Sermons

Why God Allows Testing

Mark 14:32-42
James 1:12-15

Last Tuesday afternoon, I put myself in a position to be tempted. I broke one of the commandments; the one that states: “Thou shall not go to the grocery store hungry.” My granddaughter Kate was with me and I told her we were breaking that rule and that it was probably going to be difficult getting out of there without buying some kind of bad for me snack food to satisfy my hunger itch. And I kept telling her all I needed was oatmeal and blueberries for my breakfast. As Kate and I passed by the potato chip aisle, my feet made an inexplicable right turn. And there they were, my current favorite brand of chips, Cape Cod Chips, and lo and behold, they were on sale, two bags for $5. As I reached my hand for a bag of chips, Kate simultaneously grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t do it, grandpa.” She swung me around 180 degrees, and there I was, face to face with a bright yellow bag of Peanut M & M’s in the candy aisle. As I lunged for the M & M’s, Kate insisted, “No grandpa, I’m getting you out of here now.” And she took me by the hand and led me to the self-check, whereas I paid for my blueberries and oatmeal those Cape Cod chips were, like the Sirens who called to Odysseus, “Come back, come back.”

You know what I’m talking about. You struggle too. I don’t need to remind you that every day, maybe every hour of every day, most of us struggle with temptation.

And if all we had to tussle with was candy and potato chips, we would count ourselves blessed. Because the truth is we brawl with much more insidious temptations.

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Why Do Good Things Happen to Good People?

Romans 8:28-30

There was a little boy named Johnny; a good boy to be sure. He loved hanging out at the local 7-11, so much so he offered to sweep the store once a day for free just to be able to hang out. The owner wasn’t sure if Johnny had some kind of problem, but he noticed that other boys would constantly tease him. They would say Johnny was two bricks shy of a load, or two pickles short of a barrel. To prove it, they would offer Johnny a choice between a nickel and a dime. Johnny would always take the nickel; they said, ‘because it was bigger.’

One day after John grabbed another nickel, the store owner took him aside, “Johnny, those boys are making fun of you. They think you don’t know the dime is worth more than the nickel. Are you grabbing the nickel because it’s bigger, or what?” Slowly, Johnny turned toward the store owner and a big grin appeared on his face and said, “Well, if I took the dime, they’d stop doing it, and so far I have saved $20 worth of nickels!”

Good things happen to good, and in this case smart, people.

Last week, I talked about what the Bible has to say about why bad things happen to good people. Today I want to talk about how and why good things happen to good people. To do so I want to return to the verse I made mention of last week; Romans 8:28: “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.”

This verse assures of something that most of us instinctively know; that as we live our lives for Christ, good things are going to come our way. When we cooperate with God by allowing Him to work in and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit, we will by and large lead good, if not great, lives. Good things will naturally come our way.

Not always of course; I reminded us last week that the Bible is very realistic in letting us know that no one is exempt from trouble and heartache.

But the Bible also indicates that a person who follows God will find more blessing in life than those who do not. Psalm 84:11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no ‘good’ thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”

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Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Hebrews 11:32-40

Lori Gilbert-Kaye was a good person. She was happily married and had one daughter. She was one of the pioneering congregants of her synagogue. Her best friend said of her she was always running to do a good deed and gave charity to everyone. “It’s not like she gave a million dollars for a building, but if someone was sick or someone died, she was the first one there with food or asking what she could do.”

A week ago Saturday she went to worship in her synagogue when she was shot dead while trying to shield her rabbi from the bullets. Her rabbi said at a press conference, “Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us. She didn’t deserve to die.”

No, she didn’t; but she did.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

They were good people. Under immense pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus, “they refused to turn from God in order to be set free. . . . Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:35-37). Certainly, they didn’t deserve to suffer in this way; but they did. Why?

Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s probably the oldest philosophical question ever asked by any human being.

And when you add belief in a good and benevolent God into the mix, it can easily become an issue of whether or not God is fair. We think, ‘I am a reasonably good person, I’m trying my best to follow you, Jesus, so why did this bad thing happen to me? It’s just not fair.’

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To Be Most Pitied

Matthew 28:1-10
Corinthians 15:1-4, 12-22

As the pastor introduced his children’s sermon on Easter, he asked the little ones, “Do you see anything different about our church today?”
Little Heather quickly figured out the difference and blurted out, “It’s full!”

A guy attended church one Sunday and became increasingly annoyed as the pastor preached. After the service, he decided to speak to the pastor about it: “You really have to do something about your sermons; every time I come here you speak about death and resurrection.”
The preacher shot back, “What do you expect, you only come on Easter.”

Death and resurrection; sounds like a good theme to me. Let’s start with death.

In AARP’s magazine a couple of years ago, (not that I get it) Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were interviewed about their feelings about death. Tomlin, 80, recalled a time when she was four-years-old, visiting her grandmother in rural Kentucky. A little girl had died and they laid the body out in the house. “Everyone was oohing and aahing over her,” said Tomlin. “Death didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t make any more sense now.”

Jane Fonda, 82, had a very different reaction. “I feel the opposite,” she said. “Death is inevitable, so why not try to make peace with it? 1

In the same article, John Mellencamp, 65, said, “I intend to make my ending good. I’m hoping it’s one of those long, lingering deaths. A lot of people go, ‘Oh, I hope I just die quick.’ Not me; I need time to put things right.” 2

And then there’s Sting, winner of 16 Grammy Awards. In a recent interview for Rolling Stone, the 64-year-old admits that he spends a lot of time thinking about death. He often stares at old photos of family members passed on. He also thinks about all the rock music icons who have died. “I’m 64; most of my life has been lived already, I have more days behind me than in front of me. Most people die in panic, there must be a way to die peacefully.” 3

Whether you have more days behind you or in front of you doesn’t really matter. The simple truth that we are all aware of but choose to ignore is that someday all of us will lose consciousness, our hearts will stop pumping blood to our organs which starved for oxygen will begin to shut down and we will be pronounced ‘dead.’

I am sorry to remind you on this otherwise glorious Easter morning of the cold, stark reality of that which awaits us all.

But how else can we truly appreciate the words of Paul? “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (I Corinthians 15:20).

Of course, not everyone believes what Paul proclaims.

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The Crucible (Palm Sunday)

Luke 19:28-40
Mark 14:26-72

Derek Lam is a courageous young Christian leader living in Hong Kong, who has entered The Crucible. In August, 2017 he wrote in The New York Times about the suppression of human rights for Christians in China:

Since I was 16 years old, I have wanted to be a pastor. I was raised in a Christian family in Hong Kong that urged me to live by biblical principles and it is for that reason that I am likely to be jailed next month and that I will be barred from ever becoming a pastor. There is an unprecedented erosion of Christian religious freedom in Hong Kong, believers forced to worship in underground churches, the government tearing down church buildings. The only way to avoid trouble, Lam says, is for Christians to bow down to the current leader of China—Xi Jinping. I won’t make Jesus bow down to Xi Jinping. Although there is nothing I would love more than to become a pastor and preach the gospel in Hong Kong, I will never do so if it means making Jesus subservient to Xi Jinping. Instead, I will continue to fight for religious freedom in Hong Kong, even if I have to do it from behind bars.” 1

hot crucible for melting metal

According to Cambridge Dictionary a ‘crucible’ is “a container in which metals and other substances can be heated to a very high temperature” 2 In that regard, crucibles come in various shapes and sizes and are used for the processing of metals and/or crystals.

Thankfully, Derek Lam didn’t enter a literal crucible. The word ‘crucible’ can also be used figuratively to describe being in a life situation that presents an opportunity for, according to Mr. Webster, “severe testing.” 3

History is replete with stories of people who have suddenly and often without warning found themselves in a crucible of severe testing.

Today’s history places our beloved Saint Peter in the crucible. The pressure must have been intense as Peter fears his reaction to the query about his relationship to Jesus could very well carry life or death consequences.

When re-live Peter’s story or hear stories of people who have suddenly found themselves in the crucible, we often wonder what we would do in similar circumstances.

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Situational Awareness

I Chronicles 29:1-18
Luke 12:13-21

A fellow was riding a bus when he suddenly realized he needed to pass gas. The music was really loud, so he decided to decrepitate with the beat. After a couple of songs, he felt better much as he approached his stop. As he was leaving the bus, people were really giving him the stink eye. And that’s when it hit him; the music he’s been tooting to is coming through his own ear-buds.

You could say that he needed to brush up on his ‘SA’; Situational Awareness.

The term ‘Situational Awareness,’ simply knowing what is going on around you, was coined first during the Korean War as it concerned aircraft and naval vessels. But it began to make its way into our everyday vernacular about 10 years ago as it concerns the ability to survive in an emergency situation. Today the term now includes Cyber SA, Emergency Response SA, Healthcare SA, Nursing SA, Plant Management SA, and so on.

It seems to me the term Situational Awareness can be adopted for use in the church as it regards our spiritual lives. For us to faithfully live as Jesus wishes us to, requires a sense of SA. This can be applied to many aspects of our life with God. Two weeks ago, I didn’t mention Situational Awareness, but it was implied as we talked about avoiding temptation. Last Wednesday, the Senior’s watched a video that reminded us that no matter how bad things might become, Situational Awareness remind us that God is closer than we think.

However today, I want to apply SA to Christian stewardship; that is our use of our resources, possessions and particularly money. If we are going to be faithful to God in this regard, then it is imperative that we are Situationally Aware.

And for us to be Situationally Aware as it concerns our use of money, we must come to grips with the Bible fact that GOD OWNS IT ALL!

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Avoiding Temptation

Matthew 6:7-13
I Peter 5:8-11

If you were only 8 years old and saw a commercial advertising a delicious Big Mac how far would you go to get your hands on one of those famous cheeseburgers? A boy from East Palestine, Ohio was not going to be deterred from getting one. While his parents slept, he tuned into YouTube on how to drive a car, grabbed his 4 year old sissy to ride shotgun and took off for the mile and half journey to the nearest McDonalds. When he pulled up to the drive-through window to get his hands on that burger, the attendant thought it best to call the law, who allowed them to satisfy their cravings while waiting to be picked up by their grandparents. Local police later discovered from cameras and eye-witnesses that the boy did a great job of driving through four lighted intersections where he stopped and waited till one red light turned green and then yielded to on-coming traffic to make the left into McD’s. 1

For that 8 year old, it was a Big Mac.

What is it that tempts us beyond our capacity to resist? For to be sure, each one of us have certain temptations that are particularly troubling to us. And the world, the flesh and the devil work well together at finding our weakest points and seducing us with them.

Before we take the next step in this journey that will focus on overcoming temptation, it would behoove us to consider some ways that will help us avoid temptation in the first place. And all are rooted in the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).

This is one of the verses we looked at last week where we saw that at first glance it looks as though Jesus is laying the blame for temptation at the feet of His Father.

But we very clearly saw that the rest of the New Testament is clear that God is not the one who tempts us. James 1:13 is representative: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else.”

So what does, “Lead us not into temptation mean?”

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Overture to Temptation

Today as we open a Biblical inquiry into the subject of ‘temptation, ’I begin with an ‘overture.’ That is I’d like to talk about temptation in very general terms, while at the same time giving a preview of where we are headed in this series. With that in mind, let’s turn to the Bible as our foundation.

Genesis 3:1-6
Psalm 25:1-5
James 1:12-16

Four priests were on a spiritual retreat weekend and on Saturday evening they decided to confess their biggest temptations.

The first priest said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but I admit I do enjoy Playboy magazine, for the articles, of course.”

“My temptation is worse,” said the second, “Gambling, yep; once, instead of preparing my homily I went to the track to bet on the greyhounds.”

“Mine is worse still,” said the third; “I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink. One time I actually broke into the sacramental wine.”

The fourth priest was quiet as he carefully considered what they had confessed. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip.”

What’s your weakness? Or weaknesses? This past Monday we arrived in Florida and Paige said, “Randy, guess what I bought for you?”
I don’t know, what did you buy for me?”
“A 1 pound 4 ounce bag of Peanut M & M’s and some Cape Cod Potato chips.”
Not a good combination for a guy who needs to lose 10 or 12 pounds.

The truth is things like Peanut M & M’s and Potato Chips are the least of our worries in comparison with many other things we can be tempted by.

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A Broken Orchestra

Acts 6:1-7
I Thessalonians 5:12-13

Reader’s Digest Life in These United States: A week after a father applied to enroll his son in a private school, he received a questionnaire. One of the questions was: “Is your son a leader or a follower?” He thought about it and then indicated his son was a follower. A couple weeks later, he was informed his son was one of 200 students accepted. The letter also said, “You may be interested to know that of the 200 accepted 199 were marked as leaders and only 1 follower.”

What is that old saying? Too many chiefs and not enough Indians?

Every organization has to have leaders who will initially define what that organization is about, how it is going to function effectively by encouraging participation by the people of that organization and then monitor it to make sure that it does.

That applies to the largest of organizations; take the good old USA, for example, which was organized by our Founding Fathers, who took the responsibility for drawing up principles set forth in the Constitution that would govern these United States of America.

Manufacturers and businesses have CEO’s/CFO’s/managers, etc. who are responsible to create, implement and monitor policies and procedures that will enable that business to function profitably and effectively.

What’s good for countries and manufacturers and retail businesses is also good for the church. Every church must designate leaders who are responsible for creating and then implementing policies and procedures that will enable that church to function effectively.

That’s exactly what Luke is describing in Acts 6. The early church was growing in numbers, quite dramatically. The 12 Apostles were up to their ears with too many responsibilities so they made a wise decision to recruit other folks who would help them out so that they could focus on what they felt they were gifted and called by God to accomplish. It is probably true that Numbers 11 had some influence over their decision. In that chapter, Moses is the overwhelmed leader who takes the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, to recruit others to give him a hand.

As it was with Moses before them and then the Apostles in the early church, so it is now.

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