Asking an Arizona resident to “chill out” during the month of March isn’t exactly a stretch. The sun is out, the flowers — and baseball spring training — are in full bloom. And the weather is perfect for going on a hike or teaching a 5-year-old to ride without training wheels. What’s not to love about living in such an environment this time of year?
One look around, though, either at the nearest shopping plaza or on one’s news feed, can easily complicate that question. And obviously not just in Arizona but around the world, there is an uncertainty unlike any the population has ever experienced.
For believers, the prescription for finding peace in these turbulent times involves falling back on the love and grace of Jesus, then letting the world see what that looks like each day. Or, as Chad Moore, lead pastor of Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, put it in a recent sermon, “Let your ‘chill’ be evident.”
Pastor Moore and I discussed his sermon (embedded below at the end of the Q&A) in a telephone interview during the early stages of Arizona’s shelter-in-place directive. Although the discussion came in the context of 2020’s COVID-19 global pandemic, the conversation is relevant any time.
Troy Emenecker: This is obviously an unprecedented time for our country, for the world, with legitimate reason for people to be fearful. But in your sermon, it seems it seems to me you spun it around as a great opportunity for the church. Chad Moore: I do think it’s a great opportunity for the church. Right now, people are much more apt to tune in and think about spiritual things. God has our attention, and people are responding to that. This is a great opportunity for the church to be a voice of hope and truth.
TE: In your message, you spend a lot of time on Philippians 4:4-8, and in one part, you stress stress believers should “transcend understanding.” You say the “peace” Paul speaks of must start from within before it can be displayed. CM: God works it in, and we work it out. You cannot experience the peace of God until you experience peace with God. When we experience peace with God through faith in Jesus, it all starts there.
TE: You referenced Matthew 10:39: “dying to self so that you might live.” One phrase in your sermon stood out: “I want magic. God wants trust.” Gosh, it is so easy to have that magic mindset, not just now but any time. CM: We want magic because we want everything to revolve around us: our comfort, our feelings, our emotions, what we desire. But God doesn’t do magic. God does trust.
What God is looking for from us is surrender. Our surrender to what he’s doing, surrender to what he wants, surrender to what he desires. So, everything in life is this battle of wills, and when things aren’t happening in the realm of what we desire, we tell God, “Fix it, fix it, fix it.” Well, that’s magic.
God says, “Right now, we’re in the realm of what I desire,” and we have to decide Jesus, not my will, not my desire, but your desire be done. When we die to ourselves, a great peace actually comes to us because we’re acknowledging that we’re not in control, it’s not about us. There is a great God who is also good, and we can trust him, come what may.
I mean, if I were to die today, I would get a promotion. For me, as a believer in Jesus, dying is not a tragedy, it’s a triumph. I’m not trusting in my circumstances. I’m trusting in my Savior.
TE: Your answer leads right into the idea of peace being a with, not a where or a what. CM: Absolutely. Even when times are normal, we think, When I get there — which is the “where” — then I’ll be at peace. But we know that is not the case because peace is a with. It’s peace with God and with others.
All of life is about God and people. There is a myriad of lousy circumstances we can find peace in when things are right with God and right with people. Just like there are wonderful things where we are that we can’t experience if we’re not at peace.
TE: Philippians 4:6 talks about prayer with thanksgiving. Why is the thanksgiving part so difficult, yet so crucial? CM: It’s difficult because prayer is a with. If peace is about the presence of God, then experiencing the presence of God always begins with thanksgiving. Think about Psalm 100: “Enter his gates with Thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” The process God gave his people always begins with gratitude and praise. Gratitude, even from a psychological standpoint, releases peace in our bones, in our blood. It changes our emotions, our countenance. It always puts us on that “peace path.”
TE: What does the thanking and thinking prescription you spoke about look like right now in your house? CM: To take a moment to voice some of those frustrations I might have — to God, or usually to my wife — is helpful. But then you have to make the turn. In my times with God, I write my prayers in a journal. If I’m writing, it helps me focus. But I always begin with thanksgiving. What do I have to be grateful for today? Again, that’s how we enter into a place of worship and experience the presence of God.
I’ll voice some things to my wife, and she usually helps me with perspective. Peace is all about perspective. You really have to think about what you’re thinking about.
TE: Philippians 4:13 is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, but you talk about how it’s commonly taken out of context. What was the Apostle Paul really saying? CM: That whole passage, verses 12-14, is about peace. In verse 13, the statement, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” is really, “I can find contentment in any and every situation.” Paul really goes through all things, saying he’s had a lot and a little, and that dude went through some things. So, for him to say “in all things” has some teeth to it.
But verse 14 really jumped out at me: “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” And that’s why God actually gave us the church. We’re called to carry each other’s burdens. We’re called to share in each other’s troubles. Peace is about God and people. We’re not alone with our relationship with God or with people, and that truth is massive. It helps contentment and transcendent peace to show up.
TE: Do you think experiencing times of need and times of plenty help a person to better find peace? CM: Experiencing both need and plenty brings the perspective that peace is not a where or a what. If you’ve never experienced plenty, you think that peace is going to be found in plenty. If you have experienced plenty, you realize peace is not found there. When Paul was Saul, he was wealthy and had status, and yet later he experienced a joy in chains he had never experienced before. All those areas are connected, and those two elements — need and plenty — seem antithetical. And yet at the same time, peace is apart from both of them.
TE: What is the biggest way believers can tangibly show peace to those around them? CM: Paul says in Philippians 4:5: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Part of that word “gentleness” is a “calm/strong” that those of us who are followers of Jesus can liken to what Paul said later in the chapter: “I’ve been in plenty and in poverty, and I can be content in any situation.”
There’s a calm/strong that can be a powerful witness to others. There is a transcendent peace in the realm of that calm/strong that speaks volumes. It’s not a lack of wisdom, it’s not foolishness or “I’m going to be unafraid,” but instead it’s a “come-what-may” assurance because we have a God who is great, who is good.
I know him, I have a relationship with him. It’s all about his grace and mercy in my life, in and through the person of Jesus, and you can have that, too.
Troy Emenecker, Guest writer
Troy Emenecker is a freelance writer for Converge. He attends a Converge church in Mesa, Arizona.