You’ve probably seen this book written by Pastor Joel Osteen. It sold ___________copies and was part of what popularized his ministry. I think part of its success, though, was not the message of the book as much as it was the chord it struck in the heart. All of us are looking for the “best” life. Well, really, I like to call it the “blessed” life. We have this ideal picture of what our life should be. I know I did.
It was the early 80's and Kathy and I had just been married. We lived in the basement apartment of Dr. Joe Ainge, a well-known preacher and campus pastor of the Bible College I had attended. Dr. Ainge lived in a good middle-class neighborhood with modest, but nice homes. To me, it looked like paradise!
For some reason, I had developed a real desire . . . ok, let’s just call it what it was: It was an inappropriate desire to have what Dr. Ainge had. You know, a home in the suburbs that I could call my own. Since my dad was a pastor, living in the church parsonage had been all I’d ever known. Now the homes were nice enough, but there was one problem. They had never belonged to us. There had always been the sense that this place we were living didn’t belong to us and we could be booted out whenever the people got tired of us. So even though Dr. Ainge didn’t live in the Country Club, what he had looked like paradise to me! There was only one problem: My janitor’s salary would never buy even a modest home. So I’d just walk around the neighborhood and covet. I didn’t realize it then, but I was being set up!
O yes! I was a prime candidate for the “opportunity” that came my way. Someone in another part of town had their home repossessed. A friend of mine who was in real estate told me about it. Now it was a much smaller home and the neighborhood wasn’t nearly as good, but if I could borrow several thousand from my dad and do a lot of work to the home, it would belong to me. I was in! It didn’t matter to me that the interest rate was over 11%, I was living the dream. I was going for it. In just a few short weeks, I had arrived. I was on cloud nine. I was living in paradise!
Until it rained . . . and rained . . . and rained. We had an unusually wet spring and I quickly discovered why this particular house was repossessed. When it rained my back yard became “Russell Lake.” It was so bad that the neighborhood kids came down and swam. So much for paradise!
Have you been there? Have you ever wanted something so bad that you could taste it? Ever thought things like, “If only this could happen, then my life would be good . . .then I’d be happy . . .then I’d be in paradise,” only to get it and find out that your pipe dream was really a night mare?
Some of you have salivated over getting some particular job or going into some particular career, only to get there and be really unhappy. Others of you thought you’d be so happy if you could have a relationship with this person or that person, only to discover that what you thought was paradise was nothing but a dead end. Others thought that buying this thing or that thing would bring your happiness, only to have it disappoint you.
Probably all of us, at one time or another, have missed-defined happiness and have found ourselves disappointed and disillusioned . . . which just leads me to this truth. Wrong definitions lead to problems, especially when it comes to the “blessed life.”
In fact, bad definitions can lead to all kinds of problems! For one thing, if you don’t define “paradise” correctly, you’ll miss opportunities. I really believe that Satan spends all kinds of time trying to paint pictures of his ideal in our minds so that we miss the opportunities that God has for us. If I am chasing the pipe dream of my job, I’ll spend all kinds of time trying to be a success at work while my family goes to hell, literally. I’ll trade being at the game for playing the game at the office. I’ll trade getting the promotion at work for seeing God work through me in ministry here at the church or in my neighborhood. And I’ll turn around at my retirement and realize that the company I gave my life to has already forgotten my contribution and I’ve wasted my life. Incorrect definitions of the “blessed life” will cause you to miss the opportunities that really count.
And they will also destroy relationships. Chasing ambition that God has not ordained will inevitably bring you into conflict. For one thing, putting my effort in the wrong place causes me to take up the time God ordained for me to spend with others and put it into something that doesn’t even matter. Dad, you cannot make up for years of neglect by taking your son on a camping trip one weekend out of the year. Mom, those milestones you are missing will not come back. I know some of you really must work and I do not, by any means, want to heap guilt on you. But are you working because you have to or because you’re chasing a “blessed life” that is wrongly defined?
And its not just a time thing. Chasing ambition in the wrong direction will also lead you to direct conflict. James was clear in chapter 4 of his book: Wars and fights come from the inproper desires and ambitions within us. Wrongly defining the “blessed” life always brings conflict. Could it possibly be this morning, that one of the reasons you and your mate are at each other’s throats is that you have really just been chasing the wrong dream? Bad definitions cause missed opportunities and destroyed relationships but they also bring:
Paralyzing fear. You see, when I go after the wrong dream in my life, I am going after something that God cannot bless. When I go after something that God cannot bless, I am on my own. If it’s to be, it really is up to me, as the saying goes and, without His blessing, I am responsible for everything. The result is, I end up trying to manufacture everything in my own flesh and everything goes along pretty good until I hit a problem I really can’t handle. When that happens, I find that I turn to God and, since He’s not in favor of my direction, I get no answer. And the net result is I walk around on my own, paralyzed or at least stressed by fear.
And none of these results: missed opportunities, destroyed relationships or paralyzing fear describe a truly blessed life. Maybe that’s you this morning. You know you should be happy, but you’re not. You’ve been looking for the “blessed life,” but it’s eluding you and, for the life of you, you can’t figure out why. To you, Peter writes verse 10 of chapter 3 of his first letter. Look at what he says, For he who would love life and see good days . . . Hey, Peter was writing about “your best life now,” way before Joel Osteen! He says, “Hey, if you want to love your life . . . if you want to see “good days.” In other words, if you want to turn 70 with no regrets and love what has happened in your life, Peter can help! In these verses he really does tell you how you can have your “blessed life, how!” You can summarize what Peter says here in three concise statements. In the first place, If you want to enjoy the blessed life, you can:
DIV 1 LOVE YOUR FAMILY
Now the first truth you must realize in having the blessed life is that it’s about people, not things! In fact, Peter, writing to the persecuted believers of his day, stressed their relationships within the body of Christ as the key to their blessing. In fact, he lets them know that they are the family of God and vv8-9 describes for them why they belong to the same family. He says, first, that they are in the same family and they should care for one another because they think the same. That is why he writes in v 8, Finally, all of you, be of one mind. In telling them this he sets them apart from the world around them. The one mind they were to have would cause them to reject the religions and ethical traditions around them and embrace His teaching about the cross of Christ. They were all to be of one mind about Jesus. They were to think the same.
But it went beyond the mind to the heart. Not only were they to believe and think the same, they were also to feel the same. V 8 goes on to say that we are to be of one mind, having compassion for one another. Compassion means to “feel the same as” or to “feel sympathetically.” And as believers, this compassion is to go beyond the standard sympathy the world might show. One commentator wrote:
a Christian’s caring is not to be simply because he or she understands what another feels. Instead, Christians care deeply about fellow-Christians so that the suffering of one becomes the suffering of the other. Christians are to be emotionally involved with each other.
We are family. There’s something special going on between us. In fact, Peter goes on to emphasize that in the next phrase of v 8 where he says, love as brothers. This is not just “check the box” sympathy you offer because you happened to work with someone else. It is down’ to the bone, genuine love, commitment and connection.
And how is that love manifested? Well the next phrase says “be tenderhearted and be courteous. “Tenderhearted”speaks again of compassion, but the word “courteous,” offers something new. The word is “humility.” The interesting thing about this word is that it was disdained in the society of that day. One commentator observed:
“In the highly competitive and stratified world of Greco-Roman antiquity, only those of degraded social status were ‘humble,’ and humility was regarded as a sign of weakness and shame, an inability to defend one’s honor. Thus the high value placed on humility by Israelites and Christians is remarkable.” Therefore, even though Peter uses the ethical terminology of Greco-Roman society, he brings it to bear on forming a cohesive Christian community that will exhibit distinctive qualities in the relationships among believers and between believers and those outside the community.
Because we possess the humble disposition of Christ, through the empowering work of His Spirit, there flows into our lives a new capacity of intimacy and relationship that was not possible before. The blessed life is a relational life. These deep, new relationships bringing a meaning and a depth to life that was simply not there before.
Pastor and writer, John Ortberg writes of what he said was one of the most important moments in his spiritual life. He sat down with a longtime Christian friend and told him, “I don’t want to have any secrets anymore.”
He says, I told him everything I was most ashamed of. I told him about my jealousies, my cowardice, how I hurt my wife with my anger. I told him about my history with money and my history with sex. I told him about deceit and regrets that keep me up at night. I felt vulnerable because I was afraid that I was going to lose connection with him. Much to my surprise, he did not even look away.
I will never forget his next words.
"John," he said. "I have never loved you more than I love you right now." The very truth about me that I thought would drive him away became a bond that drew us closer together. He then went on to speak with me about secrets he had been carrying.
I’ve seen this happen in my own life on many occasions. Just recently the staff was on retreat back in August, and one morning we just spent some time coming clean on some really significant issues in our lives and what I really felt in that room was the love of Christ and the acceptance that He gives.
What about one more example that some of you experienced? Just three weeks ago, Ryan Loveing stood on this stage and presented some pretty intense biblical truth about holiness in our lives as Christians. He hit us hard and the services went on for over 2 hours, but so many of you came and kept on coming. Why? Well, God was working in your heart primarily, but I think there was something about Ryan that God used to bring you back. It was his transparency. Because he was willing to open up to you, you connected with him and you probably walked away from that revival feeling closer to that group than you ever thought possible.
This is the potential with Christian relationships. Often in the world, you have to cover up. You are putting out the prson you want people to think you are. If you do confess openly to another person apart from Christ, you still have no power to do anything about the addiction or the guilt you carry over your sin. Listen! It is only in the context of Christian friendship do you not only find the transparency of relationships, but the power of forgiveness to really deal with sin. That is why your Christian family is so important. When you confess your faults one to another and when you share your troubles and sorrows together, healing is available; forgiveness can be genuinely offered; effective, fervent prayer can be offered. The load is lightened because the load is genuinely shared. And THAT, my friend is the blessed life!
See, if you’re here today and you really don’t know the Lord as your Savior, there is a dimension of relationship that you are missing and which you will never know without coming to Christ. This dimension sets you apart from what you can experience at the Rotary or the Lion’s Club. It is the God dimension of acceptance through Christ. It isn’t just cosmetic and it cannot be faked. There is a genuineness to the fellowship that you’ll never have anywhere else.
But I must tell you that, while this kind of relationship is possible, it is often not experienced in the church. Just like the world we cover up. Just like the world, we are prone to judge, or use someone’s weaknesses against them. Listen, Peace Church, its time for us to be the church the way that Christ intended. We are not political power brokers. Our job is not primarily write off sinners and defeat their candidates. Our job is to love sinners and show them how they can change. That is our unique job and it is this uniqueness we must communicate. It is our unique ability as followers of Christ to stand against homosexuality and still love the person caught up in that lifestyle. It is our unique ability to reach out to a drug addict without enabling them to continue their hellish lifestyle. It is our unique ability to fight against the bankrupt reasoning of the atheist while still wrapping our arms around the atheist. We have that unique ability because the Holy Spirit enables us to love as brothers and the world may not believe what we say about Jesus, but they ought to never be able to deny how much we love one another! And it is this family life that is the “blessed” life.
You say, “That’s great, Rusty, but make it practical. How can I see that really happen in my Christian experience?” Well, there are all kinds of pathways to that experience in this church. Sunday School and Life University involvement will offer you an opportunity to seek and develop those kind of relationships. Probably the best way for you to begin to develop this kind of relationship, however, is through our Discipleship process. There you will be able to develop a real spiritual intimacy that will allow you to open up and get involved with another believer. Your first step into the discipleship process begins with the class Life Concepts that Doug teaches. You can sign up for that as you leave this morning.
This is the first step towards your “blessed life.” You can love your family, but secondly, if you want your blessed life how, you can
DIV 2: BLESS YOUR CRITICS
Ok, I know. This seems like an unlikely truth, doesn’t it. It sounds good to turn the other cheek when you’re reading through the gospels, but it doesn’t seem to work in real life, does it? Intuitively, we just think that we have to defend ourselves and guard what we have if we are to be happy.
Peter knew this instinct. He also knew that the people reading his letter had some enemies and some “critics,” which is why he wrote in v9, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling. As one commentator observed these people lived in an “honor-and-shame” society. It was expected that if one was attacked, they would retaliate. That’s kind of like the good old US of A isn’t it. We tend to obey what President Obama said in the campaign: “If they bring a knife to the fight, you bring a gun.” That’s what we tend to do. But if everyone does that, we get into a cycle of escalating attack and retaliation that simply brings conflict and war and I don’t know of many who would call this a “blessed” life, do you?
Peter is telling us to break that cycle. He says don’t return evil for evil or reviling for reviling. And he goes on to tell us not only to break the cycle, he tells us to conquer the cycle. He says, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, blessing. As if nonretaliation were not hard enough, we are to respond to insult with “blessing.” The word bless means to publically speak well of someone. What is probably meant here is that you and I should, when attacked by someone else, invoke God’s favor on them. Now that takes something from the outside. That takes the power of the Holy Spirit.
It sort of reminds me of the old story we’ve all heard about the Christian soldier living in the barracks. Every night before bed, he’d be sitting on his bunk reading his Bible. Other soldiers used it as an opportunity to make fun of him and give him a hard time. One night, one of the soldiers, as the believer was reading his Bible, heaved his muddy boots at the Christian. The next morning as that hostile soldier leaned over and put his feet on the floor, there at the foot of his bed were his boots, cleaned, polished and ready for inspection. That’s returning good for evil.
You might be saying, “Sounds really good, Rusty, but how does that make me live the blessed life. That sounds really hard to me. Sounds more lie suffering than blessing.” Well, I can understand why you might feel that way, but there are some things you must remember about this blessed life.
First, the truly blessed person understands that they have received grace from God. The reason they are blessed is not their own merit or goodness, but the gracious mercy of God. They are blessed supernaturally by the sovereign grace of God not by the fickle circumstance of life. They have received grace.
And since they have received grace, they understand the responsibility of giving grace. They’ve been blessed to be a blessing. They know that, having received the unmerited favor of God, they are to give it. In fact, they know that the way to receive even more grace from God is to give that grace to others. They’ve been blessed to be a blessing.
But the blessed life understands the blessing of giving grace. It is the giving of that grace that makes them most like Jesus. As chapter 2 reminded us, the calling on our lives is for you and me to follow in the steps of Christ and suffer and as I do that, I experience His grace like never before.
Nikolai Velimirovic was a Serbian bishop who bravely spoke out against Nazism in the early 1940's during the reign of Hitler. He suffered for his stand and for his faith in the Dachau prison camp. Someone found this prayer that he had written out. It read:
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to Earth; enemies have loosed me from Earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.
Listen Christian, there is a blessing that waits for you, but it isn’t found in this world. It isn’t found in the attainment of more stuff. It is the blessing of offering grace to others in the middle of your suffering, in the middle of persecution. It’s one of the biggest “hows” of the “blessed life.”
So are you experiencing that grace. Have you been retaliating or blessing your critics? Have you been perpetuating the cycle of conflict, or have you been breaking it and even conquering it? How could Christ be honored if you would simply follow in His steps, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing? That’s your “blessed life, how!” You love your family and bless your critics, but finally, you can
DIV 3 CONQUER YOUR FEAR
Now that one may catch you a little by surprise, but allow me to explain. If I were to ask you this morning, “What is the biggest roadblock to you really blessing your enemies, I would probably get many answers, but the underlying concept in all of them would be this one word: fear.” We want to believe that God will take care of us if we don’t defend ourselves. We want to believe that we can really be happy, even if we don’t get back at those who are attacking us, but we doubt.
That’s why, I think, Peter quotes the Psalm 34 in vv 10-12. In those three verses he addresses three manifestations of this fear. Because we are afraid that we will lose if we give in we, first of all, retaliate. V 10 says For He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil. Now the picture here is of someone, who like the recipients of Peter’s letter, were under attack. The tendency in that situation is to think, “If I don’t stand up for myself, no one else is going to stand up for me.” So, reacting in fear, he verbally strikes out at his attacker.
And because we are afraid, not only do we retaliate, we also seek to deceive. V10 adds, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Someone under attack resorts to deceit often because they think something like this. “If I tell the truth, everyone else will lie, and I’ll be left in the cold and be held responsible for something I’m not guilty of.” Fear often drives us to lie.
Peter knew this from experience. Huddled around the fire outside the hall where Jesus, Himself, was on trial, he lied to save his own skin. His lips spoke deceit because he wanted to avoid the inconvenient and even dangerous circumstance of being associated with Christ. His fear drove him to lie. Fear will do that. It will drive you to retaliate and it will drive you to deceive.
It will also drive you to fight. V. 11 says Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. This person says, “If I seek peace, I’ll be the one who gets taken advantage of. So we fight, even when we’d rather make peace, because we are simply afraid of losing.
But this passage tells us that we do not have to give into these fears. We, instead, can conquer them. How? Hold on, because this is where it gets good!
Peter tells us that we have a calling in this passage. Will you notice what he says in v 9 that he says, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling but on the contrary blessing (watch!) Knowing that you were called to this that you may inherit a blessing. The purpose of this great calling to offer blessing for cursing is so that we may inherit a blessing. The blessing we inherit is the grace of God, operating in our lives, which produces within us the fruit of the Spirit that gives us the strength to bless when we are cursed. One commentator wrote:
The command to return blessing and good for insult and evil is truly a call to a transformed character. It is the character of a people who refuse to allow their enemies to define them but who seek their definition in Christ (Volf 1994: 21). It may be possible to clench our teeth and do something good for someone who has insulted and hurt us, all the while bearing ill will toward them in our hearts. But this would not be true obedience to 3:9, for “one cannot truly bless while inwardly desiring someone’s hurt.” The command of 3:9 calls us not to a legalistic and begrudging compliance but to a confidence in the transforming power of the new birth, which allows Christians in all sincerity to speak and act toward adversaries from a heart that truly desires their blessing.
That’s the purpose of our calling and, when we realize it, we begin to appropriate the power to overcome the fears that keep us from practicing this truth. But that still doesn’t deal with the obvious question of all of this. You see, I know how you might be thinking because I know how I think. It goes something like this: “But if I don’t stand up for myself, who will stand up for me?” Well, that’s where the protection of your calling comes in. V12 says that God will protect you. It says, For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their prayers. And that protection is backed up with the Lord’s provision. V12 goes on to say, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. In other words, God is fighting for those who refuse to fight for themselves but return blessing for cursing. God’s eyes are open to the one who leaves the fighting to Him. We can overcome our fear of losing by realizing the purpose, the protection, and provision of our calling.
But everything I’ve been saying about conquering fear is going down kind of hard for some of us. You see I know that you believed that at one time and maybe even tried to practice it, but it didn’t work out, at least not how you anticipated it. You might say something like this. “Hey, Rusty, I trusted God and didn’t fight and it cost me big time. I lost my job; I lost my house; I lost health; I lost my child; I lost my dream of a happy home. I trusted God and lost.”
Well, Phil 3:7 offers us some insight here. There Paul writes:
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Don’t miss what Paul says here. In essence, he says “I didn’t lose everything, I traded it! I traded it for the excellence of knowing Christ. I realized I couldn’t have Jesus and . . . I couldn’t have Jesus and my job; Jesus and my marriage; Jesus and my bank account; Jesus and my safety. I couldn’t have Jesus and anything else. All I could have was Jesus. But when I came to the place that Jesus was all I had, I found that Jesus was really all that I needed. And when I compare what I have now in my relationship with Christ, all I had before was like a pile of dung! It was refuse!”
Now here’s what we learn from what Paul said: As long as we desire any circumstance or any blessing in life as much or more than we desire Christ Himself, we will not understand and we certainly will never possess the “blessed life.” The blessed life really has nothing to do with being rich or being healed or being in control, or winning a conflict. It has everything to do with simply knowing Jesus!
German pastor Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two. As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day—some 4,480 in all. In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.
Yet living in a world dominated by death, Pastor Rinkart wrote the following prayer for his children to offer to the Lord. It became one of our Thanksgiving hymns:
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
I believe one of the primary truths God wants us to discover is this: It is not his gifts we should seek, but His presence. The way we overcome the fear of loss is to have nothing to lose because everything we seek is in Christ.
So how can we truly come to the place that this is what we seek? How can we come to the place that all we seek is the powerful presence of Christ in our lives to the point that we do not retaliate, but truly trust Him? Let me make three suggestions:
First, get rid of all idols that compete with Him. If it’s your job, let it go. If its a relationship, get rid of it. If it’s some sin you’re bound by, seek freedom from it. Dump your idols.
Second, get rid of guilt that can eat at you. We all tend to let things “hang on” in our lives and refuse to make the apology we need to make or seek the reconciliation we need to seek. And as long as we do that, we find ourselves at odds with the only one who can really help us. You’ll never live this kind of a lifestyle in the flesh because it really is not in you! You must have the power of the Holy Spirit. You can value Jesus like this if you will get rid of the idols that compete with Him and the guilt that can eat at you. But last of all
Get rid of the self-sufficiency that can lie to you. You’ll never do this on your own. You must hae His grace.
Can I take just a moment to share the story of someone who has found this grace in her own life? - Elaine Rogers’ story.