On this second Sunday of Advent, we talk about peace, which is something we often find hard to come by at this time of year, and even more so during the pandemic. Anxiety is common. What can we do? The apostle Paul has some advice for us in Philippians 4.4-9 which helps us put it all in perspective. You can watch the whole service below, or the message just below that.
September startup has looked different for most everyone this year, but it holds one thing in common with all its predecessors: it’s been a little crazy. It may have been crazy for different reasons, but it’s still been crazy.
Whether it’s trying to figure out if your kids are going to school or going online, or understanding what programs will and won’t resume in the church, or trying to do some of the traditional September shopping, it’s been nuts.
We could all use a little peace.
Back in the 1960s, ‘peace’ was all the rage: “Give peace a chance,” trumpeted perhaps the most famous song on the subject from that era. In the midst of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam conflict, and all else that was going on, people were crying out for peace. And, over time, they got it…in one definition.
The Bible’s definition of peace is quite different from the mere absence of war.
When it first shows up in the Old Testament, the word “peace” is an English translation of the Hebrew word shalom – still a common greeting among Middle Eastern people today – and it doesn’t just mean, “I hope you don’t have any war today.” It’s a wish for groundedness, particularly in your faith in God.
True peace – the kind that is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – is a sense of comfort in your relationship with the Lord, an ability to give thanks in all circumstances (as Paul would tell the Thessalonians). It’s something that other people can spot in you at a distance.
If you want true peace amid all that’s going on this fall – this year! – place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience what Paul wished for the Christians in Philippi: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).
When our church’s leaders met on Tuesday (electronically, of course), one of them shared a good idea that I want to share with you.
It’s hard for us to pray in each other’s presence right now. In times of crisis, one of the church’s greatest and most powerful and encouraging tools is corporate prayer. But we can’t get together to pray in these days. It’s just not safe.
It’s possible to have online prayer meetings, and they can be valuable. But we can also pray, on our own, in our homes (or at work, if we are deemed essential services).
The elder I mentioned above shared with me an email from the Yonge Street Mission that expressed ways that the church can pray. I’m going to adapt its suggestions as ways that we can pray together, even though we are apart:
- Pray for peace to reign in our communities. In place of panic and fear, ask the Lord to fill our villages, towns and cities with compassion and grace.
- Pray for people who will be most impacted by service interruptions, such as access to meals, food banks, fellowship groups, and those who cannot connect with community online because they do not use the Internet.
- Pray for people whose employment is affected by this crisis – those who have lost their jobs permanently or temporarily, those who are deep in debt, as well as those whose work demands have ramped up or become more dangerous because of Coronavirus. Pray especially for those on the front lines of medical care, and those in essential services.
- Pray for people who struggle with isolation, especially those who live alone and those who depend on regular visits from friends or loved ones.
As you pray, ask the Lord how he can use you to make someone’s situation better, whether through a phone call or an email, leaving a few needed groceries on their front porch, or sending a card of encouragement.
And pray in faith.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).
By the way, if you don’t have an online church home in these days, you are welcome to join the online community with St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on Facebook Live, or for replay anytime on our YouTube channel.
The responses to the passing this week of Canadian musician Gord Downey, and of Leonard Cohen earlier this year, remind us of just how influential music is in the lives of Canadians, and of western societies generally. So attached are Canadians to their music legends that the official and unofficial condolences rival (or even exceed) those offered in memory of world leaders. After all, how often does the flag get put at half-staff on Parliament Hill?
In light of this, I want to encourage you to examine the music you listen to. Yes, examine it. You might say that would take all the fun out of it, but anything worth having fun at is also worth thinking about.
You can ask yourself, How does this music make me feel inside? Does it soothe your soul? Does it make you angry? Does it raise your pulse or lower it? Does it motivate you? Does it calm you? How does the music you listen to make you feel?
For example, some people use loud music with a heavy beat to get them going in the morning; it stimulates them from head to toe. (I think that’s why I never did well in fitness classes; loud music with a heavy beat just makes me want to walk away!) Alternatively, some people use quiet music with a floating ambience to help them chill out. The ease with which we can access recorded music of our own choosing today has made music a universal tool at our disposal pretty well anytime.
So, how does what you listen to make you feel?
You can also ask yourself, What do the lyrics I listen to really say? This is a kicker for some, who may listen to the music for the beat but don’t realize until they examine the lyrics that what they listen to degrades women, or glorifies sex, just to state two common examples.
Or, you can ask yourself, What does the music I listen to say about me – intentionally or not? As a follower of Jesus, you are being watched by your friends, family and acquaintances. People notice if there are inconsistencies in your witness. Does the music you listen to complement your faith or contradict it?
Some might say that, in response, we should listen only to Christian music. While I certainly encourage you to listen to Christian music – and there is all sorts of it – I wouldn’t counsel you to limit yourself. I do encourage you, though, to have a music “filter” that’s always engaged. Music is a gift from God, something most musicians know innately. So we can celebrate the gift of music of all sorts, asking the Lord for the wisdom to “filter out” what is blatantly unedifying.
I am reminded of the words of theologian A.W. Tozer: “What goes into a mind comes out in a life.” Remember that when you’re examining the music you listen to, and especially when you hear what your kids are listening to.
Take the advice of the apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Philippi: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise…. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.8b, 9b, NLT).
This Sunday marks the third Sunday of Advent, a day traditionally marked with rejoicing. You might wonder why there is a single Sunday set aside for rejoicing in a season that is supposed to be filled with rejoicing! But, as with so many things, there is a story behind it.
Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Advent is actually the newest. And, like Lent, for the longest time, it was a season of penitence: that’s right, the church spent the weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in reflection and repentance. Holy celebrations like Christmas and Easter were prepared for by examining ourselves and ridding ourselves of sin so that we would be fully ready for the birth, or resurrection, of the Saviour.
That’s why the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent were traditionally set aside as Sundays for rejoicing amid our penitence. And the traditional colour of rejoicing is pink, which is why the Advent wreath has a pink candle that is lit on the third Sunday.
Because the season of Advent particularly has lost its penitential nature, we have lost the special significance of this upcoming Sunday of rejoicing. We look at the whole season as one of rejoicing! And that’s not all bad, to be sure: we should revel in celebrating Jesus’ birth.
But maybe it’s not a bad idea, too, to remember the history of the season, and examine ourselves. After all, the best way to be ready for Jesus’ coming – and coming again! – is by confessing our sins and accepting the good news of our forgiveness, which comes through that coming Saviour.
Think of it this way; forgive the odd nature of the illustration, but I think you’ll find it will work. Besides getting popcorn and a drink, what’s the one thing you do before you go into the theatre to watch a movie? Come on, admit it: you go to the bathroom. You don’t want to have to miss any part of the movie, so you do your business beforehand so you won’t have to get up in the middle, right?
Think of the penitential aspect of Advent in the same way. We don’t want to be blinded to any part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth by sin. We don’t want our unrighteousness to block our rejoicing in the Righteous One. So take some time in these crazy weeks to void yourself of whatever keeps you from a full-out love relationship with the Lord whose birth we celebrate.
But this Sunday, make sure you rejoice.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-7, NIV).
Media of all sorts provide us with many entertainment and information options, and we are left with choices. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t always choose wisely, do we? Even if what we pick seems benign in its morality or its message, it’s easy to fill our minds with cognitive junk food. Even non-violent video games, some of which aid our hand-eye coordination, so well exercise one part of our brains that the other part feels edged out.
Much of what passes for news is not very encouraging, and even some bits that are intended to take our minds off the discouraging news are not altogether edifying. (I mean, really, who cares that Kanye West is inviting royalty to witness his marriage to Kim Kardashian? Really?) All this, coupled with what feels like a much-delayed onset of spring, can leave the mind feeling pretty flabby.
The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi from prison, encouraged the believers in this way: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4.8, NLT). In a sense, what Paul wrote was not just good advice, but a helpful spiritual discipline. When we are tempted to think or speak or act negatively, we can fix our thoughts on what is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, admirable. We can choose to see the glass half-full.
It doesn’t have to turn us into religious pollyannas; we can still be realistic. But amid our realism, it is good for us to think positively, to attempt to see others as God sees them, and to live in such a manner that others see Jesus Christ living in us. May people see us, and long to follow Jesus!
Until last weekend, few Canadians outside La Belle Province had probably ever heard of the town of Lac-Mégantic. Now, in the aftermath of a huge disaster, we all have.
Lac-Mégantic is best known among Quebeckers as part of their picturesque cottage country, in the Québecois version of Ontario’s Muskoka. As a railway buff, I’ve known about the town because it had traditionally been a crew change point – once for the Canadian Pacific’s International of Maine Division; now the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway uses a spot a few miles to the northwest to change from Canadian crews to American crews (and vice-versa) for the cross-border journey.
Now, though, Lac-Mégantic is known as a disaster zone, thanks to a cut of runaway train cars filled with crude oil having derailed, crashed, and exploded right in the centre of town. Hundreds of buildings were lost, many people are missing, and the death toll continues to rise. How did this all happen?
One of the things human society is really gifted at is pointing fingers. We love to lay blame as quickly as possible – as long as the blame doesn’t land on us. Understandably, the citizens of Lac-Mégantic are upset. To be sure, the management of the railway has not handled the situation well. Investigations by the police and the Transportation Safety Board continue. Until all the investigations are complete, it is unwise to lay blame.
After all, trains of all sorts have been rolling through the town for a very long time. Many trains have tied down at Nantes (the spot where crew changes now take place) without incident. Whatever or whoever caused this catastrophe, one lesson we all can take from it is that one simple error in judgment, or one seemingly small prank, can have a ripple effect that has the potential to alter many people’s lives.
This is true of many decisions we make, isn’t it? The whole “live and let live” mentality, with which often goes, “Do what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody”, almost always has consequences we may not know about. I’m sure that whoever is at fault in the Québec tragedy – whether accidental or malicious – had no idea that his/her/their actions would lead to such a tragic and mass loss of life. And we may think that our decisions won’t have that kind of ripple effect. But before you make a decision, stop and ask yourself how it may affect others. You may find that such a pause is more than worth your time.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT). Let this be our wish for ourselves, and our prayer for those who are affected by the decisions of others, especially those in Lac-Mégantic, Québec.