‘Playing the Game’ or Learning to Live?

Posted by on September 24, 2000 under Sermons

I want you to recall, specifically, the worst class you took in high school or college. I do not mean the hardest class. I do not mean the class you feared the most. I mean the worst class. The worst class was the class you regarded to be completely useless and totally unnecessary.

For most of us, the worst class was a required class. It was a class not directly related to our major or minor. But it was a necessary class. We had to take it to get a diploma. We dreaded it because we regarded it to be useless. Every class session was torture because we resented being forced to take the class.

One such class I took was a college course in German. Languages other than English are not my strength. My high school was too small to have a single foreign language course. I had zero exposure to any language but English. But my college major required a course in a foreign language, preferably German.

My German teacher was around eighty years old. She never visited Germany. She never had a conversation in German with people whose primary language was German. A student’s grade was determined by three things: where you sat in class, what you wore, and your hair style. If you looked at her she called on you. If you did not look at her, she did not call on you. It was a horrible situation and experience for two semesters.

But all of us endured our worst class. Each of us took a worst class. We “played the game.” We may not have learned anything, but we “played the game.” We may not have taken anything useful from the class, but we “played the game.”

  1. “Going to church” or “being religious” or “church membership” too often is approached with the same feelings and attitudes that surrounded our worst class.
    1. It is like the necessary class that we hate to take but we have to take.
      1. We come because we “have to play the game.”
      2. It is one of the “necessary things” that we “must do” if we are to receive God’s diploma.
        1. .On earth, diplomas open the doors of opportunity.
        2. Church attendance opens the doors of opportunity after death.

    2. Church attendance is a strange occurrence.
      1. Those whose hearts were not converted attend with no expectations.
        1. They physically attend and are bodily present.
        2. But that is all that matters.
      2. Some who attend are simply doing what is necessary.
        1. They are convinced that attending is important, and that is why they come.
        2. But they really do not know why it is important.
        3. If someone asks them to explain the importance, their answer is vague.
        4. They simply accept as a fact that attending is important.
      3. Many of our children grow up asking “why?”
        1. Children are perceptive.
        2. They know when we are “playing the game.”
        3. Their question: “Why do you play the game?”
        4. They also know that we do not have any deep, personal explanation.
      4. Many of our friends, neighbors, and associates wonder about the same question.
        1. “Next month we plan to spend every Sunday doing ‘__X__’.”
        2. “Join us. We are going to have a great time!”
        3. And they see you really want to join them.
        4. But your answer is, “Aw, I’m sorry. I can’t. I have to go to church.”
        5. Obviously, you are “playing the game.”
        6. Why? Why is it so important for you to “play the game”?
      5. If our children or someone close to us is bold enough to ask, “why play the game,” it alarms us; it shakes us up.
        1. No one should be forced to explain why they “play the game.”
        2. Everyone should understand the importance of “playing the game”!
        3. You don’t ask why.
        4. You don’t understand why.
        5. You just do it.

  2. Do you have a hero? “A what?” A hero.
    1. I understand that word is not used much any more.
      1. It is out of date, politically incorrect, obsolete.
      2. It has been replaced with words like role model, mentor, or icon.

    2. “What is a hero?”
      1. A hero is someone who captures your heart and your imagination.
      2. A hero is someone you admire to the point of devotion.
      3. A hero is someone you willingly permit to influence your thinking and life on your deepest levels.
      4. You likely do not refer to this person as your hero, but I do not doubt such a person exists in your life.

  3. I have a hero.
    1. No one influences my life as much as my hero.
      1. In all honesty, my hero has changed me as a person more extensively and deeper than anyone else who has been a part of my life.
      2. The person I am today is distinctly different from the person I was twenty years ago.
      3. The person I was twenty years ago was distinctly different from the person I was thirty years ago.
      4. The person I was thirty years ago was distinctly different from the person I was forty years ago.
      5. And I am very aware that my hero is not through changing my life.
      6. In fact, my life is in greater transition right now at this age than ever before.

    2. The better I understand my hero, the more my life changes.
      1. He does not change my life by using pleasure, or success, or money, or status, or anything material.
      2. In fact, those things distract me and reduce my hero’s influence in my life.
      3. My hero never deceives me, but all those things constantly try to deceive me.
      4. I have lived long enough to know that the foundations of pleasure, success, money, status, or materialism are illusions.
      5. My hero teaches me how to live instead of promising me things.
        1. He sustains me on a daily basis in a hostile world.
        2. And every single one of us live in a hostile world, whether we realize it or not.

    3. “Can you explain why he is your hero?”
      1. I never had anyone who accurately knew me for what I really am and still loved me enough to die for me.
      2. He covers every ungodly thought, every wicked emotion, and every evil deed I committed in my life, and he will keep right on doing that.
      3. He builds our relationship on a forgiveness that literally acts as if I never did anything wrong.
      4. Every single day of my life he gives me the opportunity to be a different person.
      5. When I was immature and stupid, he was patient.
      6. He makes me a better person, a better husband, a better father, a better son, a better brother, a better friend, and a better neighbor.
      7. He helps me build a life that matters, a life that death cannot stop.
      8. He gives me an identity that cannot be stolen.
      9. He teaches me how to be at peace in my life.

    4. But for all of that to happen, I have to trust him.
      1. My most difficult lesson in life is learning to trust him.
      2. Often what he teaches me does not make sense when I learn the lesson.
      3. But it always make sense after I change my life.

    5. Why is Jesus Christ my hero?
      1. Because he shows me God.
      2. Because he teaches me how to live so life is blessed and not destroyed.
      3. No one else shows me God; no one else teaches me how to live without destroying life.
      4. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to His people; He told Jeremiah before he began to teach that no one would listen to him.
        1. Jeremiah was surrounded by the spiritual disaster of idolatry among God’s people.
        2. As he looked at that disaster, this is what Jeremiah said, (Jeremiah 10:23) I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.
      5. Centuries later God sent His son to His people knowing that His people would kill His Son.
        1. Jesus knew how desperately God’s people needed a Shepherd, and he came to be that desperately needed Shepherd.
        2. When explaining that he came to be the good shepherd who cared for and protected the life of his sheep, Jesus said, (John 10:10) I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
        3. Note that Jesus did not come that we may have things.
        4. He came that we may have life.

[Prayer: God, help us let Jesus be our hero. Help us permit Jesus to show us who You are. Help us permit Jesus to teach us how to live. Increase our ability to trust You, and to trust Jesus.]

Every time I preach I try to challenge your heart and mind. Every time I teach I try to touch your heart and mind. Sometimes as I prepare my lessons, tears flow. It is that important to me that God use me to touch your hearts. What I do is not a job. What I do is a life.

We need to stop “playing the game.” We need to let Jesus be our hero. Unless we let Jesus teach us how to live, we cannot know how to have life. You don’t agree? Let me meddle by asking some hard questions. Those of you who have experienced divorce, before you married the first time did you intend to divorce? Those you who struggle with adultery, or promiscuity, or pornography, was that your plan for your life? Those of you whose controlling god is addiction, is that the god you want? Those of you whose god is pleasure, does pleasure deceive you? Those of you whose god is money, does that god give you an empty life? Those of you who are killing yourself and neglecting your family to acquire things, do those things depress you?

Do you honestly want failed relationships, sex, money, addictions, or things to be your god? Do you honestly believe that they can give you life?

One last question: when are you going to stop “playing the game” and start letting Jesus teach you how to live?

When God Refreshes

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Our lives are lived in weariness. Weariness is the daily context of life for many Americans. Many unmarried are weary of loneliness. Many married are weary of “let’s pretend,” faked relationships. Many parents are weary of unappreciative children. Many children are weary of parents who do not comprehend their world. Many are weary of pleasure’s emptiness. Many are weary of hypocrisy. Most of us are weary of the illusions of the American lifestyle. Most of us are just plain tired, and the future’s road appears to wind through exhaustion.

If we conclude weariness in “postmodern” American culture is unique, we deceive ourselves. Acts’ second sermon was delivered to Israelites assembled at the Jerusalem temple. Israelites had a 1500 year history of weariness: the weariness of Egyptian slavery, the weariness of the exodus, the weariness of Canaan’s conquest, the weariness of the judges’ rule, the weariness of the kings, the weariness of a divided kingdom, the weariness of the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, the weariness of the return to their homeland, and the weariness of Roman occupation.

Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2) emphasized God [by intent and design] made Jesus Lord and Christ. Peter’s second sermon (Acts 3) emphasized Israel’s need to repent. God’s people needed to repent! God’s chosen people needed to repent! Abraham’s descendants, heirs of God’s promises, needed to repent!

What an emphasis! Why not talk to people about (a) idolaters’ need to repent or (b) atheists’ need to repent or (c) wicked Israelites need to repent or (d) rebellious Israelites need to repent or (e) unethical Israelites need to repent? Did not those groups need to repent? Certainly!

Then why tell people assembled to pray to the living God they needed to repent? (1) If other people needing repentance repented, their repentance could not remove these people’s need to repent. (2) The people at the temple could not have their sins “wiped away” unless they repented. (3) They could not experience God’s “times of refreshing” unless they repented.

The long journey of weariness would continue if these people who believed in God, who assembled because of faith in God, who came to pray to God refused to repent. God could end their journey into weariness if they allowed Jesus to be their Christ. To accept the fact that Jesus was the Christ was not enough. They had to allow Jesus to be Christ in their relationship to God.

For the same reasons, we desperately need a total redirection of life. God cannot replace our weariness with the “time of refreshing” until we permit Jesus to be Christ in our lives. As long as Jesus Christ is nothing more than a fact, our journey into weariness will continue.

“I Will Give You Rest”

Posted by on September 17, 2000 under Bulletin Articles

The world cannot understand Americans. Considering all of our society, Americans have the greatest prosperity and highest standard of living known in any sizable society on earth. History has never known a sizable nation that had our standard of living.

Yet, depression is common in America. Among the young and the old, suicide is significant. Alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography, sexually transmitted disease, promiscuity, dysfunctional families, one parent families, rejection of commitment, dishonesty, and a lack of integrity and character are sources of major social problems.

How can a society with so much, experience so many serious problems? Many of the world’s societies cannot understand. In their societies, the majority live in poverty with minimal human rights. To them, the combination of prosperity and human rights produce a wonderful society. America has that combination. Why do we not enjoy our wonderful existence?

Prosperity and human rights do not eliminate stress. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and sexually indulgent behavior are popular attempts to escape stress. Family relationships fail to nurture and sustain healthy love and acceptance. That failure creates the stresses of loneliness, rejection, and despair. Americans mistakenly believe honesty, commitment, integrity, and character are the roots of distress. We incorrectly believe the emotional antidote for stress is irresponsible, selfish, pleasure-centered existence.

Jesus once invited the burdened of Jewish society to come to him (Matthew 11:28-30). His guidance would unburden their lives. He was gentle and humble. Through him they would find rest.

Rest! What a wonderful word! What a beautiful concept! Rest is the opposite of stress. Stress is the enemy of rest. Jesus produces rest in a burdened life by taking the burdens. It is easier to serve Jesus than it is to be enslaved to burdens.

If we Christians wish to validate the gospel and capture the attention of the masses, all we need do is to allow Jesus to give us rest. Stressed out Christians cannot communicate the peace and healing of the gospel.

Suggestions: (1) Let your life demonstrate that Christ destroys stress. (2) Never distress each other. (2) Do not promote or endorse ungodliness because evil creates stress. (4) Commit to honesty, integrity, and character. (5) Learn how to help each other with life’s burdens.

What Will Be Learned?

Posted by on September 10, 2000 under Bulletin Articles

Labor Day just passed. School just started. The routine for fall, winter, and spring just began. Just now life returns to “normal” (whatever that is).

Our children begin or return to school to “learn.” Our teens begin or return to junior or senior high to “learn.” Our young adult children begin or return to colleges to “learn,” or to skill training to “learn.” Many adults reenter the “track” created by job or career that requires us to “learn” for the business’ sake. After Labor Day passes and fall routines resume, the emphasis shifts as much to learning as to doing.

What will be learned that will last a lifetime? What will be learned that will make a difference to our futures? What will be learned that will matter? How much will be learned only to be forgotten? How much will be learned never to be forgotten? How will our learning bless our lives? How will our learning curse our lives?

Someone suggests, “Learning is a wonderful thing. Learning produces better futures. Learning blesses by producing joy and fulfillment.” I do not think Eve would agree. I do not think Lot’s wife would agree. I do not think many of the Old Testament prophets would agree. I do not think that Ananias and Sapphira would agree.

Eve would testify that learning about evil is not a blessing. Lot’s wife would testify that “learning the hard way” is not a blessing. The Old Testament prophets would testify that learning the way God deals with His rebellious children is not a blessing. Ananias and Sapphira would testify that learning how God feels about Christians who try to deceive Him is not a blessing.

The experience of learning does not necessarily bless. (That certainly is not the affirmation that ignorance produces blessings!) The lessons and messages produced by learning may or may not bless. Evil’s purposes through learning never intend to bless. Righteousness’ purposes through learning bless if the heart of the learner cherishes God. Learning is a fascinating process: the same learning produces powerful blessings in one person and just as powerful curses in another person.

A significant question: are we learning for the moment, for the future, or for eternity? Few people want to die physically. Many consider physical death as the beginning of nonexistence. Even many who express confidence in life after death have quiet, serious doubts about an existence after death. While we say that we do not want to die, rarely do we realize that we cannot cease to exist even if we prefer nonexistence.

Perhaps learning’s most significant question is this: how will our existence after death be affected by what we learn? What we learn in this life determines our experiences after death. Fascinating! Sobering! So, what will you learn this fall?

Dealing With the Devil

Posted by on September 3, 2000 under Sermons

This congregation has had an eventful summer. We sponsored some successful mission trips. We conducted our most successful VBS in years. The ladies held some successful gatherings. The ministry leaders and deacons had a fruitful meeting with the elders. We appointed four new elders. The elders have taken some major steps toward becoming more effective shepherds. A number of people have privately and publicly redirected their lives.

Anytime we as individuals and a congregation grow spiritually, our success costs Satan. Satan jealously guards his kingdom. He does not care who attends church as long as they are in his kingdom. He is extremely evangelistic and extremely deceitful. When we do anything to cost him, he is enraged and counterattacks.

While it has been a summer of growth and spiritual development, it has also been a summer of stress. The stress load has been and is high. Stress is reality for those who dare to lead and live on the front lines in the war against evil. We feel like Satan is saying, “Boys, don’t mess with me. It is time you personally learned a lesson and learned it well. When you cause me trouble, it will cost you.”

Jesus dared to mess with the devil. He dared to let God work through him to defeat the devil. And it cost Jesus. We must remember two things: (1) because Jesus let God use him, Satan lost. (2) Jesus knew how to fight the devil.

This evening I want you to consider Jesus’ wilderness temptations in a different manner. Commonly we study Jesus’ wilderness temptations to try to deepen our understanding of the temptations. That is not what I want to do this evening. This evening I want us to focus on how Jesus recognized the deceptions and defeated the temptations.

  1. Let’s begin with a very brief review of the wilderness temptations in Matthew 4:1-11.
    1. God’s Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness for the purpose of being personally tempted by the devil.
      1. Jesus prepared for this encounter by fasting forty days and nights.
      2. In my understanding, this was the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry.
      3. Everything was at stake.

    2. Because of the fast, Jesus was hungry.
      1. Satan suggested that Jesus turn some of the stones lying around into bread and care for his physical need.
      2. Jesus refused and in refusing quoted Deuteronomy 8:3.

    3. Satan took Jesus to a high place in the temple area.
      1. He suggested that Jesus demonstrate his confidence in God by jumping from the high place.
      2. He even quoted God’s promise to take care of him.
      3. Jesus refused and in refusing quoted Deuteronomy 6:16.

    4. Satan then offered Jesus a deal.
      1. “Bow to me and worship me, and I will make you the king of all people.”
      2. Jesus refused, and in refusing quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20.

    5. It was then that Satan temporarily broke off contact with Jesus and the angels came and ministered to him.

  2. Obviously, Jesus used scripture to deal with the devil.
    1. However, if all we see is that Jesus quoted three verses when he was tempted, we miss the most powerful truth.
      1. We do not understand how Jesus dealt with the devil unless we understand why Jesus used those verses.
      2. He did not use just any verses he happened to know.
      3. The lesson is not: “Quote scripture, and you can successfully fight temptation.”
        1. Satan quoted scripture to create one of his temptations.
        2. Evil can use scripture to clothe its suggestions in the appearance of “rightness.”
        3. It is not the fact that scripture is used that temptation is defeated.
        4. It is the fact that scripture is understood that defeats Satan and his temptations.

    2. The first temptation that Matthew lists is the temptation to turn stones into bread.
      1. Jesus rejected the temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3. Read with me Deuteronomy 8:1-5.
        All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.
      2. God used your wilderness experience to humble you.
      3. He used it to test you (the reactions of their hearts were an unknown to God).
        1. The purpose of the testing: “to know what was in your heart.”
        2. It was what was in their heart that determined if obedience occurred.
      4. “God used hunger to humble you.”
        1. “He wanted you to realize that you could not take care of yourselves.”
        2. “He fed you with a food in a way that you could not imagine–manna was totally foreign to your experience.”
        3. “The purpose: to teach you that life depended on trusting God.”
      5. “Remember your experiences.”
        1. “In forty years your clothes did not wear out.”
        2. “In all that travel in the dessert, your feet did not swell.”
        3. “You know in your heart that God was using discipline just like you use it.”
      6. Jesus understood that life was sustained by trusting God, not by turning stones into bread.

    3. The second temptation in Matthew’s list was the temptation to jump from the temple and let the angels catch him.
      1. This was to demonstrate his trust in God.
      2. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. Read with me Deuteronomy 6:16-19.
        You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you. You shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may be well with you and that you may go in and possess the good land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, by driving out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has spoken.
      3. The incident of Massah is recorded in Exodus 17 beginning in verse 1.
        1. The cloud that God provided them for guidance led them to Rephidim to make camp.
          1. There was no water at Rephidim, and the people were much, much larger than the population of Fort Smith (and they had their livestock).
          2. The people began to quarrel with Moses and demand that he give them water.
        2. Moses asked:
          1. “Why are you quarreling at me?”
          2. “Why are you testing God?”
        3. The people were thirsty and grumbled.
          1. “Why did you bring us out here to kill us, our children, and our livestock?”
          2. It was a dangerous, tense situation.
            1. Moses prayed to God and asked, “What will I do with them?”
            2. “They are about ready to kill me.”
        4. The Lord gave these instructions:
          1. “Take the elders and go before the people.”
          2. “Take with you the staff that you used in Egypt to strike the Nile River and turn its waters into blood.”
          3. “Strike the rock with that staff.”
            1. “Water will come out of the rock.”
            2. “The people will drink.”
        5. Moses did as God instructed, and the people had water.
          1. He named the place Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel).
      4. How did Israel test God at Massah?
        1. Their words and actions asked, “Is God among us or not?”
        2. They wanted God to prove He was there and could take care of them.
      5. Without jumping, Jesus knew God was there and would take care of him.

    4. Matthew records the third temptation as Satan’s bargain: “Bow down and worship me.”
      1. Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 or 10:20. Read with me Deuteronomy 6:13-15 and 10:20,21.
        Deuteronomy 6:13-15 You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.
        Deuteronomy 10:20,21 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen.
      2. The first commandment of the ten commands was, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2).
      3. The first principle of relationship with God, ground zero, is that you reverence God and only God. Nothing else receives your worship.
      4. Satan’s request was unthinkable.

  3. This is the truth I want you to see clearly:
    1. Jesus understood scripture.
    2. He did not just quote any verse that happened to pop into his thinking.
    3. His answer came from his understanding of the truth, and his understanding of the truth was founded on the context of the scripture.
    4. He knew the true meaning of the scriptures he quoted.

What does it take to deal with the devil? Faith? Certainly! Commitment to God? Certainly! The desire to be a godly person? Certainly! But if you deal with temptation effectively, it takes more. It takes an understanding of scripture.

Aside from the grace of God, we are no match for Satan. He will deceive us every time when he extends temptation if we do not understand scripture. We will never understand scripture unless we also learn the context of scripture.

“God, I Would Not Do It That Way”

Posted by on under Sermons

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had been wearing a necktie on Sundays since I was fourteen. That means I learned to tie a necktie when I was fourteen.

One day I was sitting in the classroom that Edna Elmore used for her English classes. It was free time. There were four of us in the room talking. Three were trying to tie a suitable knot for the neckwear of a dress uniform in the Navy.

They were not succeeding. Each time they tried to tie that tie, it was a mess. Each time I would say, “Use a Full Windsor knot.” Over and over the same thing happened. They would try. The tie would be a mess. I would say, “Use a Full Windsor knot.”

Of course, the whole time I was trying to sound like I really knew what I was talking about. And, of course, I did not. Finally they handed me the tie. I tried to tie what I had been told was a Full Windsor knot. The tie was much too thick for the knot, and all I produced was another big mess.

How often have we said, “I would not do it that way”? The translation of that statement: “That is the wrong way to do it. If I did it, I would do it the right way.”

Quite often, we, in so many words, say, “God, I do not understand the way You do things. More often than not, You simply confuse me with the way You do things. It is very evident to me that Your way will not work. I cannot understand why You do not understand that.”

  1. There is an old saying that declares, “Hindsight has 20/20 vision.”
    1. When you look from the present back into the past, you can see everything clearly with perfect vision.
      1. You can look back and see so clearly what other people should have done to avoid problems or to make mistakes impossible.
      2. If you are honest with yourself, you can always look back and see what you should have done or could have done.
        1. Very few of us would refuse to change the past if we could.
        2. Why? It is simple. When we look back, we always see with 20/20 vision.

    2. While we can look into the past and see so clearly, we cannot see into the present as clearly.
      1. We rarely see the present as clearly as we see the past.
      2. We never see the future as clearly as we see the past.

  2. When we look at God’s actions in the past, we can see so clearly what God was doing and marvel at God’s wisdom.
    1. But those people [for whom our past was their present] really struggled to understand what God was doing.
      1. Abraham and Sarah struggled to understand why God waited so long to keep His promise and give them a son.
      2. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob never understood why God decided to work through Jacob instead of Esau.
        1. It certainly was not because Jacob was such a godly man!
        2. It certainly was not because that was the way things were done!
      3. Surely there were times when Jacob’s family wondered why God brought them to a home in Egypt through ten brothers selling Joseph into slavery.
      4. Surely there were times when the nation of Israel wondered why God led them to the promised land through the desert when there was a perfectly good highway that went along the Mediterranean Sea.

    2. Looking back, we see clearly what God was doing.
      1. God wanted Abraham and Sarah and, later, Israel to understand that God, and nothing else, made it possible for Abraham and Sarah to have Isaac.
      2. God used Jacob and not Esau because God wanted them to clearly understand that the living God does things His way by His choices–He is sovereign.
      3. God rescued Jacob’s family from a famine through the work of Joseph because God wanted Israel to understand that God, alone, took care of them, and nothing else.
      4. God took Israel through the wilderness because He wanted Israel to understand that they could depend on God for every need.
      5. It is not difficult for us to look back and see what God’s purposes were–we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight.
      6. But it obviously was confusing and unthinkable to those who lived the experiences.

  3. Nothing changed.
    1. The apostles and the few remaining believers did not understand the crucifixion.
      1. To them, the crucifixion made no sense.
      2. To them, what made sense was to make Jesus the physical king of Israel.
      3. To them, not even the resurrection made sense.
      4. How could God use a dead man who was resurrected to produce a kingdom?

    2. It makes sense to us because we look back on the events, and we have the explanation.
      1. We have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight.
      2. But it did not make sense to those who experienced the moment.

    3. Just look at us.
      1. Looking back, we understand what God was doing in Abraham’s life, and it makes sense.
      2. Looking back, we understand what God was doing in Jesus’ death, and it makes sense.
      3. But how many times do we think, “God, whatever are you doing?”
        1. “You are making a mess out of my life!”
        2. “You are not responding to my prayers!
        3. “Your answers to my prayers do not make sense!”
        4. “What you are doing does not make sense!”
      4. We have great hindsight, but we are almost blind when we look at the present.

  4. Allow the prophet Habakkuk to teach us a powerful, needed lesson.
    1. The situation:
      1. Things had been very evil for a long time.
      2. Wicked conditions were getting worse.

    2. “God, you are not doing anything” (Habakkuk 1:1-4).
      1. “Judah is filled with wickedness and violence.”
      2. “Conditions are horrible.”
      3. “I cry out to You about it, but nothing happens.”

    3. God answered Habakkuk (1:5-11).
      1. “I will do something very soon.”
      2. “When I do it, you will be utterly amazed.”
      3. “I am sending the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to destroy Judah with horrendous violence.”

    4. Habakkuk was dumbfounded (1:12-17).
      1. “The Babylonians are horrible, ungodly people.”
      2. “How can a holy God use such an unholy people to punish people who are not as wicked as their aggressors?”
      3. “The Babylonians catch nations like a fisherman catches fish in a net.”
        1. “They are mean and they are successful.”
        2. “Then they worship their net and call it their god.”
        3. “Will the Babylonians just go on slaying nations forever?”

    5. Habakkuk declared that he will sit in his guard post until God explained Himself (2:1).
    6. God’s answer (2:2-20).
      1. “The righteous person lives by trusting me.”
      2. “All I will explain to you is that the Babylonians will also pay the penalty for their wickedness.”

    7. Habakkuk responded to God’s answer in a prayer (3).
      1. “God, You are too glorious and awesome for me to figure out.”
      2. “Dealing with this world’s wickedness is Your business, not mine.”
      3. “You are God; You are the Sovereign of the creation; and it is not my place to question how You work.”

    8. Habakkuk’s decision:
      Habakkuk 3:16-19 I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.
      1. Habakkuk had no doubt that God would do precisely what He said He would do: the Babylonian army would violently, horribly destroy Judah.
        1. He was so certain that it would happen that he trembled inside.
        2. He was so certain that it would happen his lips quivered and he felt like his bones were rotten.
      2. Habakkuk said that he would just wait for it to happen–what a horrible experience that must have been!
      3. He understood the righteous person lived by faith; he would trust God.
      4. This was his decision:
        1. If all the crops fail and there is no food;
        2. If all the livestock die (which meant if our entire economy failed);
        3. I will rejoice in my God.
        4. No matter what happens, my God is my strength.
        5. I will trust God, even when I cannot understand.

[Prayer: God, may we let You be our strength. May our faith not depend on our physical well being, but on our relationship with You. May we live by faith. When we cannot comprehend Your ways, may we not reject them.]

If God revealed to you personally how He would respond to the growing evil in this nation in the future, it would blow your mind. If God revealed to you personally how He would respond to the wickedness in your extended family in the future, it would blow your mind. If God revealed to you how He would respond to the indifference and ungodliness in your immediate family in the future, it would blow your mind.

If God revealed that personally to each one of us, let me predict what our most common reaction would be. “How can the holy God use those methods to address that wickedness?”

If you could know what would happen because of wickedness in our nation and our families, and if it shocked and astounded you, what would you do? Would you understand, “Righteous people live through every experience in life by trusting God.”

Is that what you would do?

Crisis: Potential For Good And Evil

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

No one enjoys personal crises. Yet, life is filled with them. I seriously doubt any of us live a week of life without at least one crisis in some form. Adults especially enjoy vacations and holidays because those occasions allow us to “pretend” that crises are suspended for a few days. On those days crises are banished! Not really.

Every crisis threatens the unwanted. Major crises threaten the unthinkable. Crises insist that we open our souls to the rule of fear. We are to concentrate on, speculate about, and dream fear’s images. Evil loves fear! Why? Fear (1) turns a human inward, (2) causes a human to isolate, and (3) motivates a human to abandon hope and cling to despair. Evil loves fear because these three things lock God out of human life. God can help, but the person will not let Him help because he or she is afraid.

(1) God uses crises to turn His people outward to each other. Crises motivate God’s children to turn to and depend on each other. (2) God uses crises to challenge His people to remember that they are part of His family, His community. Crises motivate God’s children to rejoice in the truth that they are not alone. (3) God uses crises to move His people to greater hope. Crises motivate God’s children to cling to God in hope in order to abandon the illusion of human sufficiency and the despair of loneliness.

Nothing motivates a Christian to allow God to be God as does a crisis. Why? Nothing reveals human weakness, loneliness, and despair as do crises. Nothing reveals our need for God as do crises. Faith is not a means of running from life. Faith is a valid means of dealing with life’s true needs. Use faith to cope with life, not to avoid life.

Each crisis contains the potential for incredible evil and for astounding good. When a crisis produces the decision to allow Satan to control us through the power of fear, the crisis generates evil in ways we cannot imagine. When a crisis produces the decision to allow God to control us through the power of mercy and love, the crisis generates good in ways we cannot imagine.

God does His most powerful, significant work in times of crises. Why? It is in times of crisis that we cooperate with God and allow Him to work. We impose that necessity on God. Would you like a clear example? Consider the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ earthly life. Then look at the resurrection. What an astounding way to give us a Savior!

The obvious key: to whom do we turn in crises? To whom do you turn in your personal crises? When you experience your crises, do you allow God to work in your life?