Monthly Archives: December 2016

The comfort of God

comfort-in-godYesterday’s sermon came from 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. The sermon can be heard at this link. The book of 2 Corinthians is a book about comfort. The word comfort, or forms of the word,  appears 19 times in this book, more than any other. Paul begins immediately to talk about the comfort of God but it is hard to miss that tied with the comfort of God are the afflictions of the follower of God.

God is the source of all comfort.

Paul begins to speak about comfort by crediting God with being the source of all comfort. As always, we need to remember to look to God as the source of all good things. The book of James tells us:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Jas 1:17)

However, God allows us to help Him in comforting others by offering comfort as well. Verse 4 of 2 Cor 1 tells us we are comforted so we can comfort others.

It is hard to imagine the persecutions that Paul experienced but we still have our own afflictions. In our places of employment, standing for God’s character might put our job in jeopardy; In dating, we might experience a break up because our boyfriend/girlfriend does not appreciate you standing for Holiness; In preaching, we might lose a friend because we speak the truth of the Gospel to him.  However, if we experience these things, and persevere in our service to God, we are better equipped to offer comfort to those who will experience them later.

It it through afflictions we experience the comfort of God.

Verses 6 and 7 clearly indicate that we experience comfort when we patiently endure. It is almost as if we have to go through the trials in order to gain the comfort.  This is understood by the fact that God does not keep us from the trials, He simply keeps us through the trials and on the other side, there is comfort.

Paul tells Timothy (2 Timothy 3:10-15) that all who want to live godly lives will be persecuted and yet encourages Timothy to continue on the same course of life-a course that will see him experience persecution.

The Hebrew writer makes note of the discipline of the Lord in Hebrews 12:3-13. (Not all discipline is punishment…in this passage, there is more teaching and training than chastising.) God instructs us by allowing us to go through some difficult times and yet we still have His promise to protect us from being overwhelmed.

His promises and His word bring us great comfort.

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD. (Psa 119:49-52)

Afflictions cause us to rely on God.

In verses 8 and 9, Paul refers to distresses he experienced in Asia. Experiences which caused him, at the time, to believe he was going to die. When things are so out of your control that death seems a certainty, there is only one place to turn: To God who raises the dead!  This is probably our greatest comfort…knowing that no matter what happens in life as we serve God, even if it leads to our death, God will raise us again.

Do you refuse the comfort of God?

It is possible for us to refuse the comfort of God. If we refuse to go through the trials and afflictions of living a life for God, then we will not experience the comfort of God. Perhaps we are like the rocky soil in Mark 4 that turns away when persecutions come our way. Perhaps we are like Demas (2 Timothy4:10) who loved the world more than God and apparently did not like the boundaries God gives to all of us for living our lives. Perhaps we don’t want to put God first and so we give that first position to our family.

If we refuse to live the life of a Christian (which will lead to persecutions and afflictions) then we do, in affect, refuse the comfort of God. Comfort come to us from God in many ways but the chief ways are through His promises in His word. For example, there is a great boldness when we truely can echo the words of the Hebrew writer:

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
(Heb 13:6)

But comfort also comes from our brethren who are able to and even commanded to comfort us-as we do to them also.

so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (2Co 2:7-8)

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2Co 13:11)

Let us always persevere in our service to God. Not only in the good times but in the difficult times so that we may experience the comfort of God.

 

 

 

 

Do you still have no faith?

do-you-still-have-no-faith-autosavedWhen confronted with a tempestuous sea, the disciples, fearing for their life awoke Jesus with the question: “Do you not care that we perish?” He awoke and rebuked the winds and asked a question of them. “Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:37-41)  It seems that Jesus was as astonished at their lack of faith as they were at his power to calm the winds and the sea.

The sermon around this question can be heard at this link. However, the main points of yesterday’s lesson start off with the recognition that His disciples had experienced some amazing things with Jesus before getting into the boat in Mark 4. Jesus had healed a lame man and Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansed a leper, and restored the withered hand of a man to normal. He had confronted the Pharisees, taught the people, explained parables to the disciples and basically, just from Mark’s account alone, provided ample reason why the disciples in the midst of that storm should not have been lacking faith.

What is Faith?

In today’s common use of the word, it is little more than “hopium”. Hopium is a made up word that means you want something to be the case without having any evidence for it to be the way you want it. Sometimes you want something IN SPITE of the evidence that it can’t or won’t be that way.

I have heard people tell someone “you just have to have faith” in situations where you realize that businesses will need to close, people are going to die, or tragedy is not going to be averted. This is a legitimate use of the word in today’s usage but it often gets confused with “God will make it work out”

This is NOT the way the Bible uses the word faith and, in fact, from Hebrews 11:1 comes a near definition of faith: It “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is the “assurance” that is lacking in hopium.

Faith is a belief that leads to an action based on that belief.

Jesus had faith

Why was Jesus not concerned about the storm as He slept on the cushion in the boat? Because of the Word of God.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. (Psa 91:11-12)

His mission was needful for the salvation of mankind and He would not perish in a freak accident. His destiny was to die on Calvary’s cross. If you know that you will not perish, then the fear goes away.

The disciples did not seem to have such confidence. Even in awakening Jesus, there does not seem to be any pleading on their part to save them. No, it seems they are only astonished that He can sleep through such a storm. When Jesus asks them “if they still have no faith” perhaps he was wanting them to have faith as shown by the centurion in Luke 7.  (Luke 7 actually happens before the events in Mark 4 so the disciples would have known of this case too!)

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant….And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luk 7:2-10 edit and emphasis mine)

This Centurion has simply heard about Jesus and, based on these reports, sent to ask for his servant to be healed. Such faith Jesus marveled at.

This is the type of faith that Jesus was looking for in His disciples. Had they come to Him saying “Lord, we have seen you heal the sick and lame and cast out demons, we believe that you can save us from this certain death”….the Question would never have been asked!

There are two things that we can take away from this passage.

One, the disciples who actually spent 3 1/2 years with Jesus had some real difficulties developing faith in Jesus so perhaps we have a little hope, those of us, who were not so blessed to spend time with Him, as we struggle to develop our faith. Still, we don’t want to be found without faith so that brings us to point two.

Two, we need to let our faith grow. Faith starts with hearing God’s word. Romans 10:17 “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” and from there we begin to let our faith grow.

Passages like the following show a process of growth. The word is our milk but it is also our meat and we can grow to understand it better and as we do, our faith, exercised allows us to see and act properly towards what is good and evil.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Pe 2:2-3)

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14)

Faith requires action.

It cannot exist without it. Well, not the way the Bible uses it, at least. Faith without works is dead! (James 2:17) It is, put another way, Trusting Obedience. You trust and you obey. You believe and you act.

Do you still have no faith?

When you face questions like: Should I read  my Bible?; Should I be honest with other people?; Should I tell a little white lie?; Should I complain and gossip?  The Word of God will give you the answer but only your actions will show if you have faith. If you act appropriately, then you have faith. If you do not, then you do not have faith. Pretty simple.

Jesus wanted to know where their faith was? That is a good question for us to ask ourselves today. Do you still lack faith?

 

Are you loyal to your God?

loyal-to-whom(This sermon can be heard by clicking this link.)

In First Samuel, chapters 5 and 6, we are told about the time that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and took it back to their territory. The ark stayed in their land, moving from city to city, for seven months. Wherever the ark went, the people suffered punishment from God and finally, they returned the ark to Israel in hopes of removing the plague from their land.

In the beginning of this Philistine victory, they brought the ark to the city of Ashdod and set it in front of their god, Dagon. No doubt this would be a symbolic means of showing that Dagon was greater than the God of Israel. However, in the morning, Dagon was discovered face down before the ark. Restoring Dagon to his position, they found him the next morning before the ark with the head and hands removed, lying on the threshold. They restored Dagon and decided the Ark of God had to go to another city.

One might think that they would have realized that God was greater than Dagon, who was no god at all.  They knew that God had conquered the gods of Egypt. One might think they would wonder if it wouldn’t be better to serve the God of Israel instead. However, we find that Philistia did not turn away from their god, who was no god, but were very loyal to him. In fact, they even made the threshold, where Dagon’s head and hands had lain, a holy place and did not step on it.

Seeing the loyalty which the pagans had to their gods, who were no gods, you would think that the nation which was called by THE God of Heaven and Earth, who had delivered them from Egypt and made them a people for Himself, surely, that nation (Israel), would be even more fiercely loyal to the only true God. Right?! Wrong!

“Therefore I still contend with you, declares the LORD, and with your children’s children I will contend. For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jer 2:9-11)

Jeremiah asks the question of whether a nation ever changes its gods. It is a rhetorical question. The answer is, of course, “No!” as the Philistines showed.  However, Israel was not the same way.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer 2:12-13)

Two evils

They committed two evils in that first, they departed from God and second, they built cisterns for themselves which were broken. God was the source of water and they wanted to collect water elsewhere (foreign gods) and store it in their own cisterns which wouldn’t hold water.

These ‘broken cisterns’ can stand for many things in our life. False doctrines that we want to hold onto-even when we know the truth, philosophies that we want to abide with that leave no room for God, or just simply wanting to do everything ourselves-as if we have the wisdom necessary to live without God. All of these and more are broken cisterns.

What will we do?

We are the Israel of God today. What will we do? Will we leave the God of creation or stand by Him, loyal to the end? On what will we build our lives: Rock or sand?

Elijah encouraged the people to stop limping between two opinions. They needed to choose between Baal and God. This is the same choice we have to make today and Jesus puts it in a different metaphor: that of building a house.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Mat 7:24-27)

The only difference between the builders was where they built. They both heard the word. One built on sand and the house fell, the other built on the Rock and the house stood.

Those who leave God and try to build broken cisterns are those who build on the sand. It will not last and the results will not be good.

Where will you stand? To whom will  you be loyal? The God of Heaven and earth or your own desires?

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