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Monday, August 20, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Peace

Galatians 5:22-23
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Over the past few weeks, we've been studying the "Fruit of the Spirit" the Apostle Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23.  Every person who puts their faith in Jesus Christ receives the Holy Spirit and Spirit begins to grow these Christian virtues within us.  I challenge you to memorize them and do everything you can to cultivate a spiritual garden in your heart that encourage the growth of these beautiful attributes.

What is Peace?
When I first started out in the ministry, I began as a youth minister.  Every summer, my church at the time (Lithia Springs UMC) would host youth groups from all over the state of Georgia for a community outreach event called "River of Life."  From Wednesday to Sunday, we would tackle 10-15 service projects such as painting or repairing houses, building wheelchair ramps, and re-roofing projects.  Each night, the 300 participants would gather at my church for a worship service.  I was in charge of coordinating the entire outreach and leading the worship services each night.  It was a great, spirit-filled event and I cherish those memories.  However, it was also tremendously stressful for a 26-year-old leading this way for the first time.  I remember running around in the sanctuary before the first evening worship service trying to coordinate all the many moving parts of the service--the ushers, the technical aspects, the band, the speaker, etc.  And as I was doing all these things while the congregation of 300 hyped up teenagers waited impatiently, many of  my volunteers were asking me questions or making remarks about this or that.  The frustration and anxiety in my heart must have been apparent on my face because my friend, Tim Foreman, pull me to one side and said, "Chris, I can tell you're overwhelmed.  Can I pray for you?"  "Yes!  Of course!  I need it."  Tim prayed this: "Father, just as Jesus calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee in the Bible, please calm Chris right now.  Peace, be still."  That's all he prayed and immediately a sense of peace fell on me.  The congregation and all the pressing turmoil of the evening was still there, but I was at peace in a way that is hard to describe.  It made all the difference for that worship service and remainder of River of Life.  It continues to make a difference as I allow the Holy Spirit to give me peace in the midst of the various storms of life.

Today we examine peace.  What is it?  The term “peace” is popular in our world.  Everyone seems to want peace—from hippies in the 60s to Ronald Reagan in the 80s to Generals in the army to brutal dictators of cruel regimes.  If everyone thinks so much of peace, why then does peace always seem so out of reach in our broken world?  The very same people who clamor for peace viciously fight each other and destroy peace all in the name of peace.  Obviously, we often misunderstand peace and many leaders misuse or abuse the concept of peace or they merely pay lip service to the virtue in order to gain influence over the masses of people they lead.

The fruit of peace the Holy Spirit wants to grow in you is the peace of God or the peace of Christ.  It is what the Hebrews in the Old Testament called Shalom.  Shalom is:
  • Wholeness and health - Shalom is not just the absence of sickness; it carries the connotation that we are whole and healthy in the way God originally created us to be.
  • Living In Harmony - Shalom means that people live in complete harmony with each other and with God because there is nothing to disrupt or frustrate or break a right and perfect relationship between them.  
  • Christian peace leads to relief from anxiety.  We find complete peace when we surrender (stop fighting against the will of God) and live in the very center of God’s will.  When we can truly pray and mean "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", we find true shalom/peace
Most kids love to go swimming--especially during the hot summer months.  However, there is often that initial fear the first time a child considers going into the water.  If they've never done it before, they might be scared.  Even if their mom or dad is in the pool inviting them and encouraging them, "It's OK!  Your safe.  I'll take care of you.  Come on in.  You're gonna love it!"  When the child finally gets up the nerve to go in the water and they see that their parents do indeed keep them safe, they begin to splash around and have all sorts of fun.  And probably, they won't want to leave when their parents finally say it's time to go.  Well, Jesus said, the Kingdom of God belongs to those who have faith like a child.  (Mark 10:15)  Christian peace is like a child that completely trusts their father will keep them safe in the pool.

Jesus Talked about Peace
Jesus talked a lot about peace in the New Testament.  Sometimes his statements are misunderstood or seem conflicting.  For instance, Jesus said in Matthew 5:9 – “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”  People who follow Christ work for peace.  That is, we work to win everyone back into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ which leads to shalom.  Jesus saves us, forgives us, heals us, restores us to a right relationship with God.  Then Jesus commands us to “Go and make disciples of all the world…” (Matthew 28:19) and thus, Jesus bring peace to the whole world.
However, Jesus also said in Matthew 10:34, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”  That doesn't sound like the happy, kind, peaceful Jesus many people imagine.  What does Jesus mean with this aggressive talk of swords?  Well, as long as you are outside of God’s will, no peace is possible.  Often the world offers a counterfeit peace that is not really shalom.  The peace the world usually seeks is just to maintain the status quo (the way things are).  Unfortunately, the status quo--though it is inside our comfort zone--also perpetuates a lot of suffering, evil, and injustice.  Things have to change in order for God to set our crooked world straight.  And Jesus confronts our comfortable status quo and makes us choose between the world's way and God's way.  Thus, Jesus creates a lot of conflict--both in our hearts and in our world--as he works to bring true peace.
Being outside the will of God causes unrest in our soul and in our world.  When we experience this unrest, it is a sign we have wandered outside the will of God.  And then we always have the choice—we can manufacture a false peace by our own human methods or we can surrender to God, seek His divine will, and move back into the center of His plan.

My “Lucky” Tomatoes 
I'm not a very good gardener, but sometimes you just get lucky.   Several months ago, I threw some rotten tomatoes out into my yard and, lo and behold, a tomato plant sprung up!  I did nothing to cultivate this plant--I didn't till the soil, fertilize it, weed it, water it, or anything.  It just grew up all on its own!  Now, I am picking nice cherry tomatoes for my salads just because I got lucky.  That's not the best way to grow a garden, is it?  It's much better and you will have a lot more success if you tend your garden every day on purpose.
Well, the fruit of the Spirit is a lot like a garden.  You can’t do anything to make peace grow in your heart.  Only God, through the Holy Spirit, can make peace grow.  And sometimes you just get lucky and find peace.  However, as with any garden, it's much better to do some things to create a place in your heart that encourages peace to grow.
The first thing I recommend is to pull up some weeds that tend to grow and choke peace.  Pull up worry by the roots.  Some people are natural born worriers.  They worry about everything.  Even if you're not prone to worry, there are times and situations that can make anybody worry.  Worry is like spinning your wheels in a car—it makes a lot of noise and smoke, but it doesn’t get you anywhere and it ruins your tires.  That's why Jesus said, "Do not worry." (Matthew 6)
Another weed you should pull up from your life is being too busy and having too many responsibilities.  Now, some of this you have no control over.  (Being a parents with young kids is an extremely busy season in life.  You just have to buckle down and pray a lot and ask for a lot of help!)  But here's the thing, most people have a lot more control over how busy they are than they think.  It's just that few people are intentional about what they choose to do with their time.  You have to set proper priorities--specifically deciding to what you will commit your time, energy, and money.  If you don't choose how you spend your time, your time or other people will choose for you.  That's why most of us are overbooked most of the time.  So, learn to say “no” to what the world wants you to do and “yes” to what God wants you to do.  The more you grow spiritually, the more you will be able to tell the difference.  Pray the famous Serenity Prayer often (serenity is another term for peace).  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Philippians 4:6-7 gives us more clues about how to cultivate peace in our garden.
Don’t 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.

This passage teaches us how to water our peace garden:
Focus on God.  Philippians 4:4 actually says “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  You don’t have to be happy about the problems in your life.  However, you can rejoice that the Lord is in control.  Aren’t you glad that—despite your troubles—God’s got your back?  Be glad about that and trust God to take care of you.  You don’t have to worry.  Rest in His love and sovereignty.
Serve Others.  When you turn outward toward others, it keeps you from turning inward to focus on your problems and falling into despair.  When we serve, we find a joy and inner peace that can only come from serving others and obeying God’s command to “love our neighbors…”
Pray.  Perhaps, worry hits us most deeply when we are alone with our thoughts.  What do you do when the lights are out and everyone’s asleep, but you?  This can be a time when our thoughts go round and round on the unmerry-go-round of worry until our peace is all worn out.  Instead, take your worrisome thoughts to God in prayer.  Release them there.  And don’t pray like the pagans do (Matthew 6:7-8), repeating your worries over and over again in prayer.  That’s just worrying out loud to God.  You can do that if you really need to.  God can handle it.  But it's so much better is to tell God what you’re worried about and then just let it go.  Leave it with God knowing He can handle it; He will handle it.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  (Proverbs 3:5)  Now, go to sleep.
And there is one more thing you can do:
Philippians 4:8-9
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

What you choose to think about has a tremendous effect on your spiritual peace.  I’m not talking about sticking your head in the sand and ignoring problems or to just “think positively”.  When you're thoughts are fixed on your problems, they seem so big.  They are big.  However, when you fix your thoughts on God--the one who created the whole universe--your problems pale in comparison.  Therefore, fix your thoughts on:
  • The truth, honor, and righteousness of God and His purity 
  • The loveliness of God and His creation and what is admirable 
  • Think of all that is excellent and praise God.
This will create an environment where peace can flourish in your heart.

So, in order to help the Holy Spirit grow more peace in your life, I invite you to spend some time meditating on God’s goodness.  
·       How has God taken care of you in the past?
·       Do you believe He is powerful enough to handle your current problems?
·       Do you believe He loves you enough to take care of you?
·       Do you believe He knows what to do?  (Then what are you worrying about?)
·       Now rest in His love…

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