THE BLESSING OF BEING "IN CHRIST"
Dear Christian friends,
Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again: rejoice?” Really? Someone could be really cynical about these words, don’t you think? Rejoice? Always? I watched the Republican debate this past week and they debated what they were going to do about the terrorist threat that seems to hang over our country. Democrats are saying the Republicans have a platform of fear. They are trying to scare everyone to vote for them. Well…the bombings in Paris and then the killing done in San Bernardino killing the disadvantaged during a Christmas party! Someone said that if terrorists are willing to kill the disadvantaged, it seems to me that people have a right to feel uneasy about stepping out of their homes. There is reason to fear.
And then the Lord says in his word, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” If the Lord is really all-knowing and all-seeing, how can he urge us to rejoice always?
These words of Paul are not his own. They are the Holy Spirit’s words. The Spirit of God inspired Paul to write. The Holy Spirit wants us to understand that the phrase “in the Lord” is mighty important. “Rejoice in the Lord.” On this Sunday before Christmas let’s consider “The Blessing of being ‘in the Lord.’” That’s the reason for us to have 1) Joy; 2) Confidence; and 3) Peace.
Clark Howard, the nationally known financial expert who gives advice on how to save money, holds an annual event to collect money for toys to go to poor children. He said this year they needed to collect 40% more money because there has been a dramatic rise in foster kids in our area. A shout out to Faith and Matt who have gotten involved with this worthy cause! The reason that there is a dramatic rise in foster kids is from drug use by parents. Heroine is the culprit. Drugs are the bane of our country. A girl on synthetic marijuana claimed that it made her feel close to God. She then claimed God was the one who told her to stab or step cousin and kill her. Hey, young lady, you were not “in the Lord.” Someone else was talking to you. Or maybe you were listening to your own sinful self.
No one is born naturally “in the Lord.” We are born naturally in sin. The Bible says it so clearly. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Those words come from the letter to the Romans where they apostle is quoting from various passages in the Old Testament.
Hard to listen to, aren’t they? Not politically correct. Yet the Scripture doesn’t promise to be politically correct, it promises to speak the truth.
Experience proves it is true. People are bombing and killing innocent people in the name of their god. There is the mass murder of unborn children because that is a “right” that parents have. There is the “me-centeredness” that is true of everyone, you and me included. How often do we really think in a day, “What does God want me to do?” But “what I want to do” wins out. All those things prove that humanity is not “in the Lord” but “outside the Lord.”
But God in his grace did something about that. It began at your Baptism. Through Baptism the Lord promises that one goes from being outside a relationship to being inside a relationship with the Lord. There is such a beautiful comfort when Jesus gave the command to “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” More accurately it could read go and “make disciples of all nations baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We go from being outside of a relationship with the Triune God to inside a relationship with God. You are in this room because you entered through the door. Now you are inside. That’s what God promises that’s what happens in Baptism. You were outside but through baptism you are inside. We were outside his family and now are now a member of his family. That sure gives me a real sense of relief. The Bible says in baptism we are “clothed in Christ.” We are in “the Lord.” That little phrase “in the Lord” means everything.
I had a classmate in college and Seminary that I learned a lot more about after I graduated. I found out he was an orphan. After he became legal age he was on his own. He always held a job while going to school. Now I know why. He was completely on his own.
When we had long school breaks, like Christmas and Easter when the dorms closed down, he lived in his car. He said this in a sermon he preached. He was demonstrating what it was like not to be part of a family. When he got married that all changed. How he cherished that family. But one thing he always knew he was part of God’s family because he was in the Lord. He was not on the outside. He was in and preached many years all about it.
That’s reason to have joy. We are in Christ. We are his family. One day we are going to see and experience the room we have in our Father’s house. That’s the joy we have.
Being in the Lord also means we have confidence. My mother died of cancer when I was twenty seven years old. My father died nine years later when I was thirty six. My mom was a great lady. She would get us into conversations with her. Three of my brothers went away to school so when we came back she was eager to listen to our experiences.
My Dad was more of a take charge man and ran a dairy. He had a huge heart but he had less time to listen. He was a get-it-done man. Maybe it’s a mother/son thing but I think I had a stronger relationship with my Mom.
Yet when my father died I felt more of a loss than I thought I would. I realized that I viewed him as the safety net. Dad was always there, but that all changed the day he had a heart attack and God took him to heaven. I guess I knew that it was time to wear the big boy pants. What I am trying to say is that he meant more to me than I thought.
The apostle says some thought provoking things here, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” When he writes the Lord is near, he means that it won’t be long until we get to see the Lord face to face. The Lord is going to return. From God’s point of view a thousand years is as a day and a day as a thousand years. It won’t be long.
While we wait (and it might be an entire lifetime for the Lord to return), be gentle. Be easy-going. This is not the final destination. We are only passing through. We are strangers and aliens the Bible warns. There is nothing in this world that we want to hold on to. There is nothing in this world that is more important and precious than heaven. The only thing we are taking with us is our faith in Jesus Christ. The fat wallet or the full checkbook will be left behind. Our confidence is in the fact that the Lord rules heaven and earth and promises never to leave us or forsake us.
When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison. It gave him a lot of time to pray. Remember when he wrote this letter from Rome he knew what it was like to be in a jail in Philippi.
There was a certain member of the church in Philippi for whom this exhortation to pray must have really hit home. There was a certain jailer who had been the one to lock up the apostle Paul and his mission partner Silas. They spent a night in prayer and singing hymns and songs. God answered those prayers - in a big way. An earthquake rocked the prison. The doors flew open and the chains fell off the prisoners but no one escaped. The jailer knew he had just witnessed a miracle and he got on his knees. He knew the God of Paul and Silas was behind all this. “What must I do to be saved?” pleaded the jailer. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your house” was Paul’s answer. Salvation came to that house that night. Prayers were prayed and prayers were answered.
Pray, dear Christians. Let your prayers and petitions be known the Lord. God is in your corner. Your God desires to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be long. The place doesn’t matter; the prayer doesn’t have to be eloquent. The simple trusting prayers of children mean more to him than the studied rhetoric but empty prayers of many. Rejoice, dear Christians. Rejoice because the LORD is near you. He is your confidence.
He doesn’t always answer “yes”, he doesn’t always answer “no” either. Have the confidence that whatever answer he gives is the best answer to be given. That’s your confidence.
Those who are in Christ have peace. If someone asked me to describe peace, I would probably go back to my days in Glacier Park and sitting in a high mountain meadow covered with mountain flowers, surrounded on all sides by mountains. In a distance is a stream with waters falling off the mountain side. That’s peaceful.
Yet that kind of peace and serenity is hard to find in this world. Jesus said to his disciples on the night of his betrayal and capture, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
The kind of peace that is pictured there is a little like a bird sitting on a limb of a branch hanging close to Niagara Falls just out of reach of the roar of tumbling water. We live in a world that does not offer us peace. We live in a world where there is a lot of ugliness. There is sin. There is lust of the eyes and pride of the heart. Lots of lives get blasted by deep despair and tears.
The apostle Paul, the very apostle who wrote these words, was a bit of an expert in peace. Paul had been a great sinner. He had persecuted the church of Christ. But by the grace of God he had come to the shocking realization of his enormous guilt. “O wretched man that I am.” A wall of separation had been built up between him and God. The wall was his own doing.
But the greatest revelation of his life was that the wall had been removed. God and he were on good terms. Jesus had brought about reconciliation. “Therefore we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the words he wrote to the Philippians he says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can this be? It transcends all understanding. Humans aren’t the only ones who don’t understand and are overwhelmed, even the angels in heaven are stunned and amazed.
While our consciences accuse us, while he world points its finger at our inadequacy to stand before a righteous and holy God, while Satan would remind us over and over again the number of sins we do every day, because of Jesus Christ we are at peace.
Our congregation was rocked pretty hard by the losses of three beloved members this year, people we loved and still love and miss them. We have had families that have gone through severe trial, my family included. But it doesn’t change the fact that God has forgiven us in Christ. It doesn’t change the fact that no matter how hard the wind blows and how viciously the seas surges, we stand at peace with God, forgiven and pardoned. While Satan wants to crush our faith on the rocky times, God promises all will work for the good of those who love him. That is our peace. That is the blessing of being “in the Lord.”