This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Henry Numan, Vancouver, BC
* A brief note to the reader of this sermon: As author of this sermon I am deeply indebted to many different authors and commentaries as well as a variety of different books. In particular I have found the book The Missing Peace by Les Carter (Moody Press, 1987) to be of interest and help.
There’s a "peace" missing! People ask: "Shouldn’t Christians gain inner peace from the fact that they are saved?" "Shouldn’t Christians have it all together -- especially Christians?" Real Christians should not have the struggles that plague the rest of society. If you struggle you must have a poor relationship with God. If Christians would just do as the Bible commands, problems would be solved. And so in some way Christian counseling and psychology is a waste.
Christians should look to scripture for guidance, and should be one step ahead of the rest of the world in terms of inner peace. God’s Word is the perfect blueprint for living, something which produces genuine composure. But . . . we do not live in a perfect world, and Christians are not ideal people. In fact some people who call themselves Christian may not be so at all.
Each of our personalities is a mixed bag of experiences, traits, and tendencies. Some people have a fragile mixture of experiences that make them vulnerable to emotional stress and insecurity. They are not ungodly because they need help -- not at all. They are merely trying to make sense out of their confusing lives. There are some reasons why in our lives there’s often a "peace" missing. For one, the secular world encourages a humanistic foundation for living. No matter how much we are exposed to Christian thinking and philosophy, we are all still vulnerable to the "me first" attitude that is so much around us in today’s world. Greed, sensuality, and self-gratifying temptations are all part of this humanism. Minds so easily become numbed to secular ways of life, often resulting in a watering down of God’s absolutes.
We struggle inwardly with the sinful nature. Since Adam and Eve, no one is immune. It would be fantastic if we could end our problem with sin by simply becoming Christians. In fact, we all experience the inward tug of war that the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 7. For some this is a life-long and intense struggle.
A second possibility is that unstable family backgrounds can contribute to a "peace" that’s missing. The family could serve so well as an illustration of God’s love but sadly many families in North America just are not that way. A recent book, "Stolen Life," by Yvonne Johnson and Rudy Wiebe, illustrates vividly the horrifying experiences that some have in their family life and upbringing. Often fathers and mothers are unaware of their role and love for their children. Love is not expressed, resulting in easy feelings of rejection and failure, anger, stages of rebellion, and unmet needs for dealing with daily life situations. So many people are not taught how to handle emotions, such as anger, impatience, and worry. Good and effective communication is so often lacking, and relational skills have not been learned. Many find family life sadly lacking.
Another factor is that we live in a highly stressed society. We are all time driven, and the tyranny of the urgent is something that most are familiar with. We are concerned with our standing with others, and consequently lose sight of the importance of our standing with God. With a society that is often so driven many Christians end up being confused because of so many different signals that bombard their ways into daily living.
Finally, another indicator of the missing "peace" is a minimal insight into how faith in God can change lives. A person may very well know the important truths of the Word of God, but really not be helped by those truths in life. The inner struggles continue to plague, and emotional baggage results. How can faith really be of help, we say, in such situations of life?
The fact of the matter is that none of us are immune to problems, and problems of the kinds just mentioned. Turbulence in life is a common factor for all, Christians included. And all of us need to come to terms with that fact. From a Christian point of view we see this all as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, and the consequences of that act so many millennia ago deeply effect all of us to this day. Peace comes only when we uncover and understand the underlying beliefs that guide our emotions. If we struggle then this serves as a warning flag to us.
The Bible offers information that is very useful for the introduction to the origins of our basic struggles. We must simply start at the beginning of the Bible itself, where all of these problems originated. Genesis tells us of a snowball effect -- one emotional problem led to another, to another, and so on. The story of Adam and Eve is really the story of you and me! They represent all of us, human nature is still the same. Adam and Eve is us, is me! When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve the struggles that represent that sin come into focus, and we clearly see the results: pride, fear, loneliness, inferiority, and anger -- just to mention a few. These are just common results of the sin that originated way back in Adam and Eve’s time.
1. The basic emotional struggle of pride: Satan’s power-struggle way of attempting to get even with and over or above God.
Try to picture life in the Garden of Eden before sin came into that picture: communication between Adam and Eve was complete, their minds were perfectly attuned to purity of thought. There were no emotional struggles, there was perfect understanding of each other, and there was a time of continuous joy and laughter.
Most importantly, all this came from a deep personal and direct relationship to and with God. There was an abiding sense of pleasure and satisfaction with life that God had given them, for God desired that they experience life to the fullest -- and they lived it enthusiastically. The relationships our parents had with God, with nature and the environment, to each other, and finally to themselves were wonderful and picture-perfect.
In his effort to gain dominion and control over Adam and Eve, Satan chose to attack the "good" pride they had, a pride that boasted the great and good work of God. Instead he created a desire for self-worship by drawing one self away from God and into the self. Sinful pride is clearly the first and foremost of all our emotional problems. God’s gifts to Adam and Eve became twisted. Prior to this moment Eve, as well as Adam, was without blemish, had a high sense of importance and self-esteem, hummed upbeat tunes as she was in tune with nature and life around her. There was an inward glow, signaling that all is well -- and it was like this every minute of every day. It wasn’t just a matter of having a good taste of life -- this is the way life was from early rise to evening bedtime. Satan always looks for a way to gain advantage, even when the odds are stacked against him. "I’ll try to get Eve to feel dissatisfied about who she is and what she has with God, and she will crave a greater sense of importance about herself." "Eve, how would you like to be like God?" There’s nothing better than becoming the centre of the universe and having a much better life still. He simply caused Eve and Adam to carry satisfaction with life to an extreme, and to become completely absorbed with thoughts about how life should proceed. That is precisely what sinful pride does! Sinful pride is a feeling of preoccupation with self’s needs, desires, and importance. That kind of pride becomes over-concerned with the self and a resulting need to control life’s circumstances.
Eve thought, "Hey, wouldn’t it be great to be like God, and to be a god!? Then I can do things my way, and the world and nature would listen to me!" Someone said, "Pride is the ground in which all the other sins grow, and the parent from which all others sins come." (author unknown).
With Adam and Eve’s fateful decision to put the self first, sinful pride came into being. The good pride they had now turned into a selfish desire. And with wrong pride all other emotional struggles quickly follow (as we’ll see). A person may be a shouter or a whiner, or may hold grudges or withdraw -- but pride is at the base. Resentment, arrogance, hostility and anger, envy, jealousy, defensiveness, over-sensitivity, depression, inferiority, false guilt, infatuated love -- all have pride at the core. This is where it all begins.
Look, for example, at the selfishness of children. It starts very young. Sharing must be taught, but grabbing and whining are behaviors not taught. Such things stay on by the time a child enters the school setting, and they continue on into adult stages. The preoccupation with the self at the adult stage is much the same as that of a little child. We are pleased if things go my way -- always. God should be first in life, but I also need to be in control. I know what’s best. Obviously we need to learn independence, but when the independence becomes a self absorption then we see our sinful pride at the bottom of it all. In fact no emotional difficulty can be resolved until the problem of pride is properly addressed.
2. Overcoming the struggle of pride: selflessness (letting go of our desire to control our little world).
Christians learn to view troublesome emotions as God’s warning system. God is not at all interested in creating guilt complexes in our lives, for we know very well that guilt is not the thing that brings about change and correction in life. He wants us to adjust our thought patterns and to plead with him for resolutions. God’s warning system is not meant to create lives clouded by a guilty conscience. Remember, for example, that it was Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus his Lord, and who felt terribly guilty for what he had done once the consequences became vividly real to him. Yet the guilty conscience alone did not cause him to repent -- he simply ended his life when he said, "Jesus died because of me," rather than "Jesus died for me." Our Lord wants us to become aware of our personal needs and so to find a true sense of peace. We therefore begin to adjust our lives in the light of God’s rescuing Word and his restoring love and hope.
Adam and Eve had chosen to elevate themselves over God. They were each left with a nature that was preoccupied with the importance of the self. Yet, in and through the restoration and hope brought about through Christ, the Bible tells us to set aside our preoccupation with the self in favor of control by God. "The love of Christ controls us," says Paul in II Corinthians 5:14, and "We are dead to sin but alive to God in Jesus Christ," he says in Romans 6:11. And again, "Set your minds on things above, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ," Paul states in Colossians 3:2,3.
Scripture teaches us clearly that a preoccupation with self’s desires are on a collision course and speaks in that light of eternal death, a sad and permanent separation from God. The only way to find meaning and purpose is for God to give redirection and a renewed purpose for our lives through him. That basic Biblical promise alone can give rise to selflessness. By selflessness we mean a letting go of the desire to control one’s own world, and learning daily to yield to God. Galatians 2:20 says, "I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me." That is the direct opposite of sinful pride. And that is exactly the point what the Bible drives us to find -- the true self and the true, restoring love that God has for us all.
This is no easy task, something that we say a quick "yes" to. It cannot be done in and on our own power. In fact a person who decides to deny him/herself steps into a kind of "holy" tension. All of this requires daily, even hourly yielding to God and is summed up in the phrase, "I have been crucified with Christ." In other words, it is not just a matter of the death of Christ -- it is very much my death too.
This represents my sinfulness and my new life as a Christian. It is his death that has paid the price of sin for all, and that new power and way is what we must all ask for. We then begin to recognize that our sinful life leads to destruction but the life in Christ brings true relief and an assurance that ultimately a rescue has taken place. In our own life we must learn to say: "God, my life is no longer mine, it is yours!" By saying that we speak of it for ourselves but we learn that this is not just meant only for us individually, important as that is, but is especially also meant for the Christian community and church. Furthermore, our saying, "...not my life, it is no longer mine, it is instead yours," does not mean at all that we no longer choose not to think, to have opinions, or to make decisions. To the contrary, all of it means that our/my life becomes soaked in a very healthy devotion to God, and that our/my choices become filtered through a God-controlled mindset. As believers on this earth we will continue to experience strains and struggles, but the amazing thing is that God will always bless us beyond that. Sin has a strong sway over us and for that reason it is unnatural for us to set aside the self in favor of God’s leading. But in Jesus Christ the ultimate power of that sin is broken and his power can now finally have the last word and victory for our lives. That is what our Lord meant when he said to us all, "Come after me, take up your cross." The only possible way that this can happen is through his victorious work and way. Then we can finally say that we consider ourselves dead to the power of sin, and even though sin still affects us we will no longer be defeated by it.
Selflessness shows itself in amazing ways in life: we are no longer the center of the universe; contentment starts by submitting to God, by letting him control. In the final analysis that is the way for every believer to begin letting go of his worries. It is also the true way, as Paul says in Philippians 2, to go genuinely for humility in life. All such ways are not left for the top shelves that can be reached only by the super saints and heroes of the faith, the St. Augustines, the Martin Luthers, John Calvins, Mother Teresa -- these are precisely the ingredients for the life in Christ that have been put within reach of each and every one of our lives. Even though we still speak of struggles, we may know that the selfless ways outlined in the Bible are printed there for our regular and daily use.
The missing "peace" that we find will be seen as evidence, not that we are "goody-goodies" or "better-than-thou," by others, but simply that a gracious and good God has identified with us and helps us totally in every aspect of daily living. The beginning and reality of this does not become visible when the followers of Christ show off their good gains to others.
Instead, each and every believer must show and radiate nothing other than the love of God. We enhance God’s peace by acts of giving, something that goes much beyond the selfish act of taking. And then the greatest gift I/we can give to another fellow human being is not material but spiritual, an all-around sort of life that speaks fully of a way that touches everything we do. Then finally we begin to live from within while knowing and being influenced by things around us and outside of us. It is a wonderful and renewing discovery to be able to say that we operate on the ability derived from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who so wonderfully directs us to the great acts and deeds of Christ. That is the hope by which we all live and by which we have a brilliant future. We can wish for none other! Always remember then what the apostle Paul says, "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me." To God be the glory for such a wonderful way and rescue in life! Amen.
Liturgy for the worship service:
OUR WORSHIP TODAY Come to him with gladness and thanksgiving A time for your personal worship preparation Words of welcome and announcements A brief time of silence before the Lord He greets and welcomes us: (text: Delores Dufner)
Leader: God, you call us to this place, where we know your love and grace.
People: Here your hospitality makes of us one family... makes our many voices one, joined in praise with Christ your Son.
Leader: In the ministries we share, learning how to serve with care
People: In the Spirit let us be one in faith and unity. Leader: Now a priestly, royal race, rich in every gift of grace
People: Called, forgiven, loved, and freed, for the world we intercede: gather to unity all the human family.
Leader: As we are assembled in Christ’s name, may his love and mercies be an amazing experience for us all.
People: Amen indeed! May his way with us always be an awesome event.
We joyfully greet each other
We sing our opening songs: PH #232 "You Are Worthy"
PH #241 "This Is the Day"
Our prayer of confession and God’s assurance for forgiveness:
Isaiah 1:15-19; Romans 12:9-21
The song of assurance: PH #267 "And Can It Be"
The offering is received
Our sung response: PH #601 "Jesu, Jesu"
Scripture is read from Genesis 3:1-5 and Galatians 2:17-21
Message: There’s a "Peace" Missing: Pride (text: Galatians 2:20)
A brief closing prayer
The song of response: PH #489 "When Peace Like a River"
God’s words of blessing:
May the God of peace and love, the God of hope and new beginnings, lead and guide us all through our daily living. Amen
Our final songs:
PH #627 "Bless His Holy Name"
PH #633 "He Is Lord"