Suffering. It's a topic that we don't really like to think about too much, let alone talk about. None of us, myself included, enjoy the inconvenience and heartache that suffering brings. And even if we are not ourselves suffering at the moment, we still don't like to think about it, because we either know too many people who are dealing with their own struggles, or else it serves as a reminder to us that although we might not be suffering now, it is usually not too far down the road. It can be hard for us to grapple and come to terms with a verse like James 1:2 which tells us to "count it all joy" when we face trials, even though verses 3 and 4 right after it remind us that suffering is a vital part of our sanctification. But no matter how uncomfortable, how hard, how heartbreaking and gut-wrenching suffering might be, it does conform us to the image of Christ, and it is used by God for our good and His glory. However, the truth of God's power and sovereignty over suffering is true whether I happen to feel it on a particular day or not. He always works His purposes out in and through our circumstances, making us more like Himself in the process. And so, as counter-intuitive as it may seem at times, we worship God and and learn how to faithfully use our suffering as a testimony to God's faithfulness, even as we are in the midst of hardship.
 This Sunday, Pastor John's sermon will address this very topic: how we can suffer faithfully as Christians. It will be from 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-10, and is his second installment in our new sermon series on 1 & 2 Thessalonians: Every Grace Endued. This week's sermon passage talks about how we can suffer joyfully, yet also in a way that testifies to the hope that is within us. To that end, I thought there would be no better way to exemplify both that hope and our testimony than by singing the classic hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" as our Song of Ascent to begin the service. As our fortress, God is the One we can go to as we wether the storms of this life. He is, as the hymn joyously reminds us, "a bulwark never failing, "our helper," and the "Word above all earthly powers." It reminds us that, even as we endure suffering in this life, "our God hath willed his truth to triumph through us," and that "his kingdom is forever." We do not have to fear "the prince of darkness grim," because "his doom is sure" and we can look forward to the day when God will banish him forever, establish His eternal kingdom, and rid us of suffering forever. This hymn is a powerful testimony to God's faithfulness in our lives, and is a wonderful proclamation of His might as we begin our worship service.
For our Hymn of Praise, we will again sing the psalm that we sang last week, Psalm 146. We began learning the tune for this psalm last week, and I was very encouraged and excited by how quickly most of you were able to pick it up! Even with our small numbers last week, I was hearing some confident singing by many of you by the end. The nice thing about this particular psalm is that, aside from the fact that we are learning it as a church from a musical standpoint, it also fits into the overall theme of God's provision, sovereignty, and loving care for us even in the midst of oppression. Through singing this psalm, we proclaim that God is the creator of the universe, but that he also maintains the rights of the oppressed. 
 For our Hymn of Rejoicing, we will be singing a song that we do not sing too often. But I feel as though it is a great tie in to the sermon, it allows us to rejoice in our salvation in Christ, and it's one that most will know, "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." When I came across this hymn and was considering it, I must admit that I felt a little ashamed in myself for not having us sing this hymn more often. It is wonderful! The lyrics are so beautiful, and they do such a great job of describing God's work in salvation, praising God for that work, and petitioning Him for His help in spreading the good news of His gospel to others. In a week where we will affirm that we can even use our suffering as a means of testifying to others, I thought it fitting to be reminded that through our suffering, we are reminded of Him who went through the ultimate suffering for us, in order to reconcile us to God. So, as our suffering is a testimony to God's faithfulness, we can use it to then testify about our eternal hope in Christ to a lost and fallen world.
After hearing John preach from 1 Thessalonians, we will respond to the truth of God's Word by singing "Though Troubles Assail Us" as our Hymn of Response. We have sung this hymn several times before now, and every time I am comforted by the phrase that ends every verse, "the Lord will provide." This hymn is a beautiful way for us to affirm that no matter what we go through in life, be it desertion, attacks from those that hate us, or even assaults from Satan himself, God will be there for us, to provide for us. That He is our strong tower (which should also cause our minds to go back to the first song that we sang in the service), and that "we triumph by faith" over our suffering, not through any "strength of our own," or any "goodness we claim," but because "we have known of the Savior's great name." It is God that gets the glory as we overcome our sufferings, because it is by His power that we are able to do so. What a powerful way to respond to God's provision: by praising Him and giving Him the glory that He deserves.
 Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-10
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
New Testament Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14
Hymns: Song of Ascent -  "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (Trinity Hymnal, 92; verses 1, 3, & 4)
              Hymn of Praise - Psalm 146
              Hymn of Rejoicing - "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (Trinity Hymnal, 164; verses 1, 2, 4, & 5)
              Hymn of Response - "Though Troubles Assail Us" (Trinity Hymnal, 95; verses 1, 3, & 4)

Soli Deo Gloria!