Sunday, April 15, 2012

How To "Do" Peace

Imagine that you are watching a beauty pageant.  After the beauty portion, the swimsuit and evening gown modeling competition, and talent competitions, five finalists are selected.  And then probably the most nervewracking part of the evening:  The Interview Question.
“If you are crowned Miss Beautiful of the Universe, what would you like to work toward during your reign?”

A common answer you may hear would be “World Peace.”

Peace.  In over 3,500 years of recorded history of the world there have been only about 300 years where there has not been a military conflict somewhere on this planet.  Peace is gained when one side, or both sides, surrender something and an agreement or treaty is drawn up.  But even with peace treaties we still don’t get it right – over the course of history more than 8,000 treaties of peace, meant to last forever, have been broken.  The average time they remained in force?  Two years.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict.  We all have conflict in our lives – it is part of the human experience.  Peace, generally speaking, is “a state of quiet tranquility, or freedom from disturbance or agitation.”  We so often want to try to find peace through our circumstances, so we keep asking God to change them. We think that “If this were different – my finances, my health, my parent’s health, my relationship with my spouse, my kids, my boss, my neighbors, or whatever “this” is – then my life would be much more at peace.”  But you know what?  Our circumstances are always changing.  Just when one thing finally starts to go right, Bam!  Something else rises up to take a turn at being the “this” that we want to change. 

It’s pretty evident that peace is not something that “just happens.”  Our scripture reading this morning gives us a blueprint of some things we can “do” that will bring us peace. 

Do not worry about anything, 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 in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Did you get that?  God wants us to make our requests known to Him!  He wants us to tell him want we want.  But, think about it - if God is omniscient, if He knows everything about us and about our lives, past, present and future, why then do we have to tell Him what we want?  Let me give an example.

It’s tax season.  Many people don’t like to file their tax returns, but for most of us it is something that needs to be done every year.  Part of the tax return, even if you are single and filing the EZ form, is claiming a deduction.  Everyone gets a “standard deduction.”  If you have children, you can claim a deduction for each child.  If you own a home, or a business, or for many other circumstances, you can claim more deductions.  The IRS knows this, and is willing to give you these deductions, as long as they are according to the law.  But they won’t automatically grant them.  The IRS won’t call you up or send you a letter reminding you that you have two children instead of one, or that you paid interest on your mortgage.  You have to Ask for the deductions when you file your tax return.  

God knows we have requests.  He expects that of us.  And he wants to grant those requests to us according to His will.  But He wants us to ask Him, by prayer and petition.  We all know that prayer is our dialog with God – confessing our sins to God, thanking Him, making requests, listening for His answer.  Petition, also called “supplication,” is a part of prayer.  Supplication is where we make a sincere fervent plea, asking God for what we desire for Him to do.  

Supplications are made in our humility, where we recognize and acknowledge our place before the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God of the universe and admitting that we can’t fix our faults and foibles on our own.  It is giving our hopes and hurts, our wants and worries / to the God who created us, the same God who knows past, present and future, the same God who has a plan for our lives and can work all things for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose.  Supplication is our surrender to the King of kings, agreeing once again to allow His will to be done in and through our lives, on earth as it is in heaven.

God wants us to bring our requests to him, fervently and with humility.  He also wants to ask in thanksgiving.  We all know that thanksgiving is more than what we do around the table the fourth Thursday of November every year.  It’s more than “Thank you, God, for family, health, food, friends, etc.”  Thanksgiving is the expression of gratitude.  Gratitude is that feeling we have whenever we experience a kindness.  

Giving thanks is just as important as our supplications.  That is why our boxes we pass around with the attendance books have pink Prayer Requests for our supplications, and yellow Praise Reports for our thanksgivings.  To give an example of how important giving thanks is, let me share this story:

One year a pastor was giving his Report to the congregation, remembering the people who had been called home by the Lord during the previous year.  This happened to be during a time when many young men were enlisting in the Navy and going off to war.  In his report the pastor included “Nine persons lost at sea.”  When the congregation reacted with shock and amazement, the pastor replied, “Well, eleven persons requested prayers for those going to sea, and only two asked me to give thanks for a safe return.  So I assumed the remaining nine were lost at sea.”

Every day we have things that don’t go our way.  Some of it is little, some can be pretty significant.  And there are some days where we might feel we haven’t experienced a single kindness at all, which makes it difficult to give thanks to God for anything.  What then?

Let’s continue in Scripture where we left off:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:9)

There are many things in our lives that fit one or more of those descriptions.  A baby’s smile; your child or grandchild’s laughter, the beauty of nature, the way your dog greets you when you come home.  But only one person fits all of that criteria perfectly, all of the time:  Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  The same Jesus who left the splendor of heaven to be born in a smelly stable.  The same Jesus who gave sight to blind men, and commanded the lame to walk.  The same Jesus who turned gallons of water into wine, and who walked upon the sea.  He alone is true, noble, right, and pure.  He is lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of all our praise.  He rose from the dead and left the grave empty, but he has never left his throne! 

Let me share one more story, and I will close.  

In the late 1800s the people of Argentina and Chile were in conflict over the boundary between the two nations.  Tensions rose because of the mistrust between the two countries. In 1900, when on the verge of war, King Edward VII of Great Britain was called in to mediate.  A diplomatic breakthrough was reached, and on May 28, 1903 the two governments signed a treaty ending the conflict. 

During the celebration that followed, Angela Oliveira Cezar de Costa, a well-connected member of society who had done much to bring about that peace, commissioned a 26-foot high bronze statue of Jesus Christ  to be placed at the summit of Uspallata Pass in the Andes Mountains.  This was no easy task – the Uspallata Pass is at the 12,500 ft elevation, has year round snow, and the statue had to be transported in pieces by train and by mule.  Once everything got to the summit the statue had to be pieced together and mounted on its 18 ft granite base that also had to be transported up the mountain.  

At the dedication ceremony on March 13, 1904 - during their summer - the statue was presented to the world as a sign of the victory of good will.  On its base there is a plaque inscribed in Spanish that reads “Sooner shall these mountain crags crumble to dust than Chile and Argentina shall break this peace which at the feet of Christ the Redeemer they have sworn to maintain."  More than 100 years later the treaty is still in force, and the monument stands today as a reminder that only Christ can bring real peace to the world.

Around 700 B.C., the prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of a special child.  This child would be known as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  We know that Isaiah was talking about Jesus.  The night before Jesus was to give his life on the cross so that we may have eternal life, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  

Peace comes from surrender.  The peace of God that surpasses understanding comes when we surrender our lives to Christ, the Prince of Peace. 

We will soon be singing the hymn “I Surrender All.” Too frequently we sing hymns to the Lord without thinking about the words.  Right now I want you to close your eyes, and as I read the words, reflect on what it means to surrender all to Jesus.

I Surrender All
All to Jesus, I surrender;   
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,   
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;   
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;   
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus, I surrender;   
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,   
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus, I surrender;   
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;   
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;   
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!  
Glory, glory, to His Name!

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Savior,
I surrender all.

In your bulletin there is a piece of paper with the heading “I Surrender.”  As we close out our service, I invite you to write down a word or a phrase, or more than one, representing a burden, or burdens, you wish to surrender to the Lord, and praise Him that He wants us to release them.  It may be worry about something outside of your control.  Or something you need to change about yourself but can’t do on your own.  Or you may want to surrender your heart to Jesus.  Whatever it may be, to symbolize a total surrender, I invite you to drop that paper with your burdens written on it into the shredder.  

Receive God’s peace this very day.  Amen.

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