Sunday, February 21, 2010

Now and Not Yet

Pastor Brad opened with service with his customary greeting, "I'm glad you're here today," and proceeded to introduce today's theme by summarizing the main point of our Ash Wednesday this past week. Lent is a season of new beginnings that begins with brokenness. It is a time of introspection, a time to admit "I need God's help." God, he asserted, is in the business of restoring lives. And by looking at Romans 8 he focused the direction of our thoughts toward this end: What does God's Promise look like because of Grace?

There were several announcements this morning including:
a) The youth of 1st Covenant Church, River Falls, were welcomed.
b) It's that time of year when we invite friends of our church family to become members. If interested in membership, contact Pastor Brad or look for the sign up sheet in the back of the sanctuary.
c) Caribou Lake School, as a potential future home, is no longer available. Please pray for our church leaders with regard to building matters.
d) Paula shared that we still have some holes in the sign up sheet for coffee rotation. All volunteers welcome.
e) There were many people who wanted to see the Secret Friend activities re-commenced for 2010. See Paula.
f) The Empty Bowl Project is a Duluth-wide fund raising event that helps the non-profit organization Second Harvest with the distribution of food for needy families. Anyone interested in making bowls to raise money for the needy can come to Susie Newman's Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. You do not have to be a professional potter. Please bring $5 for materials. Call 729-0818 for more information.

Darlene's introit, How Great Is Our God, produced a suitably moving introduction into the service after which three young people from First Covenant in River Falls led us in worship singing "Your Grace is Enough", "Yesterday, Today and Forever" and "Audience of One." Luke Richter then read from Romans 8:18-30, a passage from which Pastor Brad would be preaching today.

During our prayer time many painful and difficult circumstances were shared, after which Brad took the podium and shared from his heart and God's Word.

Now & Not Yet

If you're a Christian, you know that Christianity is supposed to be about joy. You probably know that you're supposed to experience joy in spite of circumstances. There's a joy that the deepest trouble can't extinguish, and that joy can overwhelm even the greatest grief.

In John 17 Jesus prays that His followers would know the full measure of His joy. And in the previous chapter Jesus says His disciples will rejoice and 'no one will be able to take away your joy." He said this while telling them they would be persecuted, robbed, tortured and even put to death. Jesus promised a joy that would withstand all of it.

Pastor Brad confessed that he struggled with some of this. Do we have that kind of rock solid joy in our lives? Why do things affect me so much? Why is my joy not relentless?

In Romans 8 the apostle Paul describes a world that is groaning for release, a broken world, a suffering world. There's troubles, persecution, poverty, nakedness... and one must ask how does joy fit into the picture? In verses 28-30 Paul offers three principles for finding joy in suffering.

28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

There were three points Brad sought to establish from this verse. Paul states that if we are in Christ, (1) bad things turn out for good, (2) our good things cannot be lost, and (3) the best things are still to come. These are the reasons for our joy.

Bad things happen to everyone. Christians are not exempt. A few verses later Paul states in verse 35, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" In other words, you can anticipate troubles and hardships, even famines and swords. In point of fact, if anything good happens to us, it is because of God. And when bad things happen, God can take these and work them to good effect.

The story of Jesus and Lazarus is a good illustration. Jesus weeps and is even angry. He hates death, which is why He gave everything to defeat it. Likewise He hates loneliness and suffering, which He experienced in order to bring us relief. Christianity is not a Pollyanna religion for children, but deal directly with life's most difficult issues.

Many people teach and believe that if we are Christians we won't have as many bad things happen to us. But it's not true. There are horrible things that can happen to us, and believing in a loving God won't stop them from happening. Everyone will experience the decay of their bodies. Everything falls apart.

But even though bad things happen, this verse notes that God will work them for good. That is, they will be used for good effect in your life. 50% of discouragement is from being shocked when bad things happen.

God doesn't promise better life circumstances, He promises a better life. Jesus didn't suffer so that you wouldn't have a bad day.

In verse 30 he writes about being predestined... and in this passage it is a promise, a sure thing. Our future is fixed. God's aim is the development in us of the character of Jesus. And the full meaning here is that everything that happens in our lives serves to form us and polish us. Nothing will hold back His purposes for you. It's as good as done.

There's a portion of this passage which some people have stumbled over because it seems gender insensitive to speak of being adopted as sons. Paul was living in a time when daughters were second class citizens. What Paul was stating here is that there are no second class citizens in Christ. We're all sons. When you are a Christian, you receive all the benefits a son enjoys in a traditional culture. It was a subversive and revolutionary promise.

Finally, the best is yet to come. And when you get a glimpse of what's to come in the world to come, you can handle anything in this life. The notion of Heaven and glory does not trivialize our suffering. Your soul is too great for anything but this.

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