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Blessed Be God
September 21, 1997

1 PETER 1:3

We are working our way through the letter written by Peter, an apostle acting on the authority of Jesus Christ, to small bands of Christians who were mostly people who had no power, like slaves and women in those days. Because they were persecuted by the government, family and neighbors, they felt they were exiles like Jews who had been dispersed from their homeland. Peter writes to give them comfort and encouragement. Last week we looked at the power of the words-- chosen, destined and sanctified. If you wake up every morning with these words in your head-- I am chosen, destined and sanctified-- how can you feel inferior, useless, of low esteem or unworthy. You are somebody, chosen, destined and sanctified to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood.

Last week, we stopped before we could discuss what "sprinkled with his blood" means. There were three occasions in the Old Testament when blood was sprinkled.

1) Cleansing. When a leper was healed, he or she was sprinkled with the blood of a bird, Leviticus 14:1-7.

2) Sanctification which means "setting apart for service to God." When Aaron and the priests of the tabernacle were sanctified, set apart for their priestly work, they were sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, Exodus 29:20-22.

3) Obedience to God's covenant. After the Israelites had been freed from Egyptian bondage, they entered into a covenant with God to be God's people. Moses took the blood of an oxen, and threw half of it on the altar. He read the Book of the Covenant to the people, to which they responded, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." Then Moses sprinkled the rest of the blood upon the people, Exodus 24:1-8.

The sacrament of baptism is based on this model, except we use water because Jesus was baptized with water. Sprinkling water is a sign of cleansing, sanctification where as baptized persons we are set aside for service in obedience to Jesus Christ, and as a sign of the covenant God has entered into with us. Sprinkling water in baptism means God is our God and we are God's people.

Peter used the phrase "sprinkled with his blood" to remind his readers that they were indeed chosen, destined and sanctified to be obedient to Jesus Christ, which indeed might involve their death, the sprinkling of their blood.

Peter then uses two sentences of greeting that were common in Christian letters of that time. "May grace and peace be yours in abundance," a prayer of blessing for the Christians; and "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!", a blessing for God. We often ask God to bless one another. "May God bless you," we pray. We often ask God to bless ourselves. "Bless me today, O Lord," we pray. But, how often do we think of blessing God? How lonely it must be for God to always be asked for blessings, and not receiving any! We like to ask! My son, Craig, sent me some children's letters to God.

Dear God, Please send me a pony. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up. --Bruce

Dear God, If You give me a genie lamp like Aladdin, I will give you anything you want except my money or my chess set. --Raphael

Dear God, My brother is a rat. You should give him a tail. Ha ha. -- Danny

And here's one that asks a very interesting question. Dear God, Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't You just keep the ones You have now? --Jane

Yes, it is okay to ask God for things, but do we bless God? Sometimes parents feel as if they are only loved for what they can give. "Gimme this or gimme that!" How pleased and blessed my wife is when her sons tell her, without asking for anything, "I love you, Mom." They bless her.

When we do remember to be thankful, aren't most of our prayers, "Dear God, thank you for this, thank you for that, thank you for blessing me." God must feel like a supply house. Parents are pleased when their children remember to say, "thank you", but it is even a bigger blessing to be told, "Thank you for being you." To be loved and appreciated for who one is, and not just for what one can do and give is to be blessed. I'm afraid most of us are deficient in giving God praise.

Blessed be God, Peter says. Yes, praise God for what God does, but also praise God for who God is, praise our holy, wonder-ful, loving and patient God. Psalm 113:1-2,

Praise the Lord!

Praise, O servants of the Lord;

praise the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore.

From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.

I concluded last week's sermon with the phrase, "to be obedient to Jesus Christ," and gave the example of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa reached over, took Princess Diana's hand, and said, "Don't worry when you suffer, when life gets difficult for you. Reach out, take the hand of someone poor, and discover the joy of serving." Forgetting about your own troubles by discovering the joy of serving is far more effective than looking for someone worse off than you. I've had difficulty with the advice, "When you feel sorry for yourself, look around and you will see someone worse off than you." I fail to see how that helps! Are we supposed to feel superior, or thank God that we're not as bad off as someone else! If you lose one hand, and look for someone with no hands, you end up with two miserable people! Rather than looking for someone worse off than you, when you feel sorry for yourself, get outside yourself, reach out, take the hand of someone poor, and discover the joy of serving.

And, in addition, when you feel sorry or worried about yourself, praise the Lord. I like the Precious Moments figurines. Have you seen the one where the little boy is standing with an empty cone, the ice cream on the ground, a look of incredulity on his face, and the inscription reads, "Praise God anyway." But, there's something lacking in that advice also. How do you praise God when you don't feel like it? What are you supposed to do, praise God with a half-hearted praise? Does God want an insincere praise, or a defective praise?

In such situations, in fact every day, ask God to create praise within you. Instead of praising God anyway with your disappointment, ask God to give you what to say. Psalm 51:15, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise." Enter God's presence, open your spirit to the Lord, and your mouth will begin praising. I like to start with a song. In fact, I do a lot of my praising with singing. A farmer told me he likes to sing at the top of his voice, "How Great Thou Art," when he's driving the tractor. Use the psalms when praising, like Psalm 104,

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

O Lord my God, you are very great,

You are clothed with honor and majesty,

wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent,

you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,

you make the clouds your chariot,

you ride on the wings of the wind,

you make the winds your messengers,

fire and flame your ministers.

When you praise God, you get outside yourself, outside your small, little existence where you like to feel sorry for yourself. What is pleasing to God is to see you filling your mind, filling your spirit with God, rather than thinking what God can do for you. Asking God for things is prayer, which is very appropriate. Praising is getting beyond things, getting beyond yourself, and focusing on God. Great hymns of praise and praise songs are about God, not about us, not about our needs, not about what God might do for us. We sing praise hymns to God, to bless God, not ourselves.

The funeral for Princess Diana was a service of pageantry and splendor in a magnificent cathedral constructed to draw us outside of ourselves. The cathedrals of England and Europe draw our attention upward. We are overwhelmed by the size, the architecture, the art work, the sculpturing. Our spirits are fed by encouraging us to look up, to look beyond. When you praise God fly, soar above your life, get above the trivial, petty concerns of day to day. Put your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Focus on God, not yourself, not your navel. You can praise while washing dishes, driving the tractor, riding a bicycle, exercising, even working and studying and sleeping. Continual, constant praising is an unconscious, involuntary flow of praise. Some people think they have to make prayer something heavy and arduous. Relax. If you can't think of words, say "Jesus, Jesus" and Jesus will make up words for you. Say, "hallelujah", or praise the Lord which is the English translation. Use the psalms.

Now, notice Peter tells us which God we are to praise. Sometimes I hear people pray, "In your name." I often wonder who is this god named "your!" Be selective in your praising and praying. Don't just praise any of the many gods out there. Don't pray to any spirit out there. Be selective. Pray "in Jesus' name" and praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That's the God we worship. That's the God we serve, not the god of money, or power, or envy, or hatred, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God we know through Jesus, the God Jesus revealed to us through his life, death, and resurrection.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Bless the Lord, all that is within me.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris