Last Lord's Day Pastor John started us off by reading 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verses 2 through 3: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Pastor John recounted to us a recent scene from the Fourth of July fireworks display at the Orange County Fair. For some older folks there is no awe or fascination with the colorful extravaganza; they've seen it all before countless times. By contrast, see the little girl – it's all new and fresh to her!
So: How about each of us? Do we have the same breathless, child-like AWE for God's love? Do we have truly precious hope for eternal union with our Maker?
Pastor John spoke of the work of faith. He said firstly, that faith produces works. The Apostle James (a half-brother to Jesus) explained that at length to us in his letter near the end of the New Testament. If you have true faith it will produce a definite reaction, especially in crisis. Faith works from the inside out. And, it isn't the “size” of your faith that is crucial but the object of your faith that is key. We read Matthew 17:20 “He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"
Pastor John further illustrated this with his visual of somebody dangling from a cliff, just holding onto a tree rooted in the side of the cliff. If the roots, which is to say “faith”, are strong and deep into the cliff, then the man will be able to be saved. If the roots/faith are weak and shallow, then the poor fellow is doomed to fall to his destruction. Pastor John further quoted James Innell Packer, a Canadian evangelist who died just this last week after a very long life: “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” If God loves you (as He loved Jacob but not Esau; as he loved Moses but not Pharaoh) He will draw you to Himself and sustain you through whatever comes.
The Apostle Paul was the last to receive Jesus through personal revelation, on the road to Damascus. From that time, through thick and thin and thinner still, the Apostle Paul held on to the faith he received THAT ONE TIME on the road to Damascus. He suffered but never complained about it instead he rejoiced that he could suffer because he found that he was closest to intimate communion with Jesus when he was enduring suffering in this life.
Pastor John recalled also the case of the party of Korean missionaries to Afghanistan in 2007 who were betrayed by their Afghan bus driver and delivered into the hands of the extremely anti-Christian Taliban. Especially the two pastors among them, the missionaries felt privileged to be able to witness their faith to their hostile captors in the remote mountain wilderness of Afghanistan, to the point of death. And both pastors were slain by the Taliban before the rest of the Korean missionary party were ransomed.
Making us mindful of all this, Pastor John bid us to apply knowledge and faith in Jesus to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Just as we read in Romans 5 verses 3 to 5: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
It is this holding on in faith through WHATEVER situation that we find ourselves in that leads to real intimacy with our suffering savior Jesus. We do not seek comfort in a Christian bubble, but rather we actively seek to live life for real glory through the fellowship of suffering. We each affirm: “Jesus is the reason I live. Someday I will see him face to face. No suffering can compare to that glorious hope. Jesus you are worth it!”