THE POWER OF GOD’S PEACE

Friends,

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but  we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

Romans 5:1-4 NASB

How many of you don’t have any tribulations in your life?

For those who raised your hands, thank you for your honesty.  For the rest of you, you need to work either on your ability to tell the truth or your ability to see life clearly.

We ALL have trials through which we have to walk.  Admittedly, some are bigger than others, but in this fallen world, as a result of the disobedience of the human race to the will of our Creator, we all experience the difficulties of this life.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul talks about the best resolution of these difficulties of life.  He says that our justification by faith, which is a gift of God, produces peace WITH God.  It reconciles us to him.

Justification is that part of our initial sanctification that gives us a clean slate with God.  When we talk about God being able to forget our sins, this is that act.  He wipes our scoreboard of shortcomings and downfalls clean, and gives us a fresh start.

Why do we then have peace with God?  Why shouldn’t we.  After all, He no longer holds anything in the past against us.  We have a fresh start.

Now, that isn’t all that happens when we come to Him in repentance, but that’s the part we want to talk about here.

Because, Paul goes on to cite a very significant benefit of this peace with God; we now get to exult, be happy, even celebrate, when trials and difficulties come our way.

OK, I get why some of you kind of lost the train of thought here.  You got distracted by the ridiculous notion that you would ever actually celebrate your most difficult circumstances.

For generations, Christians have tried to justify this language.  I’ve heard some of the old saints stand up in testimony services and literally thank God for the problems in their lives.  I appreciate the model they were trying to portray, but they kind of missed the point.

No one is actually celebrating difficulties in their lives.  And, it’s kind of disingenuous to “give God credit” for our problems.  Let’s face it, the cause of most of our problems was either the bad decision we made or the bad decisions made by someone else that affected us adversely.  God is going to say “thanks, but no thanks” for giving Him that kind of credit.

So, if it’s not literal celebration, what exactly DOES this mean, and why does the peace of God make it possible.

You’ve probably heard someone pose the questions, “What would you do if you knew for certain that you could not fail?”  Most of us hear that problem and immediately think of things like business ventures or investments that could result in riches, or maybe taking a chance on some relationship opportunity where you wouldn’t be turned down (looking at you single guys right now…admit it).

But, think of it this way.  With all the ups and downs of life, including the obstacles that really prevent you from being the person you’d like to be, what if you could be certain that all you had to do was walk through those problems, and you wouldn’t fail.

Before I came to Christ, I was fearful of going to hell.  I’d heard old preachers expound on burning eternally enough times to give me pretty consistent nightmares.  But, even after coming to Christ, I still lived in a kind of fear, because what if I failed?  What if after receiving His forgiveness, I still didn’t live a righteous life because of my own stupid decision.

And, believe me, I’ve made a few really stupid decisions in my life.

But, unlike my early years of Christian life, I’ve begun to be learning about the peace of God in my life.  Now, every time there’s an obstacle, I determine to just walk on through it.

And, why not.  I can’t really fail.  This life is a passing thing.  I’m living it for the God who wiped my slate clean.  How would He not catch me when I fall now, after all these years of never failing to do so.

There’s a great song from DC Talk, entitled What If I Stumble?  As I contemplated writing this, I listened to it again.  Here’s the chorus:

What if I stumble what if I fall?

What if I lose my step and make fools of us all?

Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?

What if I stumble and what if I fall?

You’re not alone, and when the going gets tough.  You are protected by the peace of God.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

THE LONG ARC OF THE KINGDOM

Friends,

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.  Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.  Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.

John 4:34-38 NASB

Some time ago, there was one of those meaningless controversies when some words of President Obama were taken out of context to prove a non-existent point.  He was talking to a group about all the people who had gone before them to pave the way for the success they were enjoying today and, included in his remarks, was the phrase, “…you didn’t build this.”  He was, as anyone who bothered to check, referring to the existing societal structures that had made the current business success of his listeners possible, but those who would like to constantly create conflict didn’t bother to share all that.  They just said that the President wasn’t giving business people proper credit for all they’d done.

The actual point is a cultural observation that is true in almost every segment of life; we are the fortunate heirs of those who came before us.  Our every advancement really is a partial product of what we inherited as much as it reflects what we ourselves have done.

That’s true in the Kingdom work, as well.  At any given point in the process of sharing the Kingdom, we are not so much inventing anything new as we are extending the work of those who came before us.

Jesus was making that very point in this passage.  He spoke to those who were spiritually “sitting around” waiting to go to work after some anticipated future event.  He told them to open their eyes and recognize that there was work to do right now.

In an illustrative sense, He was saying that He knew that his listeners hadn’t done the actual planting, but that because someone else already did, there was even now a harvest that needed to be gathered.

In our ministry work, the same is clearly true today.  Those who went before us, that “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Romans 12, did a lot of planting before we arrived on the scene.  Others came along and watered, helping the previous work to grow and mature.

And now, here WE are, in position to do some reaping where we did not plant.

But, there’s another truth buried in here, as well.  There are those who will come after us, and we need to be planting something for them to harvest.

Too often, we fail to enter into a difficult task because we realize that it will take more time than we personally have to bring it to completion.  We use that as an excuse not to plant those seeds.

But, the older I get, the more I’m beginning to be learning that much of what I do has very little to do with me seeing a harvest from it.  For the most part, I’m planting seeds for my children, and their children after them, to harvest.  That harvest will likely come after I’m not longer on this earth.

But, that’s the nature of the Kingdom.  It is a long term work that spans many lifetimes.  We experience gain because eothers were faithful before us.  Others who live after we’re gone will experience gain because of what we do.

IF, we are faithful.

Be faithful.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

KEEPING THE FAITH

Friends,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith

II Timothy 4:7 NASB

The words of this simple verse are actually pretty important in the whole scope of the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  They are a part of the last portion of the second pastoral letter from Paul to his closest protégé, Timothy.  In a sense, this is kind of his closing though of instruction.

He’s just given Timothy some great advice for his ministry, a “solemn charge” to be ready already to preach the Word.  This is much more than an admonition to be “Biblical” in his teaching; he’s charging Timothy to share Christ with those in his congregation.  This is very real Kingdom stuff.

And then he speaks the words in our current verse.  Paul is saying that his “race” is about finished.  He’s handing off the baton of ministry to his successor.  And, he closes it by saying that he has kept the faith.

I know that most of you are a long way from finishing the course of your life, including the work of ministry that He created you to accomplish.  In reading this verse today, we’re not saying that we should all pack it in and hand off all the hard work to the next generation.  This is, for most of us, a very future kind of thing.  We’re not ready to say it now.

But, there is a lot of “now” involved in this statement of faith.  It’s really the gist of what Paul is trying to say to Timothy.

Yes, he, Paul, HAS about come to the end of his course, but he is offering these words to Timothy not so much about himself, but as a part of a greater admonition that Timothy should be doing the things he needs to do in order to be able to say this when it’s his turn.

Probably, when we come to the end of our lives, we’ll all want to be able to say that we accomplished something.  Everyone wants to have a legacy.

And, if we’re actually followers of Jesus Christ, we want that legacy to include, prominently, the fact that we were successful in doing the work He assigned to us.  We’d all like to be able to honestly say we fought the good fight for Christ, and that we kept the faith.

But, you can’t wait until the end to start keeping that faith.  You have to actually plant the seeds of it right now.  That’s why, in my opinion, this verse is so important to us today.  This is our alert, a handy reminder, that if we want to be able to make this great statement of faith at the end of our lives, we need to be doing some of that good fighting and faith keeping right now.

What’s the assignment He’s given you?  He gives all of us work to do if we’re following Him.  What’s yours?

And, how are you keeping the faith right now?  What specific things will you do today to make that steady investment of faith keeping that leads to this good end in life?

Don’t wait.  Don’t let the cares of this life take up all your time.  Get to work now.

Do some faith keeping today.  It’ll pay off in the end.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe