PEACE – WHERE IS IT?

Peace is hard to find in our 24/7 world today. But, thankfully, there are places that just seem to facilitate the sense of PEACE! Stay awhile, enjoy the scene, relax, rest, be at peace with yourself and with your God. This river and mountain view in Alaska was one of the peaceful moments in a crazy, stress-filled week.

Peace is a difficult word to define. For some, it is the absence of conflict, a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.. For others, it is akin to rest, where there is tranquility and calm. The Hebrew word for “peace” is , šālôm, translated in the Septuagint most often by the Greek word, eirēnē. It has a broad semantic range of meaning, including the concept of completeness or the totality of something. It also connotes success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.

Scripture says this about peace:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3-4

It is interesting to note that these words from the prophet Isaiah came while he was issuing oracles against the people because of their transgressions and failure to follow the commandments of God. In fact, in chapter 24 the prophet, speaking the words of God, pronounces judgment on the whole earth. In the midst of these judgments, we find words that promise peace.

Jesus frequently addressed the disciples in thisohn way. For example:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” … Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20: 19, 21

The Apostle Paul opened most of his letters with the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:3

The Apostle Peter expressed the same sentiment when he wrote: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.: 2 Peter 1:2

Peace — it is something that most of us long for and something that very few possess. We know that during the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tensions are at fever pitch. Many of us are out of work. Many of us have lost our income and we don’t have enough funds to feed the family, or cover the rent. Many of us see no way out of the problems that loom over us each moment of every day.

Jesus never said that His disciples would have an easy time of things. Indeed, we know that each one of the Apostles endured extreme hardship, most of them being killed in gruesome ways. Yet, even in those horrendous days of hardship and torture, they had peace. An inspiring example is found in the pages of Scripture describing the first martyr for Jesus – Stephen. In Acts 6, we are told that Stephen was doing wonders and signs among the people, and that he was a a man who was full of grace and power.

This was too much for the establishment. They wanted rid of Stephen. Acts 6:10. Stephen detailed the message of God to the Hebrews through the centuries and he ended his statement with condemnation of the very people who were charging him. Here is the end of Acts 7 beginning with Stephen’s statement and then the response of the people, Acts 7:52-60.

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:52-60

Stephen had peace – the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is now sitting at the right hand of God, interceding for each of His children. Stephen’s peace was so great that he forgave the very men who were stoning him, including one Saul who was a young man guarding the coats of the men executing Stephen.

Peace can also be found in the security of mountains, the strength of the granite rocks, the beauty of God’s creation.

Characterizing God as a Rock is common in the Old Testament. The clear symbolism is that God cannot be moved, He is strong, He is the Source of all comfort and assurance. David says it this way in Psalm 18:2:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

Beloved, don’t depend on your own strength, your own resources, your own understanding to get through these times. Look to God, the God who is above all gods, the God who is the Almighty Father and the One who desires to become your Rock, your Fortress, your Stronghold in days of trouble.

Father, forgive me when I run ahead and try to take care of things my own way! Help me to stop and look to You as the author of my salvation and as the lover of my soul. Enable me to see Your Hand in my situation and to rely on You even when things are dark and difficult.

THANKSGIVING DAY IS FOR MORE THAN TURKEY!

In his Thanksgiving Day address to the country in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:

Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving Day is a time for us to remember the many ways that we have been blessed during the past year.

In years gone by, the traditional day was celebrated with the best china, glassware, linens and, of course, the best food that the family could afford.

Family holiday table from years past.
Family holiday table from years past.

It was also a time for the family to gather, from various parts of the city, state, or country, to celebrate together.

When I was a child, we went to my Great Aunt and Uncle’s home for the dinner.  It was a special time when relatives from another state would come and the cousins would sit at the “children’s table” in another room.  Now that I am a parent and grandparent, I realize this is what you did so the adults could have a grand conversation which was uninterrupted and without hassle, usually about those who sat at the “children’s table”.  The children liked it because we did not have to sit and be quiet!

Even in our home today, the Thanksgiving Day meal is more formal and “dressy” than the normal fare that we consume the other 364 days of the year.

The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.
The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.

Of course, in school we learned that the Thanksgiving meal was in celebration of the harvest and of the bounty that the country afforded the Pilgrims.  So, in keeping with the “bounty” part of the holiday, we have food that is a traditional part of the celebration as well as a few new things to try.  One year I tried a recipe of acorn squash with raisins, brown sugar and a number of spices cooked in the slow cooker.  To quote my Beloved, “This is a keeper!”

New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.
New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.

In our home, although there are other foods prepared, the centerpiece of the meal is the turkey, all bronzed and tender.  I recognize that it is not too good from the turkey’s point of view, but I know that it is exceptional for the family’s enjoyment.

The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!
The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!

Before eating, we “say grace”, a time when we thank the Lord for the manifold blessings that he has provided for us, focusing primarily on the food we are about to eat!

Then, after gorging ourselves with the meal, we visit and talk about what we are thankful for.  Often the list includes friends, family, health and frequently the children will add thanks for their toys, pets, good grades at school, etc.

Often, while the ladies are cleaning up the kitchen, the children and gentlemen will go in the backyard for the holiday football game.  For the grandparent, there is no tackle, but for the elementary school child the adult will not be penalized when he is picked up off the field, as long as a hug follows and the descent to the ground is not a drop.

Family playing football after holiday meal.
Family playing football after holiday meal.

Holiday traditions and stories are important to keep us together and to define who we are.  Traditions and stories play a critical role in our life before God as He states in His Word.

For example, the Passover Meal is a time when the story of the Exodus is retold each year, even today, thousands of years after the event.  Scripture admonishes us to teach our children about God’s acts in our life.

The act of thanksgiving is described and discussed often in the Scriptures.  The Old Testament described the peace offering that was made to God in thanksgiving in Leviticus 7.

In 1 Chronicles 16:7 we read that David appointed that songs be sung in thanksgiving to God.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” – [Psalm 69:30]

Psalm 50:4 tells us to:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,” [ESV]

Scripture tells us that “grace” is more than just saying a quick prayer before the meal, although grace and thanksgiving are frequently paired.  In 1 Corinthians 1:4, Paul states:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you.”

Paul is giving thanks to God for the grace given to the Church in Corinth, a church that he established, counseled, and nurtured.

I remember learning the term G-R-A-C-E by the phrase “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”   But, grace is so very much more than this trite phrase defines.

  • Grace provides us with God’s love.  Paul says: “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:14
  • Grace enables us to do the will of God.  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 tells us: “”Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
  • Grace provides forgiveness of sin.  “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,…”  Romans 5:20
  • Grace enables Christians to love others.  “We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19.
  • Grace provides us with the opportunity to fellowship with God.  “”Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power…. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”  Ephesians 3:7, 10-12.

I pray that we are thankful daily not just for the material blessings we have from our Father but also for the grace given to us by the Lord. We should think about this marvelous gift of grace from God and include it with humble gratitude in our prayers of thanks to God our Father.

Father, we thank you for your love that you extended to us while we were yet sinners, before we could even think of loving you. Thank you for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, and thank you for the Holy Spirit who indwells us and is transforming us into the image of your Son. Thank you for our country and the freedom to worship that is provided. We pray that our leaders and those in authority over us would look to you, Father, for wisdom, guidance and discernment as they lead us in these difficult times. Thank you, Father, for your presence and for your mighty hand.