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The Power of Hope-Filled Living
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:11
Track 7 of 8 in the Transforming Story: As We Live It series
Running time: 32 minutes, 30 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


January 15, 1919, an enormous steel vat, containing 2.3 million gallons of molten molasses, burst. Hot, sticky waves of syrup, thirty feet tall, destroyed buildings, crushed freight cars, wagons, automobiles, and drowned people. Boston's "Great Molasses Flood" killed 21 people and injured 150.

The enormous tank, 50 feet high and 240 feet around, had been poorly designed. Company officials reacted to the constant leaks by repainting the tank to match the leaking molasses. People knew the molasses vat was dangerous but didn't do anything about it.

Nearly 2,000 years ago Jesus announced His return. Those who recorded His story continued to repeat the explain His promise. In every case the message was the same: "it will be sudden and unexpected." Yet the "unexpected" part should only apply to unbelievers. Followers of Jesus know He's coming; we've been forewarned.

Unfortunately, forewarned doesn't mean prepared. People in Boston were forewarned about the Molasses; people in Frank, Alberta were forewarned about the instability of Turtle Mountain, people in Florida are forewarned of hurricanes. Preparation implies appropriate response, appropriate action.

Disciples of Jesus are called to preparation, to appropriate action, to be proactive. We are called to be alert and self-controlled. We are called to don the armor of God. We are called to live as children of light. We are called to encourage one another. We are called to "be prepared."

Sermon for Sunday, September 3, 2006
7th sermon in an 8 part series
"The Power of Hope-Filled Living"
"The Transforming Story: As We Live It"
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11)
Copyright 2006 G. Charles Sackett

On August 10 of this year we woke up to the disturbing news that all the flights from the United Kingdom to the United States had been cancelled. They did so because they had become aware of terrorist threats that then turned flying into worse than it was after 9/11. I remember watching the news report of some lady throwing away what she said was a $60 bottle of makeup and being very frustrated and I can appreciate that frustration although I tend to think that if they tell me the plane shouldn't be flying, my preference is stay on the ground. I never have wanted to argue with those who told me the plane was broke, let's not go anywhere. You know, we've really gotten into this place in recent years where we have paid great attention to warning, trying to be on top of anything that looks suspicious. We have not always done so quite so well. Warning has not always made us prepared. Back in 1903 on April 29 in Frank, Alberta, Canada, 76 people were killed by when a piece of Turtle Mountain 3,000 feet wide and 50 feet thick fell on the city. They had known for weeks that the mountain was unstable. In fact, as they worked the mines, which is what they did in that particular place, they recognized that it had been literally days since they had to do any kind of dynamiting in order to get the ore to come down from the ceiling. It was just falling virtually in their laps. But they didn't do anything about it. You might have read somewhere in a history book of one of the more interesting things that happened in the United States in January of 1919. They called it the great molasses flood. A steel vat that contained 2.3 million gallons of molten molasses burst. Hot sticky waves of syrup 30-feet high destroyed buildings, crushed freight cars, and drowned people in Boston, Massachusetts. It was a vat 50 feet high and 240 feet around with cracks in it and the company, rather than fixing the cracks, painted the vat the same color as the molasses so no one would know that it was leaking. Apparently forewarned does not necessarily mean forearmed. I have to admit that when I moved to the Midwest and I took my first drive up the Mississippi from the St. Louis area, and I found myself down near Godfrey and I saw all these houses on stilts, I was a bit surprised. I couldn't figure out why you built houses on stilts. Then I discovered it's because those people want to live near the river but they don't want to live in it. And I have to accept the fact that I was a bit cynical when a few years later some of those houses were virtually underwater and I thought, you know, if you build next to the river, you ought to expect to have a flood once in awhile. Then came the flood of ‘93 and I realized that it could be a whole lot worse and I shouldn't be so cynical.

Somehow there is this sense of readiness and yet it seems like forewarned does not necessarily mean that we are ready. Let me contrast that with you with another kind of readiness altogether. It's the readiness that you just observed in that brief little vignette from Seabiscuit. I don't know if you recognized the movie or not. That was the story of the horse that was Horse of the Year in 1938, Santa Anita Raceways in California. Did you ever go to a horse race where you watched them just before the gate opened? There is a kind of readiness. They are in eager anticipation of the bell. They know it's going to come and they are ready to run. That's a different kind of readiness. There is the readiness of having been forewarned and so you are ready, and there is the readiness that comes from such intense anticipation that you just can't wait any longer. Both of those kinds of anticipation, both of those kinds of readiness show up in our text in I Thessalonians. Come with me to this fourth chapter, the 13th verse. We're going to read all the way down through part of the fifth chapter since it's all a part of the same basic paragraph tied together by phrases that occur in the last of each paragraph ... "comfort one another with these words." I Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 13: "Brothers, we don't want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of the men who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. Now, brothers, about times and dates we don't need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

We're getting near the end of this section of our calendar. We've been wrestling with this story that God has told and we've been asking ourselves as we've walked down through the book of I Thessalonians how do we live that story? What does it look like when the story begins to come alive in the life of a believer? How do you live in the light of the coming of Christ? How do you live out the story, and I think one of the things that we learn is that we live life in hope. We live as those who are living in anticipation of something else, that this isn't all there is. That there is, in fact, more, and we live that kind of hope-filled life in anticipation that the story has been true and that it matters. I want to ask you what characterizes a hope-filled life, a life lived in anticipation. This text, it seems to me, provides some characteristics of what it means to live as if you really believe the story, as if it was true. Maybe even as if you yourself have participated in that story by buying into it and living in it as well as letting it live through you. I think the first thing that he says is the tail end of I Thessalonians, chapter 4. One of the characteristics of a Christian, of a disciple who has really bought the story, who lives this story out, is that you live a life that is peace filled. There is nothing, I am convinced, nothing more distressing than death and the grief that accompanies it. As I watch people and observe over the past several years of ministry, death is just hard and it doesn't seem to matter that you have been living in the expectation of it since you were old enough to know that every living creature dies. I think about the loss of my first pet and how hard that was and death suddenly becomes this crashing reality. I'm going to have to deal with this at some point. And yet, there is something so unusual, so significant, about being a disciple facing that issue. And so Paul would say to the Thessalonians we don't grieve like everybody else. Now please hear this carefully. He does not say we don't grieve. We do grieve. We grieve loss whether it's the loss of a job or the loss of a spouse in a divorce, or the loss of a good friend when they move off some place, parents grieve when their kids leave the home (that comes right before they start clapping). For some of us the empty next didn't last as long and the feeling didn't last as long as it did for others. We grieve. We just don't grieve as though we don't have hope. That's Peter's statement I think when he says in I Peter, chapter 3, verse 15 that we are to be ready always to give an answer for the hope that lies within us. There is something about a Christian living in a hard situation where other people view it as hopeless that they live out this thing with hope. And that is most visible, he says, in the midst of our grief.

I'm going to have to ask you to try to empathize or at least understand. I started preaching when I was 22 years old. I didn't know anything and had no right being a preacher. About two or three years into my first ministry I received a call from the hospital that they needed to see me right now. I was the chaplain on duty. I didn't even know that. I showed up at the hospital with this instruction–the Hankins family just lost a five-week-old baby. She is in hysteria and we need you here ... now. The odd thing about that situation was that on that same day from that same community in a different hospital another Hankins baby boy died. Same age. And to complicate matters the same funeral home had both funerals–the Hankins funeral in the morning and the Hankins funeral in the afternoon. I had the afternoon funeral. It was going to be held at our church building. This couple was not members of any church. In fact, they had never been in a church. They had no connection with faith issues whatsoever, and their grief was almost unbelievable. It gave me, first of all, a great appreciation for people of faith. It gave me an enormous appreciation for good funeral home directors. The Hankins family from the morning were members of the Christian church down the highway from us and as you can imagine, there was a great deal of difficulty sorting out which flowers went to which funeral. It was just a mess. At the funeral that I was having, at the front of our church building there was a little open casket. At one moment Mrs. Hankins walked up, picked up her little boy, Dewey, and started to walk out the back of the building because she was convinced he was going to wake up. That's when I became deeply appreciative of a funeral director who knew what to do when a 22-year-old preacher was about to pass out. At the graveside she went into hysteria and began to try to claw this casket open. I tell you that to contrast what happened at the other funeral. The parents of Dewey Hankins, the Christians, sent flowers to the parents of Dewey Hankins, the non-Christians and they began to minister to them as believers who grieved differently than unbelievers and it was a stark contrast. That's as it should be. That's the very thing that Paul was trying to communicate to us–that we don't grieve the same was, we don't deal with life the same way. You live out the story differently. It isn't that death doesn't hurt. It isn't that grief isn't real. It's that you deal with it differently because you have faith in Christ, and he immediately says in this text the thing that makes the difference for the Christian is that we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hear that in that text. Look at it, underline it, mark it. That's what makes the difference. And so when John writes the book of Revelation he says "to the seven churches that are in Asia: grace and peace to you from him who was and who is and who is to come from the seven spirits who are before his throne and from Jesus Christ the firstborn from among the dead." And he'll turn right around in verse 17 of that same first chapter and say in the words of Jesus himself "I hold the keys of death and Hades." We believe that it makes all the difference in eternity to know Jesus and to share in his resurrection because we live in the hope of resurrection. We participate in it, maybe not in this particular building, but you've seen it 100 times right through those doors. We sat in some water or we stood in a river and somebody literally and figuratively buried us in the death of Jesus so that we could figuratively receive then the resurrection of Jesus so that we would always have the hope that one day we would be raised too. So Christians live and die and deal with death differently and when the world looks at them and says how do you do that, Peter says be ready to have an answer and the answer is–Christ, the one who was raised from the dead who lives within us, shapes how we deal with death and grief.

Well, that's at least one of the characteristics of somebody who is a disciple living the story. Another characteristic of a hope-filled person is someone who lives an expectant life. Verses 1 through 3 of chapter 5 in our text just simply says, you guys already know this–Jesus is going to return and you don't need to bother about the times, the dates, the seasons, because, well because frankly everybody knows nobody knows. Well apparently not everybody knows that nobody knows because several million people went to watch the Left Behind movie and bought the series of books only to find out that they don't know either. I could have saved you a lot of trouble and a lot of money just by telling you this: Jesus said I don't even know when I'm coming back so I don't know what makes you think you're ... that's a loose paraphrase of his words but it's pretty close. He says you don't know when I'm coming. What you do know is this: I'm coming. See that's the paradox, the tension in which disciples live. We live knowing this is going to happen. We just live not knowing when it's going to happen. What we do know is this: it's going to come like a thief in the night. Unexpectedly. And isn't that a weird tension? You're supposed to expect the unexpected. You live constantly with the unexpected. Some of you have been through this more often than others, some of you have been through this with others. I remember it happening very clearly, 6:00 in the morning my wife saying it's time. And I'm thinking, no she says it's time. Call and let's go. It was a 10-minute drive, 15-minute drive to the hospital. Jill was born in 22 minutes from first contraction to birth. That's not enough time. That is not fair. I don't know how a mother feels about that, but I can tell you how a father feels about that ... just put her back. Make her wait. Now we knew for nine months she was coming. I mean, it wasn't a surprise. We didn't wake up one day and say, oh hey, we've got a baby. Oh, we knew. We were, well that's the word we use, isn't it? We were expecting. We just didn't know exactly when. Now I tell you that to tell you that I'm not a total idiot. I was at home with my wife where I should have been. You see, we have a habit of having children quickly. The second one came in just a little over an hour. The week before she was born we were 50 miles up in the mountains with our four-wheeler having a good time and when we went to the doctor that day, he said, are you nuts? That's a close quote. The second thing he said is, if you're going to do anything that stupid next time would you please take first, a book on how to bring children into the world and secondly, a clean shoestring. Oh, you mean we ... I get the feeling that some of us come at the second coming that way. Oh we know it's coming, but we're up in the hills on our four-wheeler having a great time totally oblivious to the fact that it could happen ... now. See, expectant living, this living of, within this tension that we know he's coming is to also mean that we know he's coming and he could come now. And so we view life differently because we're always living in the anticipation that today could be the day.

Well, there's at least one other characteristic in this text and that is, and it's an odd sort of turn, if you ask me. Starting in verse 4 he says because you believe in the second coming of Jesus, because you're a Christian, because you believe the story is true, you live self-controlled lives. You live as people of the day, not people of the night. I love the imagery of being people of the day. I guess you all, well most of you at least, know that I grew up in a bar. It's where I spent most of my time. It's where I did my homework. It's where I learned how to count. You know, it was always dark in there. I don't know whether that's still true because I don't frequent bars anymore, but at least in the days when I was a kid every bar I was ever in, and I was in more than one, there were always dark. And I used to remember when I'd get ready to go outside to do something, how sometimes it was so utterly painful to step outside into the light. Christians are to live in absolute stark contrast, he said, with people who live in the dark, who are people of the night. In fact, he says in multiple places, but among them here, don't live like the rest of the world lives. I think it had something to do with the sermon we had last week because it's chapter 4, verses 1 - 11. This is what the world is like, 1 - 12. This is the stuff the world does. Don't be caught up doing this kind of stuff. Live differently because you're living out the life that God intends for you to live. Don't be like everybody else. Be different. Invest in a world in such a way that you are not adding to the darkness. And so the church faces this constant challenge of what it means to live in the light as people of light. In fact, I love Paul's language in the book of Ephesians. He doesn't say you're in the light. He says you are the light.

Well that's one of the things we're trying to accomplish at the Gathering this year. This first segment of the Gathering is an attempt to say this is how the church is the light in its community. Now we're going to do, is there a slide that goes with this so we can see the things that are coming? This discipleship series is going to be a four-part series in which we're going to take three issues and try to address them. The very first night, this coming Wednesday, September 6 on your calendar, Rich Knopp is going to come and try to lay the groundwork by talking about what it means to live biblically in a fallen world. What are the biblical absolutes by which we live and how do we make decisions about how to respond to tough life issues? The next week Lisa Schwab is going to come. Lisa is a former student. She was a roommate of my daughter's. She was, well I'll let her tell her own story but she was in the midst of one of the most dysfunctional families I've ever met. For her 13th, if my memory serves me correctly, for her 13th birthday she was invited into a pot party by her mother and her boyfriend. She's going to come and talk about how the church responds to family dysfunction and child abuse issues. I already told you I grew up in bar so Marsha DuPont is going to share her story and I'm going to share my story, and we're going to talk about how the church responds to issues of alcoholism. And then we're going to talk about poverty. Matt Gilchrist is going to come back, and he and Keith are going to talk about what the church does to address the issue of living in a world where, according to the Herald-Whig, 10% or more of our own community lives below the poverty line. I hope you saw Friday afternoon's article. And Steve Eighinger's attempt to help us come to grips with something I said in a sermon, which is we need places to employ people. So I"ll give you a plug. I've only had two people who have volunteered to provide employment for somebody if we have them come to our church. I need more people who are willing to say, even if it's just a handful of hours a week, we could put them to work doing something. We're going to follow this up, by the way, in November, and we're going to address the issue of homosexuality and how the church responds to this whole issue of sexual orientation. We're going to have a special speaker here on Sunday morning. That's not going to happen on a Wednesday. That's going to be November 4 right here on Sunday morning.

We want to ask the question how does the church engage the culture as a beacon of light? How do we live hopeful lives? How do we express what it means to be a disciple. Well, he's going to go on in this text and he's going to say put on the armor of God. It's very similar to Ephesians chapter 6. He's going to talk about the helmet of salvation. He's going to talk about wearing literally the character of God and functioning in that character in our dark culture.

The last part of this text, verse 10 and 11, comes back again to the story. This is the story. Verse 10, "He died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may be together with him." That's the story. The transforming story as we know it is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, that he died for us that we can live for him. And he says be ready for that. I have to confess that I am absolutely amazed at how often I am blind to what's going on around me. I mean, I'm the guy who would easily overlook a vat of molasses. I lived in Oregon. We used to take our kids from the youth group to Mt. St. Helens to go sledding. Shortly after we moved out here so that I could go back to school you may remember that Mt. St. Helens decided to blow its top. It is now 3,000 feet shorter than it used to be. There was a gentleman living on the side of that mountain whose name was Harry Truman and they told him to leave. They asked him to leave. They begged him to leave. They did everything but coerce him to leave, and he said I'm not leaving this mountain. And he didn't. And there are people that you know well who hear the warning and they say in essence I'm not leaving my lifestyle. I'm not turning back on what I like. I'm not giving up that with which I'm comfortable. And I'm here to tell you one more time ... he is coming and when he does come, there will be a separation of those who have responded to him by faith and those who haven't. Now Paul says in this text, you were not appointed to wrath. It was never God's choice for there to be a wrathful result to his coming. The wrathful side of the second coming of Jesus is for one person only ... Satan. The only reason that hell was ever created was for Satan, a place for him to be punished because of his rebellion in the garden. But humanity, who hears the warning of God, who hears the story of Jesus and says I don't want anything to do with that, are in essence saying I choose to join him on the wrathful side of God. I'm here to say, don't make that choice. There's a far better choice and that is to identify yourself with the son of God who came to live and die and live again so that we might live hope-filled lives. So we bid you first to know Jesus and then secondly, to live in this world as one who knows Jesus, to be light in the midst of darkness. We're going to stand and sing together. If you have a decision you need to make that's something we need to share in, please come.

[Transcribed by PU4]