I wish it was easy to figure out what is happening in life. Don't you? Do you ever wonder, "Is everything trying to kill me? At every curve in life's highway it seems some force wants me to wreck. Something always is trying to turn my life upside down. I try to make good decisions. I try to use good judgment. I try to make wise choices. But I look up, and life is out of control. I am just dragged along.

Is that how you feel? Do you feel like something is always dragging you around, always trying to turn your life upside down? It is your parents' divorce. It is your critical wife. It is your selfish husband. It is your impossible children. It is your deceitful boss. It is your dishonest competition. It is corrupt officials. It is your addiction. It is the death of someone you love dearly. Something constantly tries to turn your life upside down. It happens so consistently that we get nervous when things are going too well.

Then we face the most difficult question of all: is God behind what is happening, or is Satan behind what is happening? Is God trying to rescue us, or is Satan trying to destroy us? That is one of life's most complicated questions.

Hebrews 12:7-10 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.

  1. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about a visit she made to an outer bank island.
    1. She made this visit when loggerhead turtles were laying their eggs.
      1. She watched one evening as a huge female crept out of the ocean and struggled up to the edge of the sand dunes.
        1. With an exhausting effort, this huge turtle dug a deep hole and laid her eggs.
        2. Barbara was afraid that she would disturb the turtle, so she did not stay to watch the turtle fill the large hole with sand and return to the ocean.
      2. The next morning she went to see if she could see the nest.
        1. She could not locate the nest, but strangely the trail of the turtle headed into the dune.
        2. Curious, she followed the turtle's trail into the dunes until she found the huge turtle almost dead.
        3. It was caked in sand, the sun was getting hotter by the minute, and she knew the turtle would be dead soon.
        4. She carried water from the ocean to moisten the turtle, then she hurriedly found a park ranger and told him the situation.
    2. The ranger sped to the turtle in a jeep, turned the turtle on its back, attached chains to its front flippers, hooked the chains to a trailer hitch, and sped away dragging the turtle upside down through the sand dunes to the shore.
      1. She watched in horror as she saw the turtle's mouth fill with sand and its neck extend and flop under its shell.
        1. At the water's edge, the ranger unhooked the chains and turned the turtle right side up in the shallow surf.
        2. The turtle looked dead.
        3. Gradually the water renewed its color, gradually the water revived it, and with a large wave, the turtle pushed out into the ocean.
      2. As she witnessed these events, this is what she thought: "Watching her swim slowly away and remembering her nightmare ride through the dunes, I reflected that it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down."

  2. To save people from themselves, God at times turns people's lives upside down and drags them with chains.
    1. Jonah was determined not to do what God wanted done (the book of Jonah).
      1. God told him to go to Ninevah, the Assyrian capitol, and tell them that they would be destroyed for their great wickedness (1:2).
      2. Jonah wanted God to destroy them; they were Israel's enemy.
      3. Jonah was afraid if he went to Ninevah that they would repent and God would forgive them (4:2).
      4. So Jonah tried to run away from God (1:3).
        1. God turned his life upside down and brought out the chains.
        2. A huge fish swallowed him (1:4-17).
        3. Jonah cried to God for help (21-9).
        4. The big fish vomited him out on land (2:10).
      5. Jonah went to Ninevah unwillingly as the worst missionary that ever worked for God; he warned them; they repented; and God forgave them (3).
      6. And Jonah was so angry at God that he asked God to let him die (4:1-3).
        1. I do not know what happened to Jonah.
        2. He certainly did not want to assist God's purposes.
        3. Turning his life upside down did not change his attitude or his heart.
    2. Elijah genuinely wanted to turn the ten tribes of northern Israel back to God (1 Kings 18,19).
      1. From the time that these people became an independent nation, they worshipped idols (1 Kings 12:25-33).
      2. Elijah, one of God's greatest prophets, lived among them.
      3. On one occasion Elijah knew that he proved that God was the living God and that idols were nothing.
        1. He and the prophets of Baal had a contest on Mount Carmel that was witnessed by many of the nation.
        2. Elijah won the contest; four hundred fifty prophets of Baal were executed by the witnesses; and Elijah knew that the nation would turn back to God (18:19,40).
        3. But in less than twenty-four hours Elijah knew that the nation would not turn back to God (19:1-3).
      4. He fled into the wilderness asking God to let him die, and God directed Elijah to a cave where God had a talk with Elijah (19:4,10).
        1. God said, "Elijah, you are not the only man who serves me in this nation."
        2. "There are 7,000 prophets here who have never worshipped Baal" (19:18).
        3. "Go back; be controlled by my purposes" (19:15-17).
        4. "It is not all up to you; stop acting like it is."
    3. Peter believed he was the strongest, most loyal disciple Jesus had.
      1. When Jesus told him that he would deny Jesus three times before the night was over, Peter thought that was preposterous.
        1. "If I need to, I will die with you."
        2. But Peter never believed that Jesus would be arrested and tried.
        3. After Jesus was captured, Peter ran fearfully into the night.
        4. Later he slipped into the courtyard where Jesus was being questioned by Jewish authorities.
        5. Three times he was recognized; three times someone said, "You are one of his disciples; three times he denied knowing Jesus."
        6. The third time he cursed and swore that he did not know Jesus; Jesus looked at him; and he fled into the night weeping.
      2. That night his life was turned upside down, and in John 20, Jesus fastened the chains.
        1. Three times Jesus asked, "Peter, do you love me?"
        2. Three times Jesus told him to take care of his sheep.
    4. Paul experienced having his life turned upside down and the chain experience (Acts 9; 22:6-21; 26:2-18).
      1. He was on his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest any Jews at the synagogue who had become Christians.
        1. A light brighter than the noon sun drove him to the ground (26:13,14).
        2. The Jesus whom he said was a fake, an impostor, a grave threat to the will of God spoke to him.
        3. Jesus: "Why are you persecuting me? All you are doing is hurting yourself" (26:14).
        4. Paul: "Who are you?" (9:5)
        5. Jesus: "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. I am making you a minister and a witness, and I am sending you to open people's eyes so they will turn from darkness to light in order that they may receive forgiveness and the inheritance of those who are sanctified by faith in me" (26:15-18).
      2. For three days Paul was blind, and for those three days he prayed and fasted (9:9).
        1. Then Jesus sent Ananias to him (9:10-12).
        2. Jesus told Ananias, "He is my chosen instrument. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name's sake" (9:15-16).
        3. Among the things that Ananias told Paul was this: "Get up, and be baptized, calling on his name" (Acts 22:15).
      3. And the great Christian persecutor became the great Christian servant.
        1. But not before God turned his life upside down.
        2. But not before God dragged him to Christ.

[Prayer: God, do anything necessary to bring us to you.]

I do not pretend to think like a turtle. But a couple of things are obvious. When that exhausted turtle crawled deep into the sand dunes, it was convinced that it knew what it was doing and where it was going. Had someone tried to turn the turtle toward the ocean, the turtle would have resisted.

We are like the turtle. We are so sure that we know what we are doing. We are so sure that we know where we are going. If anyone dares try to help us understand that we do not, we resist him or her. Oh, how we resist him or her!

So, exhausted, we wind up deep in the dunes far from life and close to death. The sun in the hot sand is sucking the life out of us. "Sometimes it is hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down."

Question: do you want God to rescue you? "I do not need rescuing!" You answered the question. "Yes, I want God to rescue me, but I do not want Him to turn my life upside down doing it." You answered the question. "Yes, I want God to rescue me, but there has never been an emergency." You answered the question.

If God sees you dying in the hot sand dunes of life, what do you want God to do? If God just knows the direction you are going will kill you, what do you want God to do? Do you want God to do anything necessary to rescue you--even if it means turning your life upside down, and dragging you with chains to where you need to be.

I am not talking about God taking any person's will or power of decision from him or her. I am talking about God placing us in circumstances that let us choose life instead of death. Do you want God to do anything necessary to place you in those circumstances?

[Quote source: Tales of Terror, Times of Wonder, Barbara Brown Taylor, http://www.theotherside.org/archive/mar-apr00/taylor.html]

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 13 August 2000

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