Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Inexpressible and glorious joy

1 Peter 1:3 – 9

I.    We can wallow in sorrow but plant the seeds of love and trust and you get joy.

    A.    Peter was not writing in a vacuum.

        1.    Emperor Nero unleashed massive and hideous persecutions on Christians.

            a.    The death of Christians was public entertainment.

            b.    Nero did tolerate Christians that obtained a license.

                1.)    Appear before Roman governor (or agent) once a year, offer a tiny bit of incense on an alter, and declare “Caesar is Lord.”

                2.)    Early Christian test, “Jesus is Lord.” [Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3]

        2.    It had to have been difficult.  Different people chose different routes.

            a.    You could chose the “safe” way and get a license (but betray Jesus).

            b.    You could choose the trial.

    B.    Peter suggests that suffering is an indispensable factor in the Christian life.

        1.    Suffering is the context/contrast for joy.  Why?

            a.    Suffering is the refiner’s fire. [v 7]

                1.)    The refining process exposed (to be skimmed off) or burned off impurities.

                2.)    The purer the gold the more precious it becomes.

            b.    Suffering proves our faith.

                1.)    What is faith?

                    a.)    Faith is “healthy self-doubt.”  We learn to trust God instead.

                    b.)    Faith is “self-surrender.”   Rather than fighting what God is doing.

                    c.)    Faith is “yielding the will.”   

                    d.)    Faith is “risky.”  (Ill.) Abraham didn’t know where he was going, how long he would be gone, what he would do.  (Heb. 11:13, he was still “going” when he died... had not reached the goal...)

                2.)    Howe does suffering prove our faith?

                    a.)    There is a progression. [v 8]

                    b.)    Love produces trust, trust produces joy.

        2.    Joy is expressed in praise to God. [v 3]

II.    God did more than forgive, He offered us “new life.”

    A.    Inexpressible and glorious joy is based on the mercy of God.

        1.    [v 3] “great mercy” gives the impression that it is beyond our ability to understand.

            a.    [v 3] “new birth”

                1.)    BEFORE we were “dead in (our) sins,” unable to respond to God... uninterested in spiritual matters.

                2.)    AFTER we are “alive to God,” we hear God and respond... We become a different person. [2 Corinthians 5:17]

            b.    [v 3] “living hope”

                1.)    Unquenchable and great expectations.

                2.)    We have everything to hope for... because of the resurrection of Jesus.

        2.    [v 4] “inheritance”

            a.    It does not “perish” (die or decay).

            b.    It does not “spoil” (become defiled, rot)

            c.    It does not “fade.”

The end result of all this is joy.

    B.    That means suffering has a purpose.

        1.    The key idea is discipline.

            a.    Discipline means we do what we don’t feel like doing for a greater good, or to achieve an goal.

                1.)    Unfortunately we live in an “entitlement” society.

                2.)    We think we are “entitled” to a good job, love, or success.

            b.    Discipline means we practice joy in the face of grief.

                1.)    Joy is a choice... but it is not artificial or manufactured.

                2.)    Joy puts the focus where it should be. [v 9]

[v 9] “for you are receiving the result of your faith, THE SALVATION OF YOUR SOULS.”

        2.    The reality of suffering is that it is temporary.

            a.    It may be “life-long but temporary.”

                1.)    This physical existence is NOT all there is...

                2.)    Compare the 100 years we might live to the uncountable years of eternity.

            b.    There is a hope for “tomorrow.”

                1.)    (Ill.) From Anne... “The sun will come out tomorrow...”

                2.)    “Biblical optimism” not delusion or “pie in the sky.”

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Philippians 1:21]

“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” [Psalm 30:5b]

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” [Lamentations 3:22 – 23 ESV]

III.    Joy is the result.

    A.    “Inexpressible and glorious joy”

        1.    It is a continuous, progressive and growing joy.

            a.    Biblically speaking “believing is receiving.”

            b.    If you believe you are receiving, this is NOT just for the future.

(Ill.) “If its going to be funny later, its funny now.”  Reality... “We are going to be joyful later, its joyful now.”

        2.    Have you ever been so happy you couldn’t put it into words?

            a.    Maybe you shouted.

            b.    Maybe you sat in awe and wonder.

    B.    If trust breathes joy, then this is the norm for the Christ-follower.

        1.    When you entered into a right relationship with God:

            a.    You became aware (possibly painfully aware) of the gap between you and God.

            b.    You may have been uncomfortable as you realized God was inviting you to close the gap by moving toward you.

            c.    You say yourself, the ugliness of sin, and were uncomfortable.

            d.    Sensing God’s loving-kindness and the possibilities of being forgiven you began to trust God and love God back.

            e.    You felt the release of forgiveness and the joy of God’s presence.

        2.    What to do?

            a.    Joy comes from the hope based on the mercy of God.

                1.)    What is your relationship with God?

                2.)    Do you trust God to finish what He started?

            b.    Joy comes from knowing the end result (the salvation of your soul).

                1.)    (Ill.) If you travel forward and back in time and see...  I was watching the Detroit Lions play.  They were 17 points down... anguish.  Watching the game re-broadcasted there was glee at that point.  Why? Because I had already seen the final result (Lions won).

                2.)    Joy is a matter of perspective (point of view)... it is seeing life from God’s perspective, not yours.

            c.    Joy is a fruit, a gift and a discipline.

                1.)    As a discipline, it means deliberately looking beyond the circumstances.

                2.)    As a discipline, it takes constant and regular attention and energy.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. [17] For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. [18] So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” [2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18]

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rethinking God

Isaiah 40
Rethinking God

There is a common idea about God that portrays Him as a “candyman.”  This image tries to say that will make everything go right.  A popular song painted this picture:

(Ill.) used in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory also performed by Sammy Davis, Jr.

“Who can take a sunrise,  Sprinkle it with dew?  Cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two…
The candyman, the candyman can, The candyman can 'cause he mixes it with love
and makes the world taste good…”

“Who can take tomorrow, Dip it in a dream?  Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream,
The candyman? The Candyman can, the candyman can… The candyman can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good… And the world tastes good 'cause the candyman thinks it should…”  []

The fact is Scripture portrays God as having His own agenda, purpose and reason that has little to do with our comfort or pleasure.  Maybe its time to rethink God.

I.    God takes “risks.”

    A.    Risks come in many forms.  (The risk of misunderstanding God)

        1.    Pain

            a.    Pain is useful to tell us that something is wrong.

            b.    Pain can help us unlearn weak behavior patterns.

“For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me.  I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” [Psalm 38:17 – 18]

        2.    Suffering

            a.    God is not ignorant of our suffering, sometimes suffering must run its course.

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
[Psalm 22:24]

            b.    Jesus shared in our suffering!  (In fact we inflicted Him with suffering.)

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
[Isaish 53:3]

        3.    Trouble

            a.    We try to define what is sin and we try to define what is good an bad.  These definitions tend to be from the human perspective.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” [Job 2:10b]

            b.    But troubled times are a time to seek God.

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.”
[James 5:13]

        4.    Testing

            a.    “No pain, no gain.”  Muscles grow under stress.  Spiritually we grow under stress.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, [3] because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” [James 1:2 – 3]

            b.    Testing shows us for what we are... it either confirms us or shows us our practice of deceiving ourselves.

“Do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.” [Hebrews 3:8]

        5.    Disappointments

            a.    These are the spiritual “valleys” when we don’t “feel” like loving God.

                1.)    Maybe God did not answer a prayer the way you wanted it to be answered.

                2.)    Maybe you just get to busy for daily “routines” that keep you grounded in God.

            b.    They are the “dark side” of our spiritual journey when we wonder, “what if...”  (Ill. “The Far Side” cartoon by Gary Larson, who was teased unmercifully by his brother about possible realities.  This cartoon often highlighted the uncomfortable, improbable, illogical, and bizarre alternative view of humanity through the world of animals.  He focused on the “what if...”  e.g. )

                1.)    Even Jesus, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46]

                2.)    (Ill.) Praying and sensing my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.  Wife: “It’s a good thing that God is in the room with you.”

    B.    Risks have a purpose.

        1.    They draw our attention away from ourselves.

        2.    They teach us something new about God.

        3.    They move us beyond circumstances.

        4.    They develop undiscovered strength we never knew we had. [v 31]

            a.    (Ill.) Of the eagle... the mother/father make the nest uncomfortable... they snuggle with the young until it is pushed out of the nest or carried out and dropped... it falls or flies...  Often it takes many attempts over many days for the eagle to learn to fly.

            b.    When a storm comes, the eagle cannot stay on the ground (or in the nest)... it must “mount up on wings” and fly above the storm.

            c.    There is a pure joy that eagles seem to have when they are in flight.  They are miserable when caged (you can’t cage a wild eagle).

II.    What do these risks teach us?

    A.    God’s ways are not our ways.

        1.    Preparing a road through the wilderness. [3 – 5]

            a.    Some think this was socio-economic others personal spirituality.

            b.    This was John... he had two things to say.

                1.)    “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” [Matthew 3:2]

                2.)    “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” [Matthew 3:8]

        2.    Changing v Eternal. [6 – 8]

            a.    Human = changing

The emperor Diocletian tried to revive the old pagan religions of Rome by persecuting and killing Christians. He set up a stone pillar in his honor, inscribed with the words that he wanted to describe his legacy: “For having exterminated the name of Christ from the earth.”

            b.    God’s word is eternal.

                1.)    Tamper-proof (make it unaccessible to people by requiring an interpreter)

                2.)    God’s word transforms us, it interprets us, and it corrects us.

    B.    God is “distinct” (recognizably different – Oxford).

        1.    As a Shepherd [v 11]

            a.    He “tends” means to take care of... like a shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.

            b.    He “gathers” means to collect or assemble... like a shepherd who searches for the one who is lost.

            c.    He “carries” means to lift... like a shepherd who finds the lost sheep and loves them all the way home.

            d.    He “gently leads” means to be with in a procreative way...  like a shepherd who is the gate.

        2.    In Creation [vv 12 – 31]

            a.    The “Three Questions”

                1.)    Where you there?  “Who has measured the water... marked off the heavens... held the dust of the earth... weighed the mountains?” [v 12]

                2.)    Do you know everything?   “Who had understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed Him as His counselor... who taught Him?” [vv 13, 14]

                3.)    Can you do the things God does?  “To whom, then, will you compare God?” [v 18, 25] “Who created all these?” [v 26]

            b.    God is God. [v 22]

            c.    God is in control. [vv 23, 24]

            d.    Why are you complaining? [v 27]

                a.    We complain that we cannot understand God. [Can a dog understand a person?  To a limited degree.]

                b.    We complain that we God disregards us. [If we cannot understand God, then how can we know how He works?]

III.    God’s risks cause us to reach.

    A.    God disciplines us.  (Discipline brings strength, like exercise.)

        1.    Correction

            a.    Sometimes we need the rod to be taught something... that our way is wrong.

            b.    Caution: not every pain is God punishing us.

        2.    Direction

            a.    We make plans but when God directs our steps

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”
[Psalm 16:9]

            b.    When God wants to change something, it is for something better than we had planned.

“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.”
[Psalm 19:21]

        3.    Attention

            a.    “This is what the LORD says-- your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. [18] If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” [Isaiah 48:17 – 18]

            b.    Paying attention to what God is trying to teach us is profitable.

    B.    We learn “patient expectation” [v 31]

        1.    KJV = “wait” Waiting is not a value in our “get - r - done” society.

            a.    We see lack of movement as lack of initiative or laziness.

            b.    Biblical ideal, “wait” is trusting God.

        2.    “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” [Psalm 46:10]

            a.    Running ahead of God has devastating consequences, “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” [2 John 1:7]

            b.    In our desire to “make something happen” we have often substituted good things for godly things.

IV.    God’s risk teaches us to move.

    A.    We are “reoriented” (find one’s bearings again – Oxford).

        1.    We move away from evaluation based on circumstances.

        2.    We move toward a God who comforts.

    B.    We are “retooled” (revise or reorganize, especially for the purpose of updating and improving – WordNet 3.0, Princeton University).

        1.    We move away from complaining.

        2.    We move toward carrying out our duty.

    C.    We are “refocused” (focus attention or resources on something new or different – Oxford).

        1    We move away from centering on self.

        2.    We move toward celebrating the majesty of God.


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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Healing from bitterness

The healing from bitterness
Job 42.1 – 6

* The following sermon extensively uses the book “Get the Junk out of your Trunk: Let go of the past to live your best life” by Duane Vander Klok (2005).  For further information visit  (Chosen books is a division of Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI)

Recap: We perceive sin against us and demand justice/apology/justice/revenge.  We forget the goodness of God and focus on the perceived offense.  We loss sound judgement and our sense of reality is thrown off.  We begin to imagine what is not.  We become perfectionists (in the flawless sense).  We suffer spiritually, physically, emotionally, and in our relationships.  Bitterness disqualifies us from God’s forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a continual, daily exercise of prayer and love.

I.    Bitterness becomes ignorance.

  •     A.    Bitterness is a root problem, ultimately the problem is with God.

        1.    “It is often hard to face and is often overlooked or excused – or deeply hidden.” [Vander Klok]

            a.    Since humans are flawed and an obvious source of resentment, we easily blame others.  FACT, the root problem is with God.

            b.    Much harder to admit that we think God has done something wrong to us.

        2.    We begin to forgive and the process of behaving that way but can still be given to those moments of bitterness.

            a.    The deep underlying bitterness, boiling below the surface, is really against God.

            b.    People are an excuse, but when we just change the focus of who we are bitter towards... it shows a deeper problem.

  •     B.    Blaming God comes from misunderstanding God.

        1.    Job’s bitterness.

            a.    “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” [Job 7:11]

                1.)    The bitterness compels Job to speak.  He thinks he is being honest.

                2.)    He feels the anguish.  He thinks this is fair.

                3.)    Giving voice to complaints does not heal.

            b.    “Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing.  He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason.  He would not let me regain my breath but would overwhelm me with misery.” [Job 9:16 – 18]

                1.)    Ever feel like God doesn’t listen to you?  Job did.

                2.)    Ever feel like God is crushing you under the weight of the storm?  Job did.

                3.)    “Overwhelm me with misery.”  Misery is the worst kind of bitterness.  MSG = “piles bitterness upon bitterness.”

            c.    “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” [Job 10:1]

                1.)    Notice this has degenerated into a disgust with his life.

                2.)    All the years of blessing are forgotten.  The focus is on the bitterness.

            d.    “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul.” [Job 27:2]

                1.)    Ever feel like “this” is not “fair?”  Job did.

                2.)    The denial of justice is the willingness to right a wrong.  In other words, God has taken his rights away.

II.    Bitterness betrays ignorance about God.

  •     A.    We misunderstand the character of God.

        1.    Job’s flawed reasoning:

            a.    “All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me.  He has made me his target.” [Job 16:12]

                1.)    Job starts with the illusion that “all was well.”  Ever remember “the good old days.” (Back when things were better?) [The illusion is that comfortable stagnation is better than painful progress.]

                2.)    Job blames God for his problems and feels God is out to get him.  At least Job is being honest about his feelings and thoughts.

            b.    “It is all the same; that is why I say, `He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.'  When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.  When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges.  If it is not he, then who is it?” [Job 9:22 – 24]

                1.)    Job blames God as the author of every bad thing on earth.

                2.)    The argument that almost makes sense.

                    a.)    If God caused evil/bad to happen, then God is evil.

                    b.)    If God allowed evil/bad to happen, then God is passive.

                    c.)    If God didn’t know, then God is weak.

                3.)    The cold reality.

                    a.)    God loves Job but Satan is making Job’s life miserable.

                    b.)    God normally does not interfere with the “laws of nature.”

(Ill.) If you trip what will happen?  You fall.  If someone like Billy Graham trips what will happen?  He will fall.  In other words, there are certain physical (and by implication spiritual) laws that apply to everyone (like we all start life as “sinners” and sin has consequences).

        2.    Job’s understanding of God was wrong.

            a.    “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:  "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” [Job 38:1 – 2]

                1.)    In other words, Job’s knowledge of God was flawed, incomplete, or plain ignorant.

                2.)    We are no better.

                    a.)    How many of us really put effort into know God (not just about God).

                    b.)    How many of us spend the time and energy reading and trying to understand the Bible (that reveals God) and praying (in conversation).

                    c.)    How many of us make seriously effort to “keep in step with the Spirit.”

            b.    Job spent a lot of energy on being righteous, but it was without “knowledge.”

                1.)    Does God want righteousness? Absolutely, yes!

                2.)    But God desires relationship, which cannot be achieved in ignorance!

  •     B.    We misunderstand where bad things come from.  (War motif)

        1.    God created humans to rule (KJV = have dominion) over the earth. [Genesis 1:26]

        2.    Adam and Eve were placed in the garden to “take care of it.” [Genesis 2:15]  Literally this means “guard.”  (Which begs the question, guard against who or what?)

        3.    When Adam sinned all sorts of things happened, establishing spiritual laws.

            a.    “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” [Romans 5:12]

            b.    “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” [2 Corinthians 4:4]

                1.)    Suggests that by sinning Adam abdicated rule... giving it to the devil.

                2.)    Notice Satan does not replace God.  (He wants too, but he can’t.  So he does the closest thing possible... the devil plays puppet master.)

            c.    When Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:10]

                1.)    God’s kingdom (perfect rule/will) has yet to be achieved.

                2.)    God’s will is done in heaven but not always on earth.

                3.)    If God’s will was done, everyone would be saved! [1 Timothy 2:4]

        4.    We have an enemy we are responsible to face (and defeat).

            a.    “The thief (the devil) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” [John 10:10]

                1.)    That which steals, kills, or destroys comes from the devil not God.

                2.)    Jesus on the other hand came to give full and abundant life.

            b.    The Bible says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.” [1 John 3:8b]

                1.)    By giving us full and abundant life, the goal was to destroy (undo) what the devil had and is doing.

                2.)    This is “zero tolerance” war.  God is completely good, humans are more than flawed, and the devil is utterly bad/evil.

“God is not your enemy, God is your answer.  (The devil) is your personal enemy and hates you.”  [Vander Klok]

“This means that the battle against bitterness in the midst of trial is nothing other than the battle against unbelief. Will we look to the sovereign goodness of God, and believe that he means us good in the refining fire? Or will we surrender to unbelief, and let bitterness grow?” [John Piper]

III.    Forgiveness restores blessing.

    A.    Look at Job’s “final answer.”

  •         1.    Job learned something about God.  His understanding was corrected.

Christians tend to believe not in God himself, but believe only in their beliefs about him. “Great suffering puts an end to belief in beliefs.” (David Atkinson, The Message of Job. IVP, 36).

            a.    “I know that you can do all things” [Job 42:2a]

            b.    “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand.” [Job 42:3b]

            c.    “Therefore I despise [KJV = “abhor” lit. “to disappear”] myself and repent in dust and ashes.” [Job 42:6]

Message “I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

        2.    “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” [Job 42:10]

            a.    God restored Job double what he lost when Job interceded for his friends (offenders).

  •             b.    Forgiveness (like faith) is alive when we put it to work in prayer and love.

    B.    What do we need to do?

        1.    What does not work:

            a.    Time does not heal all things.  With bitterness, they just get worse

            b.    Self-effort.  You cannot do this alone, you need outside help.  God must intervene.  (Remember nobody has beaten this alone.)

        2.    What does work:

            a.    Ask God to forgive you for allowing bitterness to take root.

          b.    Forgive “by faith” from the heart.

          c.    Put works to your faith in sincere prayer for others and acts of love.

          d.    Close the door.  “Admit it. Quit it.”

IV.    Forgiveness balances life.

    A.    How do you know there is genuine forgiveness?

        1.    Has anyone been an example of the process of forgiveness?

        2.    Joseph.

    B.    Joseph’s example:

        1.    Joseph “covered” their sin.

            a.    “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers.” [Genesis 45:1]

            b.    He did not spread the situation, protecting the ones he forgave.

        2.    He wanted this brothers to feel comfortable around him.

            a.    “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” [Genesis 45:5]

            b.    Notice he saw the purpose of God in something that was cruel and senseless.

        3.    He wanted his brothers to forgive themselves.  (This is a case were they had willfully and knowingly given Joseph cause to want justice.)

            a.    “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” [Genesis 45:5]

            b.    In these cases, both sides have to let go.

        4.    Joseph kept forgiving.

            a.    Genesis 50:15 – 21

            b.    “Forgiveness stands the test of time.”

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