The Peace of Christmas

Romans 15:4-13; Isaiah 11:1-13
December 4, 2016
Stockton Presbyterian Church, Stockton, Missouri

One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it, with a title over it reading, “Rest in Peace.” The seven-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside him and said quietly, “Good morning, Alex.”

“Good morning, Pastor,” replied the young man, still focused on the plaque. “Pastor, what is this?” Alex asked.

“Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the men and women who have died in the service.”

Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex’s voice was barely audible when he finally managed to ask, “Which service, 9 or 10:30?”

Of the four traditional themes of Advent, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love, I find peace to be the one of the most elusive personally.  It isn’t that I don’t believe God is with me—I’m good with that.  And it isn’t that I don’t believe God has a plan—I’m there.  I suppose it is because I can’t see those things.  Sometimes I can’t see God in my life without looking very closely, and sometimes I’m not quite sure that God’s plan and my journey are on the same path.  You have probably all heard that saying that “God is always on time, although he may act on the 11th hour.  I joked a few weeks ago, as I have been on this journey seeking employment, “God, I know your watching is always on time, but mine is saying it is past midnight right now!”

We approach the peace of Advent as personal peace, of a personal journey and something we hold to ourselves, for ourselves, and maybe a few good friends.  In America we practice a “personal” faith.  Me and Jesus!  And while there is some validity to that concept as we’ll discuss later, the peace of Christmas is so much more than personal peace.  I suggest to you today that while each of us can have peace within ourselves through our faith in God—The peace that is declared by the angels is peace on earth—peace with others—peace that is infectious and changes this world.

Unfortunately, the peace of Christmas, of Christianity, the peace that tells each of us that God Is with me and will take care of ME, and protect ME from THEM is only a very small portion of the promise, of the peace of Christmas.  Peace isn’t just a lack of fighting or a serene group of people who smile and meditate and never fight—outwardly.  The peace of Christmas is the presence of God around us, protecting us, sure, but the purpose of that peace is not to contain us and our worries and anxieties, but to change us and flow out from us, so the peace of God can envelop and transform those around us, like the waves emitting from the rock dropped in the pond.

Prayer

  1. Peace gives us endurance
    1. Anyone who lived through this past election season can testify that there was no peace anywhere, and that condition threatens to continue indefinitely. Democrats were afraid of the Republican candidate, Republicans were afraid of the Democrat candidate, and the Libertarians, well, they just didn’t like either of them.
      Beyond the election, civil unrest occurred, causing cars to be overturned and burned, people shot, buildings looted and destroyed, citizens attacked and hurt.
    2. 4—everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
    3. Many of my friends wanted to just give up in October and into November. They felt they couldn’t endure—what with the commercials, the news broadcasts, the phone calls!  Oh yes, the phone calls!  They were just sick of the whole mess and wanted it to go away.  No peace, no desire to endure.
    4. Yet Paul tells us that the writings, the Bible, teach us endurance and give us hope. There is no peace without hope.  There is no peace on earth without hope for peace.  So what is Paul trying to tell us here?  Is it enough to carry my big Bible to church and read along with the pastor once a week?  Will that give us enough hope so we can experience peace through the week?  Hopefully!  But no, Paul’s intent in this passage is that we learn from the Scriptures, from “what was written,” that we be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  Sure, this can happen without the Bible to read.  Testimonies all over the world tell how the Spirit and even visions of Christ have brought people to faith and to change.  But they did not have the Bible.  We do.  Don’t pray to God for peace if you aren’t spending time in the Word of God, if you aren’t allowing time for God’s Spirit to speak to you and bring you hope.  It is that transformation to hope that will bring you to peace and to be a peacemaker.
  2. Peace helps us accept one another
    1. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    2. Peace in myself, without love for one another, isn’t God’s peace. You see, these four themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, and love, are integral to one another.  It isn’t a pick-and-choose kind of shopping event, but a cohesive way of life.
    3. The same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had: John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  Jesus’ words.  WHOEVER believes, not whoever thinks like me, acts like me, looks like me.  The heart of God reaches out to everyone.  There is a farm on 96 west of Springfield.  On their mailbox is nailed a sign—“God is angry with the wicked”  An OT passage used to say “we are different, and you need to be like us.  Our Dad is bigger than your dad, and our Dad doesn’t like you.”  No, God sent His Son for everyone. God may be mad at their actions, what they do, but God extends divine love to all.
    4. That you may glorify the God and Father. You see, our faith, our relationship with God isn’t just for us, it is for God, it is for the purpose of glorifying God.  It isn’t to make us comfortable and happy, but to challenge us to grow and reflect God even when we’re uncomfortable, even when it’s storming, even when things don’t go our way.  God’s peace, the peace of Christmas, is an outflowing transformation that chases away darkness by its infectious light, helping us to be a servant, as Christ served, despite pain, hardship, persecution, and hatred.
  3. The Peace of Christmas belongs to everyone.
    1. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[a] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
    2. If I have peace, God’s peace, I cannot continue hating my neighbor, the immigrant (illegal or otherwise), the atheist, the Buddhist, the Muslim. The peace of Christmas teaches us to accept one another, not for their good alone, but to bring praise to God.  It doesn’t teach us to simply accept each other’s actions or beliefs or attitudes, but their souls, the creation God made so they can glorify God for his mercy.  Do our worship, our fellowship, our lives reflect God’s grace and mercy to others, especially to those who are different?
    3. Isaiah 15:12 “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations;  in him the Gentiles will hope.”
    4. When we choose to live in real peace, God’s peace, we find ourselves able to love one another, even the “gentiles” in our lives. The drug addicted.  The thieves.  The homeless.  The arrogant.  The hateful.
    5. There is a teaching in psychology, in systems theory, that when I change, it changes the system in which I live and function. God’s love in us, as it transforms us, also transforms those around us, which eventually has the possibility of transforming the world.  That small band of believers after Jesus’ resurrection changed their world.  How can we?

God sent Jesus Christ, not to make us feel good about ourselves, even though that happens.  God did not send Jesus just to help us feel secure and protected, even though that happens when we follow God.  God did not send the Babe of Bethlehem to make us better than anyone else, but to make us like Jesus.

As we share from the Table today, I ask you to meditate on the peace of Christmas.  Are you fearful or experiencing anxiety?  God is with you and will make a way.  Are you struggling?  God will carry you through.  Are you finding it hard to love your neighbor, family member, those who are different?  God will transform you so that the peace in your heart will allow you to love and accept others.  But this only happens through relationship, through time spent in prayer, in meditation, in reading and learning from the Word of God.  Will you make a further commitment today to spend a few more minutes this week—in spite of the hurriedness of the season—in the presence of God, letting God’s Spirit soak down into your spirit?  Take a few moments, while we prepare for the Lord’s Table, to make a mental list of those with whom you do not have peace, those whom you do not accept, asking God to fill you with hope, peace, joy, and encouragement, so that you can glorify God in your life, and so they will glorify God for His mercy toward them.

Benediction

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

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New Book! Words of Wisdom . . . Thoughts of Hope

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A collection of original meditations and poetry, along with inspirational images, this book brings hopeful and comforting thoughts, along with encouragement and challenges to faith.   Available in three editions:

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Blessings!

Mary Kay

 

 

What Do You Say? How Do You Live?

Sermon: What Do You Say? How Do You Live?”
Luke 17:11-19
November 22, 2015
Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Mary Kay Glunt

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” Daily Bread, August 26, 1989.

Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it.
Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”

“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'”

Source Unknown.

Thanksgiving. For many it is the name of a holiday, a time to gather with family and/or friends, and a time to get ready for an insane shopping experience. Like many other holidays in our society,–Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, etc., the background and meaning of the observation has been greatly lost on us.

We’ll gather together, eat our favorite foods, maybe watch football and laugh, or even argue, but in many cases, prayer and thoughts of God will be forgotten.

The first recorded thanksgiving meals on this continent were in the newly established colonies. We are all familiar with the meal the pilgrims shared with the Native Americans in 1621, when the latter helped them plant indigenous crops and so saved their lives. But even earlier, in Jamestown, the winter of 1610 had decimated their group of 409 settlers to 60. They prayed for help, and when it arrived on a ship filled with food and supplies, they had a prayer meeting to give thanks to God.

Over the years Thanksgiving has taken many forms. Each home has different traditions and different menus. But will we, this week, be like those who took time out to thank God for their blessings, or will we be like modern society, enjoying our blessings with no thought of how we received them?

In our gospel reading today, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He came upon ten men in a camp outside of the village. They were there because each of them had leprosy. These men would have had bandages and wounds because of the lack of sensation caused by the disease. They may have lost appendages, noses, ears, because of the disease. Whatever it was, they were ostracized from common society to prevent spreading it to the healthy. Today we would call them “marginalized.”

Each of us, at one time in our lives, has found ourselves in a place where we are on the outside, feeling left out, abandoned, outcast, whether by friends or family, or even by God, we felt as if we had nothing, no strength, no help, no hope. Until we heard about Jesus. Until we realized that God just might help us, and we called upon Him. Likewise, these men had heard of Jesus, and they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (v. 13). They approach Him because it was forbidden for them to approach the healthy, but Jesus heard their call and He told them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Now I can imagine these men struggled for a moment with that command, because they weren’t to go to the priest or to be in the village at all. What to do? Trust in Jesus and be healed, but take the chance that by approaching the priest they would break social conventions? In faith, they started off in obedience, and as they went, they were cleansed, healed, delivered.

How many times have you prayed for God’s help in your life? How many times has God blessed you beyond what you were able to achieve? When have you recognized God’s hand in resolving a situation you couldn’t rectify? As they walked they realized they had been healed. I can see it now. They were dragging their feet, stumbling, perhaps using crutches, hunched over and weary. They were wondering what they were doing. Then one foot was easier to pick up. An arm no longer drooped to the side. One man stood a little straighter. Another was able to drop the crutch. Soon they were all walking without impediment or pain, and they probably jumped around, rejoicing and celebrating, as they did what Jesus told them to do.

On realizing he was healed, one man disobeyed and took a detour, first coming back to thank Jesus for the miracle. This man was a Samaritan, and he was so grateful that he set aside his own gladness, his own restoration to a normal life, in order to give thanks to Jesus.

There is an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. But sometimes, there are no disciples in victory. Let me explain. When times are tough, we pray. When we can’t see a way out, we call on God, sometimes shouting to be sure He hears us! When we have needs, we take them to the Lord. We make commitments: Lord if you do this, I will . . . “ But sometimes, when the answer comes, we get so involved in the blessings that we forget about the One who blessed us. We forget how bad it was and how needy we were, thinking ourselves to be strong on our own once again and in no need of anyone else.

What does it mean to be thankful? Dictionary.com says it is feeling or expressing gratitude, which is defined as warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received. We are thankful, perhaps, and we shoot off a quick prayer of thanks to God and continue on our way, unchanged by the blessing, still going our own way. We forget to give God the glory He is due. I believe being thankful is more than just saying “thank you,” as if God had just opened the door for us, but being truly thankful is being changed, letting God’s mercy and grace change who we are as we go forward doing what Jesus has asked us to do.

Why did only one cleansed leper return to thank Jesus? The following are nine suggested reasons why the nine did not return:
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already much improved.”
Charles L. Brown, Content The Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3.

All of the men were healed. They were doing what they had been told, but one returned because the gift was so great, so amazing, that he had to give thanks to Jesus. The man who returned was not only healed physically, but upon returning he received a second blessing from Jesus, that of salvation. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In three of the four chapters of the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul links being thankful with our relationship with God, how we live the Christian life.

Colossians 2:6-7–6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3:15–Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 4:2–Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

So being thankful is so much more than a quick prayer, but it is a lifestyle that expresses gratitude to God for not just the answer to prayer, but for the mercy and grace shown to us.

And there’s more. You see, being thankful to God should flow out in our interactions with others. The Apostle Paul also modeled this when he said to the Ephesians: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Some call it, “an attitude of gratitude,” a way of living that looks for the good instead of the bad, an attitude that seeks honor instead of punishment, one that lifts up instead of tearing down.
G. K. Chesterton once said, I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

According to Dictionary.com, “gratitude” comes from the word “grace,” and so living with an attitude of gratitude is living a grace-filled life, a life so full of grace that it cannot help but pour out on those around you. It isn’t indebtedness to the other. It isn’t just appreciation either. Gratitude includes a feeling of awe, of wonder, as to why God or that person did that for me. Gratitude takes our eyes off of what is wrong with our lives and fixes them on what we have received. Psychology Today says that gratitude opens us up to connect with something that is fundamentally good and reassuring and inhibits painful emotions such as anxiety, heartbreak, loneliness, regret, and envy. It changes our perspective. It changes us.

This Thanksgiving week, I challenge you to consider which of the ten lepers you are. You may be following the directions, but are you thankful? You may be healed and moving on in life, but are you being changed by the grace God has bestowed upon you? Be ye thankful, not only to God, but to one another. Let God’s grace change you.  Look for the good in those around you and affirm it, as God has affirmed you.

Link: Josh Groban, “Thankful” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5nNckK5Tmc

Finding God’s Perspective

We’ve all heard the story of the blind men who encountered an elephant. They had never seen an elephant and wondered what it might be like. Each of the men “explored” a different part of the creature to determine what this animal was. The first blind man touched the leg and proclaimed, “It is like a pillar!” The second man located the tail and determined, “It is like a rope!” The third touched the side of the elephant and was sure it was like a wall. Likewise, the fourth felt the trunk and stated, “No, it is like the heavy branch of a tree.” The fifth touched the ear and decided it was like a large hand fan, and the sixth felt the tusk and asserted, “It is like a solid pipe.” The men argued for some time as to which was right, until another, a sighted man, came along. He listened to their wrangling for a while until he finally spoke up. “You are all right, you see. You each touched a different part of the same animal.”
Perspective, or the lack of it, has been the cause of many broken relationships and broken lives. Without a proper perspective we cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees. The blind men’s perspective was limited to what they first experienced with their hands when approaching the elephant. They were each so sure they had found the truth that they stopped looking and argued with one another. We, on the other hand, each have our own perspective of life and truth, often based on our experiences, and that perspective limits our growth and constrains our ability to find peace with others.
One of the most important perspectives we need to consider is God’s perspective. God states through Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV). Most of the trouble Jesus had with the religious leaders came back to this idea, that they had a different perspective and didn’t understand Jesus’ thoughts. They had flat thinking: this is the rule and so that is what we will do. However, Jesus was thinking with an eternal, heavenly perspective, seeing what good he could do when he healed the lame man on the Sabbath, etc.
Where in your life are you being held back by a narrow perspective? The point is not to ignore what you know to be true, or to turn away from Scripture because you want a broader perspective. That is not my suggestion in any way! However, there are times when we must examine our lives, our ideas, our perspectives, to see if we are truly looking at the individual trees instead of stepping back to see the forest.
Paul and Barnabas had such a situation. Mark had accompanied them on a previous journey but had left them when the going got too rough. Now, preparing to embark on a second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark once again, but Paul refused. This disagreement was so profound that the pair split up, with Paul and another partner going one way, and Barnabas and Mark going another. Mark was older and able to continue on the journey this time. However, Paul’s limited perspective concerning Mark split up the missionary team.
Paul may have learned his lesson before writing the letter to the Romans, as he states, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16). He goes on to state, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (verse 18).
I’m sure if Paul looked at the church today, with all of our arguments, posturing, and theological differences, he would have something strong to say. But instead, each of us has felt a different part of the elephant and, therefore, is determined that our approach to faith is the only perspective that exists. It is time for the church universal to be so, and for the people inside each of its partitions to learn to love one another and to learn from one another.
I’m not asking you to forego your theological distinctives but, rather, to find a place of peace with your brothers and sisters in faith, with your family members, with your neighbors, where God can bring you together. Step back from that tree that you have been examining to catch the wonder of the forest. Step back from your plans and ideas to be able to see God’s plans and ideas and the wonder of His creation and inspiration in those who call on His name.
Blessings!

A Good Day to Die

Several days ago, I was watching an old episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine with my husband. The characters were preparing to go into battle, when one Klingon warrior, as was their custom, exclaimed, “It is a good day to die!” No, he wasn’t planning to die, but as a warrior, coming from a warrior race, he believed that to die in battle was an honorable death.
And so the theme for this article: dying in battle. The article isn’t about being martyred for one’s faith, even though hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being tortured and martyred because of their beliefs every day in the Middle East and Africa. And even more are dying in West Africa because they are volunteering to care for those who are infected with the Ebola virus. Although we need to pray for them, the article isn’t really about dying. Well, maybe it kind of is about dying, in a way. You see, living the Christian life is about dying—to our selves, to our desires, to our wants—so we can live for Christ.
In Acts, chapter 20, we read a speech of Paul to the believers from Ephesus. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. He knew that by going to Jerusalem he could be captured, arrested, perhaps even killed, but he also knew it was God’s will that he go there. He sent for the believers so he could speak to them one more time. He said to them,
And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace (Philippians 1:22-24).
Did Paul want to die? I don’t believe so. In other passages he expresses his problem. While he is longing to get to heaven and be with the Lord, he also feels the need and desire to be with his “children” in the faith, to help them find their way in the Christian life (Philippians 1). But yet, he treks toward Jerusalem anyway.
How does this relate to us today? I don’t think many of us are planning to go to West Africa as medical missionaries to treat Ebola patients. And I don’t think any of us is boarding a plane to the Middle East to be in the path of ISIS extremists. What does dying mean to us?
Paul uses the term “dying” figuratively and literally. While he knew that he might physically die, he also referred to dying as putting aside his own wants and desires to serve the Lord (Romans 8:13). He had found the place in faith where he could place God’s will first, and “die” to his own flesh. Paul decided that each day he would walk the path set before him by God, whatever the result.
What in your life have you not “died” to? Is it a person, a possession, a dream? What is the one thing (or maybe more) that is keeping you from living the Christian life as Paul did, being ready each day to put aside those things that keep you from hearing God’s call and serving Him wholeheartedly? We have so much more than Paul or any of the early believers had. Our brothers in the Middle East today have only their faith. Everything else has been taken away, and yet they still stand and profess Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives.
Are you ready to die, perhaps not literally but spiritually, to set aside all the things that keep you from doing God’s will in your life? Have you taken inventory of your life and found that the priorities you cherish are not those that God would have for you, but rather are holding you back from God’s will, from serving Christ effectively? Take some time this week to do a self-evaluation. Pray and ask the Lord to look through your heart and show you what can be left behind, if necessary, so that you can be fully committed to serving God.
My prayer this week is that, like the Klingon warriors, you will come to the place where you can proclaim, “Today is a good day to die, and a very good day to live for Christ!”
Blessings!

More than Conquerors (originally published 8/7/14)

With all the changes in the world today, it seems that on every hand we are confronted with another challenge. Whether in the area of finances, culture, politics, or another area, we are continually faced with encounters that test our values and commitment to God and to one another. With each new day, each news report, or each edition of the newspaper, we find new situations that require us to go back and revisit our principles of life.
With each of these challenges our faith is also tested. How far will we bend before we push back or break? I’m sure the believers in Rome felt this same way. The degradation of society in first-century Rome was rampant. I’ll not detail many of the practices that were found in upper society in those days except to say that today’s culture is not any lower than Rome. Believers who did not worship at the altars of the Roman gods were discriminated against, and it was not unusual for a believer to be forced into the coliseum for the amusement of the crowds.
With that being the case, why did Paul tell the believers that they were more than conquerors? They weren’t overcoming their circumstances physically or even politically. Yet, in Romans 8 Paul tells them:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul himself experienced the tragedies and struggles of life. He was persecuted, arrested, beaten, stoned and left for dead. And yet he considered himself more than a conqueror. What did he conquer? What do we conquer when we are faced with all these challenges in our lives?
The truth is that the victories Paul referred to were much deeper than those that trouble us on a day-to-day basis. While we are frustrated daily with the experiences around us, there is a foundational level where our focus needs to be if we are to find fulfillment and comfort in our lives. Paul is referring to a level of life that we rarely consider, the spiritual realm. Unfortunately, in our lives we often live out the conflicts and personal struggles, the shortages and interpersonal arguments, never taking the time to step back and reflect on what is behind all of those things.
Those who are called “Christian,” who are followers of Jesus Christ, who have had their sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ, have come to know a deeper part of life. God has shown us that there is more to life than what we see or hear or experience physically. In fact, all of these things are surface items that depend on what is below, what is our foundation. In the spiritual realm, we can be overcomers in spite of what is happening in the physical realm.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we are to just be “spiritual” about everything and not participate in government or social change. I am definitely not suggesting that we totally separate ourselves from those with whom we disagree, living in a detached, unconcerned manner. I am also not suggesting that we withdraw from the political arena, allowing our culture and society to further degrade with no alternative provided.
When you look again at Paul’s words, you find that he is basing our victory on one thing: the love of Christ. He is admitting that trials will come, that we will find ourselves without, that we may even be persecuted, but even when they do, the ONE thing that matters, a relationship with Jesus Christ, will carry us through even when we cannot see victory anywhere around us.
Nothing, my friends, can separate you from the love of Christ. It is in that love, that relationship, that we overcome because we know that, as Paul stated in v. 28, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In ALL things, not just the good things, not just the seeming victories, but ALL things are worked for our good by our gracious and powerful Lord. That is where the victory lies. Even when we cannot see the resolution, we know that God is taking that situation and will use it to bless us as we follow him.
Take heart today because, if you are in Christ, you are more than a conqueror, and nothing can separate you from the God who loves you.

Living in the Past (originally published 08/07/2014)

When I talk with people, one of the most commonly expressed emotions is regret. Whether because of something they did as a child, a teen, or a young adult, or maybe even something recent, people have regrets. In fact, if you have no regrets, you are extremely blessed or just disconnected with reality.

Regret can be a positive emotion. We all look back and wonder how things might have been different if we had made a different choice at one time or another. That is normal. Regret can cause us to change our direction in life, making better choices and choosing new directions.

What isn’t normal, or healthy, however, is letting those wonderings, or regrets, dog our current lives, causing depression and anxiety, and even chronic health problems. We find ourselves living in the past, trying to somehow make up for something we did, real or imagined, so that we can bring some sort of resolution to the situation. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we find ourselves continually living in regret, unable to change the past.

Research has shown that continually living in regret, repetitive negative rumination and self-blame, can negatively affect not only mental health, but also hormonal and immune system functioning (“The Psychology of Regret” Psychology Today). Continual regret also causes the individual to withdraw from current situations, as they are so wrapped up in the past.
How do we deal with regret in a healthy manner? While some thoughts of the past can be good in order to help us change and grow, we must move past regret in order to live a healthy, fulfilled life. So how do we manage regret and use it for our personal growth and health?

1. Use the emotion to help you make the changes that are necessary in your life. Consider if the situation can be changed, for example, ongoing behaviors that are hurting yourself or others. Recognize what you have done and resolve it, changing your behaviors and moving on with the help of God. Many people stall at this point because they feel they cannot change on their own. This is where faith comes in.
Paul knew this confrontation with himself. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
Recognize that you cannot change the past but must instead accept it, make peace with it, and move on, making changes for a healthier life.

2. Realize that if there is nothing you can do, you need to just let it go. This reminds me of David’s grieving for his son in 2 Samuel 12. David had slept with Uriah’s wife and got her pregnant. He then arranged Uriah’s death on the battlefield and took the widow as his own wife. The child born from their illicit relationship became ill, and David laid of his face before God, interceding for the child, taking nothing to eat. The child eventually died, causing those around David to fear for him. However, David got up, washed himself, and got something to eat. When asked why the change, “He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” David returned to his life and rebuilt it with his new wife Bathsheba, eventually fathering his son, Solomon, who would reign after him as king in Israel.

3. Look at the situation clearly. Seek out forgiveness and move on, whether it comes or not. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that we are to go to those who have something against us and to attempt reconciliation. It is important that we do everything we can to resolve the situation, but this will not always work. The other person may be unwilling or unable to offer forgiveness; however, at this point we are to move on and to find healing in Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Pray for those who don’t forgive you, but don’t let their lack of forgiveness drag you down into the depths of despair and loss. Find forgiveness in God’s grace and mercy and move forward with your life.

Regret can be helpful, but it can also be unhealthy and damaging to the individual. It is important to use the emotion of regret to make changes in our lives, but it is also necessary to move past the emotion, resolving it by confession and receiving forgiveness, not only from others, but from God. Only then can we live healthy, fulfilled lives.

Blessings!