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"Strengthened from an Unusual Source, for an Unexpected Visitor"

Nov.29, 2015 Lk.21:25-36; 1Thess.3:9-13


We get stressed by many things. Lately the world has been on high alert due to conflict. Belgium was basically shut down for a few days this week and emergency measures invoked following the Nov.13 bombings in Paris. France has been edgy. The United States had their Thanksgiving celebrations dampened by a travel advisory that warned of possible danger due to terrorists. Some writers are wondering if we're on the verge of "World War III": it doesn't help when Turkey shoots down one of Russia's fighter jets!

Although our bodies are designed to handle short bursts of stress, chronic stress can be damaging. In Chapter 6 about "Focus" in The Daniel Plan, Rick Warren and fellow authors describe some effects of stress.

"Bad traffic, a big deadline, a fight at home - hundreds of things can stress us out. When the event passes, so does the stress, and we can breathe a big sigh of relief. With chronic stress, however, there is no relief. Stemming from things like family discord, financial hardships, health issues, work conflicts, or school trouble, chronic stress is unrelenting. And it affects far too many of us...A whopping 80% of Americans say they feel significant stress. That spells trouble for your brain and body...

"When stress hits, the brain tells your body to start pumping out adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol...Within seconds your heart starts to pound faster, your breathing quickens, your blood courses faster through your veins, and you mind is on heightened alert...Chronic stress harms the brain, it constricts blood flow, which lowers overall brain function and prematurely ages your brain...Whenever you feel stressed, your body tries to tell you that something isn't right. For example, high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer might develop after a particularly stressful event, such as the death of a loved one. Chronic stress weakens your body's immune system, making you more likely to get colds, flu bugs, and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Stress has also been implicated in heart disease, hypertension, and even cancer."

So it's pretty clear that too much stress is not a good thing. We need God's help to face stress and retain hope and health. Our Scripture passages today give a couple of examples of stress, both inner and outer; and also suggest some ways we can find God's strength to deal with these. When we're ready for Jesus' return in the long run, it helps immensely to deal with all the troubles we may face in the short run.


First let's summarize some major stressors Jesus urges us to be aware of, both outward and inward.

In Luke 21:25f, Jesus describes some outward stressors that haven't happened yet, but will cause great distress on earth when they do: "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." At this point, we have NO IDEA exactly what form these "signs" will take: but whatever they are, it seems they will be very major, affecting not only heavenly bodies but also the earth's seas and tides. For those who have ears to hear, such events on a cosmic scale will announce that the return of the Son of Man is imminent.

The clock is ticking. He who created the Universe can suspend what we've come to accept as scientific "laws" without a moment's notice. Will you be ready?

We could categorize these stressors as 'outward', external. When they happen, it will seem to people as abnormal and fearsome as if the sky is falling. Let's label this type of stressor as "Circumstances". What bad things beyond your control have happened to you lately?

In everyday life, things wear out, break down, fall apart. A couple of weeks ago my "best" laptop, a fairly newish model I'd just upgraded to Windows 10, suddenly quit in the middle of me composing a sermon. The computer shop confirmed this past week my suspicion - the motherboard was fried. Then on Tuesday when I started setting up our trusty old projector for Small Group later that night, I discovered it too had "bit the dust". Not a good month for electronics around our place!

You may be dealing with circumstances far graver than equipment that won't work. Accidents happen, relationships fall apart, illness strikes, plants close. Outward circumstances can be stressful.

However, there can be inner stressors, too. Jesus cautions us against some of these SINFUL DESIRES in Lk 21:34: "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap." Here we have internal factors that "weigh down" or burden the heart, according to Jesus. "Dissipation" - the Greek is similar to the Latin rendering, "crapula" - according to the lexicon, "the giddiness caused by too much wine"; also a medical term meaning "the nausea that follows a debauch" - what today we'd likely call a "hangover". Either way, you feel like "crap-u-la".

Next, Jesus mentions our hearts can get weighted by "drunkenness" - intoxication, having too much to drink. Besides alcohol, today there's drugs. In the news, a 26-year-old Huron County man was arrested in Stratford selling 5 pounds of marijuana, an amount worth over $22,000. Getting stoned by whatever means is a burden, renders you ineffective.

But the third item in Jesus' list is more "respectable" than dissipation and drunkenness: "the worries of this life". The more responsible you are, perhaps the more prone you are to be weighed down by "life's worries": making sure there's enough food on the table, gas in the car, kids get to their events on time, bills get paid, aging parents are looked after, committees are served, etc etc. Are we running so fast we don't have time to breathe? Recall Jesus' parable of the sower and the soils in Luke 8:14 - "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature." Are we stressed because we're just plain too busy? The regular, routine, well-meaning "worries of this life" are as capable of weighing down our hearts as less respectable and responsible sins like drunkenness and debauchery.


But our texts don't stop at just identifying things that make us stressed; they suggest five factors by which the Lord equips us to manage in the face of circumstances and desires.

First, we're made stronger realizing REDEMPTION DRAWS NEAR. We're highly valued, God loves us, treasures us, prizes us highly - proven by Jesus' death on the cross and His coming back to take us to be with Him. Lk 21:27-28 "At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is coming: that's what "Advent" is all about - He came once at Bethlehem as a baby, but will come a second time as Lord, saving His people, setting things straight. Christians believe our "redemption is drawing near": this speaks of God VALUING us, purchasing our freedom at the cost of His dearly-loved Son, the price paid at the cross on Golgotha. Redemption is "liberation procured by the payment of a ransom". If you have a coupon but leave it at home, it's worth only the paper it's printed on; but when you bring it to the store and "redeem" it, it takes on real value, saving you cost on a product. Jesus' death has meant we can be forgiven for our sins when we believe on His name; His physical return in glory will also mean our own faulty failing bodies will be glorified like His own post-Easter resurrection body, made fit for eternity. That gives us hope in the face of stress.

Second, we're given assurance by the PERMANENCE OF JESUS' WORDS. Jesus makes a jaw-dropping claim in 21: He solemnly promises that this "generation" (or, race - the Jewish race) "will not pass away until all things have taken place." How could any mortal man make such an audacious statement? He couldn't! He would have to have supernatural, long-term knowledge - which Jesus had, revealed by the Father. He adds to underscore the point in v33, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." Do you really get that?! What's "really real" - more real than heaven and earth, more real than the chair you're sitting on, more real than a solid granite tombstone? Jesus' words! They will never pass away, they're more "really real" than heaven and earth.

Reading God's Word in Scripture is one of the most encouraging, strengthening, buttressing things we can do. Take it to heart. Memorize it. Put it on your walls. Post it on Facebook. Repeat it to yourself. When life gets stressful, run to Scripture: let the Holy Spirit pull up from your memory the Saviour's promises for any situation.

Third, we can be strengthened by our attitude, having AN EYE TO THE ETERNAL. Jesus emphasizes in Lk 21:34,36 to "be on guard / be alert / praying" - "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap...Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

The Daniel Plan book in Chapter 6 on "Focus" lists several suggestions for dealing with stress: learn to delegate; listen to soothing music; consider calming scents (such as lavender); take a calming supplement; and 'laugh more'. But their number one suggestion? "Pray on a regular basis." Research has actually proven that prayer calms stress and enhances brain function, increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex associated with attention span and thoughtfulness. "Studies have shown that it also improves attention and planning, reduces depression and anxiety, decreases sleepiness, and protects the brain from cognitive decline associated with normal aging."

So, keep AN EYE TO THE ETERNAL - be on guard, be alert, pray, and you'll find God strengthens you. When Daniel was forbidden from praying upon pain of being cast into a lions' den, that didn't stop him! He went right on praying (Daniel 6).

Fourth, we find strength in the face of stress by FELLOWSHIP AND ADMONITION. The Apostle Paul faced many stressful situations; in fact, after he'd been in Thessalonica just 3 short weeks, he was run out of town after people rioted (Acts 17:5,10). Writing to the infant church there a short time later, he is quite open about how much encouragement he receives from the fact of their existence. 1Thessalonians 3:9-10 "How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith." Hear that? He's thanking God for them; just knowing about them and having met them, thinking back on their response to his messages, hearing from Timothy how much they long to see Paul again - this gives Paul great joy. He's not saying to himself, "I got run out of town - I'm never going back THERE!!" No, there's some real attachment there - "all the joy that we feel...because of you...We pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face..." He deeply longs to be with these sisters and brothers in Christ again.

Paul also is eager to "restore whatever is lacking in your faith." He doesn't mean there's something defective about their capacity to believe; "your faith" here refers to depth of content - he's had a scant 3 weeks with them, barely enough to lay a doctrinal foundation! He has so much more instruction he wants to share with them; and does so somewhat in chapters 4-5 - teaching on sexual ethics, work ethics, end times, general conduct, and so forth. What's the basis for Paul's admonishment? Does he just talk off the top of his head? We see his method back in Acts 17:2f - "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead." How "proving"? Did he magically conjure Jesus to make an appearance? Of course not; he "proved" it using Scripture. So we encourage and strengthen one another when we share Biblical truth and promises with each other. Bible studies, small group, Coffee Break, Women at the Well - any occasion we find to study God's word becomes a means of strengthening.

Are you keeping track of where we've been - our "stress-busters"? 1) Redemption draws near; 2) Permanence of Jesus' words; 3) An eye to the eternal; 4) Fellowship & admonition. The fifth and last stress-buster is the HOLY SPIRIT'S OVERFLOW IN LOVE AND HOLINESS.

Look at 1Thess 3:12-13: "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.May he strengthen your hearts..." Who's the subject in these sentences? "May THE LORD MAKE your love increase and overflow...May HE STRENGTHEN your hearts..." The Lord operates in our lives through the agency of His Holy Spirit; love is the first "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22f. We can maybe manufacture a little bit of love on our own, but we need God's grace desperately to produce that "OVERFLOW" Paul talks about.

I don't know about you, but when it comes to being a loving person, I LEAK! My inbred selfishness just naturally creates a pinhole in any loving tendencies I have, so I need God's pumping-up. I was looking through the Canadian Tire Black Friday flyer and noticed an ad for a "Coleman double-high air bed with AC pump". It says, "Airtight system - GUARANTEED not to leak." Hmm. How many of us have started out on an air mattress at the beginning of the night, and by the morning it was a severe let-down?! When it comes to loving others, we need the Holy Spirit's "overflow", His "abounding" in love to give us a surplus to share with others.

It's not just about warm fuzzies. The Holy Spirit is that: holy! He strengthens us in love, but also in holiness. V13 in NRSV says: "And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." He strengthens us IN HOLINESS so that we may be - what? BLAMELESS at Jesus' coming. He prunes away those sinful desires we talked about earlier - dissipation, drunkenness, being weighed down and consumed with life's worries. Keeps us God-besotted, God-satisfied, affirmed in Christ so we don't need this world's props and idols to "fill that gap" anymore.


Joni Eareckson Tada at age 65 has been a quadriplegic ever since her diving accident 48 years ago. She has faced an unusual amount of stress and disappointment in her life. This week in a piece for FoxNews in time for the American Thanksgiving, she reflects on how caring for others - "abounding in love", we might say - will help make this world a less stressful and conflict-ridden place.

"It means thinking the best of others.Always telling the truth.Forgiving even when you don't feel like it.Not cherishing inflated ideas of your own importance.Defending the reputation of a friend.Speaking out on behalf of the abused, the poor and the elderly.And praying for your enemies...I am grateful that Paul's timeless words [Romans 12:17f,21] are as good a guide to us today, as they were to early Christians. For these words transcend religious distinctions and denominations...Evil may seem to have the upper hand right now, but humanity has always triumphed when people simply act humanely toward one another."

Let's pray.