THANKSGIVING NEVER GETS OLD (Thanksgiving Weekend, 2021)

We need to accept that God is truly good, he truly loves us, and he really does have our eternal best interests in mind. Giving thanks to God accomplishes that in a powerful way. Thanksgiving moves the promises of God from our heads into our hearts. (A reprise of a sermon from a few years ago)

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Thanksgiving 2021

GIVING THANKS – 2021

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:4-8 HSCB)

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NIV)

Literally hundreds of times, the Bible exhorts Christians to be thankful. As we look at the small sample of such verses above, it is clear that Christians are supposed to be people who live with an attitude of continual thankfulness toward God. I want to talk about why it is so important, what it means be give thanks continually, and how to implement it.

WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT

The older I get, the more I am inclined to believe that thankfulness is a key part in receiving the grace and love and joy that are offered to us through Jesus Christ. When we thank God, we are, in a way, reaching out and receiving what we thank him for. We are agreeing with what the Bible says about his graciousness and love toward us; we affirming something true about the nature of God. We are saying, “Yes, I have received your love and grace,” and as we declare that to be true, it somehow becomes more real to us.

In order to find Joy in God, we need to see Him as an ally, not an adversary. If we see him as something or someone that stands in our way, we cannot receive grace from him.

We need to accept that God is truly good, he truly loves us, and he really does have our eternal best interests in mind. Giving thanks to God accomplishes that in a powerful way.

When we thank him, we acknowledge that He knows more than we do about what is best for us. Thanksgiving opens the door to trusting God, even when we don’t understand. When we thank him, we begin to pay attention to the multitude of good things he has already given. When we thank him, our soul slowly begins to align with God’s purposes and plans.

Thanksgiving moves the promises of God from our heads into our hearts.

 WHAT IT MEANS TO GIVE THANKS

Many people feel that it is hard to be thankful unless you have a lot to be thankful for. I believe that is a very misleading idea. The American holiday and tradition of Thanksgiving originates from Christian spiritual roots. In addition, that tradition was born in the middle of deep hardship.

The “original thanksgiving” took place in the New England settlement of Pilgrims during the sixteen-hundreds. It is true that at the time they celebrated, they had a good harvest. But they had just gone through an incredibly difficult year in which large numbers of the Pilgrims had perished from disease and malnutrition. From a simple cataloging of bad events versus good, they had much more to be upset about than to be thankful for. Yet they held a three day feast, thanking God for his blessings.

The first national day of thanksgiving was proclaimed by the brand-new American government in 1777. It is true, at the time many people were elated by the American victory over the British at Saratoga. But also at the time of the proclamation, the British still occupied the capital city of the new country (which was Philadelphia at that point) and also held New York City and several significant southern cities. The war was far from over, and times were still quite desperate, and yet they called for a national day of prayer, thankfulness, and repentance toward God.

Considering this history, perhaps it is appropriate that Thanksgiving became an official national holiday during the middle of the Civil War. Once again, the war was far from over, and many desperate times and terrible battles were both behind and ahead. Yet President Lincoln wrote of the many blessings that persisted in spite of war, and said:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and 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 next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

It isn’t my intention to give a history lesson. But I want to point out explicitly that the early Americans seemed eager and able to thank God, even in the middle of significant hardship. In fact, the American Thanksgiving tradition arose more from hardship and war than from peace and prosperity. Even more, I want to point out that this idea of thanking God at all times, even in difficult circumstances, is a biblical practice. Job chapter one records a series of calamities that befall Job, a righteous man. At the end of it all, this is what he did:

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Psalm 69 was written by someone who felt he was “poor and in pain.” His appropriate response was to thank the Lord:

But as for me — poor and in pain — let Your salvation protect me, God. I will praise God’s name with song and exalt Him with thanksgiving.  (Ps 69:29-30, HCSB)

Paul says, “Good, bad, normal, it doesn’t matter. Give thanks all the time.”

Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1Thess 5:16-18, HCSB)

And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  (Col 3:15-17, HCSB)

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  (Col 4:2, HCSB)

When we give thanks in all things – especially in hard things – the love of God begins to take root deeply in our hearts.

Thankfulness also leads to peace and contentment. Philippians 4:5-7 teaches that thankful prayer is an antidote to worry:

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Phil 4:5-7, HCSB)

Yes, it is good and proper to ask God for what we need, and to share our burdens with him. It is also important to thank him as we offer up those prayers. Through turning our burdens over with thankfulness, we experience the peace of God, which is beyond understanding. The fact that it is beyond understanding means that sometimes we will experience peace when our circumstances suggest that we shouldn’t be able to do so. It is thankfulness, at least in part, which leads to this sort of peace in all circumstances.

Many of you know of my own struggle with chronic pain. I hate the pain. I hate what it is doing to my body. But I have learned to be truly, genuinely thankful to God in the midst of it – not ignoring it. I feel closer to God today than ever before.

So giving thanks does not mean that everything is just the way we want it. Giving thanks is an expression of trust in a God who is beyond human understanding.

HOW TO LIVE A LIFE OF THANKFULNESS

I want to hasten to say that I am no expert on thankfulness. Many of you are probably better at it than I. What follows are merely suggestions from one who is still learning to live in thankfulness. I have found that thankfulness (and the benefits of peace, grace and faith which come with it) can be encouraged by some self-discipline. Sometimes, it is helpful to just make myself start thanking God. I don’t like mornings, and I’m not usually very happy until after mid-morning. But, stepping into the shower grumpy and irritated, I can begin by thanking the Lord for running hot water, and then soap, and then a towel. I can thank him that I have my own bathroom. That reminds me that I have my own house to live in, and it is plenty for my whole family. I can go on, and thank the Lord for warm, clean socks, and the existence of coffee, and then for my wife and children. You see how it goes: once we get started, there are an endless stream of things to thank the Lord for. I think one thing that is Biblically appropriate is to frequently thank Jesus for his sacrifice for us, and for his promise of eternal life to us.

When you read the Bible, or a devotional, stop and thank the Lord for what you are reading. Pay attention to anything that jumps out at you, and thank him. Even if the Bible passage is describing something difficult, you could pray something like: “Lord thank you that you are with me in all the difficulties and hardships that I face. Thank you that this passage shows me that it is normal for us to face hard times, even when we follow you.”

Thank the Lord today, and this week, and every day. Let him encourage thankfulness in your heart!

 

1 PETER #5: THE KEY TO THE BIBLE: JESUS CHRIST

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To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 5

1 Peter #5. 1 Peter 1:10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12

Our next section might feel like just a little transition between main points, and in some ways, it is. Even so, I believe the Holy Spirit can use these verses to strengthen our faith. Peter has been talking about the wonderful promises that are ours in salvation, promises that are so glorious and wonderful that even suffering on earth is nothing in comparison to what is coming to those who receive that salvation. Peter now briefly mentions something of the history of those promises. In short, Peter is telling his readers something about the Bible. We can learn several important things here.

First, remember that at that point in time, the only Bible that they had was the part that we Christians call the Old Testament. Peter was a Jew, and in the Jewish thinking of those days, there were two main parts to the Bible/Old Testament: “the Law,” which was the first five books, written by Moses; and “the Prophets,” which is, essentially, everything else. It also helps to know that though the first five books are indeed called “the Law,” Moses himself (who wrote those books), was also considered to be a prophet. So when Peter talks about “the prophets,” he doesn’t just mean Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and so on. He means every single book of the Old Testament.

Peter tells us something very important about the Old Testament: it is ultimately all about Jesus Christ. Peter makes it clear that the prophets themselves did not entirely understand this – they wondered about what God was inspiring them to write – as he says in verse 10, they questioned what it was all about. Even so, Peter says it was the Spirit of Christ in them who inspired them to write, and what he inspired them to write was ultimately all about Christ, and the suffering, grace and glory of the salvation that he won for us, even though the writers did not understand that at the time.

Elsewhere, the New Testament affirms this. After his resurrection, Jesus walked with his disciples one time, but prevented them from recognizing him, initially. He gave them the same lesson about the Old Testament scriptures:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, italic formatting added for emphasis)

Notice here, again, the idea that “the prophets,” begins with Moses, and includes all of the rest of the scriptures. So, even the Old Testament scriptures are about Jesus. Jesus made this same point about the bible, more than once. Talking to the Pharisees who rejected him, he said:

The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.  (John 5:37-39, HCSB)

The Old Testament speaks about Jesus in some more or less direct ways. What I mean is, there are texts that were understood to be predictions about the coming Messiah for centuries before Jesus was born. When he was born into humanity, through Mary, his life fulfilled those prophetic utterances. We know that the last Old Testament book to be written was finished about 450 years before Jesus was born. The Greek translation of the Old Testament appeared 250 years before the time of Jesus.

Let me give you a  brief, faith-building taste of those fulfilled prophecies. According to various places in the Old Testament, the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of King David, and born in Bethlehem. But though he was to be born in Bethlehem, he was also supposed to be from the region of Galilee – which is far north of Bethlehem. Yet also, he was supposed to have come from Egypt. In addition, noblemen from the East were supposed to bring him gifts.

Jesus, of course, was born in Bethlehem. Some time later, the Magi from the East came, bringing gifts. Within two years, his parents fled with him to Egypt. Before he was twelve, they returned from Egypt and moved permanently to Nazareth, which is in Galilee. Jesus himself, if he was merely human, had no control over fulfilling these prophecies – no baby gets to choose the place of its birth, or where it is raised. Those are either gigantic lucky coincidences, or they are fulfilled prophecies.

Just a few more. The Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin, that he be innocent, yet suffer for the sins of the guilty, that people would gamble for his clothing. It says he would be pierced in his side with a weapon. Again, Jesus had no way of arranging these things, if he was merely human. All of the evidence shows us that the New Testament developed so rapidly, that it isn’t possible to imagine that centuries later the church made up stories about someone who wasn’t real, and made him to fit the prophecies. That idea is based upon the fiction novel, The DaVinci Code, and it is indeed fiction. Also, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies in ways that Jews at the time had not expected.

There are over three-hundred Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus (and in no one else). If you want a simple, easy taste, read Isaiah chapter 53, and ask yourself what it says about Jesus. Then recognize that it was written about seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

In 1963, Mathematician Peter Stoner published a book called Science Speaks. He used the science of probability to calculate how likely it was that one person would fulfil just eight of the three hundred prophecies about the Messiah. Remember, all eight (to say nothing of all 300) have to be fulfilled in the same person. His calculations were reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation, and found to be correct mathematically. He found that the chance that one person would fulfill just those eight particular prophecies about the messiah was 1 in 1017. That’s 1, followed by 17 zeros. As an illustration, if you had that many silver dollars, you could cover an area the size of Texas (that’s larger than either France, or Spain) two feet thick with silver dollars. Paint one more silver dollar red, drop it in and mix it with all the rest, and have a blind man randomly travel to somewhere in Texas, and plunge his hand into the silver dollars and pick one. The likelihood that he comes out with the one red silver dollar is the same as the likelihood that Jesus was not predicted by those eight Old Testament prophecies. When you throw in the other 292 prophecies, there is virtually no chance that Jesus fulfilled them by accident. What a treasure we have, to know that God planned it all!

Even when we aren’t talking about predictions of the Messiah, the Old Testament reveals Jesus to us, and helps us understand what it means to live as his follower. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to talk about this same way of seeing the Old Testament:

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

I think the words of Jesus that we read earlier can be understood this way, also. When we realize this, we find that Peter and the others have given us the key to getting the most from the Old Testament. Yes, there are complex historical and cultural situations in it. Yes, we should seek to understand culture, and context and history. But the bottom line is, it is all about Jesus, and all we really need, when we read the Old Testament, is to let it teach us something about Jesus, or about what it means to follow him. So, when your read your Bible, ask these sorts of questions:

  • What does this passage show me about Jesus?
  • Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like?
  • Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)?

In addition to directly revealing Jesus to us, the Bible explains things about God, human nature, and what life is like, and could be like, for people who follow Jesus. So we should also ask some questions like this:

  • What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character?
  • What does it show me about sin?
  • What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace?
  • What does it say about human beings?
  • What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others?

If you want to get more out of your Bible, I know of no better way than to ask questions like these, and, actually any other type of significant question that occurs to you. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t learn much. If you know of anyone who really knows not only a lot about what the Bible says, but also a lot about what it means, and how to apply it, that kind of wisdom almost certainly came about from asking questions, including hard questions, about various parts of the Bible.

As a practical exercise, let’s use this wonderful gift that Peter has given us to tackle a difficult text in the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy chapter 20. We’re doing this just as an example of what it means to recognize that the prophets of old were actually writing about Jesus. Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about wars. He instructed them that when they fought with people who were not in their homeland, they were to first try peace, and then ask for a surrender, and then, if battle was necessary, they were to show mercy once they had conquered the enemy city. Next, he talks about the wars they must fight with people occupying the promised land:

15 “But these instructions apply only to distant towns, not to the towns of the nations in the land you will enter. 16 In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. 17 You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 20:15-18, NLT

This sounds horrible and brutal, right? There certainly are issues here to think about with regard to the history of Israel. However, for Christians, we know that this passage is not about fighting Hittites, Amorites and all the other “– ites.” We know that this passage is about Jesus. It tells us something about Him, or about how we should or shouldn’t behave as we follow him. It might tell us about sin, or salvation or human relationship. So, let’s ask our questions:

Where is Jesus? I don’t know about you, but the only place I see Him directly is in the name “the Lord.” So it seems to be Jesus who is talking to us through this passage. He is giving instructions, teaching us.

Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like? Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)? Easy. No, and no. Maybe another time I’ll come back to this text, and see something about these questions, that I hadn’t seen before, but not this time.

What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character? Ahh. Here we go. It shows me that God’s holiness is very serious. It is a deadly serious thing to contradict his holiness, which is what sin does. His holiness is extreme, and calls for an extreme response to avoid unholiness.

What does it show me about sin? Sin is deadly serious. It requires death. Idolatry (having something in your life that is more important or valuable to you than God) is the problem in the text. We Christians still sometimes make things more important than God, so it is speaking to that tendency. This passage shows me that it is so important to have Jesus first, that I need to eliminate anything that might get in the way.

What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace? If God’s holiness is so serious, and idolatry is so bad, that in those days it required the death of every living thing, then I am in serious trouble. I am lost without God’s grace. I need a savior to save me from my sin, my laziness and my tendency to value things more than God. Oh! Now we see Jesus. I need a savior. I need Jesus!

What does it say about human beings? Human beings cannot do what is necessary to be holy. Again, we need a savior!

What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others? I think we can use this question to put it all together. Whatever the text may have been about in the past, today, it is about Jesus, and what it means to follow him. So first, it leads me to repent of my own sin, my own tendency to let other things become more important in my life than God. Idolatry is nothing to mess around with. It leads me to my desperate need for Jesus to save me, to provide forgiveness, mercy and grace.

It also shows me something else. The people of Israel were supposed to take radically extreme action to avoid idolatry and sin. Their relationship with God was so important that they literally had to kill anything that might lead them astray. Today, because the text is about Jesus, we know it is not about hurting other people. But we should make implacable, unrelenting war on anything in our lives that tends to lead us astray from Jesus. I should show my own sin no mercy. I should be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Jesus is first in my life, now and always. If something threatens that, I need to eliminate it. Again, I am talking not about other people, but my own attitudes and actions. It is true, there may be a time when I need to back off from a relationship with a person that is damaging my faith in Jesus, but we do that sort of thing in accordance with the rest of the bible, which tells us it must be done graciously and with patience and love for the other person.

Now that we see this about Jesus and following him, we can find many other verses that teach this very thing:

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30, NLT)
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39, NLT)
4 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14, NLT)

So this little transitional verse in 1 Peter helps us understand the entire Bible!

A final thing. Peter mentions that people came and preached to his readers, and that their preaching was inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. No preacher is equal to the Bible. All of us make mistakes, whereas God provided the Bible as a foundation for all time, so that no generation can be led astray if they know the scriptures. But Peter shows us that the Holy Spirit also uses preachers who deliver the Biblical message to specific people, at specific places and times. The work of a preacher is not to add to the Bible, but to help us unwrap God’s Word to us in a way that helps us see how it is relevant to our lives here and now.

Peter’s main point is that God has gone out of his way to make sure that we heard His Word. We can count on it. We should delight in it, and learn from it.

Imagine the song “Silent Night.” Like many Christmas songs, it has been arranged in many different ways, and played by many different groups and performing artists. Think of it being played instrumentally, by an orchestra. You’ve probably heard it that way. Now, imagine how it sounds sung by a full choir, with no instruments at all. It’s the same song. The same music is being conveyed, and yet, it sounds very different. Now, hear a twangy, country-western singer singing Silent Night, maybe featuring a pedal-steel. Next, try to imagine someone singing it as a kind of operatic solo. Picture it done to swing-rhythm. Now imagine it as “muzak” or “elevator music,” played at the mall. Think of a rendition of the song by a 1940’s “big band.” Hear it done by Reggae artists.

All of these are the same song, conveying the same “musical message.” And yet each style and performance conveys that same “musical message” in a very different way. We can appreciate some of those ways better than others, but it all goes back to the same composer, the same basic set of notes, the same lyrics.

This is kind of how the Bible is. Sometimes, God conveyed his message about Jesus through the life of an old man, or a young princess. Sometimes, he sent it through laws that helped people at that time understand him better. At other times, God’s message came through prophets, or teachers, or letter writers, kings, or musicians. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize as the same message, because three-thousand year-old laws require more work to understand than clearly written letters from more than a thousand years later. But the messages about God, human beings and relationships are consistent throughout the Bible. As with Silent Night, though the “performances” are widely varied, the basic underlying message is the same. Different musicians may play the music, different instruments may create it, but at the same time, the music is, and always was, the product of the original composer.

Take joy and delight in reading the Bible and finding Jesus everywhere!

1 PETER #4: GRIEF AND JOY IN TRIALS

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It is normal and appropriate to grieve when we face hard things in our life. Even so, God uses those things to cause us to grow, and to refine our faith in Jesus. We can trust His work through our suffering because His greatest work came through the suffering of Jesus Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 4

1 Peter #4. 1 Peter 1:6-9

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if 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. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV

Last time, we saw that Peter began by encouraging his readers with the amazing promises of our eternal inheritance. He now provides a contrast. We have that amazing inheritance, a treasure that will always be there for us. It cannot be corrupted, and it will never lose its freshness or joy. Peter now acknowledges that in the meantime, before we receive that inheritance, we may experience various kinds of difficulty and hardship. The word Peter uses for these struggles is usually translated trials. This is a word that is often used in the New Testament.

I want to take this opportunity to address a misunderstanding that some Christians seem to have. Many people seem to think that the only kind of hardship that “counts” as suffering for Christ is persecution. In other words, (they think) if you are persecuted, any hardship that results from that persecution is suffering for Christ. But if a drunk driver hits you and you lose your legs, that’s just bad luck, and it isn’t the same thing as Christian suffering. But Peter here refers to “various kinds” of trials. This is exactly what is sounds like: it means that there may be many different kinds of hardship and struggles that you encounter. It could be illness, or something caused by an accident, or something done to you by someone else. It might be financial hardship, or emotional problems, or struggles in your relationship with someone. The point that Peter makes is this: whatever the source of the suffering, when we are in Jesus, God uses it to create character, or to test character, or both. It ultimately results in praise and glory and honor.

I want to make sure we are clear here. I don’t mean that God deliberately inflicts pain directly upon people. But when pain comes, he puts it to good use. The Holy Spirit, in Romans 8:28, says this:

8 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30, ESV)

God uses all things in the process of making us more like Jesus, more like the people we were originally intended to be, apart from sin. “All things” working for our good includes trials and suffering, obviously. So, when difficult times come about as a result of living in a world full of sin, and living in bodies that are corrupted by sin, God uses those to develop and refine our character.

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

The Spirit inspired James to write something similar:

 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, ESV)

I can say, without a doubt, that God has used suffering to make me a better person. He has used suffering to help me feel more close to Him than I had ever felt before. He has used suffering to wean my affections away from the things of the world, to help me become less interested in sin. As Paul, and James write, there have been times when I have rejoiced in the suffering that God entrusted to me. Suffering has made my faith far deeper and stronger than it was before – it has been tested, like gold in the fire, and purified in the same way. By the way, I am not claiming to be some great person. I just mean that God has made me more like Jesus than I was before I began to suffer. I’m still not very far along that road, and I don’t claim to be better than anyone else, but I believe I am farther along than I was before, as a direct result of my struggles.

But I am so glad that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to remind us that there is also grief in suffering. Peter writes here that we rejoice in our eternal inheritance, while the trials are bringing us grief. I don’t believe that there is a conflict in these perspectives. It is possible, and good and right, to rejoice in suffering. It is also good and right to grieve in suffering. Even Paul, who also wrote about rejoicing in suffering, in addition, recorded his deep distress, many times:

8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NLT)

I think there are times when suffering results in rejoicing. But at other times, we are pressed beyond our ability to endure (as Paul confesses), and we grieve, and cry out. This too, is an appropriate, godly response to trials, when we cry out in tears, yet still with faith:

11 What strength do I have that I should continue to hope?
What is my future, that I should be patient?
12 Is my strength that of stone,
or my flesh made of bronze?
13 Since I cannot help myself,
the hope for success has been banished from me. (Job 6:11-13, HCSB)
16 I weep because of these things;
my eyes flow with tears.
For there is no one nearby to comfort me,
no one to keep me alive.
My children are desolate
because the enemy has prevailed. (Lamentations 1:16, CSB)
3 I am weary from my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without cause
are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my deceitful enemies, who would destroy me,
are powerful.
Though I did not steal, I must repay. (Psalms 69:3-4, CSB)

Why do I call these passionate, desperate, words, responses “of faith?” Because they were poured out as prayers. They are full of sorrow, and pain and despair, but even in the midst of all that, they were poured out to the Lord. Job, Jeremiah and David (the writers of the three passages above) fully experienced their pain and suffering. They did not pretend that they were OK. They were honest and eloquent about how hard it was. But even so, they brought their pain to the feet of the Lord. Yes, the pain is deep, and even despairing, and yet, by bringing their pain to the Lord, they are showing faith. They are terrific examples for us. I’ll be personal for a moment. Today, I feel much more like the verses I just gave you (by Job, Jeremiah, and David), than the ones about rejoicing in suffering. Yet, I know that I am OK with God. There is room for many different responses to suffering. God can handle it. We have a God who personally knows what it is like to suffer within a human body. The writer of Hebrews says (about Jesus):

17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:17-18, NLT)

For the first two years of my suffering, I was confused and troubled; that was OK. God handled it. Then for almost four years, I did truly rejoice in my suffering. But now, today, I identify with the Biblical writers who talk about despair and hopelessness. I don’t believe that God loves me any less now than he did when I was doing well. He knows what it is like. He can handle our unexpected courage and fortitude, and he can handle our crushing despair. He won’t let either one go to waste, but instead, will use all things to cause us to grow into the people he intends us to be. He will use them ultimately to bring praise, glory and honor, where right now we experience suffering, grief and despair. Again, this is something that the entire New Testament affirms in many places:

17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. (Romans 8:17-18, NLT)

And, what has become my life-verse:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

One gigantic difference between Christianity and every other world-view is this way of thinking about suffering in the light of eternity. If you are an atheist, life is simply fundamentally unfair to most people, and then you die, and it is over. If you live in a wealthy country, you might not see just how deeply unjust and terrible life is for millions, but it is true. If you are a Buddhist, suffering is ultimately meaningless; it is merely an illusion. If you are a Hindu, all of your personal suffering is your own fault; perhaps from a previous life, but it’s still all on you to pay back your debt to karma. But we Christians see suffering in the light of a glorious eternal future, trusting that a God who is far beyond our comprehension is indeed making things right. It is only logical that an infinite God would do things, or allow things, that we don’t understand. Understanding doesn’t always bring comfort anyway. But our comfort comes from trusting God; trusting that He is indeed good, and that he loves us, and we can rely on that, even when we don’t understand, because he went through incredible pain and suffering himself, for our sake.

Remember when Jesus was on the cross? He cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He understood what it was to have grief and despair in trials. And the cross gives us confidence that even when we don’t understand, God is doing something good. At the time, it seemed to the disciples as if it was a disaster. How could God use the crucifixion of the Messiah for good? And yet, through the suffering of Jesus, God brought about the eternal good of untold numbers of people. If God can use the death of Jesus for good, we can trust that he can use our sufferings for good as well, even when we don’t understand what he is up to, or how it could possibly result in good.

Peter has acknowledged the reality of the grief that suffering brings. He has also set up the eternal perspective, and so, he goes on:

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV

Peter saw Jesus personally. It must have been a kind of wonderful thing to him to meet so many people who developed faith in Jesus without ever meeting Him personally. I am sure he was reminded of Jesus’ words to his friend, Thomas:

29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29, ESV)

Paul makes it clear, also:

7 For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:6-7, ESV)

Again, from 2 Corinthians 4:18 (quoted above), we are to fix our attention on things that are not seen physically. I’ve said this before, but faith requires a kind of surrender. We have to give up control in order to trust. We have to accept the possibility that we are being foolish. Even so, Peter gives us a clue that when we do trust our unseen Lord, there is a confidence that results. Many people have asked me over the years whether it is possible to know if you are being saved. Well, Peter makes it crystal clear here. He is writing to people who have taken the leap of faith. They are trusting the unseen and infinite God. As a result, they are filled with joy, and they can be sure that they are receiving the goal of that faith: the salvation of their souls.

Of course, as with anything the idea that you can be sure of your salvation can be abused. I have met people who prayed a prayer with a preacher, and got baptized, and have since had nothing to do with Jesus whatsoever. They live the same kind of life as people who have no faith. Even so, they seem to think they will be saved. Thankfully, I am not the one who will judge their fate; even so, I think such people are probably mistaken, and they are often the “so-called Christians” who give other Jesus-followers a bad name.

If you truly do know that you are saved, if you truly believe what the Bible says about Jesus, it will affect how you live. Certainly, you won’t become perfect, and sometimes it will be two steps forward, one step back, but our actions will reveal what we truly believe.

However, we need to be clear. We don’t have faith in our own ability to be good. We don’t have faith in our own strength of faith. We have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and on His ability to keep us and guard us until we receive the amazing eternal inheritance he has promised (which we talked about last time). We can indeed have confidence that we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls. In the meantime, yes, we experience  trials and grief, but they are nothing compared to the joy of our eternal future.

Will you trust Him with whatever trials you face today?

1 Peter #3: A BETTER HOPE

When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. There is nothing on earth that we cannot lose. But we cannot lose our eternal inheritance in Jesus Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 3

1 Peter #3. 1 Peter 1:3-5.

Peter gives us a great example when he begins by praising God. Our salvation is a gift that we can often take for granted. But Peter reminds us that God’s grace to us is not automatic. God did not have to treat us with mercy and grace. What he has done for us is astounding, even more so because not a person in the world has ever deserved any of it. All of what comes to us is according to God’s mercy. It is not by justice, not by us earning it, not by us paying for it, not by another human getting it for us. God’s mercy alone gives us the incredible gift of salvation. Mercy is never deserved. We don’t deserve anything from God other than death and hell. But in spite of what we deserve, he forgives us, and instead showers his gifts on us.

It may be puzzling to some that he blesses “The God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this is phrase that packs a lot of punch in just a few words. Remember, Peter has already mentioned the Trinity: The Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, the Son. Here in one short sentence, we have the Trinity once again. Peter is obviously blessing God the Father,  who chose us to be in Jesus, and knew ahead of time what would take place. He also blesses “our Lord Jesus.” To call Jesus “Lord” is to call him God. In the Old Testament times, the ancient name for God was “Yahweh.” But instead of saying “Yahweh,” the Jews said “the Lord.” So calling Jesus “Lord” is like calling him “Yahweh.” Finally, Jesus is not only Lord, he is also “Christ.” Christ means “anointed one,” or, to put it more clearly, “one especially filled with the Holy Spirit.” So we have here Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this one short phrase.

In God’s mercy, he has caused us to be born again. In Greek it says literally: “according to his great mercy, he has regenerated us.” (Regenerated is often translated “given us new birth” or something similar). To generate something is to cause it to be. So, God caused us to be physically, but he has also regenerated us – caused to be all over again, in a new way.

Think abut a computer game. In a computer game, you are alive outside the game. You enter the world of the game through your game character, sometimes called your “avatar.” When your character/avatar dies in the game, it regenerates and comes back into the game at the last point in which you were saved. This gives us a helpful way to think about spiritual regeneration.

In some ways, game regeneration is almost the opposite real spiritual regeneration. Imagine that we are players who have existed only inside the game. We aren’t outside the world, sitting at a console, playing a game. Instead, we have only ever been inside the game. The game is our whole world. We have no perspective outside of it.

Now, when God regenerates us, it is like he gives us a life outside of the game. Instead of a player who is alive in the real world, stepping into the world of the game, and being regenerated inside the game, we begin inside the game, and God now regenerates us out into the real world. We are still in the game, but now we are also outside, sitting at a gaming console. We are no longer confined to the game. If we die in the game, we still have our life outside of it.

Our regeneration takes place in the real, eternal world, not the temporary world of the game, which is the only world we have known up until now. Now, our life inside the game – what we have always called “real life” – is not our only life, and it is not our most true life. Before, when we died, we died. But now, when we die, our “avatar” – that is, our body of flesh – is dead. We don’t get a do-over. But since we now have life outside the game, when we die here, it’s like shutting down the game, and participating in real life. What happens “in the game” is important, because here, in this life, God uses us to show his glory. But what happens outside the game is ultimately more important, because that is where our real life is waiting for us.

Obviously this regeneration is not (yet) a physical one. However, it will eventually result in a new physical body

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, NLT)

In the meantime, however, we have already been born again, in spirit. The Greek verb for “regenerated,” is in a special type of past tense form. This shows us that this has already happened. Being born again is not something that will happen to us in the future. It is not something that is still in process. It has already taken place. In addition, while it is a done deal, our regeneration has ongoing consequences.

There are many types of things that happened in the past, which, however, have ongoing consequences. Picture a wedding that took place ten years ago. The wedding is in the past. It happened; it’s a done deal. But the fact that the wedding happened in the past has a profound and ongoing effect today upon the two people who got married. Once you have a wedding, you are fully married. Yet, as you grow with your spouse, that marriage changes and deepens and affects you more deeply. It affects every day of your life, though some days the effect seems greater, and other days, less.

So it is with being born again. Because God regenerated us once, in the past, we are still  regenerated (born again) today. The fact of our being born again continues to play out in our lives. We are growing more and more fully into everything that it means to regenerated. Some days we see the effect more clearly, other days we question how much being born again has changed our life in the body. But it would be a mistake to think that we are only partially born again. Just as you can’t be “partially married,” so you can’t be partially born again.

Some days you may feel like you are doing well in your marriage. Other days you may feel like a lousy husband, or neglectful wife. Your feelings about how things are going do not change the fact that you are married. You can be a better or worse husband or wife, but you can’t get divorced without knowing it. So too, your feelings about how well you are manifesting the new life of Jesus do not determine whether or not you are born again. You might be a better or worse Christian on any given day, but you are born again because of God’s merciful choice, not your own performance. You aren’t more born again when you feel holy, and you aren’t less born again when you feel like a sinner.

Again, it may help to keep in mind that this regeneration takes place in our Spirit. Our bodies have not been born again, that’s obvious. But the rebirth of our spirit can now influence our soul, and then our mind, and then affect how we live in these mortal bodies into the Lord gives us new bodies that are also regenerated.

This becomes clear as Peter goes on. Our rebirth is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is connected to the eternal life-force of Jesus, a life that has proven itself to be indestructible (Hebrews 7:16). Because we have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus, because we are born in again in the eternal spirit, we have a new kind of inheritance. This our life “outside the game,” a life which has already begun, but one which we cannot fully enter until we are done with the game.

Inheritance is a good way to picture all of the wonderful things we have through Jesus Christ. An inheritance is something that belongs to you. It is yours. And yet, you cannot fully receive all of your inheritance until there is a death. So it is with us. Our inheritance in Jesus belongs to us. It is certainly and assuredly ours. But we cannot step into the fullness of that inheritance until a death happens. In our case, it is two deaths: first, the death of Jesus Christ obtained the inheritance for us, and second, we wait for the death of our flesh, which is corrupted by sin, and keeps us from fully experiencing all that Jesus has given us.

Peter tells us that our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Imperishable means that it cannot be destroyed, it cannot decay or degrade. This isn’t  a stock portfolio that might lose some of its value. It is not  a warehouse full of goods that could burn or be destroyed in a flood. Even cash can lose some of its value through inflation. However, this inheritance will be there for us, guaranteed. There is nothing to be had on earth that we could not possibly lose at some point. In fact, age and death determine that we will lose all earthly things. But we cannot lose this gift, this inheritance held for us by God. It is the only thing we cannot lose.

Second, it  is undefiled. That is, it can’t be spoiled or corrupted. Sometimes, we are capable of spoiling a good thing for ourselves. At other times, someone else might ruin a perfect moment for us. However it occurs, something that once seemed so beautiful and perfect can often become crass, crude, or even just ordinary and no longer interesting or exciting. This will not happen to our inheritance in Jesus. It cannot happen. That is one reason we need new bodies before we can enter the New Creation. We need to be incorruptible, because the New Creation will not be corrupted. Jesus has already made us incorruptible in our regenerated spirits. He will make us that way in soul and body as well. Another aspect of incorruptible is this: There is nothing on earth that we can desire fully, heart and soul, without somehow making it into an idol, and therefore spoiling it. We might love our children so much that it consumes us, and in loving them more than God, we corrupt the beauty of parental love. We may desire marriage so much that it becomes more important than God, and thus we corrupt something that might otherwise be good. But in the New Creation, we can embrace our desires with no reservation. Nothing will spoil it. We can desire our incorruptible inheritance with our whole hearts. It won’t be spoiled, or made into an idol.

Finally, our inheritance will never fade away. We can’t use it so much that it wears out, because it will never wear out. It’s not like a favorite piece of clothing that slowly fades over time as you wash it, or that stops feeling new by the fourth time you wear it. The joy of newness that we will experience on the first day in the New Creation will never wear out. Every day will feel like the first day. Every time we see some beautiful scenery in the New Creation, it will be as delightful as it was the very first time. Every conversation we have with an old friend will feel like the first time we talked that way. Nothing will ever feel “old.” Nothing will ever lessen in delight, or lose its luster, even if we indulge that exact delight every day for a thousand years. It doesn’t become worn out with use or repetition.

This amazing inheritance, says Peter, is kept in heaven for us. The word “kept” indicates a kind of watchfulness, a guarding. It’s in the bank. Nothing will happen to it. It’s safe for us.

We too are being guarded, by God’s power, through faith. The word “guarded” or “protected” (verse 5) here is the word for military garrison. It is as if God has deployed a cohort of warriors to surround you and protect you. It would be appropriate here to think about both God’s power in general, and also his power in deploying angels to protect us.

The phrase “through faith” shows us our own one small part in all of this: we must trust the words of scripture. This is what God says. It is ours as we trust it to be true. We take hold of it through trust. Thanksgiving, of course, is a terrific way to make it tangible to our own souls and minds. Finally, this inheritance, as we know, will be full revealed and fully ours when we die. Our present mortal bodies are perishable. They do decay, they are corrupt, and every joy, every beauty that we can experience in these bodies ultimately fades and comes to nothing. That is why we cannot receive the inheritance until the last times, the moment when God lets the old creation self-destruct, and brings in the New Creation, and gives us new, incorruptible bodies which will have the capacity to receive and enjoy our amazing inheritance.

This is our hope. I love that Peter begins the letter with this. He is writing to people who are experiencing many trials and struggles – the very next verse explains that. When we experience hardship, we begin to see that this life is not strong enough, durable enough, to hold all of our hopes and desires. We see that ultimately, disappointment is the result of all things here and now. So, knowing that his readers are faced with deep struggles and bitter disappointment, Peter reminds them of a hope that will never disappoint, never let them down.

Too often, I look for hope in this life. I’m reminded of a quote by the late Christian teacher, Larry Crabb:

“I’m troubled by how unquestioningly we live out our determination to make this life work. All our hopes for happiness are bound up in it. It’s as if we believe this is the only world we ever plan to inhabit.”

Larry Crabb

 But everything I could hope for in this life will let me down at some point. Peter reminds me that one of the first tasks of faith is to set my hope upon the inheritance that cannot be destroyed, that never spoils, never loses its newness and wonderfulness, an inheritance that is kept specifically for me, even as I am guarded by faith.

What about you?

1 PETER #2: AWAY FROM HOME

Photo by Brady Knoll on Pexels.com

When we belong to Jesus, our entire identity is shaped by Him, and Him alone. Our identity has nothing to do with our earthly country, or our ethnicity, or our sexual desires. Instead, we are defined by God: chosen by the Father’s foreknowledge, set apart by the Spirit with the sacrifice of Jesus applied to our lives for obedience to His Word. We are no longer at home in this world, but instead, we are strangers, passing through, longing for our true and eternal home.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 2

Sometimes, when Paul begins his letters, he feels the need to say a little something about his calling or experience. That’s understandable, since Paul, unlike the other apostles, did not personally know Jesus. His calling as an apostle was unusual, different from the calling of the others. Peter, however, feels no need to elaborate about his calling. He is Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. That’s enough for him.

I want us to notice two things about this. First, Peter could have taken this opportunity to build himself up a bit. He could have said, “Simon-Peter, who walked on the water with our Lord,” or, “Peter, the first to declare that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God,” or “the disciple who was on the mount of transfiguration with our Lord.” But even as Peter ends this letter by explicitly teaching us to be humble, he begins it by demonstrating what humility actually looks like. For all his claims to fame in the Christian world, he offers us only the name that Jesus gave him (Peter, rather than his birth-name, Simon) and the fact that he is an apostle of Jesus.

Second, I do want to mention the fact that at this point in his life, he has quit using the name given to him by his parents, and uses only the name given to him by Jesus. He has allowed Jesus to define him so completely that he identifies himself in only the way that Jesus identifies him. It doesn’t matter that for all of his life up into adulthood, he had a different name. The only thing that matters now is how Jesus thinks of him, and Jesus thinks of him as “Peter,” or, in Greek, “The Rock.” He has accepted the way Jesus sees him as the only genuine way to see himself. By the way, when Jesus named Peter, he invented a name that was not in existence beforehand. There is no record of anyone being named “Peter” prior to that point.

Peter addresses the letter to the “elect exiles, the dispersion.” I mentioned briefly in the introduction that there is a little bit of dispute among commentators about whether Peter addresses the letter primarily to Jews, or to non-Jews (called Gentiles) or to both. One reason some think it was primarily to Jewish readers is because Peter mentions “the dispersion.” Sometimes, that word (in the form of “Diaspora”) was used by Jews to describe any Jewish people who lived outside of the Holy Land, which was considered to be their true home, even if they had never been there. But there are several points in this letter that seem to be speaking to non-Jews also. I raise this point because I don’t want us to sort of think, “Oh, this is just for Jewish Christians.” That, in fact, was an attitude condemned by all of the apostles. In Jesus, Jewishness, or non-Jewishness, are non-issues. In Christ, all are one, whatever their origin. So this letter is for all Christians, of any ethnic background.

I want us to consider what it means when Peter calls his readers “elect exiles, the dispersion,” because those words were written not only for Christians living 2,000 years ago in Turkey, they were also written for us. Scripture is very clear that since we belong to Jesus, this world is no longer our home. Like the Jewish dispersion (diaspora), we are living outside of our true homeland, and the place we live at the moment will never be our true home. Peter will elaborate on this several times in this letter, as do other New Testament writers:

By faith [Abraham] stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:9-10, CSB)
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16, CSB)
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20 CSB)

Scripture is clear: our real citizenship is in eternity with the Lord. Our real homeland is someplace to which we have not yet traveled. If we belong to Jesus, then on earth, no matter where we live, we are not at home. We are foreigners, aliens, temporary residents.

I don’t think it is a sin to be patriotic about the country in which we are citizens. However, I do think it is a sin to be more patriotic about your earthly country than you are about your heavenly home. I admit, it is easier for me because of my childhood, but that doesn’t change this truth: we are more truly fellow citizens with Christians around the world than we are with non-Christian people who belong to our earthly country. So, for example, a Chinese Christian is more truly my fellow-citizen than an American who is not a Christian. In addition, both the Chinese Christian and I are not truly at home anywhere in this world. Like Abraham in the verses above, we belong to a country we have never seen, yet we long for it.

This is a reflection of a deeper truth: Jesus Christ fundamentally alters who we are. Our primary identity is now “belonging to Jesus Christ,” and that identity is more important than any other part of who we are. To say it another way, the fact that we belong to Jesus matters more than anything else. And the fact that we belong to Jesus means that we no longer wholly belong to this world. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). If we belong to him, then we too, do not belong fully in this world.

This should be good news. I know for myself, I am often uncomfortable in this world. I don’t fit in. The things are that are important to the world are often not a big deal to me. The things that I care about are sometimes despised, mocked, or even hated by the world. Also, as I get older, I realize more and more that the things I really long for cannot be found in this life. I will never, in this life, truly have everything I deeply desire.

All of this can feel lonely sometimes. It can feel like maybe you are crazy, or stupid, not to just go along with everyone else. You may feel foolish to have such deep longings for things that will never come to pass, sometimes longings you cannot even fully describe. But Peter’s opening words remind us that we do have a home, and we do truly belong somewhere. It just isn’t here. We are travelers, temporary residents waiting until we finally get the chance to travel to our permanent home. It is there, in our permanent home, that all of our longings can be finally and completely fulfilled.

Peter says that his readers are strangers in this world, chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in connection with the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with his blood to Jesus Christ.”

Let’s unpack this a little bit. Peter mentions here the Father, the Spirit and the Son. The Father, Spirit and Son are all one being, which we call God. God is made up of three persons, but not three beings.

 We can imagine something that is like a person, but somehow less than a human person. Our pets are like this. They are like us, but they are not quite actual people. They don’t have the same sense of self-awareness or sentience that human beings have, and they have other limitations. Now, just as pets are like persons, but somehow less-than, so God is  a person, but is morethan a human person. We are all mono-persons. I am Tom, and Tom is just one person/one being. But God is a “three-person being,” which is more than a mono-person. If God is in fact God, we should expect him to be more than us, exponentially more. We do not mean that there are three Gods. There is only one being, called God. But that being is a three-person, rather than a mono-person.

The three persons of God are part of the same being, which means that that each person shares the power, honor and glory of God. But the three persons, though the same being, are not the same person. They each have different roles. The Father does unique things, and so does the Spirit, and the Son. Peter here describes some of the uniqueness of the three persons.

God the Father knows all – past, present and future. His foreknowledge was involved somehow in the fact that we have been chosen to belong to Jesus and become citizens of God’s kingdom, strangers in this world. The bible does not describe in detail exactly how God’s foreknowledge relates to our being chosen, only that it does, in some way.

The person of the Spirit is involved in our sanctification. In case your head is still hurting from my pathetic attempt to describe the Trinity, let’s at least make “sanctification,” easier to understand. To “sanctify” something is to make it holy. When something is holy, or “sanctified,” it is special, no longer ordinary. One silly example might come from clothes. I think most of you readers live in places where you can afford more than one outfit of clothing. When that is the case, usually people have “everyday” clothes and then also “fancy” clothes. We don’t use our fancy clothes very often. Usually they are more expensive than other clothes We save them for a special occasion. I would never clean a toilet in my suit and tie. My suit and tie are reserved for times when I want to feel exceptionally uncomfortable. No, sorry, that ruins the analogy. Let me try again: My suit and tie are reserved for special occasions, like when I perform a wedding ceremony, or when I want to take Kari on a very special date. They are set-apart from other clothes, special, and I wear them to communicate that the occasion is very important.

So, God has set us aside. We are not like all people. The Holy Spirit has chosen us to be special to God, precious to him, important to Him. We are no longer ordinary. This is not something we have done for ourselves, so there is no cause for us to be arrogant or smug about it. There is no cause for us to judge anyone else, because God chose us for his own reasons, not because of anything we have done, or even who we are. It is his choice that makes us special, and that is not our doing.

Now, isn’t everyone special and precious in God’s eyes? In this day and age, it sounds like blasphemy to say “no.” But the answer is no, in a technical sense. God would make everyone who has ever existed into his holy people (1 Timothy 2:3-5). However,  not everyone wants to be his holy people. Many, many, many people instead reject his salvation. Jesus himself said:

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT)

One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is that God offers salvation again and again to the people of this world. Over and over he gives people a chance to repent. But over and over, most people reject God’s terms, insisting on their own way instead. The Father, in his fore-knowledge saw who the Spirit would make holy, and who would not.

Getting back to the business of being set-apart, and special (that is, sanctified) we can see why we are strangers and exiles in this world. When so many people reject God’s salvation, then we who are set apart by God look like weirdos. Jesus told us that since the world hated him, we should expect it to hate us also.

18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me. 22 They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Anyone who hates me also hates my Father. (John 15:18-23, NLT)

The foreknowledge of the Father, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit (setting us apart) lead to two additional things: our obedience, and us being “sprinkled with the blood of Jesus.”

Let’s take the blood sprinkling first. If you have grown up in church, this might not even register, but it sounds kind of gross and shocking if you hear it for the first time. In ancient Israel, when animals were sacrificed to represent the seriousness of sin, some of the blood of the animal was sprinkled. This sprinkling of the blood in a sense “applied” the sacrifice to people. So what Peter means by “sprinkling of the blood” is that the sacrifice that Jesus made has been applied to our hearts and lives.

We all know what obedience is. What I want to point out is that our obedience is the result of being chosen and sanctified, and comes as the sacrifice of Jesus is applied to our souls. It is not the cause of salvation, but the result of salvation.

Let’s take a few moments to apply these words to our lives. We are strangers and aliens in this world precisely because we have been chosen and set apart for obedience and forgiveness. Although it can feel lonely and scary when the whole world looks down on us for following Jesus, our differentness is, in fact, a reminder that God is saving us. It can actually become a comfort to us.

Maybe we need to remember that we are holy (that is set apart) not because of anything within ourselves, but rather because God foreknew and chose us. Again that should be a comfort, because I know that I don’t have, within myself, what it takes to become holy. I don’t need to. God has already done it.

Perhaps we need to be reminded that we have been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice has been applied to your life. Now, if we can get out of our own way, we can let Him live a life of obedience through us.

Another possible application is to take the example of Peter, who let Jesus change his name, and was content to be defined entirely by the fact that he belonged to Jesus. We can resist the temptation to pursue an “identity” as a person with this or that ethnic background. We can stand out from our culture, and stop seeking identity in being part of a group of victims or minorities or being a person with certain minority sexual desires. The only identity we should seek is as a chosen one of God, a foreigner here on earth, but a citizen of His kingdom.

1 Peter #1: A LETTER FOR HARD TIMES

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This time we look at the history and setting surrounding the New Testament book of 1 Peter.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 1

1 Peter #1. Introduction

We are starting a new series, today, on the first letter of Peter. I am not utterly against doing topical sermon series’, but I’d like to encourage you to think a little differently about that. As we look at First Peter, the text will introduce a number of different topics. When we do things like that, then I am not deciding which topics to preach about. Instead, the text of the Bible tells us which topics to consider. So, this is a topical series, in a sense. It is just that the bible itself will determine the topics.

Peter wrote only two letters that have survived. We will be looking at the first of these. I’ll take this opportunity to give a reminder about how the New Testament came to be. In addition to the New Testament, we have some of the writings of Christians who lived immediately after the time of the apostles, as well as writings of later Christians, down through the centuries. All of the books of the New Testament are mentioned, referenced and/or quoted from the time of the very earliest writings of Christians. So, for example, the first generation of Christians after the apostles mention 1 Peter, and quote from it. Of course, later generations do as well.

About two hundred and fifty years after the time of the apostles, when Christianity became legal in the Roman empire, a large body of leaders, representing most Christians in the world at that time, gathered together. Among other things, they compared notes about which writings were clearly from the apostles (or others who knew Jesus, like Luke and Mark). To be included in the “canon” (later called the Bible) a document had to have evidence that it was considered genuine since that first generation of Christians, as evidenced by early Christian writings. In addition, it had to be recognized by virtually all Christians in the world at that time as having been used by churches for the previous two-hundred and fifty years. So, if a book was only used, for example, in Alexandria, Egypt, but nowhere else in the world, it would not have been considered a true part of the New Testament. Or, if one group claimed a book was written by an apostle, but no other Christian traditions had a record of it, it was not included.

It is quite clear that very early on, all Christians were aware of 1 Peter, and considered it to be genuine, and were using it to encourage one another in following Jesus. In other words, it is a genuine part of the New Testament, as are all of the books in our modern Bibles.

As is true of many of the books of the New Testament, we have a very good idea of exactly when and where Peter wrote this letter. At the end of the letter, at 5:13, Peter writes:

13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. (1 Peter 5:13, ESV)

“Babylon,” is almost certainly a code-name for Rome. Well before the birth of Jesus, the literal Babylon in Mesopotamia was in ruins. The majority of those living within its ancient walls were goats and their herders. There is no evidence that Peter or Mark ever went there, and there would be no reason for them to do so, seeing as there were almost no people remaining there. However, in the Roman Empire, persecution was beginning to become more and more of a reality, as the words of this letter will show us. Probably less than a year after Peter wrote, the Emperor Nero instigated a vicious persecution against Christians in Rome, in which Peter himself was killed. I’m sure Peter could tell that things were getting more and more dangerous. If his letter was intercepted by the government, it would have been disastrous if he explicitly mentioned a Christian church in Rome. So, Peter uses the word “Babylon,” which Christians would have understood to mean “a great city that is opposed to the people of God;” or, in other words: Rome. “She, who is likewise chosen” means, of course, the church. So, to make it plain, Peter means: “The church in Rome sends you greetings.” In keeping with the dangerous times, he mentions only two personal names, Mark, and Silvanus. To name others would be too risky.

Mark is also known as John-Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, and sometime companion of Paul. Most scholars believe that he spent several years also with the apostle Peter. He wrote the gospel of Mark.

Mark would have been quite young when Jesus was crucified – possibly a teenager – but he was probably one of those in the larger group of Jesus’ followers; some people think he was the young man who ran away naked at the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52).  In any case, one of the house churches in Jerusalem met at his mother’s home (Acts 12:12), and he would have known Peter for most of his life. Much of Mark’s gospel is likely based upon the stories and teachings of Jesus that Mark learned from Peter.

I mention Mark, because his presence with Peter in Rome helps us set the date for 1 Peter. Mark was in Rome with Paul when Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. If Peter had been there then, Paul surely would have mentioned it. So Peter cannot have been in Rome, nor written his letter before Paul wrote those letters, which would have been AD 62 at the latest. I would guess that Paul left Rome in 62, traveled in Asia minor, and then returned to Rome, probably at about the same time Peter arrived there, either late AD 63 or early in 64. After a brief reunion, Paul traveled on to Spain, while Peter stayed in Rome, along with Mark and Silvanus (also called Silas). Peter wrote his first letter after Paul left, or he, for his part, surely would have mentioned Paul’s presence with him. A few months later, Peter wrote his second letter.

In any case, we know that in July of 64, the city of Rome burned, and the emperor Nero used that as an excuse to start a horrifying persecution of Christians. He blamed Christians for the fire, and it is possible that he executed some Christians by burning them alive in his palace gardens as human torches. Whether or not that last is true, he most certainly sought to kill Christians and destroy the church. At some point during Nero’s persecution, Peter was found and executed. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down, though I have my doubts about how that actually works. There is no doubt, however, that Peter perished in Nero’s persecution. Many people think that Paul returned to Rome during this time, and was also killed by Nero.

Peter addresses his letter to Christians in a number of different Roman provinces (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia). All of these are found in modern-day Turkey, and cover the northern three-quarters of that country. Some commentators think that Peter was writing mainly to Jewish Christians, but the text of the letter makes it clear that he was writing to both Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) Christians. In fact, it is likely that the Gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish believers in those areas.

The Christians in those areas were living in uncertain times. Christianity was already getting noticed by the Roman authorities, and the emperor Nero was increasingly unfriendly to it. The rest of the empire took their cue from the emperor. Although the recipients of the letter were probably not persecuted as brutally as the church in Rome (until about thirty years later), it was clear that Christians were not welcome in the general culture of the world at the time. In addition, Peter was writing to people who were experiencing struggles and difficulties of all different types, including things that didn’t have much to do with persecution. In short, 1 Peter is a book written to Christians who were facing hard times. As such, I think its message is very encouraging to us today.

For the rest of this sermon I want you to read the entire book of 1 Peter in one sitting. It isn’t long. Or listen to it, as I read it on the recording above, here at clearbible.blog. I think it is often helpful to start a book by reading the whole thing at once, so we can see how one part flows into another. Without further ado, let’s do it.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #11: REST FOR YOUR SOUL

Jesus invites us to take on his yoke. What he means is that he is inviting us to take on only his burden, and to do so with his own strength. To accept this and find the rest for our souls that He promises, we must first drop our own load – our ideas and expectations and demands about what we think we need to be happy and to be “OK.” We might think we need a certain amount of money to be OK. We might think we need to live in a certain place in order to be happy. We need to have this kind of relationship, or that kind of car. That’s the stuff we need to drop. If we try to add Jesus on top of all that, it will feel like a burden.

But Jesus invites us to drop it all. It’s the only way to find rest for your souls. Instead of trying to make sure we have everything we think we need, we trust Jesus to supply all that we need. When we allow him to live through us, so that we have no agenda other than “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” we find his yoke is easy. We find rest for our souls.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 11

LIVING CRUCIFIED #11. Matthew 11:28-30

If Jesus is really going to live his life through us, it can’t be only on Sunday mornings. It can’t be just when you have your quiet time with God each day. It can’t be only Sunday mornings, plus quiet times and small group meetings. It can’t be only after work. It can’t be only on weekends or mission trips.

You see, in America especially, we tend to have our own goals and ambitions, and we try to wedge God into our life as one piece of a very full pie. We’d be quite happy to let Jesus have more of us, but we just don’t have the time. Our plates our full. Our time and energy is used up. Then we come along and read something like this:

28 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, HCSB)

We think, “That sounds great, but frankly, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels following Jesus just adds to all the hard work I’m doing.”

But we’re forgetting two things. First, we are forgetting that Jesus has already done it all. He has forgiven us. He has made us holy. He is the one who wants to live through us. We don’t have to make it happen. We don’t have to make ourselves holy. We simply need to respond to Jesus in faith.

Sometimes we come across passages in the bible that tell us how to behave. Like this one:

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:17-29, ESV)

 We might think, “That sounds like hard burden, not rest for my soul.” But we sometimes read too quickly, and miss where it says, “put off the old self…and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and  put on your new self, created after the likeness of God.” So this is something that happens as our mind is renewed. That happens through faith, and through frequently putting the scriptures into our minds. But our new self has been created, not by us, but by God. So, maybe, when we read those verses we could pray something like this: “Holy Spirit, thank you for showing me what the life of Jesus looks like as he lives through me. Please help me to step aside so that you can manifest your life in me and through me, for your glory. Renew my mind, and keep creating my new self.”

When we find ourselves in a situation where we want to do one thing, but we know Jesus wants to do something else, we can pray: “Lord, thank you that you are the one living my life. I can’t do what you want. My flesh doesn’t want me to do it. My flesh is not strong enough, or good enough, to do it. But I surrender to you, and I ask you to work in me anyway. I have no power to stop myself from doing wrong, no power to do what is right. But I give you permission to do the right thing through me right now.”

That prayer might sound too simple. But the Lord answers it. I have had times when I wanted to sin. I knew what I wanted to do was wrong. But I felt I had no power to stop myself. I prayed a prayer like the ones I just shared (above). And somehow, I just ended up doing what the Lord wanted, and not the sin I had intended to do. It didn’t feel dramatic, except that somehow, I ended up doing the right thing. You see, we really can trust him to live through us, if we only give him permission to do so. So these things don’t need to be burden. We simply ask Jesus to live holy lives through us, and then let him.

Second, we are forgetting that when Jesus invites us to rest in Him, we have to drop our own agenda in order to do so. Imagine you are carrying a sixty pound backpack. Then you come to Jesus, and he says, “Take my burden upon you; it is easy and light.” Jesus points to his backpack, which weighs fifteen pounds. You think “That doesn’t feel easy. Now instead of sixty pounds, I’ll be carrying seventy-five pounds.”

You grab his pack and sling it on top of yours. Now your heavy burden feels almost intolerable. But Jesus laughs, and pokes you in the ribs. “You’re not listening,” he says. “Drop your load. All of it. Carry only my fifteen pound pack. Everything you’ll ever need is in there.”

And that uncovers the real issue. It’s hard to believe that Jesus could give us everything we’ll ever need with only a fifteen pound backpack. Does it have our favorite food? What about the television? What about the clothes I like? And so on. But the only way to find out is to trust Jesus, and drop our own pack.

What I am calling our own backpack is all of our ideas and expectations and demands about what we think we need to be happy and to be “OK.” We might think we need a certain amount of money to be OK. We might think we need to live in a certain place in order to be happy. We need to have this kind of relationship, or that kind of car. That’s the stuff we need to drop. If we try to add Jesus on top of all that, it will feel like a burden. But Jesus invites us to drop it all. It’s the only way to find rest for your souls. Instead of trying to make sure we have everything we think we need, we trust Jesus to supply all that we need. When we allow him to live through us, so that we have no agenda other than “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” we find his yoke is easy. We find rest for our souls.

This is what we’ve talking about with this sermon series. Life is not found in our circumstances. There is no life in having everything we want. There is no life in denying ourselves everything we want. The only true life comes from the realm of the spirit. It is found in Jesus alone. When we have Jesus, we have the life. As a discipline to help us find the true life that Jesus offers, we put God after the but. We live by faith, trusting the words of the bible that tell us we have been thoroughly separated from sin and the law, and we have been born again into God’s kingdom, even if we don’t look like it, or feel like it. We now live only for God’s glory, and find that the burden of doing so is light, since it is Jesus who lives through us.

We started to talk about this last time, but let’s continue to consider what it looks like to drop our own agenda, and take up the easy, restful yoke of Jesus. What is like to have all of life be about the glory of God through us? First, for many of us, the change is mostly internal. Externally, we might still do most of the same things. We will still go to work, and come home, and eat with our families, and go fishing on the weekends, and so on.

The change comes in the way we go about these things, an also in the why we go about them.

Let’s start with the change in the “why.” When we realize that all of life is about letting Jesus live through us so that God is glorified, it reorients us. Going to work is no longer primarily about making money and creating a secure financial future for ourselves. Instead, going to work is an opportunity for Jesus to be there with your co-workers – through you. You aren’t working to advance your career; you are working to let Jesus advance His agenda in your workplace.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Bible does says that, apart from unavoidable exceptions, people should arrange to make sure that they support themselves and their families financially (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 5:8). By the way, this could involve mothers staying at home with kids while husbands work to support them all, so stay-at-home-moms have no reason to feel bad at all. In fact, that too, can often be a calling which brings glory to God. If you are a family breadwinner, it also brings glory to God that you do honest work for which you are paid. Even so, the point of working is not to create security for yourselves, but primarily to be about whatever business God has you in, so that he can use you there. The reason you work is now so that God can show his glory through you.

As far as the way we live for God’s glory at work, God might show his glory through you in the calm presence that your co-workers feel from you. He might do that in conversations you have with coworkers. He might do that just by having your do work excellently, so that it becomes part of his glory. Others will notice how you work, and if you let Jesus work through you as he wants to, it will have an impact on them. Again this comes as you lean on him in trust, and let your mind be renewed by the Bible.

This is true also of leisure time. We aren’t supposed to stop having any kind of relaxing time, and just serve God directly at church with every spare minute. Instead, every minute of every day is in service to God, no matter what we are doing, and that includes the time we spend relaxing.

Let me give an example. I love to fish. Years ago, I used to fish at least once a week during warm weather, often all day; sometimes I fished even more than that. One day, I realized what we are talking about here, that all of life is about God’s glory, and I understood that something needed to change. It wasn’t that I needed to stop fishing. But I needed to let God use the time I spent fishing. So, I did two things. First, I became open to inviting others along with me as a I fished. Then, if God wanted, he could us to encourage one-another as we fished. We were still fishing, and catching fish was the primary goal. But the time now belonged to God, and so when someone else was with me, there was an opportunity there for us to encourage one another in following Jesus. Usually that happened very organically and naturally, around the activity of fishing. Sometimes, it was just building relationships, and we had no conversations that were especially spiritual. But either way, the time belonged to Jesus, to use as he wanted.

Second, when I was fishing alone, I also used that time to pray, and to deliberately let the Lord refresh my soul. Again, I was definitely out there to fish. But I was also there – even by myself – to be used for God’s glory, and part of that involves Him pouring his life into me. For me, time alone is very helpful for that sort of thing.

So, for you, maybe it is golf. Don’t stop golfing. But surrender your golf time to the Lord. He may call you to golf (or fish) a little bit less. (At this stage of my life, he has me fishing less than I used to.) He may, or may not, call you to golf less. But he wants to use the time you are on the course to bring Him glory. The same could be true of crafting, or watching and talking about movies, or sewing, or getting together with friends to hang out.

All of life now belongs to Jesus. Sometimes, our priorities are out of line. We may need to spend less time and work, and more time with certain people that God has put in our lives. Or, maybe the opposite. I have noticed as life goes on that Jesus frequently wants to make adjustments in how I spend my time.

Even ordinary things like grocery shopping, are there for the Lord to use. Sometimes, I ask a cashier how I can pray for her. Others time I pray silently, without talking about it. Many times, the Lord uses my time at Walmart to reveal my mean-spirited heart to myself, and bring me to repentance for the way I look at some people. Going to Walmart can build real Christian character if you take on the yoke of Jesus.

One thing that may help us to remember to let Jesus live through us is to say a quick prayer whenever you transition between activities. For instance, maybe you are wrapping up work for the day. You could say, “OK Lord, thanks for living through my work today. Please now live through the time I’m going to spend with my family.” (Or “the time I’m going to spend fishing, or shopping, or whatever…”).

Another thing about the yoke of Jesus. I think most Americans probably try to do far too much. We have so many opportunities, and most of them are truly good. But sometimes “good” is the enemy of “best.” For a lot of Americans, I think Jesus wants to invest more deeply in fewer things, rather than trying to be a part of every opportunity that crosses our paths. Especially when our kids are young, we often enroll them in band, sports, dance club, chess club, music club… I don’t even know all of the options. But often this means that our kids never have unstructured time, and never have alone time. If you don’t have those kinds of time as you grow up, you end up having a hard time being alone, and a hard time thinking deeply about things, and hard time structuring your own life, and all of those are important to following Jesus. Leave some time for Jesus to work with nothing particular going on. Give God space to work.

I was working on this part of the sermon late at night. I took a break and went into the kitchen where I was all set to make some toast, upon which I was going to put Nutella chocolate spread. I was thinking about Jesus living my life, through me, and how it is supposed to happen even in ordinary things, like making lunch, or a snack. And then, I felt quite clearly that he was telling me something like this: “I don’t want to put that Nutella toast into this body of ours at this time.” This is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about: Being willing for Jesus to direct us and live through us, even in ordinary things. I didn’t hear a voice or anything, but I knew what Jesus wanted. That’s how the guiding of the spirit works. So, I put the bread away. I must admit, if I hadn’t been preaching on this, I might not have done that.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a preacher.

However, I don’t want you to miss a point here. I have been trying to control my late-night snacking, without much success. But, simply giving Jesus permission to decide what goes into my/His body somehow made it easier to not have the toast. I’m not trying to stop myself from eating delicious, rich, chocolate coated, toasted, home-made, crusty white bread. I’m giving Jesus permission to live through me, and that includes him deciding that my body won’t have that right now. I’m not gritting my teeth with will-power. I’m surrendering, and letting Jesus say “no,” since I don’t have the strength to say “no” on my own.

 I think he’s OK with a little watermelon soon, though, so that’s nice.

Also, as you noticed, along with making it easy to eat healthier, he gave me a perfect example of how everyday life looks with the yoke of Jesus. So, he even made my sermon easier. That’s because, as he says, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. It’s a piece of cake (or, maybe, watermelon).

Why don’t you try it right now? (Not the watermelon, or the cake. The lifestyle of living crucified.) As the psalmist says:

​​​​Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! ​​​​​​​Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, ​​​​​​​for those who fear him have no lack! ​​​ (Ps 34:8-9, ESV)

LIVING CRUCIFIED #10: WALKING BY THE SPIRIT

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Some people think that we live the Christian life with God’s help. They think, “Out of gratitude toward God, I should give glory to Him. So, I should pray, and ask him to help me.” But that isn’t really the Biblical picture of Walking by the Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit, we are trusting Jesus to live the life through us. We respond in faith to His Word (the bible) and promptings from within us. (When there is a conflict between the two, we follow the bible.) But we don’t do it on our own strength. We lean on Jesus, and trust him to show his glory in us and through us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 10

Living Crucified #10. Walking by the Spirit

Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27-29; John 15:4-5; Galatians 5:16-25; Romans 8:1-8; Romans 12:1-2.

Last time, we talked about the fact that God is in the business of showing his glory to the world. That is, he is manifesting his goodness, love, peace, joy, beauty, truth, justice, grace, creativity, and so on, to the universe. Since that is his business, when we belong to him, he uses us (among other things) to show his glory. This time I want us to get a bit more practical about how, exactly, God shows his glory through us, and what we can do to either hinder it, or help it. What we are aiming for is what Paul expressed so well:

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

So let’s begin there. A lot of people make the mistake of believing that  God saves us by his grace, and then we are supposed to make a giant effort to live good lives out of gratitude toward him. But that is not the case at all.

God saves us by his grace, and then he goes on to show his glory through us. It is God’s work from beginning to end, not ours. Paul did not say: “I have been crucified with Christ, and now I live for God’s glory.” No. He said “now Christ lives in me.” Christ is in us, showing the glory of God. Paul said the same thing to the Colossians:

27 God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me. (Colossians 1:27-29, HCSB)

We do not show God’s glory, not even with his help. Instead, it is Christ who shows God’s glory. He does this through us, yes, but it does not come about by our own efforts. Look at what Paul wrote above. Part of the way Christ showed his glory through Paul was through Paul’s teaching and preaching. Paul says he’s been laboring at that, “striving with His strength that works powerfully within me.” In a sense, Paul was working at it. But even as he did what God told him to do, it was Christ who did the work through him. It was God’s strength at work within Paul.

Jesus explained it this way:

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5, ESV)

Our part is to hang on to Jesus – to lean upon him in faith. Apart from him, we can do how much? Exactly nothing. It is Jesus who does the work through us.

So, what exactly, does this look like?

I am trying to lean on Jesus, and let him do the work as I prepare this message. I’ve been praying a bit like this: “Lord, I have no confidence in my own ability to communicate this stuff well. Please show your glory through what I say and write. Do this through me. Here is my mind, use it. Here are my fingers, on the keyboard, use them. Here’s my voice; use it.”

Not long after the verse where Paul talks about being crucified with Christ, and living his life by faith, he writes this:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25, ESV)

This business of walking by the Spirit is the same things “living crucified.” We rely upon God within us (and he is within us through the Holy Spirit) as we go about our lives. Now does this mean we just do whatever comes to us, even if it is sinful? No. Paul says the works of the flesh are obvious (he lists some of them in Galatians 5:17-21 above). The scripture gives us clear guidelines, to show us when we are using God’s grace as an excuse to sin, and therefore no longer bringing glory to God.

Here’s another concrete example of it: One time we had a lady who started coming to a house church. She had been raised in a Christian home, but as far as we could tell, she didn’t have a living faith. She lived with her boyfriend and thought nothing was wrong with that. One night she wanted prayer to receive the Holy Spirit. I thought that was jumping the gun a little bit, since she didn’t really know Jesus. But we prayed. When we were done she said, “when you prayed for me, I really did get the Holy Spirit.” I didn’t think so, but I didn’t want to burst her bubble, so I didn’t say anything.

The next day she called me. “I just told my boyfriend he had to move out,” she said. “I have the Holy Spirit now, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t want to live like that.” She had some semi-pornographic “art” in her apartment that she threw out. She said, “The Holy Spirit doesn’t want to look at those things.” She told me some other changes she was making in her life. I was floored. She really did have the Spirit, and she was absolutely “walking by the Spirit.”

Once she was surrendered to Jesus, once he lived in her through the Spirit, I did not have to tell her it was wrong to live with her boyfriend. I didn’t have to tell her that the pictures were inappropriate – the Spirit showed her.

Now I am not saying there is no use in knowing what the Bible says. The Spirit works through the Word to guide, correct and teach us. As time went on, we provided this woman with extensive teaching and mentoring. But the changes in her life were brought about not by other Christians giving her rules to follow, nor by her making a tremendous effort, but rather Jesus living his life through her. Her main work was simply to trust Jesus and respond to him as he led her.

I could tell you more true stories but my hope is that if you are a believer, you will see for yourself that Jesus will live his life through you if you let him. And this is why we don’t need to focus on whether or not we are sinning. If we are focused on Jesus and if we respond to him as he teaches us and leads us, we are not going to sin very often. You see, if Jesus is the one living your life, Jesus isn’t going to want to sin. Jesus is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey. Come on. You know that’s not what I want to do through your life. This is supposed to be My life, as well as yours. Let’s not do that.” And when he does, we need to respond in faith, and say, “OK, Lord, what do you want to do.”

It’s only when we stop believing it, and stop responding in faith to Jesus that we get into trouble. We get into trouble when WE try to live our OWN lives. Even when we are trying to live our lives in a holy way, if we are doing it on our own, we tend to get into trouble. It is not that God tells us what to do, and then we do it. It is that he leads us, and we simply need to get out of the way and let him do it.

Obviously responding to Jesus does involve us in doing things, in action. We are not supposed to sit on the couch and say, “Come on Jesus! Aren’t you going to move my feet?” The point is that what we do should be the result of us responding to Jesus.

I once had a neighbor who became a Christian. She had been a Wiccan, and when she came to Jesus, she felt that she should burn her books of witchcraft/Wicca. That is, Jesus, living in her, wanted to burn the Wiccan books. My neighbor only had to say, “OK. Since you want to do that, I’ll go get the books, some kerosene and a lighter.” Jesus living in the other woman did not want to have an illicit relationship with her boyfriend. She didn’t say, “Well then, stop me!” Instead, she let him use her mouth to tell her boyfriend to move out. It was her body. She had to open her mouth and say the words. But it was the life of Jesus through her that made it all happen. By the way, her boyfriend became a Christian a few months later, and a year or so after that they were married. They are married today, actively leading in their church and doing missions trips every year.

Here’s a less dramatic, every-day kind of example of living for the glory of God. I am writing this on a day when we normally have an in-person house-church meeting. However, a few days ago, Kari and I spent a fair amount of time with someone who just got sick with Covid-19. We feel fine. Most (but not all) of the people in our house church have been vaccinated, but so was our friend who just got the virus. We texted with the rest of the church, and no one seemed quite sure whether we should meet today in person, or not. I prayed for guidance, but heard no booming voice from the sky. Instead, after praying, I went with my best guess at wisdom, which was that we should meet by Zoom tonight. I trust that Jesus can get through to me, if it is important enough. So I trust he was causing me to make the right decision. Even if I got it wrong, I trust him to work it all out for his own glory. It all felt very ordinary. So you see, trusting is important. We trust that he will get through to us, and when we don’t get any clear guidance (guidance that we know for sure is God) we trust that he has heard our prayer is and is leading us even when we don’t realize it.

We do have some guard rails in this process. He isn’t going to lead us down the path of the flesh. So if we come up with an answer that leads to sin, or to a work of the flesh, we can know that it is wrong. So it isn’t just that anything we feel like doing is automatically the right thing. The bible is very clear about the kinds of thing that we should not do, as we seek to let Jesus live through us. So, if we realize that what we feel like doing is actually wrong according to the Bible, we pray again, and seek an answer that truly brings glory to God.

That ordinary, slightly ambiguous story about deciding whether or not to do church in person is a fairly good example of what faith often looks like in everyday life. It isn’t dramatic. Nothing particularly amazing happened specifically because we met by Zoom. But if we walk by the Spirit, by faith, consistently, God will ensure that his glory shines through us.

He will do it because it is His desire. It isn’t something he’s left us to do on our own. Some of you were with us when we studied the book: Joining Jesus on His Mission. One of the things the author said about doing evangelism, is that Jesus has already set it up for us. It’s like driving a car. We don’t have to know how the engine works, or how the electrical system functions. All we have to do is turn the key and drive. This is true not just of evangelism, but of the whole Christian life. God has already set it up for us. All we have to do is get in – in the passenger seat – and let him drive us.

Now, I want to be clear. We aren’t living for Jesus. We are letting Jesus live through us. The first one still relies on our own flesh-based efforts – we have worthy goals that we are accomplishing (or not) by our own effort. The second one is about completely relying on Jesus to do it. We have to give him our response – we have to say yes to Him and let him use our arms and legs and words, but we recognize at the same time that it is His Life flowing through our unique body and personality.

Jesus lived this way in his own relationship with the Father, while he was on earth. He said:

 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”  (John 14:7, HCSB)
The one who has seen Me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works.  (John 14:10 HCSB)

In this same passage, Jesus himself gives us a clue that he will live the life in us, just as the Father lived the life in him:

“I assure you: The one who believes in Me  will also do the works that I do. (John 14:12)

We often think this means we will imitate what Jesus did. I think, in light of the rest of the New Testament, that it means Jesus will live his life through us.

1 Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, 2 because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, 4 in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:1-8, HCSB)

So, we set our minds on things of the Spirit, not on things of the flesh. Either Jesus will do it, as you set your mind on him, and allow him to direct you, or you are on your own. Letting Jesus live through you calls for faith that he will indeed do it. Remember, we act as we believe.

So maybe you are in a situation where God is calling you to speak and act in love toward another person. You don’t feel very loving. Maybe some people wouldn’t even pray. They’d just grit their teeth and try to be loving. Maybe others would pray something like this: “Lord, give me the strength to love this person right now.” But that isn’t exactly right either. That means we are still living the life ourselves, even if it is with God’s help. I think our attitude should be more like this: “Lord, I don’t feel loving. I can’t love this person right now. You do the loving through me. I am willing for you to do that. I make myself available to you for that.” And then we trust Him to come through.

Maybe you need to forgive someone for something they have done to you. This is often one of the hardest things to do and let go of. Many times, we try to do it on our own strength. Sometimes, we begin to get a glimmer of a clue, and we say, “Lord help me to forgive them.” Again, the focus of that prayer is still myself and my own performance.

Remember what Jesus prayed for those who crucified him: “Father forgive them…” We often think of this as Jesus asking the Father for forgiveness on our behalf. And perhaps that is what it was. But what if it was the human-nature of Jesus, who was dependent on the Father to live his life through him, asking the Father to do through him what he, the human-nature of Jesus, could not do on his own? Given the verses in John above, that is a real possibility – this was Jesus, praying in dependence that the Father would continue to work through him and speak through him even in this extreme and terrible situation.

And so we can say, “Jesus, I feel bitter toward this person. I can’t forgive him myself. Even so, I give you permission to forgive through me right now. Lord forgive him – through me.”

Do you see how this could change everything? Our performance could never, will never, achieve our salvation. Jesus did that on our behalf. But our own performance will also never, ever, be enough to live the Christian life either. Just think of it: It is the CHRISTian life. It is his life. He is the one who will live it. Our part is to allow him to; to respond when he speaks through the bible or in our hearts; to let him have our arms and legs and mouth and thoughts and the rest of us, so that he can live our life. This is why Paul puts it like this:

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Rom 12:1-2, ESV)

We are to present our bodies to Jesus, so that he can use us. We are to let him renew our mind, to transform us from the inside out so that we can hear and respond to Him living his life through us. As a practical exercise, you might consider praying the verse above (Romans 12:1-2). Something like: “Lord, I give you my whole self as yours, so that you can be at work in my spirit. Let me conformed to your word. Transform me, renew my mind, for your glory.” Or we might pray John 15:4-5 (quoted earlier): “Lord keep me abiding in you. Bear your fruit through me today.”

When we are surrendered to him such that he lives through us, we will be more filled with joy and peace and fruit of the spirit, because when we do this, we are fulfilling the purpose for which we were born.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #9: THE GLORY OF GOD

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The most wonderful thing in all of existence is God. He is the most beautiful, wonderful, joyful, exciting, heart-pumping, loving thing in all the universe. When we talk about God’s glory, we mean displaying all this wonderfulness of God to the rest of existence. Nothing is better in any way than God and his glory. God designed it so that we are bound up with his own glory. When the best thing in the universe happens – God’s glory is revealed – that blesses us also. It didn’t have to be that way, but God made it that way.

We were literally made to display part of the glory of God.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 9

Living Crucified #9. God’s Glory.

Romans 9:21-24; Ephesians 2:4-7; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-11; Luke 8:16-17

Some of you may be wondering: what exactly is this sermon series about? I mean the title, “Living Crucified” sounds nice and pleasant and all, but what does it really mean? What’s the point here? In other words, some of you may want the “big picture” concerning this series.

This week I want to back out to a bird’s-eye view. Here’s the really big picture: God is the ultimate good. He is the most glorious, wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, powerful, delightful, honorable, pure, excellent being in all of existence. Because there is nothing better than God, not in any possible way, the best possible thing in the universe is God’s own glory. By “God’s glory,” I mean “displaying the wonderfulness of God.”

If you ask the question: “What is the best possible thing that could happen in this moment?” the answer is always: “For the glory of God to be revealed.” When we share the joy of love with another human being, that is part of the glory of God being revealed. When a doctor, using the capacities and opportunities given to her by God, saves a life, the glory of God is being revealed. When we hear beautiful music, see beautiful scenery, or read wonderful writing, the joy and goodness of those experiences are part of the wonderfulness of God being displayed. Even the sins that entice us tempt us because they are corrupt counterfeits of God’s glory. If we could truly see sin for what it is, we wouldn’t be interested. But we fall for it because it seems like shortcut to the experience of something wonderful – a shortcut to the glory of God. So the glory of God is always the best thing that could happen in any given situation.

Now, here is the amazing thing. God decided to make us – human beings – part of his glory. Our existence, and the way he relates to us, is designed to display his wonderfulness to the universe. However, we need to know that He didn’t have to do it that way. He could just have easily had made us so that destroying us would display his glory. Instead, he made it so that when he is good to us, it accomplishes the purpose of showing his glory. Paul makes this exact point in Romans 9: 21-24.

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. (Romans 9:21-24, NLT)

Understand what this means: God made it so that when the best possible thing in the universe happens (his glory), it results in good things for us, too.

Let me offer a few analogies to help us understand. Imagine there is an incredibly talented architect. He is as creative as Picasso, and as talented as Michelangelo. He is as detailed and knowledgeable as any engineer, and as practical as a mother on a limited budget. His buildings create a sense of wonder and surprise. They are beautiful, but also very useful and functional. If he wanted, he could work for giant, rich corporations to create stunning corporate headquarters for wealthy CEOs to show off. He could even create buildings that were simply sheer works of art, to be admired by generations to come. Instead, this architect devotes his entire career to creating beautiful, functional housing for people with limited incomes. His work shows off his amazing talent, but he chooses to “show off” in a way that benefits others, especially others who stand in great need. That’s a little bit like God. God could have chosen to show his glory in a way that had nothing to do with human beings. But he chose to show his glory in a way that benefits us.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7, NLT)

God saved us – and we contributed nothing toward that salvation. And one reason God did it is so that he can point to us as examples of his grace and kindness – that is, as part of his glory.

Picture a brilliant musician and composer. His understanding of music is deeper than Bach’s. His creativity greater than all of the music producers in the world put together. His music is stunningly beautiful, moving the heart and delighting the mind. He could make millions upon millions as a recording artist. He could show off his skill by recording each part himself. Instead, he writes symphonies that involve every musical instrument known to humanity, and he uses other musicians to play each part. So, when his music is performed, every instrument is involved in demonstrating the glory of this composer, and many different musicians get to be a part of it. So those other musicians get to participate in the glory of that talented composer.

Another one would be that of a stained glass window, or a tile mosaic. Each piece of glass or tile shows one small part of a bigger picture. Each one is interesting in itself, but their main use is to display the larger picture that the artist wants to convey. In the case of the stained glass, the light of the sun comes through each piece in a slightly different way, and they all combine to give one, beautiful and coherent picture.

So God chose to make human beings part of the displaying of his glory.

6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:6-11, ESV)

God desires to manifest his glory through our mortal flesh, yes, even through the lives that we live in these flawed bodies. Remember, we have talked about the two realms? There is one realm that is unseen, eternal and spiritual. There is another realm – the realm in which we live our daily lives. This realm is made up of things that can be seen; things that are physical, and temporary. The things that are true in that eternal realm are more powerful than our feelings and experiences in the physical, temporary realm, because they will outlast the physical. We are to draw life from the unseen realm, and set our minds on it, and focus on it.

However, it would be a big mistake to say that everything in the physical realm is bad, or useless, or meaningless. Because the fact is this: God has chosen to display his glory, not just in the eternal, unseen realm,  but also in the physical, seen, temporary realm. That means that this world, including our temporary, physical experiences have meaning and importance. The temporary realm is a platform to display the wonderfulness of God, and that makes it significant indeed. So, our physical actions and choices are important.

We have seen in several places that one way that God shows his glory through us is by saving us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there is more to it than that. He created each human being to show off his glory in unique ways. When we are crucified with Christ, we are raised to a new life, and the purpose of the new life is to display some unique piece of God’s glory. Since God is infinite, there will never be too many humans to do this. The Holy Spirit tells us that God prepared in advance the ways he wants to use us to show his glory:

For we are his craftsmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of works that are good, which God designed and appointed ahead of time, so that we should spend our lives in doing them. (Ephesians 2:10, my “expanded” translation)

So, for example, part of the way God shows his glory through me is through the teaching of the Bible. It may even be that one unique aspect of God’s glory that shines through me is the analogies he gives me to help us understand things like this. Years ago, a visitor to the church came up to me after hearing me preach, and said, “You’re really good at this.” I don’t know if he realized it or not, but what he was seeing was not me, but the glory of God coming through me, as it was designed to be.

God does not use me to display his glory through building things, or fixing engines. But he does show his glory that way through people whom I know. I just got a text from a friend who fixed the alternator on his boat engine. I didn’t even know boats had alternators! But when my friend applies his skill, and fixes something to the best of the ability that God gave him, it shows a piece of God’s glory. I have a couple other friends who build their own houses, or do other things related to physical craftsmanship. I find myself in awe of them. But, whether I always recognize it or not, what really impresses me is God’s glory shining when they walk in the good works that God designed for them ahead of time. It isn’t really about them, no matter how skilled they are. It is about the glory of God which comes through them.

If music was the NFL, I might be good enough to be a backup offensive lineman (for non-football fans, this is a backup to the least “skilled” position; sort of the bread and butter players). But I know people who are good enough to be the star quarterbacks. The fact that they aren’t actual music celebrities, does not take away one bit from the fact that the glory of God shines through them when they do music. The point is not that we are all famous for our gifts. The point is that we let God’s glory shine through us whenever, and however, we have the chance.

I think that quite often, we lose track of the fact that this is God’s primary purpose. This is what he is up to. And that means, it doesn’t really matter how many other human beings see it, here and now. In the end, God will make it all contribute to his own glory.

Several years ago our church was not yet doing house-church. We were in transition, and sometimes our Sunday morning attendance was rather small. One Sunday, the weather was bad and it was a holiday weekend, and I found myself preaching to just my own family, plus about four other people.

As I was preaching, I was also praying. I said: “Lord, what’s the point here? Do you really want me to do this for so few people?”

His response, spoken into my heart was this: “How would you feel if you were preaching to an audience of one – that is, just one person, but that one person was the president of the United States?

I thought: “It would be an honor, Lord.”

“What about if you are preaching to an audience of one, and that person is Me, Lord of the Universe?”

“Really, Lord?”

“Really. I want to hear this sermon you are preaching. Now stay focused and keep going. I’m listening, and I like what I hear.”

It was a kind of stunning moment. I serve at the pleasure of the Ruler of the Universe. If he wants me to preach to the birds, like St. Francis, then that should surely be good enough for me. I preach not for myself, not even for you who might be reading this, but for my King. If I rely on him as I do it, He will look after how it brings glory to Himself. It may be that at the end, the things we do in obscurity will be showed to the whole universe. Jesus seems to say as much on several occasions:

16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. (Luke 8:16-17, NLT) (See also Luke 12:2-9; Matthew 10:26)
22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. (Mark 4:22, NIV)
So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Timothy 5:25, ESV)

Even if only God knows about it, it will contribute to his glory. So, if you are a builder, build for the glory of God, and don’t worry who else will know or see what you have built. If you are an artist, do your art for the Audience of One, and trust Him to look after how it will be part of his glory. Same for you musicians, you craftsmen, even you who delight in sports, or stamp collecting. There was a time in my life, working on my Master’s of Divinity degree, when I realized that all I had really done was go to school. But I believe that being the best student you can be is also something that can bring glory to God. Everyone has some way to let God’s glory shine through.

Quite literally, this is what we were made for.

Next week, I’ll start talking about how we go about this in a practical way, and draw some more connections with other things we’ve been learning so far.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #8: BORN AGAIN

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Our identity, our place of citizenship, and our rights and privileges are determined not by how we act, not by how we feel, but by our birth. The scripture tells us that when we receive Jesus, we have been born again, as citizens of the Kingdom of God. This is true even when don’t feel like it, and even when we don’t act like it.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 8

LIVING CRUCIFIED #8: BORN AGAIN

Galatians 3:2-5; John 3:3-6; 1 Peter 1:3; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Romans 8:28-39

You might want to listen to this one, even if you normally just read. I preached this in an Australian accent to make a point; to illustrate the sermon. It could be entertaining. On the other hand, it could be excruciating.

This series is called “Living Crucified.” I am trying to flesh out something Paul wrote to the Galatians:

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

You see, many Christians get the basic message of salvation, but they are confused about how to live the Christian life. We understand that our actions are of no value in getting salvation for ourselves. Salvation is a free a gift of God, and it cannot be earned through good deeds (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is appropriated through faith. In other words, we get it when we believe that we need it, and that God has really done this for us. God did it all for us. Now, (we think, wrongly) it is up to us to live as good followers of Jesus, out of thankfulness to God. Classic devotional writer Andrew Murray puts it like this:

“The idea they have of grace is this – that their conversion and pardon are God's work, but that now, in gratitude to God, it is their work to live as Christians, and follow Jesus.  There is always the thought of a work to be done, and even though they pray for help, still the work is theirs.  They fail continually, and become hopeless; and the despondency only increases the helplessness.” (Abide in Christ)

We tend of think of it like this: ultimate failure, and the power of death and hell, are defeated through Jesus. Now, once we trust in Jesus we can play the game “safely” so to speak. So we can try and fail and try and fail as much as we need to, without being in danger of going to hell. But does that really sound like “good news?” We are “free” to pursue a cycle of failure? Andrew Murray adds this:

“Dear souls!  How little they know that the abiding in Christ is just meant for the weak, and so beautifully suited to their feebleness.  It is not the doing of some great thing, and does not demand that we first lead a very holy and devoted life.  No, it is simply weakness entrusting itself to a Mighty One to be kept – the unfaithful one casting self on One who is altogether trustworthy and true.  Abiding in him [living the Christian life] is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying his salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us.  It is a work he does for us – the fruit and the power of His redeeming love.  Our part is simply to yield, to trust and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.”  (Abide in Christ).

In this series, I am trying to explain this in several different ways. So, we’ve learned to put what God says after the “but…” – to agree with Him, and to let our dominant reality be determined by God’s Word and God’s actions. We’ve learned to draw life from the Spirit, not from our outward circumstances – not even the good ones. We’ve learned that when we are in Christ, our old self has been crucified, and we are dead to sin, and to the law. We’ve begun to learn how to fight the ongoing temptations that would try remove us from all these truths we’ve been talking about.

Perhaps some of you may have been trying to put some of this into practice recently. Maybe you’ve been facing temptation and saying, “I’m dead to sin, I don’t want to do that anymore,” but it hasn’t always worked for you. Maybe you’ve been trying to believe desperately, who you really are in Christ, but you still have doubts. And because you don’t fully believe, your actions still don’t look like someone who is dead to sin. If sin is still a struggle, I want to preach the good news to you again today. We’ve discussed why and how it can be problem. We’ve talked about how to fight it. But remember, we are dead to it. Now I want to start talking about our new life. We died to sin, but what are we alive to?

This is important because we are often deceived into thinking that our actions determine who we are. If we act sinful, we think we are fundamentally sinners. If we act righteous, we feel good about ourselves and we think we are, by our own efforts, incorporating the righteousness of Christ into our lives. It is to people acting like this that Paul writes:

 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? Did you suffer so much for nothing — if in fact it was for nothing? So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?  (Gal 3:2-5, HCSB)

No. We didn’t become Christians by behaving rightly, but trusting ourselves entirely to Jesus. That is exactly how we should continue. You see, your actions do not determine who you are. Instead, your identity is determined by your birth. I was born in the United States of America. But when I was very young, my family went overseas to be missionaries. The majority of my childhood was spent in other countries.

Taim mi stap liklik pikini, mama, na papa, na susa, na mi save silip sampela taim ‘lo’ ol ples. Na taim mipela stap ‘lo’ ples, mipela save tok Tok Pisin tasol; i no gat Inglis. Tasol, mipela i no kamap manmeri b’long PNG, bilong wanem, mipela tok long Tok Pisin. Nogat. Mipela stap manmeri b’lo’ Amerika yet.

I spoke above in a language of Papua New Guinea to illustrate a point. Let me explain the point I was making in that language. Sometimes, we would live in small, remote villages, and when we did, we spoke that language – called Tok Pisin. But the fact that we spoke the language and lived in the village did not make us citizens of Papua New Guinea. Though we were not behaving like most Americans, we did not, for that reason, cease to be Americans.

By the time I was sixteen I did not sound like an American, even when I spoke English. I actually had an Australian accent, since when people there spoke English, that’s how it sounded. I didn’t really know American culture. My first few years in the US, I didn’t get most of the jokes and wise-cracks, because humor is one of the most culture-specific things there is. I didn’t dress in American fashion.

My memories were not of America. In fact my memories and experiences were in a place that was radically different in very fundamental ways from the United States. In short, America had a very limited role in shaping my thoughts, actions, personality, memory or experience. I did not feel like an American at all.

For that reason, did I cease to be an American? Not at all. My citizenship was determined by the country I was born into – not by my feelings, not even by actions. The key was my birth.

Even though I didn’t feel American, I recognized that America offered me more opportunity than anywhere else in the world. I saw my citizenship here as a gift that I could use. I believed what my parents told me, that I was an American citizen. I believed my American passport was valid. You might say, I believed the words that were written about me, and also those that were spoken to me by people I trusted. So I came to America, and now, because I believed that my birth determined my citizenship, I have received many benefits from being American.

Spiritually speaking we need to recognize that it is our birth, not our actions, which determines our identity.

Remember, action follows belief. And Romans chapter ten tells us that the kind of belief we need for this comes from hearing the word of God. We need to trust what has been written about us, and what has been told to us. So I am going to dwell on some more truth from God’s Word today. If we have trusted in Jesus, the bible is very clear about our birth:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1Pet 1:3, ESV)
Since you have been born again — not of perishable seed but of imperishable — through the living and enduring word of God. (1Pet 1:23, HCSB)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. (1John 5:1, HCSB)
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Eph 2:18-19, ESV)
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (Phil 3:20, ESV)

We have been crucified with Christ. The old has gone. The new you has been born into a new life. We have been born citizens of heaven, members of God’s household. Regardless of what we know about heaven, regardless of how we sometimes act like we are from someplace else, Heaven is the place of our citizenship. Our birth certificate proclaims it, our passport affirms it. All of the resources of heaven are ours.

Now, one of the problems is that sometimes we don’t know our own birth rights. We are like princes and princesses who have born to inherit a kingdom. But we were kidnapped as babies, and raised in poverty. Now, our Father, the king has found us and brought us back to the palace. But we don’t even know the rights and privileges and tasks that are ours as royal children. We don’t know the vast resources we have now to fulfill our positions as princes and princesses. In the same way, so often Christians don’t even know everything that is ours, in Christ Jesus. So Paul writes to the Ephesians:

 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength. (Eph 1:17-19, HCSB)

His prayer is that they (and all followers of Jesus) can know these things. He wants us to know our birthrights, now that we have been born again. So I am going to share with you, some of the riches that are yours and mine when we are in Christ. This is what it means to be born again as a citizen of heaven:

In Christ, we are holy, blameless, righteous and above reproach (Eph 5:4; 2 Cor 5:21; Col 3:12; 1 Cor 6:19).

He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and  above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation  under heaven,  and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Col 1:22-23)

The “if you continue” is clearly about continuing in faith and hope. It is not “continue to act righteous” but “continue to hold fast to the faith that this is true, that Christ has done this for you.” A wise pastor named Dan Stone wrote: “It is not your striving that releases Christ’s life through you. It is your trusting.” We are in Christ when we continue to trust Him and rest in Him day by day. And in Christ, we are holy and blameless.

In Christ, we are safe and free. I am free from condemnation. I am free from sin and death. I cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:1-2; also 8:31-39). God works for my good in all circumstances (Romans 8:28). I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). I can approach God with freedom, confidence and boldness (Eph 3;12; Hebrews 4:16). My real life is already hidden away with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-4). I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (1 John 5:18).

In Christ, we are significant and important. I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life (John 15:5). I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16). I am God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6). I am God’s workmanship; created by Him to do good works, which he has already prepared for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

These are just a few of many verses and concepts that describe who we are when we are born into Christ and into citizenship in Heaven. This is the true you, the you that is more real and more powerful than what you see in the flesh or feel in the soul. If you continue in faith (that is, if you continue to believe, to trust Jesus and trust that this is all true in Him) then this you will last forever, and ultimately will be expressed through a transformed soul and a new, eternal body.

You may still act or think like a foreigner, from time to time. But if you trust Jesus, you have been born again as a citizen of heaven. All this is truly yours, even though your actions may not yet reflect it perfectly.

All this is leading toward an ultimate purpose: so that Jesus Christ can express His Life through you. Let me put a different way: The purpose of it here on earth is so that Jesus Christ can live your life. That is what we will explore next week.