I wonder if you have ever seen a golden pheasant. It’s one of the most beautiful birds in the world, as you see in this picture.
They are native to Western China, but you can also find them in the Western United States. There are many breeders nowadays because they are beautiful, and people are willing to pay a good price to buy them. The Chinese regard them as a symbol of good luck because they look like the Chinese mythological phoenix, especially when they fly.
As beautiful as they are, they are still far from the status of a phoenix in the Chinese mind because a pheasant is, after all, a hillbilly bird, unlike the divine phoenix. Pheasants love fighting with one another to show who’s the boss; they have huge egos. That’s why they are regarded as rustic despite their beauty.
A Chinese metaphor describes a spiritual person or a person of high intellectual and moral status as a “phoenix.” Like the resurrection of Christ, a phoenix can rise from ashes. They are immune to adversity and are symbols of peace and resilience.
That gives us a good allegory for living our new identity as risen people. The Bible says,
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Co 5:17).
Many similar verses in the Bible tell us that we used to be pheasants, but now we are phoenixes. The pheasant life represents a life of ego, full of greed, anger, and ignorance, but the phoenix is a life of love, joy, and peace.
In other words, to cultivate inner peace, you need an identity shift—from a pheasant to a phoenix, from being worldly to being divine. The Bible repeatedly encourages us to shift our identity—from the old self to the new self, from a barren life to a fruitful life, from being born of the flesh to that of the spirit, from living under the law to living under grace, and so on.
That’s what “repentance” means, as we discussed previously.
According to psychology, some people cannot quit smoking because they identify themselves as smokers consciously or unconsciously. The moment they shift their identity, they are set free from the old habits. If I say I have a sweet tooth, I will never recover from sugar addiction.
Many years ago, after I was diagnosed with depression, a friend told me to join his support group for depressive personality. I refused to join because I didn’t like the name of the group, “depressive personality support group.” It made me depressed just to hear the name. How could I ever recover from depression if I identified myself as a depressive personality?
I struggled with the decision for a while because he kept inviting me. Later I realized I made the right decision by refusing to claim that identity. It makes me understand why Jesus keeps calling us positive names: you are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the children of God, the children of light, born of the spirit, not of the flesh, etc.
Jesus gives us a new identity to live a new way of life. Today, I want to remind you that you are no longer pheasants but phoenixes. It’s essential to claim that new identity, and you will find it easier to quit the old habits and have peace within.
This fallen world is a world of fighting pheasants, and we will never find peace living like pheasants. It’s their nature to fight, just as it’s human nature to sin. You may be trying hard to brace yourself against the temptations of the flesh, but it doesn’t last.
Why? It’s because you still hold the pheasant identity. Pheasants do what pheasants do. Resisting your nature is stressful, and you will give in sooner or later. The only solution is to shift your identity from the earthly pheasant to the heavenly phoenix. Then peace becomes you!
For the past four weeks, we have been studying Cultivating PEACE Within. I have identified five pillars of peace forming the acrostic PEACE. Previously we have talked about,
P – Presence: Protect God’s Presence in Us
E – Emptiness: Empty Myself (as Jesus Did)
A – Atonement: Atone with Forgiveness (nothing else works)
C – Community: Concert with the Community
E – Entertainment: Entertain Beauty
So, today we are on the fifth pillar of cultivating peace: Entertainment. The Bible reveals that the quality of our entertainment can enforce our identity and enrich our lives. With that, the God of peace and the peace of God is with us. Let’s find out!
[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 for today is from the Epistles to the Philippians 4:8-9. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Php 4:8–9).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
Paul said, “think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you.” because our thoughts can affect our moods. If you think about negative thoughts, you have negative moods. If you think like a pheasant, you will behave like a pheasant. If you think like a phoenix, you will be divine. Paul also said,
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Ro 12:2).
In other words, don’t conform to this world of pheasants, but transform into a phoenix by renewing your mind. Transformation begins in your head. That means changing the way you think. Paul gave us a framework of six ways to change our thoughts.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Php 4:8).
I call this framework “entertaining beauty” because, just think about it, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable are all beautiful things to entertain. Beauty is a reflection of God because God is the ultimate beauty, creator of beauty, and inspirer of beauty.
We all know King David is an incredible artist, musician, poet, and warrior. He knows what beauty is, and he wrote:
One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple. (Ps 27:4).
When I look at the lives of the greatest artists in history, they are extremely close to God. Look at the lives of Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven, Giovanni Bellini, William Blake, and Caravaggio; hundreds and thousands of them have contributed to this world the most beautiful artwork inspired by God.
Recently, I have been learning to appreciate classical music. I listened to classical music every now and then but very casually. Now I want to appreciate it more profoundly because I have discovered that appreciating classical music can lift your spirit to a higher level of living.
Since I am talking about inner peace, I researched and discovered that those who appreciate classical music are very peaceful. I have proof. We have an elder in our church that loves classical music, and I have never seen him angry. I have never heard from his wife or any of his family members telling me if he got mad at home. I can trust him with anything because I know he will reprimand me gently and peacefully, even if I am wrong.
It makes sense to me. If you listen to the music made by artists so close to God, you feel you can touch God through their art, and how can you not be peaceful? Music is also therapeutic and can heal your emotional wounds. An emotionally healthy person is naturally peaceful.
I love visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, gazing at those timeless paintings and artworks, and wondering about God’s presence in those artists. There I feel I am among the phoenixes, and they remind me that I am also a phoenix, not a pheasant.
There I forget about all my anger, worries, fears, and depressive thoughts. God’s beauty becomes so big and so close, and my anxiety becomes so small and so distant. Life is too short to spend on negative thoughts because there is so much beauty to enjoy.
There are many ways to entertain beauty. Even looking at children makes you think about how beautifully God made them. Children also know how to appreciate beauty. Even a snowflake in the winter can excite them. Maybe that’s why Jesus wants us to become children.
Let’s look at the six categories of beautiful thoughts Paul advised us to think.
1 – Think Whatever is True
If you are unhappy or unpeaceful, you may be thinking about things that are untrue. There are a lot of lies in this fallen world, especially in today’s media which has become quite corrupt. They may not be intentionally dishonest because they are just pheasants talking to pheasants.
We must listen to the phoenix. Clement of Rome of the first century was the first preacher to use phoenix as an allegory to Jesus. So the tradition of using the phoenix as an allegory to Jesus is already 2,000 years old. I’m not the first. You know the truth through Jesus’ word. Jesus said,
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:31b–32).
Jesus said his word is the truth. The truth sets you free. What is untrue will bind you and make you anxious.
For example, some basic and simple truths Jesus said are: God loves you, you matter to God, you are to die for, you are a child of God, you are the light of the world, etc. All these thoughts from Jesus’ word will brighten your life, set you free, and give you peace.
2 – Think Whatever is Honorable
What’s honorable rarely appears in the news because good news doesn’t sell. No news is good news. You can find honorable things more in books, novels, biographies, pictures, monuments, and Broadway shows. Shows like Les Misérables depict a man transforming from a pheasant to a phoenix. Many honorable figures and events in that show can shift your thoughts.
Visiting the ground zero of the 9/11 museum can remind us of the honorable deeds of the first responders in contrast to the dishonorable acts of the terrorist attack.
Of course, what can be more honorable for God’s only Son to die on the cross to save us from this dishonorable world? In that by look at the cross can trigger thoughts of honorable things.
The Bible and biographies of godly people are the best sources of honorable thoughts.
3 – Think Whatever is Just
The injustice in this world makes us thirst for stories of justice. Maybe that’s why we have so many superhero movies to quench our thirst. These superhero movies give us hope that justice will be done. Even stories like Beauty and the Beast are about justice. It’s an allegory of Jesus as the Beauty saving us, the Beasts, by restoring love and justice in our way of living.
The word “justice” in Hebrew (tzedek) also means “righteousness.” According to Jesus, righteousness is not about being perfect but about loving God and loving people. In other words, justice is love in action. So, you don’t have to just look at the justice done by others, but also the justice that can be done by yourself.
For example, when we contribute to heart surgeries for underprivileged children, it’s an act of justice. You can call it medical justice because it’s not the fault of the children born with the disease where the treatment is unavailable. They are innocent and deserve justice.
When you think about these things, you know the God of peace is with you.
4 – Think Whatever is Pure
The word “pure” comes from the Greek word “ἁγνός” (hagnos), which also means “holy,” “divine,” or “sacred.” Where do you find the things that are pure? We find purity in children and nature.
Some of you know I love macro-photography. Every now and then, I take my camera out with a macro lens and take pictures of the small things, like bees and butterflies, and close-up shots of flowers. Sometimes those tiny details make you exclaim, “Oh my gosh! How beautiful they are.” It immediately brings you to God’s presence and makes you forget about all your worries.
Nowadays, you have a cellphone that can take pictures anytime, anywhere, whenever you see the pure beauty of God in nature. If you have the gift, you can also capture the beauty by painting. As you try to paint, you discover the details. You can shift your thought by paying attention to the pure and beautiful creation around us.
5 – Think Whatever is Pleasing
Most other Bible versions translate this word as “lovely” instead of “pleasing.” It comes from the Greek προσφιλής (prosphilés), which has appeared only once here in the Bible. It’s a unique word that is hard to translate into English. It also means “grateful.” It means something that makes you want to embrace it. It’s as if someone did something for you, and you say, “Oh, thank you so much. I want to hug you!”
A more precise translation would be “whatever makes you feel grateful.” If someone pleases you, you feel grateful.
Paul wrote this letter in prison when the Philippian church sent him a generous gift. Just imagine when you are in prison, and some church members think about you and send you gifts. How would you feel? That’s the kind of “pleasing” and “gratitude” Paul was talking about. It feels like God is thinking about him.
So, think about the things that make you feel grateful, and the God of peace will be with you. Of course, our greatest gratitude goes to what Jesus has done for us.
6 – Think Whatever is Commendable
Paul explains what’s commendable with the following clauses, “if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise.” That reminds me of watching sports. Next Sunday is the Super Bowl, but everyone has a different game of interest. What do you like to watch?
Sports display human excellence and praiseworthy performances, reminding us what we are capable of. Paul compared the Christian life to marathon running.
Not just in sports, we can find excellence in art, music, architecture, dance, craft, technology, and many other things that display human capability. At a minimum, God’s entire creation itself is commendable.
There we have it. Paul gave us six ways to shift our identity by shifting our thoughts. Let’s shift our identity from pheasants to phoenixes by changing our thoughts. Let’s focus our minds on:
- Whatever is true
- Whatever is honorable
- Whatever is just
- Whatever is pure
- Whatever is pleasing
- Whatever is commendable
When we do that, we will find peace flows naturally from within.
That also concludes the five pillars of PEACE. If you didn’t get anything, get this one because it’s about identity shift—the ultimate repentance since repentance means change. When you shift your identity from a pheasant to a phoenix, the rest is easy.
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 love, joy, and peace.