Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 19, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Why Doesn't God Put an End to the Problems in the World?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Philippians 4:4-13
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and we bear His message of peace in this troubled world. Amen.
Troublemakers, peacemakers. One of the most famous feuds in history has been between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Just say the name and people understand that you're talking about serious conflict.
Do you know how the feud began? It may have started when one of the McCoys accused a member of the Hatfield family of stealing a pig. Of course, in the rural Kentucky and West Virginia area where the families lived in the late 1800s, livestock was valuable; it was precious. But it didn't help matters when Hatfield was cleared of the charge because of the dubious testimony from another relative. This began a chain of revenge, fighting, physical harm, political favoritism, and tragedy after tragedy from families that passed troublemaking through generations.
It's not so different for us today, is it? It seems like people are anxious, even more angry today than ever.
When we moved to Orange County, California, I remember being cut off by one of these crazy drivers. When I sped up to try to voice my disapproval, he tried to cut me off again and then he shouted profanity my way. Yikes, it scared me to see that kind of rage; because I had a bit of that rage in me too!
High anxiety, friends. Anger is simmering at the surface in so many people's lives today.
Do you feel it? Do you feel like you're on edge, ready to snap, fed up with the stress, the noise, the busyness, the worries? Friends, anxiety is oozing all over the place, including in our relationships, in our churches, our workplaces; seems like it is wherever we go.
Do you need help? A stressed out and anxious Psalm writer said it this way: "When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul" (Psalms 94:17-19 NIV).
You see, friend, God has a different vision for your life-real help for the simmering sensation of stress you feel. Instead of veering into life as a troublemaker, Jesus calls you to be a peacemaker, one who receives and shares the gift of His peace with others in the midst of this very broken world.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapter five, Jesus said this, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called [children] of God" (Matthew 5:9). Jesus' brother, James, once a man vehemently opposed to Jesus' ministry, said in his biblical letter in James: "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:17-18 NIV).
Becoming a peacemaker isn't something you need to stress, then, or be anxious about either. In fact, being a person of peace is a gift that comes from knowing God by faith in Jesus Christ! It is part of the new life Jesus bought with His blood shed on the cross and opened up to you with His resurrection from the grave. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid" (John 14:27 NIV). Jesus was equipped as God in the flesh to do as He said, as the Bible clearly teaches in Colossians 1 that, "In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:19-20).
For the last several weeks, we've been speaking about the power of God to redeem and restore all different kinds of people. We saw how Paul shared the Good News of Jesus to law-and-order Romans, to wisdom-seeking Athenians, to business-focused Ephesians, to all who would listen and believe. As peacemakers of the Peace Giver, we are to bring the Good News of Jesus into this chaotic, sin-stricken world too.
So, do you want to engage the turbulence of this life with more than your best efforts? Do you want to live the new life of having peace and being a peacemaker? That's God's gift to you today, dear listener, right in the midst of all the trouble. You see, God's eternal good news is good news that matters each and every day.
Look again with me in the Bible. God literally shows you and me the way of peace by dealing with a very real world feud. That's right, a feud. This feud that Paul is dealing with wasn't the Hatfields and the McCoys, but it was serious enough for him to mention this in the letter to the Christians in the city of Philippi. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were having a disagreement in the church there. Paul said about this struggle: "I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord" (Philippians 4:2-3 NIV). Paul also asked the people in the local church to assist these ladies in resolving their differences.
The apostle knew that the disagreement could very well lead to other destructive practices in their lives and in the life of the church. It even destroys the witness of the followers of Jesus to others. This Philippian feud could become toxic.
You know how it goes. It may start with something very small or something terribly painful. But once the pain gets worked into your system, once you start mulling over the wrongful action and imagining what you would to do about it, once you start brooding over your rights and your pride and the way you've been treated unfairly, a troublemaking feud can break out. Revenge and anger can start to dominate. Misery and division could easily begin to take hold. A negative and painful explosion could be the result.
So Paul sought to pre-empt this potentially painful escalation of trouble with the reconciling power of the repentance and grace of Jesus Christ. You see, when that reality of faith is first and foremost in your life, your attitude towards everything else changes! Paul tells it like it is for all of us when he says, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:4-5).
The Apostle Paul steered these dear people away from toxic troublemaking and began to unfold a different pattern of life, one that paved the way for peace. Instead of dwelling on misery and revenge, instead of worrying about always getting what you think is fair, Paul reminded them that repentant faith rejoices knowing that the God who saved you in spite of your sinfulness toward Him is close at hand when you are hurting and upset. And, by faith, God's people can put His peace-giving presence and His peace-empowering Word to work in life. Specifically, Paul says in verses 6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Paul says that in spite of trouble, anxiety, stress, and disappointment, put the power of prayer to work with God as the Source and the Giver of real lasting peace. Let your first conversation be to Him no matter what the circumstances in your life. Confident prayer to Him releases you from the grip of anxiety. Instead of letting fear, and pain, and anger swirl around in your soul, poisoning it and pushing you toward trouble; in faith, prayer puts your life in God's gracious hands. Prayer lets you remember your blessings. Prayer replaces toxic thoughts with requests for help and petitions for life-change from God who makes all things possible for you. Instead of imagining what you might do to so-and-so to get justice, you can pray to the Savior who holds all things accountable to Himself and who also makes real grace and forgiveness possible for all who repent too.
When you let go of trouble and give it to God, resentment and revenge are released to the One who can handle much more than you can. You become a peace receiver, and a peacemaker in Him.
We sure need more people like that today, don't we? We need fathers and mothers, friends, neighbors, family, community leaders, who strive to share the "Peace of God that passes all human understanding," the peace that comes from trusting and believing in Jesus. That peace was meant to be shared!
Or as Paul says, "Finally, brothers and sisters..... What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9). Now these are powerful words. Paul lets all of us know that a peacemaker practices all that is good and godly. If it is pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, it is worth practicing. And you know that whatever you practice, you get good at! If you practice playing the piano or speaking a new language, you get good at it. If you practice resentment, revenge, and stirring up trouble, you get very skilled at those things, too; but, that's not what God wants for your life.
That's why God's Word emphasizes peacemaking practices over and over and over again. The Apostle Paul talked about not letting anger control your life. He said: "'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV).
Later in that same chapter of the Bible, Ephesians, chapter four, Paul outlines the importance of practicing forgiveness instead of retaliation. Listen to the way that he steers us away from troublemaking into peacemaking. He says: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen...Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV).
A peacemaker practices humility, self-control, compassion, kindness, forgiveness; because a peacemaker has received all these things from the God of peace, Jesus Christ. "Practice these things," Paul says, "and the God of peace will be with you." We could also say, "Practice these things because the God of peace is already with you!"
And that's important. You and I both need God's peace and power to be His people in this world. The world values domination, arrogance, bravado; but God empowers humility, graciousness, kindness, and peace. If you are wondering if it is truly possible to be a peacemaker, if the troubles of this life seem too strong, know that God's peace is already available and sufficient for those who put their faith in Jesus.
In 2003, Robert Rule stood at the sentencing trial of the man who killed his teenage daughter, Linda. This man had murdered several other victims. Family members had an opportunity to make statements to the murderer at the hearing. One after another, relatives lashed out in their anger and very real pain. The murderer hardened himself against the words filled with hurt and hatred. Then it was Robert's turn. The grieving man stood up and said to the murderer, "There are people here that hate you. I'm not one of them. You've made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is to do what God says to do; to forgive. You are forgiven, sir." So, then, in the midst of this man's just punishment, the words of Robert Rule brought this murderer to repentant tears. A peacemaker still broke through this hardened soul.
In the fall of 2006, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse and he killed five young children. The murderer also died in this horrible and cowardly attack. In a remarkable display of forgiveness, the people of that Amish community, including family members of the children who were lost, attended the murderer's funeral, gave comfort to his widow, and even offered financial support to help her. These wounded families overcame incredible trouble and heartbreak by tenaciously pursuing God's peace.
How did these people become peacemakers in such adverse circumstances? The way God's people have always done it; they did let justice take its proper place, but then personally receiving God's peace in the midst of their real heartbreak, it empowered them to share what they indeed had received by grace. Or as Paul says of the Peacemaker's power, "I have learned in whatever situation I'm in, to be content. I know how to be brought low, I know how to abound. In every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:9-13).
The Greek word for being in need is "hystereisis." Do you hear our English word for hysteria in that? Paul was saying, "Either you can operate in hysteria--your own out-of-control helplessness and frantic striving that leads to trouble, or you can live in God's peace." That's what Paul learned. It's one of the most famous verses in the Bible, Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him--through Christ--who gives me strength!" A troublemaker lives in hysteria; a peacemaker lives in the power and presence of God's grace.
That's how Robert Rule and the Amish family members could pursue peace: through Christ who gave them strength. The fact is, the Savior Jesus who is risen from the dead has overcome all evil and pain. He paid the price for all the trouble of our sin when He gave His life for us on the cross. Instead of lashing out at us in revenge, instead of paying us back for what our sins deserved, God forgave us and called us His own through the sacrifice of His only Son. Our gracious and compassionate God is the ultimate Peacemaker. And although we didn't deserve it, He gave that remarkable love to you and me.
That's the power promise for you and me today, my friend. Will you know it? Will you believe it with me? Your sins are forgiven. The price is paid in full. Jesus gave His life for you. And now, in all of the things you face, in all the trouble and pain that come your way, in weakness and in hurt and in anger, in all of those things you can forgive as you have been forgiven and show love as you have been loved through Christ, the One to whom all things are accountable, the One who alone gives you real strength.
The God of peace prevails by first making peace with you. This Savior can even end the feuds that sometimes come our way. Remember the Hatfields and the McCoys? Well, William Anderson Hatfield was the patriarch of the violent and troublemaking Hatfield family. He was so filled with trouble and hatred that he was called "Devil Anse Hatfield." But this troublemaker was changed by a power greater than himself. On September 23, 1911, William Anderson Hatfield was baptized into the Christian faith. He was seventy-three years old. This former troublemaker became a peacemaker. He even helped plant a new church in his community.
Wow! Look what God can do! It's never too late. So, what about your life, dear listener? Do you have hope today? Can you be free from the turmoil of real resentment and pain? Can the powerful grace and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ transform you from a troublemaker into a peacemaker today? Rejoice in the Lord always, says Paul. The Lord is near. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! In Christ, then, the answer is yes. May that answer be yours, now and forever!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 19, 2014 Topic: Why Doesn't God Put an End to the Problems in the World?
ANNOUNCER: Why doesn't God put an end to the world's problems? That's our question today for Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, everywhere we look, we see war, disease, disaster, cruelty, corruption. Why doesn't God just put an end to all the problems in the world?
SELTZ: What a great question. We do have so many problems, Mark. Every time I hear or read the news I am disturbed by the terrible things that are happening in our world.
ANNOUNCER: And it's not just around the world. People are struggling even in our own families, our own communities.
SELTZ: You're right. I recall Jesus' words in John, chapter sixteen: "In this world you will have trouble..." (vs. 33). It was no surprise to Jesus and it shouldn't surprise us either.
ANNOUNCER: But Jesus also said, "Take heart! He has overcome the world."
SELTZ: Yeah, what a powerful statement. But, that's the tension we live in as followers of Jesus. On the one hand, we have eternal hope and certainty. Jesus won the victory over sin and death through His death and resurrection. We don't have to worry or fear, but on the other hand, we live in this "vale of tears." We wait for the restoration when Jesus will come again.
ANNOUNCER: But if Jesus has already overcome the world, why doesn't He use His power to make things different?
SELTZ: He will, Mark. But, for now, He is waiting. He has a plan. I think of the Apostle Peter who spoke to Christians who were getting disheartened by all the troubles they were experiencing and there was plenty of it in the first century! Think about it. They were living under Roman rule, being persecuted and shunned by people who rejected Christ; it was no picnic. Peter said to these Christians: "First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised?'" (2 Peter 3:3-4 NIV). Then he added this, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you. He doesn't want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).
ANNOUNCER: So, what that tells me is that God isn't slow or running behind schedule when it comes to fixing the world's problems. He is waiting so that many more can hear the Good News and be saved. But it's not easy for us to be patient like that. Troubles are hard to take.
SELTZ: That's why God's Word always encourages us not to lose heart, but to persevere with His grace and power, the power He gives. I think of God's Word to Joshua as he faced frightening new challenges. God said, "Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for I the LORD your God am with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). I also think about Paul's moving and encouraging words in Romans, chapter 5; and these are some of my favorites. It says: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we've got peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace which we stand in, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." Here it comes. He says, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that our suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and" think about this: "character he says produces hope" (Romans 5:1-4).
ANNOUNCER: We need that endurance to live day by day.
SELTZ: It's a broken place; broken by sin. Sin isn't just a lighthearted misdeed here and there. Our sin is what causes chaos, injustice, terrible pain, and tragic death in our world.
ANNOUNCER: God is honest about the grave situation in which we find ourselves.
SELTZ: Yeah, He is and as we travel through this world, waiting upon God, He sustains us, He encourages us. He also uses us to make His difference, bring His love and grace to the serious problems we face.
ANNOUNCER: And in that sense, we can be part of God's answer to the problems.
SELTZ: Yes. We're here on this earth to show the love of God. We are here to reach people with the message of repentance and forgiveness in Christ.
ANNOUNCER: We are sent by the Savior to help prepare people for that great day of restoration that day that will come upon us like a thief in the night-suddenly, without expectation.
SELTZ: And as we wait, God does two things for us. He cares for us--all of us. Jesus said about His Father in heaven: "For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good. He sends the rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). God shows His love to all people. Secondly, He constantly calls us, all of us, to Himself by faith. Remember how Paul said that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
ANNOUNCER: And so we also wait, but we wait with great hope. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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