Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is Salvation Fair?

The last in a series of messages asking tough questions of God. Based on Luke 3:2-6 and John 3:16

Is salvation fair?
After briefly flirting with church attendance, a certain TV sitcom character chalked up his experience as generally beneficial because "I finally learned what that guy in the end zone holding up the big card that says 'John 3:16' on it is talking about!" It may come as a big surprise to long-time churchgoers, Because we’re steeped in a biblical, Christian experience, And we’re accustomed to hearing religious-sounding words and seeing religious-looking symbols, but we now live in a genuinely post-Christian culture.
It is a fact that our society is defined more by all those who have no clue as to what that guy in the end zone is trying to say than it is by those recognizing the citation of a biblical chapter and verse. A post-Christian culture doesn’t mean that there is a lack of spiritual interest or that there is a loss of spiritual hunger. Actually, just the opposite, this postmodern, post-Christian age has recently awakened to the fact that it is spiritually starving – and the hunger pains are leading to a frantic feeding frenzy. Without the table of church tradition to offer them nourishment, spiritual seekers have snacked on a smorgasbord of what they hope will be soul-satisfying samples. There is a renewed interest in prayer. There is a new fascination with the state of the spirit in healing and in health issues. Native American, Indian, Asian and Eastern European traditions have been infused into the middle of suburban American culture in order to try to inject some new depth and meaning into everyday existence. Astro-physicists, genetic researchers and computer scientists studying artificial intelligence are increasingly introducing spiritual questions into their technological studies.
People in this modern culture are becoming more and more aware every day of their need for some higher connection, some spiritual reality in their lives. As the band Plumb sang, we’ve all got a hole in our spirits that only God can fill. That’s what salvation is really all about. It’s about achieving that spiritual connection with God for all eternity. It’s about filling that God-shaped hole with the only thing that will ever fit.
But is salvation fair? Is the concept of salvation balanced?
Well, first off, fair is a relative term, isn’t it? I mean, what’s fair?
For instance, a socialist once came to see Andrew Carnegie, the rich philanthropist and soon, this socialist was railing against the injustice of Carnegie having so much money. In his view, wealth was meant to be divided equally. He claimed that Carnegie having so much was just not fair. Carnegie asked his secretary for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up the figures on world population. He did a little arithmetic on a pad and then said to his secretary. "Give this gentleman l6 cents. That's his fair share of my wealth."
Do you want the simple answer to the question of whether salvation is fair? No. Now, I could end the sermon right there, but I think that would leave a lot of you scratching your heads. “What does he mean that salvation isn’t fair?”
Well, in essence, it isn’t fair. Salvation is not about what we deserve. In fact, if it were about what we deserve, it’d be called damnation not salvation. It’s not about what’s fair. It’s about God’s love, grace and mercy. But let’s put that idea aside right now. I’ll come back to that.
There are really two ideas that people are talking about when they claim that salvation isn’t fair.
The first is related to the idea that some folks have never heard about Jesus. Some were born, lived and died before Jesus existed. What about them? What about all those people who still live tribal, jungle lives? They might never meet a missionary. What about them? Is it fair that those people don’t go to heaven because they’ve never heard of Jesus?
In reality, the issue of those who haven’t heard is just a matter of interpretation. There are certain truths about this issue that the Bible makes plain. For instance, in John 14 Jesus says “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the only way of salvation. That’s plain, straightforward. Now lots of people think that this means that those who’ve not heard are automatically damned.
Truth is, we don’t know that for certain. While the Scriptures never explicitly teach that someone who’s never heard can be saved, we believe that they do infer as much. We believe that every person will have an opportunity to repent, and that God would not exclude anyone simply because of the accident of their birthplace or birth era.
In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God's will, that person will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” In other words, it’s in doing God’s will that we understand God’s way.
Aside from that, Romans 1:20 explains how anyone, even those who’ve never heard explicitly, will know of God. Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that humanity is without excuse. It’s a fact that all of humankind can tell that a creator does exist, because the creation testifies to it.
We also know from the Scriptures that it is God’s desire that no one should perish. 2 Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God cares, even for those who have never heard and may never hear the Gospel. Even though we may not know how God is going to deal with these folks specifically, we know that God’s judgment will always be fair.
That fact alone should settle the question of those who’ve never heard.
But there’s another way of thinking that salvation isn’t fair. Have you ever heard that argument about the death row criminal who repents right before he’s executed? And you know how some Christians respond to that on, right?
How is that fair? I’ve been good all my life. I’ve worked hard to be a top notch Christian. I’ve denied myself and taken up a cross. I’ve suffered for my faith. I’ve tithed! How does this life-long criminal get to sit at my table at the heavenly feast? That’s just not fair!
Well, maybe for the first time since I started writing these mock rants, I agree with you. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that someone has committed heinous crimes for his or her whole life and then gets to go to heaven and sit with you and I at the table with Christ.
But you know what; nowhere in the Bible does it say that God is fair!
God is holy.
God is righteous.
God is just.
But God is not fair!
Now while that may raise your hackles a bit, remember the story that I opened with this morning about Andrew Carnegie. If God were playing fair, what we’d probably get would be something like sixteen cents.
But God doesn’t play fair. God plays grace. God showers us with the unmerited favor of free salvation.
We can’t earn it.
We don’t deserve it.
It is a free gift and it’s available to anyone and everyone.
Folks, grace is such an enormous concept in Christian theology, I could preach about it for weeks on end. It is without question, the biggest most important point to remember.
God’s grace is so wide that it encompasses the whole world.
God’s grace is so deep that we could never get so low as to be beneath it.
God’s grace is so amazing that we could never do or say enough to deserve it.
Is it fair? It’s fair to those who receive it. It was fair for each of us while we were still in our sinful state. Why wouldn’t it be fair for a truly repentant criminal? We should rejoice for that repentant soul, not gripe that they received the same gift that we did.
So I come back to the question, “Is salvation fair?”
If you’ve never received it, it certainly is! All are welcome in God’s Kingdom. And since God is making the rules, who are we to question?
Jesus taught Nicodemus that anyone who believed would be saved. John preached that all humankind would see God’s salvation
In the end, it comes down to this: Have we believed? Have we seen salvation? Fairness isn’t really the issue. Grace is.
I’d like to leave you with a story and a question this morning.
Lord Kenneth Clark, internationally know for his television series Civilization, lived and died without faith in Jesus Christ. He admitted in his autobiography that while visiting a beautiful church he had what he believed to be an overwhelming religious experience. "My whole being," Clark wrote, "was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy far more intense than anything I had known before." But the "gloom of grace," as he described it, created a problem. If he allowed himself to be influenced by it, he knew he would have to change, his family might think he had lost his mind, and maybe that intense joy would prove to be an illusion. So he concluded, "I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course." Our Daily Bread, February 15, 1994
Are you too embedded in the culture of the world to change course? Or has grace grabbed a hold of your life and taken control.
Are you plodding along with contemporary society? Or are you on a wild ride of mercy with God today?
As Led Zeppelin said in the song “Stairway to Heaven”: There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
Leave all those ideas about fairness behind, and climb aboard the grace train. We’re heaven bound!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Was Darwin right?

Sixth in a seven part series asking the "Tough Questions." Scripture passage is Genesis chapter one

In a 2005 poll conducted by Newsweek and Beliefnet, people were asked the question: “Do you believe that God created the universe?” 80 percent of those responding said the universe was created by God. It is interesting that after all the money and effort our universities and educational systems have spent on instructing people about evolution that 80 percent of people still believe that there is a God, and that that God created the world. Only ten percent taking the poll said the universe was not created by God. One percent said they did not believe in God.
Nine percent said they didn’t know.
Now, that’s all very interesting, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what people believe. If God actually created the world, it does not matter if 100% of the human race does not believe it, it is still true. God does not live and work by the results of polls. For instance, you are perfectly free to believe that the pulpit I am standing behind simply evolved over a period of time. Now, we all know that that is not true since it has a definite design, but you can believe it if you want. Someone with a name created this piece of furniture and it definitely exists. But, it wouldn’t matter if everyone in this room, or everyone in the world for that matter, didn’t believe this pulpit had a creator who existed, it would not alter the reality of the pulpit or its creator in any way.
Something deep inside all of us knows this, and that’s why I’m not bothered by the theory of evolution, and it’s why 80 percent of people in this country still believe that the world was created by God.
Right off: Science and the Bible are not in conflict. The conclusions of both are sometimes biased. But we have nothing to be afraid of by honest evaluation. Let’s first of all look at the claims of the bible about creation...Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created." Now, nowhere in the Bible does it say when God created. There is no time line. Jesus said in Mark 10:6 "But at the beginning of creation God ’made them male and female.’" Psalms 19:1-4 "The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies announce what his hands have made. Romans 1:20 "There are things about God that people cannot see--his eternal power and all the things that make him God."
All of these are wonderful passages about the creation of the world. But we have to remember a fact about the first eleven chapters of Genesis. These stories, creation, the garden, Cain and Abel, Noah’s ark, and the tower of Babel, were never intended to be factual historical accounts. These were parables, stories told in an effort to try to explain how humanity went from a perfect creation of a perfect God, to the fallen and broken world that we understand it to be. So we make assumptions about what the Bible means. But those who put their faith in evolution make assumptions too.
3 bedrock assumptions that evolutionists have given for our origins have all been shown to be on shaky ground. Let’s take a look at these three right now.
How did we get the conditions on planet earth that brought us our first one-celled animal from which all life forms supposedly evolved? For many years, evolution explained our origins by "spontaneous generation". Simply stated, this means that under the proper conditions of temperature, time, place, etc. decaying matter simply turns into organic life. This idea dominated scientific thinking until 1846, when Louis Pasteur shattered the theory. Under controlled laboratory conditions, in a semi-vacuum, no organic life ever emerged from decaying, nonliving matter.
Obviously, if spontaneous generation actually did take place in the distant past to produce the first spark of life, it must be assumed that the laws which govern life had to be completely different from what they are now.
But wait a minute! This won’t work either, because the whole evolutionary theory rests upon the assumption that conditions on the earth have remained uniform throughout the ages. Astrophysicists have found that there are over 60 criteria that are necessary for life on earth.
Life could not exist or form if any one of the following were true: Earth’s rotation was slower, or faster; We were 2% closer or further from the sun; Earth had a 1% change in sunlight; Earth was smaller or larger; the moon was smaller or larger; we had more than one moon; Earth’s crust was thinner or thicker; Oxygen/Nitrogen ratio was greater or less; ozone layer was greater or less.
This creates a dilemma. Because, to believe that life spontaneously emerged requires great faith in the impossible— no evidence— That’s the same accusation hurled at those who believe the world was created by an intelligent God.
Dr. George Wald, Nobel Prize winner of Harvard University, states it as honestly as an evolutionist can: "One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are - as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation." That statement by Dr. Wald demonstrates a much greater faith than a religious creationist can muster. Notice that the great evolutionary scientist says it could not have happened. It was impossible. Yet he believes it did happen. Why did he get a Nobel Prize? What can we say to that kind of reasoning?
If someone told you they could pick a winning lottery number and did you’d be impressed. The odds are 10(7). Suppose they did it twice in a row? One chance in a hundred thousand billion 10(14). Wow. You might wonder if something’s up.
The odds of evolution are like someone randomly winning thousands of lotteries in a row. Statistically possible, but also statistically absurd. The probability of a single cell forming by evolution through limitless time, particles and events has been calculated by a Swiss mathematician. Odds one chance in 10(160). Other scientists knock off a few zeros, but not many. That means 10 multiplied by itself 160 times, a number too large even to articulate. Statisticians point out that anything beyond 10(50) is beyond reason, essentially impossible or absurd. Evolution is a belief in spite of the fact that it’s statistically absurd.
Sir Frederick Hoyle, the famous British astronomer and agnostic said, "The current scenario of the origin of life is about as likely as a tornado passing through a junkyard beside Boeing airplane company and accidentally producing a 747 airplane,"
This proves that Evolution would have to be a miracle from God, wouldn’t it? In order to get that completely lucky, there’d have to be divine intervention wouldn’t there?
Second assumption: MUTATIONS
Another one of the backbone theories of evolution is the evidence of mutation. Mutation is where minor changes take place within animals. Every species has its own particular number of chromosomes which contain the genes. Within every human being are 46 chromosomes containing an estimated 100,000 genes, each one of which is able to affect in some way the size, color, texture, or quality of the individual. You are a result of those genes.
The assumption is that these genes, which provide the inherited characteristics we get from our ancestors, occasionally become affected by unusual pairing, chemical damage, or other influences, causing them to produce an unusual change in one of the offspring. Like having a child with 12 fingers, or one blue eye and one brown eye. This is referred to as a mutation. It is assumed by the evolutionists that through gradual changes wrought in the various species through mutation and over billions of years, the amoeba would eventually turn into an invertebrate, which became an amphibian, then a reptile, a quadruped, an ape form, and finally a man. In other words, the species are not fixed in the eyes of the evolutionists. Families are forever drifting over into another higher form as time progresses.
This means that all the fossil records of animal history should reveal an utter absence of precise family boundaries. Everything should be in the process of changing into something else – with literally hundreds of millions of half-developed fish trying to become amphibious, and reptiles halfway transformed into birds, and mammals looking like half-apes or half-men.
Now everybody knows that instead of finding those billions of confused family fossils, the scientists have found exactly the opposite. Not one single drifting, changing life form has been studied. Everything stays within the well-defined limits of its own basic kind and absolutely refuses to cooperate with the demands of modern evolutionists.
Ten times in the book of Genesis we read God’s decree concerning the reproduction of His creatures - "after its kind." Gen:1:25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creeps upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good." The word "kind" refers to species, or families. Each created family was to produce only its own kind. This forever precludes the drifting, changing process required by organic evolution where one species turns into another.
To put it the way my father would, "If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"
And, this is exactly what the fossil records reveal.
Even Darwin confessed: "There are two or three million species on earth. A sufficient field one might think for observation; but it must be said today that in spite of all the evidence of trained observers, not one change of the species to another is on record." Life and Letters, Vol. 3, p. 25.
Charles Singer, who wrote "A Short history of Science in the 19th Century" said that "Evolution is perhaps unique among major scientific theories in that the appeal to its acceptance is not that there is evidence for it...!"
As one digs deep into the earth, one layer or stratum after another is revealed. Often we can see these layers clearly exposed in the side of a mountain or roadbed cut. Geologists have given names to the succession of strata which pile one on top of another. Descending into Grand Canyon for example, one moves downward past the Mississippi, Devonian, Cambrian, etc., as they have been tagged by the scientists.
Now here is the perplexity for the evolutionary theory: The Cambrian is the last stratum of the descending levels that has any fossils in it. All the lower strata below the Cambrian have absolutely no fossil record of life other than some single-celled types such as bacteria and algae.
Why not?
The Cambrian layer is full of all the major kinds of animals found today except the vertebrates. In other words, there is nothing primitive about the structure of these most ancient fossils. Essentially, they compare with the complexity of current living creatures.
But the big question is: Where are their ancestors? Where are all the evolving creatures that should have led up to these highly developed fossils?
According to the theory of evolution, the Precambrian strata should be filled with more primitive forms of these Cambrian fossils in the process of evolving upward. Dr. Daniel Axelrod of the University of California calls it: "One of the major unsolved problems of geology and evolution."
George Gaylord Simpson, the "Crown Prince of Evolution", summarized it: "The sudden appearance of life is not only the most puzzling feature of the whole fossil record but also its greatest apparent inadequacy." The Evolution of Life.
There was even a Time magazine headline about the problem “Evolution’s big bang!” Apparently, evolution happened rapidly. All at once. Sounds like creation to me.
The absence of Precambrian fossils points to one great fact, unacceptable to the evolutionists - a sudden creative act of God which brought all the major creatures into existence at the same time. The preponderance of the evidence in fossils indicates the creation of many species all at once, instead of any gradual process from one species to another.
Here’s the real point in all this talk of the possibility, or impossibility of evolution.
Evolution says Life is Chance.
Creation says God created with intelligence and design
Evolution says you’re just an overgrown ape.
Creation says you were made in the image of God.
Evolution can’t place any value on love.
Creation says God loves beauty, and love is meaningful.
Evolution says Jesus is a fraud.
The bible says he created us and wants to recreate us.
Some sincere Christians believe that God created the world by using the evolutionary process. They don’t believe the world is the result of random chance or an accident, they believe it was created, but that God used evolution in creating the world. Some Christians believe that God created the world in seven literal 24 hour days, others believe it was more like seven million years. It could have been seven seconds for all we really know, but the fact is that however God did it, using whatever method and time period God chose, God created the world.
This is ground zero for our faith. Everything we believe hinges on and grows out of this fact. Everything we understand about the world and life stems from whether we believe that God started all this, or that it is all an accident.
The whole scheme of redemption — God coming to the world in the person of Jesus to live before us and die for us — is ridiculous unless we are the creation of a God who tremendously loves us and will do anything to bring us back to himself.
And there’s three important points for us to grasp this morning about the importance of God creating the world.
The first way is: It saves us from living in ignorance.
If you understand that there is a God who created all that exists, you understand that there is a design and purpose to life, and your life in particular. You have the understanding that there is Someone who is holding all this together and is watching out for us.
One of the novels from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series is titled The Magician’s Nephew. In symbolic language it tells the story of the creation of the world by telling how Aslan the lion created Narnia by singing it into existence. However, there is one character who refuses to hear the song. Listen as Lewis tells the story:
“When the great moment came and the beast spoke, Uncle Andrew missed the whole point for a rather interesting reason. When the lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make himself believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing — only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. ‘Of course it can’t really have been singing,’ he thought, ‘I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?’ And the longer and more beautifully the lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the lion spoke and said, ‘Narnia awake,’ he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl.”
We can choose to live in ignorance to God’s divine creative nature, or we can choose to see God’s revelation all around us, and search for purpose in this world and in our lives.
The second way understanding that God created the world helps us is: It helps us to understand that we are accountable.
Ah, here is the crucial point with many people who want to wish away God’s existence. The problem with believing there is a God is that it means there is someone who is above you. It means that there is a God, and you can no longer be your own God. You are answerable to someone. You are accountable for the way you live and the things you do. If there is a God, then the moral laws he has laid down apply to you. Right and wrong are no longer determined by what you think is okay. If there is a God, then your life does not belong to you. If there is a God, then the world is bigger than you, and you have to discover God’s purpose for your life and live out that purpose.
Last year, the London Zoo posted a sign in front of their newest exhibit, reading, “Warning: Humans in Their Natural Environment.” The so-called “exhibit” featured eight Homo sapiens, clad in bathing suits and pinned-on fig leaves. The human “captives” were chosen from an online contest, and spent their time sunning on a rock ledge, playing board games, and waving to spectators. The goal of the exhibit was to downplay the uniqueness of human beings as a species. “Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals,” said Polly Wills, “teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate.”
Many people are happy to think that they are not that special — that they are only another animal. It gives them a good excuse to behave like an animal. They want no moral boundaries, and no one to whom they are accountable.
Evolution is simply the attempt to explain the existence of the world given the presupposition that there is no God. It is a very convenient theory for those who do not want to answer to God. Many people actually prefer the thought that there is no God to whom we are accountable. They don’t want anyone restricting their freedom, even if it is God. For these people, the most disturbing scripture of all is Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
But God is real and we are accountable to God’s plans for us.
The third way understanding that God created the world helps us is: It helps us to understand that God is in charge of history.
This is God’s world. There is a plan. We are not going around in circles. There is not only a design, there is a direction. The Bible declares, “For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
Against the overwhelming pride of mankind comes the questions which God posed to Job:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — (Job 38:4-11).
The evidence for the design, and therefore a Designer, of creation is overwhelming. This Intelligent Designer is none other than the God who created the universe in love. You are not an accident, you are the result of a God who has loved you into existence.
So don’t live in ignorance of God’s creative loving presence.
Know that God requires you to be accountable to the plans he has for you.
And know that God is fully in control of history, even to this day.
There’s a plan and you’re a part of it.
And that’s no cosmic accident my friends.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A little diversion =>

I started a daily trivia game for my friends and family. If you're interested, you'll have to sign up but it is free. Here's the link


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why do the wicked prosper while the good struggle?

Why do evil people prosper while good people struggle?

What is God’s definition of justice? How come evil people don’t seem to suffer the consequences of their evil actions? Instead, they look like they have an easier, more pleasurable lifestyle? And why is it that Christians often face the consequences of their sins right away? Does God get hurt too when he sees us, the ones he loves the most, hurting? Okay, that’s quite a few questions there. But they’re all basically asking the same thing: Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer?
Guess what, people have been asking that question for as long as evil has been in the world. In fact, King David probably said it best in the passage from Psalm 73 this morning. NIV Psalm 73:3-5 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.
That certainly asks the big question this morning. And, you’ll find verses like that throughout the Psalms. But you’ll find many more verses like our other reading from this morning: NIV Psalm 37:7-9 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-- it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
What does it mean? Let me try to tell you what it all means by telling you a story I read this week. It’s a story told by a pastoral colleague. One night after church, he ran into a woman who somehow had the impression that he was walking home. She warned him to “be careful out there,” because “all sorts of bad things are going on nowadays.” He smiled and told her that he wasn’t afraid. After all, he said, he’s on good terms with the Management of the Universe, so even if something bad happens to him, it will eventually turn out all right.
These passages are telling us that by his nature, God is completely fair and just. He is not responsible for the sin and evil in the world.
In fact, sin is under God’s death penalty. According to Romans 3:23, we are all sinners. Therefore we all face the prospect of eternal spiritual death apart from our faith in Christ. God’s justice says that we must pay the penalty for our sins. But, His love and grace say that Christ has already paid the penalty on our behalf.
And yet we still struggle while bad folks seem to have it easy. Why? Why doesn’t God make us prosper?
Well, I think we have to understand the difference between prosperity and providence. Because not all of us may prosper, especially in this world. But all who claim the name of Jesus Christ as savior, all who call upon the Lord will experience the providence of God.
Now, I am no stranger to hard times. I have faced adversity, I’ve had my share of troubles. So I find that people who suffer hard times find me a helpful person to talk to and I’ve come to realize that God gave me hardship as training so that I could serve His people who are in distress.
Right now these are good times for me, I must say that I’m in one of the best places I’ve been my whole life. But even in hard times, if I’ve had my wits about me, I have always been confident in God’s providence. I have always known that God was looking out for me. I rely on Psalm 37. That passage says that godly people will have bad times and suffer days of famine. Surprisingly, that is something which I find very reassuring, because if I do face adversity, trial, and hardship, it doesn’t mean that I have fallen out of God’s favor. God won’t grant me an exemption from hard times, but God will give me dignity in those hard times.
And I bear witness in my life that this is true: because at no time during any adversity in my life
was I ever debased by anyone other than myself. I’m my own worst enemy. But those around me have always been supportive and loving. And at no time did I lack anything that I truly needed, except maybe in my imagination.
This kind of leads me to that other thing we’re talking about this morning, but that doesn’t bother me any more. It’s about when a person triumphs through evil.
You all know what I mean: A competitor is convicted of fraudulent trade practices and is still able to win a sale from under your nose. An office adversary stabs you in the back and is rewarded by a promotion. A thief breaks in and steals a gift you gave a loved one and you can’t replace it. You work and slave behind the scenes, while the lazy loudmouth gets public credit for your work.
Most of us have had some experience like that. These things have all happened to me, too. I used to be furious with God about those kinds of things, and God and I used to have it out in loud fights.
Yes, you heard me correctly. I said that I’ve had fights with God. You see, someone once told me that if I was mad at God, I should find a place where I can’t be overheard and have a good knock-down, drag-out fight with God. Yell and scream at God, she said, give Him a piece of your mind and don’t let Him off easy. She said that if my relationship with God was so fragile I couldn’t have a little argument now and then, my spirituality was too weak to do me any good anyway.
At first, I thought this was mucho crazy and a little dangerous, but then I had weekend hospital coverage when my pastor went out of town. A very sweet lady from the church had Parkinson’s disease. She also needed a knee replacement. She was admitted to the hospital and had her knee replaced. She was doing well after the surgery on a regular floor, when she was found after lunchtime having aspirated a bit of food, in cardiac arrest. The crash team came in and she was brought back and admitted to ICU. Unfortunately, her strength was just not enough and she passed away the next day.
God and I had words that very day. We had a knock-down-drag-out, we did. And I can bear witness to you that even though I have lost every single argument with God, I never had an argument with Him where I didn’t learn something. God returns every distress and care with a deep, abiding peace.
You know, I used to laugh at how silly it was for Adam to wear a fig leaf in God’s presence; now I realize how silly it is to wear a fig leaf of propriety before God in my private prayers.
Don’t fret yourself over the one who prospers, or the one who succeeds in evil schemes. Refrain from anger, leave rage alone.
If I am overwhelmed by anger and rage, I try to take it out on God rather than on people, because unlike people, God can handle it, defuse it, and remove it. I’m not always perfect on that but I try. If I am stressed and troubled, I talk it out with God. If I discuss distressing rumors with people, the rumors grow and lead me to evil, but if I discuss my troubles with God,
nothing bad will happen to me, because nothing I give over to God can succeed in leading me to evil. I don’t pretend that I have mastered this in my daily life, but I do admit that I strive daily to submit all things to God.
Folks, as Christians, it may seem that we experience the consequences of our sins right away. But that’s because God loves us like a father, which of course he is. Would you let your children get away with their sins? Or, would you love them enough to correct them and sometimes even punish them? Why would our heavenly Father do anything less with us? Those who do not know God as Father don’t experience this because they’re receiving all the reward they’ll ever get right now.
I’ve heard it said that an evil person is as close to heaven right now as he or she will ever get. But a believer in Jesus Christ is as close to hell right now as he or she will ever get. For us it will never get worse. For them it will never be better.
So maybe right now something in your life hurts. Maybe you’re dealing with stress and anxiety and pain. And even is that trouble chases you for your whole remaining life, it’s still only temporary.
Yes, God hurts when he sees us hurting. God is compassionate. But God also loves us too much to let us try to continue to live in our sins. Wicked people don’t know how to live any differently than they do. But as children of God, we do. It’s incumbent upon us to live differently as an example to the wicked and the “bad” people. It’s our God-given responsibility to be the model of righteous living to the world.
Regardless of how rich or poor, regardless of power or prestige, we are blessed by God. And God has provided for all of our basic needs in this world. So don’t fret those who succeed without faith. We already have treasures and assurances that they may never know. We are blessed by God.