Welcoming the Testing Times
Welcoming the Testing Times
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
“If I have faltered more or less, in my great task of happiness; If beams from happy human eyes have moved me not; If summer skies, books and my food and summer rains Knocked on my sullen heart in vain, Lord they most pointed pleasure take and stab my spirit broad awake. Or Lord if too obdurate I, take thou before this spirit die, a piercing pain, a killing sin, And to my dead heart run them in.”
And it brought home to me the positive benefit of this negative situation that we have in our world which is of course is a world that runs without God. But there are positive benefits to that and that is part of God’s use that he makes of all the things that go wrong in this present world. They are part of his piercing pain and killing sin running them deep into our hearts to awaken us.
And it made sense again for me what happened in the second exile. It’s Lamentations chapter 3. It’s one of those many places in the Bible when you’re left walking back on your heels. So often I have thought so often, “Lord, why are you punishing them?” When that poem Celestial Surgeon came back to me yesterday I realized that this is God’s restorative justice. All that is in the Bible is not just retributive – i.e. paying back what they have done against me, but it’s always restorative. So it is with the things that come about in this world that we meet that aren’t God’s will – the things that signify that this world is going without god.
Many of the things that touch us ourselves and especially the things that go wrong in our lives are part of God’s restorative justice – not his retributive justice. He has not sent those things to punish us or to beat us up or to make life hard for us. He has allowed them to come to us for a purpose – to bring us into a new place with himself. Of course it gives light immediately to all these dreadful things that you so often read in the O.T. and wish they weren’t there.
In Lamentations chapter 3: 1-3, Jeremiah is talking as if he is Israel. “ I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; ?he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; ?surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.” They have taken away my right to worship in my own temple. They have taken me from my own land. They have taken me into a place of exile in a foreign country. Lamentations 3:4-18 –“He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones;? he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; ? he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; ? he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. He is to me like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding; he led me off my way and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; ? he bent his bow and set me as a mark for his arrow. ?I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the burden of their songs all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;? my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; ? so I say, “Gone is my glory, and my expectation from the LORD.” And some of the things that happen to us we think, “Terrible, terrible!” but of course the reason
for them is this: Lamentations 3:19 – 42, “Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust — there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grief the sons of men. To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve. Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us left up our hearts and hands to God in Heaven: We have transgressed and rebelled, and thou has not forgiven.” And it just came home to me that we so often miss the blessings that God is bringing upon us when we have difficulties or when things don’t go as we thought they should. Or, when we come into real misery and evil it is long past time that we looked up lovingly to him and said, “What are you teaching me here Lord? Alright I was wrong and that was not a wise way that I was thinking. But how should I be thinking? “ In other words, to see the real blessing in negative things, what seems to be things against God’s will, what seems to be things that are not benefiting us and not a blessing to us – let us realize this is not just God giving us a hard time. This is not just something going wrong that he has not been able to control. This is him using the things that are not to make something of us little things that are. He is using things not like him at all to bring us into a new awareness of himself. It takes a little humility. I thought to myself we are often so proud and sure of ourselves. Yes, I’m saved and on my way to Heaven. We are so confident of our own position that we regard anything like that as an insult to us, an assault upon our peace instead of looking up and saying, “Lord is there something here you are trying to bring to my mind?”
I’m a pathetic creature but I do know enough but maybe I’ve been knocked off my feet enough to be concerned when something does not go exactly right or when something doesn’t go as I thought it would go or when I myself am knocked off my perch a little. Then I look up fast. There is a joke about that famous guy who had a donkey who wouldn’t move. When someone asked him what do you do, he took a two by four and knocked the donkey unconscious to get his attention. Now I try to avoid God having to get my attention. I try to notice when he allows some of these things to come. Of course what it does is that it turns everything into blessing and part of God speaking to you. You don’t then regard the evil things as so terrible. You see them as part of God controlling what is not his will in this world to bring our attention to something new in himself, something new we have to enter into ourselves. And that is part of the benefit of these things. It changed my attitude. It’s very easy for us in a quiet way to resent as an unusual, unfair, and unjust interruption in our otherwise glorious, victorious walk. It seems to me important to see that God uses the things that are not his will in this world and the things that are his will. He uses both to bring us into new light about ourselves and him. I don’t think you just watch to see if the signs are favorable and then say that’s the way to go. Many times such as our recent one of selling of this house, the signs are not favorable. You are
lost if you watch just for favorable signs. But equally so you don’t them look at the thing that has apparently thrown God’s plan off the line and say, “That’s all bad. There’s nothing in it for us.” No, you look and say, “Lord did I miss a step here? Did I miss the way? Did I miss something that you wanted?” Often you haven’t missed anything but that is often the right attitude to take to him. E. Stanley Jones would say, “Always when God says, this is wrong. You never say you’re wrong Lord, I’m right. No, you say I’m wrong Lord and you’re right.” And that’s always the safe thing to do. Don’t be afraid to question yourself. Maybe God is using this to avoid having to use a two by four. Let us pray. ??