Still feeling the “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men?”  Or are you already staring some tough situations or people in the face with a big sarcastic “WhatEVER!”
We just passed the time of year when the word “peace” was everywhere — on billboards, in greeting cards, in songs, and on decorations.  As we spent time with family and friends, I wonder how many people actually had it.  And now we head into this brand new year with most people desiring peace and closure to difficult yesterdays, while looking for ways to make tomorrow’s ventures and relationships, well… peaceful—full of peace.
This hangs on a wall in Mr. Condo
Since December 22nd, I was struck with some questions surrounding the real presence of peace.  Mike and I were reflecting together on some of 2010’s challenges.  CRAZINESS surrounded the sad, long-time-in-wait short sale of our Atlanta house.  But before the end of that chaos, we echoed a continual theme song – an anthem of peace:
“God above all the world in motion, God above all my hopes and fears, I don’t care what the world throws at me now – it’s gonna be alright! ‘Cause I know my God saved the day, and I know His Word never fails, and I know my God made a way for me… It’s gonna be alright!” ~Hillsong United 
And in the face of uncertainty, our family drew from a well-spring of peace that just didn’t make a bit of earthly sense.  We praised God for His faithfulness, and that season did come to a close without our hearts reeling in discouragement or our minds spinning restlessly with questions.  We gratefully closed out 2010 with great peace.
2011 has already had a soundtrack —a “theme verse”— ringing truth to some personal challenges that are in need of this unearthly peace: 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.” ~Philippians 4:8,9

You see, we had gone to bed the other night and turned off the light after praying for some people whom right now I am having a hard time loving (oof – it’s hard, but for the transparency of us all, I can admit this massive short-coming).
I sat straight up and shouted, “If!  (pause)  Mike!  There is ALWAYS an ‘if!'”
That scripture says to be thinking of the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable... and we read that list so fast that we either assume we already are, or we bypass it entirely, as if it may be completely impossible to succeed in thinking such unblemished, saintly thoughts over certain people or situations.  But if you keep reading, the em-dash HALTS the reader as if to say, “This next word is important, so pay particular attention!” And the em-dash escorts the reader, with a nice strong presence, to this very important little word – if.  Yep.  Two very small letters, “i” and “f.”  “if anything” (and that word “anything” covers a LOT of territory)…. keep going… “if anything is excellent”… and then the sentence even offers you another option if “excellent” doesn’t work for you… “or”… (two more little letters, “o” and “r” give a mighty punch and get you ready for the kicker)… ready?… “PRAISEWORTHY”… and THAT my friends is what the letters “i” and “f” led me to see.  There is always,  ALWAYS an “if.”  And THAT “if” is the very thing that deserves and needs the attention of the reader’s thought-life.

Praiseworthy.  Go through the layers of what you don’t like about another person, and the bottom line is that God’s thumbprint, the signature of the Creator, is on His created.  So, the very fact that He alone deserves to be praised gives reason to think much higher than human, negative thought or reason.
Here is the BEST part, though.  God never leaves the reader with just an “if.”  There is always a “then” which follows.  And as you read through to the next verse, I hope that it lands as powerfully on your soul as it did on mine as the words “And the” give us the “then.”  “And the”….  God of peace will be with you.  Ummmm… let me say that again.  And the God of peace will be with you.  Not, “you will feel peaceful.” Not, “everything will work out just fine.” Not even, “Now everyone will all agree together and be happy.” No, something FAR BETTER.  It is the very real entrance/presence of the God Who MADE the peace.  How comforting to know that God will be with you!  It is through Him that this more-than-a-feeling peace arrives.
Here is where I landed that night, and began anew in my thoughts and prayers every day since:
Peace is NOT the absence of conflict;

Peace is the presence of God.  

He is with me, and we walk through the conflict together.  So as it applies to a difficult relationship, I can know that God is capable to love that person through my lack.  And knowing that He has the power to do that work in me is freeing.  And truthfully, once The Praiseworthy One has been praised over another person’s life, you can start there, thinking about that person.  Go through the list backwards, and you will be surprised that many details from those other categories will strike your mind to begin “thinking on.”  Is this easy?  No.  Neither is exercising off 2010’s holiday cookies.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely!  Just as with regular exercise, the biggest changes are in my own body, well… the same is true in exercising the disciplines of the heart.  My heart will change.
In closing Part 1, FIND THE “if.”
And “then” … God.  God’s help.  God’s Favor.
He brings the… Peace.
I hope you will read Part 2, where we’ll apply this “Whatever” to the whatever we face — the good stuff and, well… all the rest.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:14