Sermon Transcript November 8, 2020
CTK, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Sunday, November 8, 2020
Ken was a “normal” American. If he saw something he wanted, he swiped his credit card and bought it. He gave no thought to whether he could actually afford the purchase. When it came to debt, his philosophy was: just work more. But his spending appetites were greater than his earning ability. No matter how much he worked, he could never outrun his debt.
Ken shares: "I was never late on payments, I was never behind . . . but I was living paycheck to paycheck." Paycheck-to-paycheck living is the norm for the majority of American households today. One day, after begging his credit card company to extend his maxed-out line of credit, Ken decided he had enough of this kind of normal. He wrote out all of his debts on a piece of paper. He was sobered by the harsh truth staring back at him. He was $395,000 in debt. The number woke Ken up to the reality that he needed to make a change. He told himself: "I’m not living like this anymore!"
Ken started listening to the financial advice of syndicated radio host and creator of Financial Peace University, Dave Ramsey. Dave has a saying: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” What he means is: if you will do something really outside the norm and discipline your spending habits, dump your debt, and start saving, a time will come when you can actually pay for what you want to do without putting yourself back into debt to do it! That’s exactly what Ken has done. With each debt Ken paid off, he could feel the weight lifting from his shoulders. He kept chipping away at the large total, and today he is completely debt-free! By living like no one else in order to get his financial house in order, he is now able to live like no one else with the money he’s saved and the discipline he’s developed.
The Apostle Paul has that sort of theme in mind as he writes about how to live in the last days. The topic on his heart is something even more important than financial peace. He’s talking about what it means to live like no one else as we wait for Jesus’s 2nd Coming so that we can live like no one else on the other side of Judgment Day. Paul issues this sobering wake up call, bringing us face-to-face with the truth about these times, because he wants to help us make the kind of hard, but necessary changes needed to successfully live in these last days. Listen carefully to what he teaches: [READ 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11]
Did you notice how Paul talks about Jesus’ second coming? He describes the day coming like a thief! What does he mean by that? First and foremost he means that none of us actually knows when that day will be. How does that help us? Though we don’t when the Last Day will be, Scripture is clear: it is coming! So what should we do? Prepare for it like you do for a thief. So, for example, as a campus, every night we close the gate, lock the doors, and set the alarms, in case this is the night that a thief would try to steal things from our campus. Since we don’t know when the Last Day will be, Paul is urging us to live each day like it could be our last day so that we are ready every day should this day turn out to be Judgment Day!
Paul contrasts how this kind of living is very different than what is considered “normal” in this world. People want to hear that everything is ok, that things will get back to the way they’ve always been, that there is nothing to worry about. But Paul warns that this longing for outward peace and earthly safety actually hurt us when it comes to what really matters, when he says: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly” (v. 3). The destruction comes like a surprise, not because there weren’t warnings, but because people put off the preparations those warning signs were calling them to make! Most people realize that life on earth doesn’t last forever. Even if they don’t believe in Jesus or don’t think that he will come again to bring this age to an end, most people recognize that they are mortal. That they will someday face their own end. But most people think that day is a long way off. It’s nothing I really need to get serious about right now.
Rather than living like the rest of the world does, thinking there will always be more time, Paul urges us to live like a pregnant woman … someone who is packed and ready to head to the hospital when the contractions come on! When the Last Day comes, it’s like labor for a pregnant woman, once it starts you’re out of time. Whether you’re ready or not, that baby is coming. On the Last Day when the trumpets blare and our Lord comes riding on the clouds, time is up. If you waited until then to get serious about God, you will have waited too long.
The Last Day will catch you sleeping when you should have been awake! That’s the kind sleep Paul is talking about here, it’s a soul that has drifted off into la-la land. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they’re not paying attention to the most important things. They are wide awake to things of the visible world while their souls are snoring when it comes reminders and encouragements about the concerns of the unseen world. A soul stupor, drunk on life, brought on by obsession with having more and more of life’s pleasures, which might include alcohol but certainly isn’t limited to it. Gorging on the lesser things of life causing a person to lose focus on God’s big picture. That’s what happens to spiritual senses when life’s pursuits distract a person’s focus and drown out their desire for God and his ways. A spiritual drunk may be very focused and very driven, but they’re really unclear, confused about the ultimate purpose our short time on earth is really about.
Paul wrote this message to Christians. That means these warnings are aimed at people like us, people who have faith in Jesus. It’s important we hear this and take it to heart and do something about it! Think about it like this: just because you have money in the bank today, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically hold on to that balance forever. Ken, the man whose story I opened today’s sermon with, would tell you that financial peace was something that happened because he lived in the truths of sound financial management. If he had develop good habits but then decided to revert back to his old ways, his financial situation would revert to what it had been previously! Dave Ramsey likes to say, “No one wanders into financial peace. It takes commitment and sacrifice.”
When it comes to having a strong faith, relating in healthy ways to God, people don’t wander it to this either, though they do wander away from it. Rarely do I hear Christian people say they don’t care about such things at all because they know better. But what I’m seeing more of right now is Christians who know the truth about God and what he’s done for them, but COVID has disrupted the spiritual habits they had developed previously. And in the meantime they’ve filled those times with other activities or developed additional interests or fallen into old habits. And over the course of time they fall out of the practice of making time in God’s Word and with God’s people as the habit around which everything gets built in their lives. Instead it becomes the thing they’ll fit in if there is nothing more compelling calling for their attention and if it is convenient. Let me ask you: Is a relationship with God really all it can be if it’s based on convenience? Can a body of believers remain vital and healthy if as individuals we’re only part of this so long as it is convenient to each of us individually?
The difference between that and the kind of living Paul calls us to is as different as night and day. Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate and salvation as a helmet. There’s nothing cozy or comfortable about this, is there. A breastplate? A helmet? This isn’t a time to snore it’s time for war. It’s a battle. The forces of darkness are powerful and persuasive. In the battle against the temptation to think primarily about myself and my wants, against the temptation to think of what the church does for me, in the battle against the temptation against procrastinating on positive change, God equips us with exactly the kind of armor we need: faith in God, love for one another, and the confident expectation that God’s best for us is still up ahead!
All of this is true for me and you is because “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that … we may live together with him” (vv. 9-10). Jesus is so committed to us that he laid down his life for us so we can live with Him, forever! In the process, Jesus lived as the perfect solider in this battle for us. Do you want to know what spiritual sobriety looks like? Look at Jesus. He felt fear, but he never caved to it. He was constantly bombarded with distractions, opportunities to good things for people, but things that would have pulled him away from doing the greatest thing God called him to do. Instead of getting distracted he used those times to turn people to his God-given mission, warning all who would listen of the dangers of ignoring God’s truth and His call to repentance. And everything he did, everything he ever said, came from his heart of pure love for people, including his warnings to turn away from spiritual smugness, self-righteousness, or hypocrisy. He doesn’t just call us to this different kind of living, he himself lived it! And for all the times we haven’t he forgives us and gives us a fresh start, a new day to engage the battle, trusting him to ready for us the Last Day, no matter when that day will be. Living like no one else now, because we are confident of the life like no other else that he has in store for us in the life to come.
There’s a lot of different ways we could talk about what this means for us and for our lives here and now. One of the reasons we want to keep coming back again and again is because we realize there is more to learn, there is room to grow, the distractions are prevalent and powerful, and there are more ways in which Jesus is calling me to live in ways that are different than the unbelieving world around me.
But today I’d like to close with a story that illustrates this the importance of this and hits close to home. Over the last few months we’ve been praying for Liz Johnson, who had served as a teacher here at CTK for several years. A couple of years ago, Liz accepted a call to serve a Lutheran Elementary School in southeastern WI and it gave her the chance to move to a place that is near the rest of her family. This last spring Liz, who is in her 30s, was diagnosed with cancer. This week, her mom shared this update on Liz’ prognosis:
After much prayer and consultation with doctors and with each other, Liz has decided to enter hospice care. This is not the outcome that we have hoped and prayed for, but it is the one that God has planned. Chemo is not working, and she is in pain most of the time. Being at home would be difficult, and being in a hospital is hard because of visitation policies. At Angel's Grace Hospice in Oconomowoc, our whole family will be allowed to visit. So will anyone else who chooses to, as long as we know ahead of time. Only 2 people are allowed in the room at a time (as opposed to only one in the hospital) and they can switch out. But she will have sliding doors and a patio, where she can have as many people as she wants. And God seems to be blessing us with beautiful weather for the next few days. She has not been able to eat anything for months. Not even her blue Gatorade was staying down. Here she can have milkshakes 3 times a day if she chooses (still liquids only). And before long, she will be feasting at the heavenly banquet with her Savior. Thank you all for your prayers during this difficult time. Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
None of us knows when the Last Day will be, whether that’s Judgment Day or our own personal last day on earth. While it is jarring to hear this news, even more powerful is the comfort that comes from hearing the faith-filled confidence of Liz and her family as they face this difficult time. I pray it also compels each of us to really face the reality of this life that we don’t like to think about but a reality that we can’t afford to ignore. I pray God’s grace and Jesus’ love through Liz’ story moves each of us to embrace what it means to live like no one else now because we are awake, alert, and watching with excited anticipation for the life like nothing else that Jesus lived, died, rose and ascended to prepare us for and is coming again to deliver us to! Until that Great Day, God strengthen you to live like no one else, because you are confident that you will live like no one else forever with Jesus. Amen.