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July 5, 2020

Work Together on Rejoicing and Following

For today, three passages, two of which I identify as my life verses. Verses that help provide support for my faith. 

The first of those is in the Book of Psalms, particularly Psalm 118, one of many Psalms written by Old Testament King David.

The specific verse in Psalm 118 is 24, but let’s first consider the earlier part of the Psalm, thinking about how much good news there is in it.

The Psalm begins with the call to give thanks to God. It then gives a number of reasons for doing so. God is good. His love endures forever. Evidence of His goodness and love is found in His answers when we call on Him in times of distress.

In fact, David wrote that he himself was troubled. Listen to some of the descriptions of his problems. He was “surrounded” by enemies. His enemies felt and sounded like “fire” and “bees.”

When David himself was troubled, he was helped by God, who gave him “refuge” and helped him “cut off his enemies.”

God was there for him. Over and over again in Psalm 118, David gives God the credit. Never did he claim he was responsible for his victories or survival. God was responsible for his successes. Therefore, God was described as David’s “strength” and “song,” his “help” and “confidence,” his hope for “righteousness” then and later in Heaven.

David thanked God for all His help. It was his trust that God would continue to help him that led him to write verse 24 of Psalm 118. “This is the day which the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

It is important to note David still had problems, both when he wrote Psalm 118 and later. Throughout his life he had foreign enemies and family enemies, which at least threatened to chip away at his confidence, which would be a personal enemy. Yet he still recognized God. He was still determined to rejoice and be glad. Not necessarily happy as he faced a constant barrage of problems, but joyful, knowing he could and would survive, at least spiritually, because of God’s help. Help that had been given, was being given, and would continue to be given.

Guess what. We have a few problems circulating around us as well. Civil unrest, racial issues, foreign enemies, clouds of Saharan Desert dust, COVID-19. The news indicates recent spikes in COVID cases are not the second wave, but the first wave continuing. What will happen if there is a second wave later?

And did you hear? There is a serious swine flu outbreak in China, which could turn into another pandemic. We might as well have something else to be concerned about.

That does not include the closer-to-home issues such as those in our congregation who are ill with a variety of health issues.

As was the case with David, it seems like the fires of turmoil are all around us and problems can almost seem like bees buzzing around us, which can discourage us.

Or they can cause us to remember problems are not new. They have happened before. As God helped David and as he has helped us with past problems, He is able to help us now and in the future.

As we remember God’s offer to help - help we have the privilege of accepting - we, like David, can know that on this day, which the LORD has made because He is the master creator, we can choose to rejoice and be glad.

Will you join me in having this as an important verse? Let’s say it together. ‘This is the day which the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Let’s be determined to follow that verse, both individually and as a congregation, thereby keeping our attention on the joy God makes available, on good days and difficult days alike.

For the second passage that are life verses for me, let’s move to the New Testament. Verses in chapter 6 of the Gospel of John.

The verses record something that happened at about the halfway point of Jesus’ three-year ministry. For a year-and-a-half or so, Jesus had performed miracles and taught about God. He had forgiven some people and healed others. All of which attracted a great crowd of people around Him. Not everyone followed Him everywhere He went, but everywhere He went, huge numbers of local people gathered to see Him, hear Him, and be helped by Him.

However, when we get into chapter 6 of John, Jesus begins to suggest that if someone claims to be a follower of Him, which the people in the crowds around Him were doing, they should actually do what He said. They ought to obey His teachings. Including teachings about love and compassion and proper living.

According to verse 66 of John 6, many of those who had been following Jesus reacted to His suggestion by drawing “back from Him” and no longer “going about with Him.” In other words, it was fun to be near Him and hear Him and see all He did and benefit from His power, but make a commitment to do as He said? Just about every follower did not think they wanted to do that.

I have shared this before, but I remember an actor who had a history of really immoral actions, on screen and off. One day, on a TV show, the actor announced he had become a Christian.

That was of course good news. The audience applauded. Then the interview continued.

The moderator asked, “Does that mean you won’t be doing all those R-rated movies anymore?” The actor paused before saying, “No, I’ll still do them. That’s what I do.”

“Well, does your new faith mean you will stop your partying lifestyle of heavy drinking and running around with whatever women will have you? Will you settle down with your own family?” The actor paused before saying, “No, I’m not going to change my lifestyle,”

“Well, does it mean you will share some of your wealth with worthy, wholesome causes?” Right away the actor said, “Wait a minute. I have no intention of going overboard. I am not going to let my faith affect how I live.”

I am not the judge of that actor. That is not my point. However, we know that what Jesus did and taught was not for show. He did and said what He did because He wanted people back then and He wants us now to have changed lives. Lives that are good and helpful and pleasing. He wants that for all people. Especially people who claim to be His.

The actor missed that point. So, too, did the people in verse 66 miss the point. When a commitment to change was called for, just about all those who had been following Jesus turned away. In fact, basically the only ones left with Jesus were His 12 disciples.

Verse 67. Jesus said to those 12, “Do you also wish to go away?”

What an interesting question. I mean, it no doubt hurt Jesus’ feelings that so many people left Him. He might have reacted with the demand that His 12 closest followers stay around. He had that right since He had chosen them and accepted them and had poured Himself into them for a year-and-a-half.

Instead, He asked them what they wanted to do. What an interesting reminder Jesus will not force Himself on anyone. He asked, “Do you also wish to go away?”

The answer is in verses 68 and 69, which are two of my life verses. It was spoken by the disciple Peter. I want to always say these same words. I trust we all do. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? [Whom else would we follow but You?] For You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”

Wow. What faith.

Faith stated in a difficult time. Can we imagine what it felt like for the disciples to see so many others turn away from Jesus? Talk about peer pressure. Yet they chose to stay with Jesus. What faith.

And let me add that the statement made by Peter, who spoke for all 12 of the disciples, did not result in an easy path from that time on for the disciples. The days became increasingly difficult as more and more important people went beyond turning away from Jesus to openly arguing against Him and threatening Him. We know the result of that. Jesus, a year-and-a-half after today’s second passage, was tortured and killed.

Through any of the difficulties, the disciples could have changed their minds and turned away from Jesus, but, except for Judas Iscariot, they did not. The faith expressed in John 6 continued. 

Even today it can be difficult to be a Christian. To acknowledge Christ. To live according to Christian standards. But what Peter said and clung to is what I want for my life. I hope this is and will be an important passage for all of us.

Let’s say it together. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God. Let’s be determined to keep knowing that, both individually and as a congregation, thereby keeping our attention on who Jesus is, on good days and difficult days alike.

Rejoice and be glad. Know and follow Jesus. How important those two challenges are.

How can we help one another remember and follow them? That leads us to the third passage for today, which returns us to the Old Testament, this time Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, where there is another challenge. The challenge to work together. In all things and at all times, but including us working together to rejoice, be glad, know Jesus, and follow Him.

Verse 9 of Ecclesiastes 4. “Two are better than one.” Yes, we can and should stay strong in our faith by ourselves, but it is easier to be successful in our faith if we will work together, each of us willing to help others, at the same time allowing others to help us.

“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.”

Verse 10 into verse 12 give some examples. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. If two lie together, they are warm, but how can one be warm alone. And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.”

Applying that to life, any of us might stumble spiritually. We hope the chances of stumbling dwindle as we continue our Christian walk, but there are temptations all around us all the time. If we stumble, how nice to have a fellow Christian with us to help us stand up again. A Christian friend who will not demean or nag, but one who will encourage.

And yes, life can get cold, maybe not temperature-wise, but socially or emotionally. When that happens, how nice to have a fellow Christian to warm us up again. A Christian friend who will encourage us.

And yes, there are dangers around us. I am thinking more about other places around the world where Christians face persecution, but even here there are those who sneer at our faith. And, as mentioned, we all face temptations. How much easier it is to defend ourselves if we have another Christian with us and beside us.

Here is a story that goes along with today’s third passage. The setting is Uganda in Africa.

In the middle of the night, a local pastor received a call, asking him to go to the home of a church member. The home was on fire. 

When the pastor arrived, he saw the member’s house engulfed in flames. Then he saw the father of the family that lived there. Though burned himself, he had reentered the home to rescue one of his children. The father emerged from the house with his unconscious daughter.

The closest hospital was six miles away. With no transportation available, the pastor and the father started running to the hospital with the child. When one got tired carrying her, the other took over. When the second one got tired, the first took over. On and on it went for the six miles until the father and the pastor got the girl to the hospital.

The good news is the girl and her father both recovered fully, but the spiritual application is that neither of the two men could have succeeded on his own. It took both of them, working together, to accomplish the saving of the girl.

But wait. There is one more part to verse 12. After teaching that two working together is a good thing, this is added. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

“Threefold” indicates there is to be another part of success. That part is God. Thinking of the story from Uganda, it had to be God who gave the father the strength to run, even though he had been burned. It had to be God who gave the pastor the willingness to get up in the middle of the night to answer the call. It had to be God who gave the two men the idea for the tag team approach to get the girl to the hospital. It has to be God who even now gives medical knowledge to medical personnel.

Rejoice and be glad every day since every day is a day God has made. No matter what the circumstances - even if we are the only ones doing so - know who Jesus is and be determined He is the only one to follow. 

Do those things individually. Let’s do them together with other believers as well, taking advantage of God’s offer to be the third part of the spiritual cord. Then we will know and celebrate our faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Today’s closing song is a chorus based on today’s first passage. This Is the Day. We will sing it twice, the second time changing “I” to “we.” Let’s decide to keep singing, with each other and with the Lord. May our singing bolster our faith.

This is the day, this is the day

That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.

I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made,

I will rejoice and be glad in it.

This is the day, this is the day

That the Lord has made.

This is the day, this is the day

That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.

We will rejoice, we will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it.

This is the day that the Lord has made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

This is the day, this is the day

That the Lord has made.

Lord, thank You that we are never alone because we who have faith in You always have You with us. How important that is. What a privilege it is.

You also call us to be with other believers so we can receive and share with others the strength and encouragement that will help us all to rejoice, be glad, and stay strong in our following of You. As mentioned in today’s message, make us willing to help other believers and help us to be willing to let others help us. We ask this, now and as our future unfolds. Amen. 

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