Finding Peace

Standard

I always find these words comforting. 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.(John 14:26)

The traditional Jewish greeting, shalom, was a wish for peace. The Old Testament meaning of peace was completeness, soundness, and well-being of the total person. This peace was considered God-given, obtained by following the Law. Peace sometimes had a physical meaning, suggesting security, contentment, prosperity and the absence of war.

In the New Testament, peace often refers to the inner tranquility and poise of the Christian whose trust is in God through Christ. The peace that Jesus Christ spoke of was a combination of hope, trust, and quiet in the mind and soul, brought about by a reconciliation with God. Such peace was proclaimed by the host of angels at Christ’s birth, and by Christ Himself in His Sermon On The Mount. He also taught about this kind of peace at the Lord’s Supper, shortly before His death. The apostle Paul later wrote that such peace and spiritual blessedness was a direct result of faith in Christ (Rom 5:1).

In a relationship with God, the peace comes in time. There are eight areas where we human’s are robbed of our peace:
1. There will always be old regrets and excuses.
2. A desire to have all of the answers.
3. Life will always have pain – it will never be pain free.
4. There will always be insensitive people.
5. Negative news will always be a part of life.
6. The belief that fulfillment resides in the end (goal).
7. Measuring our success or failure by material wealth.
8. Life is always changing.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). Peace is the ability in a turbulent world to wait patiently in spite of the panic of uncertainty. Just to whisper the word is relaxing. Perhaps the rarest of all virtues, real peace comes only when you decide to take God at His word. Isa 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

The Hebrew words challenge us to lean or rest on God. Real inner peace comes only from God. It is not something the world can give, but it is something the world will try to take away from you.

Sun Shiny Kansas

Standard

I generally try to stay out of politics. I try to stick to my area of expertise, religion and faith. However, there are times when it is difficult to remain silent and not cross into the other.

This week I filed my taxes for 2014. I had been notified as a minister that how I handle health insurance had changed. For the IRS, we clergy are considered “self-employed.” That is kind of crazy since I am clearly an employee of Hillside Christian Church, but that is how it is done. In the twenty-five years I have been at the church, the church has always paid and provided me with heath insurance coverage. That is pretty standard for most clergy. However, this past year with the new health care law, the money that is used to pay health insurance coverage is taxable. What the IRS does now, is to give “credit” for the amount paid. In other words a wash. However, when you file state taxes, the State of Kansas does not “recognize” the new health care law. The clergy end up paying state taxes on what the IRS credites back on the Federal. Thus, the state has increased taxes on all clergy! Don’t tell me we have cut taxes, when I am paying more.

No one argues that we as Christians have to pay tax. Taxes are necessary and needed to have the best community and state that we can have. But don’t lie to me! Don’t tell me that taxes are going down and that the sun is shining in Kansas. Don’t play me for a fool.

I am already upset over the lack of funding for our public schools. There is nothing more important for our children than a good quality education. We want to talk about better jobs, higher paying jobs and yet we deprive our children of one of the most important things possible to get ahead in life. We have some very wonderful private schools in Wichita. Hillside Christian Church has probably one of the best pre-schools in Sedgwick County housed in our building. However, not everyone can afford private school.

While I am not a promoter of abortion, I don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend laws that are more opinion based than fact based. Or spend all of our time and energy creating laws to govern election problems that don’t even exist. We seem to have the money for those items when we can’t even find money to address the unemployed or poor. It is a good thing that the size of a person’s campaign contribution doesn’t influence that office. However, it is free speech. Come on, somewhere and at some time we have to be real!

OK. I will go back to sticking with my field. Justice! Justice! JUSTICE!

Happiness Is A Choice

Standard

I have learned something along life’s journey for me, happiness is a choice! A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly. All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:13)

A woman climbed on the bathroom scale after two weeks of plain toast and chili dogs around the park. The needle was still stuck on the number where she’d started. This struck her as typical of how things had been going lately. She was destined never to be happy. As she dressed, scowling at her tight jeans, she found $20 in her pocket. Then her sister called with a funny story. When she hurried out to the car, angry that she had to get gas, she discovered her roommate had already filled the tank for her. And this was a woman who thought she’d never be happy.

Every day, it seems, we’re flooded with pop-psyche advice about happiness. The relentless message is that there’s something we’re supposed to do to be happy. We have to make the right choices or have the right set of beliefs about ourselves. Our Founding Fathers even wrote the pursuit of happiness into the Declaration of Independence. Coupled with this is the notion that happiness is a permanent condition. If we’re not joyful all the time, we conclude there’s a problem.

The Bible rarely uses the word “happiness,” and for good reason. “Happiness” in Biblical terms merely means “blessed.” As in the Beatitudes, “blessed are,” “happy are….” The Bible prefers to use the word “joy.” It is the Greek word that means “exceedingly glad.” Because joy is deeper, fuller and more profound. Joy endures more.

Happiness is an attitude, not a condition. It’s cleaning the Venetian blinds while listening to Celine Dion sing, “The Power of Love.” The quiet while organizing your desk. Happiness is your family assembled at dinner. It’s in the present, not in the distant promise of a “someday when…” How much luckier we are, and how much more happiness we experience, if we can fall in love with the life we’re living.

Don’t go looking for happiness, it is not something that can be found. Happiness is more than getting what we want. Consider the story of Juan Rodriguez, a New York parking-lot attendant who won $149 million in the lottery two days after filing for bankruptcy. His big win only brought him trouble: Besieged by friends and relatives wanting a handout. Wife divorced him and sued for half. Money is rarely the answer to happiness.

Some people even pursue marriage and having children to find happiness. While there may be happiness in those two things the wiser choice is being happy as you go into marriage or having children. Some view marriage and children as a flight simulator that trains us somehow to be happy. If we our not happy prior to marriage and children, are success will be limited.

Every Sunday the Choir looks out over this congregation. You ought to hear the conversation in the Choir Room. Did you see that man nodding off to sleep? What about that lady texting through the whole service? Did you see that woman in the pink boa? Joe is sitting in the wrong spot for him. But, they can also see the expressions on your faces. Those expressions tell a story. Who is in pain, who has a joy and who wants to learn.

Religious people tend to be happier people. Happiness does not come from seeking it, but from seeking God. It is important to understand that the Christian finds this happiness because our faith calls us to be a people filled with “gratitude.” Gratitude produces happiness! Happiness is the joy of lots of little things, not just one big thing. It is the combination of all of these little things that give us a sense of fulfillment.

Science tells us there are three major factors in happiness. We know that happiness to a limited degree is genetic. Happiness is both a part of our DNA and a learned response. We know that women are generally more happy than men. That the least happiest time in our lives is during mid-life.

We know that “big life events” have a large role in our happiness. Marriages, births, successes, winnings, recognitions, awards, etc. But the happiness wears off or fades. Research shows that quadriplegics are more happy after six months, than are lottery winners after six months.

Happiness is a choice. Reach out for it at the moment it appears, like a balloon drifting seaward in a bright blue sky. Choice, makes us happy. Choice in what we call the big four brings up happiness. 1)Faith, 2) Family, 3) Community, and 4) Work.

What we don’t often realize but is true, happiness leads to success in life. Choice is probably the single biggest factor. Choice to forgive and maybe even forget. Choice to be kind, even when someone isn’t kind. Choice to “look on the bright side,” when there isn’t much brightness. Choice to “let go.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Why? Because they let go. As Proverbs says, “…but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.”

Bad News May Be Good News

Standard

Life has taught me that sometimes truly good news sounds at first like bad news. The gospel’s good news is that we are sinners, persons who have fallen far short of God’s intentions for our lives. The good news, in that bad news, is that the advent of Jesus Christ offers us the power and the possibility of repentance, forgiveness, change, and new lives. Can you imagine in a day and age when adultery was punishable by death, hearing the angel say, “Mary, you are with child.” C. S. Lewis famously said that the Christian faith is “a thing of great comfort.” Yet, Lewis warned that the Christian faith does not begin in comfort; it begins in despair and grief and there is no use in trying to get to the comfort without first going through the despair and grief.

A few years ago, our nation rapidly slid into a severe financial crisis. A growing sense of fear gripped us all. I had two conversations that surprised me. I happened to be talking with a man after a church meeting and he told me the sad news that his company, without warning, had just laid him off. At 63 he was without a job. “Only two years away from when I could retire and they laid me off. It was really an unexpected blow,” he said.

The very next day I had a conversation with a young woman in her late 20s. The week before she had also been terminated from her high-paying executive position. She too was surprised and devastated, wondering which way to turn next. When you’re making a list of bad news that you don’t want to receive, surely the news that you are being laid off, fired, terminated from your job has to be toward the top of the list of bad news. And yet both of these people reacted to this bad news in somewhat the same amazing way.

“You know,” said the older man, “I have to admit that I had really come to despise my work. My first morning out of the job, I didn’t mind not having to get dressed and go to the office. I’m beginning to think that maybe the company did me a favor. Sure, I don’t know what’s coming next, but I feel strangely young, free, as if I’m sort of glad to be forced to be starting over and trying out new paths.” And the young woman said to me, before our conversation ended, “I think that my generation has had it too easy. We took all this for granted. I know that I am guilty of getting on a treadmill called the ‘American dream’ in which I unquestionably got a high-paying job, worked all the time, accumulated more and more stuff, and thought that was life. I think I’ve been given a chance to refocus, to put things in perspective, and I’m going to do just that.”

We’ll never have different lives without first telling the truth about our present selves. And the good news is that God loves us enough to somehow get through to us the bad news about our true situation. God becomes the mirror of truth held up before us, and then God becomes the way that we can learn from the truth and move toward a different tomorrow.