Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Christian Recipe for a Happy Advent (A sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24)

Do you have a favorite family recipe you enjoy every Christmas season? What would happen if you tried to make that dish or dessert from memory without the recipe? Would it still turn out okay? This morning we get God's recipe for what a Christian should look like. But even with the recipe right in front of us, we don't follow his directions very well. Our lives turn out a mess then, spoiled by selfishness and sin. Thank God, then that he helps us. In fact, he rescues us from the mess of our sin, so that when Christ comes again, at his Advent, we will be happy indeed! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and see...

The Christian Recipe for a Happy Advent

A sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Sunday, December 11th, 2016 – Advent 3B


Do you have a family recipe that you make each Advent as a part of your Christmas preparations? Maybe it's a recipe for grandma's Christmas cookies, or Aunt Tilly's Christmas ham. For the Guenther's it's ginger bread teddy bears and a dessert called Buckeyes. Every year Becky and the kids follow the recipe and they turn out great.

But of course, the recipe is crucial to that tradition. If Becky or the boys just decided to go off their memories—if they just decided to wing it—well, I don't think we'd enjoy the cookies as much. But when they follow the recipe we all have a happy Advent as we enjoy the cookies all season.

This morning in our lesson God gives us a recipe. It's the recipe for a Christian. And it's the recipe for a happy Advent. The Apostle Paul tells us what ingredients go into the making of a Christian. He gives us the directions to follow. And with some help from God, we know it will all turn out great at Jesus' Advent---that is, his second coming, when he comes to judge the living and the dead.

So let's take a look in God's "recipe book" if you will—that is, his Word—and see the recipe for a happy Advent. Our text for this morning is recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24…


16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.


I.        3 Ingredients


Most recipe books or websites or I guess now mobile apps, have a lot of pictures in them. I like that so I can browse through the cookbooks window shopping, if you will, just exploring those recipes that look appetizing to me. But the pictures also serve another purpose: They show you what the final product looks like—or at least what it should look like if done right.

So too, in the conclusion to this letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul shows them what they ought to look like as Christians—if done right. And he lists three key ingredients: [Recipe Slide]

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

1) The first ingredient: "Be joyful always," that is, in any and every circumstance: In peace and prosperity as well as in suffering and pain. When things are going great and when things are downright miserable, when you're on top of the world and when you're in the dumps. How can they always be joyful? Well, he reminds them at the end of verse 18: "this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

No matter what their other circumstances were—and at this time the Thessalonians were being persecuted—they still had Christ. They still had forgiveness of sins. They still had the promise of heaven. And this would always be enough reason to be joyful no matter what else happened. It's been said that "Happiness depends on happenings; but joy depends on Christ."

2) The second ingredient: "Pray continually." The Christian will be regularly talking to God all the time. God is his or her best friend. God is his or her first go to in every situation. Like a child helping in the kitchen is wise to ask mom for help when the job is too big for him or her, so too we're wise to talk to God continually. And the content of those prayers isn't just getting help. It's not just asking, but especially thanking…

3) The third ingredient is, "Give thanks in all circumstances." Again, Paul reiterates "in all circumstances." That is, in the good and the bad. My kids are usually pretty good about thanking mom for making Christmas cookies. But they're not always that quick to express thanks for the Advent green beans or the Reformation shoes. But I shouldn't just pick on them. We're all like that aren't we? Here's a humorous video I saw this week that I thought drove that point home.

[Show Thankful for the Gifts.mp4.]

How true that we have so much to be thankful for. But we have even more to be thankful for, even if we had none of the gifts in the video. We have Christ. We have forgiveness of sins. We have the promise of heaven. And this is always enough reason to be joyful and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances we're in.

These are the key ingredients for a Christian: Joyful, prayerful, thankful, always. And these aren't suggestions. They're not optional like the walnuts in the banana bread recipe. No. "This is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." This is the picture of what a Christian looks like.

It's been said that a Christian is always an optimist. But, admittedly, that's sometimes hard to do—be the eternal optimist, always joyful, always prayerful, always thankful—when life is tough. How can we be that way? By following the directions in the recipe…


II.      5 Directions


Of course, when you're making grandma's secret recipe, you can't just have the right ingredients, toss them all in a bowl, turn on the mixer, then dump them in the oven. No, you need to add the ingredients in the right order. You need to follow the directions.

So too, the Apostle Paul shows the Thessalonians the directions to follow if they want to look like the picture above, what they should look like if done right. This is how to do it right.

19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

Like some recipes give warnings, "Don't let it simmer too long or it will turn to syrup," "Don't put the wet ingredients in until the dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed first," Paul begins with two prohibitions, two "don'ts".

1) First "don't": "Do not put out the Spirit's fire."

A few weeks ago Becky and I were outside when we smelled natural gas. We called EnStar out right away. The main line was getting old and a seal had worn. We were just spilling gas into the air for who knows how long. Of course, if the main was completely gone and no gas made it into the house, we'd not only be wasting money, but would have no heat. And we'd have a hard time cooking in our gas oven. The cookies certainly wouldn't turn out right then. As a friend once said, "My favorite food additive is heat. Cooked is better."

Likewise, we need to perpetually add fuel to our faith. Or like a fire without wood will go out, our faith will soon die. So what's the fuel we add to Spirit-given faith we have? The Word.

2) Paul's second "don't": "Do not treat prophecies with contempt." "Prophecies" is another way of saying the "Word of God." Don't treat God's Word with contempt because it is the only fuel for your faith. And, by the way, it is contemptuous and disrespectful to leave God's Word unread. Imagine if someone gave you a love letter and told you, "This letter expresses my heartfelt feeling for you," and you replied, "Gee thanks. I'll maybe read that in a couple of years when I get more time." Or imagine if grandma handed you the special secret family recipe and you tossed it on the floor. "Thanks a lot, granny."

And the next three directions in the recipe, the three things we should do, pertain to that family recipe of the Word:

3) The first "do": "Test everything." Some recipes warn that you can't make substitutions. And you can't swap ingredients. You have to use the right ones. Some even warn that you can't take short cuts by getting generic ingredients. Only the real thing will do or the recipe won't work!

Paul would agree. No substitutes will work. You have to have to have the real truth, the Word of God. And to make sure you're using only that right ingredient in your Christian life, you have to test what you hear, what you read, what you watch. Not every sermon one might hear is true to the Word of God. Not every devotion properly divides Law and Gospel. So you need to test them against the Word. And to test them against the Word means you have to know the Word of God. That means you have to read it, and listen to it, and learn it, and study it, so you can test teachings against it. Then, when you test those teachings, the next two "dos." 

4) "Hold on to the good." Those teachings that pass the test, hold on to them! Like that special family recipe that you value and keep safe and never want to lose, hold on to those true teachings that pass the test of the Word of God. Memorize those favorite verses that bring so much comfort. Buy wall art to put around your home for when your memory fades. Tape that verse of the month to the dash of the car or to the bathroom mirror and read it every time you see it.

But, of course, not every teaching will pass the test of the Word. So the next direction is… 

5) "Avoid every kind of evil."

You wouldn't put mud in your cookie mix would you? You wouldn't replace water with bleach! One concern of the legalization of marijuana was that a child might accidentally overdose on mom's brownies. Likewise, false doctrine is poison in the recipe of a Christian. It might still taste okay, just a bit "off," but it's deadly. It doesn't take much to overdose. So even if the other church had better programs, if the doctrine isn't pure, avoid it. If the devotion you're reading rarely mentions Christ as Savior, toss it. If your friend is regularly trying to pull you away from Jesus, it's time to get new friends.

All of these directions Paul gives, by the way, are in the present tense in Greek. That means that they are to be ongoing , perpetual actions. Here's where my recipe analogy breaks down because they're not just steps you can check off once you're done, then move to the next one. These are things we are to be constantly doing. We are to be constantly in the Word and regularly receiving the Lord's Supper to add fuel to the fire of faith. We are to be always testing everything according to God's Word—even our own actions and attitudes. Perhaps the closest analogy is like following a recipe for a soufflĂ©, which, I'm told, takes constant attention. You can never take your attention away from it.

This is what a Christian is like. This is the recipe for a Christian. Stay like this all the time and you will be ready for Christ's return. When he comes again, it will be for you a very happy Advent.

Ah, but here's the problem. Does this recipe describe you? Even with those words, "Always… continually… [and] in all circumstances,"? I'll admit, this isn't me.

When I compare my life to the recipe God gives in his Word, well, it reminds me of a Pinterest Fail. You know, when someone sees some really cool and creative idea for a holiday treat online and they think, "I could do that," and try it on their own, but then, when they do try it, it looks nothing like it's supposed to. [Pinterest Fail Slide #1] It looks like a horrible mess. [Pinterest Fail Slide #2] Instead of cute, it looks terrifying. [Pinterest Fail Slide #3, then click to black.]

That's what we've done with our lives. The recipe has turned out horribly wrong and there's nothing we can do to fix it. We deserve to have anything but a happy Advent when Christ returns, but a terrifying one because we know we deserve eternal damnation forever in hell.

So thank God the recipe doesn't really depend on you…


III.    1 Reason to Rejoice


Imagine a preschooler trying to make cookies from scratch all by himself. You know already that that isn't going to end well, right? Now imagine the same preschooler trying to make cookies from scratch, but with mom's help. Now it might end well, right? I guess it would depend on the mom. Well, you and I trying to be Christians on our own will end worse than a preschooler trying to make cookies, worse than a Pinterest Fail. It will be horrible. So if the recipe's going to turn out right, we need help.

Earlier in this letter to the Thessalonians Paul encouraged these Christians by reminding them that their pastors would help. They would teach and encourage, and, when necessary, rebuke. They would comfort with the Gospel. Later he urged them to help one another. Encourage each other with the Word. But in this final conclusion of this letter, Paul gives them one big reason to rejoice: ' God himself would help them with this recipe.

And you know that God will help you too: 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

First off, Paul names our helper "God himself, the God of peace." This is the very God who won peace for you by the Cross. Jesus perfectly followed the recipe. He was always joyful, prayed to his Father regularly, gave thanks even when he had so little to be thankful for. He always did God's will. He loved the Spirit. He loved the Word. He is the Truth. And he always avoided every kind of evil all of the time his entire life.

Then, at the cook-off, he replaced his dish with yours. And he took the loss as he endured hell in your place. And you get the blue ribbon of his perfection! You have Christ. You have forgiveness of sins. You have the promise of heaven. So you can be joyful always and give thanks in every circumstance!

And for as much help as God himself has already given you, he won't stop there! He will also sanctify you through and through! He's already set you apart from sin. Now he will also set you apart for a life of joyful service to him. And he will keep you—all of you, body and soul—until Jesus returns. He may not always give you perfect physical health, but he will preserve your spiritual life as long as you live. And then, when he comes again, he will give you a new, glorious, heavenly body to enjoy for all of eternity in heaven itself. Talk about a happy Advent!

And finally, what Paul wishes in verse 23: "May God… sanctify you… May [you]… be kept…" Paul assures God will do in verse 24. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it." God is faithful to all of his promises. He's promised that those he has called to be his own, he will keep in the faith. He will sanctify you and keep you set apart—from sin and for him! He will keep you—faithful to him until the end so you're, "blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

A preschooler doesn't need to worry if mom will help him bake the cookies. He knows mom will. Likewise, you have one big reason to rejoice: God will help you with this Christian recipe for a happy Advent. And when Christ comes again, it will be a happy day indeed!

So, in the meantime, we can, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…" This is the recipe for a Christian and with God as the master chef who's not only given us the directions in his recipe book, but has promises his help, we know we'll turn out all right. In fact, we'll turn out perfect! And in the end when Christ returns—at his second advent—it will be a happy advent. This is the Christian recipe for a happy Advent. Now let's keep following the recipe. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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