Let There Be Peace on Earth

You’ve probably heard the popular Christmas song that starts like this: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…” The song makes no mention of Christmas, but it is most often sung this time of year when our minds are looking for peace, our hearts our longing for peace, and our bodies are aching for peace. This is when we remember the angels proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all…” (Luke 2:14).

While you may have heard sung by Vince Gill (among many others), it was actually written in 1955 by Jill Jackson, who said she wrote it after finding the “life-saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love.” She was apparently suicidal before she wrote the song, and before God’s peace broke through to her. The song is powerful because it leads us to long for the true peace that God brings, and it also personalizes that peace. The song reminds us what is readily apparent: the only way we can have peace in our world is to start with peace in our selves.

But the problem is we’re constantly at war, both within and without. If I’m supposed to be a peace-maker, what good will I be doing if my personal anxiety is off the charts? If I’m supposed to “let it begin with me,” I better get my own act together (suddenly I’m anxious about messing up this whole peace-making gig). Maybe exercise will help, or a long walk in the woods, or a little something to take the edge off. Maybe prayer, meditation, or talking it out. Maybe helping others, or just tuning it all out. Maybe then I’ll be at peace enough with myself to have a shot at bringing peace to at least one other person? But then the kids are at each other’s throats again, and I’m flying off the handle again, and we’re back to square one.

I wonder if the shepherds in the Christmas story thought about this kind of thing. After all, times may change, but people are still people. Shepherds in those days were considered filthy, thieving, low-lifes, which would probably lead to a mindset of me-against-the-world. Not exactly “Kumbaya” around the campfire while the sheep peacefully doze off. Maybe the shepherds could relate to the war within and without. Maybe they were dying for peace too.

And suddenly the sky exploded with terrifying light. A mysterious creature from another world appeared without warning, with the glory of God all around him, proclaiming joy, glory and peace. I’m guessing the sheep either died on the spot from fright, or fled for their lives, but the shepherds had more important matters now. The angels declared the good news of joy and peace: a gift from heaven to earth, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11).

Notice that the shepherds didn’t respond by singing “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” No, first they received the word of peace that was given to them by God. They received it, and they believed it. They didn’t need to sing “Let there be peace on earth” because it was already here, in the form of Baby Jesus. And they didn’t need to sing “and let it begin with me” but rather: “and it has begun with Him!” They received it, they believed it, and they ran and saw the Prince of Peace with their own eyes. Whether they were looking for it or not, they became recipients and messengers of peace from that day forward: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:20)

The peace that they longed for, and that we all long for, had finally come, and he came as a baby. God’s plan for peace on earth is not to instantly wipe out all war and anxiety (if he did that, we’d all be instantly gone!). God’s plan for peace on earth is to enter into our sin and mess (messier than even a stable) and take it upon himself, ultimately on the cross. When we receive his gift of forgiveness by faith, we have eternal peace with God, and then we too can become agents of God’s peace. God’s plan for peace on earth began with Jesus, so we can have peace with God, peace with others, and even peace within ourselves. That’s how peace on earth is happening even now.

I don’t know about you, but I can already feel my anxiety calming, knowing that peace on earth doesn’t depend all on me. If you belong to the Prince of Peace, you too can receive and make peace on earth, because it has begun with Jesus.

Baptisms!

We had 2 recent baptisms, so congratulations to Pete and Brendan. Both of these guys professed their new faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and their eagerness to follow Him. We are so thankful!

 UPDATE: On June 30 we had three more people baptized and received as members! 

If  intyou areerested in baptism, which Jesus calls us to do when we follow him, please see Pastor Bob.

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The Right Kind of People

by Rev. Dale Edwards – ABC Vermont/New Hampshire Region Minister

Circa 1993-94, my former church was stabilizing after a season of growth. It seemed as though God had brought people through the doors; non-Christians searching, finding Christ kind of people. Bruised, confused, disillusioned, dysfunctional people kept arriving. The new arrivals acclimated; some found Christ, some made recommitments to Christ, some just worked on their issues and passed on through, but maybe two thirds stayed. In this mix a new Christian community came into being. I sometimes thought, or wondered, how Dartmouth PhDs and homeless shelter residents worshipped together, partook of potlucks, prayed, studied and talked together. I regarded this as a small miracle.

However, my view of the miraculous was not shared by everyone. A well-meaning church leader expressed the concern that too many of the new arrivals “brought nothing to the ministry”. There were too many kids that squirmed in pews, managed by exhausted single mothers. There were too many college students and too many recovering addicts, too many working poor and hourly wage earners. Yet my efforts to name a couple of doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, engineers, nurses, and even some well-off retirees, was met with the refrain “Not enough. We don’t have enough of the right kind of people. We need stable professional families. A church’s future isn’t found in the kind of people we seem to attract”.

Now, as a pastor, I admit some people require more energy than others. I will admit it is good to add a couple of healthy tithing families. And, yes, to have a few mature Christians land on the doorstep is a pastor’s rich blessing. But, why am I grieved by the leader’s comments? Because God brings us people. He calls and challenges us to serve those he brings: to share Christ, to extend grace to those who have received little. And in Christ, we invest our trust, that those Christ brings to us are the ones for this season of ministry. He asks us to serve, to teach, and to love, as Christ loved us.

Examining my own heart, making finite, ragged attempts to love all, I don’t know who is “the right kind of person” to be embraced by Christ, as I too am receiving such forgiveness, grace and mercy. I still worry that if ministry and mission is only a transactional relationship, how dim my vision of Jesus has become.

What’s Your Best News?

Bad news seems to grab most of the headlines, but what about Good News? What’s the best news you’ve ever heard? For me, one that ranks pretty high is what we called “Two Pink Lines.” The pregnancy test showed one pink line for Not Pregnant, and two pink lines for Pregnant. So seeing the Two Pink Lines for the first time after a long wait was good news indeed. We even made up a silly song about it. My life would never be the same after that, and of course that culminated months later with more Good News: “Its a boy!”

But what about you? What’s the best news you’ve ever heard?

Perhaps it was when you heard or said “Yes” to the long-awaited marriage proposal. For us I remember hiking together on the side of our favorite mountain during a beautiful sunset, and stopping at the edge overlooking the valley. I stumbled through some now-forgotten but heartfelt words, popped the question, popped open the ring box, and quickly snapped it shut (so the ring wouldn’t go flying off the edge of the cliff). We couldn’t wait to share the news of our happiness with everyone. Actually, in my excitement leading up to that night, I couldn’t help but divulge the news to anyone I would run across, so she was nearly the last to know.

There’s all kinds of possibilities for good news. Maybe your best news was when the doctor gave the all-clear, giving you a new lease on life. When once there was only darkness and the threat of death ahead, now the light breaks through to new possibilities. Suffering had finally given way to health and strength. I’ve known this kind of Good News too, and it was indeed life-changing.

Perhaps your best news was when the war was finally over, and the troops were sent home. When once death and destruction were constant threats, now peace reigned and families were reunited. Those who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice made it all possible.

Or perhaps you heard those magic words: “You’re Hired!” All your hopes and dreams of a fulfilling career had finally come to pass, and things were looking up like never before. The purpose and passion of your life was becoming a reality.

Maybe for you it was when the judge declared “Not Guilty” and you or your loved-one was finally set free. Somehow, some way, by some miracle of justice or mercy or both, incarceration gave way to freedom.

So what’s the best news you’ve ever heard? The best news that I know of is all of these things rolled into one: the gospel of Jesus: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

The word “gospel” simply means “good news,” and if you stop and think about it, this really must be the Best News Ever. Just like the good news of pregnancy and new life is thrilling, so the good news of new spiritual life is eternally life-changing. The culmination of human love in a marriage is good news indeed, and yet God’s perfect love for you is even better. The personal resurrection found in a terminal illness being cured is like nothing else, except the eternal spiritual resurrection that God offers you in the gospel. The news of a peace treaty can change history, and the good news of Jesus achieving peace between you and God changes your eternity. The good news of new job opportunities can set you on a new path, and yet the best news of God’s love and forgiveness sets you on the path to God himself. And the good news of being declared innocent and set free is indeed liberating: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

If you don’t agree that the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the best news ever, then perhaps you haven’t understood it yet. There’s lots of confusion and misunderstanding about the true gospel out there, but in its essence it is quite simple. If you would like to learn more, ask questions, or receive this Best News for yourself, I would be honored to help. Please stop by the church, join us for a Sunday morning worship service (10:30am) or call us at 802-442-2105 and it would be a great joy to talk and pray together.

May the Good News of Jesus’s love for you be the Best News you’ve ever heard.

The Story of St. Patrick

Happy St. Patrick’s day!  The real St. Patrick was one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, and some say one of the greatest people who ever lived. His story is amazing, and true. Here’s my re-telling of the true tall tale of St. Patrick.celtic-cross.jpg

Patrick spent most of his life in Ireland, but he was actually born in England, who were the enemies of Ireland.

Patrick was born around the year 390 – over 1600 years ago. His grandfather was a Christian pastor, and his family went to church, but he himself did not believe in God or believe in Jesus as his Lord and savior when he was young. When he was 16, his life changed forever: he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland, a wild and crazy place with wild and crazy people.

In Ireland he became a slave, and he was forced to work as a shepherd in the wilderness all alone. While he was all alone in the wilderness, he began to pray, remembering what he heard about Jesus when he was young. God answered his prayers, and eventually Patrick trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins, and in faith Patrick made Jesus the king of his life, turning from his sin and becoming God’s child. He remained a slave all alone in the wilderness, yet he trusted God and prayed day and night.

Eventually God spoke to Patrick in a wonderful dream, telling him to go back home to England. So Patrick escaped from slavery, and God protected him on his long walk across Ireland, and provided a ship that was sailing to England. God had rescued him twice: first from sin and death when he believed in Jesus, and now from slavery in a strange land.

Back home in England, Patrick joined the church, studied the Bible, and after many years became a pastor, leading his church. He was so full of Jesus’ love that he wanted to share it with everyone. Life was surely good for Patrick back home.

Eventually, God spoke to him in another dream, and this time it was much harder than before. God told Patrick to go BACK to Ireland, to the place where he was a slave, to the land of his enemies, a place with wild and crazy people who did wild and crazy and evil things. God wanted Patrick to share Jesus love with his enemies. What should he do?

People in his church surely told him that he should not go. They knew how wild and crazy and evil the Irish people were. They were sure no one would listen, and that Patrick would be hurt and killed. Yet Patrick obeyed God, because he loved God, and he loved the Irish people, even though they were the enemies of his people. He knew that Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Patrick knew that he must tell the Irish people that God loved them so much that He sent Jesus to die for them, and live again, and if they believe in Jesus they can have eternal life, be God’s children and know God’s love too.

And that is just what he did. Patrick sold his land and all his things and moved to Ireland, leaving the safety of his home in England. God protected Patrick from being killed by the wild and crazy and evil Irish people, although they did throw him in jail at times and did try to kill him! Patrick preached and taught the gospel all through Ireland. He told them to turn away from their false gods, turn away from their sin, and to believe in Jesus, the son of the one true God, who alone can save us from our sins. He used music and art to share the gospel. He took care of the poor. He prayed to God to heal the sick, and God did powerful miracles through him. They say he even used the 3-leaf clover, which is found in Ireland, to try to explain the Trinity, that there is one God in 3 persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God blessed Patrick, and through him many, many people became Christians in Ireland. He started about 700 churches and thousands of people had eternal life in Jesus. Patrick died and went to heaven at age 77, having served his whole life for the people who enslaved him, so they might have eternal life.

If St. Patrick was here, he might tell us his story, but he wouldn’t stop there. He would tell us an even better story. He might say something like this: “You know how I gave my whole life to serve those I loved, even though they were my enemies? I did it because Jesus gave his life for us, even though we were his enemies. I simply believed in him, received his forgiveness, and followed in his footsteps. Isn’t Jesus wonderful?”