meager coins hit it. “Why isn’t God stepping in?” I wondered.
I asked Mama again if we would have turkey. “Mejo,” she said, “the Lord will provide. Has he ever let us down?”
Wednesday we gathered in our church, a gutted, two-bedroom house with a sign that read “Mission Ebenezer Assemblio de Dios.”
I watched the regulars assemble: Sister Carla with her colorful shawl draped around her shoulders; Brother Garcia, who worked in the orchards; Sister Audrey, a six foot, two-inch, 72-year-old former movie extra who played the violin and wore a dark fur coat. My family and a few others made up the rest of the congregation that night.
I tugged on Mama’s sleeve: “I know there won’t be enough for Thanksgiving dinner. What are we going to do?”
“Shhh,” she whispered, looking serene. “Don’t worry, Mejo, the Lord will provide.”
The service began. Papa spoke about the holiday as a time to give thanks. Then he said to me, “Isaac, will you pick up the tithes and offerings tonight and ask the Lord to bless them?” It was an honor to be asked to participate, but it was the last thing I wanted that night.
I mumbled a prayer for a few coins that I knew would be all that were forthcoming. After I said “Amen,” and raised my head, I saw the glitter of a shiny black car pulling up from the front of the church. It was the longest, newest car I had ever seen.
The door opened and a tall handsome man dressed in a tuxedo stepped out. He came in and sat in the second pew. I could tell by the puzzled glances, the whole congregation wondered who he was.
I’m sure Mama played offertory music, but all I could hear was the thud of the coins as they dropped in the tambourine. I worked my way around the room toward the elegant stranger until finally I stood directly in front of him. A hint of a smile played around his lips.
He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a cloth napkin, and slipped it onto the tambourine. It was so heavy I had to steady it with both hands. “Thank you,” I said as I watched 20 silver dollars roll out of the napkin.
Returning to the front of the church I couldn’t contain my happiness. Mama was staring at me, curiously. I pointed to the tambourine and mouthed, “turkey.”
She didn’t look surprised, just smiled and launched into a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The stranger slipped out before any of us could find out who it was that sent him.
I didn’t have to ask. I knew.
The next evening as Papa asked the blessing for our Thanksgiving, I silently added a prayer of my own: “Thank you, God, for being faithful. From now on I’ll try to be faithful too.”
Mama is in heaven now. I’m the pastor of Papa’s church. We’ve grown to more than 1,000 members, have a beautiful new church building three blocks from that old two-bedroom house.
I still sometimes worry about how our needs will be met, especially since my wife and I have three teenage sons. Then I hear Mama’s whisper in my ear: “Don’t worry, Mejo, the Lord will provide.” And he does.
You know what? We could go around the room and each of us could share a time in our lives when God moved, when God provided for our needs.
Maybe it was for material resources.
Maybe there was a time when you were lonely, and God sent you a friend.
Maybe there was a time you needed wisdom and guidance and then God sent a book or a message or a word from someone at just the right time.
Or you were discouraged and God sent you a moment in worship that flooded you with hope.
Or you were tempted and God spoke to you through his Spirit and you came to your senses, and you pulled back from doing something that would have had incredibly destructive consequences on you or on someone else.
Well, store those up, store those memories up. This December, every time you have a problem too big or you lack wisdom or you’re burdened by a need, let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
There’s a promise attached to that. Isaiah 26:3 says:
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
That’s what it is to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
So that’s practice number one — thinking.
Practice number two may come as a bit of a surprise. It comes right out of Colossians 3 as well. I don’t know that I’ve ever taught on it before, but it’s the word Singing.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Sometimes a song can bring peace in a way that nothing can.
I was at a graveside service recently. There’s just something about a group of people united and we sang together an old hymn: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot you have taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
I’ll tell you, in the face of the ultimate enemy of human beings — death — when you have a group of people stand and sing defiantly, trustingly, “It is well with my soul,” something happens.
It marks you. Christ’s people have always been a singing people.
I remember when we were in Israel standing at the Damascus Gate, the gate that Jesus most likely went through when he went into Jerusalem carrying his cross — he went through to die.
We were gathered with a little group of people, just us there, and we sang, “My Jesus, I love Thee. I know you are mine. For you all the folly of sin I resign.”
New Testament characters keep breaking into song. Mary, when she finds out the good news about the birth of Jesus, sings what has become known as the “Magnificat.”
Zechariah sings about the coming of John the Baptist.
The angels sing, “Glory to God and on earth, peace.”
The last thing Jesus and his disciples did after the Last Supper before he went out to die, it says in Matthew 26:30: “Together, they sang a hymn.”
Singing strengthens the soul somehow.
Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas had been unjustly tried, convicted, attacked by a crowd, stripped of their clothing, beaten by rods, thrown into a jail, placed in an jain cell and fastened in chains. Do you know what they did? They sang.
About midnight Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God, it says, and the prisoners were listening to them.
I love that line — like they had something else to do.
Singing forms us, and I’m so thankful for the people around Blue Oaks who lead us into singing: Michaela and Riah and all of the musicians. Aren’t you just grateful for the way they teach our hearts to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs?
So this is the second one: singing. Be a singing people.
When we gather together, sing for all you’re worth. Some of you may have great voices. Some of you may not be able to carry a tune in a bucket. It doesn’t matter. It brings joy to the heart of God when his children sing to him. Do it for all you’re worth when we come together. You devote yourself to it.
Sing alone as well. Put on some worship music. Play it in your car. Play it when you’re home. Use it in your devotional life — sometimes just you and God — and sing to him.
Singing forms you, and it prepares your heart for the reign and the peace of Christ.
So number one is thinking.
Number two is a certain way of singing.
And number three, the word is Praying.
Practice what might be called “constant casting.”
This comes from 1 Peter 5:7. Peter says:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Cast all your cares on him, and the key word there is that little word “all” because you’ll have a lot of them.
This world destroys peace. The world destroys spiritual life. This is real important. The world tends to destroy spiritual life by generating constant anxiety.
Just look at the people around you when you walk on the streets or watch them drive, and you will see a world of people just enslaved by it, weighted down by anxiety, crushed by it, that life just smothered out of them.
Well, this is the strategy of the evil one. We see this in the parable of the sower. Jesus says the seed of the Gospel begins to take root, but then it comes up and it’s choked and destroyed by thorns. Those thorns, he says, are the cares or anxieties of the world.
We, our society, is more chained and tethered to the world than any generation in the history of the human race.
What we have gotten really good at is being connected to the world 24 hours a day.
Think about it. Our phones, cars, tablets, computers, TVs, video game systems. There’s nothing wrong with these things, but some of us have become addicted to them and enslaved by them.
We’re connected in the wrong place. We need to be connected to God.
This is Paul’s idea in Philippians 4:
Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.
There’s a real close connection between worry and prayer. We see it in Peter’s letter; we see it in Paul’s letter. And here’s the idea — this will make a huge difference in our lives if we do it — we need to allow worry to become a cue for us to pray.
Allow worry simply to function as a cue for our prayer life. Take it as a prompting from the Spirit to pray. Make it a conditioned response.
Have you heard of Pavlov’s dogs? Every time the bell rang, they started to salivate because they knew that dinner was coming.
Well, allow worry to be a cue for you to pray.
Some of you know that you worry too much. You know that you’re not supposed to worry, so you worry about how much you worry.
Well don’t worry about how much you worry. Just direct it towards God.
Now, when you do that your anxious feelings may subside. They may not. Don’t beat yourself up about it. That’s not your job. You can’t make that go away, so just give it up — you can practice “constant casting.”
You can enter into a new way of thinking. You can become a singing person, and you can enter into a new way of praying – just constant casting. Anytime you have worry, you cast it to God. Say, “God, I want to give it to you.”
And we’re going to start right now.
I’d like you to think right now about the greatest burden on your mind.
Maybe it has to do with work. Maybe you have a meeting coming up or difficulty with your boss, and it’s just very heavy on you.
Maybe it’s a financial crisis, and you don’t know where you’re going to get the resources that you need.
Maybe you have an enormous difficulty for which you need wisdom, and you don’t know how to handle it.
Maybe you’re just crushed by some guilt or sin in your life, and it burdens you and it keeps burdening you and you feel anxious about that.
Maybe you have someone in your home that you need to care for, and you don’t know that you’ve got strength to continue doing that.
Maybe there’s a relational issue. Maybe there are marital problems, and you don’t know how you’re going to solve those.
God is just waiting.
So right now just say, “God, here it is. I just give it to you.”
“I know those feelings are going to come back. I can’t make them go away. So every time they do, as best I can, each time I remember, I’m just going to give them to you.”
And God just waits to take them. God just longs to take them.
So start thinking, and start singing, and start praying. Let’s let the peace of Christ reign in our hearts.
Alright, let’s pray together as Michaela and the team come to lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church