Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Let Me See Your Peace!

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Lent 2 B, March 4, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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Romans 5:1-5

Do you have peace?  If you do, may I see it?  Show me your peace!  This is really the silent, yet always present demand of our unbelieving community that  surrounds us everywhere we go.  They will quickly tell you that they aren’t really interested in hearing about your Savior Jesus Christ, but if believing in  Him works for you, then they’re happy for you.  While they don’t care to hear about what you believe, they are watching to see if what you believe makes a  difference in how you live!  They want to see how you’ll stand up under the pressures of life as compared to them and their circle of friends.  In other  words, does what you believe make a difference in who you are?  And in order to evaluate your belief system they want to see your peace.

Now, whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are prone to demand this same thing from God whenever troubles and tragedies strike our faith-  filled and grace centered lives.  It’s really a little rude and inconsiderate when we consider all that God has done to provide us with His peace throughout  our lives!  Did you notice that I said His peace and not yours?  That’s the way that it should be.  The objective is first and then the subjective.  That is  always God’s way.  In other words, you can’t know real peace without first having God’s peace!

The world teaches that peace is first personal and then corporate.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!  The problem with this kind of  peace is that it is very self-centered and dependent on however you feel at any given moment.  This is a strange idea, because it assumes that you live for  yourself.  Not that this is anything new, William Shakespeare said long ago, “To thine own self be true!”  The problem with this kind of thinking is that it  leads to a personal peace at the cost of other peoples’ peace.

In the 1940’s Three Stooges skit called “I’ll Never Heil Again” the boys start their war council meeting with the chant, “Peace, peace, we want peace.”  And to this Moe rises and says, “Yes we want a piece of this, and a piece of that.”  And that, I am afraid is always the cost of our individual peace… it comes at the expense of others.  Like money, we can never have enough peace.  So, our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with as much of whatever we think will bring that peace, at the exclusion of other people’s peace.

But there’s another kind of peace, God’s peace.  Listen to the Son of God offer and describe this peace:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” [John 14:27]  So what is this peace that Jesus says that He has given to us?  Well we know it isn’t the kind of peace that the world wants, and we also know that it’s the kind of peace that brings comfort and security in times of trouble and fear.

In verse 1 of our epistle reading, Paul shares these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So the kind of peace that Jesus gives, which Paul is telling us we already have, begins first and always with faith that justifies or makes us right with God.  Now knowing this, there are a couple of questions we must ask to completely understand this peace that comes from God.  The first question is, “Faith in Who?”  The Who is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God who is the Savior of the world.  The second question is “Faith in what?”  The what, is the completed work of Jesus Christ; His birth, His life, His suffering, and His death, His resurrection and ascension.  In these things, which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture we are shown God’s work for us; a work that has taken away our sins, atoned for our evil and made us right with God!  Or as Paul says it, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Through Jesus we have been reconciled; made right with God.  Through this work, God addresses the one great obstacle that separates us from His love, and that is our sin.  He alone does what we could not do, and He does it through the atoning death of His Son.  In Jesus, God put forward His love for us by putting Jesus in our place; by having Him suffer and die for us, because of our sins.  In God’s self-sacrifice He points our troubled and sinful hearts to His solution for our sins, and His Word tells us to be reconciled; made right with Him!  In Jesus God assures us that we are reconciled; we are at peace with Him!

This proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ is the gospel!  If you will receive this truth by faith, then you will see God’s justice performed on the cross for you, and you will know peace!  This is the blessed assurance that saves the worst of sinners and then recreates them and gives them not just peace, but the ability to live out that peace, and even experience it.

What is assurance?  Well here’s the concise theological definition: It is the firm persuasion of faith that you are in a state of grace.  In other words, by faith you know that no matter what may happen around you, it is well with your soul, because God is with you and for you.  It’s the God-given ability to move from the cross of Jesus to the waters of your baptism and say with all certainty that “Jesus died for me!”  It’s hearing the promises of God to the world, and knowing that all of those promises were given to you when you were washed clean with the water and the Word in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  In other words, as St. Paul says in the fifth verse of our epistle lesson, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Why has God’s love been poured into your heart?  So that you would know and experience His peace!  But aren’t we now talking about feelings?  Isn’t our salvation independent of feelings?  Yes, that is the objective work of God’s gift, a gift to the world.  But in your baptism it became very personal, very subjective.  You see, your salvation is something that is done and complete, but it’s also something you experience as you live it out!  Every day, come what may, Jesus is with you!  He is with you in trials, trouble, and tribulation.  Every day God asks you to experience His presence and then learn to rest in His comfort, care, and love for you.

Several years ago one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What did you think about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?” The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft (that I had to go back home in) was built by the lowest bidder.”

We as Christians can rejoice that the work of our salvation didn’t  go to the “lowest bidder” but was provided by an eternal and infallible God. There will never be any problems with His gift of salvation. Your salvation is as sure as the Creator of that salvation, Almighty God!  And because it is sure, we can learn to trust in Him and not our current experience or feelings.  We know by faith, that not only do we have peace with God, but we’re gonna keep on having that peace.  This peace, which now becomes very personal, becomes an experience that God gives to us.  An experience that reminds us that no matter what may or may not be happening in our lives, ultimately it is well and will be well with our souls!

What does this experience of peace mean to you and me?  Well, if you remember earlier, I mentioned the challenge from our unbelieving neighbors who want to see our peace, which now we know is really God’s peace in action.  This peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, not only keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, but it also directs our hearts and minds outward to the people who live in our community; people who are dying without knowing the peace of God, which comes through the cross of Jesus Christ.  As they see us weather the same storms of life we all go through, and still able to rejoice and praise God in the middle of those storms, they will begin to notice that we are not giving up hope.  They will discover what you already know; your suffering produces endurance and endurance produces a Christian character of faith in the presence and work of God on earth and hope in the promise of an eternity in heaven.  All that’s left, is for you to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason you have this great hope.  The reason is of course God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who takes our faith and hope, and then assures us that no matter what we may be going through, no matter what we may be feeling, in the end it will be well with our souls; we will never be put to shame!  And because it will be well with our souls it is well with them right now!  This is our blessed assurance!

I’d like to close with a final thought that is based on the background of our sermon hymn.  It was written by Horatio Spafford.  In 1870 Spafford, a Christian attorney from Chicago, suffered a great financial loss.  Shortly afterwards, his only son died of scarlet fever.  A year later, the great Chicago fire destroyed his family home and all of the family’s investments.  In 1873, after seeing his family at the verge of a breakdown, Spafford used what little money he had left to pay for a family vacation and a missionary tour to Europe in order to help his family refocus on God’s peace.

As he was preparing to board the ship with his family, some last minute business came up, so he was forced to stay behind while his family headed to Europe.  He promised them that He would be on the next ship and would join them there.  So Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters sailed east to Europe, while Mr. Spafford returned to Chicago.  Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife that informed him that the ship his family was on sank and everyone in his family, accept his wife had died.

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. As he was traveling near the area where his children died, the captain called Mr. Spafford to the wheel house and said, “A careful reckoning has been made, and I believe we are now passing the place where the ship your family was on sank.” Mr. Spafford then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of our hymn, “It is well with my soul”.

It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under similar circumstances, but we do know that the same faith in the grace of the same Savior who sustained Mr. and Mrs. Spafford would also be with us.  No matter what circumstances overtake us, and no matter what fleeting emotions and feelings may come and go within our lives,  we can know for certain that God’s love, which He has poured out within our hearts will enable us to say along with Horatio Spafford… it is well with our souls!  In Jesus name… Amen!

Let’s sing that first verse one more time together:
It is well … with my soul! It is well, it is well, with my soul.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well … with my soul!

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Our Prodigal God!

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 14, 2010
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Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’ve been transported back in time to a high school football stadium.  You’re seated in the bleachers, and you are drawn to one particular man seated amongst the sea of people.  He has such a big smile on his face and you see tears welling up in his eyes.  The hot sun is mercilessly beating down on him and pulling sweat from his body and soaking his neatly pressed dress shirt, but he’s oblivious to it. His eyes are focused on one young man on the football field. “Who are you looking at?” You whisper. “I am waiting for my son” he says. “Soon he will cross the stage and get his diploma. Then it is off to college. I am so proud of him.”

Now fast forward to two years in the future and you are once again with the same man. You’re sitting outside the county jail house.  He’s alone and he’s crying.  Quietly you sit next to him.  Finally you ask him, “What’s up?” “I am waiting for my son,” he sniffs, trying to hold back the tears. “The Police picked him up for DUI and I am afraid he’s on drugs, too.  He’s been so distant lately… it’s like I don’t even know him!”

Now fast forward eight years in the future, and you are with the same man.  This time you’re seated in a beautiful little church. The man is standing by his son at the front looking up the aisle. You walk up to him and whisper, “What’s up?” he whispers back, “I am waiting for my son to get married. His beautiful, bride will be walking down the aisle toward us in just a minute. I am so proud of him. I have been waiting ten years, but finally the wait is over. Drugs, alcohol, and jail are all behind him. He’s back in church and he’s landed a good job. I am so excited.”

     This father, if he was here this morning would tell you that he can read our gospel lesson this morning (Luke 15) with a real and special understanding. He knows what it means to wait for a son who seems lost to him and God. 

This morning, God wants us to see that He’s still looking and waiting for other lost sons and daughters to come home. He’s still leaving the flock to go out and find stray lambs. This morning He wants us to know that we have a heavenly Father who loves us enough to spend everything on us. His open arms are waiting for every lost sinner to come home.  The welcome home party can be started in an instant, whenever they decide to come home.  And after they come home and they’ve enjoyed themselves at the party, they can join the Father in His waiting, watching and urging more lost children to come home. And when they come home, they can sit beside their elder brothers and sisters, and show them just how much the Father has always loved them, even if they never got to have a party thrown for them. All this and much more is waiting for sinners if they will just repent.  If they will just turn away from their sinful life and their sinful thinking, and then turn to God’s forgiving love through Jesus Christ! 

Our gospel reading this morning for many is a familiar one.  It starts out by introducing us to the sinful younger brother, who committed a huge sin by walking away from his position as his father’s son. He wanted nothing more to do with his father, but he did want the blessing of his father’s money!  Once he received what he wanted and not what his father said he needed, off he went! 

Did you notice that it was the younger son who was on the move?  He wanted to get as far away from his father’s house and his father’s rules as he could!  But did you also notice that the father never moved?  He was standing still; still and waiting to see his son return someday. He was a busy man, a man of great wealth and business.  There was an entire corporation to run and it all depended on his leadership, yet he left his work to watch and wait for his lost son to return. 

To return from where?  Far away… about as far from his father and his people that he could get!  He was living large and spending money like it would never run out. “Finally” He thinks, “no rules!  I can do what I want and when I want to do it!”  The son has turned his back on his father… he’s turned his back on his father’s love!  

What a sad story.  It’s a sad story because it is the story that applies to real people who have rejected God’s love and grace which is there’s through Jesus Christ.  They’ve left the church and the communion of saints.  They counted their baptism as nothing really, simply a childhood memory.  They’re living far from God and His blessings, with the intent of enjoying the pleasure and promise of the sinful world!  But soon the good times end, and the sinner discovers that all that glitters isn’t gold at all.  Like a moth drawn into an open flame the world has devoured them and their hope of happiness. Their illusion of satisfaction found in the things of the world without the Creator and the Savior of the world has come to an end! 

So there they sit, alone and broke.  Not only did they loose their wealth, but they also lost their spiritual support to fall back on.  In essence, they have burned their bridges of return!  When sinners reach this point in their lives, the devil is ready to pounce on and devour them—many are led to suicide, either by a quick death or the slow death of substance abuse. But all is not lost, because… 

The Father is still waiting… He’s waiting and He’s watching.  And because sinners know this, because they know the fathers love, they come to their senses and remember their Father’s mercy.  They remember their baptism, the day that the Father’s love was first given to him.  They remember that through Christ Jesus suffering and death upon the cross God made a way for them to come home.  “Can it really be true?  Is it really not too late for me to come home?” they wonder.  Now hungry, poor, and tired, they remember the Lord’s invitation, “Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”  And when they remember, they begin to hunger for the Lord’s forgiving love and the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.  Now, maybe for the first time, they begin to feel alone and empty; they feel shame and a need to confess their sin.  Will God take them back?  Will they be able to hear those sweet words once again? “You are forgiven!”   

But there is another son that’s lost. His story is entirely different from that of his younger brother.  Like his brother he too is lost, but not in some distant land.  No, he is lost in his own father’s house. How is that possible? Because of his self-righteousness. He is busy working hard within his father’s business.  Although he has been supported by his father’s wealth, he now considers himself critical for maintaining and protecting that wealth.  In fact, he’s convinced that since his younger brother abandoned the family business, his father would be out of business if it wasn’t for him!  The way he sees things, his father owes him big time!  It’s been a hard day of business and he’s beat, so he heads home. As he approaches the house he hears music and dancing.  “What’s this” he wonders, “A party?” 

The first person he sees says, “Hurry!  Come inside.  Your fathers wants me to tell you that, well… your brother’s come home!”  “No!” he says.  “I will not celebrate the return of my sinful brother!”  Now, his father hears of the older brother’s anger, and he immediately leaves the celebration to go out to his oldest son.  But he’s not going out to order him to come in, but to plead with him to come in out of his love for his father. 

And here is where the sinful heart of the older brother is revealed. “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

Can you hear the pride and self-righteousness in the words of this son?  Can you hear yourself in these words?  Is it clear to you that our Heavenly Father has every right to punish this type of hard heart?  To be angry with their brother is one thing but to publicly defy and disrespect God is a completely different issue!  God has every right to strip these self-righteous people of everything.  These people must be humbled like the younger brother was! 

Dear friends, both of these ungrateful sons deserved nothing but anger from their father.  Both had shown nothing but disrespect.  Yet both were loved and forgiven.  Can you see yourself in one of these sons?  Can you see God’s love in Jesus story about the Father?   Maybe you’ve known this story as the “Prodigal Son”?  But really it should be called the “Prodigal Father”.  Do you know what the word “prodigal” means?  It means extravagant!  Can you see the Fathers unending love and patience towards his two sons?  We could say that the father was extravagant in his patience and love for his sons.  Dear friends, Jesus tells this story for two reasons.  First, He wants us to see ourselves within one of the two sons.  Second, He wants us to see our Heavenly Father within the character of the father.  Jesus wants us to know that God is extravagant—prodigal in His patience and love for us.  Just as the younger son was lovingly welcomed back home God has the very same heart for each of us.  Just as the youngest son was cleaned up and given a beautiful robe to wear, Jesus wants each of us to know that in our baptism, we too have been clothed in His own righteousness.  And the truth is, the oldest son had nothing to feel threatened over; he was still clothed in the very same righteousness.  

How does God treat lost sinners? He focuses his attention on them. He pours his love on them. He waits patiently for them to come to their senses, repent of their sins, and come back to him. God has centered his whole plan for creation on one expectation: Sinners will see the error of their ways and turn back to him so that through Jesus Christ he can complete what He began within the waters of their baptism. 

Dear friends, when you leave here this morning God would like you to remember that His love and forgiveness are always yours through your baptism.  In fact through your baptism and your faith in Jesus Christ, all that the father has is yours!  You are part of the body of Christ.  You are part of his team.  He invites you to patiently wait with Him for the lost, maybe even someone you love to come home.  He is inviting you to go out with Him, to seek out the lost, and then along with all of heaven, He wants you to welcome them back home within the church.  He invites you to help them put back on Christ own righteousness.  It’s a robe that fits them perfectly.  Because God had it tailored just for them within the waters of their own baptism! 

Let’s pray: Loving, compassionate God, our Father in heaven, thank you for waiting for us to come back from the far country. Thank you for teaching us how sinful we are and what we leave behind when we desert you in our willful sin. Thank you for giving us great joy when we hear your sweet words of forgiveness… thank you for waiting for us and bringing us back home!  Heavenly Father, show us where to go for you; show us where to seek the lost and give us boldness to invite them to come home to you and to the church.  May they come to know the joy that we have found in you through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Encourage One Another!

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, November 9, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA

“we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” [1 Thess. 4:17b-18]
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This morning our Lord brings us Words of comfort and encouragement, but He also brings us Words of warning.  These Words of encouragement are the promise that the death of our physical flesh need not be something to be feared, but instead something anticipated with a feeling of joy.  Now for some of us here this morning, these words might sound a little strange, because death is well…intimidating.  We’ve never died before.  Let’s be honest, when we dream of the future we don’t dream as far as after death.  We can sum up all of our thoughts and worries about death with just one simple word: MYSTERY!  It’s a mystery because, well we never died before.  But friends, there were a lot of firsts in our lives, things we never did before, but after we did them and the mystery was removed the fear was removed right along with it. 

Our Epistle lesson this morning seeks to remove some of the mystery and fear from death and replace it with anticipation.  Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us “to be uninformed, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] Did you catch the word St. Paul used for death?  He said asleep!  Now at first this might seem a little confusing; we might say, “Now wait just a minute…I have always been taught that the minute I leave this body of flesh, I will immediately be present with the Lord.  You know, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”  Do you mean I will be in some kind of suspended animation?”  No, not at all…NO!  Paul isn’t saying that our soul, or our consciousness will sleep, but simply that our tired old bodies will be at rest until they are raised new at the resurrection of all flesh.  He is comparing the death of our flesh, with a deep and pleasant sleep that in no way should be feared.  Why?  Because your savior has already conquered death for you.  He has already gone ahead and prepared a place for you.  Not just a place for you to wait for the resurrection, but a real place for you to live forever in the joy your Savior has provided for you!

ILLUS: There once was a dying Christian man who was very afraid of death, even though he believed that in his baptism, Christ gift of salvation was given to him. He expressed his feelings to his Christian doctor, who was making a house call. The physician was silent, because he didn’t know what to say. Just then a whining and scratching was heard at the front door. When the doctor opened it, in bounded his big beautiful dog, who often went with him as he made house calls. The dog was glad to see his master. Sensing an opportunity to comfort his troubled patient, the doctor said, “Did you see that?!  My dog has never been in your home before, so he didn’t know what it was like in here. But he knew I was in here, and that was enough, so he bounded right in. In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven. I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there, and that He’s waiting for me. And that’s all I need to know!”

 

Friends, what manner of life awaits us on the other side of this life we don’t really know, but we do know that it will be an eternal world with God filled with love, joy, wonder, and peace; it will be like nothing we have ever experienced before.  We know that it will be perfect, because our master, Jesus the living Son of God is there waiting for us.  We believe this because He has said that it is so.  But why do some find this truth so easy to believe and others find it frightening and worrisome?  Well let’s go over to our gospel reading (Matt. 25:1-13) and let Jesus answer this question.

 

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” [vs. 1-2]  Here Jesus is telling us that those who wait for heaven can be divided into two different groups, the foolish and wise.  What separates the two?  In Jesus story it is the lack of or the presence of oil for their lamps.  In our children’s chat, I told it a bit different.  It was a ticket to a chargers game.  Either you have it or you don’t.  With the oil or the ticket, you are gladly and easily admitted into the area that you intend to visit.  Without it, you are not welcomed, in fact, you are told to go away, away where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Jesus story, both groups of virgins wanted to be at the wedding banquet.  Both had lamps and the desire to use them, but only the ones with working lit lamps actually made it into the banquet.   Friends, the oil in the lamp and the ticket for the ball game both represent the very same thing, God’s grace; His undeserved forgiveness for our many sins.  “But God’s grace is free?”  You may counter.  Well certainly it’s free, but you have to have it working for you in order to benefit from it!  How? 

Well in Jesus story, you had to by oil for your lamp ahead of time.  If the oil represents God’s grace then the money to buy the oil represents God’s Word!  Friends, in order to live within and under grace we must be in God’s Word, because it is only through His Word that you will be able to believe and live out the truth that God’s forgiveness and mercy are truly yours.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the message of Jesus Christ!”  The five wise virgins were proven wise because they acquired and used the oil.  What would have happened if they bought the oil, but never used it?  They too would have remained outside, separated from the wedding banquet.  They would have been just as foolish as the other five.

 

Friends, God’s Word is here with us this morning; it has always been with you, but the truth is, for some, it will not always be with you.  Will you be wise or will you be foolish?  There are some here this morning that have not been taking their faith seriously.  They have been simply going through the motions.  Oh they started out with the real deal, but ever so slowly the practice of their faith in Jesus Christ simply became a habit.  Get up early, get ready, go to church (never mind bible study), shake some hands, share some coffee and conversation and go home and get on with life, but their Christian faith and involvement in Christ’s church started out so much differently.  Why they even at one time actually enjoyed attending Sunday School and Bible Study, and their personal devotions were always an anticipated private time with their Savior.  But something happened over time…life happened and God’s Word and the Worship of His Divine presence in their lives became boring.  The first indication that something wasn’t right was the habitual daydreaming during the worship service.  Then, personal devotions began to fall.  Then there was no more time for Bible study or Sunday School, because, well…just because.  The result, the oil runs out.  God’s Word no longer has its way with us, but instead we have our way with His Word.  This sounds very much like our gospel reading; “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” [vs. 5] 

 

This morning dear friends, Jesus is nudging you; even now He’s whispering in your ear…even now He is screaming “WAKE UP!  Nap time is over.  Let me give you oil.  Fill your lamp and be ready before it is too late!  Listen to this message.  Read and study my Word.  Let me prepare you so that it will not be too late when you hear this, “‘here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Friends, if we have not been prepared by God’s Word, Jesus says something like this will be the result: “Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” [Vs. 6-9]  Foolish virgins, why didn’t they come prepared?  Everyone knows you need oil to use an OIL-LAMP!  Buy why ask why of a fool?  The reason they act foolish is self evident…they are fools!  They are fools, but what are we?  Are you expecting to have faith in God’s grace without being anchored in His Word?  If you are then I shall not ask you why, because it is self evident.  But I pray that if there are any foolish Christians here this morning that through this Word this morning God would make all of us wise before it is too late.  For (when you least expect it), the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. [1 Thess. 4:16-17b]  Then dear friends, it will be too late to acquire the truth that sets us free.  It will be too late hear the Word that gives us faith in His promise….too late.  But not too late if….through living in God’s Word and by the power of that Word within us “we (are enabled to) believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring [all of us made safe by that Word] with him, [everyone of us] who have fallen asleep.

ILLUS: Please allow me to close with this last story.  When my son Thomas was very little, he was stung by a bee.  That bee sting seemed to make him always terrified of bugs of any kind.  One day when he was a little older, we were riding in my old Datsun, on our way to our favorite fishing hole, when a bee entered through an open window.  It began to dart around madly and Thomas was again terrified.  What could I do?  I didn’t want to stop because the road conditions didn’t permit it.  Instead, I reached out my hand and grabbed the bee and let it sting me.  This made Thomas scream even louder, until I had him look at my hand.  “Do you see the red spot in my hand son?”  Yes he whimpered.  “Do you see the stinger?”  Yes he moaned.  Then don’t be afraid anymore, because a bee can only sting once, and I took the sting away from the bee so it couldn’t sting you!” 

Dear friends, this is God’s grace…this is the message that He wants you to be filled with through His Word!  Jesus took the sting of death for us.  Another way to say this is that He took the sting out of death.  “We believe that Jesus died (he died the death that we should have died, but we also believe that Jesus) rose again, (and) through Jesus, God will bring with him (all of) those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess. 4:14]. 


Oh friends, this is the wonderful message that God’s Word continually declares to us.  It is a message that He wishes to make a part of our very essence so that when the end of this world comes, whether by our natural death or the second coming of Jesus Christ at the resurrection of all flesh, we will be filled with only joyful anticipation.

We have such a wonderful message of grace to declare to each other don’t we?  We need to be reminded of it as often as possible.  We need to take this wonderful message outside of these walls and into our community.  Let’s pray for this now: Dear Lord, strengthen us with your message of peace and grace, and empower us to encourage anyone who needs comfort with the truth that one day we will meet our Lord in the air, and then we will always be with Him in peace.”  In Jesus name…AMEN!