Dealing With Life’s Interruptions

 Text: Mark 4:35-41

You can also watch this sermon on YouTube via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_g4Si1z_f8&t=62s  

Teacher, don’t you care if we

I remember a number of times in my life when everything seemed to be headed to the right direction and then, boom; everything changed for the worse—or so I thought. One such incident happened years ago when I was a seminary student. I had concluded my first year and was looking forward to two other exciting years of being prepared for ministry. Life was good! Then one morning I was causally checking my emails, I saw one from my sponsor. I was sort of excited, excepting to receive some good news. Were they informing me that funds were available to go and visit my family? Was it a ministry update that I need to be aware of?  On opening the email, I wasn’t ready for what I found. They were basically letting me know that they were no longer going to fund my studies at the seminary and were advising me to go back to my country. To say that I was shocked is an understatement. I froze. My body ached instantly. So many questions ran through my mind. I was angry; I was confused. I felt betrayed and alone on that cold winter morning, in that dormitory room in South Korea.

I know that many of you can relate with my experience of dealing with life’s interruptions. For some of you, it was a routine visit to the doctor’s office when you received news that would change your life  forever. Maybe it was a phone call you received from a spouse letting you know that your relationship was no more. For the last two or three months the world has faced interruptions at a scale it has never experienced before. The coronavirus has brought the world systems to their knees. No one seems to know the answer. I recently was reading from Facebook post of one of the key persons in the tourism sector in my country. He said that this year 2020 was promising to be one of the best years in the tourist industry. Now everything is at a halt. Companies are thinking of downsizing.

Have you wondered where God is in all this? Has he taken a vacation and left the virus to wreak havoc on the world? Is He executing judgment on His stubborn and unrepentant people? I have heard comments similar to these but I think when we think of God that way we miss the whole point of the purpose of life’s interruptions. I believe that God has an answer to our dilemmas when we face interruptions in our lives. Recently, a friend of mine shared with me a passage from Mark 4:35-41, and I felt that the Lord was speaking to the church about the times we live in.

Let us read along:

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

So up until this time, life looks good. Apparently, it seems like the disciples are in charge and Jesus is simply tagging along: they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. They are the masters on the lake. They are in charge of the boat and the oars. They know the destination. Then, boom!

 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Then comes the interruption. No one saw this coming. They have no idea what to do. They have run out of options. But then then, there is something rather unusual:

38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Think about that for a moment. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Okay let’s go back to the previous verse and read again, just in case you missed it.  37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Jesus was sleeping—literally! Whatever the reason was for this kind of deep sleep, it simply shows how Jesus was just as human as anyone of us. He probably was too exhausted from the previous ministry engagements.

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” The disciples actually thought they were all (including Jesus?) were going to drown! And, Jesus was just sleeping—unbothered by the impeding catastrophe. Have you ever been in a situation where you were like, “God, where are you?”

But let us not miss the main point here. Jesus was there in the boat. Sleeping, yes; but He was present. In fact what makes the humanity of Jesus relevant to our human experiences, including life’s interruptions, is that He shares in our human experiences. He is there when we need Him.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Think about this again: Jesus rebuked the storm. He spoke to the storm as though it had ears and was listening—and indeed it was. He commanded the waves to be quiet and still. He spoke to something inanimate and impersonal. Why? It is because, everything—I mean everything is under His sovereign power. Your situation is under His sovereign power. The coronavirus is under His sovereign power. Everything God created can listen to Him. I always tell people that everything that has a name has a knee. It bows to the name of Jesus. When life becomes interrupted, when the storms of life come, remember that JESUS IS RIGHT THERE WITH YOU AND THAT HE IS IN CONTROL. He was with me on that cold winter morning in South Korea when I felt like the world was caving in around me. He is with you when you feel helpless and defeated. He has sovereign power over your situation and the predicaments that we face every day.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

God still calls us to have faith. In times when everyone is panicking and living in fear, we need to trust Him. We need to speak His word to our circumstances. Jesus told us that we can speak to mountains. We can believe God to mend our brokenness and restore us. We can trust Him to guide us through the darkest valleys of our lives. He is able to lam the storms of our lives.

Let us pray:

Our heavenly Father, we come to you today in the face of everything we are going through. We do not have the answers to the world’s problems but You do. Only you can calm the storms of our lives. We particularly pray that you will calm the storm of the coronavirus that is ravaging the world. We speak hope to the hopeless world. We speak life where there is death. We speak healing where there is sickness and brokenness. In the name of Jesus, we have prayed, amen.

You can also watch this sermon on YouTube via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_g4Si1z_f8&t=62s  

Our Humanness and God’s Purposes

1 Kings 19:1-4 (NIV)   Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Fleeing for dear Life

After a powerful demonstration of God’s power (by fire), defeat of Baal’s prophets, and the end of three and a half years of a dry spell which had been pronounced by him (chapter 18), Elijah now faces a death threat from Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife. Jezebel’s reputation for being a nasty and deadly queen is unmatched. Not wanting to take chances, Elijah flees for his life.

1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

This story reveals Elijah’s humanness. He is a fiery prophet, powerfully used of God but he is also human. It is easy to underestimate our humanness, especially when God is powerfully using us. Elijah’s life is threatened precisely because he is doing God’s will. This story also reveals God’s concern and care for his servants (vv. 5-8). Elijah was tired; he need to rest. He was hungry; he needed to eat—a lot of food. God provided all that he needed (vv. 5-9).When we find ourselves tired, discouraged and depressed, God is right there to help us. His grace is available for the weak, and tired and desperate.

Serving God and being in His will does not necessarily insulate us from life’s challenges and threats. Yet God cares for us even in the most difficult experiences.

A Gentle Whisper of God

1 Kings 19:11-12 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

At mount Horeb, Elijah has many things to complain about: Israel’s worship and religious systems are dead. There has been severe persecution and killing of God’s prophets. Elijah feels alone, rejected and perhaps suicidal. Here is a stark contrast between the Elijah at Mount Carmel: confident, bold, in charge (chapter 18); and the one at Mount Horeb: distraught, unsure, and desperate (vv. 10, 14).

Elijah encounters God, not in the spectacular phenomena of powerful wind, earthquake and fire, but in “a gentle whisper” (v. 12). The God of Mt. Carmel who answers by fire is the same God of Mt. Horeb who answers in a gentle whisper. God works in and through ordinary people like Elijah (and you and me for that matter) to accomplish His purposes (cf. James 5:17-18).

The Transition

1 Kings 19:15-16  The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

Elijah has been faithful to God; it is now time for a transition. He is to anoint other kings— Hazael and Jehu, and his successor—Elisha. Elijah also needs to know that he is not alone. There are “seven thousand in Israel– all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). One of the strategies that the enemy uses to discourage us is to make us feel and believe that we are alone; that our experiences are unique and no one really understands us. The truth is that you are not alone. When you feel abandoned ask God to lead you to people who can be of encouragement to you.

Have you ever realized that God’s purposes are bigger than you; than your accomplishments or even your failures? As His servants, we are not in charge; He is.

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Death Demystified

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few months ago my mother died. She was the sweetest woman I ever knew. She faithfully served the Lord for over 70 years. As a way of honoring her life we chose a celebration theme for her funeral. We sang songs of praise to God. We even danced. A friend of mine who watched a video clip of the funeral commented that it was a funeral of a different kind.

But even with all the testimonies and celebrations, facing the reality of my mother’s death was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. A day before her death, my wife and I agreed that we would pray and surrender our mother’s life to God’s will—and that was the hardest prayer we ever prayed. Although we knew in our minds that it was time for our mother to go to the place she had always longed for, we were not emotionally ready to let her go.

Death is perhaps the scariest experience on the face of the earth (if you doubt, just google “death” and checkout the images that show up). It is a grim reality we have to deal with. The reality of death is very painful, whether it is the death of a loved one or us facing it due to a terminal illness. Death is an intruder. It is unnatural. It is something we can never get used to because we were not created to die.

What scares you most about death

However, death this is not the end. Just like sin, death has no place in heaven. Therefore, our faith in Jesus Christ makes a great difference in how we deal with death. Satan’s victory in the Garden of Eden was temporary but Jesus’ victory on the cross was decisive and final. On the cross, Jesus demystified death. We can encounter death with confidence. There is hope beyond the grave. For a Christian, death is an irony. It is a moment of pain, especially when we lose a loved one. But is also a moment of victory, because those who die in Christ will certainly live again.

What scares you most about death? Even the scariest thing on earth has been defeated by our Lord. We can, therefore, say with confidence, “Where, O death, is your victory?” We have victory over death because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Dealing with Life-Disruptions

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Psalm 46:2-3 (NIV)  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

Yesterday I was greeted with some not-so-good news. Although it was not life threatening, it disrupts a fairly major course of action of a department I supervise. It affects our timelines and I am trying to figure out what good might be in it. As I was trying to deal with it, I was also handed a bill that was totally out of my budget—and yet it was for an important and urgent emergency need.

Life does not always loyally follow our plans and expectations and along the journey we encounter disruptions. Some may be minor, like the one I encountered yesterday, but others are major and devastating like the news one receives from the doctor when you had simply visited for a routine medical checkup. How should we respond when life does not deliver according to our plans? The natural (human) thing to do is to freeze, feel bad about ourselves and other people, or give up. But we know that not only is this kind of response unhelpful, it can also be destructive.

The better way is to look Up, beyond ourselves and circumstances, to God our Father and ask for wisdom and direction. God’s wisdom will ensure that we take the right course of action in any circumstances. The Bible says that God’s wisdom is way different from worldly wisdom.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17).

Food for Thought

  1. What life-disruptions are you dealing with right now?
  2. How can you glorify God in your circumstances?

 

Mended Series: That Thing Called Pain

That Thing Called Pain

To The One Who Made My Heart Beat Again

What is pain?

When you ask a child at play, pain is the hot, throbbing sensation when the abrasions on his knees are rubbed. Pain is the hot, throbbing feeling when the disinfectant comes in contact with the wounds.

When you ask a mother, pain is the piercing sense of labor. The nerve-wracking feeling of delivering a child into the world sums up the pain that mothers undergo. No amount of anesthesia could ever cover up the agonizing discomfort.

When you ask a young woman about pain, she would recount you of the aching she feels because of a lost lover. She would tell you a blow-by-blow story of how they were happy but they ended up distant and strangers. She would tell you how she was hurt by love.

When you ask a man, his agony would tell you of a love gone by. He would tell you of…

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Your Attitude in Trials

Texts: James 1:2-182 Corinthians 1:1-11

Our attitudes, especially during tough times, are very important. They determine whether you soar above your challenges or sink under them. So how should we respond when we go through tough times?

  • Count it all joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)

  • Be hopeful. Even in the hardest, gravest moments of your life; God is with you. He is for you and not against you. He will work out something good out of your troubles.
  • We can be joyful in trials because of the promise of the reward (a crown of life) for those who endure. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
  • LET YOUR TRIALS BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GOD TO DISPLAY HIS POWER. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  • Ask God for wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).

  • Ask the Lord what He would want you to do in your situation
  • Believe that when you ask, God will answer you
  • Make decisions based on the wisdom you received from the Lord

This takes us to the next attitude…

  • Make the most out of your tough times

  • Apostle Paul’s example:

    • Paul wrote letters to churches
    • He preached the Gospel to the guards and those who met him
    • He maintained a positive outlook about his situation: “I am chained but the gospel is not chained” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:9)
  • King David’s Example

    • When he was a fugitive, running from King Saul, he provided leadership to those who sought for him.

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him (1 Samuel 22:1-2).

    • One more example:

You might be out of work (meaning that you have more time on you). There are a number of things you could do:

      • Pray
      • Read
      • Write
      • Dream of the future that you envision (yes, never stop dreaming)
      • Visit and encourage others
      • Volunteer in a local community-based charity
  • Ask the Lord to deliver you from the trial.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray (James 5:13).

    • The Bible is full of examples of people who cried out to the Lord to deliver them out of their troubles—and He did. God has promised that when we call on His name, He will answer and rescue us from our troubles. And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15)

 

  • Walk in faith.

    To walk in faith is to rely on God’s love, power and wisdom

    • The devil always wants to use trials to tempt us

What’s the difference between a trial and a temptation?

Using the example of Jesus Christ:

At the end of fasting for 40 days and nights, he was hungry and thirsty. The need (or desire) for food and water can be likened to a trial. But the enemy wanted Jesus to misuse His divine powers (in ways that were inconsistent with God’s word) to turn stones into food -this was a temptation

One of the tragedies of today’s Christianity is pragmatism, which basically goes like this: “If it works, then it’s OK.” We are told that the end justifies the means. But God is interested in both the means and the end. What we do and how we do it, equally matter to God.

The Lord’s purpose in trials is to make you mature—to become more like Jesus. However, Satan’s goal is to take advantage of your trials to tempt you to deny God. Faith makes you keep your focus on Jesus.

 

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GOD’S PURPOSE IN TRIALS

James 1:2 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds

  1. Trials are inevitable

I don’t like pain and I want to mute it at first as I can. Just like pain, tough times are a reality that is an equalizer. Everyone faces them.  It’s not something that one can wish away. We live in a generation that overemphasizes positive confession as if it’s a magic wand to attract what we want and shoo away what we do not desire. But no amount of positive confession will shield you from trials. To say that ”tough times are not my portion” is like a student confessing that “exams are not my portion.” To never want trials is like desiring to be promoted without undergoing training. The Bible says that “WHENEVER”, not “IF” “you face trials of many kinds.” Before He went to heaven, Jesus promised us that in this world we will have trials (John 16:33). Trials, like any training, are undesirable but necessary.

  1. Trials are diverse

The Bible says that they are of many kinds. Not only will you encounter tough times, you will do so in many areas and seasons of your live. For as long as we are alive and growing we will encounter challenges.  They could be related to your health, finances, relationships, ministry, profession, or anything else.

  1. You CAN benefit  from your trials – (James 1:3-4)

Trials are real; don’t pretend that they are not there. Many of them are painful, so we shouldn’t pretend to be happy when you are in pain. BUT you can be hopeful (and find peace in Jesus) – Phil. 4: 6-7 (more about attitudes next week). You can be hopeful and joyful because you know that the end will be greater. Any training worth its name is rigorous and tough (Heb. 12:7, 8)

Trials, like any training, are undesirable but necessary.

When people spend sleepless nights during times of examinations, it’s not because they enjoy sleepless nights but because you are looking forward to good grades at the end of the exam and a great career in the future. So, we are encouraged to joyfully endure trials because of the results they bring about in the end.

Trials are a like training institute. But we all know that training, even the best one, doesn’t guarantee success (otherwise only that who graduate from top notch schools would be successful). It is only when someone trains according to the instructions that they can succeed. So, don’t waste your pain; God is up to something.

What trials are you going through now? Trials are the pressure that tests the quality of your character.

Hebrews 12:11-13 (NIV) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Are you feeling like trials are pushing you to the limit, that you are being stretched beyond what you can bear? Are your arms becoming “feeble” and your knees “weak?”  Do you feel like throwing in the towel? Ask the Lord for strength.

Instead let your response to trials encourage others to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him. But you can’t do this on your own, God has to help you. Tough times won’t last because God’s grace will sustain you

GOD’S PURPOSE IN TRIALS IS TO MAKE YOU MATURE – TO BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS CHRIST

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