Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fruit of Peace

June 30, 1996

How many of you have seen a bulldog ant?  They're native to Australia, and since I've never been there, I don't believe I've ever seen one.  But I am told, if you cut a bulldog ant in half, the two halves will enter into a savage fight.  The head will seize its own hind quarters with its teeth, and the tail will sting the head with a fierceness.  The fight might last for hours.

Have some of you ever felt like that on the inside?  Like two significant parts of yourself were fighting each other?  Do you ever wonder if contentment is an illusion?  By the way, who is more contented: the person with a million dollars or the person with ten children?  Obviously it is the man with ten children because he doesn't want any more!

The Bible says, "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones."  The same could be said for anxiety, or fretfulness or just about any flavor of discontentment.

Some kinds of anxiety are normal.  Most of us feel a little anxiety prior to a dentist appointment, or during a driver's test, or at our own wedding.  You and I can understand Job when he says, "I have no peace, no quietness; I have felt no rest, but only turmoil." "Don't worry, be happy!" would be a sick doctor's prescription for Job after what he had been through (loss of all assets, all children, and horrible physical affliction).  But even Job was able to work through his affliction and heartache, and find restored peace by relying on God's resources.

Is it an exaggeration to say just about all of you have a strong desire to experience peace?  Students, homemakers, career people, unemployed, and the retired - all of you would give a lot to enjoy long lasting peace of mind.

What is it that robs you of peace?  Who are the people who have your number?  What makes you discontent, anxious, and fearful?  Would you like the answer to peace?  You can enjoy peace by following the lessons found in the New Testament.  Let's start with Galatians 5:16-26.

Peace is one of the ingredients in the fruit of the Spirit.  It is a quality that spontaneously produces itself when the believer is under the direction of the Spirit of God - who is also called "the God of Peace."

I used to think of peace as the absence of something:  conflict, trouble, guilt...  But the Bible doesn't stop there. It makes peace a positive quality.  Yes, it is the absence of conflict and all the rest, but it is the positive presence of those things that make for a "wholesome prosperity," such as the ability to work for a living and a supportive family, community, and God.

This kind of peace doesn't come from reading self-help books that teach you how to be more assertive so you can get your way.  People who seem to always get their way are as plagued with discontentment as the rest of us.

Tranquility is not a product of mind altering drugs.  Certainly there is a temporary escape that, by many testimonies, is highly pleasurable, but the side effects destroy peace rather than create it.

Peace is a product of living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the first step toward peace is described by Paul in Romans 5:1, "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Peace with God makes possible peace within, which makes possible peace with people, which makes possible peace with nations.  I'll say it again.  We won't have peace in the world until we have peace in our neighborhood and families.  We won't have peace in our family until we have peace within ourselves, and we can't have peace within ourselves until we have peace with God.

You and I have peace because we have accepted God's forgiveness, based on Jesus' life work.  Peace with God brings peace within.  The first requirement for peace, then, is a restored relationship with God.  You can take your guilt and badness to Jesus and exchange it for purity and wholeness.

It sounds too good to be true, and Satan will do everything possible to keep you from the exchange.  Even after you've made it, he will try to steal your peace.  He will trigger memories of past moral failures using a piece of music, or TV ad, or face in a crowd; and you will think, "I can't be forgiven!"  But this is the deal Jesus wants to make:  your failures for His success.

He made it personal when He said in John 14, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give as  the world gives.  Don't let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Jesus called it His own peace, because He is the one who achieved it for you.  The prophet said, "He was wounded and crushed for our moral failures; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him" (Isaiah 53:5).

The first step toward peace is to accept God's deal: bring all the corruption of your sin out from under the rug you've swept it under, and give it to Jesus.  Then receive back from Him total forgiveness and power to live right.

The second step is to offer forgiveness to those who've hurt you.  This affects your inner peace as much as it does your social peace.  Forgiving is not an easy thing to do.  If it was easy it wouldn't be called forgiveness. It would be called oh-that-doesn't-matter-it-wasn't-important-anyway-ness!  If someone hurt you accidentally then they need to be excused.  They didn't mean it, they were clumsy.  Forgiveness is not excusing.

Forgiveness is hard, but so is bitterness, and a vengeful attitude, and festering anger.  They ruin your peace and probably don't even annoy the one you're upset with.  No wonder Jesus said, "If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14,15).

In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom shares her difficult story of forgiving one of her cruelest guards from the concentration camp.  For the excerpt, click here.  Her weakness illustrates not only the need to forgive, but the third lesson:  the need to make mid-course corrections in our walk with the Holy Spirit.

The quality of this inner peace may be a good barometer, tracking change in your relationship with Jesus.  Anytime you feel a tugging dis-ease it might be time to ask, "Who is first in my life?"  A lack of tranquility may be a signal that someone or something has taken Jesus' place as master.

Read Matthew 10:34-39.

This is an astounding passage.  Frankly it is strange sounding.  We've already heard Jesus say, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you."  Now He says, He didn't come to bring peace but a sword.  The crusaders took this passage in a crudely literalistic way.

Some Christians slip back into a dangerous lifestyle of compromise.  They want the blessing of God - His peace - and they give up most of their old life that was wrong, but there remains one secret thing they want God to ignore.

Now what do you suggest?  Should Jesus allow them to feel contentment?  The person who grows content without Jesus, is in the worst of all possible positions - like a person content to camp right next to a raging out of control forest fire saying, "I don't mind a little heat."

Jesus said He came to run a sword through the heart of that kind of contentment.  That kind of contentment leads to hell, not abundant life or eternal life.

In the Old Testament, once in a while a prophet would come along and preach nice sounding words to the backslidden nation.  They would say, "All is well - all is well; Peace and prosperity."  God judged them very harshly for feeding contentment to a people who needed a wake-up call.

Jesus came to destroy false peace, the wrong kind of contentment, so that you can enjoy real peace.  Real peace comes through accepting God's forgiveness, offering real forgiveness to those who've hurt us, and making mid-course adjustments when you or I begin to find inner peace outside of Jesus' will.

The Bible says, "the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit (indicating occasional course corrections) is life and peace."

Real peace is found in:
  1. the great exchange: my corruption for God's forgiveness
  2. the heroic work of forgiving (give it!)
  3. constant willingness to adjust to the spirit's control.

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