Sunday, April 23, 2017

Be Strong In the Lord

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Ephesians 6:10(NLT)
aul was very encouraging with his words to the church at Thessalonica.  However, most of us have to admit that following Christ in really hard circumstances leaves a temptation to question what God is up to. 
Sometimes it seems like life just can’t get any tougher.  I’m certain Ted Brooks felt that way.  Have you seen the movie Snow Dogs?  The movie tells the story of a dentist named Ted Brooks who discovers he has inherited a rustic cabin and a dogsled team in Alaska.  His efforts to master the new sport meet with bumps, bruises, and bears.
One particular outing proves especially challenging.  When the dogs suddenly go into high gear, Brooks is thrown into the deep Alaskan snow.  He struggles to his feet, grumbling and dusting the snow off.  Suddenly a large shadow covers his, and he realizes he's not alone.  A large grizzly bear is only a few feet away.  When the bear roars, displaying a full set of sharp teeth, Brooks begins to run down the mountainside.
Just as it appears the bear is going to win the race, Brooks falls off a cliff and lands on a precipice.  As he shouts victoriously, I'm alive! I'm alive! the precipice gives way, dropping Brooks to a steep slope, where he rockets down the mountain like a bobsled, narrowly missing tree after tree.  He screams all the way down, until he finally comes to a halt.
He smiles, but his smile quickly fades when he realizes he is lying on a thin layer of ice covering a lake.  As the ice begins to crack beneath him, he lunges forward, leaving a trail of ice water in his wake, and finally makes it to what appears to be a solid piece of floating ice.  The ice supports him only momentarily and Brooks begins to sink.
The poor dentist reaches for his cell phone and dials 911, and hears a recorded message:  You’re outside of your coverage area.  Should you like to expand your service plan, please call back during our business hours.[ii]
Sometimes we start believing that a momentary realization that we are indeed alive is only a sadistic pause until the next car breakdown, pipe breaking, kid-sickness, roof leaking, job layoff or unexpected bill in the afternoon mail.
The church at Thessalonica was full of people just like that.  Paul writes his encouragement to people whose faith has taken a beating; people whose lives seem to be on hold.  Paul writes to faithful saints hanging-in-there, even though they’re beginning to feel like Ted Brooks, the dentist; they’re so oppressed by poverty and persecution from the Roman government that they’re beginning to think if something doesn’t happen soon, the rope to which they’re clinging is going to become the noose of life’s hardships waiting to take them out!
What could Paul, or God, say to such people? 
The message in Paul’s second letter to this small band of believers (and to Christians throughout the last two millennia) is: 
Be Strong in the Lord, who is your strength and your Anchor.  That strength is being transferred to you, not only in spite of your trials and persecutions, but by those trials and persecutions. 
Paul says, Hold on – have patience for the long haul; Jesus isn’t about to let you go now!  And here are three reasons you don’t have to be Superman to have the strength you need in this life:

1.  He is Strengthening Your Walk

Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.  We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering.  And God will use this persecution to show his justice and to make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering.     2 Thessalonians 1:3-5(NLT)

Paul mentioned faith, fellowship and faithfulness, three areas of growth that believers were experiencing as a sign that God was strengthening their walk in Christ. 
·       Faith is entrusting your care to God;
·       fellowship is that sense of love and bond that believers have with each other;
·       faithfulness is what is produced when faith and fellowship meet – a strength that stands-up in any circumstances.
The apostle could boast about what was happening at Thessalonica because he knew of the persecutions and trials they faced; he knew about the faithfulness with which they responded.  The people at Thessalonica knew instinctively to run to the Lord for rest and protection. 
E. M. Bounds was a pastor who wrote a lot about prayer and trusting in Christ.  He wrote:  Early one morning
…I heard the barking of a number of dogs chasing a deer.  Looking at a large open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across the field and giving signs that its race was almost run.  It leaped over the rails of the enclosed place and crouched within ten feet of where I stood.  A moment later two of the hounds came over, and the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs.  I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs.  Just then I felt that all the dogs in the West could not and would not capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength.  So is it when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God.  I remember well when the hounds of sin were after my soul that at last I ran into the arms of Almighty God.[1]
Christians in the early church must have felt that way facing lions and gladiators in the Coliseum.  There was nowhere to run but to trust in the Lord’s protection.  God used that kind of persecution to bring about the greatest growth of faith in the history of the church.
Wide roads are easy to travel; the narrow pathway requires effort and attentiveness.  When pressure comes in your life, what do you allow that trial to produce?  Do you run to the Lord?  Do you allow Him to strengthen your walk?
Life is like a fast-moving river, and in the Christian life we are called to swim upstream.  Indulging is floating along downstream; denying oneself and picking up a cross to daily swim upstream is hard. 
Parties are easy; Gethsemane is a war! 
At times we make little progress.  Sometimes it seems like we are forced to tread water, but Christ wants to strengthen our walk with Him, and that doesn’t come cheaply. 
Friends, don’t be misled by the current fad of prosperity thinking that seeks the richer, easier path – that kind of thinking is like a mirage.  The truth is that life is hard, but you have a Savior Who is strengthening your walk for your salvation and His glory.

2. He is Balancing Your Belief

In his justice he will pay back those who persecute you.  And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven.  He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-8(NLT)
Just when we begin to get resigned to trials and persecutions as a necessary evil in our lives, meaning we just have to grin and bear it, Paul puts a new light on it with his explanation.  Paul says:  God is just.  Justness has to do with setting everything right.  The word just has lots of meanings, but here fair is the appropriate meaning; God is fair.
That fairness is seen in the fact that everyone, both friends and enemies of God have to navigate the waters of life under the same set of rules and conditions.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust says Matthew the Tax Collector (he should know!)[2].  There are no unfair advantages. 
This is how God is seen to be immutably just, or fair:  He judges or condemns only sin…but He condemns every sin
The problem (from a human standpoint) is that we are all sinners[3].  There are some who would dispute that, but not with any hope of winning the debate. 
·       Who among us has not told even a little lie; ever? 
·       Who has never – even once – taken something which didn’t belong to him? 
·       Name the person who has never been angry unjustly, or jealous, or spiteful, dishonest or lazy! 
God condemns all sin, and, like robbing banks it only takes one to be in the category.  One sin, even a little one makes you separated from God as Adam was after one little bite of forbidden fruit.
Now, that’s it – end of story, as far as justice is concerned.  God will balance the scales in the end, and He will do it because He is a just and fair God; you can count on everything He has ever said.  Every sin ever committed has but one penalty – death, eternal separation from God!
For the wages of sin is death…, Romans 6:23a(NIV)
Friends, make no mistake here – it is not only physical death, it is eternal, spiritual death – a living death where you cannot get away from it forever!  That IS a punishment! 
Listen once again to the words from our Thessalonian letter:
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power
I have known some pagans who treated the idea of eternal punishment with contempt – as if it could never affect them.  A few have even told me, Hell won’t be so bad – all my friends will be there…and, preacher, WE know how to party!  
My friend, it will not be a party! 
Despite what some liberal thinkers have said and written about eternal punishment for those who reject Jesus Christ being only a separation from God (which is what they prefer by the way they exhibit a lack of respect and worship of God), please understand that God’s Word doesn’t pull any punches – separation from God and being locked out of heaven is only the beginning! 
Listen to God’s own description of hell and the unbeliever’s eternal state:
…he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.  There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”   Revelation 14:10-11(NIV)
Friends, this short life we live is, for the believer, sometimes filled with trials and persecution.  But the Great Balancer is sorting things out. 
You can have your sin judged now by reaching-out to God in Jesus Christ in faith.  Your sins will be forgiven because of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross – or you can have them judged on your own merits later at the judgment seat at the Great White Throne of God.  If you would like to have your sins forgiven, run to Christ; repent of your sins and be forgiven. 
The cross made it possible, but God won’t force it on you.  Only those who trust in Christ will be saved.  Trusting means you give yourself to Him, totally, for eternity, having burned all your bridges of self-trust, self-goodness and religion behind you. 
Only Jesus saves – nothing you can do will!

3.  He is Honoring Your Service

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call.  May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.  Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him.  This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.  2 Thessalonians 1:11-12(NLT)
For those who have trusted in Christ, He calls you to serve Him, and counts you worthy or fit to do it!  You see, serving God isn’t for the Super-Christian; serving God is for every Christian
Being worthy is not only a possibility, it is within the reach of every believer.  In fact, God expects you to be worthy.  He also knows that you can’t be worthy in and of yourself – that’s why He has put His own Spirit in your life and heart, to teach and help you with being worthy. 
It’s like going to a class in school for the first day.  The teacher looks at you and says, Relax, there are no tests in this course, and you all have an ‘A’ for a final grade.  Well, if that didn’t get your attention, what would? 
God is like that.  He has called you to be His, given you an A for the course of salvation.  Now, what are you going to do with that situation? 
What God is looking for here is not success or competence, but simply faithfulness.  God measures our worth by our love for Him.  So many fear serving God because they imagine they will not measure-up to God’s standard.  Now, the fact is, they’re right.  No one can measure up to the standard of God’s omnipotence or omniscience…He is God, we are simply humans.  That’s why God doesn’t set the standard based on His level; he sets it on our love. 
Beloved, the way to fail God isn’t to be found in goofing-up, it is in failing to love Him by refusing to serve Him.  God is never measuring your talents – He can give you whatever skill and supernatural gifts you need to do whatever He wants done.  He’s not looking at how skilled you are…He wants to love you and be loved in return; our service is a matter of response to being loved with the greatest love ever.
When God calls a person to love Him and serve Him, the Lord also empowers that person for effective service.  As it says in our text, He wants us to fulfill every good purpose…. 
Essentially that means God wants to see the identifying marks of Christ-likeness growing in you.  He wants to bless you by coordinating all the events of your life in such a divine, magnificent way as to shape and mold you into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
That is the blessing for you, and it will make you a blessing in His name to others.  This is how Jesus Christ is glorified in and by your life. 
But, it will not happen if you throw up road blocks.  Just as Jesus surrendered Himself in Gethsemane to the Father’s will – all His power, prestige and position as the only begotten Son of God, to become the scapegoat for our sins – the Lamb slain for sinners (you and me); just as He who knew no sin became sin for us,[4] that is the way God desires for us to come to Him, fully trusting, holding back nothing.

         Imagine life is hard, and you’re following Jesus:

·       Layoffs are happening again at the plant.  They have given out enough pink slips to wallpaper the men’s lounge.  You already have enough on the credit cards to finance a third-world country’s government, and they have already let several people go with more seniority than you.
·       You are walking into your math final test and you have not studied – anyway you didn’t understand those equations when you were awake in class.
·       Your plumber is looking at your heating system and shaking his head.
·       Wartime – You are a mother or father with a son or daughter in harm’s way, half-way around the world.  You haven’t heard from him in a month.
·       You are a parent and your child is sick, very sick.  You sit by the hospital bed waiting for the doctor to come again.  The tests yesterday were not good news, and you wait.
·       The look in your wife’s eye was different this time when she told you it is getting harder and harder to try to work this marriage out…
Select any of those situations – some may have already happened to you.  Are you at rest in these?  Or is your boat rocking hard?
What in the world is next…what else can go wrong?
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”   Matthew 8:23-27[NIV]
When the boat is rocking, the barn is burning…when the hounds have chased you to the point where it looks like your number is up…just remember that Jesus is
·       strengthening your walk,
·         balancing your belief,
·  and honoring your service
Your part is to let Him do His part so you can be strong in the Lord!

[1] A. C. Dixon, quoted in On Prayer by E. M. Bounds, (Whitaker House, p. 107), David Slagle,
[2] Matthew 5:45
[3] Romans 3:23
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[i] Title image: Gerbil [GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] David Slagle,, Snow Dogs (Walt Disney, 2001)

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