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The “Just When I Think You’ve Said The Dumbest Thing Ever, You Keep Talking!” Sermon Rewind

So Peter’s advice to Christians threatened with persecution, execution, and annihilation is so absurd, so preposterous, so over-the-top in lunacy, that it must be true.

Nestled in I Peter 4:16, it’s this:  “but praise.”

The authorities are ransacking the church, you’ve seen your friends fed to lions or burned at the stake, you fear a similar fate awaits you, and the response is but praise.

It’s so ridiculous that I made it the bottom line:

The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

A bottom line we followed by an open mic time in which people could express their praises to God.  And that is but a prelude to the Night Of Worship on Friday, March 10.

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What I am going to tell you in a little while will run so contrary to your natural instincts, will be so the opposite of what you want to, will make so little intuitive sense . . . that there’s a good chance it will end up just dividing the room into three groups.  One group will want to get up and leave; another group will give me the pffft with dismissive hand wave that says, “just more religious crazy talk, spiritual gobbledy-gook from another half-wit leader.”  That group will likely want to quote Hank Hill back to me: (AV of just when I think you’ve said the dumbest thing ever, you keep talking). And then a third group will have your heart strangely stirred, put what I say into practice and discover that it might just change your life.  No pressure with that, right?

 

            Because we’ve been walking along the Path Of Most Resistance together for the last three weeks.  And we’ve seen that God not only ALLOWS struggles and trials and consequences, there’s a really good chance he delights in them.  Or causes them!  Or brings them!  And he allows/delights/causes these hards times in our lives because he knows there are things that he can do in and through our spirits and our character in a time of stress that he could NEVER do in a life of ease.  And it turns out that the NT – if you dig just a little – is chock full of this perspective on our trials, both those that happen TO us and those that happen BECAUSE of us. 

 

            And one of those signature NT section comes in the letter of I Peter.  And just in case you wonder what I Peter is about, just listen to these verses scattered throughout:  READ & AV, dissolving in I Peter 1: 6, 11; 2:11, 19-21, 23; 3:1, 7, 13-14, 16-18; 4:1  Not much question about it, right?  He is about suffering.  Now you know why Peter would not have succeeded as a TV preacher!  Now:  this is one of those times where you have to have to have to remember that the bulk of the bible may have been written FOR you but it was definitely not written TO you.  Because for a lot of us living in the US in 2017 when we hear about “suffering” or even the ordeal of 4:12-13 –

 

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

 

 – we hear things like “War On Christmas” or “Taking the 10 Commandments Down From the Courthouse!” or even “They’re redefining gender in the US!”  All of which are important issues and represent a regression in our land.  But none of which are what Peter’s audience heard – and I Peter is TO them.

 

            Now what the original letter readers heard was this from Pliny the Roman leader: 

 

For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians.  I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of punishment awaiting them.  If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.

 

 Whoa.  That’s what they heard.  Even today, these words in 4:12-13 have incredible residence in a place like Kenya where in the mall massacre from three years ago we got the report that the terrorists would ask shoppers:  “What is the name of Mohammed’s mother?”  If you didn’t know – as most Xns wouldn’t – you were shot. Bleh.  Or even in India where a gov minister recently declared his hope & plan that by 2121 (104 years!), India would be all Hindu.  How do you get it all Hindu?  Well, in part by eradicating the vibrant Xn communities and churches.  Yep, that’s more like what Peter’s audience heard and dealt with.  Our global friends live it. We, here, have struggles that are very real but on a different scale than others around the world.  So today we get to eavesdrop on a conversation Peter has with his contemporaries & even with today’s Xns in India, Kenya, and elsewhere.

 

            Because what Peter does next is incredible.  After setting the table in 4:12 – READ – which always makes me remember when I’m in the middle of a dark place, “Oh, Talbot, WORSE things have happened to BETTER preachers!”  They have!  So after that, look where Peter goes in 4:13: 

 

13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

 

Circle “rejoice” and “overjoyed” there.  Next, look at 4:14:

 

14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

 

Circle “blessed” and “glory” there.  And now, look at 4:16:

 

16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

 

and circle “praise” there.  Look at that pattern – it’s as unmistakable as the one telling us that I Peter is fundamentally about suffering.  joy Rejoice BLESSED PRAISE.  So, apparently the suffering and shame and struggle of these early, early Xns is not an obstacle but an opportunity.  Apparently it calls for a response from them – and now from us – that is completely alien to our natural tendencies.

 

            The response it calls for is apparently something we LEARN like calculus and not something we DISCOVER like walking (anybody remember learning to walk?)  And we only LEARN it by reading it and hearing it from Peter, in Scripture.  And 4:16 is the key in all its simplicity:  “but praise.”  Now . . . as the wind up to a long section on suffering, struggle, insult, we’d maybe expect a rally together or at least feel free to vent or possibly whine on FB but no.  Instead, it’s  but praise.  So the conclusion is sort of unmistakable and inescapable:  The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

 

            Yep, that’s it.  Peter wanted the threat of execution to result in worship at full volume in his church.  And nothing has changed.  Peter wanted those hearing his words to respond to deepening persecution with louder praise and nothing has changed.  In fact, he viewed the growing opposition to the cause of Christ as an incredible platform from which he & the church could raise the banner ever higher that Jesus really is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.  The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

 

            So let’s stop right now.  Some of you at this moment – especially if your whining has become an art form, a SKILL – you’re like pffft with the hand wave to boot.  Others dismiss this approach as impossible and impractical.  You mean you want me to praise God louder when I get a cancer diagnosis, when my mom dies, when I get reprimanded at work because I offer to pray in Jesus’ name for someone?  And then a few of you – just like I predicted at the very beginning – you KNOW this is true.  You knew immediatelyGod is calling me to a new place of praising him.  He allowed this darkness so I might testify to the light.  He’s allowed me to fall into the pit so I could shout from the hills.  He’s authored some deep despair to teach me about thunderous praise.

 

            Oh man, it’s so much like the woman in our church whose husband was rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening heart attack.  Not a little one; a widow maker.  And as her friend drove her in the car behind the ambulance, the woman said, “We just need to praise him right now. It looks dark, but it’s time to praise.”  And so they did … not by singing, just by declaring the goodness of God’s name and God’s purposes.  Kooky? Or biblical.  Guess which. The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

 

            Or it’s even like that older man who progressively lost his hearing and his vision.  Body was preparing for a long time to die.  And ultimately just before he lost total hearing and after he’d lost all of his vision, someone asked him the obvious question: “why do you keep coming to church?”  “Because,” the man answered, “I want to show everyone whose side I’m on!”  And so he did.  And so his mere presence was rock show loud.  The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

 

            Because it’s really all about this incredible union.  Look at 3:13: READ and emphasize “participate.”  In a way we moderns rarely think, the ancient Xns viewed their struggles as a way of living into and identifying with what Jesus did.  Struggle brought them closer to their Suffering Savior than ease ever could.  Suffering is a privilege.  It’s a privilege because it lets you know more of what Jesus endured AND because it elevates your platform to talk about his goodness.  How crazy is this perspective!  We think struggling & suffering is a mark of shame; they saw it as a token of their status as chosen people!  I sense this is true whether they struggled as a Xn specifically or even when enduring the struggles inherent in life. The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

 

            And that progression – joy, Rejoice, BLESSED, PRAISE – just tells us everything about Peter’s perspective on life and eternity.  See, right now joy is mingled with sorrow.  Every one of you here who ever has a moment of joy, you know there are equivalent moments of sorrow.  Maybe more than equivalent for some of you.  But when you go from “rejoice” to “overjoyed” in v. 13, you know what that means?  That every joy today points to the day when joy will be mixed only with MORE JOY.  That when Jesus returns – AND HE WILL – he will right ever wrong and heal every hurt and joy really will be accompanied only by more joy.  You cannot cannot cannot separate a healthy anticipation of the return of Jesus from the ability to persevere in today’s struggles.  Can’t be done.  Only when you anticipate it with eagerness can you endure with grace.  It is such a shift in perspective!  It’s why the early Xn martyr Polycarp said this when threatened with death:

 

“You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and you forget that the fire of hell never goes out.”  An hour later his body was ashes and his soul was with Christ.

 

Ha!  The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

 

            We had a service back in December that I just loved. Especially the end.  I had talked about Jesus being THE POINT and then you all sang that Jesus, Only Jesus.  Y’all sounded glorious and I felt like I was transported at all three services. You know what’s funny?  Not great attendance that day. The kind of thing that usually sends me into a funk.  But the deal was I got an advance preview of what today’s talk is all about.  Your collective praise did it that day.  So I put out this note on social media: AV of 12.18 tweet. Yep, you all helped me get there.  The harder the struggle, the louder the praise.

            And I guess all that is why the notion of a daily “Inventory Of The Unchanging” is so appealing to me.  Someone asked me to list five character traits of God that are unchanging that I can rely on, lean on, and praise him for in the middle of my circumstances which so frequently change.  Here’s what I came up with (AV): 1. He invaded history 2. He who saved me, keeps me 3. He protects me from myself.  4. His love doesn’t always feel go TO me but it is always good FOR me.

 

            So . . . now that those have primed the pump for you thinking, who would like to share an Inventory Of The Unchanging as your act of praise today?

 

            Open microphone followed by song of praise.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polycarp – Morgan p. 763

“You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and you forget that the fire of hell never goes out.”  An hour later his body was ashes and his soul was with Christ.

 

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