Sept.13, 2020 – Peace Amidst A Pandemic It’s possible!
What’s in your backpack?
I was in the Fishers YMCA a while back when, in the Wellness Center, there was a guy climbing the stair master with a fully loaded expedition pack strapped to his back. I asked him about it. Turns out he was training for months’ worth of exploring America’s Western backcountry.
Meeting him reminds me of the old legend about three hikers who were wearing backpacks. Each person was wearing two packs, one on their front and the other on their back. The first hiker was asked what was in his packs, and he explained, “In my backpack are all the good things friends and family have done. They’re in the past. They’re history. In my front pack are all the bad things that have happened to me and that people have done to me. Every now and then I stop, open the front pack, take something inside out, examine it, and think about that thing.” But because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, he really didn’t make much progress. He was constantly looking down.
The second hiker was asked about her packs. She explained, “In my front pack are all the good things I’ve done. I like to see them, so every day I take them out to show them off to people. My backpack? That’s where I keep all my mistakes and regrets. I carry them all the time. Sure, they’re heavy. Yeah, they slow me down, but for some reason I can’t put them down.” She wasn’t making much progress.
The third hiker was asked about her packs, and she explained, “My front pack is great. It’s where I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, the daily blessings I experience small and large, all the uplifting things others have done to teach, encourage, and help me keep pressing on. The weight isn’t a problem. I think of it more like the sail on a ship. It carries me forward.”
“And my backpack? Oh, that thing is empty. I got tired of everything that was holding me back, so I cut a hole in the bottom. Each day I put the bad things that I think about myself or hear about others, and the things that stress me out that I’m not responsible for and can’t change. They go in the top of the pack and fall out the bottom, so I’m no longer carrying around all that dead weight.”
How about you? If you had a pack strapped to your front and another on your back, what would be in them? What are you carrying around? What are you focusing on, ruminating on throughout the day? What do you find yourself dwelling on?
A path toward greater peace
In this final talk in our series titled “It’s Time,” it’s time we talk about peace, finding peace even in the midst of a pandemic. Next week we start a series on the strangest Bible book for the strangest time of our lives—7 weeks in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. There King Solomon wrestles with the world as it is, and drives us toward the conclusion that took him a lifetime of trial and error to come to. That starts next week. But for today, we wrap up our current series with a dive into what it takes to experience the God of peace with you, bringing you peace.
Open your Bible or Bible app to the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. As Paul concludes his letter to them, he turns his attention to worry and peace; to anxiety and its antidote. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up a series for this time then to very practically unpack how to experience greater peace. And because Philippians 4:4-6 are familiar to many people, you’re welcome to read that on your own, but I want to focus on the less-familiar counsel found in verses 8 & 9. There we read…
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
God’s peace comes from focusing on what’s best and doing what’s right. God’s peace comes from dwelling on what’s good and doing good.
What percentage of what comes at you in a day or week fits this description of what brings peace? How much comes your way is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy? Paul’s point is that if we want to experience greater peace, it’s not going to happen passively. Peace comes from focusing on what’s best and doing what’s right.
Frederick Buechner writes,
“The temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell…We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors.” What a stark warning: We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors.
Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections, p. 109
Paul asks, which do you want to be: the actor who influences the script of what you dwell on, or one who constantly reacts to the next thing to come along? Peace, he insists, comes from what we dwell on and what we do. The God of peace comes to those who focus on and put into practice those things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Peace comes from dwelling on what’s good and doing good.
A fun way to remember the path to peace
Let me give you a memory trick we use in our family to remember this. Ready? Here it is: TNRPLAEP. TNRPLAEP.
Need peace? Focus on & practice whatever is…
TNRPLAEP is the funny-sounding acronym created by the first letter of each of these things to dwell on and do. This is how you can experience greater peace—ruminate on and put into practice whatever you find that is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent, and Praiseworthy. TNRPLAEP in thought and deed is the road to peace!
- You and I need peace.
- Your immediate and extended family members need peace.
- Your neighbors and coworkers need peace.
- People around the world need peace.
- This is how you can experience peace and spread peace.
Let’s get on the road to memorizing this path to peace. We’re going to say this out loud a few times this morning, and before you know it, you’ll know it! Say it out loud with me, this choice to get to greater peace.
I will dwell on & do what is…
If you walk away from this talk remembering the path to peace, you’ve got a much greater shot at experiencing greater peace. So we’ll come back to this.
Three practical action steps
Let’s shift to practical application. Where can you find and focus on what is TNRPLAEP, things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy? Let me give you three places where it’s not hard to find and focus on what is TNRPLAEP. Three places where you can experience greater peace. They are God’s world, God’s Word, and God’s works. Let’s take them one at a time and make this practical and personal. You want greater peace? Here’s where you can find it. First…
Peace comes from marveling at God’s world.
There is so much beauty, power, and mystery in the created world that can push back all the stress flying around, if you will look for it. The Psalmist in Psalm 8, for example, steps outside late one night, looks to the sky on a clear night, and doesn’t rush back to work or TV. He stays outside and soaks it in. He wonders how it is that we’re so tiny in this vast universe, and yet God has revealed himself to us. He offers us purpose, peace with him, and a place in the world. Struck by God’s world, the Psalmist eventually heads back inside and pens a song that sings…
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
It’s a “Who am I?!” question. His mind is quieted by getting out in creation. So do this. Get out your calendar even now and put a reminder to get outside tonight or any night that’s clear. Calendar a day trip to Brown County State Park, or quieter Shades State Park. Get out in God’s world and rest. Rejuvenate. Marvel that God knows you. Loves you. Cares for you. Has a plan for you. Sent his Son for you. And he will return for you.
This is why I’m filming messages outside lately. Why not film at home or church building? Here’s why: TNRPLAEP. Peace comes from marveling at God’s world. Nature brings the God of peace to us.
Friends, Brent and Kim loaded up their bikes recently and drove to the Monon Trail, where they hopped on at the north end of Carmel and pedaled out into the country. That’s TNRPLAEP, gaining peace by deciding and doing, getting out into God’s world.
Rob and Sheila bought a pop-up camper. They’ve made a point of taking their kids to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and other places where their kids can be out in nature, enjoying God’s world. This is TNRPLAEP, dwelling on and enjoying what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, starting with what’s in creation.
Let me throw an offer your way. Anytime you want, I’ll lead a food tour around the world. Because right here in Indy is Saraga International Grocery store. It’s a feast for the senses. Our family has enjoyed fresh shark steak from Saraga—they have a big fish counter. We’ve had french fries made from taro root, Asian fruits like rambutan and mango. You can even grab Chinese or Mexican takeout from restaurants located inside the store! Let me know if you’re game—and we can enjoy God’s world in food.
What would you like to do today or this week to enjoy nature? How about next month, when you can take in beautiful fall foliage an hour from here in Brown County? Don’t miss the peace to be found marveling in God’s world. Let’s review. Let’s make the commitment out loud again, and get this memorized. With your Bible or Bible app open, look at Philippians 4:8-9 and say it with me.
I will dwell on & do what is…
That’s the path to peace. Secondly…
Peace comes from marinating in God’s Word.
Consider the many promises God has given us in the Bible. Paul is amazed at this as he writes in 1 Corinthians 1:20…
“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.
And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
2 Corinthians 1:20
God has made a bunch of promises. Jesus has personalized those promises. And we get to say, “Amen, Lord, let them be so in our lives!”
What kind of promises bring peace? You can find lists online of God’s promises found in the Bible. Here’s one. Isaiah chapter 40 is the dramatic turning point of the book of Isaiah. Soak in this promise:
“He (the Lord) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:29, 31
Everyone has times they get weary. The ones who get up again are those who dwell on the good in God’s Word, like this promise. Put your hope in the Lord, and the God of peace will be with you.
Charles Spurgeon, a gifted preacher from 1800s London, talked about this, that it’s not about quantity of the Scriptures we cover so much as meditating on, chewing on what we’ve heard. Spurgeon writes…
“I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses [of the Bible] all day than rinse my hand in several chapters.”
Peace comes from meditating on a verse or two at a time from God’s Word, especially his promises.
I lead a chaplain team at a local assisted living facility in which most of the residents are on the spectrum of memory care. One of the things that tends to accompany dementia is anxiety. But I wish you could see when we gather these precious seniors together to sing worship songs and come to God’s Word, those promises come back and bring peace. I’ll say, “Let’s say a favorite Bible verse, the greatest promise from God, John 3:16. For God so loved the world…” Faces light up as they remember this promise and recite it with joy. The God of peace meets them in that personal promise from his Word. God wants to do the same for you. The God of peace wants to bring you greater peace. He will do so…as you marinate in his Word.
Let’s review to fix the path to peace in our minds. Say it again out loud with me from Philippians 4:8-9…
I will dwell on & do what is…
This is how you can fine peace. Thirdly…
Peace comes from showcasing God’s works.
Peace comes from marveling in God’s world. It comes from marinating in God’s Word. And peace comes from showcasing God’s works.
This is a recurring theme in the Bible, that we remember what the Lord has done in the past, in order to experience peace in the present. This is why we sing worship songs. Psalm 145, for example, sings…
“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
Hear the repetition there: peace comes from dwelling on God’s works, his mighty acts, his wonderful works, his great deeds, his abundant goodness. What works of God do you suppose are TNRPLAEP—true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?
- How about God’s great work of the Exodus, the miracle of setting a nation free from hundreds of years of brutal slavery?
- How about God’s mighty act of the Incarnation, coming to us in the person of Jesus, God with us and God for us?
- How about God’s awesome deed of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, turning enemies into friends, Mediating between us in our sinfulness and God in his holiness?
- How about God’s abundant goodness in our resurrection described in Revelation 14:13, which declares, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” We’re blessed, because we’ll rise.
Peace comes from showcasing God’s works. And they continue today, through God’s people. In just the first four months of the pandemic, our movement—the Christian & Missionary Alliance—has donated 10,000 masks, 30,000 pounds of food, & broadcast vital health updates to 500,000 radio listeners in Africa. That’s in Africa alone. We have more than half a million worshipers speaking 37 languages and dialects in 2,000 churches, doing God’s work in 70 nations.
That’s praiseworthy. That’s noble. It’s lovely. It’s admirable. And we get to be part of it. It starts right here, with us.
When you give to yChurch’s ministry, you enable us to bring God’s peace into this troubled time.
When you share a story of God’s work in conversation or on social media, you spread peace in place of stress.
When you share our online ministry with a neighbor or coworker, they have a shot at experiencing God’s peace.
God who is Himself true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, comes as the God of peace when we dwell on what’s good and do what’s good.
In the midst of the most stressful season of our lives, the God of peace will be with us when we intentionally point out and practice what is TNRPLAEP—whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Let’s say it one more time, then I’ll pray for you. Out loud we say…
I will dwell on & do what is…
God of peace, come to us, we pray.
Come to our attention, to our minds. Help us to dwell on and do those things that are true,
noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
Come with your peace to our families.
Come with your peace to our workplaces.
Come with your peace to our neighbors.
Come with your peace to this nation.
Bring about a great turning to you, we ask, that we and many more may come to a far greater place of peace—with you, and one another.
Hear our prayer, God of peace, as we come to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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God bless you today and make you a blessing!