Clouds on a sunny day
I’ll admit I’ve been feeling guilty lately. It seems to me that most of my recent bulletin articles and sermons have been less-than-positive. For instance, after a recent talk a young man’s mother told me that it scared him.
And although she said afterward it was good to be scared…I suspect that the frightening present conditions in this world are leading me to focus on the negative…which isn’t optimal given that the gospel…and the God it speaks of…are so overwhelmingly positive.
That is, my messages have been clouds on a sunny day.
But not today…
But not today. Instead, I promise two things…
First, to have you leave feeling better than when you arrived. Well, I’ll do my darndest… 🙂
Second, to keep this sermon short.
Now, see? You are already feeling better than when you arrived, aren’t you? 🙂
You are not alone…
However, before we go positive. Am I alone in being worried about how things are going in our nation and in the world? Do you look around you…on the TV…on the Internet…and wonder if the inmates have taken over the asylum?
Or if Satan has gotten the upper hand and hell on earth has been spawned?
Do you feel like you are bustin’ a hump to live a godly life…only to see those who do exactly the opposite do far, far better than you?
Does it seem like all your efforts are in vain?
Does me bringing up all this bring your spirit down?
Then remember I promised to keep this sermon short! 🙂
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Well, if it does seem to you that bad people get of scott free, then you can relate to these words penned by Jeremiah:
12 Righteous are you, O LORD,
when I complain to you;
yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
2 You plant them, and they take root;
they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
and far from their heart” (Jeremiah 12:1-3).
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?!
Ever wondered that? Habakkuk further couldn’t understand how such a righteous God can put up with it all when he wrote:
13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he? (Habakkuk 1:13).
God…you can’t stand it…so why do you put up with it?!
But, perhaps Psalms is best at communicating our emotions and feelings, regardless of what they are. Don’t worry Winslow, I will be heading over to Psalm 37 per your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee-fueled request at T-Bird yesterday…but I first want to spend a little time in Psalm 73:
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning (Psalm 73:3-14).
I don’t know about you, but I think the psalmist Asaph has it down there. Although I personally have been pretty lucky in not experiencing being “stricken and rebuked every morning,” when I see all the people who have gotten the short end of the stick versus criminals and politicians (but I repeat myself) not only getting away with their evil behavior, but benefiting from it (and being rewarded for it)…
When I see all that…
It can seem like it is “all in vain [that I have] kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.”
Of course, Asaph, being inspired by the Spirit, didn’t leave it there and wrote:
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors! (Psalm 73:16-19)
Paraphrase? Then I smartin’d up and realized it doesn’t work out so well for them in the end!
Enough being negative!
Now, I’m afraid even in pointing that out, Asaph is focusing on the negative aspects…that “they’ll get theirs”…and I said this was going to be a positive sermon. Luckily, Winsow’s Psalm…rather David’s Psalm 37…starts us moving the right direction:
1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices! (Psalm 37:1-7)
Even though it still points out that the wicked are ultimately not going to fare so well…those verses focus on what you should do:
- Don’t fret
- Don’t be envious
- Trust in the Lord
- Do good
- Befriend faithfulness
- Delight yourself in the Lord
- Commit your way to the Lord
- Be still before the Lord
- Wait patiently for Him
And you know what?
- He will act
- He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
- And He will give you the desires of you heart!
Now, those are positive promises, aren’t they?!
Don’t give up…
Even with such great promises, it can be hard to…day after day…do what is right only to see those who do the opposite do so well. The writer of Hebrews has some encouraging words:
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:32-39, emphasis mine).
No matter what has happened to you…
No matter how good the wicked seem to do…
You have a better possession…
Your possession is abiding…that is, it endures…it is permanent…
And you “are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but [are] of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Is that positive news?!
It can seem too hard…
Yes, I know it seem sooooooooo overwhelming, trying to live for the Lord with so much temptation…with so much resistance.
But just like Frank Sinatra encourages people to have “High Hopes”…”high apple pie in the sky hopes”…I encourage you to keep persevering no matter how futile it may seem to you.
Or, do you forget the ant…you know…the ant who was sure he could move that rubber tree plant?
“Just what makes that little old ant, think he’ll move that rubber tree plant? Anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant.”
“Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.”
As they say, “Key your eyes on the prize”…and it’ll help a lot…because…what a prize we have!
Even then it may seem near impossible, but you can do it…but not you…but God in you…and we know that with man things may be impossible, but with God all things are possible. (See Mark 10:26-28.) He is able to strengthen you (Romans 16:25), is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), and “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24).
In your end…
If you hang in there…if you let God strengthen you…to do far more abundantly than you ask or expect…to keep you from stumbling…then you will be able to speak the same words as did Paul as his life wrapped up:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
God’s got your back. God’s got your prize waiting for you.
There’ll come a day.
He will be appearing.
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Are you encouraged?!
You should be!
And not because my sermon is now over :-), but because your God keeps his promises and…
- He promised He’s got your back.
- He promised He’s got your prize waiting for you.
- And He promised He’s coming back to take you to it…to Him!
And that is positive news!