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Posts Tagged ‘hard times’

It is a central truth of our faith that new life comes through brokenness. We all want new life right? But we don’t want brokenness because brokenness is all about humility, weakness, suffering, pain and sacrifice.

I want to share with you today three examples of how new life can come from brokenness:

1. The brokenness of repentance

Turn with me to Psalm 51:17. This is, of course, David repenting for some very serious failures before God. He is confessing his sin and seeking cleansing and renewal. And then he talks about animal sacrifices and how what God really wants comes from the heart. v. 17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  This is a description of his repentance.

As Elders we have focused on calling the church to spiritual renewal; on prayer and on seeking God for renewal in our congregation. For our vision we have not focused on a new building or some new defining program. We believe that God is calling us to be renewed and that God needs to come and move powerfully among us to transform us – and then we can talk about these other things.

This is what I would highlight for us this morning in terms of what I am talking about:

  • we are too comfortable as a congregation and set in our ways. We don’t want to take risks for God. Many like things just the way they are, as long as their needs are taken care. There is too much focus on us and not on the needs of others and the work of the kingdom.
  • we have too many walls that separate people in their relationships with each other. Not that people are fighting, but there are wounds, scars and bitterness from the past that haven’t been dealt with, which creates separation. So that we aren’t the close, loving and caring community that we could be.
  • we are too busy, always doing things and overwhelmed with our fast pace of life. Often what gets cut is our local congregation – investing in relationships with each other and doing ministry together. Let’s be clear, we are not victims here. Our lives are like they are because of choices that we make. And we need to make different choices.

And so spiritual renewal is needed. I don’t know if you accept this or not, but I am your pastor and I am telling you that spiritual renewal is needed. And this requires repentance as a first step.

Now if we do have the brokenness of repentance, God can come in and renew us. As David says in Psalm 51:10-12 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” New life comes through the brokenness of repentance.

2. The brokenness of difficult situations

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. Paul is here talking about various “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (v. 10) that he has gone through. Starting halfway through v. 7  he says, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” He is most likely talking about some physical ailment or the constant persecution that followed him around everywhere.

Well, we have difficulties in our congregation –

  • people who have physical needs – some long term with no fix.
  • people who struggle with depression, anxiety and more.
  • people who have gone through deep waters.

And as a congregation we have experienced brokenness in our most recent trial . . .

All of our trials are painful, whether our individual trials or our congregational trial. There is definitely brokenness among us.

When these things happen we can despair and give up. Or our suffering can lead us to God; to come to God in our weakness and pain and to find strength through more fully relying on him.

Paul talks about the new life that suffering can bring when he goes on in 2 Corinthians 12 to talk about the strength God gives. In vs. 9-10 he quotes the Lord who said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And then he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” A deeper spiritual life of greater dependence and relationship with the Lord can be ours, because of the brokenness of our trials.

3. The brokenness of serving God

This comes from the verse on the front of your bulletin from John 12:24. Jesus is talking about his own life which he is about to give up, but it teaches the path that we are to take as well. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Serving God is all about walking in weakness. We are called to do things that no one is capable of doing in their own strength. And serving God is all about sacrifice – giving of ourselves to others, laying down our lives – even if people don’t receive it.

But through such death to self comes new life – for ourselves in terms of inner joy and the hope of the coming resurrection, and for those who respond to the ministry. It “bears much fruit.”

That life comes through the brokenness of service to God is supremely illustrated in the Lord’s supper. Jesus’ body was what? It was “broken” on the cross. Jesus’ blood was what? It was poured out on the cross. He laid down his life. But his brokenness led to his resurrection, and it also poured forth new life for all who will receive it.

As we receive the Lord’s supper today let’s remember the three kinds of brokenness:

1. If you need to repent, I invite you to do so, so that you can receive new life from God – a new heart and a renewed spirit.

2. If you are going through hard times, and as a congregation as we go through a hard time, let us throw ourselves at his feet and find spiritual renewal as we completely rely on him, so that in our weakness the power of God will shine forth more powerfully.

3. If you are tired and broken from serving God, I invite you to receive encouragement from God to know that it’s worth it; to receive joy now and remember your great hope for the future.

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1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18

Our text today says, “Rejoice always . . . give thanks in all circumstances.” It may sound a bit familiar since we spent time on these verses last week. We’re actually breaking away from our series on 1 Thessalonians today, I am planning on finishing this up on the last Sunday of the month. But we are staying in the same neighborhood. I want to share more on the topic of giving thanks in all circumstances, specifically – why we can do this even in hard times.

Now it is easy to give thanks when God answers prayers and delivers us from our problems, although sometimes we forget to do this. But it is surely more difficult to give thanks when things are going badly for us. But it is possible. Let’s look at some –

Examples of rejoicing in suffering

The twelve apostles rejoiced in suffering. They were put in prison for their preaching but were miraculously released. Then whey they preached more, they were taken to stand before the governing authorities where they were beaten and warned to stop preaching. Acts 5:41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Paul and Silas rejoiced in suffering. In Acts 16 Paul cast out a fortune telling demon from a slave girl and this made the owners mad. They made money off this girl. They promptly caused a stir and got Paul and Silas in trouble with the authorities. Vs. 23-25 say, “And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison . . . into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them . . ..” They were unjustly beaten, arrested and shackled – but they were singing praises to God.

This happened just before Paul came to Thessalonica, so he knew what he was talking about when he told them “rejoice always . . . give thanks in all circumstances.”

And the Thessalonians themselves knew about rejoicing in suffering. From the time they first believed they suffered. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” They suffered but they had joy.

Finally, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. They had undergone persecution and the writer reminds them of this in 10:34, “ . . . you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Can you imagine having all your goods hauled away because of your faith – your big screen TV, your new dining set, your couches? Would you be able to keep things in perspective and still be joyful?

Why we can rejoice in all circumstances

– including when we suffer. As I said last week it certainly can’t be based on our feelings, these change all the time. It has to be based on something much stronger and more stable – our faith. So here are 5 aspects of our faith that show us why we can do this:

1. God is worthy of praise – period. Nothing else needs to be said. Whether we feel like praising God or not – God is worthy. Whether we are in good times or in bad times, it doesn’t matter. God is still the same – yesterday, today and forever and is still worthy of our praises.

Apart from anything God may or may not do for me; apart from whether God allows me to go through good times or bad, God is worthy of praise for who God is. God is awesome! God is holy! God is good! None of this changes based on our circumstances.

Habakkuk the prophet lived in a difficult time. The people were unfaithful to God. And he knew that judgment was coming – things were going to get worse. But he praised God anyway, because God deserves to be praised. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord . . ..” I believe that this is the purest form of praise to God because it s not dependent on something that we get from God.

2. God has blessed us in many ways. Even in the worst of times, if we are able to think about it, we can recognize that this is true.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . ..” You have been given the gift of life. Also think about your abilities, your strengths, your family, your friends, your home – whatever good thing you are or have is from God.

And this includes our salvation – God’s grace and mercy to us in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of our sins, new life by the Spirit, a relationship with God, fellow believers who walk with us, strength and peace in difficult times – all these are gifts from God as well.

And so despite whatever else may be going on we can give thanks for God’s blessing to us.

3. Our hope for the future. God allows each of us to go through hard times, and a part of this is simply living in this sinful and broken world where evil is normal. But in the midst of this as Christians we have a hope for something better. This life is not all that there is. In fact, we are to live for the life that is to come, not this one.

When Jesus talked about suffering for our faith; being reviled and slandered, he said, “Rejoice and be glad” Why? “For your reward is great in heaven . . .” – Matthew 5:12.

In 1 Peter 1:6 Peter tells his readers that “now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials.” Just before this he said, “in this you rejoice.” Why do they rejoice in their trials? It is because of what he had just mentioned in vs. 4-5. They have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven . . . a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This hope puts things in perspective for us as Christians. Yes, we will suffer in this life. But we will be blessed in the world to come.

And in fact the blessing will outweigh the sufferings. Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” – Romans 8:18. Similarly he says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. Our suffering may well be great, but what awaits us is far greater.

4. God harnesses trials for our good. We go through fiery trials. This is an image that is used in Scripture. And it makes a point. Fire can consume or it can refine. If we go through the fire in faith we will not be consumed. Rather, God uses them to refine and purify us.

God is able to bring good out of pain, suffering and tears. This doesn’t mean that God causes the pain, only that God is greater than whatever evil befalls us.

Paul makes this point in Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is able to work in and through all that happens to us to bring some good to us.

James tells his readers, “Count it all joy” when you suffer various kinds of trials. Why? “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4.

Along the same lines, Paul says, “. . . we rejoice in our sufferings.” Why? “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . .” – Romans 5:3-4.

The world will throw hard times at us left and right. But when we endure them in faith, God brings something good out of them for us. That’s how great God is. And we can give thanks for this.

William Higgins

 

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