Guest speaker Alex Costanzo illustrates the characteristics of being peacemakers for God.
Good morning. It’s been a while. I haven’t been here in a few years. I moved to San Francisco about five or six years ago. and Terry and Cheryl are one of the first couples who welcomed our family and maintained a friendship. I pastor here in the city. I’ve got seven children, like most of us. My oldest is 21 and my youngest is two. So it’s great to be here. I have this crazy, amazing, fun life with all of these kids and it’s just be an amazing year. I don’t know what the year has been like for you, but this has been the best year of my life. It’s not been without its pain. There were times when I felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest where you wonder, “Oh, just what happened,” and you’re just crying like crazy.
It’s just life. But it was an amazing, amazing year. In fact, last year around this time there was this guy in my ministry, a young guy and one of our leaders that I loved hanging out with. Every time I talked to him, he would talk about his relationship with God. It’s one thing when you meet a guy that knows a lot of things about God, but it’s quite different when you meet someone that you can tell he knows Him, talks to Him, and has a relationship with him. When we would talk about the readings we do in the Bible I’d go home and tell my wife, “Man, I can’t believe the things that this guy comes up with. It’s like he’s in the room with me and God in the mornings or something.” My wife said, “Gosh, it’s like you have a crush on this guy.” I said, “I do. He’s incredible.”
Last year about this time I came before the Lord and said, “God, I almost feel weird praying this. I’ve never prayed anything like it and I hope it’s okay that I ask you this, but I think it’s biblical. I think it’s okay. God, could you have him fall in love with my daughter?” I had never prayed anything like that. Isn’t that an awkward thing to pray, to say, “God, I want him in my family.” That’s how much I liked this guy. I had never prayed for anything like this. They don’t even know each other. You know those days where you just feel a little distant from God, so I said, “God, I never prayed that way before, but could you just show me some love today? I just need to know I’m loved by you. I rarely feel this strange insecurity like I do today. I don’t even know how it’s going to look. I just want to know that you hear me.” About an hour or two later that kid, Justin, comes up to me and says, “Hey, can I go out with your daughter?” I was hugging him and crying. It’s yes, yes, I love you. Please, please. I’ll pay for it. I was just in shock. God, this is insane.
They went out for the first time in July and they got married in December. Okay. That’s impossible. This is just this crazy. But the thing is while it’s such a blessing, every time I see him I think, this is unreal. As great as it is to have him as a son-in-law, the greater blessing is the fact that God almighty listens to me. Do you know that security where you think this happens time and time and time again? I talked to Him, like the one who’s giving us all breath right now. You’re breathing because there’s a being up there that decided I’m going to let you live for another breath, I’m going to give you another one.
I read a few weeks ago that if you live to 80 your heart will beat three billion times. What are the odds of something working three billion times? God, you’re in charge of every heartbeat, every breath. You made this world, I talk to you, and I know you. The Bible says that He’s a God who dwells in unapproachable light. He dwells in approachable light to where Moses said, “God, can I see you? Can I see your face,” God says to him, “No one can see my face and live.” Think about that, “No human being can see my face and live.” You’ve got this being where the high angels are covering themselves up, screaming out His Holiness. He’s in charge of everything, and I speak to Him as I know him. Ephesians 5 says it’s a profound mystery because I’m talking about Christ in the church. Somehow we are members of His body. The Bible says for those of us who know Him, we’re members of His body, like my finger is a member of my body, and somehow He says I become a member of the body of Christ. He says it’s a profound mystery.
Sometimes I feel in church we’re kind of, “Oh, yeah, I know God,” like it’s no big deal. It’s no, I’m a member of His body. This is insane. I speak to Him and He calls me His son. I know Him, and as I pray for services today and the people that show up, my prayer has been, “God, I want people to know you.” I’m guessing that there are some of you that you know a lot of things about God. That’s not what I’m talking about. There’s a big difference between knowing about a person and actually knowing him. You can read a bio about me or something, but there’s no relationship. I feel a lot of times when I talk to people that attend services they can tell me these things about God, but do you know Him though? There are times when I’m with the Lord, and it’s so real. It’s not that I close my eyes and say a bunch of words. He’s more real to me than you are. I get alone in this little room with Him. It’s just me and God. It’s about this relationship. It’s when you do not just know about, but know Him, that you can have this peace that we’ve been talking about. When you realize I know the God of the universe and my eternity is set, I don’t have to fear death. I don’t have to fear anything that happens today, that’s where the peace comes from, and that’s what I’m hoping for.
This topic is so, so big. I believe it’s at the crux of so much of it. The idea of what happens when life gets difficult, when the suffering comes, and when the trials come? Is that when God becomes more real to you and you have even more peace amidst the trials? Or is that the time when you say no? I’ve been in ministry for over 30 years and watched so many people that when life got difficult, or something unexpected tragedy happened, that’s when they would walk away from God and say it didn’t work for me. I went to worship God and this happens? I understand it. I understand how pain does things to us. On the other hand, I don’t quite understand that because it’s not like this book promises a pain-free life. I get it. If this book says Jesus says, “Follow me and you’ll have no more pain here on this earth,” then great. The moment pain comes He’s wrong. He’s a liar.
That’s not what He taught. He says, “In this world, you will have pain, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Peter in 1 John 4 says, “Don’t be surprised when the fiery trial comes upon you as though something strange was happening to you.” He says don’t be shocked when it happens. Don’t be surprised when the fiery trial happens to you. He wrote that in a time when Emperor Nero was literally pouring fuel on Christians and lighting them on fire. Peter is saying, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trial as though that’s something strange.”
Jesus didn’t say it’s going to be easy. In fact, he warned people. He said, “Are you sure you want to follow me?” when crowds would show up. They would ask, “Can we follow you?” Jesus’ response was, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay His head.” He says are you sure you want to follow me because at least birds have a nest to stay in. I don’t know where I’m sleeping tonight. Jesus says, “If you want to follow me you’re going to have to deny yourself, pick up your cloth and follow me.” He didn’t say, “Yeah, follow me. Things are going to be great. It’s going to be a blast. You’re going to go out on boat rides.” No, he said, “Look, this is what it means to follow me. It’s going to be tough.” There’s a passage in scripture that has helped me through some of the most difficult times in life. But to be honest I’ve only been able to obey this passage recently because I believe it’s maybe the most difficult verse in the Bible to obey. I don’t know, it’s just my humble opinion.
James 1, verse 2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” What’s he saying? This phrase, meet trials, the idea of actually being surrounded by them. It was a picture of someone that’s about to get jumped by a group of people. So a group of people surrounds you, they’re about to pounce on you, he says now you’ve got various trials. You have health issues, relationship issues, or job issues? You have all these things going on, they’re surrounding you, and he says when that happens count it all joy. Isn’t that what you normally do? Look at all these problems and say, “it’s awesome?” No. Most of us count it all joy when there are no problems. I don’t see a single problem. Life is good. But he’s writing this to people who are disbursed and struggling. He says, “Count it all joy when you’re surrounded by these trials.” How do you do that?
Why would we consider this joy? In the next verse, 4, he says “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Okay, why can we find joy in the midst of trials? He says here’s the reason. He says because it’s the testing of your faith that produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness run its course so you can mature, complete, and all that. He says there’s something about the trials that change us. Usually, when we go through trials we say, “God, take away the trials. Take away the pain. Change the situation.” What the Bible is saying is no, when the trials come, we should be praying to not change the choice and change me because there’s something about those trials that strengthen us. He says, “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” That’s the way you become strong.
You don’t become strong from an easy life. In fact, this phrase testing, the testing of your faith, is a term used for silversmiths. When a silversmith puts a bunch of silver in a pot and boils the silver to get it as hot as he can with this flame, that was called testing the silver. That is how all the impurities would rise to the surface. Then he would take the dross or impurities off and he’d fire it up again. The next time fewer impurities. They would take it out and fire it up again. He would do this over and over. This is called testing the silver. The idea was to make it pure, and the way that a silversmith could tell that the silver was pure was he could look down in the pot and see his own reflection clearly.
Do you see what God is saying? When we are put through the fire or go through this type of testing or a hard time, isn’t it crazy how sometimes these feelings, emotions, and impurities rise to the surface? Where you say, “Man, I didn’t know I could get so angry. I didn’t know I had so much hatred in my heart. I didn’t know that I had so much doubt. I didn’t know that I could be so close to walking away from Him and say, ‘If you’re going to do this to me watch what I do. I’m done following you.'” These doubts and all of these thoughts and feelings rise to the surface in the middle of those trials. What God is saying is no, let me purify you of those things. This is part of your testing. Let me wipe that away. Every time those trials come, there’s something about that process, that if we would just cling closer to Him it purifies us of those things and you see the hope. The goal is that one day God would look down and see His own reflection. Jesus would look and say, “That’s the way I live. That’s the way I live.”
He says it’s the trials, the testing of your faith that produces that type of steadfastness. He says, “That steadfastness is perfect, it’s full, the fact that you may be perfect and complete and not lacking anything.” The goal is God wants us to be mature. Do you know that? God wants us to become like Jesus. Jesus is not just our savior, He’s our role model. The goal of our lives is God, I want to become more like Jesus. He’s beautiful. He’s amazing. God says it’s through the trials. The trials will make you strong and let steadfastness have its perfect result so that you can be mature and complete. It’s about the unresolved. At the end of your life, what type of person are you going to be at the end? That’s what God is concerned about. We’re all in this process of purification, becoming more like Him, of testing.
It’s like when you bake a cake. When you bake a cake, think about all the ingredients that go into it. I don’t even know all the ingredients that go into a cake, but eggs, salt, flour, Betty Crocker, all that stuff. You throw it all in. Now have you ever tasted these ingredients? How many have eaten a raw egg? Yeah? Is it any good? Is it after you watch Rocky. It’s not good for you. Just try to imagine right now just cracking an egg, rolling it around in your mouth, and then grabbing some flour. That’s good. You start looking at all these ingredients, but when you’re making a cake you don’t think about each ingredient. You just mix it all together, throw it in the oven, and then out comes this result. It results in something that’s mature and complete. It has all the ingredients in it.
That’s what the Bible is saying about God wanting us at the end of our lives in this oven. That in the end, I’m a different person and I am more like Christ. It’s about the end result. There are ingredients in life where you say “God, why this, why this, why this,” He says I have to put it in. It’s all of this process. It’s testing you. It’s strengthening you. It’s making you into this type of person. I look at my life, I look back now and I say, “God, I get it.” I was born here in San Francisco. I was born in Chinatown, at the hospital in Chinatown. When I was born and my mom was delivering me she died in the midst of it. She died giving birth to me. I guess you don’t really know because you’re a baby so you don’t quite get it. My dad ends up remarrying, so I got a family by the time I’m like four or five years old.
When I was seven my stepmother was driving over that bridge in Antioch and somehow went off the side of it and died, and that was crazy. A seven or eight year old kid to watch your mom being buried. My dad got married again, and when I was 12 my dad died of cancer. Watching it and then being at the funeral, I’m just telling you as a kid it just messes with your mind. I look back now and I remember those times where I’m in middle school and starting to think I was just with him and now he’s gone. Where is he? What happened? I had to know. I started searching for answers, and that’s really the period of my time, during those teenage years, that I really came to believe in God and to know Him.
When I look back I say, “God, thank you.” Nothing matters to me compared to knowing Him. I thank you for the way that changed me. It got me thinking about eternal things. I don’t go to bed every night thinking, “Oh, yeah, tomorrow I’ll do this.” I don’t know if tomorrow is going to come. I try to make the most of every day being with some of my kids, being at the park looking at them, smiling, enjoying them, putting them to bed, hugging, kissing, and not knowing. I don’t know if today is going to happen. I say, “God, thank you so much. Those were the times where you and I drew so close.” I know they talk about pain, that’s probably opening up all sorts of memories. As I was praying for you this morning I was thinking, “God, I can’t imagine how much pain is in this room, the things that have been done to some of you that you’d rather forget. The pain that some of you have had to endure, if we threw it all into a pot right here, it would be insane.”
Yet the Bible says count all joy. I’ll tell you right now this passage will make no sense unless you are obsessed with Jesus because you’ll go okay, that’s great. It makes me mature and complete, but I don’t really want to be mature and complete. I don’t really care to become like Jesus. I just want to be happy. I want my life to be easy. Maybe some of you were even saying I want some God in my life because that will help life’s journey and make things better, make things easier. I heard that if I follow Him that He’ll heal me of any sickness and give me the wealth that I wanted. Where do you get that? No, He says if you follow me you’ll get me, and I’m better than all the wealth. I’m better than health. I’m better than an easy life, and you can become like me.
I’m telling you, everything else passes because everything else comes and goes. This eternal knowing Him is why I’m saying the biblical authors spoke about God like He was this addiction to them as if I’m in a dry and weary land where there’s no water and I thirst for Him, I want Him. I work with a lot of addicts, and I’m sure there are some of you, many of you, who have been there, where addiction doesn’t make sense. You could be starving but all you’re thinking about is the drug. That’s the way they talk about Jesus in this book. I could be in a desert and am going to die of thirst, and yet I’m thirsting for you. It’s the craziest thing. It is insane to think that I can know the creator. James says when you get this you can consider it all joy because you’re actually becoming more like Jesus. This is who I want. I’m actually getting closer to Him through this. But if you worship comfort then this isn’t going to make any sense. None of this book will make sense.
Let me put it this way, let’s say Jesus walked through the doors in the flesh right now into this room, God almighty, who’s in control of everything. If He were to say to you right now, “This is a good test for you to just see what you love. He says, “Okay, everyone here today, you get an option. I’m going to let you direct the rest of this year, 2017. For the rest of 2017, you could have option number one. Just push a button. Do you want option one? Option one is for the rest of 2017. For the next seven months, nothing will go wrong. You’re not going to get sick. If you are sick you’ll be healed. None of your friends will get sick. Your relationships will be good for the rest of the year. Your job will be great. You’ll get a raise. They might even say, ‘Just work half the time from home.'” No pain whatsoever for the rest of the year, 2017. He says, “Now at the end of the year though,” Jesus says, “you and I won’t be any closer. You won’t know me more than you know me now and you won’t be any more like me, but it’ll be a fun year. “Or you can choose option two. I’m going to put some trials in your life. It’s going to be a tough year, and during that time when you’re hitting bottom you’re going to reach out to me and we’re going to be so close, you and I. We’re going to get through this together.
“You’re going to become so much more like me at the end of it. You’re going to have this strength about you. You’re going to have this maturity about you. We’re going to have this intimacy and you’re going to know me. Not just know stuff about me, but you’re going to know me more. You’re going to be mature, complete. We’re going to be closer at the end of the year.” Which would you pick? Think about it. How badly do you want to know Him, become like Him? I’m sure some of you are in trials right now. Some of you can’t believe that I’m talking about this today because of some of the things that happened this week.
You’re thinking, “Man, I kind of get this in my head, but-” and others of you are thinking, “Man, this makes sense. I can see that. I’m looking at it grammatically. That is what the scriptures say.” But I’ll tell you what happens, when the pain comes, when the trial comes, a lot of this goes out the window, doesn’t it, because pain just does weird things to you. That’s why in the very next verse, in verse 5, he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” But within this, if you lack wisdom, some of you are thinking, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t know that I could ever pick option two. I don’t necessarily see that Jesus is that worth it.”
Maybe in the midst of the pain, you’re saying, “God, just change everything.” He says to ask for wisdom. Ask for wisdom. It’s in the context of these trials. Say, “God, give me the wisdom to understand how this is a good thing. Give me the wisdom so that I can somehow rejoice through this.” This takes an act of God to go through a trial and have joy amidst it. When you’re in the middle of a bunch of trials and you can say, “Okay, I’m so full of joy right now.” He said if you don’t have that ask for it. Again, just honestly, I went years understanding this passage intellectually, but never being able to pull it off. Lately, God has been giving me wisdom, even through the most painful times, while I’m in the middle of it. There were times this year when it’s like you’re gasping for air. What just happened to me now? Did this really just happen? I don’t even know how to process it. You ask, “God, help me. Help me. Give me wisdom. Give me wisdom.”
Even through betrayal. Recently I say, “God, I’m thankful, you opened my eyes. You gave me wisdom.” Here I am saying that I want to become like Jesus, but I don’t want any Judases in my life? God’s opening my eyes. You want to become like me and you don’t want anyone to betray you? You don’t want rejection. You know what God? That’s good. This is good. I see it. This is going to make me more like you. This is going to make me stronger. I want to be mature. I want to be complete. I want to be like Jesus at the end of my life.
None of us enjoys pain, but it’s the result. Just like we don’t enjoy working out. We enjoy the results. It feels great on the other side of it. Somehow to see that we need wisdom. He says, “When you ask for that wisdom let them ask in faith, with no doubting because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. That person must not suppose he’ll receive anything from the Lord. He’s a double-minded man, unstable in all of his ways.” When you pray you’ve got to have this confidence. No doubt, because if you doubt you won’t receive anything. But just as assurance, “You know what God? I know you’re there. Somehow your words work all these things together for the good of those who love Him. I know according to your words I can find joy through this. This will make me closer to you, more like you. So, God, give me this joy. I can have it. I can have this wisdom. Give me wisdom right now, Lord.” Pray. Ask for that.
We’re going to jump to verse 12 because we’re running out of time. He closes this section by saying, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.” It’s so important because James 1 has been a staple in my life. I try to read the verses so that you can go back at any time and read through those verses yourself because they’re not that hard to understand. There’s an interesting sentence at the end. He says, “Blessed is the person who remains steadfast under trial.” Not the person that says, “Okay, I’m done.” No. You actually suffer through it. It’s to bear up under that weight. Do you ever see those guys that deadweight? They’re holding this weight and staying under it. That’s that word, “Blessed is the man who stays steadfast under trial, because when he has been tested,” for when he has stood the test. There’s that testing again. Remember the silversmith, “He will receive the crown, the reward of life, the crown which is life itself, eternal life which God has promised to those who love Him.”
Don’t miss what he does there in that sentence. He says, “Blessed is the person who perseveres under the trial,” because to that person God gives the crown of life, He gives the crown of life. He doesn’t say to the person who perseveres the trial. He say, “But to the person who loves Him.” He’s equating the person who loves Him with the person who stands under trial. It’s easy to love someone when they give you everything you want, but what about the trials when they come? I was reading the book of Job this morning and yesterday. Remember that story where Satan become before God? I mean it’s a strange story, and God says, “Have you considered my servant, Job?” What does Satan say? Job, what a joke. He loves you because you gave him everything. Take it away and we’ll see. We see what he does, and God says all right, let’s test him. He takes everything away from Job and what does Job say? “Blessed be the name of the Lord. He gives, He takes away.” That’s where we sing that song, He gives, He takes away, blessed be He.
I hate to do this to you, but sometimes we hear a message, and then the very thing you heard about happens. Okay, I’m not saying I’m jinxing your life or anything like that. What I’m saying is it wouldn’t be unusual, the timing of this, that God had you here just because there are some tough times ahead and He’s saying, “You know what? Show your love through it. Show that you believe in me, that you really do want me, that you can’t wait to be with me, that you can’t wait till that day that I’m with you and I take away all pain and give you the crown of life because you stood through it all, because you love me.” When you’re in option two and you didn’t even choose it for yourself, to be able to say, “You know what, God? Okay, here we go. I’m going to grow close to you.”
I want to pray for you. I don’t want to get off the stage without praying for you because I literally believe in this time. I don’t want to pray in doubt. I really believe things would be different if I just walked off the stage right now and got on my knees before Him and prayed for you that during the trials you’d be able to stand up under it. You’d even be wise enough to find joy in it because you care that much about your personal holiness and you care that much about knowing Him. So let me pray for you.
Father, I want these people to know you, really know you. I want to know you more. God, we say so many things in church that a lot of times they get old and we don’t really mean it. God, help us from our hearts to desire you and desire Christ’s likeness. God, there are so many days I want it to be easy. God, we see what your word says and we know that Christ is such a great treasure. We all hate the pain, we hate the brokenness of this world. But, Lord, when those times come and we find joy in it, knowing that we’ll be stronger, more like you, and closer to you. I pray for my brothers and sisters in this room, whatever they’re going through right now. By the power of your Holy Spirit do the miracle of giving them wisdom to actually find joy in the middle of the trial. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
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