This blog post is Part 15 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: September 3, 2023
When the doctor says, “It’s cancer!” What is your first thought?
When a spouse says, “It’s over!” What immediately goes through your mind?
When your boss says, “We are letting you go!” What’s your next move?
When a child says, “I don’t believe what you believe about God’s Word” What is your response?
What surprises came your way this week? Fear. Brokenness. Addictions. Uncertainty. Dilemmas. Responsibilities. Deadlines. Traffic. Financial woes. Drama. Gossip. Sickness.
Would it not be nice if, at 9p each Sunday evening, you received an email detailing what was to come this week – a heads-up on surprises and bad news and unexpecting pain. Well, unfortunately, I can’t make that promise to you. But... What if I could show you how to respond to cancer with, “I know God has a plan.” What if I could show you how to respond to a spouse’s decision to give up with, “I know God can get me through this.” I know this is what I want for my life. Is it too what you want for yours? Imagine such a life, when the bottom falls out, that your response is: "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!"
Today, we are continuing our series, it’s hard to believe, week 15 of May I Ask A Question? This is now the longest teaching series we have been in since my time as Pastor began. We continue today discussing an extremely important word that has appeared in several questions submitted.
I shared in week 14 of the May I Ask A Question? series that the word “joy” appears 300 times in Scripture. Well, the word “peace” appears 429 times in the Holy Scriptures. And in one particularly passage, it is a word Jesus used to promise His followers what was to come once He ascended back to heaven. As a matter of fact, Jesus uses the word peace several times in his final words to His disciples before He is arrested and taken to the Cross to die.
When Jack Barron, our Senior Adult pastor passed away, I shared at his funeral something very sweet that I witnessed while there in the hospital room with him and some of his family. He spoke to his son who was overseas over the phone asking for recommendations for his golf game... “Stop!” It has been documented that, upon his death bed, actor Humphrey Bogart whispered these final words: “I should have never switched from Scotch to Martinis!" In 1965, the last words spoken of Sir Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.” The visionary co-founder who inspired the world to want something even before they knew what it was, took Apple computers from a side job he launched in a garage to a company grossing $65 billion annually. You probably are aware that the genius creator passed away in 2011 at the young age of 56. His last words before passing were: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!” The musician, Bob Marley, too died at a young age. He was 36 when he made this final statement before his death: “Money can’t buy life.” In his final moments, inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin, gave these final words at the age of 84: “A dying man can do nothing easy.” And, in 1732, it was believed that French nun Louise Therese had already passed when the nurse stepped into the room to check on her. As was the religious custom of the time, a priest soon arrived and began praying over her as the hospital attendants covered her body in linens. While he was praying, Ms. Therese passed gas very loudly as she exclaimed: “A woman who can still fart is not yet dead!”
I wonder if you have considered, if blessed with the opportunity to leave those whom you love with final words, what would you say? Well, one of the last words Jesus says to His followers before going to the Cross is recorded in John 14:
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. John 14:27
I wonder why Jesus made such an offer? He could have promised to His followers: “My strength I give you.” After all, Jesus of all people understood what brutality and unfathomable pain was coming their way. He knew they would face persecution and beatings unlike has ever been seen before. However, Jesus did not offer to them strength as a remedy for what unimaginable pain was to come. Jesus too could have said something like: “My financial security I give you.” These followers of Christ Jesus would soon leave everything they once knew behind - their homes, their careers, their comforts, their friends, and their normal way of life never again to return. How would they live? What will be their livelihood? How will they take care of their families? How will they put food on the table? Money of course is such a necessity. But Jesus did not address this very real issue nor even offer a solution. Jesus could have said, “My wisdom I give you.” He knows that these followers will face tremendous challenges, be the recipients of jabs and hard questions and tricky adversities...
These disciples will be under the microscope, will be analyzed, scrutinized, cross-examined and dissected... Of course, they will be in need of tremendous wisdom. But this is not what Jesus offers to them in these final words. After Jesus makes these powerful statements to His followers, He prays for them. He too prays for all believers, and then, He is arrested. Jesus would never again speak corporately to His followers until after His resurrection. In the final recorded verse of Jesus’ words to His followers before praying over them, look at what He says to them: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
The meaning of the two uses of the word “peace” here in John 16 are so very important to our understanding as to what Jesus hopes for, and offers to, His disciples and for all disciples even unto this day: Peace /Greek/ Eirene = harmony; tranquility; safety; with an emphasis on a state of peace in the midst of strife and turmoil. This very well might be one of my favorite definitions in all of our deep dives into Greek and Hebrew. Jesus is revealing that the peace He offers to you is, yes, that of harmony and tranquility and safety. However, His peace goes beyond a position of calmness and serenity. Notice - the very peace Jesus offers is a calmness and serenity in the midst of strife and turmoil. Jesus was fully aware of what His disciples would soon be facing as a result of their allegiance to Him. And, an all-knowing God, knew what it was of which they would most be in need.
Jesus knew then what His followers needed most. Jesus knows now what I need most too.
This means that today, for you my friends, you too have the promise from Christ Jesus to receive more than His strength and financial security and wisdom. Above all of this, is the promise: I can receive the peace of Jesus Christ in the midst of my personal strife and turmoil. Easier said than done, I know. This is why I want to offer to you today a practical remedy to helping you develop a healthy routine of discovering and maintaining peace within your life, predominantly when in the midst of strife and turmoil.
Notice in this passage what Jesus states that He does not give to you: “I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27. What does He mean with such a statement? What kind of peace does the world offer to us? As I have thought of this all week, I would say that the world’s peace is much less of a spiritual focus and one that is self-focused and conditional. When we hear of the mainstream world speaking of peace, they often mean “peace in avoiding conflict,” or the process of one attaining “inner peace with oneself,” or simply a “state of nirvana.”The mantra of peace of which the world speaks is merely a mirage that vacillates on circumstances. If life is going well, then I feel at peace. When things get sideways, peace dissipates. Such a peace is fleeting and short-lived at best. The peace Jesus offers is one that is at odds with the world. Ironically, the peace of Jesus is optimally manifested amid persecution, pain, tribulation, and tears.
In 2009, I preached at a weekend conference held at First Baptist Church Maryville, Illinois. This is the church where, just a few months after I had been there, Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed during a morning worship service. I met Pastor Winters while I was preaching at his church. He was such a kind man. I returned to preach at his church a few years after his death. This was 11 years ago. While de-boarding a Hilton shuttle bus in Illinois, I slipped on some ice on the shuttle’s steps and fell hitting my lower back against the bottom step of the shuttle.... We believe it was that fall that began a journey of pain that we are still on; one that I have spoken briefly about in previous times with you. I have also shared with you that this pain, over the last 11 years, has become my new normal. Well, as of this summer, the new normal has brought upon us on another health challenge. While on vacation this summer, I experienced several episodes, seizures, that were understandably extremely concerning to our family. Thus began two months of doctors and examinations and more. We found out last week that I have an enlarged heart – an enlarged aorta; actually an aortic aneurysm... which is, as you can imagine, extremely concerning to us. This news has taken us back a little. There is much more to the news, and I am sure we will share more as we move forward and how this will impact life and the future for us.
I share this with you for two reasons: First, please pray for us – for my health. I know you will. Secondly, I too share this because today, I am going to answer a question submitted that is as much for me as it is for you. We all can relate to this question, because we all have those moments that come out of nowhere, blindside us and leave us wondering: “God, can you handle this?” “God, can I trust you with this?” “God, are you going to walk with me through this?”
So... let’s talk through this... here’s another question in our May I Ask A Question? series: I am a Christian, however it is so hard for me to surrender my concerns and anxieties to the Lord and rest in His peace no matter the outcome. How do I do this. I want to answer this question with 4 words. Here’s the first:
There are three things that happened to me during my first semester of school as a freshman at Belmont University - - three things that I hope I never forget. Now, before I tell you about the three, I’ll timidly say this too: My father-in-law, Jim Bryson, probably isn’t crazy about two of these things. The first thing I did – pierce my ear. I asked my daddy, while still a senior in high school if I could pierce my ear. His response, “Not while living in my home!” So, once I was no longer living in his home, I pierced my ear! The second thing I did – run for class officer as our Freshman Class President. I had never been a class officer before. I just decided that first month of school that I would like to be in collegiant politics. So I ran. And to my surprise, I won, and thus began a career of being class president during my time at Belmont. The third thing I did – notice Amy Bryson. And boy did I notice her! The first time I saw her was after cheerleading practice! She was wearing black shorts and a grey Belmont short-sleeve t-shirt. And, like I’ve often said: “One look was all it took because I was diggin’ that girls chili!” And... the rest is history!
I remember the night before our inaugural Class Officers meeting. (I shared a brief synopsis of this the night I was voted as Senior Pastor @ DF.) I was SO VERY NERVOUS! I had never led a group of leaders before. I didn’t know how to lead. I didn’t know in which direction I should lead. I didn’t even know these people and found myself in a place of extreme anxiety wondering, “Will I lead well? Will they even follow my lead? What was I going to say? How does a Godly leader lead.” I had all of these questions and stress and... I remember that night before our first meeting, I was reading my Bible in my dorm room, and I read this verse: Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. Proverbs 16:3
I decided that this would be the perfect way for us as Class Officers to begin our time of serving at BU. I’ve never forgotten that moment in that conference room above the Student Center in Conference Room A, reading this verse to them – professing:
I acknowledge, I cannot lead well if I do not follow first.
And when I acknowledge that God is best suited and able to lead my life, the focus of my life shifts from me to Him. The focus of my challenges shifts from me to Him. The focus of my successes shifts from me to Him. I acknowledge that God, not me, is best positioned to lead my life. And in doing so, I find a true freedom in releasing my very life into His control; into His hands. The end result: The sweet spot of living a life absorbed in the peace of God. You see...
A God-focused leader is a God-first follower.
Commit /Hebrew/ galal = to turn over. And when one chooses to “commit,” or “to turn over” one’s life to God’s leading, we see this promise that assures us that God, not man, will establish our plans. Establish /Hebrew/ kun = to set in place; to make secure.
Let me ask you to answer this question this morning: What is my greatest burden today? I find that most of my burdens and fears and anxieties and perplexities are often immersed in fear - - fear over uncertainty; fear over failure; fear over acceptance; fear over rejection. This week, I have worked to allow this verse I found for the first time in 1987, during my first semester of college, to give me peace by “turning over” my greatest burdens to God. You see... As I acknowledge that God can do a better job with my life than can I, I realize that, even if He does not remove the burden in my life, He will give me a peace in the midst of strife and turmoil as He sets in place and makes secure my plans for His glory and for my good. I want to encourage you to strive at arriving at such a destination with your burdens this week. But take note! The key to getting there, and staying there, hinges upon this next word:
Tennis great Novak Djokovic, undoubtedly the greatest player to ever play the game is currently #2 in the world. If you follow tennis then you know this. Djokovic has been ranked ATP world No. 1 for a record total of 389 weeks in a record in 12 different years and has finished as the ATP year-end No. 1 a record seven times. He is currently 36 years of age and is competing at the highest level, even though he is playing against men much younger. Spanish tennis great Carlos Alcaraz, who is presently ranked ATP #1, is 20 years old and has become the latest Djokovic rival to dethrone him from #1. Both are presently competing in New York at the US Open. It is thrilling to watch the two, and it is quite possible, that at this time next week, if play continues as many predict throughout this week, some of you will undoubtedly have your phones in your laps pretending to be listening to me while actually watching these two fight it out on center court at the US Open finals next Sunday morning! After winning this past week, Djokovic was asked, “How do you continue to compete at age 36 against young men such as Alcaraz who have younger hearts, and lungs and legs? Djokovic stated in his Serbian accent: “Obviously it takes a tremendous amount of constant sacrifice. I daily immerse myself into practice and pain to push past my age and do whatever is necessary to put me into a position to be successful.” Novak Djokovic, ATP #2
I think we each understand the power of Djokovic’s words more than we might allude. Each of us immerses ourselves into those things of importance to us. Some such things in which we immerse our lives can be of great benefit to ourselves and to others, such as serving at Church, or community involvement, or simply the act of routine exercise. And yet, other interests into which one might immerse themselves can be unhealthy, addictive or even lethal to our well-being.
Solomon wrote to his son to say this: Proverbs 2:1-8. Notice the hard steps of action that are required to know and to understand the will of the Lord. Solomon goes on to say in Proverbs 3:1-2. As we do the “work of pain” to stay in the Word, the end result is peace – peace and prosperity! So I believe the application of this word requires of you and me to take a personal evaluation of priorities. As you do, consider this extremely important thought: Do I consistently immerse myself into God’s Word? Such an exercise can be painful.
Time in God’s Word often reveals to me areas of my life that are in need of attention, that require conditioning, and should compel me to accept modification. But in so doing, the Lord promises the end result is a life peace.
As you know, we are renovating our historic and unique Worship Center. Before the white oak wood floor went down this week, we immersed the Worship Center in Scripture. We covered both the ground floor and balcony floors with actual pages of the Bible. As a matter of fact, an entire Bible of Scripture covered the floor foundation, and then the hardwood was placed over it. So until this wood floor comes up, most likely, generations and generations from now, any time anyone who walks over our Worship Center floor, they will literally be stepping onto God’s Holy Word. What excites me is that every time we join together corporately in the Worship Center, we gather standing on God’s Holy Word. We will be immersed in His Word both as we study the Holy Scriptures and stand upon His Words.
In MDWK winter 2023, we had a wonderful study: The Way to Pray. We discussed the attributes of a healthy prayer life. Well, we want to continue our focus on prayer with MDWK this fall as we study: Praying with desire for the Church, the family, the community and the world. In this 4-week series, we are going to focus our hearts on specific prayers for our church, our families, our community, and the world. I hope you will make plans now to join us for MDWK beginning Wednesday, September 13!
One of my favorite verses about prayer is: 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. Philippians 4:6-7
Again, the question we are working through today: I am a Christian, however it is so hard for me to surrender my concerns and anxieties to the Lord and rest in His peace no matter the outcome. How do I do this?
The answer to this question, though not always easy to reason nor to rest in is found in the words Paul wrote here to the Church in Philippi: Look again: 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. Philippians 4:6-7. Paul offers to us in three simple words revealing the answer to this question about finding peace no matter the outcome. Do you see the three words: 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. Philippians 4:6-7. Repeat: In every... situation! I am not so sure this is our go-to in times of need... in times, as Paul eloquently describes...... of anxiousness, anxiety, brokenness and uncertainty!
We are to simply... pray.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15
This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:9-13
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24
The final word today:
Sports are so fun! I had so very much fun this weekend watching college football for the first time since January! And now we get college football 4 nights a week for the next 4 ½ months! In full disclosure, I have to tell you that this is a bittersweet weekend for our family. This is the very first Labor Day of my entire life that I have not spent the weekend on Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, AR. Each year growing up, and even until this day the entirety of my life I have anticipated the final time on the lake each summer with my Arkansas family. They are there right now. I have countless memories growing up with grandparents and cousins and my parents and my brothers spending the weekend on one of the Ozarks most beautiful spots! When my doctor told me, due to my very new heart issue that I could not drive due to sitting for an extended period of time and the dangers of blood clots in my lungs, I knew this meant that we would not be traveling west this weekend. I told my older brother just this past Wednesday that we would, sadly, not be joining them. He said, “Well, I hope you can still watch football!” Isn’t so very funny how so very many of us place such a huge emphasis on football in the fall! I have spoken with so many people this week who too are excited that football season is finally here. Maybe football is not your thing. But I presume there is something in your life, if not football, upon which you place a tremendous amount of emphasis and attention and time and passion.
Look back at Philippians 4:6-7: 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. Paul is reminding us of this:
Upon the priority of prayer in its proper place of attention in my life rests my ability to achieve the highest position of peace in my life.
Notice something critically important the Paul does not state. Paul does not say:Present my requests to God and, upon God answering such requests, I will receive the peace of God. No, this is not the decree of Paul. Instead, Paul says: Present my requests to God and, such requests, whether God chooses to or not to fulfill my requests, I will receive the peace of God. And... I will receive such peace when I present my prayers and petitions with... Thanksgiving. Here we see:
There is a direct correlation between a heart of gratitude and a life of peace.
As we finish, I am reminded here by Paul, that.. Regardless of my circumstances, regardless of what God chooses to do or not to do with my life’s challenges, it is expected of me as a follower of Jesus to place my requests with thanksgiving at His feet. And in doing so I am promised peace.
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.