Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent: The Gift of Hope Titus 2:10b-15

Advent: The Gift of Hope
Titus 2:11-15
Introduction: The festival of lights began to beautify our town even before Thanksgiving!  The Gardens are spectacular, many businesses and homes have joined in, and if you’ve driven by after 4 pm I’m sure you’ve noticed that even our church is shining brightly thanks to the hard work of some volunteers!  For many people this season is a time for adorning the house and decorating the carefully selected tree with the symbols that are associated with Advent.  Those traditions are fine, as long as we maintain our focus on the One who is the reason for the season. As Jesus was doing miracles of healing in Matthew 12, the gospel writer says His actions were in fulfillment of the prophecies of a “Servant” in Isaiah 42:1-4. He concludes the quotation by saying “In His name the nations will put their hope” (Mt 12:21). Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic hope, to give hope to all who would believe. In our context, post cross and resurrection, we live with the sure hope of His return.
       This week as we celebrate the “Gift of Hope” we turn to a passage in Paul’s letter to Titus and we are reminded that sound doctrine, right teaching of God’s word, is something that we can adorn, it is visible as it impacts us and changes us, it gives us hope, while also revealing the beauty of the Gospel to those around us: “…in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior…” (Titus 2:10b). Some translations say, “make attractive” the teaching. As surely as lights can beautify our town, God’s truth can beautify our lives. When people see that we have hope in the midst of this chaotic world it gets their attention because “hope” is something everyone desperately longs for.
       There is much uncertainty in the world today, division in our country, in our cities, even among believers. When we get back to our series in I Peter in January, we’ll be reminded that we are in a spiritual battle, and “…our adversary, the devil, goes about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” Our hope is not in a human leader or in a political party. People are fallible, they will disappoint us. We have a sure hope that is based on the truth that Jesus Christ has defeated death, he knows us, and one day we will see Him face to face. Hope means to anticipate something with a confident expectation that it is coming. We find comfort in the promise that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). It seems that Paul is saying that as we live in submission to God’s revealed truth we reveal the intrinsic beauty of who God is, and what he has done in us and for us. For Paul, theology is always practical and it must filter from our mind to our heart, to our hands and our feet. The truth He has revealed empowers and motivates us to live by faith.
The Maine* Idea: The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully, proclaiming the truth, in the sure hope of His return. 
I. The Gift of Christ offers hope for humanity: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” (11).
            Grace has appeared, because the grace-giver, the gracious redeemer, burst upon the stage of human history 2000 years ago. Grace has appeared since He came of his own free will, with a purpose, to give himself to provide salvation for all who would believe.  We are so familiar with the story we can almost forget how astounding it is in the way that it unfolded. After 400 years of silence, the God of all creation, the Lord of the universe who spoke in times past through the prophets, spoke in His Son.  He himself came as one of us. He humbled himself, taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men. The Jewish people of the first century had a hope based on Scripture: one day the Messiah would arrive and bring salvation to His people. Contrary to expectations he came under the humblest circumstances not to defeat armies and establish His earthly kingdom, but rather to make a way for forgiveness and life. He provided the Way, the only Way, for sinful humans to be reconciled to a holy God. That is the gift that gives hope!
       In his letter to Titus Paul goes on to say that grace appeared, “…bringing salvation for all people…” Not to say that all people would be saved, but that the price has been paid and the gift has been offered, the One Way of salvation through faith in Christ has been extended to all classes of people, to all races and nations.  Paul had just been talking to masters and servants, to husbands and wives, to young and old, telling them to walk worthy of their calling in Christ.  Jesus is the one and only source of forgiveness and life, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only name under heaven by which we can be saved (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).   The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully, proclaiming the truth, in the sure hope of His glorious return. The Gift of Christ means hope for humanity, and…
II. The Gift of Hope calls us to live differently, understanding we are pilgrims:  “…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (12). 
        First of all, we are to live differently in terms of what we don’t do: “…teaching us to renounce ungodliness and worldly lusts…” Sin is a choice.  So is obedience.  Our hope in Christ transforms our thinking, it is something that motivates us to live more and more in the light of eternity.  This week someone put on Facebook a quote from C.S. Lewis:
"All these toys were never intended to possess my heart. My true good is in another world, and my only real treasure is Christ."
I love that! Increasingly our forward focus on Jesus and on what He has prepared for us will enable us to say no to sin. Paul said in another letter:
I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me…” (Gal 2:20).
       Positively, we are called to live in a way that manifests the fruit of the Spirit, the presence of God in our lives: “…we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…” Did you know that you are living, already, in the future? We are living in this world, but we are citizens of heaven. We walk in this present age, but we already are partakers of the age to come. As Paul told the Colossians He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” (Col 1:13). Even so, God saved us and left us in this fallen world. He gave us a mission. Like the man from whom the legion of demons had been cast, who wanted to go with Jesus, he saved us and told us, “Go back to your people (your oikos) and tell them what great things God has done for you!” We have a mission! And so the first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully, proclaiming the truth, in the sure hope of His return.  So, because of our hope in Jesus we live differently and we live expectantly.
III. The Gift of Hope calls us to live expectantly… “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (13),
        Hope involves waiting confidently, expectantly.  The word “hope” usually has a different connotation in English, it’s something we desire or want or long for, but we don’t necessarily expect it to happen.  “I hope it’s nice out this afternoon.”  Maybe yes, maybe no, we don’t really know. We “hope” it will, but there may be doubt, in fact, our “hope” might be no more than wishful thinking!  One child said, “Hope is wishing for something you know ain’t gonna happen.”  Well biblical “hope” implies anticipation, confidence, faith, based on God’s revealed Word, an assurance that God is good, and a sure expectation that God’s story is going to unfold according to His plan. So we “hope,” we wait expectantly.
        Waiting for what? The first coming of Christ revealed grace, God’s unmerited favor, and provided the basis of God’s gracious salvation through the Cross. That was hinted at in the humble circumstances of his incarnation. A stable, animals, a feeding bin for his bed. His second coming will reveal more fully his unveiled glory. We see a glimpse of His glory now, but wait until we see what John saw in Revelation 1:13-18,
“…and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;  15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”
       Waiting for who? The language here is quite emphatic, “…our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” He is our Savior. Because of Him we have hope. He is God, so our hope is sure. Think of that: The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully, bearing witness to the truth, in the sure hope of His return. 
IV. The Gift of Hope was costly and purposeful (14): “…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” 
       Christmas is a time for giving, but there is no doubt that the true gift of Christmas was presented 2000 years ago. It was presented not under a tree, but hung on a tree.  He “gave himself for us,” that not only means that He came for us, but specifically that he came to die for us.
      He gave himself to redeem us from the penalty of sin. “Redeem” is from lutroo, “free by paying a ransom.” We were guilty, condemned sinners, unable to free ourselves.  There is the famous story of A.J. Gordon...  
“One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, "Son, where did you get those birds?" The boy replied, "I trapped them out in the field." "What are you going to do with them?" "I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home." When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, "Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well." Gordon replied, "I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds." "Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain." The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.”
       That’s redemption. Jesus did that for us. The wages of sin is death. That is what we deserved. Jesus paid the price that we couldn’t pay.  He did what we could not do for ourselves. He set us free from the bondage of sin. He who was without sin, was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The Gift of Hope was costly, it was also purposeful.
       He gave himself to make possible a new life, to give us a new heart. It is stated beautifully in Ezekiel 36:25-27,  
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean...  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
For that hope to be ours, a price had to be paid. Jesus, the Son, came to be the Lamb who would take away sin (cf. Eph 2:8-10).  That grace was revealed in the first coming of Jesus and motivates us to live faithfully in this fallen world, proclaiming the truth, in the sure hope of His return. Hope was costly, and purposeful, and motivates us to serve Him…
V. The Gift of Hope engages us in mission: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you…” (Titus 2:15).
       Paul admonished Titus to declare the truth, to speak about the hope we have in Christ, not apologetically, but confidently. It was a mission that Paul himself embraced and lived, and it was something that he expected to see in his disciples, men like Timothy and Titus.  We too are called to be his witnesses, to boldly stand up for Christ and to speak the truth in love, with passion and conviction. One of the key themes we are focusing on in our current Sunday School series is that fact that we are all called to be His witnesses. As Herb Mullen reminds us, “God chose you on purpose for a purpose.” To have a part in His mission in the world!
       God, in his providence, has placed you exactly where you are. And he has placed a group of people on the “front burner” of your life: men, women, children some of whom don’t know Him, some who desperately need hope. Have you looked for opportunities to share that message of Hope with those in your sphere of influence? The call to share the message of hope that Jesus offers is the ongoing mission of the church. Look around, the fields are white for the harvest. We are surrounded by people who have no hope, they desperately need Jesus. At this time of the year people are perhaps more open to hear what we have to say about the One who gave himself to give us hope.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  The first coming of Jesus revealed God’s grace and motivates us to live faithfully, proclaiming the truth, in the sure hope of His return. 
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  As we enter the Advent season this year may I ask you, do you have hope? I don’t mean wishful thinking or denial, but real hope, firmly grounded in the truth that God became a man, He lived among us, He bore our sins on the tree, He rose from the grave and He will return? If you are unsure about where you stand with Jesus, there is no need to doubt.
       The gift of Christmas has been purchased: salvation, life, a sure hope for tomorrow.  Jesus didn’t brave the lines on Black Friday to buy some Christmas presents, He bore the Cross on Good Friday to purchase the gift of life and hope. But like any gift, it must be received. The Scripture says, whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life, whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 
       Have you received the Gift of Advent, Jesus?  Do you believe that He died for your sins on the cross, was buried, and rose again the third day? Then express your trust and thanks to Him with a prayer like this (God is more interested in your heart attitude than the exact words you use): “God, I know that I am a sinner, I constantly choose to do things my way rather than seeking you, please forgive me. I believe that Jesus died for me on the cross and was raised again the third day. I turn from my sin and I turn to you, I put my trust in Jesus and what He has done for me. I receive Him now as the Savior and Lord of my life. Amen.”  If that is truly the prayer of your heart you have just received the greatest Christmas gift ever: Life and Hope in Jesus!

      For you who know Him, who have received forgiveness by grace through faith, may God open our hearts, may we be moved with compassion, ready always to give a reason for the hope that we have in Him.  People all around us, those we cross paths with every day, desperately need hope.  Seize opportunities this month to point others to Him.            Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016: Give Thanks! Psalm 100:1-5

[I chose this week to deviate from our series in First Peter to talk about Thanksgiving, and Psalm 100, A Psalm for Giving Thanks, seemed like an appropriate text. Next week we'll start our Advent series and we'll come back to First Peter in January, God willing.]
Thanksgiving 2016: Give Thanks!
Psalm 100
Introduction: This Thursday many of us, along with millions across our nation, will gather with family or friends for Thanksgiving.  Fewer people will acknowledge and celebrate God as the source of our many blessings. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation is a powerful call that we need to hear afresh…
"It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord. We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens." 
 It sounds like he understood “Who” we are to be grateful toward… It seems odd to hear people talking about being “thankful” in some sense, but thinking of it as a vague “feeling” rather than an attitude toward a Person. What does that even mean? For the believer, we are grateful to God, our Maker and Redeemer, the One from whom all blessings flow. Psalm 100 is a call to praise the God who is, to come before Him with a thankful heart, even though we live in a world in Chaos.
The Maine* Idea: We can come before the Lord with a thankful heart knowing that He loves us, He will care for us, and He will keep His promises.
I. Give thanks that we know God!  We should be thankful that we can joyfully approach the God of the Universe (1,2).
A PSALM FOR GIVING THANKS. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!  2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
         First of all we see this Psalm is titled, A PSALM FOR GIVING THANKS… There are a number of psalms that focus on thanksgiving, but this is the only one that is specifically called a “Psalm for Thanksgiving” in its ancient heading. It was written to guide God’s people into celebrating Yahweh and His goodness and His blessings toward them. Though they definitely overlap, “praise” is usually focused on God’s character and attributes (and we will see that also in these verses), while “thanksgiving” focuses on praise toward God for what He has done. He is involved in history, He is present in our lives. He saves and He sustains His people. His faithfulness and His loyal love are demonstrated in history and in our lives.
       Psalm 100 begins with a call to celebrate God’s work: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!”   The cry of celebration is to go out to the LORD. The name “Yahweh” is used repeatedly in this psalm. It is the name that was revealed to Moses from the burning bush, the name that is associated especially with God’s covenant faithfulness. Look for a moment at Exodus 3...
13 Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"  14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"  15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD [Yahweh], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations... (Exodus 3:13-15).
This psalm of thanksgiving is all about Yahweh. In this psalm, the name is mentioned four times in five verses. Another ten times the pronouns “He,” “His,” or “Him” are used in referring to the Lord. This psalm is not talking about a vague good feeling or an “attitude of gratitude.” We are called to praise the God who is, the God who is active in human history, the One from whom all blessings flow.
       The people are called upon to “...make a joyful noise...” to the LORD (100:1). With my poor “singing” I sometimes quote this verse as justification, but that is not the idea!  It’s the same word that was used to describe the shout of the people when they circled Jericho for the seventh time on the seventh day as the conquest began...
And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout, for the LORD has given you the city...” (Joshua 6:16).
It was a shout of faith, a battle cry anticipating the victory God was about to give. It also was the term that described the celebration when the foundation of the second temple was laid...
And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid... (Ezra 3:11).
 It was a joyful shout, a cry of celebration for what God had done. The point is God is faithful, He is trustworthy and good, and powerful to do all that He has promised.  Listen, no matter what else is going on in your life, if you know God, you have reason to celebrate, you have reason to be thankful!
       The call to praise goes out to “all the earth.” God is the One to whom all humanity owes allegiance. This song was part of the worship of Israel, but the invitation is to go out to all the earth. Humans have nowhere else to turn, “...there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That is why we need to take seriously the mission that has been entrusted to us. God has commissioned us to be His witnesses, starting right where we are. He has placed you where you are, in this church, in this community, in your workplace or school, in your family.  God plans for us to be a “world changer” right where He has placed us. You can’t change the whole world, but you can impact yours!  Have you listed the 8 to 15 people in your oikos? Pray, live a life of faith, and be ready to give a reason for the hope He has given you!
        “Serve the LORD with gladness!” The word “serve” is used of slaves and servants, and also of religious service. Mary used the Greek parallel term when she said at the angel’s announcement, “Behold the Lord’s servant…” She had a heart of obedience because of what God had done.  When Paul tells the Romans to “Present their bodies to God as living sacrifices…” he says it is their reasonable “service of worship” (Rom 12:1,2). So we should serve him, not reluctantly, but with gladness. We have reason to be filled with joy, and we should serve Him not reluctantly, but joyfully!
       “Come into his presence with singing!” The idea of approaching God, would not have been taken lightly. The OT emphasized the transcendence of God, He is wholly “other,” holy and majestic. His presence in the Holy of Holies, the most inner part of the Tabernacle and of the Temple, was so sacred only the High Priest could approach Him, and that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  But that all changed at Calvary, as the Lamb was slain, once for all. We remember the scene described in Matthew 27:50-51 at the hour of the crucifixion,
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom...
His death provided the atonement, once and for all, that opened access to the presence of God for all who would believe. But the psalmist is writing a thousand years before the cross.  The veil of separation had not yet been abolished. Yet the call here is to come… to enter His presence with singing! The very idea that God, who is perfect, who is holy, would invite humans to worship Him is astounding. Truly amazing grace! We can come before the Lord with a thankful heart knowing that He loves us, He will care for us, and that He will keep His promises.
II. Give thanks that we know that we are His! We should be thankful that the God who made us is our Good Shepherd (3).
3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
        3 Know that the LORD, he is God! Yahweh, and He alone, is God. The pronoun makes the point emphatically. The writer doesn’t just say “The Lord is God.” He adds emphasis, he underscores the sense emphatically by saying “The LORD, HE is God!” Idolatry is worshipping someone or something other than the one true God. If we redefine “god” as we imagine Him, rather than as He has revealed himself, we are guilty of idolatry. If we decide that we are the masters of our own fate, that we alone are on the throne of our life, we are idolaters. If we recognize the truth about God, about who He is and what He has done, we realize that we don’t deserve anything. Someone has said, “You can't be grateful for something you feel entitled to.” That sense of entitlement is pervasive in our culture, and it is the reason that many people find no reason to be thankful. I’ve found a good source of practical theology in my favorite comic strip. A Peanuts cartoon pictured Charlie Brown bringing out Snoopy’s dinner on Thanksgiving Day. But it was just his usual dog food in a bowl. Snoopy took one look at the dog food and thought,
"This isn’t fair. The rest of the world today is eating turkey with all the trimmings and all I get is dog food! Because I’m a dog, all I get is dog food." He stood there and stared at his dog food for a moment. Then he said, "I guess it could be worse. I could be a turkey!”
Are you thankful, or do you feel entitled to the blessings you have? Thankfulness is the opposite of selfishness. The selfish person says, "I deserve what comes to me! Other people ought to make me happy." But the mature Christian realizes that he deserves nothing, and that life itself is a gift from God, and that the blessings of life come only from His bountiful hand. Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the God who made us. 
        It is he who made us, and we are his...  One of the things kids always do is ask questions. It never really stops, they might get more sophisticated as time goes on. “Daddy, why...” The Bible offers answers. Some manuscripts add the phrase “...and not we ourselves...” The idea is implicit in what the psalmist is saying. We are not autonomous, we did not create ourselves neither did we come in existence through a series of chance, random processes. Why should we worship Him? We are His—He is our creator.  The first verse of the Bible is exactly where many people stumble: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If we can acknowledge the truth of that verse, that God is eternal and that He is the Creator, that means that all the universe belongs to Him. Thomas à Kempis said “If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.”  If God is the Creator, it means that humans are his creatures and so we owe Him our allegiance.  The next phrase goes further, it gets even more personal...
       …we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  The parallel statements here are interesting. First, “we are His people.” And then, as if to avoid the pride that could so easily well up at that idea, “...the sheep of His pasture...” We are not independent. He made us, and He bought us, we were bought with a price. We are His. The psalmist uses this metaphor, which must be as humbling as it is encouraging: the sheep of his pasture. He is the Good Shepherd. We are His sheep. For Jews in Palestine that would have been immediately understood. We depend upon Him for everything. He protects us, He leads us to still water and to green pastures. He protects us from the enemy. Jesus later would say that the shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). Think of what that means! Because of Him, because of his willing self-sacrifice, we who believe are reconciled to God!  So we can come before the Lord with a thankful heart knowing that He loves us, He will care for us, and He will keep His promises.
III. Give thanks that we can trust Him! We should be thankful that God is good and that He is faithful to keep His promises (4, 5). 
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!  5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.        
       So, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”  The content of the joyful noise we are to make to the Lord is spelled out in more detail: thanksgiving and praise. Kids can teach us something about being thankful...
A Sunday School teacher asked her class what they were thankful for. A little girl said "I’m thankful for my bedroom. My younger brothers have to share a room. But I get to have a room all for myself! I thank God for my bedroom!" Next, a little boy said, "I’m thankful for my puppy. I got him as a present for my birthday, and I play with him every day. I thank God for my puppy." Another boy thought for a moment and said “I’m thankful for my glasses." My glasses. The teacher was surprised. She said "Why are you thankful for your glasses?" He said, “Because they keep the boys from hitting me and they keep the girls from kissing me!”
       We have reason to be thankful. Notice that verse 5 begins with the word, “For…” David proceeds to give three reasons that we should sing our Thanksgiving to the Lord…
       First, “…the LORD is good…” We use that phrase freely when we have answers to prayer that we want, but He is Good, all the time. The word tob was first used at each stage of the creation story, God created, and He said it was “good.” Later in the Old Testament the word reflects the blessings of the covenant, as we see God’s commitment to His design in creation. He acts in the way that is best, he promises to work everything together for our good and for His glory. That is easy to say when we get what we want, when we feel blessed. But it’s still true when we can’t see what God might be doing in the hard times. C.S. Lewis said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” In other words, we are reminded that we are pilgrims in this fallen world. We are here, sharing in the sufferings of Christ, so that we can carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us. The Lord is always good.
        Then a pair of parallel statements: “…his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations...” His love and his faithfulness are often mentioned together. His chesed, covenantal love, His steadfast love never changes… One translation translates, “his loyal love.” I like that. Our love can be temperamental, circumstantial, and selfish. God’s love never changes. He is faithful, loyal, unchanging. He showed us His love in sparing not the Son, but delivering Him up for us all. That kind of love never changes. Even when we doubt or when we fail, He is faithful. Give thanks!
What is God saying to me in this passage? We can come before the Lord with a thankful heart knowing that He loves us, He will care for us, and that He will keep His promises.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  William Law said,
 "Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world: It is not he who prays most or fasts most, it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."

Is your heart filled with a genuine attitude of gratitude to God for all that He is, for all that He has done?  Someone said, “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” Will you take time to express your praise and thanksgiving to Him this week?  This week, share with someone your grateful heart, and acknowledge the One to whom you are thankful.                AMEN.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Joy in the Hot Seat! I Peter 4:12-19

Pilgrim Living in a Fallen World: Joy in the Hot Seat!
I Peter 4:12-19
Introduction: It is hard for us, Americans in the 21st century, to grasp the context in which Peter was writing his letter. In fact the experiences of the church in its first decades, in fact its first centuries, was marked by persecution, trials and tribulations. Peter would be martyred not too long after he wrote the letters that bear his name. Christians were in the “hot seat.” The violence of emperors like Nero has been replicated in different contexts through the ages. Even today, we read the reports of Christians suffering in different parts of the world, but it seems so detached from our reality. Just 10 days ago, twelve people have been killed at a hotel in north-east Kenya in an attack reportedly carried out by the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab.
World Watch Monitor (WWM) said that local media outlets "sympathetic" to the terrorist group reported that the militants "killed Christian Kenyans" who were not from the local area.
The BBC also reported that, "It is the latest in a spate of deadly attacks targeting Christians in the mainly Muslim region."
Police in the town of Mandera, which lies on the border with Somalia, said the attackers used improvised explosives devices to break down the metallic doors of the Bishaaro Hotel, before entering and shooting 12 people dead in their rooms, WWM reported.
From November 4th we read this report concerning the church in India,
Due to increased persecution and government restriction, the face of evangelism in India has been forced to change. In many ways, the days of open air Gospel meetings and public outreach events are over. With intense persecution from Hindu radicals, many of these public events are now targeted for attack. Also, the government has began to restrict the entrance and activities of Christian missionaries. For most foreigners, it is illegal for them to make public speeches at all.
Americans enjoy religious freedom, it is not that way everywhere, and it may not stay that way. Tribulation, persecution, hatred by the world is the lot of pilgrims. We shouldn’t be surprised by suffering. We shouldn’t be surprised from time to time if we are in the “hot seat.” Come what may, it doesn’t change the facts: we belong to God, our eternity is secure, and we are here, in this fallen world, on a mission.  We have spoken lately about our life as a testimony to the people around us. Can our response to suffering bring glory to God?
The Maine* Idea: Believers can expect suffering in this fallen world, but because of Jesus, we can have joy in the midst of it.
I. The Exhortation: Have joy in your communion with Christ even in the midst of suffering (12-14).
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
       Don’t be surprised by suffering – You are not alone (12a). It’s a test (12) and has purpose (19). The intensity of the trial is described by the word, “fiery ordeal,” and it comes as a “trial” or a “test.” The Greek word peirasmos can have either connotation. Suffering is part of life in this fallen world, but we can be encouraged that God is working in the midst of it. We saw that in I Peter 1:6,7…
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Why should we be surprised anyway by the world?  We read in 1 John 3:13   “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” We are foreigners and exiles, remember? Jesus himself said in John 15:19  “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
      The sure hope of future joy brings joy in the present that transcends circumstances (13).  Voice of the Martyrs reports the story of Cheng Jie a young mother, a pastor’s wife, and a former kindergarten director who never anticipated her 2014 arrest.
With a husband who was a pastor in China where religion is tightly controlled, she and her husband, Du Hongbo, had prepared for his possible arrest, but never hers. In the end, it was her role as the director of the Hualin Foreign Language Experimental Kindergarten that took her to prison for two years. Chinese authorities charged the school and its administration of “illegal business operations,” due to the use of what the authorities called religious curriculum. The school was closed, and four people associated with it, including Cheng Jie, were arrested.
     At first, prison was a scary time for Cheng Jie. She had never known anyone with drug problems or who engaged in criminal behavior, but here she was, suddenly crammed in a cell with 15 criminals. Some of her cellmates were due to be put to death for committing murders. Their 15 by 15 foot cell had one toilet for the women to share. Quarrels would often break out between the women. Others would sob continually. The women were expected to work 12-hour work days and were fed very little, usually rice with boiled cabbage or radishes. Soon, however, Cheng Jie realized she had a unique opportunity to minister to the other women, and she began to love them. [This is what I want to emphasize…]
      “Even though I was in prison, I felt like I am happy because I have the joy from God,” she said. [Despite her circumstances…]  Her husband was allowed to visit once a month, but the children, who were 1- and 3-years-old when she was arrested, were not allowed to come. 
Randy Alcorn talks about what happened to his friend, Ethel Herr in his book, What Good is God. She had had a double mastectomy. Then two months later, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread. One of Herr's friends in shock asked her, "And how do you feel about God now?" Herr says,
"As I sought to explain what has happened in my spirit, it all became clearer to me. God has been preparing me for this moment. He has undergirded me in ways I've never known before. He has made himself increasingly real and precious to me. He has given to me joy such as I've never known before -- and I've no need to work at it, it just comes, even amidst the tears. He has taught me that...he will lead me on whatever journey he chooses and will never leave me for a moment of that journey... God is good no matter what the diagnosis or the prognosis or the fearfulness of the uncertainty of having neither." 
God is there, with us in the valleys. Paul and Peter were martyred at about the same time, in Rome, under Nero’s reign. In his letter to the Romans Paul said,
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:16-18).
        When we suffer as a Christian we are blessed by the presence of the Spirit (14; cf. 2 Tim 4:16,17). John Piper told the story of Corrie ten Boom who was  worried as a young girl whether she would be able to stand against the Germans if she was threatened. She felt so weak when she thought about what might happen. Her father gave her a great illustration. He said,
"When you are going to take a journey on the train, do I give you your ticket three weeks early or just as you get on the train?" She answered, "As I get on the train." "So God will give you the special strength you need to be strong in the face of death just when you need it, not before."
We’ve heard the stories of Christians threatened by Islamic terrorists, “Deny Christ, or die!” Or even worse, “Deny Christ, or watch your children die!” How could they stand against such evil?  Only with Christ at their side, only with the Holy Spirit in their hearts. The suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us!  Don’t be surprised if one day we are on the “hot seat.” Believers can expect suffering in this fallen world, but because of Jesus, we can have joy in the midst of it.
II. The Examination: We should make sure that our suffering is not the consequence of our own sin, or the result of God’s chastening (15-16).
15       But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
       Don’t invite suffering by sinful behavior (15).  There is such a thing as suffering for righteousness’ sake. But there is also such a thing as suffering for foolishness’ sake!  Sin has consequences. First of all, if we are believers, we know that who the Lord loves, he chastens.  God will not allow our conduct as rebellious sons and daughters to go unchecked. He has given us boundaries, for our good, to protect us and to grow our faith. We in our fallenness will stick our little hairy toe over the line just to test it, wondering if God will notice?! Remember I Peter 3:17, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Chastening is one thing, and we can connect with that also the natural consequences of our sin. Years of alcoholism will have its effects on our body. Drinking and getting behind the wheel is not only illegal, it is foolish. Sin can have dramatic consequences.
       But if we suffer because of our faith, to God be the glory (16)! He says, “…yet if anyone suffers as a Christian…” The word “Christian” isn’t as common in the Bible as you might think. It occurs only three times in the New Testament, here, and twice in the book of Acts. In chapter 11 we learn the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Then Agrippa, after hearing Paul’s testimony in Acts 26, says (or asks) “In a short time you will persuade me to be a Christian! [?]” It probably was used by outsiders for the most part, to describe the followers of Jesus. Peter says “Don’t be ashamed of the name, wear it proudly!” To God be the glory! Believers can expect some “fiery trials,” they may be in the hot seat, but because of Jesus, we can have joy in the midst of it.

III. The Foundation: We can have confidence because of our commitment to God who we trust (17-19).
17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  18 And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"  19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
       Because God loves us, He will chasten us.  Judgment will begin at the house of God. Around election time we sometimes quote verses like 2 Chronicles 7:14  “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Good. He is talking to Israel. Calling the nation to repentance and saying that as they call on God He will bring the promised blessing. From our perspective, in this age, that has to be a call to the church. We need to embrace our calling, to live our faith before our neighbors and seek God. We should seek God, pray for our nation, pray for ourselves, pray for our leaders. And we should vote. But our hope should not be in a party or a candidate. Our hope is in the Lord. God be merciful, don’t give us what we deserve, be gracious, give us blessing we don’t deserve. Heal our land.
       If we are only saved by grace, what hope is there for those who reject the Gospel? God has made a path to citizenship, by grace through faith. There is no other way.   So we trust Him, and persevere in our mission (19). Peter says, “….so then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator…”   That word for [commit] "entrust" is actually a banking term. It means to deposit something for safekeeping. Well, that's what we're to do with our lives when we go through times of suffering. Deposit your life in God's bank (so to speak) for safe-keeping. Do you feel like you are “in the hot seat?” Trust Him to preserve you, to bring you through the fire.
       We choose to live our life in submission to God, trusting that He is present and working. So we live by faith, “…while doing good. McKnight put it this way,
Because Christians realize that the final day of reckoning is yet to come and is a firm, fixed date in God’s diary, they must strengthen their resolve in the face of suffering and injustice (4:17-18). Here they need a stubborn streak, that no matter what happens to them they must live their lives in the light of God’s judgment. Whether the IRS knows or not it not the issue; God knows. Whether the boss knows of not is not the issue; God knows. Whether your family knows or not is not the issue; God knows. And because God knows everything, we must learn to submit everything in our lives to his final assessment…
Give yourself to the Lord by continuing to “do good.” You remember we were saved “..unto good works…” After all our Father is good, and He does good. You may remember the story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen age surfer in Hawaii who lost an arm to a tiger shark in October of 2003. She is a believer, and her ordeal didn’t cause her to lose her faith. She focused her life on helping others, raising money to restore a man’s sight, and giving to those in need. Her pastor said she has the attitude that she has more than she needs in life. "She's looking forward to the future. She's asking herself, 'How can I show the world I still have a life, that I enjoy my life, and that my life is filled with joy?' She has an underlying trust that God is taking care of her." She entrusted herself to her “faithful Creator.” I read this week that “Christians should be the calmest people on earth.” We should have joy that goes beyond the circumstances, because of Jesus.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Believers can expect suffering in this fallen world, but because of Jesus, we can have joy in the midst of it.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Could it be that you are going through a time of testing? Remember, even if no one else understands, God does. We have a High Priest who can sympathize in our weaknesses, who was tempted/tested in all points like as we are, yet without sin.  God has a plan. He is present, and He is working.   
       I thought of the subject of suffering a little differently this week as I worked on this passage. In my mind I used to separate suffering and persecution for our faith from the sometimes painful consequences of living in a fallen world. We are not persecuted, at least not at this moment in America. But think this through with me. God saved us, we who have trusted Jesus, and He left us in the world.  Why didn’t He take us to heaven? Because we are “on assignment.” He left us here and gave us a mission to carry out, to make disciples of all the nations. So any suffering we experience, at a certain level, is for our faith. It’s because of God’s plan.  We are left here, and are not in heaven, because we have a mission to carry out. As Jesus came into the world to accomplish our salvation, He has left us in the world to proclaim His salvation. So we share in the suffering of Christ.  What do we have to fear? As Peter said in the first chapter, “…by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” (I Pet 1:5,6).