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Serving God with a Cool Head

1 Peter 4:7-11

Jim Davis

Tom Friends of The New York Times asked coach Jimmy Johnson what he told his players before leading the Dallas Cowboys onto the field for the 1993 Super Bowl.

"I told them that if I laid a two-by-four across the floor, everybody there would walk across it and not fall, because our focus would be on walking the length of that board. But if I put that same board 10 stories high between two buildings, only a few would make it, because the focus would be on falling."

Johnson told his players not to focus on the crowd, the media, or the possibility of falling, but to focus on each play of the game as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game 52-7.

No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. Peter writes his first letter encouraging suffering Christians to live a focused, dedicated and disciplined life.

1 Peter 4:7-11
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. NIV

Keep a Cool Head

Peter writes, "The end of all things is near." First century Christians lived out their lives in prospect of Christ’s imminent return. Nothing makes us more alert and focused than knowing a time of reckoning is close at hand. A final college exam focuses one’s studies. April 15 focuses us on our taxes. It is the certainty of Christ coming that keeps Christians alert. Not knowing the time of Christ return should keep us even more alert and focused.

Warren Wiersbe says that Peter admonishing us to keep a sober mind or clear mind is equivalent to our idea of keeping a cool head. Keeping our minds clear is not equivalent to having an empty mind. The easiest way to turn God’s grace into disgrace is to provide a hot head as an empty furnace for the devil to fuel. A cool head helps us focus.

You have seen movies where skiers and snow boarders are skiing off of cliffs and through a stand of aspen or spruce. The key to that kind of skiing is not hitting the boulders or the trees. I have always wondered how skiers prevented hitting them. It looks more like a death wish, but it looks as though the skiers are having the time of their lives. I would be scared out of my wits.

In Outside magazine, writer and skier Tim Etchells lays out the challenge: Even more so than in deep snow or moguls, what you focus your eyes on becomes critical in the woods. Look at the spaces between the trees—the exits where you hope to be traveling. "Don't stare at what you don't want to hit," says [extreme-skiing world champion Kim] Reichelm matter-of-factly.

The Christian walk is a focused walk. Peter writes, "Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." Do you want to know if you live a focused life? Listen to the content of your prayers. Do you have a prayer life? If so, what is the focus of your prayers? Do they have a clear focus? Do they come from a heart focused on administering God’s grace through the gifts God has given you as you serve others? Are your prayers focused on serving God with your gifts in the strength he provides?

We must keep our minds clear so we can pray focused prayers. My friend Tim called me a couple of days ago. He had been anxious over being placed on a shift where he was going to work with someone he didn’t feel comfortable with. It wasn’t that the man he was going to be put with was bad, he liked the guy, but he just didn’t think that they worked well as a team. He started praying that he would guard his words and actions when time came. He prayed that he would exemplify a Christian attitude. He was concerned but he continued to pray. He called me on the way to work his first shift with this new partner. He was elated. He was praying about it on his way to work his first shift with his new partner. While driving over the Skyway Bridge his boss called him on his cell phone and told him he was switching him to another station. At the other station he wouldn’t have to work with this person.

I talked to Tim again about this experience as I was writing this sermon. He told me that he had to work with this guy a few days after this incident. He said it was much better than he expected. He said, "I think that God let me get in the right frame of mind before I worked with him." He said it was unbelievable how his new frame of mind cleared up what he thought was going to be a very difficult situation.

You can call this kind of living hocus pocus, or you recognize it as a life focused on the power of God’s grace. I choose to believe that his prayers were answered because of a clear head and a focused life. Keeping a clear mind required him to fully understand the difficulty he faced. He clearly understood the circumstance he would be placed in. He clearly understood his own limitations. His clear mind made it possible for him to focus his prayer on the problem. It worked out for him.

It is the love of Christ that keeps our lives focused. Peter admonishes, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins?" (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV). That same gracious love that covered our sins in baptism must cover the multitude of sins committed against us. You must clear your mind of all your personal pain and frustration to focus on loving others with the love of Christ.

"Love covers a multitude of sin . . ." This is a comprehensive statement. It sums up the culmination of God’s grace for each of us. You can’t practice it until you have experienced it. We are to love others with the love of Christ. This means loving your enemies as well as those who are Christians. Many times we find it difficult to love Christians with the love of Christ. Solomon says, "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs" (Proverbs 10:12-13).

"People need love, especially when they don't deserve it."

Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.

I would rather be cheated a hundred times than develop a heart of stone.

I don’t have the ability to love others with the love of Christ, but I can allow God to love others through me with the strength he provides. It does take a clear mind exercised with self-control. It takes a mind focused on God’s ways. It takes a mind focused on what others need rather than upon my pain.

Focused to Minister God’s Grace

Peter writes, Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:13-16).

We need to prepare or should we say focus our minds as never before for action to manifest God’s grace to a lost world. Just think about how America works today and it will help you understand the world’s need. The general philosophy behind the world’s thinking is: "The world owes me something." God’s philosophy is that we should minister his grace to a dying world. Its focal point is upon what we owe our world. Nothing would be more helpful in focusing our prayers.

In Man in the Mirror, Patrick Morley tells of a group of fishermen who landed in a secluded bay in Alaska and had a great day fishing for salmon. But when they returned to their sea plane, they found it aground because of the fluctuating tides. They waited until the next morning for the tides to come in, but when they took off, they only got a few feet into the air before crashing back into the sea. Being aground the day before had punctured one of the pontoons, and it had filled up with water.

The sea plane slowly began to sink. The passengers, three men and a 12-year-old son of one of the men, prayed and then jumped into the icy cold waters to swim to shore. The riptide was strong, but two of the men reached the shore exhausted. They looked back, and saw the father with his arms around his son being swept out to sea.

The boy had not been strong enough to make it. The father was a strong swimmer, but he had chosen to die with his son rather than to live without him.

In Christ God wrapped his arms around a spiritually dead world and chose to die with us. What would it be like to focus the attention of your entire life on dying to self like that father did the last moments of his life? God did this for every person on planet earth through the death of Christ. He refused to go on without first dying with us. He has put his creation on hold until he settles this sin and spiritual death problem for each of us once and for all.

John Ashcroft said, "The most important thing my dad ever taught me is that there are more important things than me." This is the attitude of our heavenly Father.

Peter writes, ". . . set you hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed . . ." This is a prevalent theme throughout the New Testament. The Hebrew writer encourages us to focus on grace when he says, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9 NIV).

1 Peter 2:1-3
2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. NIV

Tasting God’s grace makes it possible to lead graceful lives.

2 Peter 3:17-18
17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. NIV

Have you focused your life on growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord? The heart of Peter’s message speaks of ministering God’s grace to others. The prerequisite for doing so is first having tasted the grace of God for your own life.

It is impossible to minister God’s grace when we haven’t experienced it for ourselves. Many babes in Christ die in infancy because of their inability to live up to the impossible standards which are thrown upon them by more mature (?) believers, who so often fall short in those standards themselves.

When you family knows you don't pretend to have it all together, that you admit failure, that you're sorry and want to do better, they can handle almost any situation.

Christ focused his life on making sure you would have an opportunity to experience God’s grace through his life. This is the most basic fact of the gospel of Christ.

The only way to accept Christ’s life for the atonement of your sins is through obedience to his command to die with him in baptism (Mark 16:15-16). Paul was instructed to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. If it is in baptism that we wash away our sins, it is in baptism that we come in contact with the blood of Christ. For only the blood of Christ can take away sin. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Super he said, "This is my blood shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

How Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Peter writes, "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin" (1 Peter 4:1). The devil seeks to focus us on our anxieties, our pain and disappointment. Nothing will clog our minds more. To live graceful lives we must focus on God's grace.

Peter admonishes proper service to others to move us to action as he writes, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9 NIV). We must offer hospitality without grumbling. Sometimes it is hard to be the one doing all the giving. But it is your only hope of changing others. You may come to the point where you expect something in return. We may invite someone over for dinner expecting them to reciprocate in like manner. When they fail to do so we grumble to ourselves. In Christian fellowship grace is experienced and shared as we offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Grace is experienced when we give without demanding to receive.

Christian behavior should be learned within our fellowship. In the first century Christians met in private homes, but we don’t have to meet in our homes to extend hospitality. We can practice hospitality in our church buildings. We built them to accommodate Christian fellowship. Most church facilities set empty ninety percent of the time. Why not use them for hospitality.

All you have to do is to develop a different frame of mind; you must see yourself serving the Lord. Paul admonished slaves to be obedient to their masters by reminding them, "It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Colossians 3:24-25). Focusing on serving Christ changes your perspective. Remember in every circumstance you are serving the Lord. Peter writes, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." The verse emphasizes faithfulness to God in dispensing his grace in various forms.

The only way to truly experience God’s grace is to share it with others. God seems to do nothing of himself which he can possibly delegate to his creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what he could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. Creation seems to be delegation through and through. God knows for us to truly understand salvation by grace we must serve it to others.

Focus on how God desires to delegate his grace to the world through the use your gifts. Focus on what God has given you. Forget how much or little he has given you.

Dwight Moody said, "If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent. After all, there are comparatively few people in the world who have great talents."

You can use whatever weakness you have to serve God in his strength. God used the apostles’ ignorance and unlearned ways to make the world stand up and take notice. God used Joseph’s arrogance to place him in a position to save his family. With Moses God used a mouth that stammered to bring Egypt to her knees. With David he used a slingshot. With Gideon he used a trumpet to call Israel to battle. God used Daniel’s slavery to accomplish his purposes. With Paul he used a jail cell. He used every one of them in a very effective way. Today he just wants to use me, and you.

Our everyday speech is a means of administering the grace of God. Peter writes, "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God." We may want to think of this as a command to preachers. Paul admonishes us, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" ( Ephesians 4:29 NKJV)

Peter writes, "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides . . ." The strength God provides is only discovered in service to others. I have learned more through seeking to share the gospel of Christ with others than I would have ever learned if I were only studying it for myself. There have been occasions when I have gained more insight to what I was trying through an insightful question ask by a class member than I learned in the few hours of preparing the lesson. Of course, preparing for the lesson was what prepared me for the question.

I spoke to a young man in Cincinnati airport. He was reading the book "The Living Buddha, The living Christ." I learned why many seek Buddha. They seek to build a personal system of faith that will save them. They are hoping to save themselves through building good Karma. He was taking the good teaching of each, to build his personal system of faith stronger; or should we say to increase his personal Karma. It will leave him serving in his own strength. Peter is admonishing us to minister God’s grace in God’s strength. Today many also seek to take Christ’s teaching and accomplish the same purpose. I learned something that makes me stronger through seeking to share God’s grace with that young man. The next time I face this situation I will be better equipped to dispense God’s grace because of what I learned from that sincere, though wrong, young man. Exercising our faith makes us stronger.

Why do we serve in the strength God provides? Peter writes, "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."

The reason we serve in the strength God provides is "so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ."

Conclusion:

Dispensing God’s grace is not easy, but it is a sure way to learn to appreciate Christ’s love for me. To make it easier focus your mind on how Christ’s love covered your sins in baptism. Then focus on how his blood continually keeps you free of sin moment by moment. Appreciate how badly you need this. It will help you keep a cool head when you are mistreated. It will empower you to serve others with the strength God provides. There is really no other way to keep a cool head.

 

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