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I was recently reading John 14 and came across those comforting words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

As I read these words, three questions came to mind:

  1. What exactly is this peace that Jesus is going to leave that the world cannot give?
  2. Why is this peace important?
  3. How can I get it?

We are in the season of advent. That time in the church calendar that begins the new church year. Advent is the four weeks that lead up to Christmas. The word advent means coming. In this season the church looks forward to the second coming of Christ for the first three weeks, and then looks back in time at the first coming of Jesus. Each week has a different focus. For some traditions the first week is Hope. The second week is Peace. The third week is Joy and the last week is Love.

I go to a rehabilitation center in Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico, on Monday afternoons. This last Monday I talked to the group of men about Advent and about peace, specifically the Prince of Peace that is coming back to earth one day. The Prince of Shalom.

Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. Jewish people greet each other with this word; back in Jesus time and even today. Jesus used this word when he was speaking to his disciples. The word Shalom has a much deeper meaning than our English word “peace”. I have been reading an Advent devotional from the magazine Christianity Today and I shared part of an article about shalom with the rehabilitation center men and I would like to share part of it with you. It was written by Carolyn Arends.

“Shalom is a beautiful word that conveys wholeness, harmony, and health. Where we might settle for uneasy truces and Band-Aid fixes as proxies for peace, shalom represents something much more robust. Beyond the cessation of war, shalom is a transformation of the conditions that lead to war in the first place. When there is shalom, everything gets to function the way it was created to. Shalom rejects the idea of life a a zero-sum game and dares to imagine the comprehensive flourishing of every person and everything, all at the same time.”

This concept of Shalom goes a long way toward answering my first question which was “What exactly is this peace that Jesus is giving that the world cannot give?”

That leads me to my second question, “Why is this peace important?”

Jesus tells his disciples in verse 27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This peace is so important because often our hearts are troubled and we are afraid.”

Jesus also told his disciples the same thing in verse 1. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Their hearts were troubled because in 13:33 Jesus told his disciples he would only be with them a little while longer and that where he was going they could not go. They received some news that they didn’t like and didn’t understand and their hearts were troubled. Some were afraid.

I think we all receive news sometime in our lives that we don’t like or we don’t understand, or we go through situations that are difficult and we ask God, “Why?”

And our hearts are troubled and sometimes we are afraid. It is at times like this that we need that Shalom peace that surpasses understanding.

Our family went through a difficult time that caused our hearts to be troubled and caused some fear. My wife’s mother was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer. She had a huge tumor growing in her stomach. When we found out we all cried. The prognosis was not good. We couldn’t understand how God could let this happen to such a godly woman. She endured a lot of pain and suffering and then died. She was 57. But we thank God that as she went through this hard time, she had that Shalom peace and so did our family.

That brings me to the third question, “How can we get it?” How can we have that peace that causes us to overcome our doubts and fears? How can we go through life with that Shalom that brings wholeness, fullness, and completeness to our lives; that causes us to flourish and thrive rather than to despair and fear?

Jesus mentions three vital things that need to happen for us to have this peace. He says in verse 23, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” Right there are two of the things we need to do to get his peace. We need to love him and obey his teaching. That is easy to understand, but often times hard to do. Our main motivation for loving him and obeying him is that He loves us. The Father loves us. The Holy Spirit loves us. The three persons of the Trinity are present in chapter 14. To have that peace that Jesus was talking about we have to get to know the Trinity, and know that they love us and are working on our behalf.

I especially love the last part of verse 23 where Jesus says, “we will come to them and make our home with them.” He doesn’t say that we will occasionally visit them or sometimes check in with them to see how they are doing. He says that he and the Father, and later on the Holy Spirit, will all come to the followers of Jesus Christ and live with them. Make their home with them. Day in and day out. All the time. 24/7.

With that kind of motivation we can live lives of love and obedience to the Prince of Peace, and enjoy the shalom that only he can give. I hope that this advent we will live in shalom-peace; that we will embrace the love of the Trinity and share shalom with all those around us. I pray that we will experience that peace that surpasses all understanding and be God’s hands and feet in bringing peace on earth and goodwill to all humanity

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He who best knoweth how to suffer shall possess the most peace; that man is conqueror of himself and lord of the world, the friend of Christ, and the inheritor of heaven. Thomas a Kempis – The Imitation of Christ

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Misty morning – Tlacolula Valley – Mexico

2022 is coming ’round the bend, and you can be sure it is loaded with affliction, anguish, battles, calamity, catastrophe, confusion, difficulties, financial setbacks, family issues, misfortune, obstacles, pandemic, sorrow, spiritual attacks, stress, trials, tribulation, work drama, unexpected loss, vexations and a ton of zabernism (the misuse or abuse of military authority) around the world.

What should we do when we encounter nastiness and unpleasantness? What mindset can help us through frustration and disappointment? How can we remain happy and content amid the turmoil and trouble that we will inevitably encounter in 2022?

Our modern world is full of books, articles, essays, blogs, podcasts, youtubers, conferences and retreats that aim to answer those questions in a myriad of ways. But for me, I found a nugget of truth I plan on hanging onto in 2022, from Thomas Haemmerlein, also known as Thomas a Kempis, that dates back to the 14th century. He wrote in his book The Imitation of Christ, in a chapter called That all troubles are to be endured for the sake of eternal life:

An hour shall come when all labour and confusion shall cease. Little and short is all that passeth away with time….Peace shall come in one day which is known to the Lord; which shall be neither day nor night, but light eternal, infinite clearness, steadfast peace, and undisturbed rest….death will be utterly destroyed, and there shall be salvation which can never fail, no more anxiety, happy delight, sweet and noble society.

Thomas a Kempis is giving us all words to live by and to thrive by when we are going through times of difficulties. He is reminding us to always have in mind a larger perspective and bigger picture than we normally have, especially when events and circumstances are not going our way; are not fitting into our plan. He is telling us to look at life from the vantage point of Eternity. The picture doesn’t get any bigger than that. With that view, everything changes.

With eternity in mind (or our eternal home and heavenly country, as Kempis writes in a later chapter) we can think better and overcome the challenges that sometimes surround us. All pain and suffering eventually become “little and short” and soon pass away, even if they last a lifetime, because a lifetime on earth is but a drop of water in the ocean of eternity.

Compare present turmoil to “steadfast peace, undisturbed rest, no more anxiety, and happy delight” that will endure forever and ever.

We don’t know what 2022 holds for us, but we do know Who holds 2022 – Our loving Heavenly Father! We are his dearly loved children, and he will tenderly care for us, in the coming year and for eternity.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. When that happens I reach for Thomas a Kempis’ classic book, The Imitation of Christ, and before I know it, I’m sound asleep. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement for such a wonderful book: “Read The Imitation of Christ and fall asleep.”

But I do heartily recommend this book because normally when I can’t sleep the reason is I have crazy, nonsensical, weird thoughts bouncing around in my mind, that I can’t stop, so I read the deep, yet down to earth, thoughts of Thomas a Kempis. I read a chapter or two until I hit upon a phrase or a sentence that speaks to my heart, and I memorize it. I repeat it over and over until it drives out all other insanity coursing through my brain, and then I am back asleep.

This last week there was a night that I couldn’t sleep and I started reading The Imitation of Christ, chapter 26, which Thomas a Kempis titled “Of the exaltation of a free spirit”. That is where I encountered the sentence “Give me courage to resist, patience to endure, constancy to persevere.”

That is a great prayer for all kinds of different situations that we might find ourselves in, but what Kempis had in mind is the Christian’s struggle between fleshly consolations with present delights and the love of eternal things. Kempis is praying for God’s help that he stay focused on eternal things that will never fade away, like love for God and man, paying attention to heavenly things, and the sweet unction of the Holy Spirit, and that he not be entangled by the necessities and pleasures of the body, or deceived by the world and its short glory.

That is a prayer that we should pray everyday because we live in a world that tempts us in every way to focus on the hear and now, to attain pleasure because we deserve it, and to indulge our desires because we only live once. Those are lies from the world and the devil and our flesh is most ready to believe them.

People talk about being free spirits, but we can only truly be free spirits when we cast off the weights of pride, untie the ropes of immediate gratification and break the chains of materialism. God give us the courage to resist worldly temptations, patience to endure to the end, and constancy to persevere in Your Way, no matter what the cost. Amen.

The flower and the plant in the photo above is Cylindropuntia fulgida, also known as the jumping cholla or jumping cactus. Of course it doesn’t really jump, but one gets that impression when one wanders too close to it. Just barely touch it and you will have at least one, if not more, cactus burrs stuck to your jeans or flesh if you are wearing shorts. You could almost swear the burrs jumped off the plant and onto you. At least that has been my experience on many occasion as these cactus are common in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I live.

This plant is an apt metaphor for the quote above by Thomas a Kempis. Many times we complain or murmur about the burr stuck on our pants or embedded in our skin, and we miss the simple beauty of the flower. We are surrounded by simple beauty, gifts from God, no matter where we live, but with our bent nature, we are more likely to complain about inconveniences and disruptions than we are to be content with things simple.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Philippians 2:14

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Philippians 4:12

God, help us as your dearly loved children to learn, like Paul, the secret of being content, and to think, at least twice, before we open our mouths to murmur, grumble and complain.

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