Give Thanks in All Circumstances (3/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 18 November 2012

Here we have more than just the commands. We also have the rationale: "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (v. 18).

We are told that this is the will of God. This is not the will of a mere mortal, fallen in sin, limited in knowledge, lacking in wisdom, faulty in reasoning, corrupt in character, tainted in motive, and therefore devoid of absolute authority and moral mandate. This is the will of God, who is sovereign, eternal, immutable, all-just, all-merciful, all-knowing, all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful. As such, God's will has the ultimate moral mandate. It comes with God's most absolute authority. To rebel against His will, to ignore it and neglect it, is, therefore, wicked beyond excuse and foolish beyond pity.

But this will of God is not just absolute in its authority and demand; this will of God is as gracious and kind as it is sovereign and absolute. What is it that God desires for you? For us to be full of joy always ("Rejoice in the Lord always"); to have communion with Him at all times ("Pray without ceasing"); and to enjoy the abundant blessings of God in all areas of life ("Give thanks to God in all circumstances").

Why would God desire these things for us? If God wants us to rejoice always, is it not because God is full of joy and He wants us to experience the thrill of His joy as well? If God wants us to pray without ceasing, is it not because God is the best and He wants us to enjoy what is best? And if God wants us to give thanks in all circumstances, is it not because…. Well, that is a tough one. And since Thanksgiving is coming in a few days, let us spend a little bit of time on it.

Give Thanks in All Circumstances (2/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 18 November 2012

So used to the change and decay of this world, and in our attempts to make the best out of what we have here below, we may think of the life of heaven as monotonous and boring. We cannot imagine how it can be any good to be happy all the time! Isn't our joy so much more poignant and precious because it is so rare in this life of sorrow and pain? In fact, is it possible to appreciate our joy without the sorrow and pain of this world? Surely, the stars of joy would lose their luster if there were no night of sorrow!

But the joys of this world are too few and far between, aren't they? Many try to make the best of it. To find joy in smallest things. Not to forget to stop and smell the roses from time to time. But to be able to do so is but a faint glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven can offer. In this world, we drink from a broken cistern, as it were. There in the kingdom of heaven, we will drink from the ocean-depth.

And heaven and its joy will be anything but monotonous. Even in this world, our joy does not depend on sorrow. There are different joys. The luster of these joys has varying degrees of brightness and different shades of colors. Each landscape has its own beauty. No sunset is the same. Each person is unique. Our heavenly joys, flowing from the infinite joy of God, will be anything but monotonous.

These commands in our passage remind us that the kingdom of God has come in reality, though not in fullness. They pull us away from accepting the change and decay of this world as all there is to our life. They direct our hearts and minds to the kingdom of heaven by constantly feeding us with the living hope of heaven. And they compel us to experience and enjoy the reality of that glorious heaven here and now.

Where are you now in your life? What kind of challenges are you facing?  How are we responding to these commands? Can you rejoice, now? Are you praying, now, even now? Are you giving thanks to God in your situation, now? If not, do you plan to? Do you think you should--really, really should?

Give Thanks in All Circumstances (1/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 18 November 2012

"Rejoice in the Lord always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). What is your response to these commands?

To some people, these are just nice sounding words, but no more than the stuff they read in the fortune cookies. I hope these words mean more to us than that!

To others, these commands may sound like the resolutions of a young, naïve idealist, who has never faced the bitter reality of life. But Paul was not a young, naïve idealist. His life was beset with extraordinary sufferings (cf., 1 Thess. 2:2; 2 Cor.11:24-27).

What about the Thessalonians, to whom these commands were given originally? Their lives were far from being easy and free of trouble (1Thess. 1:6). Paul could stay at Thessalonica only for three weeks (Acts 17:2) because of the violent opposition to his message (Acts 17:5-7). We can imagine how difficult it must have been to be a Christian in that city (1 Thess.2:14-15). It was to these persecuted Christians at Thessalonica that Paul gave these commands, fully knowing what they were up against. How could Paul demand such a thing?

Some, therefore, may dismiss these commands as a practical impossibility. Others may go even further and criticize these commands as too simplistic and unrealistic. Life is not that simple. After all, even the Bible says, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…" (Eccl. 3:1-8). So, some may argue that it is not right to rejoice always. It is not right to pray all the time because there are things to be done. Maybe we can't be, and shouldn't be, thankful in all circumstances. Certainly, we shouldn't be thankful when we sin. And how are we to bring about reform and change to a bad situation if we are thankful in all circumstances?

But did you notice how the Ecclesiastes passage began? "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." The commands in our passage are what they are because they are not of this world. This world is characterized by change and decay. Not the kingdom of heaven. No change of day and night there. No sorrow and pain there but only eternal joy and gladness.

The Blessed Man--a Disciple-making Disciple of Jesus (5/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 12 November 2012

As we conclude, let me remind you of the paradox I introduced at the beginning. While each of us as members of this church is an indispensable member of the body of Christ, we will not be here forever. So then, we must participate in the life of this church in preparation for the day of our departure. That means, we all are to engage in discipleship so that, when the day should come for us to leave, there will be someone to take our place and build on our unique ministry. This is how God ordained His church to continue on and grow and thrive.

Let us deal with one another as a community of discipleship. Young ones, humble yourselves and seek teaching and advice from the mature ones. And those of you who are mature, do you have someone to take your place when the time comes for you to leave this congregation? Have you learned anything of Christ, which is life-transforming? Are you going to the grave with that knowledge or are you going to leave it as your legacy to other members of your church? When do you plan on sharing that? And if you don't have anything, learn of others and build up on it so you can also leave a legacy!

Many of you have heard of the statistics on the descendants of Jonathan Edwards, a famed American theologian, and his wife, Sarah Stoddard, a daughter of a prominent congregational pastor. By 1900, they had about 1,400 descendants. This is what we learn from the 1925 reprint of Winship's 1900 report on the descendants of Jonathan Edwards:

·       "practically no lawbreakers"

·       more than 100 lawyers, 30 judges

·       13 college presidents, and hundred and more professors

·       sixty physicians

·       100 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors

·       80 elected to public office, including 3 mayors, 3 governors, several members of congress, 3 senators, and 1 vice president (Aaron Burr)

·       60 have attained prominance in authorship or editorial life, with 135 books of merit

·       75 army or navy officers

·       An addendum of a family found after the book was in type reports 2 more physicians and a comptroller of the U.S. treasury (http://rfrick.info/jukes.htm).

What a dramatic picture of the importance of discipleship! As some of you know, I had the joy of officiating Mike Chen's wedding. His bride is Celeste Stoddard, one of the descendants of the family of Sarah Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards' wife. And I was happy to observe that she is a strong, committed Christian from a strong Christian family. The legacy of the Edwards and the Stoddards continues on! May all our families be blessed with such a family legacy! And may this be true of our church's ministry as well!

The Blessed Man--a Disciple-making Disciple of Jesus (4/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 12 November 2012

We have spoken much about the cost of discipleship. But we must remind ourselves that the cost of discipleship, whatever it may be, is worth it because of the supreme worth of the One, who calls us to follow Him.

Notice how Jesus prefaced the Great Commission? "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…." Of course, as the eternal Son of God, there was not a time when He did not have all authority of heaven and earth. But this declaration had everything to do with what had just happened: His death and resurrection. Simply put, through His death and resurrection, He attained all authority in heaven and on earth as the Redeemer of His people and of the fallen creation. For by His death and resurrection, the penalty of our sin was paid for, the condemnation of the law was removed, and the wrath of God was averted. Now that Jesus had died and risen again, He is the effectual, effective Redeemer (not just the promised Redeemer), with all authority and power to redeem His people.

Listen to this wonderful description of Jesus' sovereign authority:

"See how he drives the devils from the souls and bodies of men, as we the wolves from our sheepfolds! How before him the diseases, scaly and spotted, hurry and flee! The world has for him no chamber of terror. He walks to the door of the sepulcher, the sealed cellar of his father's house, and calls forth its four days dead. He rebukes the mourners, he stays [or, stops] the funeral, and gives back the departed children to their parents' arms. The roughest of its servants do not make him wince; none of them are so arrogant as to disobey his word; he falls asleep in the midst of the storm that threatens to swallow his boat. Hear how, on that same occasion, he rebukes his disciples! The children to tremble at a gust of wind in the [Father's] house! God's little ones afraid of a storm! Hear him tell the watery floor to be still, and no longer toss his brothers! See the watery floor obey him and grow still! See how the wandering creatures under it come at his call! See him leave his mountain-closet, and go walking over its heaving surface to the help of his men of little faith! See how the world's water turns to wine! How its bread grows more bread at his word! See how he goes from the house for a while, and returning with fresh power, takes what shape he pleases, walks through its closed doors, and goes up and down its invisible stairs (George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel).

What an awesome privilege it is that such a Lord of heaven and earth should call us to be His disciples! What amazing things we will learn and master as we learn from Him and follow Him?

But our discipleship to Christ entails more than our individual relationship to Him. Do you see the communal, corporate orientation of the Great Commission? We are to be baptized. By our baptism, we are identified not only with the triune God but also with His family. As the circumcision of the Old Testament inducted infants and adults into the covenant community of Israel, so our baptism inducts us into the community of Jesus' disciples, the members of His body. We are brought into this community of discipleship to learn all that Christ has taught the Apostles to observe them.

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