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Live in the Tension

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Live in the Tension By Rev. Res Spears This is an exciting day for us at Liberty Spring Christian Church. You will have noticed that I am not wearing a mask or a face shield today. And that's exciting for me, but I'll understand if you're not quite as excited to see my face as I am to preach today with it exposed. What I hope is exciting for all of you here today is that we are meeting today, for the first time in nearly 15 months, without restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Effective Friday, the governor removed all of the social distancing and indoor gathering-size restrictions for churches, and the latest CDC guidelines tell us that masks are no longer necessary for those who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Now, I want to make sure that any of you who are unvaccinated or who simply feel safer continuing to wear masks know that you will be loved and respected either way. But, from the beginning of the pandemic, we have endeavored to both honor God and submit to the governing authorities He has put in place over us, so we have paid close attention to the government requirements and recommendations and have used them as our guidelines for the logistics of our services since March of 2020. During the weeks and months to come, you will see us continue to transform things as we adjust based on those recommendations. At some point, for instance, we will move out of the fellowship hall and back into the sanctuary, but for the time being, while we are still sanitizing surfaces after each service, we will stay here so that we don't expose those wooden surfaces to the harsh sanitizing chemicals. As you know, we already have re-started children's church, and I hope that we will soon start up Sunday school again, for both children and adults. But, as we move forward, I hope that we will remember the important lessons we have learned during the past 15 months. Here are some of the lessons I will remember: Frequent hand-washing and careful attention to hygiene are great ways to avoid getting sick, whether it's from Covid-19 or simply the flu. Grocery-store stockers and delivery drivers and restaurant servers are all essential workers and deserve our respect and love, along with police officers, nurses, and even congressmen. Time spent with family and friends should never be taken for granted. There are worse things that could happen to a person than being "forced" to stay at home. Your wife would appreciate it if you'd cook a meal once in a while. And then, after you've done that for two weeks while she's in quarantine, she'll kick you out of the kitchen, and you should be good for a couple of years. We can have church services just about anywhere. Here in the fellowship hall. Outside in the garden. In the parking lot in separate cars. Even on Facebook. But there is something about the Christian experience that makes our fellowship much richer when we are able to do it in the physical presence of one another. And, finally, this: God will show us how we can serve others, and He will provide the resources for us to do so - even in the face of difficulties - if we commit to making ourselves available for His work. These past 15 months have, indeed, been difficult ones, and as I have talked to friends and family during this time, I have come to recognize three different approaches to life that most people take. The first is frustrated and hopeless. These are the people who look at the world and see all the brokenness and all of the hatred and conclude that all is lost. There is no hope for humanity. We are all born into a world that is wracked with anger and bitterness and decay, and the best we can hope for is 70 or 80 good years before we die and rot in the ground. We might contribute something good here and there, but what will it amount to in a hundred years? This is the place where King Solomon begins in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, where he writes: "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." Ecclesiastes 1:8-9 NASB95 All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. This is also the approach taken by my atheist friends and, indeed, by most of the lost world. They are frustrated by the state of the world, and they have no real hope that things will ever be better. "That which has been done is that which will be done. There is nothing new under the sun." The second approach to life that I have seen is one that is generally limited to certain Christians. These are the people who are fulfilled and hopeful. They have been saved by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and they have their eyes so firmly fixed on the hope - the confident assurance of heaven - that they live as if the problems of this world are not their concern. Maybe they come to church every week, and they leave feeling that their spiritual batteries have been recharged, full of faith in their Savior, but they forget that faith WORKS. In that regard, they're not much better than the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Both of these men were very religious, and they felt very fulfilled by their religion, but neither of them took the opportunity to help the man who had been beaten and left for dead along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both of them crossed to the other side to avoid him. We can imagine them shielding their eyes from the sight of his suffering or maybe putting their fingers in their ears so they would not hear his cries for help. For a follower of Christ, fulfilled and hopeful is just as sinful an approach to life as is frustrated and hopeless. What I want to propose to you today is that there is a third approach to life that represents the sweet spot where Christians ought to live, and that's frustrated and hopeful. You see, we really SHOULD be frustrated with the way the world is today. It's broken and decaying, and there really is a sense in which mankind just seems to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. And even our attempts to repair the brokenness just seem to break things in new ways. Annette and I were watching television this week, and a commercial came on for a medication aimed at reducing the side effects some people have from certain anti-depressants. Now, all of these drug commercials have a voiceover at the end in which the announcer gives some important information, usually accompanied by some small print at the bottom of the screen. What's that information about? That's right. The potential side effects of this medication. So at the end of this commercial that was aimed at people who are taking anti-depressants, the announcer says this drug "may cause depression and suicidal thoughts." Well, that's a pretty significant side effect, especially when the people who would take this drug are already taking medication to reduce their depression and suicidal thoughts! Even when we fix things, we end up breaking other things. This really SHOULD be frustrating to us. In fact, I believe that one of the big problems in the Western church is that we are not frustrated ENOUGH with the world. We who have put our faith in the King of Righteousness should consider it scandalous that the world is so unrighteous. We who are children of the God who IS love should be brokenhearted that there is so little love and so much hatred in the world. We who are subjects of the just Judge should mourn when justice is subverted here on earth. We who are subjects of the King of kings should be appalled by those who rebel against the governing authorities He has put in place over us. We who serve the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills should hurt to know that nearly 1 billion people around the world this year will not have enough to eat, including 239 million people the United Nations has identified as needing life-saving humanitarian action. This sin-cursed world is truly broken. None of this is the way it was supposed to be. And that should frustrate us all, and especially those of us who have followed Jesus Christ in faith. We should be frustrated, but we should NOT be frustrated and hopeless. We should be frustrated and hopeFUL, because we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, who IS our hope. We can be hopeful, because we do not find our hope in the things of this world. We do not find our hope in wealth, which can be gone in the next stock market crash. We do not find our hope in human methods of success, which so often come at the expense of others. We do not find our hope in health, which, as we've seen during the past 15 months, can be taken away by a virus that can barely be seen under a microscope. We can be hopeful, because our hope is from God. We can be hopeful, because "the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." And hope is a powerful thing. Hope is a universal longing among humans. It's a theme we see in movies, and literature, and music, whether religious or secular. I checked on Amazon, and they list more than 100,000 books about hope that you can buy. A Google search for quotes about hope turns up more than 1.1 million results. Clearly, we are made to be people with a disposition toward hope. But it really does matter where you find your hope. In a slightly different context as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: Matthew 6:19-21 (NASB95) "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; You see, all these earthly things that we so often treasure - these fleeting and impotent things from which we so often try to derive hope - in the end, they offer no real hope at all. "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done." The same mistakes that have been made will be made again. The same things that were broken will be broken again. The medication that's supposed to help those who are taking anti-depressants might make them depressed and have suicidal thoughts. There is nothing new under the sun. That's the key phrase in the Book of Ecclesiastes that helps unlock Solomon's purpose in writing that often bleak book. He had tried everything to find fulfillment in life. He had looked everywhere for hope. He could not find it in his great wealth. He could not find it in his many wives and lovers. He could not find it in power. He could not find it in the idea of a legacy that his children might carry on for him. He could not find it in the pursuit of sensuality - good food, good wine, and the like. All of those things "under the sun" - all of those worldly things - came up empty. "Vanity of vanity. All is vanity." That was his conclusion for the hope that he sought "under the sun." And then, in the second-to-last verse of that book, he writes this: Ecclesiastes 12:13 NASB95 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. In the end, it seems that Solomon finally saw where true hope could be found: Fear God, and keep His commandments. Now, when the Old Testament writers used that phrase, "fear God," they did not mean to be afraid of God. What they meant was to have reverence, honor and respect for God. And when a person was described in the Old Testament as being one who feared God, the idea was that they had a saving faith in God. This was the sense of the phrase, for instance, when the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac on the mountaintop. Genesis 22:12 NASB95 He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." Abraham had been prepared to make the sacrifice that God had commanded, because He had faith that God would somehow still keep His promise to make a great nation of people from Isaac's descendants. So, the hope that Solomon finally found, after a lifetime of searching for it "under the sun," was through his faith in God. And you can have this same hope today, even amidst the frustration you feel over this broken and decaying world. But our hope is even more concrete than was that of the Old Testament saints. Our hope is even more concrete than the hope of the psalmist, who wrote "my hope is FROM God." Our hope is more concrete, because, as Paul put it, it is "Jesus Christ, who IS our hope." On that terrible, but glorious day, when Jesus died on the cross, it must have looked to all His followers that all hope was lost. They saw Him suffer and die, but they did not understand that as He hung there, He had taken upon Himself the punishment for all the sins of all mankind. They did not yet understand that the blood He had shed there was the blood that would wash them clean from all their sins, the blood that would provide atonement and reconciliation between sinful man and the holy God against whom we had rebelled. When they placed His lifeless body in that tomb, they did not remember that He had promised He would rise again on the third day. They must have felt utterly hopeless in those hours. But when they finally saw the risen Christ in His glorified body, hope returned. Hope had literally risen from the dead. The very Son of God had sacrificed Himself on a cross so that those who believed in Him as their only means of being reconciled to God could be saved and have eternal life - life with God the way it was meant to be. And yet, it is still true that nothing here is the way it was supposed to be. So where is this hope I keep talking about? What's the content of this confident assurance that's available to those who follow Jesus in faith? It's this: The Jesus who said He would rise from the dead and then did so is the same Jesus who said He was going on to prepare a place for those who follow Him in faith. He is the same Jesus who said He would one day make all things new. One day, all of us - saved and unsaved, living and dead - will be given incorruptible bodies like His incorruptible body, and our bodies will be joined up with our immortal souls. Those who have rejected Jesus will then be cast into hell, where they will suffer eternal punishment for their rebellion against God. But those who have put their faith in Jesus as their only means of being reconciled to God will finally experience this world as it was meant to be. Here's how the Apostle John described the vision he was given of this place: Revelation 21:1-5 (NASB95) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And then this: Revelation 22:1-5 NASB95 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. The just Judge will judge righteously. Evil will have been punished. The curse of sin will be lifted, and the earth itself will flourish as it has not done since the Garden of Eden. There will be no more death or sickness or tears. The one true King will rule, and we will serve Him, and His kingdom will be forever and ever. We will see and experience the very glory of God. We are frustrated here in this broken world as it exists today, and we should be people who work to fix the broken things, even as we recognize that what we do will never be adequate. But we who follow Jesus can be hopeful, because we serve the Christ who IS our hope. We serve the one who WILL fix it all, the one who will make all things new. There is an obvious tension between frustrated and hopeful, but today, I want to encourage you to live in that tension. Live as people who genuinely hurt over the brokenness that surrounds us, but live also as people who have joy in the hope of Jesus Christ. And let the world see both sides of that tension in you. Page . Exported from Logos Bible Software, 1:57 AM May 30, 2021.
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