Playing Your Part: 1 Thessalonians SeriesAdrian Holloway on May 31, 2009 with 0 Comments
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1 Thessalonians 5 12-18 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
SLIDE 1: 1 Thessalonians
We come now to the final section of 1 Thessalonians. We’re almost at the end of the road. This is the 17th sermon out of 18.
And I wonder what is the main thing that has struck you from this letter?
This week I read the story of how the Thessalonian church was started in the book of Acts, and then I read 1 Thessalonians. And what I came away with, was this wonderful sense of something being created out of nothing. Something (in this case a church in Thessalonica) being established in what had previously been an entirely pagan city.
Before Paul arrived, there were no Christians in Thessalonica. On the contrary, there had been 300 years of undiluted idolatry. There were no churches. No-one living in that city had ever even heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Until Paul and his friends turned up.
Paul arrives. He preaches for only 3 weeks, at which point he’s chased out of town by his opponents. But in those 3 short weeks, so many people had become Christians, so many people had “turned from idols to serve the living and true God” that a church has been created. Amazing!
So the good news is that there are now some brand new Christians in Thessalonica. The bad news is that they are being persecuted. Who by? By the Jews. By the ones who’d rejected Paul’s message. These Thessalonian Jews were so violently anti-Christian that they had started a riot to drive Paul out of the city.
These Jews were so aggressive that when they’d heard that Paul was in Berea, 50 miles away, they’d left Thessalonica, and traveled all the way down there and stirred up the crowds there against Paul. Can you imagine the conversations as they left Thessalonica for their road-trip to Berea? . .
“I’m off dear. See you next week!”
“What do you mean see you next week? Where are you going?”
“I’m going all the way down to Berea.”
“What on earth for?”
“To persecute Paul.”
“Oh that’s fine! I’m all for persecuting Paul. Hope it goes well! Hope you get him! Bye!”
Can you imagine being a 3 week old Christian, living next door to people like that? There was a real doubt as to whether any of these baby Christians would be able to stand up under that kind of opposition!
And so a few months go by. Paul is now 200 miles away in Corinth. And Paul is desperate to know, ‘have these Christians survived the persecution or not?’
Paul has sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out . . . does the church still exist? Are any of them still following Jesus? And then Timothy comes back, and Paul’s like: “Well?”
And Timothy says: “Thessalonica Community Church is alive and well!” Group hug! And Paul is overjoyed. Praise God! Paul says, ‘I’m going to write them a ‘well done’ letter.’
And that’s what we’ve got today in our bibles. This ‘well done’ letter! “You did it! You stood up under the persecution. You didn’t give in.” The sense of relief in the letter is palpable. Paul says, chapter 3: “Now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you Thessalonians, in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you.”
Against all the odds this church has survived. A church has been created out of nothing.
And what hit me, is that something like that has happened here at Christ Church.
Six years ago, Christ Church, London did not exist. It was no more than an idea.
It was an idea in David Stroud’s mind. We were both living in Birmingham at the time. And I remember a phone call when we discussed what this new church would be called. The options were . . . King’s Church London, Riverside Church London or Christ Church, London.
Six years ago. Nothing. No such thing as Christ Church London. Now we have 43 Life Groups. Forty-three midweek small groups. And over the past 3 years we’ve had 151 conversions. 151 people have made a considered decision. They’ve weighed it up, and decided to follow Jesus. 151 conversions. And we’ve had 138 baptisms.
A new church, taking new ground. That’s right isn’t it? As far as we know, Jesus has not been worshipped in this theatre before. You may be interested to know that when it was opened in April 1928, this was just about the largest in London. The souvenir brochure said that if all the bricks used to build it, were put in a straight line they’d go all the way from London to Paris.
And it showed films. It was here that the first ever talking movie was shown in Britain. A film with dialogue. People were amazed. “You not only see the pictures, but you can actually hear the words that the actors are saying.” No-one had ever heard a talking film before!
In the 1942, John Gielgud put on a production of Hamlet here, which got rave reviews until the theatre was bit by a German bomb in 1943.
All the greats have stood on this stage. Henry Fonda made his West End debut here. Everyone from Dame Judi Dench to Dame Edna Everidge has stood here.
In 1986, 10 million people would watch what was going on here on a Sunday afternoon. That’s because, you may be amused to know that Jimmy Tarbuck hosted ITVs popular Sunday evening variety show, “Live from the Piccadilly.”
So when we moved here, that was the first time in the 78 year history of this place that Jesus had been worshipped here. Something out of nothing. Sir Ian McKellen has recited Shakespeare on this stage, but no-one had ever been baptized on it before.
Folks, just like these Thessalonian converts, people who used to worship idols have been converted in these seats and they have been baptized on this stage.
But, we’ve not had the sort of fierce persecution that Paul and the Thessalonians went through. Which just makes me curious. How did Paul keep going through all the beatings and the abuse he received?
Well, I’ve always suspected that the passage we have before us today holds the answer, because in it Paul says: “Be joyful always” and “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Let’s read the whole thing . . .
12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Now I reckon that anyone who could be joyful always, and give thanks in all circumstances would basically have cracked life. I have always thought that this must be what “reigning in life through our Lord Jesus Christ” is. Someone who was joyful always, would be the sort of person who could endure beatings, persecutions and just keep going, because their joy would have nothing to do with their circumstances. Folks, this is the kind of joy I want.
I’ve had passing joy . . . like that advert last night: “Domino’s Pizza . . . takes you to a happy place!” Yes, but for how long?
I want this kind of victory. I would absolutely love to “be joyful always” and to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Not just when the pizzas are coming thick and fast!
If we could all do that, we would most definitely feel that we are “more than conquerors.” We would feel like overcomers, overcoming all adversity, always joyful.
So let’s break it down . . . what advice does Paul give to these baby Christians? There are six instructions . . .
Playing Your Part (1 Thessalonians 5:12-18)
1. Love your leaders (vs 12-13)
2. Care for your brothers and sisters in Christ (vs 14)
3. Don’t hold onto offenses (vs 15)
4. Be joyful always (vs 16)
5. Pray continually (vs 17)
6. Give thanks in all circumstances (vs 18)
Could following these 6 steps lead us into the life we’ve always wanted?
Well let’s look at them . . .
1. Love your leaders (vs 12-13)
12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.
On this subject of how we relate to church leaders, I would like to read an amusing poem, by the former poet laureate, John Betjeman.
“When things go wrong,
It’s rather tame,
To find we are ourselves to blame,
It gets the matter, over quicker,
To blame the trouble on the vicar.
The vicar after all is paid
To keep us bright and undismayed.
And so it goes on . . .
The poem is called, “Blame the Vicar.”
By stark contrast, I recently spoke at a church, which has grown from 20 to just under 400 people in 3 years. And it just so happened that on the day I was there, they welcomed 10 people into membership. And the pastor got them down the front and everyone clapped. And he asked them all a friendly question, and they said “yes.” And then he asked them a second question, and I can’t remember exactly what the wording was, and it was all very polite, but once you’d sort of decoded it, the question was basically: “In the unlikely event of there ever coming a time when we as leaders feel the need to admonish you, or if there ever comes a time when we make strategic decisions that you personally disagree with, are you prepared to promise now, ahead time, that you’ll respectfully follow our leadership?” and he asked all 10 individually. It wasn’t as blunt as what I’ve just described, it was very under-stated, but as they each said yes, what struck me was that they’d each really thought about what they were saying yes to. What struck me was that it was like watching very informal wedding vows. Now I had never seen that before.
I then recognized an old friend afterwards, who I’ve not seen for 16 years. He was on their welcome team. He’s a buisnessman called XYZ. This is a guy who had crashed out of the church I was at 16 years ago. I was amazed to see him. He said: “Adrian, after that, I didn’t go to any church for more than 10 years.” He said, “I’d always been a silent, internal rebel in my heart against church leaders.” He said: “But when I came here, I saw a servant leadership that has changed my life.” He said, “For the first time, I wanted to submit. I’ve given up on my silent protests and I no longer think I know better. And I love it, I’ve never felt this free.”
For my friend XYZ, obeying verses 12 and 13 this was the first step to the life he’s always wanted. We are told here to not only respect our leaders (verse 12), but also to (verse 13) hold them in highest regard in love. In the Greek, to hyper-rek-perissou them. To beyond exceedingly abundantly esteem them in love.
So who do we beyond exceedingly abundantly esteem in love?
a) Those who work hard among you (vs 12)
b) Those who are over you in the Lord (vs 12)
c) Who admonish you (vs 12)
a) Those who work hard among you. The word for work here conjures up the image of sweat, and manual labour. This is the same Greek word that Paul uses to describe his own tent-making.
We have tent-makers here. People who in addition to their actual job for which they get paid also work hard in the church. For example, there are currently 26 Life Group coaches in our church, who as well as doing their job, and as well as leading a Life Group, also coach or oversee other Life Groups. I can tell you, that those 26 people work hard among you.
And if you’re in a Life Group,
b) Those who are over you in the Lord
This is the bit we feel uneasy about. The whole idea of anyone being “over us in the Lord” sounds a bit un-erving. But it’s not when you realize that Jesus taught that no-one’s over anyone unless they are first under them. Even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. In the church, Jesus said that leaders must first be servants, the first are last, and that whoever wants to be a ruler in the kingdom of God, first has to become the slave of all. When my friend XYZ saw that, he said: “I’ve never felt this free.”
Finally, we esteem those . . .
c) Who admonish you
This is where the rubber really hits the road. What happens when you are admonished or corrected or directed by someone who you really think of as a peer or a contemporary?
That’s presumably what’s happening in Thessalonica. These Thessalonians were getting admonished by other Thessalonians who’d only been Christians for 3 months. So you had new Christians bringing correction to other new Christians. And so presumably Christians were reacting by saying: “Who are you to speak into my life? Who are you to correct me?” And that’s probably why Paul raises this subject in his letter.
Here at Christ Church, you could easily have a 25 year old Life Group leader, being coached by a 25 year old Life Group leader, who has just multiplied her group and become a coach. And the coach is for the first time, trying to bring some input. To suggest changes. To bring direction. How are you going to respond to that?
The next instruction we’re given is . . .
2. Care for your brothers and sisters in Christ (vs 14)
14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Five times in this chapter, Paul uses the word brothers, Greek “adelphoi” or brethren, to stress that the church is a family. And different family members need different kinds of care.
I don’t meet many idle at Christ Church, I think the way you guys serve and volunteer is amazing. My experience of a typical Christ Church person, is someone who is giving everything.
But you can make that person’s day with a few encouraging words.
I remember when I was a TV reporter, I got a letter from my boss, who was called Nick Pollard. He’d been top man at ITV news, at ITN, he was Head of News at Sky News. And the letter, in essence, just said: “Dear Adrian, Well done.” It was totally unexpected. And it was totally genuine. I was amazed that he’d written to me. It said: “Dear Adrian, that report yesterday was excellent. The piece to camera last week looked good. The other bulletin was well written. Well done on getting the such and such story on air so quickly. Thanks for what you’re doing, yours sincerely.” It probably took him only 10 minutes to write it. But that letter kept me going for a year. No exaggeration. A whole year. I felt like a million dollars!
Friends. Do that in church. Encourage people. Wherever you can. You have no idea what internal battles people are fighting. Someone in your life group might be right up against it on all fronts. Your encouragement could make all the difference. I’ve found that in this church, most people are going the extra mile at work. They’re serving in church, they’re trying their best, encourage them.
I’m going to take the next one out of sequence . . .
5) Pray continually (vs 17)
How do you pray continually? Well the first 10 years of my Christian life praying continually through the day was especially tough because I can only pray out loud. If I don’t pray out loud. If I pray in my mind, after 2 minutes, I’m not praying at all, all I’m doing is thinking about life. My mind wanders . . . I’m looking out the window . . . “Oh look, a dog.” “Oh look another bus.” “Look at him, he’s looks like a character. I bet he’s the type of bloke, who can’t walk past a hat, without trying it on.”
So for the first 10 years, if I wanted to pray continually through the day, I had to find somewhere I can talk out loud on my own, without being interrupted. That really narrows the options. Because when someone walks in, it looks like I’m talking to myself.
Then, Praise God, they invented the mobile phone. So now I can just pretend I’m talking to someone.
So if you ever see me on my mobile phone. I’m probably praying.
I did get caught out once on the underground. A stranger pointed out there was no signal. But there we go.
Next . . .
3.Don’t hold onto offences (vs 15)
15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. 16Be joyful always;
Well clearly you can’t be joyful always if what you really want to do is pay somebody back wrong for wrong.
In the Authorized Version of the Bible, in Luke 17:1 Jesus says, it is inevitable that offences will come. If you live on this planet for any length of time, people are going to offend us. Which raises the huge question, what are we going to do with those offences?
Now of course, because we are Christians, none of us would ever pay back wrong for wrong in an obvious way, because we know we’re supposed not to.
Let me just tell you a funny story about this . . . Last week I saw an old friend who told me how his pastor went to a football match. And his ticket put him in a seat, right next to the opposition fans, right in the war zone, by the line of stewards who literally keep the two tribes apart as they taunt and chant at each other throughout the entire game. Now because the pastor’s team were losing, he was a bit wound up anyway, but he had two thousand opposition fans right next to him, goading him, taunting him, shouting obscene things about his town and his team. But because he was a Christian, he couldn’t stand up and swear back like everyone else around him. So he just sat there and sat on his hands, and took all this chanting and abuse, until eventually he cracked. And he stood up, on his own, but he couldn’t swear, so he just shouted at the opposition fans: “On the way home, I hope you all get stuck in traffic!”
And all the fans, were like: “What? What sort of abuse is that? I hope you get stuck in traffic.”
He couldn’t wish anything really bad on them because he was a Christian, so he just wished that something mildly annoying would happen to them.
It’s like, how in America, because the police have guns, they shout “Stop or I’ll shoot!” But here in England the police don’t have guns, so they have to shout, “Stop, or I’ll, I’ll shout stop again.” Can you imagine an armed robber holed up in a dis-used warehouse, and he eventually surrenders saying: “I give up, I surrender, just please don’t shout “stop” anymore. I can’t stand it. Anything but that!”
But our human nature does make us want to retaliate in equal proportion. Jesus said: “Don’t.” Jesus said, “you’ve heard it said . . . ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say unto you, love not only your neighbour, love your enemies.”
But we still feel offended, outraged even. So what do we Christians do? We internalize the revenge.
And we fantasize about things going wrong for them. Ha Ha! Didn’t see that coming did you?
And we think up hypothetical conversations where we think of just the right thing to say to pay them back. Ha Ha!
And that makes us feel so much better! We feel better for at least 10 seconds, and then we realize, actually, we’re still offended. Why? Because in the real world, we want an apology. We’re waiting for an apology. And they haven’t apologized. And there’s no indication that they ever will. So . . . the offence is still there, and we’ve not dealt with it.
Meanwhile, God has something better for us. He wants us to . . .
4) Be joyful always (vs 16)
But it is very difficult to be joyful always if you are carrying offences.
Here’s the best news ever, there is now a supernatural power within you that wasn’t there before you became a Christian, and that supernatural power from God will help you to totally forgive. And you will feel so much better when you do!
You know that after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, they set up what was called the truth and reconciliation committee. At one hearing, a policeman named Mr Van Der Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an 18 year old boy and burnt the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of BBQed meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later Van Der Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband’s body, put it on a woodpile, poured petrol over it and ignited it, the courtroom grew hushed as an elderly woman who’d lost first her son, then her husband was given the chance to respond.
The judge said to the 70 year old widow: “Madam, you can decide. Madam, how should justice be done to this man who has killed your Son and your husband.” The judge asked the woman: “What do you want from Mr Van Der Broek?”
She replied: “Mr Van Der Broek took all my family away from me, but I still have a lot of love to give. I would like Mr Van Der Broek to become my son. Twice a month I would like Mr Van Der Broek to come to the ghetto and spend the day with me, so that I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr Van Der Broek to know that Jesus Christ died for him, and that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him too. And now I would like to get down from the witness box and I would like to embrace him so that he can know that my forgiveness is real.”
Spontaneously some of the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way from the witness stand to hug Mr Van Der Broek. Mr Van Der Broek did not hear the hymn, he had fainted, overwhelmed.
You see, look at it from her point of view. She is 70 years old. She can either live with that poison in her system. Or she can cleanse her system of that evil. She can live with the pain and the anger inside her, or she can ask Jesus to take it away. She went to Jesus, and found power. He enabled her to forgive. Now that story has been told around the world. God did turn the tragic deaths of her son and husband into stepping stones for many people who’ve been inspired by that story to become Christians.
Look when Paul says: “Be joyful always” and “Give thanks in all circumstances.” He’s not saying: “Give thanks for all circumstances.”
And the danger of preaching on a verse like this, is that it sounds like you are minimizing the offence. It sounds like you’re being incredibly insensitive.
But being joyful always is not saying that what the other person did was OK. It’s not saying that it doesn’t matter. Sin does matter. Jesus thought it was so serious, that he felt the need to die for it. So sin is serious, and should be treated seriously.
But we can all agree that we would actually feel better without the poison of unforgiveness in our system. And so because we know that’s true, we need to decide whether there is any way, whereby I don’t know 10 years from now, 5 years from now, 1 year from now, next month, tomorrow, or even tonight, we can totally forgive the person who has wronged us. Not for their sake, but for yours. That woman said, “I may be 70, but I still have a lot of love to give. I refuse to live bitter and resentful. Some of you tonight, I believe are on the brink of your greatest achievement. You are about to attain true greatness. Tonight you can take a giant step towards total forgiveness.
Because you know that if you hold onto that offence, forever, you know you will never be truly happy.
So let me just throw this out there. You cannot change the other person.
Listen the other person is never going to change. There’s a really good chance that they will never apologise. And you are waiting for an apology before you allow yourself to be joyful always. And so you are faced with a stark choice, either you change or you are going to stay offended forever.
Hey, if time really was a healer, then why do we know people who are still bitter about a divorce that happened 50 years ago?
Some of us are waiting for someone else to change our circumstances in order to make us happy. The other person does not change, so we blame the other person for the fact that we don’t have more joy in our life. NO! Tonight, in verse 16, Paul is challenging you to put a stop to that.
Maybe your dream died. It didn’t work out. There was a huge disappointment. Here’s the good news. The will of God is not a tightrope. God has got 1000 other ways whereby he can make your dreams come true. But at some stage you will have to forgive, totally.
And maybe I’m speaking to you tonight. You know what it is to get bad news. Maybe your dream died. Maybe, right now, you are facing adversity.
Not only is life unfair, but it hurts! We lose a loved one far too young. A friend betrayed us. Maybe a relationship didn’t last. It’s easy to get negative and bitter and lose our enthusiasm for life. We’re physically living in the present, but emotionally, we’re living in the past. Focused on who hurt us, and how unfair it was. Without realising it, we go around with a victim mentality, because someone did us wrong.
Maybe you’ve had a major setback in your finances, in your health. It’s easy to allow that blow become the central focus of our life.
But the Bible says that Jesus endured the pain of the cross by focusing on the joy that was set before him. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
What are you focusing on today? What didn’t work out? Who hurt you? How unfair it was?
God can use those adversities, rather than being stumbling blocks, God can use them as stepping-stones to take you to a higher level.
If you need to forgive someone, but you can’t, bring it to God. Remember until you let them go. You’re the one in prison.
“But I don’t want to forgive! I feel no desire to forgive!” OK, then do it for your sake! You can’t be joyful always until you totally forgive them.
Whatever people may say about you, tonight, why don’t you rise up and say: I refuse to be defined by my past.
The truth is, you’re not defined by how you were raised, by how somebody treated you, or even by the mistakes you’ve made.
Here’s how God works . . .
You’ve been through the death, you’ve been through the burial. Now it’s time for your resurrection.
But Lord, why did you let it happen? How can God possibly be in control of my life if he let this bad thing happen? Have you ever felt like that? I know I have.
At home our older girls have two lists stuck on the wall by their beds. These are lists they’ve written themselves. One is called “My good list” and on it, is a list of good things that they have in life. And then next to it, they have their bad list.
And what they do, is when they are feeling sad, when things go wrong, they write down what the bad thing is, on the bad list, but as soon as it’s written, if they take a step back, they see it in the context of their good list.
“Daddy,” they say, “when it seems like everything’s against me, I read my good list.”
Here’s the brilliant news. Because of what Jesus has done for you, you’ve inherited a massive good list.
6) Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (vs 18)
And giving thanks in all circumstances is therefore reading your good list out loud.
King David told himself to read from his good list. “I will extol the Lord, at all times, his praise will continually be on my lips.” Paul told himself to read from the good list. He tells himself: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) In other words it was a choice. He chose to rejoice.
I got my good list from a tape, an audio cassette. When I became a Christian, I went to something called the Downs Bible Week, where I heard Larry Tomczak speak.
And Larry had this tape, called “Biblical Confessions to build your faith.” It’s just a whole load of Bible promises strung together.
And every day, I sat in the bath listening to Larry Tomczak’s ‘biblical confessions to build your faith.’ That is my good list. After about 2 months, I was speaking it out with Larry every day. The whole idea behind the tape, was that you had to say it. So I said it out loud every day. It was a 27 minute confession that changed my life.
And Larry starts like this . . .
Psalm 34 verse 10 says: “Those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing.”
And then Larry makes this amazing statement, as a sort of personal challenge to me as I’m lying in the bath . . .
“You are the only being in the universe that can cause defeat in your life. Wholeheartedly decided by the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, to please God, and all the demons in and out of hell, all the people in the world, all your apparent weaknesses and shortcomings, inadequacies, adverse circumstances and unfavourable surroundings cannot prevent you from having glorious victory! You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!”
And after I’d memorized all 27 minutes I would go round the house and walk down the street saying:
“I’m not just an ordinary man or woman, I’m a son of the Living God. I’m not just a person; I’m an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. I’m not just an old sinner, I’m a new creation in Jesus my Lord. I’m part of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. I’m one of God’s people. I’m not under guilt or condemnation. I refuse discouragement. It’s not of God. God is the God of all encouragement. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I am cleansed in the blood. No weapon formed against me shall prosper. My mind is being renewed by the Word of God. I pull down strongholds. I cast down imaginations, I bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. If God be for me, who can be against me? Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world. Nothing can separate me from the Love of Christ. I am the righteousness of God in Christ. I’m not a slave of sin. I’m a slave of God and a slave of righteousness. I continue in his word. I know the truth and the truth has set me free. And because the Son sets me free, I am free indeed.”
I would cycle to the tube saying:
“Christ always causes me to triumph. I am strong the word of God abides in me, and I have overcome the evil one. I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Thanks be to God who gives me the victory through Jesus Christ my Lord!
My mum thought I was being brain-washed, but like J John, I said, “Mum, if you knew what was in my mind before, you’d be pleased it’s been washed.”
Well after 27 minutes of that, quite honestly I felt invincible.
But, Adrian, life is still unfair!
But in our heart of hearts, when we say: “God, it’s not fair.” We don’t really want God to make life fair, because we know that if overnight everything in life was made totally fair, then all the money, and all the love in the world would be evenly distributed across all 6.6 billion people, so that everyone had equal shares. If God, overnight, really made it exactly equal shares of health and wealth for everyone, we know we’d realize in the first 60 seconds of living our new “totally fair” life, just how much stuff we’ve taken for granted. We’d want our old “unfair” life back straight away.
If after 60 seconds of living our new “totally fair” life, we then had our old life back, we’d get down on our knees in our bathroom and thank God for drinkable water. We’d then go into our London kitchen and thank God for the fact that we will eat food today. Then when we arrive at the job we hate so much, we’d thank God for the fact that we have any kind of job. Our life would be a torrent of praise and thanksgiving.
Compared to the other 6.6 billion people alive today, we know we’ve got lots to be grateful for. No, many of our problems in life come from our thought life, when we continually read from the bad list. Our level of happiness is determined by our thoughts. And it’s from our thoughts that we develop our self-image.
Your self-image is a picture you carry of yourself on the inside of your heart. Just like a parent carries a photo of their family in their purse or wallet, you also carry a picture of yourself in your mind. And you show the world what you think of yourself by your body language, and most of all by the words that you speak.
I believe that tonight, maybe for the first time, some of us here will fully emotionally embrace what God says about who you really are.
You don’t see the value that you have, the worth that you have, the preciousness.
The truth is you belong to God, and he loves you.
You can be secure in the unconditional love of God. And you can allow ‘how God really feels about you’ to become your new self-image. And how you feel about yourself will positively affect every relationship that you have.
When we’re reading from the bad list. Going over that bad stuff time and again does us more harm than good. It doesn’t make us joyful.
Can I encourage you . . . Get a hold of the bad list, and tonight take it to Jesus. Send it to the cross. That’s where it will be dealt with once and for all. Let him deal with it. Don’t review it any longer.
The bible says as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. The biggest revelation I have had since becoming a Christian, is that I am responsible for what I am thinking about. I have total control. And if I’m dwelling on offences, unfair things, it’s because I’ve allowed myself to dwell on that stuff.
You can hand over the past, hand over every disappointment to Jesus, and take every injustice and every failure to Jesus. On the cross, Jesus was bearing your burdens. He took your burdens on the cross, and now he’s raised from the dead, he’ll give you his resurrection power.
It doesn’t matter how far you’ve fallen, it doesn’t matter how rubbish you may think you are, it doesn’t matter what pit you might be in, God’s arm is long enough lift you out.
With God’s help you can live the life you’ve always wanted. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. Have it more abundantly.”
God has got a life for you in which you can be joyful always, in which you can give thanks in all circumstances.
But you will have to forgive, and some of you I believe will start to do that right now . . .
You know, for some of us even saying out loud that we forgive the other person, is too big a step for us at the moment. Some of us could not yet say: “I forgive you” and mean it. Others of us could say: “I forgive you” but you know what, unless and until the other person apologises, we are not ready to let go of the offence. The truth is we have technically forgiven them but we are still offended that the other person has never apologised. Folks, we cannot change the other person, we cannot ever make them apologise, but we can choose how we think, how we act and how we respond right now.
So let’s close our eyes. Now if you know that you’ve been offended by someone else, even if you are not ready to totally forgive that person, I want you to raise your hand and I want to pray for you.
Lord, there are all sorts of offences that have been done to the people in this room. There are all sorts of injustices that have been done. In this room, there are probably some unspeakable things that have been done to us. Lord I pray for every person, who truly wants to move on, that you would give them grace to forgive, even if they never ever receive an apology.
Lord you told us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. Lord help those of us in this room now with our hands raised to genuinely pray for the person who has wronged us. To pray for them that the person who has so hurt us might genuinely enjoy your blessing, and receive forgiveness from you, just as in Christ, you have forgiven us.