(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Cultivate Peace,” part III of the Cultivate series. The video is also available to you.)
Now, let me tell you where we’ve been.
The last couple of weeks, we have been walking through how do we cultivate, kind of, the fruit of the Spirit? I wanna be the kind of person that, when someone sees my life, they experience those nine profound virtues. Jesus says, “You are gonna know who my disciples are by their fruit.” And in a culture where there’s so many things coming at us, we have to be the kind of people who are filled with the Spirit, who are bearing those nine fruits. So the first one was how do we cultivate love in a culture of self-interest?
Number two, last week, how do we cultivate joy in a culture of more? More angst and more stuff.
But today. Today we’re gonna look at how do we cultivate peace in a culture of pieces?
If you flip through the Scriptures, there is a concept, there is a word, there is an idea... that is a theme. And it is the idea of this word peace. It’s all throughout the Scriptures. Jesus interacts with it. Paul interacts with it. God is known for being this kind of God—a God of peace. But something has happened in our translation of this word. We have taken the Latin, pax, of this word to represent peace. And it’s kind of where we get the idea of pacify or pacifier. And many of us see peace as the absence of conflict. And many of us have been taught how to keep the peace. But I want you to understand a biblical view of what peace is, is something so much more.
There was a scholar who taught at Calvin College up in Michigan. He wrote an incredible book called Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. And he wrote this words about what peace is—what it really is. And he introduces us to a word that we are going to spend this morning unpacking. It says this:
The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice fulfillment and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or cease fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. A rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, and natural gifts fruitfully employed. A state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom He delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
Shalom is one of my favorite words ever. Just say it. Shalom. Don’t you just feel good saying it? It just has this ring to it. Shalom. And today, I wanna unpack for you what shalom truly is. How the Jewish people understood it. How Jesus interacted with this idea, this concept. And I want you to know that shalom is understood in five compelling ways. The first one is that it’s a greeting. Wholeness. Harmony. Complete. And it’s a place.
So what does this all mean?
I love learning. I love going to different places. And what I’ve come to discover is, when I find myself going somewhere, I just get fixated. I wanna know why and how someone does what they do. Recently, I had an incredible smoothie. I love smoothies. I love just, kind of, someone juicing a drink and serving it up. And I watch this person just legitimately take a brand-new piece of fruit and then just start to crush it. And as they started to crush it, something just started to come out. Which gets me—real quick, any of you feeling pressure today? Do any of you feel financially pressed? Any of you right now just feel emotionally pressed? Do any of you feel relationally pressed? Do any of you feel a little bit spiritually pressed? Do any of you find yourself in a situation where you’re feeling oppressed?
Let me just ask you for a second. What comes out? Because when it comes to fruit, the best stuff comes out when it’s pressed. What about you? What comes out when you’re pressed? Is it shalom? Is it the fruit of peace? Or is it an explicit word? Is it the raising of your fist? See, when an orange is pressed, the best things come out. Or a lime. Let’s try a lime. When it’s pressed, oh my goodness. Citrus for days. Just this, this is just gonna—oh, yeah! That’s everywhere. You know? It’s just terrible. A Honey Crisp apple? No, I’m not sacrificing that. That’s just, that’s the sheer goodness of God right there. But honestly, what comes out when you are pressed? It should be the best stuff! It should be shalom.
Because, I think about this. What would it be like if I just called one of you up here and said, “Um, excuse me, can you come here? Just put your arm right here.” Cause when we find ourselves with our backs up against the wall, we find our lives feeling the pressure of brokenness and pressure of our own addictions. The temptations of sin. The brokenness of those around us. The brokenness of the culture that we live in. What comes out of us?
And Hebrew people, Jesus, wanted it to be shalom. Wanted it to be peace. David writes in Psalm 34 verse 14, he says, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Seek shalom. Seek it in everything that you do. Pursue it at all costs. Because it is rich. It’s satisfying. When you understand the concept of what shalom means, what it embodies, what it represents, why it was so critical and crucial to Jesus and to Paul and the disciples... it will transform you. If you flip through Paul’s writings, he starts his letters by saying, “Grace and peace to you.” Those were his two words—grace and shalom. He would end his letters by reminding them, “May you live in peace. And may you remember the power of grace.” It’s just throughout his message.
Jesus interacted with this. And He’s gathering with His disciples at the end of His life. He says this 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.” Shalom I leave with you. My shalom I give to you. I do not give like the world gives. I don’t play the world’s games. And so, in any time you feel troubled, you feel pressed, do not be afraid, because with my peace, something better can arise. Something better can emerge. Something better can come out.
So what is shalom? Shalom, first and foremost, it’s a greeting. The first time I went to Israel, I landed in Tel Aviv. I got off the plane. I’m walking into the customs unit, someone looks at me and goes, “Shalom.”
And I said, “Shalom to you.” And I kept walking.
I see another person: “Shalom.”
And I said, “Shalom to you.”
After ten people said that to me, I stopped this man, he was a rabbi, I walked up to him and said, “Why does everyone tell me ‘Shalom?’”
He said, “It is the way that we greet. It is a way that we start every conversation. It is our hello, it is our goodbye, and it is everything in between.”
And I was like, “We don’t do that.” We do:
“How you doin’?”
Now walk away.
They have this whole beautiful idea of shalom. And I started to interact with those rabbis: “Well, what does it mean?”
He goes, “When you acknowledge shalom in the beginning of a conversation, you are declaring that God’s presence is here. It’s the power of shalom. And two, you are recognizing that there is an image of God, an image bearer, that you are interacting with. And in the midst of this conversation, you want the flourishing of this other person. And then, when you close the conversation, and you say, ‘Shalom,’ you are basically giving them a send-off prayer, that ‘May the presence of God be with you. May you walk in peace wherever you go.’”
Shalom is a greeting. It is a hello, it is a goodbye, it is everything in between. What happens in between? Number two: Shalom is about wholeness. Wholeness. See, for many of us who have experienced some incredible trauma, we’ve had moments where our lives have just experienced such deep woundedness, some deep, deep pain, and we’ve found ourselves, at all costs, wanting to walk away from these areas where we might be pressed. We don’t wanna be near it. It’s been too painful. And maybe, right now, even in your own story, maybe your parents were alcoholics. Maybe your parents were emotionally or physically or spiritually abusive. Maybe you’ve encountered someone who has slandered and gossiped against you. And maybe you have chosen—I don’t wanna engage in any form of community or relationship because, you know what? I might get hurt. And so we just remove ourselves from it, and just choose to go, you know what? God just wants my salvation.
And I want you to understand something. Jesus wants you to be in heaven. But Jesus doesn’t wanna just rescue your soul; He wants to rescue every part of who you are. He wants everything within you to be redeemed, to be restored, to be made new. Every broken part of your story. Every painful, traumatic event. Every time you felt neglected and let down. Everything that you have chosen to make you feel like you have arrived or that you are somebody. He wants to redeem and restore. And to the Hebrew mind, that was shalom. It was the whole self, the whole body, the whole person, being fully surrendered to a holy God.
And for some of us, we have been taught to not go there. To just stuff it. That’s why we have basements—we just put it all in the basement. We hide it. We don’t let anybody know about it. And, friends, that’s just keeping the peace. That’s not wholeness. That’s trying to keep it, and we have learned this—how to dance around the chaos. And some of us are very good at it. We’ve learned how to walk on eggshells. We’ve learned how to suppress ourselves so that we don’t get pressed.
And I want to tell you: wholeness and shalom is about the redemption of every part of you. How do you do it, though? How do you do it? Paul will say in Colossians 3:15 that we need to “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts.” Let the shalom of Christ, let the wholeness of Christ’s message, of His story, rule, take leadership and reign in our hearts. But, for many of us, we don’t trust it. Or, Paul will say in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, “May God Himself, the God of peace,”—The God of shalom—“sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This isn’t just about you getting your soul cleaned up to get to heaven. This is every part of you, here and now, being made whole. But we live in a culture of pieces. Pieces. Not the whole self. Not the whole story. Not the whole book. Not the whole Scriptures. Not the whole life. We live in a culture of pieces.
To be honest, I’ve always wanted to have a cooking show. The problem is I can’t really cook. But I want to so bad. I just think that they’re fascinating. And here’s what I mean. Let’s just say your life is like a carrot. You have been brought to this earth. You have this incredible orange look to you. You taste good. You’re good in salads. And, all of a sudden, we do this thing where we cut ourselves up. And we start—see that? See that right there? See how you do that? That’s a cooking show right there. That is a cooking show. But here’s the problem. Some of us don’t bring our entire selves to a conversation. We don’t bring the fullness of who we are. Some of us just bring a couple pieces, don’t we? And we just, over here, at work, we’ll just bring this little piece of us. And, over here, with our neighbors, we’ll bring this little piece with us. And over here, with these friends who don’t go to church, we’ll just bring this part of us. And the problem is nobody gets to see the full us.
Something I’ve started to see, though, is, for many of us, we don’t even just, kind of, bring certain parts of us, we find ourselves going, “You know what? I don’t really like the carrot. I just would, I’m not, I’m gonna sometimes bring a little bit of carrot over here, cause that seems to get accepted. I’m gonna bring a little bit of asparagus over here, cause this person, my boss, really likes asparagus.”
And we find ourselves just trying to be what everybody else wants us to be. No conflict. No, like, upsetting the eco system. Just being what this person wants me to be. This person needs me to be. And stuffing what God intended us to be. Just pieces and pieces and pieces. And the truth is, God has called us to wholeness. By His Spirit, He wants to sanctify you through and through. He wants to wash you, clean you, heal you, restore you, renew you. So, wherever you go, you can be fully you. Here’s the promise. I want to be someone, the same person on stage that I am offstage. I want to be the same person who talks trash about sports, who loves people, who’s accessible, who cares deeply about God’s Word.
But there was a season in my life where I’d find myself going over to a neighbor’s house, and I’d walk over with the cooler, and I would sit there, and they didn’t even know I was a pastor. And I would sit there, and I would engage in a conversation. And I’d hear them, and I’d see them, and I’d hear them talking. And I would just sit there, and I wouldn’t know what to do. And you know what I did? I just said, “Ah, you know what? I’m just gonna give them a little bit of a piece. I don’t want them to understand that I’m a pastor, cause maybe they’ll just actually push me to the side.”
And then someone said to me, “Do you wear your wedding ring on business trips?”
I’m like, “Yeah, of course.”
“Well, why don’t you let people know who the most important person is in your life?”
And I was like, “Man.”
I think, somehow, inside of us, we’ve just started to have a little piece here, and at work, a little piece here, and a little piece here. On weekends, maybe I’ll let someone see the whole side of who I am. But we’re just all of these pieces. And I just started getting to this point where I think God wants us to show up as our whole person, our whole self.
Let me ask you. Are you living as a whole creation, fully devoted? Or are you just kinda broken off into little pieces, just saying, “I don’t wanna upset these people. I don’t wanna be this person. I don’t wanna...”?
And please, let me just say this, I’m not asking you to be like the annoying Christian at work. Not asking you to be like, you know, walk in with like a bull horn and be like, “Hey! Go to Willow!” No, I’m not asking you to be that guy. Okay? But I’m asking you to be you. If you love Jesus, people should see that fruit. They should know that.
But, for many of us, whether we’re at our neighbors’, at a Starbucks, at our workplace, we just give little pieces, little pieces. I think God wants all of us. Our whole self. Our whole body. Our whole story. All of the brokenness. All of the beauty. Submit it. Shalom is a greeting. Hello. Goodbye. It’s everything in between. It’s this picture of wholeness.
More than that, shalom is harmony. Can I tell you the worst gift to give someone with kids? An instrument. And I know some of you in this room, you think it’s hilarious. You love to give your kids and your grandkids this gift. And you say, “You know what, son? You should have this gift for your kid.”
And your son or your daughter is so angry with you because, at 4 a.m., this kid is just walking around the house, playing, strumming. And the truth is, these small little guitars? They can never be in tune.
My daughter is fascinated with Moana. She changes all of the lyrics. I wish I could be a perfect otter, a mussy carter. And like, she sings this song. And it’s adorable, right? It’s totally off key. It’s adorable. But then, at 6 a.m., she finds a guitar that is not in tune. Which makes her have to sing louder. And play louder. And it’s just terribly annoying. And it gives me a massive headache. And I’m like, “Thanks a lot, father-in-law.”
Shalom was this sense of harmony. Shalom was this sense of walking in tune. Shalom was this reality that God is present and active in every conversation. And we, we can play in tune. Or we can step outside and be out of tune.
Have you ever had those moments when, you know you’re in this conversation, and it’s holy ground? And you’re engaging with a person. Maybe they don’t know God. Or maybe they’re going through a really difficult situation. Or maybe they’re finding themselves being captured by grace and by peace. And you just see God has put you there for a reason. And, all of a sudden, you have a choice. You can stay in rhythm and in tune and in harmony, or you can say, “Uh, sorry, I gotta check my phone. I gotta leave.”
There is this beautiful sound, this beautiful song, that God is writing all the time. And the Hebrew poets, they saw it, they heard it, they felt it in their bones, they leaned into it. And the truth is, many of us, we’re unaware of that song. That beautiful hum. We miss it. But sometimes, we step into it. We feel being in tune and in step with God. It’s like you’re just walking with Him. You feel His power. You feel His presence. That’s that peace. That’s that shalom. That’s that being in harmony with God’s plan and God’s desire for your life. That is a thrill that you can’t take for granted.
Shalom, it’s a greeting. Hello. Goodbye. It’s everything between. It’s the work for wholeness. It’s a harmonious song. But it’s more than that. Shalom is about being complete. Complete.
I wanna give you a couple drawings to help you understand this.
The best way that I know how to describe the gospel is that you have this incredibly good, good Father. And God sends His Son to die for you and I. And when He dies for us, the grace on that cross that’s poured out for us—like I said earlier, it’s not just about so that we can get to heaven. It’s more than that. It’s about wholeness and healing of you. It’s about making you complete. And then the dream is that you and God, you and God, me and God, can actually work to love and live in shalom and peace with others and to live in shalom and peace with creation. This is what God is up to. This is what God is doing. But, the truth is, many of us in this room, there are areas in our life where we have blocked and we have stuffed and whenever we do that, it blocks our ability to engage with God fully with other people. It blocks our ability to engage fully with our world.
You know who some of the bravest people to me in this church are? Those that, on Wednesday nights, attend Recover. Cause they’re honest about their brokenness. They’re honest about their struggle. And, let’s just be true, let’s just get it out of the way. Every one of us in this room is an addict. I’ll say it again: every one of us in this room is an addict. There is something in which we turn to, we run to, we go to, other than God. And, for some of us, we have this block in our story, and it stops us and prevents us from engaging with others. Sometimes, it even prevents us from engaging with God. And it prevents us from engaging with issues in our world. Like I said, God wants to sanctify you. Grace wants to be poured out, wants to heal this, so that every time we engage with others, every time we engage with issues in our world, every time we engage with God—gosh. It’s there. It’s complete. It’s real.
Let me ask you. Is there a breakdown in a relationship right now that you have? Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s a child. Maybe it’s a coworker. Maybe it’s a friend. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone.” Make every effort... to live in shalom, to live in wholeness.
And, oftentimes, the things that prevents us from actually engaging with other people is our own struggles. Sometimes our struggles are simply, “Ah, man, I’ve been taught to suppress. And I don’t know how to actually start to speak up for what I need.” Or “I’ve been taught that my voice doesn’t matter—I don’t know how to actually speak up for that.” Or, “You know what? This person has hurt me, and I don’t know how to actually address conflict.” Or “I’m too codependent. I need too much from this person.” Or “I haven’t been trustworthy with someone.”
But the gift to actually make every effort to live in shalom means that we have to make every effort to live in shalom with ourselves. And you can’t just put it on every other person, say, “Oh, you know what? They’re the problem.” Sometimes they are. But, the truth is, you can always learn something.
I remember this person was brought to my life. And they were... they were difficult. They were really, really difficult. My wife, as brilliant as she is, said to me, “How good is God?”
And I said, “What do you mean? I’m just telling you about this difficult person in my life.”
And she just looks at me and goes, “How good is God? He wants every part of you to be so healed and redeemed that He brought someone into your life who reminds you of someone who hurt you so that you can’t run away from it.”
And I was like, “Get behind me, Satan!”
No! She was exactly right! And, the truth is, God does not want you to have someone in your life where there’s, it’s not okay, it’s not complete, it’s not whole, you’re not one with them, there’s not peace. He wants us to be the kind of people that actually have health and wholeness and reconciliation. He wants us to have shalom. And, sometimes, He’s gonna put some props in our life who remind us of the past and the brokenness that still needs healing. And if you keep running away from that person, the goodness of our Father’s gonna go, “Oh, it’s cool. I’ll put another person in your life. And another person. And another person. And another person. And another person. Until you make every effort to be complete and trust that broken, scared, hurt place to Me.”
Friends, if you want shalom in your life, you gotta be honest with your actual life. It’s hard. It’s hard, sometimes, walking into a counselor’s office. It’s hard being honest and human. It’s hard, at times, saying, “I don’t know.” Or, “I don’t have all the answers.” Or, “I’m scared.” It’s hard. I know. But the truth is, it makes you more dependent on God. And, all of a sudden, you have greater empathy, greater gratitude, greater understanding of shalom and dual narratives, so that you can actually go out and live this.
One other drawing for you. Peace, in the Scriptures, really is a Venn diagram. You have shalom, but you can never separate shalom from justice. And you could never separate shalom and justice from God’s righteousness. Shalom is how things ought to be. Justice was that these things should be available to all people. And done in God’s right way—right order, right design. And when these three happened, the Scriptures will say, “Salvation was near. Good news would happen.”
And, for some of us, man, if we don’t have this vision, or this vision, or this vision, you might do good acts of kindness and compassion, but you’re not gonna have justice. And there might be a moment where you’re like, “I think this feels good to me,” but it might not be God’s righteousness. And when you bring these three together—oh. That’s when good news comes in. Shalom—it’s a greeting. It’s hello. It’s everything between hello and goodbye. Shalom is wholeness. God wants every part of you restored. Shalom is harmony—living in tune with the song that the Father is writing.
Shalom is about us being complete, making every effort to be right with others. And Shalom, my friends, is a place. Last week, I told you about Revelation 21 and 22, where there would be no more weeping, no more mourning, no more death. And you know what that place is? It’s the new Jerusalem. And Jerusalem means “the City of Wholeness.” The City of Wholeness. That’s where it’s all going. That’s where our life is going. The City of Wholeness. And where we live right now, it’s preparing us for that city.
So what we do on this earth, how we lean into the broken areas of our story, how we lean into those broken relationships in our lives, it matters. Because we will feel the pressures, the stress, the being pulled and stretched in this life. We will feel that. And my hope and my prayer is that the best stuff will come out—the wholeness, the goodness of God, will come out when we feel that.
So how do we do it?
Real quick, I’m gonna walk you through a couple things. Number one, real quick:
We cultivate shalom by choosing God’s wholeness over self-preservation. Friends, everything inside you is gonna say, “Don’t go near that pressure.” But, you know what? If you trust God and you depend on God and you believe, you know what? God, you wanna do something inside me. Heal me. Make me whole. Sanctify me through and through. I wanna bear the best kind of fruit for you. If you trust God’s wholeness over your self-preservation, it will transform your relationship with God, your relationship with others, and your relationship with yourself and the world.
Two: you’ve gotta be able to name the root. Any of you like math in this room? None of you. Awesome. Well. I do! So for thirty seconds, just bear with me. What’s this sign called? Okay, square root. But it was first given the name the radical. Radical got high jacked in the 80s by BMX riders, and now by the news for extremists. But radical literally means to return to the root. And every one of us, we have to name those obstacles and those barriers: the things that we’re afraid of, the things that we wanna preserve—our self, our ego, our fears—we have to name that. Be honest with that. Lean into that. Surrender that to God. You gotta choose God’s wholeness if you wanna cultivate shalom over self-preservation. And you gotta name the root of that boulder, that barrier, that obstacle.
Number three: you cultivate shalom by being the same person everywhere, always. Everywhere. Always. Whether you’re at a restaurant, whether you’re at a stoplight, whether you’re at the DMV or the Secretary of State. Wherever you are, whether you are standing at the TSA line, whether you are finding out that your plane just got cancelled. When you find yourself frustrated, what comes out? Don’t be the kind of person that just gives a little piece of you here, a little piece of you here, a little piece of you here. Be the same whole, integrated Christ follower everywhere, always.
And lastly, you do this, you cultivate shalom by marinating in Ephesians 2:12–22. And what I want you to do right now is I want to read that passage to close our time together. I want to read it over you. It’s not gonna be up on the screen. You’re not gonna be able to read it. Something inside you might want to check out. Might wanna, like, “Oh! I can get to my car first.” Please, don’t walk away from this. What I want you to hear in these words is who Christ is. What Christ has done for you. What peace and shalom is all about. And I pray that these words, if you would just sit in them, they would remind you, they would pastor, they would inspire you, they would provoke you, they would somewhat pester you into the man, the woman, the son, the daughter that Christ intends you to be. Because this world is not—it’s not what God has intended it to be. And He’s entrusted it to us by His Spirit because of His Son to make this world what it can be. That’s what Shalom is.
So. Ephesians chapter 2. Would you stand? Maybe you wanna open up your hands. And maybe, as I start to read this, maybe there’s someone in your life right now that there is a wall up—that you are not engaging with. Can’t talk to that person. Maybe God, as I read this, is gonna say, “You gotta call that person.” Maybe there’s something inside your relationship with God—you just have not been allowing Him in a certain area of your life. Maybe as I read this passage, you’re gonna go, “Ah, man. I’ve almost been allowing myself to be absent of You, and wholeness of shalom means I gotta surrender it to You—all of me to You.” Maybe there’s an area in our world that you’re just seeing, “Gosh, there’s just so much pain, so much brokenness.” Maybe, as I read this over you, maybe you’re gonna find yourself going, “Man, if Christ is the peace, Christ is the fullness of shalom, maybe He’s inviting me into that, I don’t know.”
But I believe God’s Spirit and presence is here. I believe that God wants us when we are pressed to have the good stuff come out. And if we don’t have a proper view of shalom, we’re gonna run away from conflict. But hear these words:
Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you, me, we were once far away, we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our shalom, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with all its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making shalom, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death all their hostility. He came and he preached peace and shalom to you who were far away and peace and shalom to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you, Willow, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple to the Lord. And in him you, Willow, we, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
My brothers and sisters of Willow Creek, may this week, when you feel pressed, may you not choose to run away, but may you lean, and may the best stuff come out of you. May the peace and shalom of Christ Jesus come out of you. May you stand in tune with God. Allow Him full access to every part of your beautiful and broken story. And may you experience His peace everywhere you go. Have a great, great week.