Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Hand That Drives The Nails Is God's! 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Message #5

The following is the transcript of a sermon preached by Mark S. Waite July 28, 2013 at Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont. 

Chirpie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next thing he knew he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

The problems began when Chirpie's owner decided to clean Chirpie's cage with a vacuum cleaner.  She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage.  The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!"  Chirpie got sucked in.  

The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chirpie -- still alive, but really stunned.  And since Chirpie was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water.  Then, realizing that Chirpie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the disheveled and almost de-feathered bird with hot air.  

Poor Chippie never knew what hit him that day and never ever really recovered according to Chirpie's owner who told her neighbor, "Chirpie doesn't sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares."

And ya know what—that is what a lot of us do when our lives have been turned upside down and inside out by trials—we don’t find much reason for singing anymore and instead--just sit and stare our way through life.  

We have that reaction not only because of the shock of troubling circumstances—but also because we oftentimes fail to understand Who is ultimately responsible for our trials and is in control of them.  Until we come to realize that God is not only in control of our trials but also the One Who ordained them we will not be able to live above our circumstances.  

And if this condition persists, we end up losing our joy and spending our lives just sitting and staring.  And the key to living above our troubling and even sometimes tragic circumstances, so as to not lose our joy in living, is to recognize, believe, and accept that God is ultimately responsible for, in control of, and has a glorious purpose for every one of our trials no matter what they may be.

So, with that thought in mind, let’s turn in our Bibles to what should be becoming a fairly familiar passage—2 Corinthians 1.

Paul has been talking about trials—those trials in our lives that threaten to undue us and shake us to our very core.  And when he gets to verses 8-11, he begins to give us his own personal experience of dealing with a severe trial in his life that actually threatened to take his life.

Now, Paul’s purpose in recounting his severe trial is not for the purpose of giving us the exact details of what happened but rather for the purpose of revealing God’s purposes in the trial.  And the reason why he does not go into the details of what had happened to him is because he wants us to be able to apply this to any troubling situation we may find ourselves in whether it is the same as Paul’s or not.

Again, what the Holy Spirit wants us to see in this passage is some of the work God plans for the trials He has ordained for our lives—to accomplish in our lives.

Now, by way of a short review Paul makes the point in verse 4 that God comforts us in all our afflictions.  Listen, God never leaves us alone to deal with the struggles of life on our own.  He always comes alongside of us and calls us to come alongside of Him to find wisdom, strength, and the ability to stay in the ring and not quit when things get rough.  As a believer, there is never a time when you are walking alone and thus there is never a problem or a struggle or a trial that God leaves you to deal with yourself.  He comes alongside of us in all of those situations which cause us to feel stressed out and seem to have the power to squeeze the life out of us.

The second thing we saw in verses 4-7 is that God comforts us—that is comes alongside of us in all of our struggles as an example for us to do the same when our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing trials in their lives.

And finally, the third principle we saw in these verses is that God’s comfort is not necessarily being rescued from our trial.  In fact, it may not even be “relief” in the trial.  Rather, God’s comfort is primarily for the purpose of enabling us to endure the trial until it has accomplished in our lives the work God intends for it to accomplish.

A great example of this is seen in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where Paul asks God three times to remove a terrible trial from his life only to have God say “No, My grace is sufficient for you.”  Sufficient for what?  For enduring and persevering through the trial until it has accomplished the work God brought it into Paul’s life to do.  God comforts us by coming alongside of us and strengthening us to remain in the fight not run from it.

Back in 2 Corinthians 1, we see this in the last phrase of verse 6 where Paul writes the comfort God provides us with through His presence “is effective in the patient enduring of. . . .sufferings”.  In other words, God uses our trials and the comfort He provides to make it through those trials to produce even greater endurance, perseverance, longsuffering, and the ability to “hang in there” when things get tough.

This is exactly the same thing that the Book of James teaches us in James 1:2-4.

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

And note that the reason why we need this endurance, this perseverance, this ability to stay in the fight and not quit when things get rough is because it is what produces spiritual maturity as well as spiritual influence, and credibility in our lives.

But how do we find the strength to persevere in the midst of those trying situations and circumstances that are indeed squeezing the life out of us?

How do we stay in the fight when everything in us is telling us to quit and run away?

How can we look at our suffering and our pain and still find reason to rejoice?

How do look at going through trials as pure joy?

Well let’s read 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 and flesh out the answer to these questions.

"For we do not want you to be unaware brethren of our affliction which came to us in Asia that we were burdened excessively beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead."

Wow.  Here's the Apostle Paul really being real.  I mean, he is taking us inside--deep inside of his life--his heart--his thinking and showing us what he was really feeling.

Again, we don't know exactly what the trial was but we sure can see how much it hurt.

I mean, Paul is basically telling us that it got so bad that he and Timothy despaired even of life.  I think that means that he reached a point where he would just as soon died as kept on living.  Have you been there?  have you ever been at the place in your life where it got so bad, so hard, so unbelievably hard that you wished you were dead?  I think that is where Paul was and he is sharing this with us to help us when we feel the same way.

Now, Paul did experience deliverance and he talks about it in very general terms in verse 10 and he does also tell us what he learned from this severe trial--which was to trust in God rather than himself.  But I want us to see something else this morning.  I want us to go behind the curtain, if you will, to see what Paul knew about his trials that we need to know if we are to find joy in going through them.

Notice that throughout this passage from verse 6 through 11—there is a purpose for and in our trials.  In verse 6, we read, “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”  In the same verse we also read, “Or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort.”  In verse 9, Paul makes the point, “indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves—so that—we would not trust in ourselves but in God Who raises the dead.”

These verses indicate that there is purpose in our trials.  There is a reason for them and this means they are not random accidents, coincidences, or meaningless tragedies.

In order for our trials to have a purpose which is good—they must have been purposed—that is they must have been planned and in fact, brought into our lives by someone who has the power to do so—so as to accomplish in our lives, what the trials have been designed to accomplish.  Thus, Paul, in this passage is making the point that God has a purpose in our trials and thus, our trials are custom designed to bring about that purpose in our lives.
And if our trials are indeed custom designed with a purpose in mind—there must be a Designer behind the trials.

And that Providential Designer of our trials is God Himself.

In other words—The Hand Who Drives The Nails of Adversity, Suffering, Loss, and Pain into Our Lives is God’s!

You see, God is not only in control of our trials—He is the One Who designed them with you in mind and then brought them to bear in your life to accomplish in you and through you what could not be accomplished otherwise.
And this truth is an essential truth to lock on to and hold on to if you and I are going to be able to endure and persevere through the tough days of our lives with joy and grace.

Listen, if I know that what I am going through has a purpose behind it and a design behind it which is good it is far easier to endure the trial and endure it with grace, than if I merely think it is a random accident or tragedy with no purpose or reason behind it.

Consider the story of Joseph which, is found in Genesis 37-50.
Scripture very clearly teaches that Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, hated him, wanted to kill him, but instead cast him into a pit and then sold him as a slave (Gen. 37).  Joseph ends up in Egypt where he is imprisoned for years for a crime he did not commit but is finally released and promoted to second in command over Egypt as a result of being able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.  In this position Joseph is used by God to spare Egypt and the surrounding countries from a devastating famine that lasted seven years.
Then when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for food and Joseph recognizes them and reveals himself to them—they of course are scared to death he will punish them for how they treated him.  But instead of punishing them for selling him as a slave into Egypt, Joseph says, in Genesis 45:5, “God sent me before you to preserve life.”

In other words, he attributes the ultimate purpose behind his brother’s evil actions to God.  Now, he doesn’t blame God for the evil treatment he received nor does he say God sinned but he does say God was in control of it.
And then in Genesis 50:20, he states to his brothers, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good. . .” 

In other words, the blame for the evil is placed upon his brothers who did the evil but the ultimate purpose behind their actions which they were responsible for was God’s intention to bring about good from evil.
So their sinful deeds were under the overriding providential control of God so that God’s sovereign and ultimate purpose was accomplished, which was as the rest of Genesis 50:20 states:  “so that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Now consider the Old Testament story of Job.  Turn to Job 1.
According to the Bible, Job was a righteous and good man in God’s sight—that is—he was a believer who loved God.  Now look at verses 8-9.  Notice that God brings Job to Satan’s attention.  He, in effect, puts Job in Satan’s sights.
And when Satan challenges God by saying that the only reason Job loves and obeys Him is because of God’s blessings upon his life and then essentially dares God to let Satan bring trouble into his life to see if he will still love and obey God—God gives Satan permission to do so in verse 12.

And so, Job’s oxen and donkeys were stolen, most of his servants were murdered, lightning struck his flocks of sheep as well as the shepherds watching them, his camels were stolen, more servants murdered, and all his children were killed as the result of a mighty wind storm.  And Job’s response to all of this loss is recorded for us in Job 1:20-22 where he says:

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship
21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

In other words, Job recognized God was ultimately responsible for his loss even though Satan was the one who attacked him.  He looked beyond all the secondary causes, of which Satan was one, and with the eyes of faith saw that the LORD was the One in control and ultimately responsible for His loss and thus was able to endure gracefully.

And finally consider the story of Christ and His crucifixion as seen in Acts 4:27-28.

In these verses Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews in Jerusalem are all held responsible and accountable for the crucifixion of Christ yet they did what God’s purpose and will had decided beforehand should happen. 

Acts 2:23 states that Jesus was handed over to his executioners by God’s “set purpose” and “foreknowledge” and these people crucified Him. 
These people were not forced to act against their wills.  Rather, God accomplished His purpose using their willing choices, for which they were responsible and accountable.

In all of these situations and many many more I did not cite from the Bible—God is seen as ultimately responsible for and in control of the trials that befall His people.

And in all of these situations, God uses the trials to bring about good.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:28 when in talking about the suffering that believers will go through in verse 17 says:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Notice that the verse is making the point that God causes “all things” in our lives to work together for good.  In other words, no one situation or experience or trial in your life will produce the good God is going to produce in your life—Rather, God takes all of your life experiences, all of your trials, all of your struggles, all of your tragedies, and all of your life and brings about good from it all.

And that good is seen in verse 29—where Paul tells us that God is working to build within us the very likeness and character of Christ Himself.
Christian maturity is being conformed to the image of Christ.

That is what God is doing in your life.

And that is why He is bringing into your life the situations and circumstance that produce the trials that produce the endurance that will enable you and I to persevere through our trials until God has produced in us the very character of Christ Himself.

But why is this so important to God?

Look at Romans 8:16-25.

God is preparing us for the destiny we lost because of Adam’s sin.
He is going to restore earth and the whole creation to the way it was before sin Satan and sin ruined it and then He is going to give it back to us to have dominion over, rule, explore, enjoy, develop, and revel in as we live in the very presence of Jesus as glorified sinless people who have been completely conformed to the image of God and are able to pursue and accomplish all that our new sinless and glorified completely Christlike minds can imagine.
I hope you can see that God does not ordain your trials to make you bitter but better as he prepares Heaven for you and you for Heaven and while you are waiting creates Heaven within you. . . . .

As He takes your trials and uses them to create the beauty of godly Christlike character in your life!

So don’t quit before you get there!  Use the eyes of faith to see and imagine the goal for which your trials are preparing you.

In 1952, a young woman named Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island, determined to swim to the California shoreline 26 miles away.  The weather was so foggy she could not see the boats escorting her let alone the shoreline.  

Despite that and the cold temperatures she swam 15 hours before begging her crew to take her out of the water.  They tried to encourage her to keep swimming and her own mother even tried to stop her from quitting telling her she was so close.
After swimming a few more strokes however, she, physically and emotionally exhausted gave up the fight and was pulled out of the water—less than half a mile from the shoreline.

At a news conference the next day she said, “All I could see was the fog…..I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.”

Two months later, Chadwick tried again. This time was different. The same thick fog set in, she couldn’t see the shore—but she made it this time--because she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind while she swam.

If you’re weary and don’t know if you can keep going—don’t quit—Remember Who is in control of your trials and keep your eyes on why He has brought them into your life—to get you to the shore—ready and prepared to thoroughly enjoy and be thoroughly enjoyed in the place and positions He has prepared for you.

As Helen Keller, the women who was blind, deaf, and could not speak—wrote—“I give deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to—a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song!”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Bible--Its Not All About Us!

Sometimes we read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us and our moral improvement, our victory over sin, or our comfort. We have a tendency to see God’s Word as a collection of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles.  We search its pages as we would any “self-help manual” when we are in need of advice.  And sometimes, we think the Bible is about us and what we’ve done or are doing wrong.  But, by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the point of Who and What the Bible is all about—like the two men on the Road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke who had to learn that the Bible is about Jesus and what He did.

Luke 24:44-47 makes as one of its many points, that it is possible to read and study the Bible all the while missing the whole point of the Bible so that in reading the stories in the Bible—we miss the Story of the Bible.  Unless we go to the Bible and see Jesus and his work upon the cross on behalf of people whose best works are as “filthy rags” before God (Is. 64:6) we have missed the main point. Furthermore, if we see Jesus’ work in the redemption of man as being primarily for and about man we have also missed the point and are in danger of turning even our most devout Bible reading into fuel for our own man-centered, man-glorifying narcissism. 

Contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a Book about or for good people looking to become better.  Rather, it is a Book about and for bad people who realize they cannot become better. That is not a typo. The Bible is not about how to improve our lives so as to please God and earn His acceptance so as to one day live with Him in Heaven.  Its not about “good” people reaching up to God; it’s about God reaching down to bad people who cannot improve their lives so as to become acceptable to God. Far from being a book for people looking for morals to live up to, the Bible is a Book for people who having failed to live up to God’s laws are looking for mercy and grace.

In essence, the Bible is one long story of God meeting man’s rebellion with His rescue; man’s sin with His salvation; man’s catastrophic personal failures with His favor; man’s guilt with His grace; and man’s intrinsic moral depravity and sinful corruption with His goodness.  Likewise, the Bible’s overwhelming focus is not on the works of man but the work of God.  It’s just not a Book about us as much as it is a Book about God and that is why it is Good News for us.

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13