This week the Lawrence County Youth Network has been focusing on Peace, the week-two theme of Advent. If you haven’t seen the full post, CLICK HERE to catch up.

Here are my answers to the discussion questions concerning Peace.

Share your favorite scene from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

My favorite scene is definitely the Island of Misfit Toys. It still makes me feel bad to this day whenever I throw away a broken toy. There’s something powerful about finding a community of people who are broken and imperfect with no pretense of hiding it. Let’s be honest. The way the other reindeer – and even Santa – treated Rudolph in that movie was absolutely traumatizing. He was bullied and tormented just for having an abnormal birth defect. His path to healing couldn’t happen until he found a group where he belonged, a group that welcomed him and embraced him.

Talk about a time you felt like a misfit.

Believe it or not, I was an Emo kid in high school. I never really fit in. I was always a nerd. I wore big, thick glasses through elementary school. I was super awkward in junior high. And then in high school I just kind of did my own thing. I went to a private school, so I stood out and apart from most of the preppy kids and jocks. I did play football, but I was also in band. I was the kid who wore the arm bands, the studded belts, mostly black, and listened to music that scared my parents.

Thankfully, we had an awesome band director. She was intentional about making a place where we misfits could belong. We were our own little family within the school. My best memories were from my time with the band and the rest of the misfit toys.

Talk about how you define what peace is.

I like to think of peace as an active force. It’s not just the absence of conflict, but it’s the presence of God’s Spirit at work to set things right. I think of passages like Psalm 46. That’s the Psalm where we get the line, “Be still and know that I am God.” Most of the time we see that verse taken out of context and painted across a flowery meadow. But the context is in the midst of a battle. God swoops in, breaks the spears and shatters the shields. He puts a stop to the noise and chaos of war between two nations who are fighting for power. He says to stop it and know that HE is God, not us. Ultimate power lies with him.

Or I think about the story where Jesus calms the storm. The boat with Jesus and the disciples is caught in a big storm in the middle of the lake. We think of Jesus calmly leaning out, throwing up a “peace” sign with his hands, and timidly and softly whispering, “Peace, be still.” But really the text says he got up and rebuked the wind and commanded the waves. In other words, Jesus basically yelled, “Shut up!”

I think most fully for me the passage the captures the essence of peace is Isaiah 43:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

Isaiah 43:1-3

Share place in your life where you need some peace. Talk about what peace looks like in that place.

I think I, like most people, could simply use some peace of mind. With everything going on this year, it’s been hard to get into a routine. Things we’re use to and take for granted have been cancelled or done differently. School has been in and then out and then in again, and now we’re out until after Christmas break. There is so much uncertainty and turmoil. It’s nearly impossible to make any sort of plans. I just need extra peace of mind to handle it all.

So what does that look like? I think it looks like handing everything over to God, trusting in his timing and his providence. We do the best we can, but we’re nothing without him. I think this year has really shown me that we tend to lean too heavily on our idols. We try to find peace and pleasure and hope and happiness in so many other areas of our lives. But when that all is taken away, the only thing left is to rely on God alone.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. It’s a word that means completion and restoration as well as peace the way we think of it. Discuss how this impacts the way you understand peace.

I think the Biblical understanding of peace stands in direct contrast to the Roman (or worldly) understanding of peace. One of the highest values in the Roman Empire was the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. People were crucified not for petty crimes but for insurrection, rebellion, or anything else that would threaten the Pax Romana. It was peace at the edge of a sword and under threat of death. It was peace ensured through military might. A chieftain named Calgacus said in the late 1st Century about Rome:

To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude [or desert] and call it peace.

Calgacus, ~83-84 CE, Scotland

That’s why the peace offered by Jesus was so profound. It wasn’t peace at the edge of a sword. It was peace offered by his blood shed on the cross. It didn’t come by taking lives but by giving up of his own life. Jesus said that he came so that we might have life, and have it to the full. His miracles of healing and feeding and driving out demons and raising the dead all attest to this. Through Jesus, God is at work to restore the world. “I am making all things new,” he says in Revelation.

Discuss how peace and how you view yourself might be connected.

One of the biggest thieves of peace is shame. We all experience shame to some extent. One of the most interesting verses in Genesis is when we are told that the man and woman were naked, but they felt no shame. It wasn’t until they disobeyed God and sinned against him that they were suddenly filled with shame. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.”

We experience shame so much in our lives because we believe the lies Satan tells us about our identity. Those lies are:

  1. I am what I have.
  2. I am what I do.
  3. I am what others say I am.
  4. I am nothing more than my worst moment.
  5. I am nothing less than my best moment.*

*Henri Nouwen

Those lies are so ingrained within us that it can be hard to hear and believe the truth. God “rejoices over you with singing.” His Spirit descends on you and reassures you that “You are my child whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” When we truly learn to separate our identity from our possessions, our abilities, our occupation, our salary, our social status, our athleticism, or anything else – then we can find peace in knowing our true identity as a beloved child of God.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

St. Augustine of Hippo

Talk about how being thankful might impact your ability to find peace.

Paul says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” One of the lies of identity that keeps us from experiencing peace is “I am what I have.” Marketers and advertisers invest BILLIONS of dollars each year into learning how to most effectively keep us discontent and unsatisfied with what we have – even though what we have is the very thing they told us was “the best ever.” I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. When Apple releases a new iPhone or MacBook model, suddenly mine seem to not work as well anymore…

There is great power and freedom in being content with what we have. Gratitude is a great way to ward off anxiety, depression, envy, and greed. The happiest people are those who are most grateful for what they have. The world tells us that no matter what we have it will never be good enough and we will always lack something. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

One of Paul’s greatest letters was written to the church in Philippi while he was in prison! Yet even while in chains he could write this:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…

…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:4-7, 11-13