Peace?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

 

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I was safely working in my office when I received a text from my wife that there had been a shooter at Ohio State  University. Thankfully she also let me know that our middle daughter, who lives only a few blocks from the shooting was safe at home, but on lock down. Over the last few hours I kept my phone on the live feed watching the events unfold. Thankfully, it was brought to a quick conclusion.

The reports were as they always are, full of conflicting information as people began to tell their stories. I’m not faulting anyone that’s just how we  deal with events like this. It’s difficult to be factual when one’s life is threatened or routine disturbed.  I watched tearful interviews with students and employees. I watched with some bemusement some of those who weren’t in the middle of the crises speak with bravado how they would have handled the assailants (Again, no judgment I was 19 myself long ago). I prayed and gave thanks each time someone I knew posted that they were safe.

But I also couldn’t help but be struck by the irony of the work I continued to do as I listened. I was working on our Christmas eve services (which actually begin on the 23rd) and our service for Christmas day.  I plugged in the Scripture above praising Jesus as the Prince of Peace.  I double checked and made sure we will sing familiar Christmas carols,  many built around, either lyrically or musically the concept of peace.  I envisioned our rising our candles as we sing of the Messiah sleeping in heavenly peace.  I even preached about the peace Jesus brings during this busy season yesterday.

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How is it we can even think of peace, let  alone speak it with any conviction, into a world so full of random and unexpected violence? Is it a pipe dream? Are we singing and reading about a fantasy of peace when the reality is our world is full of violence, hated intolerance and loss? Where is the peace in an unpeaceful world?

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One of the places where we struggle with this is we often confuse peace with peaceful situations. In other words, if Jesus is real and the Prince of peace, we should never have moments of evil or discord in our lives.  It’s a nice thought, but it’s an unbiblical one.  Scripture speaks plainly about a difficult and broken world that is in need of redemption.  The peace Jesus brings, the peace we long and hope for in this world isn’t about peaceful situations and circumstances, but something far greater.

First it’s the peace of His presence. In this Christmas season, as we celebrate the incarnation of God in man, we also celebrate the presence of God, His incarnation of His spirit within us.  We know that even when violence disrupts our world Jesus is with us.  We can reach out and hold onto HIm. HIs presence gives us peace, even when the world isn’t peaceful around us.

As the Prince of Peace we recognize Jesus as the ruler of all things. Eternally God. he is God and on the throne even when life doesn’t make sense. I derive much peace in life knowing that while things may seem in chaos, God has us in his hand. And He is working His plan of redemption  in the world. Knowing God is in control brings me peace.

In this time of year we look to the future of peace. No, we don’t ignore the violence around us. But we hold onto the truth that the world will not be as it is right now. God’s work of redemption, begun with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus will work to it’s conclusion. War violence and hatred will one day need.  Days like this may cause me to long deeper for that great day, but I don’t doubt it’s reality.  Knowing that the world will not always be as it is, gives me peace.

His peace gives us compassion. When we  experience that peace, it manifests itself in compassion for others.  When we pray for a situation such as what happened on campus, we don’t simply pray for the victims, families and first responders. We find ourselves praying for the guilty. We pray for God to have compassion ad mercy on them.  we pray for the tragedy of their broken lives and hardened hearts.  We ray that somehow the love of God will break into the evil that has consumed them.  We pray for their families. Not because we are weak or ignore what they have done.  We pray because we have a peace they do not. And in that peace there is no room for bitterness or revenge.

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In days like this we should not quiet our song of peace and joy at the coming of Jesus. We should read the Scriptures louder, sing the songs at the top of our voice, and proclaim the greater truth that there is peace but it can only be found in Jesus.  I pray you will celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace and that His reign of peace will be in your hearts.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

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Thanks

“Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.” (John 6:11 NIV)

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I just ran across an article entitled “How to Prepare Yourself to Eat as Much as Humanly Possible.”  My first thought was the author must be from Europe.  In America we’re born knowing how to eat as much as humanly possible.  We are the land of the free and the home of the Golden Corral.  We not only invented the airplane, but the buffalo chicken wing, the blooming onion (don’t believe and Australian who tells you differently) and the fried candy bar.

Why we even have the all you can eat salad bar.  Because being healthy doesn’t count if you can’t have as much of it as you want. I think I’ll go back for  my third salad. and add the meat more croutons, cheese and ranch dressing. But  Ok it’s a salad.

Please don’t worry, I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty on the eve of Thanksgiving and the cusp of the Advent season.  First I don’t want to appear hypocritical, and I honestly believe a celebration is biblical. We just need to remember so is moderation. So please enjoy all the good things you can and might eat from now through the New Year’s day.  I’m going to.

But isn’t it interesting that the way we celebrate Thanksgiving is by having a huge meal. Thanksgiving is that time of year when we stop and think about all the things we have to be thankful in our lives. We count our blessings.  You might even have the tradition where everyone at the table goes around and says what they are thankful for. And then we sit down at a table overflowing with blessings and largesse and have even more.

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Mind you, as I said I am all for celebrating. There is nothing particularly spiritual about wearing a long face all the time.  And good food.  I do wonder thought about the subliminal  messe that says we are only thankful when we have a lot of something.  We are thankful when we have a lot. When your table is overflowing. The more I have, the more thankful I am.

That might be one of the reasons I come back to this particular miracle of Jesus every year about this time.  Jesus is completely counterintuitive to how we often live.  Take out of you mind, just for a moment, how the story ends.  Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and perhaps the people close to Jesus that day.

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There is a huge crowd of people, over five thousand.  And they are hungry. The disciples automatically  go into problem solving mode and ask Jesus to send them away to eat. But Jesus says to his friends, “No, you find them something to eat.”  All they can find is 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Which means either the people were either ill prepared,  or perhaps they were very poor.

So here we are. 5 thousand people. 5 loaves of bread. 2 fish.  Math was never my strong suit, but even I know this one doesn’t match up. So what does Jesus do?Send the people away?  Send the disciples to find more food?  No. The scripture says Jesus looked up and gave thanks.

He gave thanks. At the moment when his resources were low, when he didn’t have anything extra, Jesu looked up to His heavenly father and gave thanks. It’s easy to give thanks when the table is full the family is healthy and the pumpkin pie runneth over.  But can you give thanks when the table is bare there are few resources and everyone is tired?  How can Jesus give thanks?

Jesus was able to give thanks because his thankful was not dependent on the reasons around Him, but on His relationship with the Heavenly father.  He gave thanks because of who God is.  Even when there doesn’t seem to be much on hand, He knew God was till  in control watching over His people.

How we give thanks comes down to this.  Do we focus more on the resources or on the relationship?  When we focus on the resources its not always easy to be thankful.  We can also find ourselves slipping into idol worship and becoming materialistic and self-centered.  When we focus on the relationship we find that we can be thankful no matter what our situations are, because God is still God. He is still good, He still loves us and He is still on the throne.  It’s not about burying  our head in the sand, so much as it I is being able to see beyond what we have to the reality of goodness that lies beyond and sometimes even in spite of our resources. This is why Paul says “in all things give thanks” (I Thessalonians 5:18) Not because of what you have, but because of whose you are.

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I hope for most of you this is a season when it’s easy to be thankful and bounty overflows on your tables. But I know its not like that for everyone. This could be a lean year. Maybe its been difficult. You might even wonder if you have anything to be thankful for this year. I pray that like Jesus, you take your eyes off of the table and left them toe the sky and see a God who watches over you in all circumstances  and be thankful.   If you do, you will find the blessings of God overflow in your life and find in the end God always blesses us with more than we can handle. Amen.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

Light and Sword

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

In my parents’ house sits a Grandfather’s clock in the corner of the dining room. It;s one of those clocks that will chime every fifteen minutes through the hour. each time the chime gets longer, so by listening to it you know if you are on the 15 minutes or the 45th minute of the hour. Then on the hour it erupts in a full song on the chime and then it begins tolling the  hour.

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My grandmother hated that clock.  Well, I’m sure she liked the clock, as clocks go. But she hated the virtually constant chiming of the clock. It drove her nuts. She could hear it even in the bedroom where she would stay  when she visited. I can understand her discomfort. It would be like  living in  a real version of Poe’s “The Bells”.

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Now the funny thing is we never heard those bells. After the  first week or two we began to stop hearing them. Our ears adapted to that sound and so our brains were able to put it in the back of our minds where it wouldn’t distract us. Often My Father would have to go look at the clock and made sure it was still working because we  no longer heard the chiming.

That’s how our brains help us deal with distractions. We register new stimuli, but after it’s been introduced to us several times we simply stop registering it, so we can deal with new stimuli. So we stop hearing , or in some cases stop seeing something after we have a sense it a few times.

I thought about that yesterday As I sat in the congregation listening to an incredible sermon by our Associate Minister. We have a beautiful and unique Sanctuary full of reminders and symbols of our Christian faith.  When I first came to the church, I was caught up by all of the symbolism. but after a while I stopped seeing them.

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But yesterday, because I was sitting in the  congregation my view changed a bit . And I noticed again, almost as if it was the first time, to symbols, one on  the lectern and one on the pulpit.  On the front of the lectern is a carved lamp.  On the Pulpit is a sword marked, in Latin as the sword of the Spirit.

These two symbols, light and sword stand as firm reminders how we , as the church, are to treat the Word of God. For Christmas, and I speak of the entire church, those fat and comfortable in the pews, those huddled in persecution reminding their Bible by Candlelight are to see the word of God as Light and as the Sword of the Spirit of God.

Recognizing this might help us get through the contentious aftermath of an election. But it should also help us see and navigate the world better as a people of  faith.  For those of us who are United  Methodists, we  harken John Wesley’s words to be a people of one book. But how is that book to inform our lives?

God’s word is indeed a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105 KJV) The Bible is to be a light to help us understand what is important in life. It guides us in our decisions.   The United Methodist church sees the Bible as the prime authority of God in all matters of faith and practice. ALL MATTERS. The Bible is to help us to be able to see  clearly the issues that are around us. It is by the word of God we understand what is right and wrong , what is true and what is good. We are not to be guided solely by cultural opinion, or even, gasp, political parties.  Far too often we as the church have diluted our witness by  allowing culture to guide us instead of what the word of God says.  One wonders how we can  light the path for the lost when we’ve allowed the light to grow dim even for us?  A church, or even a Christian built on the shifting sands of public opinion cannot withstand the storms of life.

But the word of God is also supposed to be a sword. Swords are dangerous. They make us uncomfortable. Things change when you begin to wave a sword around. Yet time and time again is it the exact image used, exactly in the New Testament, when we are talking about the word of God. It is a sword, Hebrews tells us, that is living and active. It’s a sharp two edged sword. It pierces, it cuts us to the narrow and it judges our thoughts and intentions of the heart.

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God’s word ought to make you feel uncomfortable. Anytime the light of God illuminates our hearts we will see the sin and darkness within That ought to make us uncomfortable. It should pierce us.  While the is much comfort in God’s word there is much that makes us squirm as well.  Jesus calls to absolute submission and total faith.  The people we are to forgive. The stances we are to take against actual, not perceived injustice.  The knowledge that following God can separate us from our friends and loved ones. It can divide us from our families. It can separate us from the way the world sees life.

But following Jesus isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Its not supposed to be easy to be a Christian. it’s never been easy to relay follow Jesus. It’s about taking up a cross.  Its about laying down our lives.  It’s about standing firm when the world tells us not to because “people don’t believe that any more”.

If we are to be a people of one book, we must read it. We must believe it. And we must allow it again to be the light and the sword of the Spirit.  <><

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones

Always

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)

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I’d like to point out, with some pride I might that, that my Alma mater, Asbury University not only played The University of Kentucky in an exhibition game the other night, but that we scored 63 points.  That’s correct, Asbury scored more points on Uk than Duke, with its long vaunted basketball history, did when they played the Wildcats last year.

But before you get excited or pen Asbury into  March madness brackets, I should mention that UK scored 156 in that game.  yep, it was a 156-63 route of the Asbury Eagles.  That’s a bit of a different story isn’t it?  It’s all a matter of perspective. 63 points might sound impressive.  But losing by but losing by 93 points tells a very different story.

The perspective matters. If your perspective is we lost by 93 points it can be pretty disheartening. Or you can look at the 63 points and not feel so bad.  In order to know the truth you have to have to know the numbers. But what you choose to do with them might  very well depend on your perspective.

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Today is election day. And while I have no interest in telling you who to vote for, I do want to say something about how to vote, and how to handle the outcome over the next several months or years.  In the end it’s all a matter of perspective.  What should our perspective be as we head to vote or deal with the aftermath?

It should come as no surprise that as the Church, as the redeemed of Christ our perspective needs to be a uniquely Christian one, and  its a perspective I feel we have lost over the past few months. at least as I observe what we do with social media.  We come at the issues from the perspective of Republican or Democrat or right and wrong of anger and superiority.  Yet that doesn’t seem to be a perspective that honors Jesus as we are called to do.  So as we begin to move into a new phase in  our country what is the proper perspective?

I suggest its the perspective Peter reminds us here in the verse at the top of the blog.  Peter says, in short, we are always a witness.  Let me say that louder:  WE ARE ALWAYS A WITNESS. Your life is a witness to Jesus.  The world judges who Jesus is by how we, the church live and act. Every moment of your life, whether you like it or not is a witness, gives a testimony to Jesus.  If you demean someone it tells the world you serve a God who doesn’t treasure people.  If you  are hurtful it says something about how your God tolerates hatred. You life is always a witness to Jesus.  That’s our perspective and it’s how we ought to be living. And sadly one we often forget.

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So what does that mean for us as we move forward? If I am to live my life with the understanding that my life is always a witness, how do I give the world a true perspective of who Jesus is? Let me give you a few suggestions, based on the character and nature of Jesus

1.) Since Jesus is love, by which we define what love is by the character of Jesus, we need to be loving when we interact with one another.  Its perfectly fine to disagree with someone’s view points. It’s not OK to treat them in an unloving manner.  If you can’t say something and not appear to be hateful toward a person,  a candidate or a party, then don’t say it. Silence can be golden.

2) Jesus is humility. There is no place for smugness in the Kingdom of God.  I’ve seen so many things mentioned, discussed or posted about candidates downfall or foibles with an incredible air of smugness and superiority. If we react this way, what does that do to our witness to the world? The day after the election some will have supported the winner of an election the others the loser. But there is no place in the church for those who chooses to look down on others. Our lives are always a witness.

3) Jesus is the truth. So only tell the truth. Make sure, if you are going to make a statement, or repost something that it’s true. Look it up, do some research.  Why? Because we want to be right? No! because our lives are a witness to how God treasures the truth. And when we don’t treasure it, we give a false witness to God. We are always a witness.

4) Jesus is forgiveness. Someone is going to tell you that you are wrong. Maybe not about an election ( I hope!), but probably about something. Odds are, if you live long enough, someone will not only wrong you, but be nasty about it. call you names. How are we to deal with it? By remembering that we are always a witness. Reacting with vitriol and hate not only doesn’t bring anyone around to your point of view, but it gives unintentionally, a negative witness about the God you service. When the disagreements happen, even if you are called all sorts of nasty things and falsely accused, try this. Look at your hands. Look at your feet. Look at your side. Find any nail holes? Any spear wounds in your side? Then you’re good to go. Jesus when he was crucified, the weight of the sin of the  world on His shoulders asked God to forgive those  who had tortured and in the process of executing Him.  Can we do any less?

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It’s really not about the election process at all. It’s about how you and I, as the church, chose to live our lives. I’ve determined that I want to give a true witness to Jesus every single moment of my life. I don’t always do it. I’m not always there. I lean on the grace of Jesus frequently. But that’s my desire. Always a witness. I want to be a true witness. It’s a matter of perspective. What’s yours?

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Brian Jones <><