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Peace, Inside and Out

Strongholds and Storms

A little boy was afraid of the dark.  One night his mother told him to go out on the back porch and bring her the broom. The little boy turned to his mother and said, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there. It’s dark.” The mother smiled reassuringly at her son. “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark,” she explained. “Jesus is out there. He’ll look after you and protect you.” The little boy looked at his mother real hard and asked, “Are you sure he’s out there?” “Yes, I’m sure. He is everywhere, and He is always ready to help you when you need Him,” she said. The little boy thought about that for a minute, then went to the back door and cracked it a little.  Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus? If you’re out there, would you please hand me that broom?”

John 14:25-27 25  “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Silent Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  The disciples had many reasons to have a troubled heart.  Jesus was leaving them soon.  All their hopes had been placed in Him to liberate them from earthly circumstances, and He was leaving.  What anxious thoughts could have started just as a result of Jesus telling them He was leaving?  And when you look at it, their earthly circumstances didn’t change during Jesus’ lifetime or with His departure.  Oppressive Rome was still oppressive Rome.  In fact, one could argue that the controversy around Jesus and His messages and Resurrection only made things worse.  The only thing worse than mean Rome is mean, threatened Rome.  The only thing worse than harsh religious leaders is harsh, threatened ones.  Things didn’t let up for the disciples with Jesus’ victory over sin, hell and death.  Persecution intensified dramatically.  And in the face of the reality that things weren’t going to get easier, but tougher, Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”  “Oh, ok, Jesus.  No problem.”  Do you think that is what they said?

“My peace I leave with you.”  Jesus left His peace with His disciples and us and left also His Holy Spirit to protect that peace in our hearts and lives.  He indicated that we have some measure of control over whether or not we will experience peace.  He gave peace to us and then said, “Don’t let your peace be taken from you. Do not LET your heart be troubled.”

There are many reasons for our hearts to be troubled this morning.  The US just reintroduced our military to warfare in Iraq this past week where up to 40,000 Iraqis, many of them Christians, are trapped right now on a mountaintop in northern Iraq surrounded by Islamic terrorists.

I viewed an online video yesterday where the speaker said:  “This is the message of the leader of the faithful,” the leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, wrote in a message addressed to “America, the defender of the cross.”

“You should know, you defender of the cross, that getting others to fight on your behalf will not do for you in Syria as it will not do for you in Iraq,” he said. “And soon enough, you will be in direct confrontation — forced to do so, God willing. And the sons of Islam have prepared themselves for this day. So wait, and we will be waiting, too.”

We are being told by terrorists to wait because something bad is coming.  We have reason to be troubled.

Humanity is being destroyed by Satan, one person at a time, in a covert mission to assassinate us.  Satan doesn’t have to get you to play with a Ouija board, to have your palm read, or to get you interested in your horoscope anymore to gain access into your life.  He just has to get you to try street drugs once or get you hooked on prescription drugs in order to gain an access into your mind.

Did you know that West Virginia has the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States, with 28.9 per 100,000 people suffering drug overdose fatalities, according to a new report entitled Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic? (http://healthyamericans.org/reports/drugabuse2013/release.php?stateid=WV)

We have reason to be troubled.

Listen to these crime statistics from 2013:

  Kanawha Cabell Putnam
Total Violent Crimes 835 181 137
Murder & non-negligent manslaughter 11 3 0
Forcible Rape 33 23 8
Aggravated Assault 607 89 123
Simple Assault 2403 691 68
Robbery 184 66 6
Kidnapping/Abduction 24 2 1
Vandalism 1390 691 68

Source:  WV Division of Justice & Community Services   djcs.wv.gov

We have reason to be troubled and yet Jesus tells us not to be.  Doesn’t that sound a bit insensitive?  Doesn’t that sound like He is asking us to deny our feelings or refrain from something that is simply a natural response to the difficulties of life?  What right does He have to tell us not to be troubled when we have more human reasons to be troubled than we have to be at peace? 

As we will see in a moment, the presence of the Prince of Peace brings supernatural peace to natural and supernatural trouble, and it is available to any who will follow Jesus and be led by His Spirit.

In John 14:26 Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit is available to teach us all things and to remind us of the words of Jesus.

You know the phrase, “teachable moment?”  Anyone here ever had a teachable moment?  Maybe this week?  One of Thom’s favorite phrases when one of us does something stupid is, “Did you learn anything?”  It’s meant to help us lighten up about a situation, and sometimes it works.  I’m not so sure it was effective the day I backed into his car with my van, damaging both vehicles.  I don’t think it was the time for a funny teachable moment, but looking back on it now, it was pretty hilarious.  Only I could have a car accident with myself!  (I left a note. J)

Jesus was and is a Master of the teachable moment.  Every time there was chaos, pain, suffering, every time there was a lack of peace in someone’s life, as He encountered that person, He used their struggle to teach the disciples something and to teach the struggling person something about God and about the mission Jesus Himself was on.

It was almost as if Jesus was saying, “Don’t let trouble steal the opportunity from you for the Holy Spirit to teach you something much greater, much needed that you can only learn in the moment of anxiety and trouble.”

Jesus also said another function of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of the words of Jesus.  How important have strategic words been in your life?  When you were at a crossroads did something a parent or grandparent always used to say come in handy?  I have a friend in Cincinnati who is now in her late 60’s.  Audrey Hoover is her name.  She has been through some trouble during her lifetime, and when it when she was going through something tough or was encouraging someone else who was going through something tough she would always say, “The key to life is the Lord and a sense of humor.”  Simple.  Profound, and so helpful.  It’s a phrase I often remember and draw upon.

Jesus says to us in this passage, “When you are in trouble.  When your peace is threatened, be reminded of My words.  My words will infuse peace into your life.”  When you are stressed and the unknown is making your heart beat fast and is disrupting your sleep and you can’t eat or if you are like me, chocolate is becoming your new BFF, J get into the Word of God more than you already are.  Read and meditate on it.  Memorize it.  Talk about it with friends.  Let the words of life, the words of the Bible, take root in your spirit, and when your spirit is anchored by the Word of God, your mind and heart will supernaturally be at peace.  It is a gift to you that is simply a by-product of ingesting the Word of God.

So, we learn strategically from John 14:26 that when we are in need of peace:  (Get someone to stand up and read the words on the screen)

I want to take you to Mark’s Gospel now, chapters 4 and 5 and make some observations about the kind of peace Jesus gives.  Mark 4:35-41 35  That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The disciples were in a situation that wouldn’t lend itself to peace.  Do you know what I’m talking about?  Anyone in one of those moments right now?  Their well-being was threatened.  Their security was threatened.  Remember, some of the disciples were fishermen.  They were experienced on the seas.  They shouldn’t have immediately panicked.

Note where Jesus was when the storm broke out and the waves broke over the boat.  He was existing in unbroken peace.  He was sleeping in peace.  That in and of itself is telling.  Jesus is never not at peace.  Nothing rattles Him, shakes Him or panics Him.  He has never been nor will ever be panicked over anything.  Doesn’t that give you confidence this morning?

So the disciples learned in that moment that they were following One who possessed perfect peace.  The second thing they learned is that Jesus has authority over every earthly force that could mess with our peace.  That is big.  That is huge.  What the disciples would have been able to choose to rest in from that moment on was that if something needed handled Jesus could handle it.  If something needed stopped Jesus could stop it.  If something needed stilled Jesus could still it.  How cool is that?

Notice something in verse 35.  Jesus was the One who led the disciples into this storm.  He knew there would be rough waters.  He wanted to teach them something about His power and authority over the things that come against us from outside of ourselves.  He wanted to teach them something about the so-called “forces of nature.”  He wanted them to know that none of the forces of nature were a match for the Ultimate Force, Jesus Himself.  He wanted them to see Him asleep in that boat with unbroken peace.  He wanted them to be confident that if something needed to be handled He could and would handle it.

I believe Jesus wanted them to learn something else.  There is no quicker way to lose your peace than to try to handle life’s storms on your own.  You get the sense that the disciples woke Jesus up as a last resort.  After all, many of them WERE experienced boaters.  I can picture Simon Peter looking at Andrew and saying, “We got this” and decided they would be in charge.  They started scanning the sky to evaluate how bad it might get.  They took new positions in the boat to try to make it as secure as possible.  They hunkered down to position their physical bodies in the toughest stances just as they had done in storms before.  They started bailing water as it entered in over the sides.  They worked to maintain their safety without “bothering” Jesus when all along the One who could do something about their circumstances was right there in the boat with them!  I wonder how often we work ourselves silly to bail water when Jesus is willing to calm the storm.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say they felt bad asking for prayer because their concern seemed so small compared to other people’s or they felt like they were bothering God with their request.  Perhaps the disciples were thinking, “Let Jesus sleep.  After all, He is tired after all of the ministry He has just done.”  Noble, but not the best move.

Asking God to help us and leaning on Him in times of trouble is exactly what we are supposed to do.  It is the first thing we are supposed to do.  If we look to God to help us the minute we sense any issue and offloaded that anxiety in an effort to stay at peace, maybe more witnessing would get done.  Maybe more people would be saved.  Maybe more miracles would take place if Christians were at peace long enough to do what God called us to do rather than being so stressed out from trying to control and manage every detail of our lives.

The second story I want you to consider is right after this on in Mark 5.  So as the disciples discuss their ordeal on the high seas and think about how Jesus just brought peace to their circumstances on the outside, they become eye witnesses to how Jesus also can calm a storm on the inside of a person.

Mark 5:1-8 1  They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 6  When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7  He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8  For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

This tormented man had no peace.  I don’t know if he ever even slept.  He was out of his mind.  His struggle came not from winds and waves on the outside, but from within.  It was a spiritual and emotional one.  And if we were to read this story we would see Jesus takes authority over not one evil spirit, but a legion of demons and sends them fleeing into a herd of pigs that ran off into a lake and were drowned.

After his deliverance verse 15 tells us the man who had no peace, sat in peace at Jesus’ feet.  He was a changed man from the inside out.  It’s interesting to me that the man with the evil spirits came to see Jesus.  He didn’t even know who Jesus was.  Jesus hadn’t been healing people in that region.  In fact, it wasn’t even a region where the Jews lived.  There was no synagogue.  There was no worship of God.  It was a pagan, godless place.  They were raising pigs there, animals which had been unclean for the Jews.  How on earth would this demon possessed man have any presence of mind to believe this man getting out of a boat whom he had never met could do anything for him?

Remember, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, possesses perfect peace at all time.  Perhaps the man who desperately needed and wanted peace recognized it and was drawn to it in the person of Jesus.  Perhaps there was just something about Jesus’ presence and authority that drew the man to Him.  Maybe the demons inside him trembled when Jesus got out of the boat and set foot in that region, and nothing had ever caused the demons inside the man to tremble before, to cower before.  Perhaps they were cowering in the presence of Jesus in a way the man could feel, so he simply ran to the only One who had ever made that happen?

I know this.  There was one constant in the boat during the storm that was also present on the shore where demons had controlled.  His name is Jesus.  He calmed the storm from without, and He calmed the man from within.  He proved He had authority over every natural, earthly realm as well as every spiritual, dark domain.

Sheila Walsh is a well-known Bible teacher, best-selling author, and speaker with Women of Faith.  She openly shares about the lowest part of her adult life, and it was when she was in a psychiatric ward with clinical depression.  During her first night in the hospital, she believes she encountered an angel.  She had never had anything like that happen before or since to my knowledge.

She sat in the corner of her room on the floor with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.  She was aware of someone coming in her room around 2:00 a.m.  She figured it was a nurse who had come in to check on her, so she didn’t even look up.  She then realized the person had crossed the room and was standing at her feet.  She says she looked up into the kindest eyes she had ever seen and that this man placed a small stuffed animal, a lamb, into her hands.  He turned to leave, and as he got to the door he spoke to her saying, “Sheila, the Shepherd knows where to find you.”  With that, he was gone.  At the darkest moment of her life, as she describes it, when she felt all hope was lost, she was reminded of God’s promise never to leave her and His promise of peace (p. The Shelter of God’s Promises, pg. 60) and she received internal peace.

Today I believe God wants to do something supernatural for us.  He wants us to encounter His peace from without and within.  Perhaps you are here today and the storms of life are dumping water into your boat faster than your ability to bail it out.  It’s ok to “disturb” Jesus.  It is alright to admit you can’t handle it and to ask Him to impact your circumstances.  If He chooses to it will be for a good reason.  If He chooses not to it will also be for a good reason, but regardless, the promise of His peace isn’t conditional.  He doesn’t just supply to peace to people for whom He calms the storm.  He also can supply peace to people for whom the storm may rage for a few more minutes.

If you are here and are enduring a struggle on the inside it could have a demonic component.  Satan is still trying to gain access into our lives.  He is still twisting the words of God.  He is still beating down people’s self-esteem and confidence.  He is still trying to tempt us in ways that question if right is really right and if wrong could be somewhat right.  He is still piquing our curiosity about the powers of darkness and what the future holds.  He still tries to control people through drug and alcohol addiction and through lust and sexual perversions.  I absolutely believe he can possess non-believers and can oppress Christians.  His power is real, but in the presence of the Prince of Peace he doesn’t stand a chance.  How many of you would be bold enough to admit this morning that you need peace either on the outside or the inside this morning.  Let me see your hands.

He sees your hand, knows your heart and acknowledges your storm and your stronghold.  Now, let us approach Him and possess peace on the inside and out.

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