Happy New Year! What are your expectations for the year? I researched the forecast for 2023 and found many optimistic predictions, even though they are more toward the end of the year. For example, the pandemic will end globally by the end of the year. The economy will also recover by the end of the year.
Don’t be discouraged by the phrase “the end of the year.” At least we know the light is at the end of the tunnel. All’s well that ends well. All you need to do is to brace for the first part of the year. Life is full of ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We should always hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.
Having had some rough years recently, we may find it hard to have a positive outlook. However, history shows that tough times are the best times to build character, develop spiritual maturity, and cultivate enlightenment.
Peace within is the most significant spiritual state we must cultivate because whatever the future holds, you can navigate through life with a smile in your heart if you know how to maintain peace within. The good news is Jesus came to give us this peace. He is known as the Prince of Peace. He 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, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27).
Peace is inner happiness that nothing in life can disturb. Peace is when your heart smiles even when your face can’t smile. Notice he says that the peace he gives us is different from what the world gives us because the world can only offer temporary and superficial peace. Jesus offers profound peace that can navigate the most severe storms of life.
His peace allowed him to forgive the perpetrators while suffering on the cross. That is the kind of peace we all need, and only he can give us.
Starting today, for the next five weeks, we will make this year the best year ever by cultivating peace within. In fact, if you have true inner peace, you can make the rest of your life the best of your life.
There are five pillars of peace, and I put together a mnemonic acronym using the word PEACE to help you easily remember these five pillars. This week, we will start with the first letter of PEACE:
P is for Presence, meaning the presence of God. If you have God’s presence, you have peace in the present.
As you know, Jesus’ middle name is “Emmanuel,” meaning “God is with us.” That means his presence is God’s presence. The problem is you must not only nurture his presence but also defend his presence in you because this fallen world love to sabotage God’s presence in you.
So, today we will learn how to effectively nurture God’s presence so that you have peace within, your hearts will never be troubled, and you have no fear for whatever the future brings. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson today is from the Gospel according to Matthew 2:13-23. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (Mt 2:13–23).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
In my previous message, I talked about what if God chose you to raise Jesus and why God chose Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly father. What if God chose you to foster God’s presence on earth? (You can review that message in the archive or the link below or online.)
Today God is with us through the Holy Spirit. Is God’s presence safe with you, just as he was safe under the care of Joseph? Do you know there are forces around trying to destroy God’s presence in you? From the moment we wake up, everything around us is trying to disrupt or destroy our peace. The Bible says,
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mat 2:13).
“They” mean the wise men. After the wise men left, an angel of the Lord told Joseph that Herod was about to destroy the child, instructing them to flee to Egypt. Normally, you would think that you are in the safest place on earth since you have the Son of God with you, but this is the world we live in.
When they received some precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh from the magi who loved peace, they were also exposed to the destroyers of peace. Have you ever realized that the center of God’s presence could be the most dangerous place to be? Peace comes with a price. The Bible says,
“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.” (Mat 2:16).
Previously, when the wise men were looking for Jesus, they stopped by King Herod’s palace to ask for directions. Since no one at the palace could figure out where the child was born, Herod instructed the wise men to search for the child and report back to him so he could pay him homage. He lied.
However, the wise men had a dream telling them not to tell Herod about the child, so they left home on another road. When Herod found out they went away without seeing him, he ordered a massacre of all the children under two years old in Bethlehem and around. History shows Herod killed his own children, so this was not an unexpected atrocity.
On the brighter side, scholars have discovered that there were not so many children under two years old in and around Bethlehem in the first century. There may only be about a couple of dozen. Even though it was not as horrible as we imagine, the death of one innocent child is still too many.
In any case, it reveals the state of the world we live in. Even though we don’t have a physical tyrant threatening us, there are spiritual forces of evil around to destroy God’s presence in us. For example, the moment you turn on the news, your peace is being sabotaged.
Today, you don’t have to walk across the street to buy a newspaper. The smartphone in your hand feeds you news 24/7. You must be smarter than smartphones not to let negative news replace God’s presence in your heart. That’s just one of many scenarios. The point is, if you don’t pay attention, tyrants like Herod will eat your lunch and slaughter God’s presence in you.
Your job as a believer is to be like Mary and Joseph to protect the presence of God until he is mature in you, takes the throne in your heart, and becomes your king. Let us learn from Joseph how to defend God’s presence in us based on how he protected Emmanuel under his care.
1. Protect God’s Presence
If you want to live in peace, protect God’s presence in you like Joseph protected little Jesus. Joseph knew Jesus was the Messiah, so he loved, served, and defended the child at all costs. Today, the presence of God is within you through the Holy Spirit. The Bible urges us to “walk by the Spirit.”
How do you know if you are walking by the spirit instead of the flesh? The Bible says that you bear the fruit of the spirit:
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Ga 5:22–23).
Always make sure the fruit of the spirit flourishes from your heart and defend it from stopping. I taught you a breathing exercise some time back as a way to monitor the presence of the Holy Spirit in you. Otherwise, memorize these nine fruits of the spirit and check in daily and frequently to see if God’s presence is with you so that you can make a timely course correction.
Do you remember the story of Jesus when he was about twelve years old? Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover, but he was left behind on their way home. After a day’s journey, they realized Jesus was not with them, and anxiety rose to the roof. When they finally found him in Jerusalem, Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” (Lk 2:48).
You are like Mary and Joseph, to whom God has entrusted his presence. Do you know he is missing when he has been missing, or do you even care that he is missing? You might argue, “Jesus doesn’t need my protection. He is God.” That’s theologically true. He doesn’t need you but wants to be with you for your own sake. It grieves him when you neglect him. As Paul said,
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30).
God’s presence is with you from the moment of your redemption. Is He still there? Protect God’s presence. Like Mary, who never let Jesus out of sight before his birth to beyond his death, don’t let God’s presence slip away from you.
2. Avoid the Tyrants
Jesus became the target of attack from the moment of his birth to after his resurrection. He is still despised by the tyrants today. We have seen totalitarian countries overtly and covertly eliminate God’s presence. More Christians were murdered in the 20th century than at any time in history.
Tyrants cannot stand the presence of God because Jesus was born as your king to replace them in our hearts. Herod could not even tolerate the presence of a one-year-old. Even a little infancy presence of God in you is a threat to the evil power.
In addition to political tyranny, there is religious tyranny. Don’t forget that Jesus was crucified by organized religion. Some churches and religious organizations tried to impose their power on you over God’s presence. The litmus test is “freedom” because Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free.”
We also need to be aware of non-human tyranny. Material tyrants such as money, sex, and fame—possession, power, and prestige can be as vicious. These things always compete for the top position in your heart to enslave you. But there are also immaterial tyrants.
One of the biggest tyrants is our own ego. The ego always wants to be the ruler and does not want God’s presence to replace its control of our life. Our worse enemy lives inside us. Right above the passage about the fruit of the spirit, Paul described the fruit of the ego.
The way to escape the power of the tyrants is to stay away from them. Like Joseph, take God’s presence and flee to Egypt! When they returned, he stayed away from Herod’s son, Archelaus, and settled in the obscure town of Nazareth, a safe place to raise Jesus.
There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (Mat 2:23).
Nazorean is a pun meaning “set apart,” similar to the term “holy,” implying that Joseph chose a holy and wholesome place to raise Jesus.
That makes you think about the state of our well-being. Do you have a holy and wholesome place to nurture God’s presence? If not, escape to Egypt, and establish in Nazareth a wholesome home. Those are places where you can nurture God’s presence in you until your peace becomes unshakable.
3. Realize Jesus has been There
Sometimes, we might get discouraged and want to tell God, “You don’t know what I have been through. You don’t know my pain and my struggles.” But Jesus’ story reveals that he knows what you have been through. He has been a refugee, an outcast, and a victim of violence and injustice. He understands you fully.
Unlike other founders of major religions, born in a palace or with a silver spoon, Jesus was born in a manger. Jesus participated in all manner of human suffering so that you know his presence is the presence of a confidant, a comrade, and a companion for life through thick and thin.
His presence is worth your protection at all costs because he is God. There we have it. The first pillar of building a life of peace is nurturing the presence of God.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom and happiness.