Dealing With Failure

Scripture

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
~John 20:19-23, NLT

Introduction

Atychiphobia  is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure. As with many phobias, atychiphobia often leads to a constricted lifestyle, and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities. A person afflicted with atychiphobia considers the possibility of failure so intense that they choose not to take risk. Often this person will  subconsciously undermine their own efforts so that they no longer have to continue to try. This unwillingness to try arises from the perceived inequality between the possibilities of  success and failure holds the atychiphobic back from his or her potential.

It might be worth noting that failure does not keep us from succeeding, it is the “Fear of failure that keeps us from succeeding.” Jesus disciples failed miserably and they knew it. They had locked themselves into a secluded and safe place. They lack the courage to unlock the door and step out into a world that crucified the Son of God. They were many things but above all they were AFRAID! It never feels good to be terrified. Charles L. Allen was a preach slash psychologist: he studied people. He served as pastor at the First Methodist Church of Houston, Texas for 23 years. While he was there, First Houston became the largest Methodist congregation in the world. He has written a lot of good books. His classics are “God’s Psychiatry” and “All Things Are Possible Through Prayer.” Both are great reads and I highly recommend them. He begins chapter 16 in the latter with this statement, “Basically, man has four problems: fear, guilt, self-centeredness and the inability to forget.” Haunting memories are hard to deal with and somehow our mind refuses to let us forget our failure. Note the testimony of Paul…

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Paul had a past that he wanted to forget. He gave consent to the brutal and malicious death of Stephen: matter of fact, he held the robes of those who threw the stones. I am guessing but I would be willing to wager that Paul thought about Stephen at least once per day. Like the eleven disciples, Paul past was marred with failure. The question I present in this message is this: are we going to cling to our fear of failure and remain in our comfort zone where the risk failure seems not to exist or will we dare to step out on faith and follow in the steps of our Savior who confronted a dark and sinful world.

Actually, I think the eleven felt fear, guilt, shame and remorse. Let’s briefly discuss these feeling that keep us in a shut-down mode, which is exactly where Satan wants us.

SHAME

We know that Peter was feeling shame before the crucifixion but now all eleven are ashamed of their behavior. All of them had made the same pledge as Peter and all of them without exception fled under pressure and left Jesus all alone. They had acted like mice and not men. They had played the coward and is there any greater shame than that of the coward? How many times have we had the opportunity to take a stand for Christ and we backed up, faded into the landscape. Why do we deny the Christ who died for us? Because we are cowards by nature. As an old cowboy once said, “There are some things that gnaw on a man worse than death.” I have always believed that living with the shame of cowardice is far worse than death. For some reason, I place a lot of stock on nobility and integrity. C.S. Lewis says that cowardice is universally disdained: no culture admires cowards. The disciples had forsaken Jesus at the time that He needed them most. This once proud group now has head in hands staring at the floor. It is hard to shake off that kind of shame.

We’ve all done stupid things. I wish I could say that my stupidity was limited to my youthful years but that would not be true. A few years ago, probably more than a decade, I went to see an old friend and took him out to lunch. I knew he was not trustworthy but because of a disability that he had, I felt sorry for him and wanted to encourage him. He got me on a sore subject and I said some things that I had no business saying. I had an eerie feeling as I drove home but then I forgot all about it but about three months later, I got a blood chilling card in the mail. It came from a man filled with bitterness and contempt, especially for me. I knew immediately what had happened. The bad thing is that he did not repeat what I said verbatim but of course he didn’t have to, all he had to do was repeat it to the right people and he knew it would create storm which it did. Some people who I loved very much and never intended to hurt got hurt and it was all my fault. There are certain people who you just do not trust but I acted very unwisely and caused a lot of problems. Did I feel shame? Yes, I did and do. It was a dumb thing to do. I cannot be proud of doing something stupid. It is one of those things I would like to forget.

GUILT

Although shame and guilt are related they are not exactly the same. Of course they both are by-products of sin. Guilt is a legal term associated with the responsibility for a crime, transgression or malicious deed. Usually where you find guilt, you will find shame but not always. Ted Bundy was guilty but he felt no shame. A psychopath or sociopath feels no guilt or shame but in the eyes of the law, they can be guilty. Guilt is an actual fact whereas shame is more of a feeling. No one has ever been arrested or executed for shame. The word of God is a mirror that reveals our scars, blemishes and flaws. I seldom read a passage or hear a sermon, that God does not convict me of something. Of all the things that plague men’s souls, I think I hate guilt the most. How do we cope with guilt when we continue to make the same mistakes over and over? Let’s face the facts, human are guilt ridden which is one of many things that makes us different from other creatures.

I have not had a hard life by any stretch of the imagination but the one thing that delights me most about my promotion is no more guilt. I don’t know what heaven will be like but it will be guilt free I do look forward to living in a guilt free environment.

REMORSE

Remorse is the feeling of guilt and regret over pass mistakes but sometimes short of repentance. Judah felt remorse but unfortunately he did not repent. He confessed his mistake but to the wrong people. Never confess to the devil or his servants: they could care less. I think everyone has regrets, probably some more than most. I have no desire to relive my past but there are some things I would change if I could. I do admit that it might be a good thing that we don’t have that power.

A woman came to she her pastor after her mother had passed away. She was an emotional wreck so the pastor started talking about her mother being in a better place. He assumed that her grief had to do with the lost of her mother or her mother’s eternal state but finally she interrupted and said, “You don’t understand, I know my mother is in heaven. I am not worried about where she is…the thing that is tormenting me is how I treated her when she was alive.” The woman was feeling guilty. My mother lived to be 95 but I started treating her like she was old long before her 90’s. It’s difficult when you are a parent on both ends. Mother knew how to pull my chain but that is little comfort to me now. I do know one thing: what goes around comes around and I can see it coming. My children are going to treat me like I’m old before I get ready to be treated that way. I do wish that I had shown more patience with my Mother.

FEAR

Of course you understand that all these things are related our sin and transgression. Adam and Eve had no insecurities until they rebelled against God. Sin is a package deal; with it you get fear, guilt, shame and remorse. There is no question in my mind that fear is the engine pulling the train. Fear is big! Our church has been involved in My Hope with Billy Graham for a year. Our goal was to have 25 Matthews [host homes] but we had only 10 or so to respond. I assumed that are numbers would grow but they have declined. People are fearful when it comes to sharing the gospel. My Hope is the simplest and most confrontational way I’ve ever seen to share the gospel but people are afraid. We are afraid of failure, rejection and the reproach that comes with standing for Christ. My Hope is something every Christian family could do but most will not even give it consideration. We are afraid of risk! We are afraid to fail! We are paralyzed by negative thoughts, by what if’s. The only way to expel negative thought is to have stronger positive thoughts. Take the thought of fear and failure and replace with a stronger thought. David’s friends advised him to flee the wrath of Saul by hiding in the mountains. David chose to dwell on the sovereignty of God who made the mountains. Faith will conquer fear if we give it a chance. People watch too much TV and read too much news paper. Focus on the word of God. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. We will have no assurance and little faith a part from the word of God. Starve your doubts and feed your faith. Why do you read a news paper that you don’t believe and not read the word of God which you say you believe.

Crazy people and kids make good witnesses because they know no fear. A six year old boy invited a relative to the revival his church was having and the relative brushed him off by saying, “I have my religion, I don’t need the church.” The little boy, without hesitation, looked him straight in the eye and said, “What you need is Jesus.” Dr. Adrian Rogers told the story of the mentally challenged man who attended a mid-western small town first Baptist church. They were in revival and the pastor called a visitation on Monday morning. He had a few people show up and among them was this simpleton. He ignored him and give all the assignments to the other people. A normal person would have gotten their feeling hurt after being ignored but this man didn’t think anything about it. There was a furniture store right across the road from the church and the man who owned ran the store was a notorious sinner. He made no bones about it: he had no use for Jesus or the church. Well this simpleton walks across the street and into the man’s business. He is engaged with a customer but the simpleton rudely interrupts, he didn’t know that interrupting was rude. He addressed the man and said without hesitation, “Do you want to go to heaven?” The man was very angry and did not want to lose a sale so he said abruptly, “No, I do not want to go to heaven. What I want is for you to stop interrupting me, I am busy with customers.” The simpleton said, “Well, go to hell then! And he turned and walked out of the store. We the revival service got started that night, there was a hush that fell over the congregation: this business man who hated the church had eased in and was sitting in the back. The evangelist preached and the invitation was given and this man came forward with tears of repentance. After he had prayed to receive Christ the pastor asked him what prompted him to come. Then he told him the entire story. He said, “I have not been able to get those words…’go to hell then’ out of my mind all day.”

Dr. James Kennedy said there are two major reasons why Christians do not share their faith: [1] They live a compromising life [2] They are intimidated by fear. I think Dr. Kennedy was right about the two; perhaps fear is the greatest problem, I don’t know but it is certainly one or two.

CONCLUSION

If you went to your doctor and he diagnosed that you had a major problem such as a tumor. You wouldn’t want him to tell you about it, show you the x-ray and then get up and walk out of the room. You would hope he was prescribe some medicine or treatment and give you hope of recovery. Is there any hope for our fear problem. It is a pervasive and intimidating problem; do we have hope of recovery. The disciples recovered. Jesus is the great Physician. The steps to recovery are…

  1. Realize the presence of Jesus–Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! We don’t have His physical presence but we have His promise that He is present. It is a matter to trusting His word over our feelings and experience. He inhabits the house He built. He cannot not be present–It is an impossibility.
  2. Recognize Jesus ability to confer peace–“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Jesus is the peace speaker. Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.  But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” What did Jesus do to calm the seas? He spoke to them and He can speak peace to your heart just as He did the elements.
  3. Receive His Spirit–“Receive the Holy Spirit.” You may need to surrender all and be filled with the Holy Spirit. If you are saved you have received the Spirit with your new birth. In this world we get our feet dirty and we need them washed daily. It is not one and done, we surrender to Him everyday.
  4. Remember our sins are forgiven–If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” This verse has been interpreted and misinterpreted in many ways. Only God can forgive sin: that is one thing that the Pharisees had right what they missed was that Jesus was God and He had the power to forgive sin and confer righteousness on whoever came to Him in repentance and faith. Some believe that Jesus is talking about our WITNESS. We can confer grace and forgiveness in the way we live. A good witness can help a person come to know the forgiveness that we have in Christ. Only believers have this power and privilege. Only the forgiven can share forgiveness. Did Jesus berate or rebuke any one of the eleven for their cowardice and failure? Don’t you know they breathed a sweet sigh of relief just to know that Jesus had forgiven them.

 

 

 

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The Great Invitation

Matthew 11:28-30

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

INTRODUCTION

I love this passage. Some refer to it as the Great Invitation, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened.” Do you know anyone who has adult children that is not burdened or weary? Practically everyone you met these days is laden with troubles. When we casually ask people how they are doing, what we want to hear is ‘fine’. We don’t really want them to unburden themselves on us because we are absorbed with our own problems, right? They are a couple of points other than the one above that I want to make by way of introduction. Let me list them so that they will be clear.

  1. Everyone has problems
  2. Jesus invitation is to everyone. It is not an exclusive invitation. If you are weary and heavy laden, Jesus invites you to come to Him.
  3. The symbol Jesus uses, the YOKE is a symbol of oppression and bondage in the Old Testament but Jesus has the power to make all things new. Using the Yoke as a symbol or teaching point was revolutionary and somewhat of a paradox. Who wants a yoke? I hope that we will answer that question in the message.

We are going to use an acronym to guide us through our thoughts: RULE. There is no play on words or double meanings here, it is just a word to help us remember the content.

R is for Rest

Note what Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Does that sound appealing or what? Is there anything that you are tired of? I am tired of secular humanism. I am tired of killing innocent babies and calling it choice. I am tired of having gay rights shoved in my face every time I turn on the TV or Radio. I am sick and tired of political correctness and liberal politics. But I have to be honest, as tired as I am of those things, I am also tired of fear, guilt, shame, self, regret, sin and failure. I’m telling you, everyone has a burden if its nothing more than their shame and guilt.

I have a lot of anxiety. I think I was born hyper. It is practically impossible for me to relax. I don’t even get still when I’m asleep. I keep a lot of my mind and I don’t have that much mind. We all need a Sabbath, a day of rest but I am a preacher and so Sunday’s are anything but a day of rest. My Sunday’s begin around 4:00 am and end at around 7:00-8:00. I am weary in body and mind when I come home on Sunday night. I am so tired physically on Monday that I move like a snail. After a long and stressful weekend a few weeks ago, I came home from work on Monday, took my shower and put on my PJ’s. June said, “What are you doing?” I said, “If anyone calls for me, I am in bed.” I thought I made myself clear but had no more than got it out of my mouth than one of the kids wanted to talk to me. If it had been a church member, she would have told them I was in bed. I hang up from that call and within 20 minutes, I am getting another. I gave up and went to bed. We all get tired and we all have burdens to bear. I just happen to be my own worse enemy and I bear the burden of anxiety. Rest, real rest is a big deal to me.

My favorite time of the day is my quiet time in the morning. There I get to rest in the arms of Jesus. Listen folks, I need my rest and Jesus gives me sweet rest from my weariness.

U is for UNION

The thing about a Yoke is that it brings you really close to the one you are yoked with. Jesus said, “Take My Yoke upon you.” This is a picture of unity. I am in union with Christ. I am right by His side and He is right by myself. This has to be the most wonderful aspect of being yoked to Christ, I have His promised and perpetual presence. He has promised to stay with me until the end of the age. He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me. There is nothing like HIS PRESENCE. There is nothing you can compare to His presence.

There is a wonderful story in John 20 that illustrates my point. The disciples are locked in a room out of fear of the Jews. Lets just pick up with the story from John…That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” There is no substitute for HIS presence. Could a bride enjoy her wedding if the groom was absent? His absence would pretty much spoil her day. There is no good day without Jesus. I can weather any storm as long as I feel His presence. The disciples were having a bad night and they did not realize that Jesus was present until He manifested His presence; oh for faith to know that He is present in the darkness when there is no manifestation.

L is for LEARNING

Again, pay particular attention to what Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and let me teach you.” The NKJV reads, “Learn from me.” I like the ERV because the emphasis on learning is throughout the passage. Come to me all of you who are tired from the heavy burden you have been forced to carry. I will give you rest. Accept my teaching. Learn from me. I am gentle and humble in spirit. And you will be able to get some rest. Yes, the teaching that I ask you to accept is easy. The load I give you to carry is light.” The invitation is actually an invitation to be Jesus disciple. What a privilege. He is willing to teach us how to be like Him, gentle and humble. A yoke is for serving, not sitting. Jesus it talking about teaching us how to serve with his gentle spirit.

When a farmer was training a new oxen, he would yoke it with a seasoned veteran. The larger, stronger, learned oxen would do the leading and most of the pulling until the junior oxen learns the art. In our case Jesus is the lead oxen. Being His disciple is simply a matter of following. I don’t have to make any directional decisions, all I have to do is follow Him. As the song writer said, “Where he leads I will follow.” You don’t need a vision: Jesus has already cast the vision. He is the founder and architect of the church; you know He has a plan. Discipleship is not about casting a vision; it’s about following the Master. I don’t pretend to know it all but I do know that Jesus is teaching me humility. I’m not that good of a student but He is a very good teacher. One of the things I admire about Him most is His gentleness.

I started in the ministry some 45 years ago and I don’t remember a time when I did not talk about Jesus but as I think back, I question my motives. I am fairly certain that it was more about me in those days than it was Jesus no matter what my lips said. Learning is a process, a progression of steps and incrementally and patiently, Jesus has moved me from where I was to where I am and I believe someday to where He wants me to be. I know that I’m still rough around the edges but I do sense Jesus patiently moving me closer to His spirit of gentleness and humility. Someone said we believers have a three-fold task: [1] To be disciples [2] To make disciples [3] To draw others to Christ so they can become disciples. It’s all about discipleship and you cannot make a disciple until you become a disciple. In the Kingdom of God, you cannot lead until you learn to follow. There are many gifted people who skip the discipleship training and go straight to being the lead ox but they do not have a gentle or humble spirit. I know gifted preachers who can deliver eloquent and moving sermons but they have no humility or gentleness. Jesus want to teach us to serve Him with gentleness and humility. He wants us to learn to be like Him, to serve like Him.

E is for EASY

I have heard the cliché’s, I know living for Christ is easy once we are dead to self but it is the dead to self part that I struggle. One way or the other, a yoke spells work, service, labor, toil: you don’t yoke oxen to stand under a shade tree. There are some prideful folk that are going to say, “I’m not getting in anyone’s yoke. I am my own man and I do what I please. I serve no one other than myself.” I’m sure there are those who believe they are being truthful when they make such foolish statements. What is the essence of sin? It is found in Isaiah 53:6, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The essence of sin is that we want to do things our way. The person who says, “I do things my way, I don’t serve anyone other than myself” is deceived. They are a servant of sin because sin demands that we do things our way. Who is standing in the shadows of sin? If you said the devil, you would be correct. Everyone is wearing a YOKE. Jesus invites you to wear His YOKE because, relatively speaking, it is easy. The way of the transgressor is hard and it going to get harder and harder. Jesus is saying, “My way is best. My way is easier than your way,” and He is right.

Remember also that Jesus pulls most of the weight; in some cases all. You pulled all the weight at Calvary. Not one soul lifted a finger to help Him. Who else but Christ can take care of our sins? Who else but Christ can usher us into the presence of the Father? You would be a fool to try to work your way into God graces; get yoked up with Jesus; he will make your burden light.

The apostle Paul could remember the day when he was weary and heavy laden. Paul was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were possibly the most religious people on earth. Paul did this, Paul did that but he was a miserable and mean man. He served God or at least he thought, but he did it his way. He lived to arrest Christians and break up prayer meeting. He was a terror to the church. Christians feared this little man because he was mean and had the power of the Sanhedrin behind him. In those day, life was hard for Paul and he made life difficult for others. Then Paul met Jesus and Jesus transformed his life. Paul became a servant of the church instead of it’s satan: he became a preacher instead of a persecutor. Listen as Paul unveils his heart to the Corinthians…

But if anyone dares to boast, I will too. Are those people Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they from Abraham’s family? So am I. Are they serving Christ? I am serving him more. (I am crazy to talk like this.) I have worked much harder than they have. I have been in prison more often. I have been hurt more in beatings. I have been near death many times. Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of 39 lashes with a whip.  Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost killed with rocks. Three times I was in ships that were wrecked, and one of those times I spent the night and the next day in the sea. In my constant traveling I have been in danger from rivers, from thieves, from my own people, and from people who are not Jews. I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger from people who pretend to be believers but are not. I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty. Many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. And there are many other problems. One of these is the care I have for all the churches. I worry about each group of believers every day.

Sound like Paul endured a lot for Christ sake but listen to what he says in chapter 4 of the same letter, Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Paul consider everything he had suffered to be light affliction. He saying, “Man, what we have suffered or think we have suffered is nothing compared to what’s waiting on us in heaven.”

When I surrendered to the ministry, I thought I was making a huge sacrifice. As I look back, I can see that I made no sacrifice at all. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Jesus is no liar. He is the ultimate Promise Keeper.

Dealing With Disappointment

Text: Genesis 45:4-8, ERV

4 So Joseph said to his brothers again, “Come here to me. I beg you, come here.” When the brothers went to him, he said to them, “I am your brother Joseph. I am the one you sold as a slave to Egypt. Now don’t be worried. Don’t be angry with yourselves for what you did. It was God’s plan for me to come here. I am here to save people’s lives. This terrible famine has continued for two years now, and there will be five more years without planting or harvest. So God sent me here ahead of you so that I can save your people in this country. It was not your fault that I was sent here. It was God’s plan. God made me like a father to Pharaoh. I am the governor over all his house and over all Egypt.”

Joseph was a dreamer but I doubt that he ever dreamed of being a slave or spending three years in prison. Ultimately, his dreams came true but they did not materialize as he had imagined. Joseph did understand that God was working providentially in his life to save the lives of others. He managed his disappointment well. There is no detection of any bitterness or despair in Joseph’s life. He begged his brothers not to do him harm but from that time on, it seems that he rolled with the punches. He accepts the role of a slave and in a very short time becomes an exalted slave, an estate manager which was not a bad life. Joseph had access to more things as Potiphar’s Butler than he did as Jacob’s son. In Egypt, Joseph lived in a house where as Jacob lived in a tent. So in some ways, Joseph got an upgrade. When he was falsely accused by Mrs. Potiphar, he did not complain or protest. He did maintain his innocence while he was in prison which is understandable but he does not become bitter or cynical. In a short time, he becomes the trustee of the prison. A part of Joseph’s greatest is his ability to handle disappointment, to process it and see the providential hand of God at work.

WE LIVE IN A FALLEN WORLD

When it comes to processing disappointment, it is paramount that we understand that the world we live in is sin cursed and all humans are affected by the fall. God does not lie, tempt, cheat or betray but men do. God did not sell Joseph into slavery; his wicked hell-bent brothers sold him. I have no way of knowing for sure but I assume that initially, Joseph blamed his brothers for his misfortune. He would be just in blaming them; for indeed they were responsible. I am fairly certain that Joseph was very angry with his brothers but the presence of God in his life and his character motivated him to make the best out of bad circumstances. Joseph excels in every arena in spite of the fact that none are of his choosing. He did not choose to be Potiphar’s slave, nor the trustee of the prison, nor the Prime Minister of Egypt. It was his attitude and the anointing of God upon his life that lead him to excel in every area. After 13 years of ups and downs, disappointments and promotions: Joseph figured it out…God was at work providentially. Although his brothers acted maliciously with intent to hurt Joseph, they had actually done him a favor. God had used they wicked deed to fulfill Joseph’s dream and to basically become the savior of two nations. Joseph realized that God has the ability to make all things work together for good. The Cross is a perfect example. The Jews were motivated by hate and envy. God did not inspire them to mistreat Jesus. They mistreated Him because they were totally depraved and filled with bitter envy. They, not God, were responsible for the death of Jesus. God did not deny, betray or crucify His Son. We [Gentiles] along with the Jews are the guilty parties. Jesus died because of our sin. He did for our sin but He also died because of our sin. If you blame God for the death of Jesus, you’ll never get anywhere. We did it, God the Father allowed it but providentially He used our evil ways to bring about our salvation. He made something good come out of the worse thing that has ever happened on this earth. So step one in processing disappointment is realizing that we live in a fallen world.

TRIUMPH IS NOT INSTANTANIOUS

Joseph’s brothers did not pull him out of the pit and hand him off to Pharaoh to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. There are 13 years, possibly long years, between Joseph’s kidnapping and his promotion to Prime Minister. Joseph does not deal with one disappointment but a series of disappointments: [1] Brothers show no love or compassion [2] They sell him into slavery [3] Joseph loses his family and freedom in a single day [4] Potiphar’s wife torments him and ultimately slanders him which cost him his job and the freedom that he was enjoying as an exalted slave [4] He is thrown into prison by a false charge where he meets the chief baker and cup-bearer and the cup-bearer forgets all about Joseph once he is set free, leaving Joseph to rot in prison. So as you can see, there is disappointment after disappointment. .

Obviously Joseph refused to give up. He may have gotten discouraged but he never gave up. It was this tenacious and determined spirit that lead to his triumph: he refused to quit. You see this spirit of determination in all great people. Winston Churchill was called the “British Bulldog” because he was so tenacious. A bulldogs strength is that he can sustain his bit because he can breath through his pug nose while holding fast to his prey. He refuses to let go. Very few things work out as we plan; life is filled with adjustments. I think we have only two options: be flexible and go with the flow or else get bent out of shape.

GOD’S WAY NEVER LEADS TO A DEAD END

Someone has said “when God closes one door, He opens another.” When we come to an impasse or what we think is a dead-end, it is not, there is a right and a left or a U-turn. More than a century ago, a kid living in Decatur, Illinois, was very interested in photography. He saved his money which was no easy chore and ordered a book on photography but the publishers got mixed up some how and sent him a book on ventriloquism. He was thoroughly disappointed because he loved photography and had no interest at all in ventriloquism. He had to asked his folks what the word ventriloquism meant. But he could not afford to send the book back and he didn’t have the money to reorder so over a period of time, he started reading bits and pieces and before he knew it, he had a real interest in ventriloquism. From reading and rereading the book, he learned how to throw his voice and eventually saved enough money to get him a wooden dummy which he named Charlie McCarthy. Out of what was huge disappointment, Edgar Bergen found a career and a very successful one at that. Now I ask you, did the publisher make a mistake? Yes and no: they made a mistake in sending the wrong book but the wrong book was the right book for Edgar Bergen.

At the age of 48, Victor Hugo was banished to the island of Guernsey to live for 20 years in lonely exile. He was bitterly disappointed but in the solitude of exile, he wrote Les Miserables, one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read and has been acted out on stage and portrayed in movies. Liam Neeson starred in the 1998 version but another version starring Russel Crowe and Hugh Jackman came out last year [2012]. It is a great novel, a true classic that contains honor, courage, grace, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, and triumph. This class novel would not have been written at all had not Hugo suffered deep disappointment.

The Apostle Paul had his heart set on going to Spain, some think he did but most believe the he never made it to Spain. He was arrested in Jerusalem and sent to Rome for trial. There he was found guilty and executed by Nero. While in prison, he wrote Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 2 Timothy). Note what Paul says in Philippians 1:12-14…Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that all that has happened to me has helped to spread the Good News. All the Roman guards and all the others here know that I am in prison for serving Christ. My being in prison has caused most of the believers to put their trust in the Lord and to show more courage in telling people God’s message. I don’t plan it this way but every time I start reading a new version, Philippians is invariable the first book I complete. I love Philippians and 2 Timothy. Paul did some of his best writing while in prison. Writing takes solitude and prison offers lots of solitude. Who is to say? Could Paul have accomplished more on a mission trip to Spain than he did by writing the prison epistles? I think God closed one door to open another.

We all want a quick fix and a happy ending but this is not God’s way. The cross was no quick fix, it was a hell and a horror but it does have a happy ending for those who believe. Right now, we are engaged in the process, we may not realize the end, not in this life time. Victor Hugo wrote many poems and novels. The two most familiar are the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. He could not have know the impact that Les Miserables would have on coming generations. We live by faith, not sight. Abraham had God’s word but he never saw a nation, that would happen 430 years later.

Wallace Hamilton tells the story of the old grandfather clock that had ticked faithfully for generations. Its momentum came from a heavy weight, suspended by a double chain. In pity, a new owner decides to lighten the burden of the old clock, he removed the heavy weight for a lighter weight but the old clock never ticked properly again. It was the heavy burden that kept it ticking. Our joy is not found in our comfort or ease but in accomplishing our purpose. Sometimes a preachers best sermons are prepared when he has a heavy burden.

CONCLUSION

  1. We will all face disappointments. It is a fact of life.
  2. How we respond to disappointment is what matters. I got some bad news yesterday. The basic jest is that there is a  possibility that I may lose $20,0000 investment and it is because of fraud. I was a little upset and then I settled down and began to pray about it. I became very grateful that I was the one be defrauded rather than the other way around. Secondly, I’m glad I found out about the problem because I did not know there was a problem. Thirdly, it is just money. It could be a sick child or grandchild. Dealing with disappointment is a process. The first step is to talk to the LORD.
  3. Remember God has the ability to bring something good out of something that appears very bad.

A Pain On Every Pew

Job 2:8-1, NLT

Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.

Introduction

One of the great mysteries in life is pain, why so much pain and heartache. Physical pain can be severe, I’ve had two kidney stones and had several gall bladder attacks before and after its removal. I suffered some but my pain was temporary and I always had hope of recovery. Some people hurt every single day. We all have friends that are suffering from cancer, ALS, MS, or some other dreaded disease. I’ve been to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham many times and it is always full even at Christmas. Every where you look there is pain and heart ache. Older people who suffer from loneliness, a spouse that has been rejected, children that are being neglected. Just a week or two ago, a couple came to bible study with a broken heart because their daughter is probably going to have to undergo a very high risk surgery. Sick children, rebellious children, children on drugs, children in prison, children that don’t get along with the other children; practically every family in our congregation is dealing with some form of emotional pain. Why so much pain? We know that the most obvious answer is that we live in a fallen world and our parents rebellion in the garden of Eden set off a chain reaction of painful consequences that always follow sin. However, there are some other reasons that might be a source of encouragement to you if you are suffering.  In his book, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE THROUGH PRAYER, Charles Allen gives us three possible reason why we have so much pain.

  1. EVERY POSSIBLE BLESSING IS ALSO A POSSIBLE PAIN AND VICE-VERSA: EVERY PAIN CAN BECOME A BLESSING. Dr. Allen gave his children roller skates. Eventually, his kids found great pleasure in the skates but that was after they had fallen several times and had the bumps and bruises to prove it. My grandson played high school football and he loved it. He even loved practice. I played in high school but I did not love practice. He got a lot of pleasure from playing football but when you play football there is always the risk of injury. If you avoid the risk, you also forfeit the pleasure of playing. We gave all our kids a car when they got old enough to drive. We did not give them a new car but it was a car. There is a risk to giving a kid a car. A parent has to decide: do I want to keep running a taxi service or buy this child a car? They want the car because there is great pleasure in going where you want when you want. Kids want cars for the same reasons we senior adults want to keep ours. We love our independence: to go when and where we want to go. But when you give them the car, there are risk and there will be some pain. Our youngest daughter had three wrecks in a year and two in two weeks. Our insurance company dropped her. Had my friend not been the president of the company, we would not have gotten her reinstated. There was pleasure in them having a car but it was costly and at times painfully costly. Hey, we were fortunate: some parents have lost their kids in automobile wrecks. Do people stop driving when a love one is killed in a wreck? No, we accept the risk, it is a part of life. We prefer to take the risk as opposed to walking everywhere we go. We have to face reality: if we have cars, we will have wrecks, if we have planes, we will have crashes. Not even riding a horse is safe; a man was killed last week riding a horse near a highway. The only safe thing to do is stay at home and order everything you need on-line and let UPS or FED-X bring it to you. It is either that are get some blisters on your feet but that can be painful also. There are many wonderful things that bring us great pleasure but all of them involve risk and possible pain, even heart-break. Take erotic love for example: romantic love drives TV programs, movies, books sales and only the LORD know what else. I bet that 90% of all women read romance novels. I have often wondered why they want to read about romance but don’t have any interest in romancing with their husband. My mother kept one of those old romance novels in her hands for 20 years. There is a thrill to falling in love that is unmatched by anything we humans know and it can happen at any age. Teenagers fall in love and they are pitiful. As my mother-in-law use to say, “They are as pitiful as a sick kitten on a hot rock”. Old folks can fall in love. Many years ago I bumped into a woman who was  61 and she looked like she had been eating bananas side ways: she was grinning from ear to ear. I think she had lip stick on both ears. I said, “What on earth is wrong with you?” She said, “Nothing is wrong with me, I am in love and I feel like I am 16 years old.” I did not have the courage to tell her that she was confused and had inverted the numbers but I knew she was telling the truth, love can make you feel very young.  I have seen old folks in nursing homes fall in love and park their wheel chairs side by side and hold hands all day long. Falling in love is a wonderful thing but there are risk. A lot of people have been hurt by falling in love with someone who didn’t love them back or faithfully. There are risk when it comes to falling in love. Do we abandon love because we have been hurt? Some do and become bitter for life but most of us admit that its worth the risk. One other example: who gave us the ability to dream and to aspire? Wouldn’t you agree that God gave us this unique ability. Have all your dreams come true? Have some of your dreams been shattered, dashed to pieces? I am a dreamer and will always be I suppose but most of my dreams have been shattered and a some became nightmares. I cannot quit dreaming simply because I have suffered disappointment. Where there is any hope of pleasure there has to be some risk of pain. Parents have pleasure in the conception, birth and rearing of a child but they also have some pain. You can’t have one without the other.
  2. PAIN IS THE PRICE WE PAY FOR BELONGING TO THE FAMILY [Adam’s family]. Adam and Eve transgressed: they disobeyed the direct command of God and they suffered consequences, their children suffered consequences, and their children, etc. right on down to our children. Why are we insecure? Why do we feel shame and guilt? Why do we point the finger of blame at others? The answers are in Genesis 3, its all in the family. We have to admit sin brings suffering both here and hereafter and it is no respecter of persons. Who suffers most in our present culture? The innocent unborn! Child abuse in America is at an all time high and I can tell you why, DRUGS! Children go to school hungry because their parents are strung out of drugs. Their parents us every nickel they can get their hands on to buy their next fix. This is not something that happens in big cities alone, it is happening in rural America: it is happening in small places like Danville, Alabama. A CAUTION FLAG: don’t take the wrong approach and develop a bad attitude: all people suffer but some suffer more than others. This is a mystery but it is a fact of life. The worse thing you can do is be like Job’s wife or Naomi. Feeling sorry for yourself is not going to help. I’ve heard people say and so have you, “I don’t understand why God let this happen to me.” We say things like this because we don’t think that we deserve what we are getting. Job was convinced the he was not getting justice and in reality, he was not. Remember the words of Scar, “Life is not fair.” Life is not fair because we live in community. We are one big family. I would prefer that we were one big happy family but we are one family. We suffer because of the dumb things others do but we also enjoy countless pleasures and benefits because of the intelligent things others do. Adam and Eve did not kill Abel, Cain killed him but Adam and Eve suffered for Cain’s foolish mistake and we been suffering since. Achan’s children did not do a thing but they were caught up in the vortex of their father’s sinful greed. It’s the same with kids today whose parents are on drugs: the kids are innocent but they are suffering none the less. Job questioned God: he could not understand what was happening but he did understand that we must take the bad with the good. Perhaps you did not deserve to suffer in some specific way but asks yourself this question, “What have I done to deserve being born in America?” Yes, we suffer at the hands of others but we also prosper at the hands of others. If I had the world to myself, there would be no automobiles, jet planes, TV, I-Pads, computers, satellites, space stations and so much more.  I’m not sure we would have fire if I were the greatest intellect alive. So as the wise man Job said, “We must take the bad with the good,” they come in the same package, it is called life.
  3. GOD SEES OUR PAIN; HE KNOWS ALL ABOUT OUR SUFFERING AND HE CARES. The LORD said to Moses in Exodus 3… “I have seen the troubles my people have suffered in Egypt, and I have heard their cries when the Egyptians hurt them. I know about their pain.” I also love Psalm 34…The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. 16 But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth. 17 The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Jesus did allow Lazarus to get sick and die; He allowed Mary and Martha to suffer grief and anguish. He was not playing games with them, he allows these things to happen because He had a higher purpose. He wanted to reveal a part of His nature and power that they did not know. They believed He was healer but He was much more, He was the RESURRECTION and the LIFE. They thought the Resurrection was a day but He revealed in mighty power that it is a person, Himself. Our heavenly Father deals with pain in different ways: [1] He uses pain to transform us. Pain can change your mind about a lot of things. It can be very humbling and it definitely makes us self-conscious.  Paul had some type of infirmity that was a constant source of pain: he says in 2 Corinthians 12..So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. He asks God three times to take it away but God did not remove the pain: he told Paul that he was using the pain to keep him from exalting himself. God did not remove Paul’s pain but He did give him grace to endure it. [2] Sometimes God works a miracle and takes the pain away. Sometimes he works through people or medicine to take pain away. When I was a little child, polio was an epidemic and then Dr. Jonas E. Salk came up with a vaccine. Polio is almost nonexistent today. [3] One thing is certain, He is always with us during our pain. While in Corinth, the Apostle Paul became discouraged. The Jews had rejected him and he shook the dust off of his clothes and left the synagogue and vowed never to go back. I assume he was afraid and discouraged because of what the LORD says to him…One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent!  For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” I am also reminded of Jesus last words to his disciples…”Lo, I am with you even until the end of the age.” Then there are the comforting words in Hebrews 13…I will never leave you; I will never run away from you.” A little girl got a cut just over her eye. The doctor did not deaden it completely because it was so close to her eye. He told her she would feel some pain. The doctor said,  “There is a risk if I deaden it completely, do you think you can handle the pain?” She said, “I can if you let my father hold my hand.” He said, “No, problem, I think that is an excellent idea.” The little girls sat their while the doctor did five stitches and she did not flinch but she her hand was firmly clasp inside her father hand. The father didn’t stop the pain but his presence made it easier for her to bear. The same is true with emotional pain. Dr. Adrian Rogers told a story that really found a home in my heart. It is the story of the father, mother and daughter. The mother came down with cancer and after a long battle, she went home to be with Jesus. The father and daughter were devastated, absolutely grief-stricken. For days during her sickness and through the interment, they were surrounded by family and friends but when all the friends were gone, it was just Dad and daughter in a big lonely house. When it came time for bed, dad tucked his daughter in and kissed her good night. Before he could get to the door, she said, “Daddy, could I sleep with you tonight?” “Sure honey, I would be delighted, come on with me,” said dad. They got into bed and dad cut off the lights and it was dark, very dark. After some silence, this precious little broken-hearted child said, “Daddy” and he said, “What is it baby?” She said, “Daddy, this is the darkness night of my life.” The dad swallowed and mustered the strength to respond, “It is the darkness night of my life too,” he said. She rolled over on her side so as to face the dad she couldn’t see but she could hear, “Daddy, is your face on my face?” Daddy rolled to his side and said, “Yes honey, my face is on your face.” “Daddy” she said, “Can you love me through the darkness?” That broke is broken heart, “Yes darling, I can surely love through the darkness,” and he reaches over and kisses her on the forehead one more time. She lay their facing her dad, feeling the presence of his breath until she fell asleep. Then he crawled out of bed, got on his knees and prayed the same prayer as his daughter, “Father, is your face on my face? Can you love me through the darkness? With that he felt the calming assurance and the presence of the Father and he too was able to climb back in bed and fall asleep.

The Enigma

Matthew 11:1-15, NLT

When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region. John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’ 11 “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12 And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. 13 For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. 14 And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

The bible is a book of history, poetry, prophecy, revelation and mystery. There are passages that I read and reread, I study, muse, contemplate, read commentaries and study some more but I still cannot figure them out. The story above is one of those passages that has puzzled me for life. I keep searching for answers but at best all I come up with is conjecture.

The question that bugs me is: “Why didn’t Jesus react like Superman?” John is in a dungeon, a place of torment for this outdoorsman. He is having horrible doubts which indicates to me that he is discouraged and distressed. Why didn’t Jesus step into a phone booth and peel off the human garb revealing the big S on His chest and fly quickly to the palace of Herod and liberate John? He could have; He had the power. He who created the stars could bend a few bars, right! He could have but He chose not to and this troubles me. Dr. Adrian would tell me, “Jack, you worry about being Jack and leave being God to Jesus.” When all is said and done, that is good advice but I can’t help but wonder what the reasons are for John’s early promotion. I like John. He was a great preacher but he didn’t dress like a preacher. I had a preacher tell me once that a certain man, Dr. Gray Allison would not work with me because I did not wear a tie and coat. I said, “Would he work with John the Baptist?” He said, “Jack, you have a point. I have never thought about John.” I went on to inform him that neither John nor Jesus dressed in a priestly garb. I like John because he celebrated his uniqueness. He didn’t try to dress like others or be like others. I like him because he was independent. No one other than God had any say in his life. Herod did not intimidate him. He was a voice, a loud voice crying repent and no one appreciated him other than Jesus and the common people.

In this message, I want to suggest four possible reasons why Jesus did not intervene in John’s behalf.

 

  1. JESUS HAD A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON DEATH. If you go back to chapter 10, Jesus said…28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Notice what Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body.” We are very concerned about the body. We spend time and money trying to preserve the body but at best we are jars of clay, animated dust and the body that came from the dust is going back to the dust. Jesus taught us to give our time and attention to the SOUL. Herod had the power to kill John’s body but he could not touch his soul. John was suffering in the dungeon. John was use to sleeping under the stars. He lived in the wild. I am sure that being incarcerated in a hole underneath Herod’s palace was tormenting to him. For all we know, John was praying for the executioner to liberate his soul from his body. From our human and earthy perspective, John’s untimely death is a sad story. He was so young and such a good man. This is the way we humans think; it is hard for us to think eternity before time because we are caught up in time. Jesus didn’t have this hang up! He always thought eternity. From His perspective, John death was a liberation. Is heaven not greater than earth? In a split second, John was in glory…do you really think he would want to come back.
  2. JESUS RELATED TO JOHN THE SAME WAY HE RELATES TO US. Our human nature craves miracles and signs. The Pharisees demanded that Jesus do miraculous signs. Herod wanted Jesus to do a miracle for his entertainment and was disappointed because Jesus didn’t respond. Jesus did not say one word in Herod’s presence. Wow! What a judgment on wicked Herod. How would you like for Jesus never to speak to you again? Yes, if I had wrote the story, Jesus would have performed a miracle in John’s behalf: by hook or crook, He would have saved him from Herod’s axe but God’s ways are higher than our ways. Jesus said to John’s disciples…“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” These words come from Isaiah chapters 35, 42 and 61 where Isaiah does a profile on the Messiah. Jesus is reminding John that the scripture is being fulfilled. He basically gives John the WORD OF GOD for his assurance. You may want a miracle to confirm your faith but God chooses to give you His word instead. Remember the story in Luke 16 of the Rich man in hades, he prays to father Abraham to send some one from the dead [supernatural] back to earth to warn his five brothers. Do you remember Abraham’s answer: They have Moses and the prophets. If they will not heed them, they will not repent if someone goes back to them from the dead. Moses and the prophets is the word of God. They have God’s word, Abraham said, if they don’t respond to the word, they will not respond to a miracle. Christ wants us to build our faith on His word. He can do miracles but He dispenses his wonderful salvation on the basis of our faith in His word. We get our assurance not from experience but from His word.
  3. JESUS IS ACTUALLY SHOWING MERCY. Jesus will die a horrible death on the cross. A slow agonizing death that took six hours that was after 3 hours of abuse and beatings. Only a fool would argue the fact that Jesus died the most horrific death in history. John’s death came in an instant. His suffering was in the prison and the waiting. Don’t get me wrong, I could not look forward to being beheaded but that is because I am conditioned to the comforts of the 21 century and I have not seen any crucifixions. Paul choose the beheading as a Roman citizen. Peter was crucified upside down. Just a few minutes into a crucifixion and you and I would be begging for the executioners axe.
  4. JOHN’S MISSION IS COMPLETE AND THE SAVIOR IS SATISFIED WITH HIS EFFORT. John has performed his task. His job was to introduce Jesus and he did that job well. John was wrapping up the old dispensation. He bring to a close the age of the prophets. Jesus was inaugurating a new Kingdom, much greater than the old. Wouldn’t you and I get some peace out of knowing that we had fulfilled our mission here on earth and that the Savior was pleased with our work? Listen to the high praise that Jesus gives John… As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’11 I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12 And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. 13 For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. 14 And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! Jesus praised few, Mary the sister of Martha, the Roman Centurion and perhaps a couple more but He praises no one like He did John. Let me ask you a question: had you rather live a long life and die a peaceful death surrounded by your family and then not get a commendation from Jesus on your earthly mission or die young by a violent execution  but then get a glowing commendation from your savior, “Well done, you have been a good servant and faithful.” Adam Clark believes that the latter park of verse 11 is in reference to ministry. John pointed to Christ but did not witness the death, burial and resurrection. John preached repentance but never got to preach the gospel. I nor any of my colleagues are greater than John but we have had a greater ministry in the sense that we get to preach the gospel. John live and died a prophet–point forward to the Messiah. We are witnesses to the fact that Jesus died and rose again. We have a greater ministry by virtue of what Jesus did but we are not greater than John.

Rejoice In Hope, Be Patient and Keep On Praying

Ruth 1:11-13

But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? 12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? 13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”

The Message

But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.”

INTRODUCTION

A very successful pastor of the last century got a letter in the mail from a woman who was having a ‘Naomi’ type day. The letter read… “Please tell me how to gain confidence in tomorrow and to be able to face the future with calmness. I realize that there isn’t much I can do about the past; I know I can work with the present but when I think of the future, I feel helpless and afraid.” When I read this woman’s comments, I neither laughed nor brushed it aside. I think this woman hit the nail on the head and my assumption would be that she had the courage to articulate what a lot of us are feeling but afraid to express.

Naomi is your classic pessimist. The name Naomi means ‘pleasant’ but the years had left Naomi anything but pleasant. She told the ladies in Bethlehem, “Don’t call me Naomi [pleasant] again, I have changed my name to Mara [bitter] because the Almighty has made my life bitter. What we see here is a classic example of hopelessness and despair. Naomi had given up; she had thrown in the towel. She basically says to her daughter in-laws: “I am bad luck. My life is jinxed. Let’s face it, I am a loser and I have no future and you will not have one either if you tag along with me.” Naomi had no confidence in the future. She wanted to withdraw from life, to be alone. Despair will always drive us to seclusion. Thank God, Ruth intervened. She was a God send, a blessing from above. You and I know the rest of the story and we know how Yahweh gave an Naomi a hope and a future when it did not appear to be possible. We must keep in mind that nothing is impossible with God. Naomi was convinced, she had no doubt, her life was over and she had no future. But Naomi was wrong. Her feelings betrayed her.

THE FIRST STEP

The first step to recovering your hope is to realize that God has a master plan and that in the end, all things are going to work for your good and His glory. King David said, “Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Note: David did not say, “Although I live in the valley of the shadow of death.” I like Winston Churchill who once said, “If you going through hell, keep going.” The devil will do everything in his power to undermine our confidence in God’s goodness. If we get to doubting God’s goodness and benevolence, we are going to give way to despair and the world will become a cruel place where we feel helpless and afraid. Naomi believed in God. She had not lost her faith in Him but she blamed Him for the misfortune that she had experienced. She did not question His existence, she was questioning His goodness, especially as it related to herself.

Life is composed of both joy and sorrow, success and failure, victory and defeat. Remember the words of Job, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” We live in a sin cursed fallen world where bad things happen to good people; sometimes to innocent people. Naomi was dwelling on the past and on her misfortune and grief. She refused to turn her back on the past and move on.

There is a Greek legend about a woman who came to the River Styx to be carried across to the next life. Charon, the man who ran the ferry, reminded her that she could drink of the waters of Lethe, and thus forget the life she was leaving. Eagerly she said, “I will drink and forget my sorrow.” But said he, “You will also forget your joys.” But said she, “I will forget all my failures.” Yes, said he, “And you will forget all your victories.” Yes, said she, but “I will forget how I have been hated.” “Tis true madam, but you will also forget how much you have been loved.” The story ends with the woman deciding that retaining her memory is a greater blessing than losing it all together. We all have some bad memories but do we really want to lose them or should we seek to learn from them. When you look back over your life, you will see that you learned the most during the most difficult times.

What happens to a child that is pampered and protected? They become spoiled and they are not ready for the real world. We learn from hardship and suffering. Adversity creates the heat that tempers our character. Corrie Tin Boon could have never been the Corrie we knew had she not suffered. So, number one, we have to reach that point where we agree with the great Apostle who said,  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

HOPE IS ESSENTIAL

We cannot live without hope: we could exist possibly but not live. Naomi was returning to Bethlehem to die. She had lost all hope happiness on this earth. I am convinced she was going home to live out the rest of her miserable days. We all need hope. Victkor Frankl was a German born Jew. He was a PhD. in medicine and psychiatry. The Nazi’s separated he and his wife putting them into two different death camps. He never heard from her again but he survived two camps himself. As he saw men die on a daily basis, he observed that only the strong and hopeful survived: he noted that once a man gave up, he was as good as dead.

Frankl was right: man must have hope to survive and the is especially true when things get difficult. Everyone needs something to look forward to: everyone! I talked to a friend the other night who has a hunting trip planned for Canada and his eyes light up when he talks about it. He has something to look forward to. Our secretaries here at the church have one thing in common: they love vacations and especially trips to the beach. I endure the heat of Summer because I know that Fall is coming. I also look forward to THANKSGIVING and CHRISTMAS. We all need things to look forward to.

HANG ON TO HOPE AND KEEP PRAYING

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

We started this sermon series by using Dr. Charles Allen’s book, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE THROUGH PRAYER as our guide. I must confess a major weakness in my prayer life and life in general–I have a huge lack of faith. I know what you are thinking: how can a preacher be lacking in faith? Hey, I asked myself that same question. My natural tendency is to be like Naomi. I have had a lot of friends die with cancer and the ones that hurt me most were those that were younger, some as young as my children. I admit, I’ve seen some miracles but I have seen cancer win the battle more times than not. It wears on you. I prayed for all of these people and on a couple of occasions, I firmly believed that God was going to heal but I was disappointed time after time.

Perhaps my ignorance is the problem: God is doing something that I don’t have the intellect to understand. I may be like the kid who prayed for God to help him pass a test. The kid prayed, committed it to the LORD and then failed the test. He concluded that it did no good to pray, so he stopped praying and went to studying. As a result, his grades got better, much better. It took him a few years to figure it out but finally he realized: God allowed him fail to teach him the value of study. The boy grew up to be a successful man but he understood that he would not have prospered in college or in his business had he not learned to study. God answered his prayer by not answering his prayer.

My friends were believers so they are with Jesus. If they are with Him, they are better off than being here, right! We do not give up hope. We rather rejoice in hope and keep on praying. If we stop praying, we are no different from the men in the concentration camps who stopped hoping. Dr. Allen gives us four confidence builders when it comes to praying with hope–

  1. God has already blessed us with the intellect, the abilities, the means and the resources to do many of the things that we are asking Him to do for us. We are like the kid who did not want to study–we want God to supernaturally help us pass the test without us putting forth any effort. So we have to ask ourselves the question: What am I not doing that I could be doing to be a part of the answer to my prayer?
  2. God is working at a higher level. We don’t have enough sense for His sense to make sense. Isaiah 55:8-9 comes to mind…“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Job was a good man, better than any living today in my opinion. Job had an argument with God and he was totally convinced that he was right and God was wrong but then Job saw God…“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.” [Job 42:5-6, NKJV] Once Job saw God, he dropped his argument and confessed that he had argued without full knowledge. God knows what He is doing: the problem is that we don’t know what He is doing.
  3. God has many prayer to answer other than yours or mine. What if my prayer request puts a hardship on someone else? A preacher was sitting in an airport hoping to get a seat on a plane that was already filled. He began praying earnestly for God to open up a seat then the LORD spoke to him, “Who would you like me to remove so that you can have a seat?” A lot of our praying is selfish and it does not need to be answered. Matter of fact, I am alarmed at how much of my praying is selfish. I love to hear my son pray because he begins his prayers with a litany of praise and it is edifying to hear him pray. I find myself wading right in asking for this or that: it is because I have a selfish nature and I want things and often times want them now. God is God, he is not our cosmic butler. There are times when He is going to make us wait to show who is who.
  4. We can never really pray with any kind of effectuality confidence until we have a surrendered will. Until we are willing to prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thy will be done,” we are going to ineffective in prayer. I close with the words of Paul…Rejoice in confident hope–Be patient– and keep on praying.