Joy Through Difficulty

“Joy Through Difficulty” – August 9, 2020

Phil 1-12 advance Gospel

1:21-27 (1:21, 27)

When bad things happen to you, how do you react? What about when really unpleasant things continue to go wrong – what then? Do you feel down in the dumps? Depressed and anxious? What about your general attitude towards life – is that affected, too? Who am I kidding? Of course our whole lives are affected.

What about the apostle Paul and his attitude? The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi as a thank you note, and a whole lot more. But, let’s take a look at Paul’s immediate situation? Where was he as he wrote this letter?

Let’s look more closely at verses 12 and 13: “12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Wow! We can see, right here, that Paul was locked up, in prison.

That would be an awful situation for most people – in fact, for just about anybody! However, I know that Paul was repeatedly locked up, thrown in prison, put into stocks, beaten on a number of occasions with rods or with a whip – and I could go on. Paul himself tells us about many of these difficult situations that happened to him in 2 Corinthians, too.

During this sermon series, we will highlight Paul’s focus on joy! Again and again, Paul mentions either “joy” or “rejoice.” We know that Paul was considered a saint, and he traveled a great distance as a missionary. Plus, he certainly had perseverance. Even what some call stubbornness. And, he let his abundant joy shine through.

If we try to compare ourselves to Paul, some might say, “I’m no saint! At least, not like St. Paul! He was a real saint, and extraordinary missionary, and powerful pastor.”

Scripture – the Holy Spirit – couldn’t be talking to me through this verse…or, could it?

Sure, we see Paul in these verses, in prison, locked up. He is in chains, chained to a Roman soldier, and still, he’s joyful with the joy of Christ! What on earth…?

You and I may not be in as dire circumstances as Paul’s, but, surely there are some lessons to be learned from Paul. How can we imitate him, today? What can we do to show God’s joy to everyone, despite difficulties and big challenges in our own lives? I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes life does get particularly rough. You and I know that. Maybe really difficult times have hit my family or yours. Maybe we know friends or acquaintances who have dealt with similar challenging situations. You know these things as soon as I mention them. Serious accidents or horrifying diseases? What about when death hits close to home – repeatedly? What about natural disasters, fires, floods? Or, God forbid, armed conflict? And, what if our family has a member in the same place as the apostle Paul, in prison? What do we do then? How do we keep the joy of God front and center in our lives?

In case we haven’t noticed before, Christ is a big deal to the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is the reason that Paul is now imprisoned. Christ is not just a sideline or an afterthought. Paul has not stopped talking about the claims of Christ even in prison. He has that deep of a relationship with Jesus Christ that he wants everyone to be similarly related to Him.

Do we – you and I – have that kind of deep, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? And if not, why not?

I’d like everyone to imagine. And as I said last week, you can close your eyes here if it helps you to imagine. Think of your best friend. I mean, your best, best friend, whether you two are still in touch, or whether you haven’t seen each other for years and years. Is everyone thinking of that special relationship? That relationship is as close as the one with our Lord Jesus.

At least, Jesus dearly wants that very special relationship with each of us.

We know Paul already praised his friends for being partners in preaching the Good News of God. Moreover, “Paul writes from prison (Phil 1:7, 13-14, 17), uncertain whether he will die (verses 19-20), hoping only that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (verse 20). The circumstances have not dampened Paul’s joy (see 1:18; 3:1a; 4:4, 10). Perhaps [the circumstances] have even clarified his focus.” [1]

How can we have that dearly close relationship with our Lord Jesus, too? What can clarify our focus?

Paul tells us again and again that we are not to be focused inwardly, not to be focused on ourselves. Our call is to be focused in an outward direction. Think of others. Do things for others. Tell others about Christ, and how much a relationship with God can change their lives. Has that relationship changed your life? As we live out the Gospel – the Good News – in our lives, that is the absolute best invitation we could possibly have for others who have not heard about the close relationship our Lord Jesus wants to have with them.

There is an added bonus, too. “The Lord’s people who are discouraged will see our faith in God in the midst of trials and be encouraged to trust God and bear witness for Him.” [2]

Let’s all pray that we can have this incredibly close friendship with Jesus Christ, not only for the sake of others, but especially for us! As we are drawn closer to God, vertically, others around us see our lives shining like a bright light. Then, we can tell many about the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Is there anything better than that? Paul doesn’t think so. God will be pleased, too! Go! Do! Think of others more than of yourselves, in the name of Christ. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431

Commentary, Philippians 1:21-30, Troy Toftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.  

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-happiness-through-circumstances-or-christ-philippians-112-18

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Gift of the Holy Spirit

“Gift of the Holy Spirit” – May 15, 2016

Acts 2-38 repent, be baptized

Acts 2:38

What does it mean to know someone?  Can you know a sports star? Know all of his or her stats, his earned run average, how many sacks he got last season, how many assists she had to her credit in the last game?

We can know a lot about some really famous people, and yet not know them personally. I suspect you’re all familiar with the movie star Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Han Solo in the Star Wars movies, Jack Ryan in a couple of Tom Clancy movies). I know just a few things about him. He is a very private person, and a licensed helicopter pilot; he started in Hollywood years ago as a carpenter until he got his first movie role. I know things about Harrison Ford, But I have no illusions about being close to Harrison Ford.

What about Jesus? Do we know things about Jesus? Can we describe things about His life, His ministry, or the things He said? What about the last week He was alive? His passion?  His trials, crucifixion, and death on the cross? Do we know about all that?

Peter did. Peter knew all those things intimately. Peter was also one of the disciples who had a very close relationship with the Rabbi Jesus throughout the three years of His ministry. We know that, through the Gospel accounts. But now, now is the morning of the Pentecost festival. A whole host of Jews from all over the region have gathered together in Jerusalem for one of the important feasts, one of the celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Peter had quite a crowd for his impromptu sermon. For—that was what he delivered. A sermon.

But, a sermon on what? Why did he feel like he had to speak out?

For that, we need to go back to our Scripture passage for the morning. I am reading from Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they [the disciples and followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”

What happened to the disciples? The Holy Spirit happened, that’s what! The Holy Spirit blew into that house, buffeting all inside with a violent wind. Then, on top of that, tongues of fire appeared over each one’s head. The Holy Spirit came and dwelt within each one of them—with each believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These tangible and visible signs of the Holy Spirit were genuine proof that the Holy Spirit was real. This coming was huge. And, this arrival was life-changing.

After such a momentous event inside the house, the newly-filled, newly-energized believers spilled out into the street. Can you see their excited faces? Can you hear them as they share about this amazing experience that had just happened?

I can just imagine a roving reporter, reporting on the noisy crowd in the streets of Jerusalem that day. “Here on the streets of Jerusalem are God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. I understand that a strange sound was just heard. You all can see the crowd coming together in bewilderment. Each person is hearing their own language spoken. Everyone here is utterly amazed! “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in many different tongues! I keep hearing again and again from these eye-witnesses, “What does this mean?” The minority opinion is, however, less flattering. Some are making fun of theses Galileans and saying, “They have had too much wine.”

You can see how brash, outspoken Peter couldn’t help himself. Energized by the Holy Spirit, he began to tell people what happened. Why all of the disciples were so energized, so filled with the Holy Spirit. And—about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Jewish Messiah, crucified, died and resurrected from the dead.

Listen to the words of Peter: “But God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Does everyone here understand? Peter finally gets it! So many times previously, Peter and the other disciples just didn’t understand the words of Jesus. They miss His message completely, and Jesus needed to patiently backtrack, go over the same information again and again. Except—not now. The disciples—and Peter—finally understand! The Holy Spirit is now indwelling them, and Peter lets everyone in the crowd know that this Jesus, this Messiah, has come for them, too.

This Jesus, this Messiah, is the long-promised Messiah, foretold by Moses and the prophets.

Many people in the crowd had heard something about the Rabbi Jesus, who had been put to death just a few short weeks ago. Yes, and some even knew a lot about this Jesus, this supposed Messiah, long-promised and foretold by the Hebrew Scriptures. But, the words of Peter, energized by the Holy Spirit, went straight to the hearts of those who listened that day.

Listen to the words of our scripture passage today: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Wait a second. What is Peter talking about? Believing, and immediately getting baptized?

That is exactly what he means. Baptism was an established practice in the first century. Not done by everyone, but practiced by a number of people. To show cleansing, and repentance, and renewal of life. Jesus elevates this Jewish practice to what we call a sacrament.

As in the rest of believers’ lives, so also in the receiving of the sacraments, it is God who takes the initiative in approaching the believer. It is then the believers’ turn to respond joyfully to God, as a result of God’s sovereign gift of grace. Baptism is our response to God’s gracious gift of salvation, grace, and forgiveness of sins.

Let me explain in another way. Out on the cattle ranches of the West the unbranded calves that roam at large are known as “mavericks.” Theses calves are claimed by the rancher who is first to get his brand on them at the annual round up. A little girl from a Western state had been baptized one Sunday by the Methodist minister of the town. Her friends at school questioned her the next day as to the meaning of the ceremony. “Well,” she said, “I will just tell you. I was a little maverick out on the prairie. That pastor put the Jesus mark on my forehead so that when He sees me He will know that I am one of His children.”

That Jesus mark was what so many new believers received, that morning of Pentecost. That Holy Spirit gift was what we received when each of us was baptized. Before we knew the Lord, each of us was a maverick calf, wandering on the prairie. Whether we are baptized as adults, young people, or babies like Christine, baptism is a joyful, outward expression of God’s love toward us. And, we know that Jesus will know that each one is His child.

Do you know things intellectually about Jesus? Or, do you have a close relationship with Jesus? Like the other believers on that Pentecost morning, has the Holy Spirit blown through your life and heart? I invite you all into a close relationship with Jesus, today.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)