Standing Firm – Sermon – 24 May 2020

The Penner Family Welcome

Even though there are no indications from our government that churches will be allowed to meet together anytime soon, we are beginning to think about what it will look like when we do. It will be great to see each other’s faces (at least part of our faces!) and it will be a special moment when we are able to pray and worship together.

Still, there remain a number of questions that need to be worked through. Questions like: how many people will be allowed in the building at a time? And will we be allowed to sing together? And how will we put in place safe distancing and hygiene without making it feel like we are at Costco!

What has been good is that over the past weeks we have been able to see that the church is far more than a building, or even a weekly gathering. The church is prayer meetings and bible studies on zoom; taking care of each other and making sure basic needs are being met; long phone calls where we talk with each other about things that are significant in our lives; sharing cookies and meals; knowing that God is here for us and we are here for each other.

So when these restrictions are lifted – and they will be lifted, I hope that we remember all the ways we have been the church over these last weeks, and I hope we will come through this with an even stronger love for God and for each other.

The Bagley’s Call to Worship

Call to Worship

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
            make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
            tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
            let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
            seek his face always.

Psalms 105:1-4

Song: Yes I Will

Message: Standing Firm

Most of us worshipping today know who Jesus is, and have known for a long time. We have attended church services and heard countless sermons, read the Bible alone and with others, taken classes and listened to or sang many songs about Him. There is little doubt that most of us know plenty about Jesus.

The problem is, knowing facts about Jesus isn’t the same as following Him, any more than knowing facts about COVID-19 is the same as being a medical expert. In James 2:19, the author writes these humbling words:

“You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”

Clearly, an accurate understanding of who God really is, isn’t enough. As James will go on to tell us, faith on its’ own, without action, is useless.

But what kind of deeds is James talking about here? Certainly, it starts with the call to love God and each other from Jesus’ “Great Commandment” of Matthew 22, but that isn’t even always easy to do. We need to believe with both our hearts AND our minds – until what we believe and what we do reflect who we are becoming. A tall order indeed!

Over the last 2½ months we have been worshipping on Sundays in a different way. We have been forced to remain apart by circumstances beyond our control, and in the interest of love have complied with and adjusted to these difficult accommodations. You will never find me protesting to the government during this pandemic over the loss of our religious rights, because our religion actually calls us to care about vulnerable people and put their welfare and safety above our own.

Worship services have been very different for a number of reasons, but the point I want to make clear to you is that the circumstances of 2020 have also given us the opportunity to worship in a way that is more personal, and more transformational.

Regular sermons have their place, and we will soon be able to get back to them, but like everything, they have limitations. It is very easy to ‘tune-out’ a preacher and focus on everything else going on in our busy minds. As well, the traditional sermon is not designed to be an interactive experience, but is more of a monologue that can leave the listener with unanswered questions that are forgotten before you exit the sanctuary doors.

Our messages during quarantine have been designed to engage your mind and encourage questions during the pauses of reflection that occur along the way As well, the written format allows you to revisit content and questions later in the week if you choose to engage with it further in prayer.

But whether it is reflective exercises and prayers or the traditional sermon, God uses our worship time together to encourage us to go deeper in our relationship with Him. Sunday morning isn’t supposed to be our religious fix for the week before we go on with our ‘normal lives’ – Sunday morning is the encouragement to bring God more and more into every moment of the other 6½ days we are not together!

This passage in 1 Peter is one that can ground us in the truth of God’s gracious hand reaching out to us as it encourages us to grasp it for all it is worth! As you read these words, picture a loving Jesus calling you to take that next step of putting into practice a little more of what you already believe.

1 Peter 5:6-11

6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  7  Cast all your anxiety on him  because he cares for you.
8  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion  looking for someone to devour.  9  Resist him,  standing firm in the faith,  because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10  And the God of all grace, who called you  to his eternal glory  in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,  will himself restore you and make you strong,  firm and steadfast.  11  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11 (New International Version)

1) God Values You

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 

This is a call to simply recognize your relationship with God as it really is. We are not always very good at exercising true humility, but it really shouldn’t be hard when it comes to our relationship with God. If we believe in Him in any way as the Creator of the Universe who has always existed and always will, then being humble before Him shouldn’t be very difficult. In fact, whenever anyone in the Bible finds themselves in the presence of God (or even in the presence of His messengers), they immediately fall to their faces. (Read Isaiah 6:1-8 if you need a vivid reminder of this.)

Our problem is that we easily lose our vision of the holiness and greatness of God. We begin to think that our place and calling in the world is whatever we can muster; we either trumpet our own accomplishments or feel ‘less than’ and ‘not good enough.’ We are followers of Jesus who have confessed our sins and placed our lives in His hands; but still act far too much like everything is up to us – sometimes like He isn’t there at all.

This verse reminds us that it is God who lifts us up; it is because we are made in His image that we have value. We have been favoured in a way that is beyond our comprehension, yet we still stubbornly seek to find our own sense of worth in our abilities and accomplishments.

Reflection

  • Do you believe you are valuable in God’s eyes?
  • Is being valuable in God’s eyes enough for you?

2) God Loves You

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Do you struggle with the idea that God loves you? I am hot and cold on this one! I know intellectually that God does love me – I would have to discard too much of the New Testament to believe otherwise – but I confess there are times when I seem to question this truth.

I have a life story where I can point to many moments where I know God’s love for me was what got me through the difficulties. I know that His presence is real and powerful and faithful because He was proven it to me many times

And yet I still have the embarrassing ability to forget all He has done. I can almost convince myself that my problems are actually to big or small for him to care about, so they are mine to solve alone. How ridiculous!

Testimonies are powerful ways for us to hear of God working in the life of a believer, and remind us of His love. A good way for us to keep this at the forefront of our lives is to actually write out the details of our own story with God and read it periodically (to others and to ourselves). This way we can be tangibly reminded of God’s love as we are confronted with the evidence that He is the trustworthy one who invites us to cast our anxieties on Him. We know that marriages seldom last if one party continually questions the love of the other. Our relationship with God is much the same – we will never grow enough to cast our cares on Him if we don’t even believe that He cares for us.

Reflection

  • Do you believe God loves you?
  • Do you live your life as if God loves you?
  • Have you considered writing out your own testimony of God’s presence in your life?

3) Called to Discipline

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

This is a call to discipline, which here just means we are to put our beliefs into practice. It will take an effort, but not so we can become “good enough for God.” Dallas Willard said many times:

   “God is not opposed to effort; He is opposed to earning.”

We need to make an effort to convert our beliefs into something we do, and not just something we say. That is what Christian transformation is all about. We are called to resist the devil and all the messages that push us away from God. We are to become aware of the things that cause us to fall/sin so we can stand firm in our faith. Passivity is not what Peter is calling us to. Instead, he is calling us to radical trust, true faith.

In this passage, Peter is writing to people who have made a very counter-cultural decision to follow Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment that was constantly doing everything it could to pull them away from their new faith. Resisting and standing firm were not theoretical options for them. They were in a battle for their souls, and an untrained, ill-equipped soldier seldom arises victorious in battle!

Reflection

  • Have you received enough training to stand firm in your faith? Do you need more?
  • Do you want to train?

Conclusion

This time apart has been a unique opportunity for us to stop and engage in reflection that can help us to go deeper in our faith. While I certainly agree that it is, “Time to be done with all of this isolation,” I also believe God has some good to teach us through it. This is a season of great opportunity that, if we engage in it, can prepare us to return together with faith that is stronger and more assured of Gods love and His proven presence in our lives.

Pastoral Prayer

Today we are going to use Psalm 25:1-7, 16-21 as our prayer. I suggest that you read it once to familiarize yourself with the words, pay attention to any that God may be speaking to you in this moment. After a moment of silence, read this Psalm a second time as a prayer addressed directly to God.

1 In you, Lord my God,
    I put my trust.

2 I trust in you;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

4 Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.
19 See how numerous are my enemies
    and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
    do not let me be put to shame,
    for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.

Song: Reckless Love (By Cory Asbury)

Benediction

1 Peter 5:6-11  New International Version (NIV)

6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

8  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion  looking for someone to devour.  9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

10  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  11  To him be the power for ever and ever.

Amen.