2021-11-28 Sermon

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

 

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How would you respond to a letter from someone that said, “I want to come and see you so that I can supply what is lacking in your faith?”

It’s possible that the fist reaction might be from your sinful nature. You might be tempted to say, “What do you mean? What am I lacking? My faith is just fine. I’m in church every week. I read my Bible. I’ll tell you who has some things lacking in their faith, those people who don’t come to church, those politicians who claim to be good Christians, but support things God clearly says are sinful. They are the ones you need to talk to about things that are lacking in their faith. My faith is just fine.” How easy it is for us to become prideful, to become Pharisees!

This first Sunday of Advent is about humility. A humble response to a statement like the one Paul made to the Thessalonians would be, “thank you. I know I can always grow in my faith. I can’t wait for you to come so that we can study God’s word together and you can show me things in God’s word that can correct any misunderstandings I may have and help my faith to become even stronger.” Jesus loved the man who said to him, Lord, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.

No matter how strong we think our faith is, as long as we live on this earth there will always be something lacking. There will always be something more we can learn. Our faith will never be complete until we get to see Jesus face to face. Only then will we know as we are known. Only then will our faith be complete.

Sometimes we have the wrong idea about what it means to be humble. Sometimes we think humility means that we keep to ourselves and never talk about what we believe because, if our faith is lacking something, we might say the wrong thing. But that’s not what Jesus wants. He has called us to let our light shine, to be like a city set on a hill. We aren’t to think that in order to be humble we have to hide our light under a bushel. We are to be humble and yet we are to be confident in sharing what we do know.

Humble confidence seems like an oxymoron. But it is what Jesus demonstrated. He is described as righteous and victorious, and yet at the same time, lowly and riding on a donkey. He accepted the praise of those who welcomed him as he rode the lowly donkey into Jerusalem. When some Pharisees tried to rebuke him for accepting the praise from the crowd, he confidently rebuked them saying if these people would be silent, the stones would cry out. Yet the reason he rode into Jerusalem was to humbly submit himself to betrayal, unjust trials, and crucifixion. He was confident enough in who he was that he was willing to endure humiliation. The confidence he had was founded on the promises of God which then enabled him to endure the cross, scorning its shame as he looked forward to what his humble suffering would accomplish, the salvation of many souls.

What is our humble confidence? The Bible says that we can be absolutely confident about our salvation. We can say with confidence that all our sins are forgiven and that we have a place waiting for us in heaven. We can say with confidence that when the Lord Jesus comes with all his saints, all those who have died in faith, we too will be found blameless and holy before our God and Father. If someone asks us where we will be when we die, we can answer with absolute confidence that we will be living and reigning in heaven with Jesus.

Most people who might hear us say that would think, “that’s hardly a humble attitude. It sounds like you are bragging. It sounds like you are saying that you are better than most other people. But whether it’s bragging, or a humble confession of faith depends completely on the reason for our confidence.

If we were saying that we are blameless and holy before the Lord and that we will be in heaven when we die because we are such good people who never miss church, who give generous tithes and offerings, and do many good things for the needy, then we would be bragging. We would have no reason to be confident of eternal life in heaven because God could list all kinds of things we had done that had broken his commands, not to mention all kind of things we had thought or said that were sinful, and all kinds of opportunities he had set before us to serve others and witness about him that we had failed to take advantage of. If the reason for our confidence has anything to do with us it is false confidence, and we deserve to be accused of bragging.

Humble confidence is admitting that we have sinned, that we continue to sin, that we are by nature sinful, that we have sinned not just in our actions, but in our thoughts and words; not just by things we have done, but by things we have failed to do. Humble confidence is admitting that we don’t deserve even the air we breathe much less eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Humble confidence points not to ourselves but to God and his promises. We can be 100% confident of our salvation, not because of anything we do, but because of all that Jesus has done for us, because he entered Jerusalem in humble confidence, because he faced the Sanhedrin and Pilate with humble confidence, because he went to the cross with humble confidence, because he did everything perfectly  in our place, because the Father raised him from the dead as proof that our confidence in Jesus is not misplaced, not false confidence.

Humble confidence is saying, “I will stand blameless and holy before God when Jesus comes again not because I have lived a blameless and holy life myself, far from it. But because Jesus lived a blameless and holy life in my place and because his holiness is credited to me as righteousness through faith.

What does our humble confidence in Jesus move us to do? Like Paul, it moves us to think, “I can never thank God enough for the joy I have as I think about my fellow Christians, especially those who, like the Thessalonians, are enduring persecution because of their faith and have set for all a wonderful example of humble confidence and perseverance in the faith. As the world around us continues to become more and more ungodly and more and more hateful of Christians, we can’t afford to think that we will never experience persecution. We need the encouragement of fellow Christians who have demonstrated humble confidence in Jesus and have stood firm in their faith in the midst of persecution.

Humble confidence in Jesus allows us to accept rebuke and correction based on God’s word. It allows us to say with confidence, “I know I have eternal life in Jesus, yet I confess that there is always more I can learn from scripture, there is always more I can add to my faith.”

Humble confidence in Jesus moves us to pray that our love, and the love of our fellow Christians would increase and overflow to others, and not just other Christians, but all others. As we are enabled to show true Christian love, even those who might hate what they think is Christianity will be drawn to us and have the opportunity to learn that what they thought, or what they were taught, or what they learned from the media, about Christianity was wrong. Ture Christians aren’t hateful, judgmental, unloving people, but people who love others enough to tell the truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all justified freely by his grace through the redemption won for them by Jesus. Christians aren’t perfect. Nobody is. We are forgiven and not because we have earned or deserved it. We are forgiven only because of God’s undeserved grace to us in Jesus. That Grace is offered freely to all.

When Paul wrote the Thessalonians that he wanted to see them in person so that he could supply what was lacking in their faith, their response was, “thank you. We can’t wait for you to come. We can’t wait for you to show us what we are lacking and then fill us up with instruction in the word.” May God always grant us such humble confidence, such willingness to receive instruction in the word. May we always be able to join in Paul’s prayer for each other. May the Lord increase your love and make it overflow for each other and for all people, just as ours does for you, so that he may establish your hearts as blameless in holiness before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his saints.

 

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2021 Thanksgiving Message

Philippians 4:7-14

 

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Paul didn’t have a lot of reasons to give thanks. He wrote his letter to his brothers and sisters in Christ in Philippi while he was sitting in prison. Yet the theme of his letter to them is, Rejoice!

We aren’t sitting in a prison cell this Thanksgiving. In fact, very few of us know what it is to be in want, to go hungry for a day or more, to not have enough. We may not have all we would like for Thanksgiving. The rising prices may have caused us to say, “I’m not going to buy that this year.” But we will have plenty of food on our tables anyway. And there are plenty of churches and missions that make sure anyone who wants can have plenty of food for Thanksgiving for free.

Paul was in prison, content and rejoicing. We have our freedom. We have all we need and more, yet we tend to be discontent and complaining. What was the secret that Paul learned that enabled him to be content in any and every circumstance in life?

A few verses earlier Paul had instructed the Philippians not to worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. As we sing in the hymn, “take it to the Lord in prayer.” Let him know what’s bothering you. Let him know what you need. Ask the one who is almighty for his help. Trust that he has promised to hear and answer your every prayer in the way that is best for your eternal welfare.

Paul tells us that he learned by experience that when you do let your requests be made known to God the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Nothing can make you more peaceful and content than giving all your worries to God and trusting that he will take care of them in the best way possible. Part of the secret of being content is talking to God in prayer.

One of the biggest reasons we experience discontent is because we focus on the wrong things. We focus on the lives of the rich and famous. We focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. We focus on all the bad things in the news instead of all the good things that are happening all around us. We forget that people tend only to put the good things they experience on Social Media, but they all have the same trials and troubles we do. That’s why Paul encourages us, if you are seeking contentment, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if anything is excellent, and if anything is praiseworthy, think about these things. If you are struggling with discontent you might want to turn off the news and delete your social media accounts. Part of the secret of being content is evaluating your focus, making sure it’s on the things that are excellent and praiseworthy.

Paul had learned to be content while being full or hungry, while having plenty or not enough, because his focus was not on earthly things that can never fully satisfy. Earthly things are here today and gone tomorrow. They have no eternal value. Paul’s focus was on the things that last. Heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of the Lord stands forever. When you eat earthly food, you get hungry again, when you drink earthly water, you get thirsty again, but Jesus gives the bread of life and the water of life that satisfies our hunger and thirst for all eternity. Part of the secret of being content is focusing on the excellent things, the praiseworthy things, the things that last for all eternity.

Was it easy for Paul to be content even when he was living in humble circumstances, when he didn’t have enough, when he was sitting in a prison cell? Don’t get the wrong idea. He was a human being just like us. He had a sinful nature that was prone to discontent just like us. The good that he wanted to do he didn’t always end up doing. The contentment he knew he should feel he didn’t always feel. Just like us he needed help in order to be content in any circumstance, in any and every situation he faced in life. So, what was the main part of his secret of being content? You know the verse by heart, maybe it was your confirmation verse. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

It’s important that we realize that we can’t make ourselves content and thankful. We don’t have that power by ourselves because of our sinful nature. If we try to do it by our own power, we will only make ourselves more miserable because we will fail over and over again.

Isn’t it interesting that, during Thanksgiving week, the whole goal of the advertising media is to make you discontent, to make you think you should buy things you don’t need with money you don’t have just because it’s such a deal? The ads are powerful and effective, especially when we  all have an old Adam that is naturally prone to discontent and greed.

We need help in order to be able to be content in any and every situation of life. Thankfully we have hep in Jesus who strengthens us.

Jesus overcame every temptation to be discontent and unthankful. He even refused to use his power to turn stones into bread when he was hungry because he trusted the promise of the Father and was determined to live by the word of God. He didn’t live paycheck to paycheck, he lived day to day depending on God to provide. Every time we hear about Jesus sitting down to a meal, with his disciples or with 5000 plus, the first thing he does is give thanks to God. He went to the cross as our perfect substitute even when it comes to contentment and thankfulness.

Having paid for our sins of discontent and greed he continues to strengthen us. I wonder how many people who quote the passage I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me, actually think about how he strengthens us. I wonder if they think that he does it kind of like waving a magic wand, or even some kind of direct infusion of power in response to prayer? You see, that’s not the way Jesus strengthens us, at least not the way he has promised to strengthen us. The only way he has promised to strengthen us is through the means of grace, through the hearing of his word and the receiving of the sacrament, through the assurance that only in him do we have forgiveness and eternal life.

If you are looking for strength to have an attitude of contentment and thankfulness but you don’t pick up your Bible and you don’t confess your sins and come to the sacrament to receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, you will remain weak. You aren’t connected to the vine through which Jesus provides the strength you are seeking.

A big part of the secret of being content is being connected to the means through which Jesus promises to strengthen you – being connected to him daily through his word, and as often as possible through the sacrament.

The final piece of Paul’s secret of being content and thankful is the fellowship of other believers. Paul was receiving strength from Christ through the word of God that enabled him to be content even in prison. But he rejoiced greatly when he received news and a gift from the congregation in Philippi. Their concern for him warmed his heart. He appreciated that they were willing to be partners with him in his suffering. Even though he was in prison because he was preaching about Jesus, they were not ashamed to show their support for him and put themselves under suspicion. They were willing to stand up for the gospel of Jesus with him even if it meant they too might suffer because of it.

I think we can understand what Paul is saying after we experienced what it’s like not to be able to meet with each other around the word for a while. Even though we could be strengthened by God through his word in our homes, through our own study. Even though we could still worship together virtually through online services. It wasn’t the same. God designed us to need each other and he gifts us in ways that enable us to help and support each other. Like Paul, even though we know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, we rejoice greatly in the Lord when we have fellow Christians who show their concern for us, who are willing to stand with us and partner with us in whatever affliction we might face. It’s no wonder the writer to the Hebrews encourages us, especially in the last days when we might be tempted to keep to ourselves—he encourages us not to neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

  What’s the secret of being content and thankful?

Take everything to the Lord in prayer trusting  him to do what’s best.

Make sure you are focusing on what is excellent and praiseworthy

Stay connected to the means of grace through which Christ strengthens you

Rejoice greatly in the fellowship of believers who stand with you in faith

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