What I now share with you is not intended as a slam or a condemnation. I offer it only as an insight to be shared with you. We American people are terribly spoiled and do not know it.

Our philosophy as a culture may be summed up in this manner: we are for success and against pain and inconvenience. When we turn on a light switch, we expect light--and expect it immediately. When we turn on a water faucet, we expect pure water--and we expect it immediately. When we turn an ignition switch, we expect the motor to start--and we expect it immediately. When we go to a doctor because we are sick or in pain, we expect our medical problem to be solved--and we expect results immediately. When we go to a restaurant, we expect food cooked just exactly like we like it--and we expect to be served promptly.

Our motto is: "If it is broke, fix it, and do it fast!" Most of us live our lives fast and most of us expect nothing to break. However, the older we get the more we learn that simply is not the way life works--not even in America!

Let me share with you two vivid memories. The first came from the first campaign group I traveled with. Coming home after three weeks in West Africa, the thirteen of us had a layover in Paris, France. This was 1969 when an airline paid for layovers and meals. We were having supper. One man who was part of the group was demanding--he wanted more than the airline authorized. A French waiter tried to explain he could have a choice, not one of each; but his words fell on a deaf ear. Finally, in exasperation the French waiter gave the campaigner what he wanted. As the waiter turned and walked away, I heard another waiter say, "He is American." That was all the explanation needed to understand the situation.

When Joyce and I returned from West Africa on our only leave, I was anxious to share our slides with my family. After Mom and Dad saw those pictures, my Dad made this comment: "I would not live that way. I'd get me a hammer and some nails and make something different." I asked, "What if no one had a hammer, and there were no nails?"

We think we can fix anything, but we prove frequently we cannot. We do not intend our confident expectations to be arrogance. But the rest of the world sees it as arrogance. And I am afraid that God frequently sees it as arrogance as well.

  1. This confidence that anything can be fixed quickly without pain or personal inconvenience often deceives us in our relationship with God.
    1. It is much too easy for us to act like we have God on a retainer.
      1. Often in business we put a specialized professional on retainer.
      2. That means if we need him/her we will call him/her to come take care of a special need that has arisen.
        1. It is much too easy for us to treat God that way: "God, we are placing You on a retainer--if I ever need You, I will call You."
        2. Too often we use prayer only to call God when we have a special need.
        3. When we "call" God, we expect immediate results.
          1. "God, come right now!"
          2. "God, fix my problem right now!"
          3. "God, I don't want any more pain!"
          4. "God, I could do so much better if You would just fix this like I want it fixed right now!"
      3. If God does not fix it "right now" precisely the way we have decided it should be fixed, then frequently we cry out. "God, where are You? Why have You not answered me?"
    2. Where did we ever get the idea that God works in very visible ways, that He adopts our solutions so He can solve problems in precisely the way we want, and He always acts quickly?
      1. The Bible abounds with illustrations of God at work when no one thought God was working.
      2. The Bible abounds with illustrations of God being at work in ways that were not a human approach.
      3. The very fact that our salvation exists illustrates that God's time table is not our time table.

  2. Let me share with you two illustrations from the Bible.
    1. One of the continuing problems in Israel was idolatry--Israel had a long, long history of worshipping gods other than Jehovah God.
      1. Before Israel crossed the wilderness the first time, they built and worshipped a golden calf (Exodus 32).
      2. When Israel finally was established in Canaan, they worshipped the Baals.
      3. Judges records how Israel repeated the same cycle of failure and rescue over and over, and frequently a part of the failure was worshipping idols.
      4. No matter what consequences they suffered as a result of idol worship, the nation always returned to idols.
      5. While idolatry was common in Israel in the Old Testament, there was a deep aversion to idolatry in Israel in the New Testament.
        1. Why?
        2. Israel finally learned their lesson.
        3. God finally "got through" to them once and for all.
        4. How?
        5. One of the things God accomplished through the Babylonian captivity was this: He cured Israel once and for all from worshipping idols.
        6. Israel finally learned and understood that there was one God, and idols were never to be considered as representing gods, never worship them.
      6. Was Babylonian captivity:
        1. Fast? I do not consider seventy years fast!
        2. Painless? That captivity caused lots of pain!
        3. Did God use the idolatrous Babylonians to punish the Israelites? God told the prophet Habukkuk He did!
      7. And Israel learned an extremely hard, painful lesson--the slow, hard way.
      8. The point I would like you to consider is this: it was very difficult for Israel to grasp that God worked through the Babylonian captivity, but He did!
    2. I would like to take the second illustration from Paul's life as a Christian.
      1. Read with me 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
        Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
      2. There are several truly fascinating revelations found in this statement.
        1. God allowed a specific stress to existing in Paul's life that Paul called a thorn in the flesh.
        2. God did not send the thorn; the thorn came from Satan.
        3. The thorn caused Paul pain--Paul said it tormented him.
        4. While God did not send the thorn, God used the thorn to protect Paul from a specific problem: arrogance.
        5. Paul did not like the thorn--this miracle worker begged God three times to take it away.
        6. God caused Paul to understand that he was to stop looking at the thorn and instead look at God's grace.
        7. Why? Because God's power is revealed in human weakness.
        8. Paul finally understood!
        9. If the means of God's power living in him was his human weakness that endured a thorn, he would be content to be weak so God could be powerful in him.
        10. The key: just like us, Paul had to learn to depend on God's grace instead of his accomplishments.
      3. What was the thorn?
        1. I do not know--Paul never identified the thorn.
        2. Let me speculate [and this is truly speculation, not fact!]
        3. Let's speculate that the thorn was the Judaizing teachers who gave Paul enormous problems.
        4. Paul would go to a community, teach people who were not Jews about Jesus Christ, and begin a congregation.
        5. These Jewish Christians would come to town after Paul left and tell non-Jewish Christians that they were not saved--if they were going to be saved, first they had to learn and accept Jewish ways.
        6. I can almost hear a frustrated Paul scream.
          1. "God, why don't you stop them from doing this?"
          2. "Because of what they are doing, I have to keep cleaning up messes they make!"
          3. "My life would be so much simpler if I could just evangelize new places and not clean up the messes they make."
          4. "Lord, make it stop! Make this problem go away!"
      4. And God said:
        1. "I am using this to help you Paul, not hurt you."
        2. "It is too easy for you to feel arrogant--that does not serve My purpose."
        3. "If you want Me to be powerful in your life, learn to trust My grace instead of your ability."

  3. Allow me to illustrate from my own life the truth that God works through even painful circumstances.
    1. When I was six years old, I almost died from respiratory problems.
      1. At that time my family lived in the new community of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
      2. A doctor told my Mother and Father that if I was not moved out of that climate, I would die. That suggestion was a major difficulty in those days!
      3. In the summer I was seven, we moved near Crossville, Tennessee--fifty miles from Dad's work.
      4. That move created major inconveniences for everyone.
        1. We moved from a well equipped house in a city to a poorly equipped house in the country--the only appliance we had was a refrigerator.
        2. For the first time in her life, Mom learned how to live on a farm--her whole life had been in a city environment.
        3. For months, the only way Dad had to commute to work was to catch a bus at 3:30 a.m.; he literally traveled down the mountain, and there were no interstate highways.
        4. I changed school systems, changed the way I dressed, felt very out of place, and fit in about like a sore thumb.
        5. I easily could make a case for it being a difficult experience for everyone!
      5. However, that move resulted in some major blessings.
        1. I outgrew my respiratory problems and in time become a healthy person.
        2. I learned a way of life that blessed the rest of my life.
        3. In the second grade I met Joyce, we were sweethearts in the 6th grade, we dated through high school and three years of college, and we married in 1961--she is one of the great gifts God has given me.
        4. I also met an adult by the name of Ray Cope who had a dream.
          1. There were thirteen congregations in the county, one full time preacher, and two part time preachers.
          2. His dream was to take teen boys from our congregation to congregations that had no one to teach or preach and fill a need.
          3. I was one of those teens.
    2. In a real way, I can say that I have the life I have and the wife and children I have because I almost died when I was six years old.
      1. I am convinced God used my sickness to bring me great blessings.
      2. Never think that because there is pain and inconvenience that God is not at work!

Do you want God to work in any way necessary to make you His son or daughter in judgment? Even if it includes pain or inconvenience now?

If you wish to be His child in judgment, see Him in your pain and inconvenience now!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 November 2003

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