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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tho Hope Of Advent

This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached at Christ Church, Los Angeles, CA on Sunday December 9, 2018.  Biblical hope is built on faith. Hope is the earnest anticipation that comes with believing something good. Hope is a confident expectation that naturally stems from faith. Hope is a peaceful assurance that something that hasn’t happened yet will indeed happen.  Advent is a time of expectation and hope and it prompts us to pause each day in December and remember why Jesus came and why we celebrate Christmas.   Romans 8:24-25 NIV For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.To hear the audio click on the YouTube image at the end of the manuscript.

The sermons that will take us to the end of the year follow the traditions of the Advent season.   Advent is a time or season that is celebrated by most of the Christian church world, that includes the Catholic Church, most Protestant denominations, and many non-denominational churches.  

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist , and his first miracle at Cana. During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Advent is a time of expectation and hope and it prompts us to pause each day in December and remember why Jesus came and why we celebrate Christmas

Advent starts the Christian year like January starts the beginning of the calendar year.  

The History of Advent                                 

Advent Today                                   

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas.   In Advent, we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savior’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas.

The themes most often used for the four weeks of Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love

Advent really started last Sunday and had we started on time this would be the 2nd Sunday of Advent but as I told you the Holy Spirit had me preach about our not having  bear our burdens, alone.  Since I'm going to talk about hope today now that I think about about it that sermon I preached last week really fits the hope of Advent which was the  hope Israel had for the coming of the Messiah who would redeem them and free them from all the persecution they were suffering from their enemies.

Now Hope is (a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen).  Israel’s hope was based on prophecies of one coming to redeem Israel and deliver them from their oppressors.

Isaiah 7:14 NIV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew 1:20-25 NIV But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Isaiah 9:6 NIV For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Micah 5:2 NIV “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Matthew 2:1-6 NIV After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:  “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

We know that Messiah is Jesus and it was him who said

Matthew 11:29-30 NIV Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So today we're going to talk about hope the Hope of Advent. 

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.” It is not a blissful ignorance or wishful thinking but a subversive cheer that refuses to let circumstance triumph over courage, doubt overcome faith, or adversity conquer compassion. This is not easy; it is not our default setting. When we hit brick walls, the first emotion that naturally arises is generally not hope. Hope requires a strength that comes from focusing on a greater vision than what is wrong. We may not have every problem figured out, but we serve a God who loved this world enough to join us in it. We trust that when Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new,” he meant it. That’s hope.  Like faith isn't blind neither is hope.   It’s based on trust.

Faith is a complete trust or confidence in something. Faith involves intellectual assent to a set of facts and trust in those facts. For example, we have faith in Jesus Christ. This means we completely trust Jesus for our eternal destiny. We give intellectual assent to the facts of His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, and we then trust in His death and resurrection for our salvation.

Biblical hope is built on faith. Hope is the earnest anticipation that comes with believing something good. Hope is a confident expectation that naturally stems from faith. Hope is a peaceful assurance that something that hasn’t happened yet will indeed happen. Hope must involve something that is as yet unseen:

Romans 8:24-25 NIV For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Titus 2:12-13 NLTAnd we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.

So while during Advent we celebrate the incarnation through the birth of Christ we at the same time wait patiently looking toward His return..

We can’t see Him yet, but we know He’s coming, and we anticipate that event with joy.

Max Lucado, one of my favorite Christian writers said:
"Hope is not what you'd expect; it is what you would never dream. It is a wild, improbable tale with a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming ending… Hope is not a granted wish or a favor performed; no, it is far greater than that. It is a zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us out of our socks and be there in the flesh to see our reaction."

Hope is two-dimensional.

Advent teaches us to not only to expect hope for eternity, but we can expect hope for today. If Jesus could remain obedient to death on a cross, surely we can get through what seems hopeless for us today.

If we keep focusing on the lowly conditions in which Jesus came into the world and on His painful death on the cross, then we, too, can have hope for the days ahead of us.  Remember, what you are going through today is not to harm you but to strengthen you for what's ahead for you.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (HCSB)3  Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead4  and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.5  You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

There's a Psalm that was around when Mary and Joseph were living in Palestine under Roman rule.  It was a song and prayer of lament which we learned a couple of weeks ago was a cry for deliverance. It was probably originally written when Israel was in exile in Babylon. They were in trouble and because of their rebellion had been rejected by God.  Sort of like we how we feel in difficult times. 
Psalm 80:1-7 (HCSB)1 Listen, Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock; You who sit enthroned ⌊on⌋ the cherubim, rise up2  before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Rally Your power and come to save us.3  Restore us, God; look ⌊on us⌋ with favor, and we will be saved.  LORD God of Hosts, how long will You be angry with Your people’s prayers?5  You fed them the bread of tears and gave them a full measure of tears to drink.6  You make us quarrel with our neighbors; our enemies make fun of us.7  Restore us, God of Hosts; look ⌊on us⌋ with favor, and we will be saved.

They believed that if He rescued them that nothing could stop them.  We can feel the same way about our redemption from sin  and death.

So all Israel waa waiting for the one who would deliver them.  In fact they actually mention Him in their prayer of lament in a part of Psalm 80 that we didn't read a minute ago.

Psalm 80:17 (HCSB)17  Let Your hand be with the man at Your right hand, with the son of man You have made strong for Yourself.

The last prophet of the Old Testament Malachi said:
Malachi 3:1 HCSB “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire — see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts.

Then he ends his prophecy and  the Old Testament with this:
Malachi 4:5-6 (HCSB)5  Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes.6  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to ⌊their⌋ children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
There was also another prophecy this one by Isaiah

Isaiah 40:2-3 HCSB “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord ’s hand double for all her sins.” A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert.

Most theologians and historians believe that Malachi's prophecy was about 430 BC. 

Here's what happened about 400 years later, according to Matthew;
Matthew 3:1-3 HCSB ,In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea  and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near! ”  For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!

John the Baptist was the one prophesied about by both Isaiah and Malachi.
God had promised The Messiah would come and save and rescue them and He did.  Not the way they expected through military victory but from sin and death. He didn’t come to save just Israel but all the lost.

Luke 19:10 (HCSB)10  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

Romans 6:19-23 NIV I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

With everything that’s going on in this country and the world we may feel like the nation of Israel felt.   We’re in decline, we’re in trouble, we need a revival and restoration, but the reality is that the promised One has come and all power is in His hands;

Matthew 28:18 (HCSB)18  Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Because He did come….nothing can ever stop us not even death. 

John 11:25-27 HCSB Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die — ever. Do you believe this? ” “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”

We can have hope for a successful future.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (HCSB)11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

We can joyfully anticipate something better ahead; that is, if we maintain hope. We eagerly await something beyond what we could either think or ask.

Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
While things may seem hopeless we should be reminded that the promised One has come in glory and power to rescue, revive, restore, and save. 
Here are some of the reasons why I have hope this Advent season:
     The birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago continues to demonstrate the amazing love of God to us. 
     God is already accomplishing and will fully accomplish His purposes in the world—regardless of the current state of godlessness in our day.
     Jesus Christ is no longer a baby in a manger.  He has conquered death and now reigns at the right of God Almighty.  He will one day soon bring history to its conclusion, and we will all then be with Him in glory.
This is not just hope, but it is an Advent hope. It is the truth and expectation that God is working in our life now, in our present moment. It is a promise that what we hope for in his name is obtainable. It is a time to remember that the salvation God promised throughout all of history has already come, and we live in the hope of that salvation. We cannot settle for just the way things are, but must live in the awe and wonder of the memory of God’s promise.
Regardless of the trials you face during the Christmas season, the gift you need the most is the One who longs to live in your heart. Despite the tough circumstances you’re facing, God’s plan is the best plan for your life; He loves you too much to think anything otherwise.  No matter the ache or the longing, the sorrow or the suffering, the birth of Jesus brought hope and healing to the entire world. For this, we can celebrate with JOY!

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16,17 ESV
As long as you are going through something, then there is HOPE!

Heavenly Father,
Advent is a time for remembering and reflecting on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Father, I pray that you will turn our hearts toward you as Christmas approaches.  Let us not get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season this year and miss the chance to celebrate the gifts of hope, peace, joy, love, that you sent to us on that first Christmas.
Father God, every word in scripture points to the gift of hope that we have because of Christ Jesus.  The Christmas story wasn’t the beginning of that message of hope because the old testament is full of glimpses of your plan to redeem your people and restore them into a relationship with you, but we are able to truly begin to see and understand just how great your love for us is when we read the story of Jesus’ birth in scripture.
It can be seen when we recognize that you didn't send your Son to be born in a fancy palace among the wealthy and the elite, but our King of Kings and Lord of Lords was born among common shepherds and livestock in a barn.
The family wasn’t ideal.  The surroundings weren’t grand.  The situation wasn’t without its’ difficulties, however, you came in the midst of all of that.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  God in the messy.  God in the dirty.  God in the difficult and the troubled. 
Your plan to redeem and restore mankind was to dwell among us, fully God and fully man.  You chose to come to earth in the fragile soft skin of a newborn baby and set aside all of the glory of heaven for one purpose.  You came to be with us.  You came to love us.  You came die for us, so that we might live.
Help us to see that you are with us.  Nothing is too difficult, too messy, or too dirty for you.  Jesus came to give us the gift of eternal life through the salvation that only you, our Heavenly Father, can give when we believe on your Son, repent of our sins, and confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior in whose name we pray. Amen

Sermon Audio

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Yes We All Have A Cross To Bear But It's Not What You Think And You Don't Have To Bear It Alone

This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached at Christ Church, Los Angeles, CA on Sunday December 2, 2018. When Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me” He was not talking about things like a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness either. When Jesus said “taking up his cross” He was talking about putting desires of the flesh to death and follow the path that Jesus was on in doing His Father’s will. Whatever the cross or burden you never have to bear it alone. If you think or say so you have forgotten what God says in His word about never leaving or forsaking you. To hear the audio click on the YouTube image at the end of the manuscript.

One of the things that we hear when we are going through a rough patch or we have  an illness that is chronic and has lasted for years, we have had a financial crisis that doesn't get better, we are in  a bad marriage or any number of things is well “we all have our cross to bear.”  That is the last thing that anybody going through any of that stuff wants to hear. 

This comment, which is often made to try and comfort someone is really not what someone going through something wants to hear.  I heard this comment from someone trying to comfort a grieving family of a person of some notoriety who was embroiled in a scandal before their death.  When I heard the person say, “well we all have our cross to bear” my response was, “Really”?        Burdens maybe but not a cross.

For most Christians, today the belief of bearing a cross comes from something Jesus said to His disciples

Matthew 16:24-26 (NKJV)24  Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.25  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.26  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

Mark 8:34 (NKJV)   When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Since the cross was seen as a symbol of punishment and death it is unlikely that Jesus was talking about the kind of death that He would experience being what His disciples should desire.
When Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me” He was not talking about things like  a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness either. 

When Jesus said  “taking up his cross” He was talking about  putting desires of the flesh to death and follow the path that Jesus was on in doing His Father’s will. .         

John 5:19 (NKJV)  Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.

John 6:38-40 (NKJV)38  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.39  This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.40  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

To “take up your cross and follow Me” means that you be willing to even die, if it comes the that,  to follow Jesus.  Whenever Jesus talked about cross bearing He also talked about gaining or saving life.

Luke 9:23-26 (NKJV)23  Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.24  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.25  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?26  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.

Jesus says that any burden that you carry because of Him is really no burden at all.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)28  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Jesus has already borne all our sin, the heaviest burden of all, on the cross.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (NKJV)4  Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.5  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

 There’s A Difference

When it comes to bearing a cross, or burden, we need to determine if the suffering is for the name of Jesus or the result of living in a fallen world.

John 15:20-21 (NKJV)20  Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.21  But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.

In other words Jesus said the crosses, not burdens, we should bear are the result of following Him.

Sometimes people say, “My cross in life is my children. They are my cross to bear” or “My cross in life is my disability.”  Sickness is not a consequence of following Jesus neither is, a downturn in the economy resulting in a loss of a job, a traffic accident, or the sudden death of a loved one. These things are not crosses.  At least the kind of crosses Jesus was talking about. These are burdens.  We need to recognize the origin of the suffering.

 You Never Have To Bear Your Cross Alone

Whatever the cross or burden you never have to bear it alone.  If you think or say so you have forgotten  what God says in His word about never leaving or forsaking you.

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NKJV)  Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."

Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV)5  Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."6  So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

It seems as if I keep coming to these two scriptures every week. It's as if God wants to keep reminding us.

Having to bear our cross alone would mean that God has forsaken us and left us to fend for ourselves.

Jesus said that suffering would come but He has already rescued us from it.

John 16:33 (NKJV)  These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

We are more than conquerors through Him.

Romans 8:37-39 (NKJV)37  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.38  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,39  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We Are To Bear Each Other’s Cross (Burden)

We are also told that we are to bear or help bear each other’s burdens or crosses.

Galatians 6:2 (NKJV)  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

When the Pharisee asked Jesus what were the greatest commandments;

Mark 12:29-31 (NKJV) Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is:. Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this:. You shall love your neighbor as yourself; There is no other commandment greater than these.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NKJV)  Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

1 Peter 3:8 (NKJV)  Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;

Practical Ways to Bear Burdens

There are hurting people everywhere, but at times we just don't know what to say or do to ease their pain. Here are six practical ways from Dr. Charles Stanley  to bear someone else's burden.
1.    Be there. At times the best "method" of helping is simply to be present. During our darkest hours, we don't need someone who tries in vain to fix everything; we just need a friend.
2.         Listen. Don't attempt to give answers or tell people what to do next. Injured souls frequently want simply a listening ear so they can express what's on their mind.
3.         Share. Never parade yourself as someone who has all the answers. Instead, allow your own pain and failures to help others.
4.         Pray. There is power in speaking people's names before the Lord. When they hear someone talk to Jesus on their behalf, healing often starts taking place.
5.         Give. Sometimes helping others involves more than a handshake or warm hug. Maybe they need something financial or material. One of the best measures of sincerity is how much we're willing to give to others.
6.    Substitute.You may know an individual who bears the burden of caring for someone else. If you step in and take his or her place for a while, you are emulating your Savior--He, too, was a substitute.
 Because we were unable to do it ourselves, Jesus bore all of our sin and sorrow, even unto death. As a result, we can live happily and eternally in communion with our Father. If Christ did that for us, how can we ever say, "I'm too busy to bear someone else's burden"?

Today Christians think of the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love.  
 For many, the cross is nothing more than a fashionable ornament—an accessory, if you will. We can buy them in gold or sterling silver, studded with pearls or diamonds. But the cross on which Jesus died was no fashion accessory. It was a crude wooden device developed by the Romans that functioned as a literal torture rack for those who died on it.

Also scripture doesn’t ever say that Jesus carried His own cross all the way to and up Golgoth, the place of His crucifixion alone.

The Bible tells us that Simon, a Cyrenian, was ordered to bear the cross of Jesus. He was a visitor to Jerusalem. We don’t know why he was there that day. Maybe he was in town for the Passover, or perhaps he saw the commotion and went to see what was going on. Whatever his reason for being there, Simon was given one of the greatest privileges afforded to anyone in human history.

Matthew 27:32-35 NKJV Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”

So when Jesus said, “Take up your cross daily,” what was He saying? To take up your cross is to put God’s will above your own. It is to die to your ambitions, to your plans, and to your choices. To take up your cross is to love God more than anyone or anything else.

We, too, have that privilege today. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Jesus is still looking for people like Simon to pick up the cross and carry it.

Are you Simon?

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father your word tells us to

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal. 6:2

The call to help carry the burdens and the crosses of  of friends and family drives us to you today. Otherwise we would simply turn and walk away, just like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). There are seasons when the needs around us seem to far exceed the resources within us. Where else can we go but to you?

Lord Jesus, it’s only because you bore the burden of the law’s demands and judgment for us; only because you say to us, “Cast all your care upon me, for I care for you” (1 Pet. 5:7); only because you call to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28) that we can continue to show up and shoulder the many burdens of others.

Grant us grace not to be afraid of the emotional messiness that certain burdens bring. Help us know how to rely on your presence more than we rely on mere words. Help us to understand our limits, but even more so, help us be very aware of your limitless mercy, grace, power, and peace.

We pray for friends who are feeling hopeless, angry and diacourged. Bring the power of your resurrection to bear. We pray for friends facing great medical challenges with diminishing health care resources—grant your healing grace, and we ask you to sovereignly move to provide them with resources.

We bring all of these friends to your throne of grace, and we will seek to fulfill “the law of Christ”—the law of love, the way of the gospel—as you give us strength, wisdom, and grace.

We pray all of this in the persistent, sovereign and sufficient name of Jesus Amen.

Sermon Audio

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Giving Thanks When It's Tough Doesn't Mean To Fake It

This is the manuscript of a sermon I preached at Christ Church, Los Angeles, CA on Sunday November 25, 2018. Giving thanks in all things; cultivates your character, increases your joy, and conquers your problems in that thanking God takes your mind off your problem and while thanking and praising God your attention is on Him.  

But when times are tough it's hard sometimes to be thankful.  While we can thank God in all things we shouldn't be faking our thanks, acting like we aren't affected by or bothered by our troubles. We are human beings and we have emotions.  If we try to hide those emotions we aren't being honest with ourselves and more importantly, we are not being honest with God.  We should let  our real emotions show in our conversations, or prayer time with Him.  To hear the audio click on the YouTube image at the end of the manuscript.  

Last week we talked about giving thanks when it's tough.  The Scriptures tell us that we should give thanks in everything.

Ephesians 5:20 (NKJV)20  giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)18  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This means that there is no limit on the time or the  extent of our thanksgiving.  God’s will for us includes constant joy, ceaseless prayer, and boundless thanks.

We said that giving thanks; cultivates your character, increases your joy, and conquers your problems in that thanking God takes your mind off your problem and while thanking and praising God your attention is on Him.    Your problems may not go away when you give thanks, but they stop being such a problem. You live from the inside out. What goes on around you no longer controls the condition of the world within you.You can't control the problems that come into your life but you can control how you respond to them.

These are the things we talked about last week. 

But when times are tough it's hard sometimes to be thankful.

While we can thank God in all things we shouldn't be faking our thanks, acting like we aren't affected by or bothered by our troubles. We are human beings and we have emotions.  If we try to hide those emotions we aren't being honest with ourselves and more importantly, we are not being honest with God.  We should let  our real emotions show in our conversations, or prayer time with Him. 

After all He has emotions and He doesn’t deny them, or hide them from us. 

He gets angry

Psalm 7:11 (NLT)11  God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day. 

He experiences grief

Genesis 6:6 (NLT)6  So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

Ephesians 4:30 (NLT)30  And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

And you remember before Jesus raised Lazarus

John 11:33-37 NLT When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

He is jealous for our love

Exodus 34:14 (NLT)14  You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.

He shows His impatience

God is patient and longsuffering when it comes to our sins,

2 Peter 3:9 NLT The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

but impatient over our suffering.

Judges 10:15-16 CEB (Common English Bible) The Israelites responded to the LORD , "We’ve sinned. Do to us whatever you see as right, but please save us this time." They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD . And the LORD could no longer stand to see Israel suffer.

The emotions of God are mysterious and complex, and Scripture never tells us to ignore His emotion (or ours). If God lets us see His emotions, then why are we resistant to showing ours, and to inviting Him in to what is really going on inside of us? If our lives are to mirror His, well, then, we should not deny our difficult feelings. God does not spiritualize our pain away, and neither should we.

Now that doesn't mean that you can be disrespectful.   What I mean is that you can be real with God, He won't come down on you for telling Him how you really feel.  He is always open and real with you and he wants you to be real with Him.  He's your friend and he loves you.  When you have a true friend you can talk to them about anything, anytime, and pour out your soul to them.  So let’s be real with God. Our prayers should be conversations where we talk to our friend and He talks to us and we are both open with each other.

Sometimes it really is a sacrifice to offer praise and thanks. We may not feel like it. We’re struggling. We’re weary. Or maybe, we feel like He let us down. We think God seems distant, like he’s far away, or doesn’t really care about what’s troubling us.  Life has a way of knocking you down. It always seems to happen when life is going really well.

Isn’t that how life usually works? You make a plan, set some great goals, are totally onboard to make some great changes…then “life happens”?

Let's Be Real

So what do you do when you’ve exhausted all your efforts and resources to make life good again, you’ve prayed and fasted, and begged God for healing or for a change in your circumstances? What if God chooses to be still and your circumstances never change? Well to be honest, most of us get pretty ticked off at our circumstances, other people, and then ultimately at God.  We don't want to admit that but if we're honest we are questioning if God is listening.  We have seen Him answer prayers for other folks so we know that He can do anything and that there is nothing that's impossible for Him but we wonder why He isn't doing it for us?

There is a word that we see a lot in the Bible, and  that word is lament, which is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.  Moaning, crying, sobbing, weeping are synonyms of lament.  It can be something that is shown physically or can be felt emotionally and not shown outwardly.  When someone laments in prayer we say that they are crying out to God. These are unfiltered, and unedited prayers. 

Lament is one of those words we don’t use very much today. It’s not a regular entry in our vocabulary, even with us church people.Lament, is simply expressing honest emotions to God when life is not going as planned. Whether we’re hurt, frustrated, confused, betrayed, overwhelmed, sad, or disappointed, lament is the language God has given us to talk to Him right in the middle of life’s messes. It’s real talk with God when you’re hurting, when all you can do is cry out for His help. It’s a prayer that says, God, I’m hurting.
Not everyone experiences prosperity, but everyone we know will know loss and grief. Each and every one of us will experience setbacks, letdowns, failures, and betrayals. Every one of us will encounter change that is hard, lose loved ones before their time, and see relationships fail with people we counted on.
So what do we do when everything is not fine?

“There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God.

The book of Psalms is full of prayers of lament there may be as many as 65 or 67 lament psalms, depending on who is doing the counting.  are  It is interesting that the lament or complaint psalm dominates the 150 Psalms. Most of these are individual laments, such as Ps. 3, 22, 57, 139;

Psalms 3:1-8 NLT O Lord , I have so many enemies; so many are against me. So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!” Interlude But you, O Lord , are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord , and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side. Arise, O Lord ! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked! Victory comes from you, O Lord . May you bless your people. Interlude

but there are also corporate laments, such as Ps. 12, 44, 74, 80. 

The entire book of Lamentations written by Jeremiah is one long lament. Job is full of statements of lament. 

The Bible is full of statements of lament especially throughput the Old Testament Prophets.   Jesus cried out to His Father in the Garden and on the cross when He said;

Mark 15:34 NLT Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Which was also in one of David’s Lament Psalms

Psalms 22:1 NLT My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

The Risk of Being Real

Our friendship with God deepens when we risk being open and honest as we talk with Him.  

Christians like to quote this scripture when things get a little tough
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)11  For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

But if we’re honest, when things don’t turn around right away it seems that God’s plans were not prospering you at all; in fact, it feels like they’re hurting you. What is He trying to do? Make you tough? Make you stronger? How were these plans bringing you hope? Where is all this peace and prosperity He promised?

When we become convinced that God is really our friend, we can talk to Him about what we’re feeling.  We can ask Him those questions.

Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)16  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

We often have the  misconception that we have to be perfect. So we fake it by pretending to have our lives in order, smiling and saying all the right things. We’re ashamed to admit our shortcomings to God.  We don’t really buy into the fact that when Jesus becomes our personal Lord and Savior,  God forgave us and sees us as righteous. 

We are righteous because of Jesus.

Romans 3:21-22 (NLT)21  But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.22  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

God’s word says that He hears the prayers of the righteous.

Proverbs 15:8 (NLT)8  The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but he delights in the prayers of the upright.

Proverbs 15:29 (NLT)29  The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous.

When we fake it we are really doubting Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross, and we somehow believe that we still have to prove something to God.  We are depending on ourselves and our own righteousness which don’t amount to a hill of beans.

Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

We need to get it in our heads that we don’t have to be perfect because Jesus is perfect.  When we realize this we can passionately seek Him, obey Him, and confess and repent when we miss the mark then we will stop faking.

We can look to Jesus as our example of being open.  He expressed a full range of emotions, positive ones like joy, love, and compassion and some we would consider negative like, anger, indignation, and impatience.

He expressed a range of emotions in this passage;

Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT)36  Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”37  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.38  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.(sorrow) Stay here and keep watch with me.”39  He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me (fear). Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”40  Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?(frustration)41  Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”42  Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”43  When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.44  So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.45  Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46  Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

In this passage Jesus shows emotions of sorrow, frustration, impatience, and fear.

Jesus didn’t ignore His emotions or keep them hidden, He shared Himself openly.  That’s what He wants us to do.  Stop faking. I know it’s not alway easy.  In life we struggle with sin, injustice, pain, and temptation.  These things arouse feelings that aren’t comfortable.  It’s risky to be honest when we feel isolated, guilty, irritated, intimidated, ashamed, angry, inadequate, rejected, or worthless.
We may be hesitant to open up because, in the past we’ve gotten negative responses from people.  One of the typical things we hear when we open up about how we feel is, “this too shall pass” (we talked about that a few weeks ago).  Once you open up and get that kind  of response you are not likely to open up again. 

This is the prayer of someone who was not afraid to let his friend know what he was feeling. 

Psalm 42:1-11 (NLT)1 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.2  I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?3  Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”4  My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!5  Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and6  my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar.7  I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.8  But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.9  “O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?”10  Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”11  Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!

Feelings of sadness and discouragement are inevitable. This life has times of dancing and praising, but also times of deep anguish and despair. Jesus understands. In the scripture I read earlier of Jesus crying out to His Father in the Garden, please “Take this cup from me”, but even in the middle of crying out He told His Father that He wanted His Father’s will to be done.  God hears and answers prayer, even when it may seem He has forgotten you.  And because God the Son left his throne in heaven to walk the earth in human flesh, he knows and understands what you are going through on every level — physical, spiritual and emotional. So you can, in confidence put your hope in Him, knowing that you will  experience the presence of God and his goodness.
That takes the pressure off because it’s not about us. It’s about Him. It’s never about us. Everything we have—including our ability to pray in power—comes from God.

2 Corinthians 3:4-5 (NLT)4  We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.5  It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own.

Our qualifications come from God.

We just have to pray as He leads us, and He leads us through His Word and by the Holy Spirit.

John 14:26 (NLT)26  But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.

I know that opening ourselves up is risky because when we do we become vulnerable but we don’t have be be afraid of being vulnerable with God because it’s safe. 

God is a safe person — the safest person! — to go to when life is falling apart. He is right there to catch us every time.

God does not want just our happy; He also really wants our sad.

When everything is not fine God wants to hear about it. He is drawn to us when we’re mourning and blesses us in a special way. God is not up there minimizing our pain and comparing it to others who have it worse than we do. God wants all pain to be surrendered to Him, and He has the capacity to respond to it all with infinite compassion.

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
Psalms 147:3 NLT 

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 34:17-18 NLT

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 NLT

We are robbing ourselves of a divine mystery and a divine intimacy when we pretend to have it all together and fake it.

Scripture doesn’t tell us to pretend we’re peaceful when we’re not, act like everything is fine when it’s not, and do everything we can to suppress our sorrow. God doesn’t insist that we go to our “happy place” and ignore our sad.   So many of our churches preach that we will have peace and prosperity just by virtue of being Christians. Scripture, in contrast, tells us that as followers of Christ, we are called to serve a “man of sorrows” who died a gruesome death.

Isaiah 53:3 NLT He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

Until we identify ourselves with our Savior and acknowledge, as He did, just how painful life can be, we won’t be able to lament or to overcome. And if we silence our own cries, then we will inevitably silence the cries of those around us. We cannot carefully address the wounds of others if we are carelessly addressing our own.
The fact is, God does not expect us to have it all together, so it is a real disservice when our Chuches create this expectation. We will be unsuccessful at helping hurting people if we have not allowed ourselves to grieve and wail and mourn and go through the lament process ourselves. God understands that life is full of pressures, hurts, stings. He took on flesh so He could relate to us in both our joy and pain.

Philippians 2:7-8 NLT Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

He wants us to feel and express every emotion before Him and not minimize a thing. There is no “fake it till you make it” in Scripture. When we fake fine, we fake our way out of authentic relationship with God, others, and ourselves.

According to Scripture, pretending we’re fine and suppressing our raw emotions is not wisdom or maturity. Rather, God lovingly says to us that His grace is sufficient.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NLT Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

May our laments open our eyes to show us that God’s thoughts toward us are good, His love toward us is great, and He blesses us and draws near us even in our most broken places.

Heavenly Father thank you for caring about all my problems and pains.  Help me to always cry out to you first and leave my concerns at your feet.  You know how difficult and how painful this life can be. When I am discouraged, please comfort me with your love and remind me of what’s important: which is  my future with you.  In the name of Jesus and in His authority I pray Amen. 

Sermon Audio