tough times prove our maturity

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I am not a huge fan of topical sermons. I think there is a danger of coming to the Bible with my mind already made up on a topic, and reading into the texts of scripture just what I want to hear. It is for that reason that I prefer messages like those of Dr. Flanagan of late.  He is approaching the entire Gospel of Luke, and trying to get at what Luke had in mind in the entire book, and relating each section to the book’s purpose as a whole. That is a safer practice, because it puts what God has to say above what I want to hear.

Nevertheless, I admit that there is a place in the church for topical preaching.  Sometimes I need to come to the scriptures with my questions, and seek God’s answers. That is what I have been trying to do with this series on tough times.  We have been going through some tough times as individuals, and as a church. I want to get God’s perspective on these tough times.

When I looked at Jesus’ parable of the planter and soils in Matthew 13, I asked whether going through tough times implies that I am not a Christian. I discovered that my identity depends on who planted me, not on how difficult the soil is. In fact, Jesus tells us in that parable that God intentionally puts some of his seed in rough soil.  So, I should not be surprised to undergo challenges. The existence of those challenges serves to prove my identity as a Christian, not to disprove it.

When I looked at 1 Peter 1, I asked why God puts me through tough times – what is his ultimate plan for me, and why do I have to go through tough times to experience his ultimate plan.  Peter changes the metaphor, and says that God is a refiner. He puts his gold through the fire so that it comes out refined – purer.  Peter taught that Christians have a future we will inherit which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

So, today I want to explore another text which treats the subject of tough times.

James 1: 2-8 NET

2    My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,

3     because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4     And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

5     But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

6     But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

7     For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

8     since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

Some of you have probably wondered why I took so long to get to this passage.  For many, it is the go-to passage on the subject, and for at least three good reasons.

  1. The audience is similar. James is writing to churches.
  2. The context is similar. The churches are facing hard times – I mean really hard times – as in some are being persecuted and killed.
  3. Some gospel songs and choruses are based on this text, so it is easier to remember.

So, what is James telling Christians in this passage that relates directly to my questions about tough times in my context today? Here is what I find.

First, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO MATURE US.

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James says that tough times come into our lives “so that (we) will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.” (4).  In other words, just being a disciple of Christ is not enough. God wants disciples to be discipled. He uses other Christians to do that, but he also uses tough times as part of the process.

James tells us not to be surprised when “all sorts of trials” come to us.  God is producing the character quality of endurance by allowing those tough times to affect us.  He is testing our faith.  He is not testing to see if we have faith. He is proving the existence of our faith by means of the trials.

True Faith + Tough Times = Endurance

True Faith + Tough Times = Maturity

Secondly, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO PROMOTE PRAYER FOR WISDOM.

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James gives a prescription for those believers who want to know what to do when things get tough. He says “if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God.” (5).  Notice that James does not say our first prayer should be “Lord, take this problem away from me.!” No, our first prayer should be “Lord, what are you teaching me through this trial?”

We human beings can endure all kinds of hardship as long as we are aware of the purpose for the pain. When we lose sight of the purpose, even the slightest hardship can be our undoing.

Thirdly, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO PRODUCE STRENGTH.

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James gives these battle hardened soldiers in the churches he is writing to some good strategic advice. When they pray, “(they) must ask in faith without doubting.” (6).  I know a lot of preachers have taught this text as if it is saying that if you ask God to deliver you from your hardship, you have to really believe or God is going to let you keep experiencing the hardship until you do.  I do not think that is what James is saying at all.

Let’s look at the text again:

5           But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

6              But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

7              For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

8              since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

What are we encouraged to ask for in this text?  Wisdom (5).

What, then, should we expect to receive (7) if our prayers are answered? Wisdom!

A prayer for wisdom is a request for insight that will help me endure the tough times I am going through.  If I pray for this wisdom, I should expect the Lord to give me wisdom enough to endure the tough times.

What happens when a double-minded person goes through tough times? Either they only ask for deliverance, or they ask for wisdom, doubting that God would ever give them this wisdom. They are unstable, immature.

The reason this is so important is that God does not guarantee me or anyone else that he is going to fix things.  What he guarantees is that he will give us wisdom enough to endure the tough times in peace. But this wisdom and peace is not automatic. With each new trial, the potential for wisdom and peace is there, but we have to keep asking for it.

Paul said something similar:

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NET).

Again, notice that the outcome is not “God promises to fix all my problems.”  The real outcome is that even though we go through tough times our hearts and minds will be guarded from anxiety and given peace!

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LORD, mature us. Show us how to respond to all the tough times we face with a determination to know your wisdom as we face them.  We are not praying for easy lives. We are praying for you to make us into strong people.

 

Tough times prove our faith

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1 Peter 1:3-9 (NET)

 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold — gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away — and will bring praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith — the salvation of your souls.

2016 is over and done with, and I for one am happy to see it go. It has been Jefferson’s “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” year.  One of the reasons I decided to preach this series of sermons is I just needed to remind myself why believers go through tough times. I know that the Bible gives some good answers to that question, but when you go through tough times, it is not easy to remember them.

So, last time, when we looked at Jesus’ story about the planter and the soils, we saw that it is not unusual for believers to experience tough times, because our ability to overcome them and remain fruitful is evidence of our identity as real Christians.

In today’s text, Peter says something very much the same.  In fact, it seems like Peter is reflecting on what Christ said in the parable.  It may very well be the case. There are quite a few similarities.  But Peter steps back from the planter/harvest allegory and uses more familiar church language when he talks about being given new birth and a salvation that will be revealed when Christ returns.

There is a lot of truth packed into these few verses, but what I want to investigate further is what Peter says about tough times.  He puts what he says about tough times (or, what he calls various trials) in the larger context of what God has decided to do in the lives of Christians, and how that will end up bringing him eternal praise, glory and honour.

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TOUGH TIMES COME TO CHALLENGE OUR FAITH, BUT CANNOT CHANGE OUR FUTURE

 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

What Peter wants believers to know is that the God who planted them is going to harvest them. The God who gave them new birth is going to make sure that those born-again people are raised to eternal life when Jesus comes. So, yes, tough times are going to come. But those tough times cannot change the believer’s destiny. How do we know that? The evidence Peter puts forth for that claim is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In fact, it was the resurrection of Christ from the dead that made being born-again possible.

Paul talked about Jesus being the first-fruits of the harvest.  The Jewish feast that celebrated first-fruits was a faith-celebration of the whole harvest.  They did not wait until the whole harvest was in before they celebrated. They celebrated in faith once the first-fruits appeared.  Peter looks at a church whose members suffer tough times sometimes, and he tells us to look at Jesus. Jesus has already been raised from the dead to live immortal. That is our future.  Tough times will come, but they cannot change what God did for us in the past, so they cannot change what he is going to do in the future.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Peter chooses to use the birth metaphor instead of the harvest metaphor because he wants to assure the believers who are going through tough times that God has not abandoned them.  So, it is not like God planted them, and then went off somewhere else to tend another crop. Now, God gave them new birth, and he has an inheritance waiting to give to those new children that he has given birth to.

Notice what Peter says about that inheritance:

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(You may not have noticed, but the three words rhyme in Greek, and they start with the same letter in Greek.) They are …

 

  • imperishable, [άφθαρτον]

 

This is a word that Paul uses to describe God’s immortality, and the immortality that believers will be raised with.  When Peter uses it to describe our inheritance, he is assuring believers that nothing is going to change their future.

In fact, Peter kind-of mixes metaphors in verse 23 of this same chapter when he tells believers that they … “have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” So, Peter is telling us not that we are immortal already, but that immortality has been planted in us.

  • undefiled, [αμίαντον]

 

This word is used to describe something that is pure, uncontaminated.  If Peter is using it to refer to seed, it means that believers are made of pure seed which will produce a pure crop. If Peter is alluding to believers’ inheritance and their being given birth to by God, then it takes on the further meaning of the holiness of the parent.  Our future depends on our origin. Our inheritance depends on who gave us birth.

  • unfading [αμάραντον]

 

This is an interesting word for Peter to use in this context.  It is a word that describes a flower in full-bloom. In fact, there is a species of flowering grain called the amaranth.

 

What Peter seems to be saying is that if God has given you birth, you do not have to worry about your relationship with him fading away and dying off. That is a good thing to know, especially if you face tough times.

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TOUGH TIMES COME TO TEST OUR FAITH, BUT CANNOT AFFECT WHO WE REALLY ARE

 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold — gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away — and will bring praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, having assured the believers he is writing to that their future is safe in God’s hands, he now goes on to address what it is that tough times are sent for in the present.  He changes the metaphor again. Instead of a plant, or a child, here Peter describes the Christian in terms of a precious metal, like gold.

Most substances when subjected to fire are completely destroyed.  But gold is different. If you put gold in the fire, what is going to happen is that anything that is not gold is going to burn away, and what you will have left is gold. So, Peter is saying that tough times are not there to destroy us. They are there to show what we are really made of, who we really are.

6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold — gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away — and will bring praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

In fact, the result of the tough times is that God is going to be worshipped.  Our going through the tough times happens so that God will be eternally praised because of the faith he gave us to overcome the tough times.

So, you see, if you ask the gold whether it wants to go through the fire, it would probably say no thank you very much.  But if you ask the refiner, he would say, “absolutely.”  Why? Because the refiner wants to produce a brilliant pure gold, and for that, he needs to put it through the fire.

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TOUGH TIMES COME TO STEAL OUR JOY, BUT CANNOT OVERCOME OUR FAITH IN CHRIST

8 You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 because you are attaining the goal of your faith — the salvation of your souls.

So, to sum up Peter’s message so far. He says that tough times are not going to change what happened in the past: God gave those believers a new birth to a permanent inheritance.  He also says that tough times are not going to change what is going to happen in the future.  It is all going to come through the fire and reveal a pure gold that brings glory and praise to the Refiner.

So, the last thing Peter wants to reflect upon is the present.  He sees a church that has put her faith in a Saviour that she presently cannot see.  He sees that church rejoicing in her Saviour with an indescribable and glorious joy.  Then he sees tough times come.  Those tough times are not going to destroy her faith.  She has something that those tough times cannot touch. She has a living and enduring faith in Christ. She is attaining the goal of her faith. She is being saved by Him.

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When we go through tough times, we need to remember that it does not mean that God has abandoned us. It means the opposite. He is there, refining us so that who we are blesses him forever.

 

celebrating new things- marriage

BH55H0 Rings

Then the man said, “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family (Genesis 2:23-24 NET).

day thirteen – (the thirteen days of Christmas)

187728Y is for YEAR that is coming to an end; one last chance to show love to a friend.

Z is for ZEAL, a passion to live; Jesus showed that his Father has a passion to forgive.

day twelve – (the thirteen days of Christmas)

187728W is for WREATH, hanging on my door; it reminds us of life, not death any more.

X is for XMAS, an abbreviation when writing; in the x the word Christ in the Greek is hiding.

day eleven – (the thirteen days of Christmas)

187728U is for UNDERSTANDING the Bible gives us; because of it we keep Christ in Christmas.

V is for VIRGIN, the miracle mother; Christ came to us unlike any other.

day ten – (the thirteen days of Christmas)

187728S is for SINGING a carol or two; we have to rejoice because the message is true.

T is for TIME we share with family and friends, celebrating Christ and honouring Him.