The value and characteristics of God that will determine and guarantee your success in this life and your salvation.
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What I do want to talk about today is the value and characteristics of God that will determine and guarantee your success in this life and your salvation. It's a very, very big thing about God that should not be discounted and something that should be greatly appreciated and even followed. That is what I'll be talking about today because if God would not be this way, we would not have hope. Because of this quality, we do have hope and it fuels our faith because we will always know that God will be this way and that God will react this way and that God is going to be reliable in this particular aspect.
What I want to talk about is in the book of Philippians and I had two 3x5 cards when I came to Ambassador College back a long time ago in 1966. On those two 3x5 cards I had 2 scriptures from the book of Philippians. One was this one and one was later in the book.
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
What God has begun doing, not just in the universe, but what He's begun doing in you, He will complete. What an awesome scripture, what an awesome promise that what God has determined He will do, He will complete. The other passage was:
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I had those up there for the whole year. I lived by those scriptures. I just knew that I was at Ambassador College for a purpose, that God had something in mind for me and that whatever I needed to do or what had to be done, I could accomplish because Jesus Christ strengthens me. I didn't really know too much about the church when I came to college and those scriptures really kept me going because I didn't have a lot of support beforehand. I kind of came at that time as there were a number of students who had very little orientation with the church. They had read the Good News or the Plain Truth magazines and came to college as a result of what they had read.
But God has begun something in us and He is going to complete it. God know you, He knows everything about you. He's knows far more about you than you know about yourself. You might think that you're outthinking people and even outthinking God. God is outthinking you a thousand times more than that. He knows your motives, He knows your thoughts, He knows your strengths, He knows your weaknesses, He knows what the probability of you reacting a certain way is to certain conditions, He's the one who is by your side at all times. He knows as Jesus Christ speaks of in Luke chapter 12 and verse 7, God knows every hair of our head. He knows that my wife has 2 hundred and 22 thousand, six hundred and eighty-three hairs on her head. Mr. Ed Smith was an easy one for God. He knew every hair of his head. He knows exactly how many hairs there are on your head, the very hairs of your head are numbered.
Luke:12:7But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
It is saying that if God knows this and God knows of any sparrow that drops from a flock that's flying, this is relative unimportance to you, knowing about your character, your life and about the great plan that God has in store for you. God knew you before you were called. God was involved in your calling long before you yourself were known.
I know there was a moment that I came to understand God in a way that was so different from the way that I had understood Him before. I knew that it was an intervention, it was not just something where I, through my wisdom had come to see something that was a whole lot better than what I had believed. It was a change of heart, of spirit, no I'm going to see this, it's so different from what I had believed. Believe me, I was very active in my former church. I was orthodox, Ukrainian orthodox. I was very active, I was head of our youth group. I was an altar boy and worked with the priest for years and I had a very good relationship with him. I always asked him questions and he was very, very knowledgeable and I really enjoyed him. He had a very good sense of humor. He was a great teacher, he was a very good person and I had to ask him questions about the Sabbath and I had to ask him questions about our beliefs and we both came to the conclusion that his answers were not complete or totally honest as far as the Sabbath. He understood himself, well it could be this way and why they did this and why they made these changes and he put a gloss on his answers that simply weren't satisfying. The reason they weren't satisfying was because God had put something in me that I hold to this day, the truth. I know that God was working with me back then, back when I was in 8th grade and perhaps even before and He is working with me now. It's not a pretentious statement, it's just a statement of faith of what I believe about what God is doing with me and what He's doing with every single one of you whom He's called. He knows you, He knows what you're thinking obviously, but He knows far more than what you're thinking. He knows your motives, He knows your heart, He knows the probabilities of what you'll be doing and God has a very, very special plan for you.
Our number one booklet for years and years was "Why Were You Born?" That was up and far away the most requested booklet. Number two interesting enough was "Seven Laws of Success." Now we have a booklet similar to "Why Were You Born," actually quite similar. It is "What is Your Destiny?" In some ways I feel "Why Were You Born" really, really grabs you because it asks the question, what's the purpose of me even being here? Not what my destiny is necessarily, but why in the world is God interested in me? Why were you born, was there a purpose for you being born or did you just appear randomly to live an aimless life and to die randomly? The beauty of God's plan and what He reveals in the scriptures and to experience is that our life is a work of art, our life is a project that God is working on in a very special way and to God we are very, very important and He has a very special plan for us.
In some ways I feel like other people have appreciated some of the things that we believe more than we after awhile because we get so used to them. One of the first booklets that we had translated into Russian back in the late 1950's and early 60's was "Why Were You Born?" When I first came across the Ukrainian Sabbatarians in 1991, I took over what we had in the Russian language to show them what we had. They had zero literature because until 1991 that was all part of the USSR and writing religious literature was forbidden, it was illegal. While in 1992 it was the year after Ukraine became independent, in fact the whole USSR fell apart. We could talk about these things and they were very curious and I bought over a number of booklets that we had at that time: "Would God Heal Today?"
"What About the Sabbath?" "What Kind of Faith is Required for Salvation"? "Why Were You Born"? Also I had a booklet about the holy days, kind of a stripped down earlier version of our holy day booklet. Sabbatarians couldn't read them fast enough. This is the first time they saw literature in their own language, not only in their own language but of people of the same spiritual leaning. They said this is a nominal booklet, what an amazing truth and of course the basic premise of the booklet is that man would become part of the family of God; that man would be part of the Kingdom of God, the family of God. We've had two versions of "What is Your Destiny?" We had the one that included holy days in it, that was the first version, then we had gone to the revised version which spun off the holy day booklet separately. Actually I used it for one of the Kingdom of God seminars and just the booklet itself to make the point. But that is an amazing truth about God reproducing Himself and making himself the produces in us, making Him part of a very, very special family, not as just subjects, not as just a group of people that have come to know Him and worship Him, but people who have become part of the same genre, the same family, the family of God, that is made so clear in that booklet, "Why Were You Born?" They said this is truly evangelistic literature, that's the way they put it to me. In fact, back in 1992 when I visited them, it was interesting for them because when they became independent of religious tyranny and could preach whatever they wanted to, their first mission was to evangelize. It's almost like, let's get married and have kids. It was just so natural, what do you do after you get married? What do you think about a family and reproducing yourself and that was so much a part of their beliefs. If we're going to belong to Siberia and evangelize and the reason they wanted to go to Siberia was because that's where some of them had come from when they had been resettled there a generation or two behind and they began to start creeping back to the European part of the USSR. What they did was to take our literature which I found out afterwards and they had it all reprinted. They went to the newspaper in town and said can you reprint this booklet for us, lay the type out? The next time I went back there, here it was printed on newsprint, "Why Were You Born"? by Herbert Armstrong, copyright so and so, Radio Church of God. They had everything just exactly right. They printed hundreds of copies, perhaps even thousands of copies and established churches out in Siberia. It was amazing, but they were able to do it in a power of that thought, the power of the work God is doing was done.
Part of the nature of God, the very important aspect of the nature of God is what God has begun, and He's begun a work in you, He will finish. In Hebrews chapter 12, in verse 2, this thought is repeated a number of times. Paul was on the subject of faith in chapter 11, continues on into chapter 12 from chapter 11.
Hebrews:12:1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, (people who are faithful) let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (It's not going to be an easy race, you get winded, you have to get a second wind, we must run that race with endurance.)
Verse 2: looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, (If you look upon Jesus as somebody who will help us get across the finish line, not the one who just got us into a good thing and then we're on our own, but the one who is the finisher of our faith.) who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Talking about the great sacrifices Christ had made because He wanted you to finish the race. He wanted you to make it. We are very special to God.
I'm not going to cover all the scriptures about the subject about commitment, continuing on, crossing the finish line because there are many of them. If there's anybody who committed himself as following Jesus Christ and enduring a great race was the apostle Paul with all the obstacles he had.
Romans 9: 27 (He's quoting from Hosea here, Isaiah is mentioned here but it's actually the same person.) Hosea also cries out concerning Israel:
"Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved.
Verse 28: For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness (Quoting from Hosea l, verse 10) because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth."
God is going to finish His work and here the point that's being made is, He'll finish it ahead of time, He will cut it short. But the part that's important is that He will finish His work. Shouldn't we be very, very thankful for the fact that God is going to finish what He started? He didn't just begin with you and sometimes we may feel like well, God's not interested in me. I have failed Him so many times, I have fallen down, I have not stayed with my commitment and maybe He'll forget me. No, He won't forget you and we can be very thankful for that. We can be very thankful for the fact that He has a work to do and that He will finish that project, that He won't just abandon it and say: "It's just not worth it, I want to start a new parallel universe (which God can) I'm tired of those people, they really let me down so many times and I can't stand it any more with that group. I'll tweet my plan and make it different." No, the plan that Jesus Christ and God the Father devised before the foundation of the world, they are on track with it, with the people, the plan, the timing, the future and the outcome. That is very much a part of what they are going to accomplish and do. The question is, are we going to track with it and are we going to commit ourselves to that plan as well? He will do His part, will we do our part?
Most of us in the ministry who baptize people (it is a pastoral responsibility) usually go through Luke chapter 14 quite thoroughly about commitment. Jesus Christ had a lot of people who really liked what He taught. He is a charismatic person whose standpoint of being one who is interesting to listen to. People followed Him, they didn't give Him any peace at all. When He addressed large crowds, the crowds just followed Him around the Sea of Galilee until His next venue where He spoke next because He was so interesting to listen to. Some wanted to become part of that movement. They saw His disciples with Him, they saw His leadership group there and they said to themselves, I want to be a part of that, that's a very, very wonderful group to be a part of. Jesus Christ points out a number of things that were requirements to be a part of that movement.
Luke:14:25And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, And great multitudes went with Him and He turned and said to the following: (Now this is an answer to a question obviously. The question isn't asked but the way He answers it, the question, what's it going to take for me to be a part of this movement of this great prophet, of this person who calls himself the Son of God, of this great teacher? What's going to take for me to be a part of that? The first thing that Christ said was that you had to put Him first.
Verse 26: " If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Every other relationship, you cannot be My disciple. You have to put Him first.)
Verse 27: " And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."
Christianity is not an easy ride. Whenever I talk to people about the euphoria that they have when they want to be baptized, I say that's how you feel right now, that is not the way you will always feel. There will come a time when you will have doubts. There will come a time when you will be tried. There will be times when you will feel weak. You will have to bear your cross, your trials. I made the point very clear that it's the long haul that's important here, not just the euphoric blip of having allegiance and love for Jesus. It is something which is a life long commitment for as long as you live.
Verse 28: (This is the verse I want to focus on.) " For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it." (Whether you're building a tower, a home, whatever. You're embarking on some endeavor, a business, you sit down and count whether you have enough to finish it and I tell people there's much more than just counting the cost of money. Do you really want to do it? Are you passionate about what it is you want to do? Or is it just lackluster which will ultimately lead to failure? Have you counted to cost? Relationships, money, desire?)
Verse 29: "Lest after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him,
Verse 30: saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish."
You've become a foolhardy person in the eyes of people. Have you ever gone by a home that was half finished? I remember at Wisconsin Dells at the Feast one time we had to drive every day after services past this home that had sat there half finished and every day somebody in the car made some comment about it. Well I wonder what happened there? Did they run out of money? Did they get a divorce? What happened? Why is this house and it looked like a nice house that was going up, abandoned? Obviously something went wrong. Perhaps it wasn't even something beyond their control but nonetheless it couldn't be finished. It became an object of discussion. You don't want your life to become a subject of somebody else's discussion. This man began to build. This man became a growing son of God but he walked, he turned away, he didn't fulfill his commitment. All these questions, all these characteristics here I tied into if you want to be my disciple, you've got to be this way.
Turn to Psalm 15 and verse 4. It's a beautiful little psalm, it's only a few verses long, only 5 verses long but it's called the second most popular psalm after Psalm 23, both among the Jews and among Christians. Psalm 23 is kind of on the hit chart, number one. But Psalm 15 is called God's gentlemen and it's only 5 verses long, but the subject here answers the question of what's asked in verse one.
Psalm:15:1(A Psalm of David.) Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? (To make it a very simple translation, who's going to be in your kingdom? Who's going to be in the Kingdom of God? The rest of the verses contain a wealth of knowledge as to what characteristics are spoken of there. Well the one I want to focus on is the one that has to do with my sermon. The latter part of verse 4.
Verse 4: He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.
Now we know we don't swear. Jesus Christ said, let your yes be yes and your no, no. O.K. it's o.k. But a person when he says he'll do something, he'll finish it. When he commits to something, he'll finish it. It doesn't change, it doesn't change course. He doesn't change his mind frivolously. He's a person who will continue on with what he has to do.
People have asked me to write words of wisdom, sometimes like in a graduation card or words in a book for somebody and I had this one person who especially wanted me to write for their child who had graduated with honors. I really had a lot of respect for the family and for the young person. I knew one of the characteristics was that he had many things he was interested in. He'd start on a project and he'd jump to something else. He did real well, but sometimes he would abandon a project and he wouldn't fulfill all the commitments that he had made to people, even to me. He'd say I'll do this or I'll do that and then just forgot, just didn't finish it. I wrote to him and said this: "You're a person who has many gifts and many qualities, you'll be a great benefit and a blessing to many people in your life because of your love for mankind and because of your academic skills." I said: "One thing that I want to ask you to do is to fulfill every promise that your make and every commitment that you make. If you say you're going to do it, then do it." To me this is godliness. When God says He will do something, He finishes it, He's committed to seeing it to the end. One of the things we'll see here is that we as people, as our society in this end age are so lacking in commitment to just about everything; to work, to relationships, to marriage, to parents, to children, if things don't go the way we want them to, we change, we pull out, we just walk and are not committed to paying off debts, not committed to making things work long term as people may be had at different times. Are we people who our yes be yes and no be no? I wrote to this person, and I like to write usually things that express a value then just to write a mushy statement about how great you are and everything which this person was, not taking anything away from them. I said fulfill your promises and what you say you'll do, you'll fulfill your promises and commitments. That is so very, very vitally important.
How many of us have been from irritated to actually hurt a great deal because somebody said they would do something and they didn't do it? I used to talk about the characteristic called executive amnesia. People in high positions at times in my past who would say they would do something. They would say it publicly or say it to me personally, then they simply forgot about it. Well, as an underling, it would bother me because they said they would do something. My first experience and it may seem petty, but it does affect people. I remember one person who was a minister and I was just a freshman at Ambassador College. He saw me at the Feast, he remembered me as a student and he said: "I'm going to take you out to dinner at the beginning of the Feast." I thought oh, wow, Mr. So and So. Of course he said that to a couple other students. Well, 2nd, 3rd, 4th day of the Feast I see him and talk to him and it was like he never talked to me. Finally about the 5th or 6th day of the Feast, I said: "When did you want to take me out to dinner?" Now I was a very naive 18 year old. He never did, something had come up, but it left an impression upon me. I had that happen other times before. Now that may be petty, but none the less, if you're going to promise somebody that you will do something, I'm going to meet you, I'm going to do this for you, I'd like to have you over, then DO IT!! Fulfill your promise, that's the godly thing to do. Who shall dwell in Your holy hill is the person who swears to his own hurt, even if it's going to be inconvenient to fulfill a promise. If you made the promise, then fulfill it and learn a lesson from it. If you can't do it, don't promise. Don't make that kind of promise, but if you say you're going to do something for somebody or you're going to accomplish something or you'll be somewhere or you'll do something or pay something back, then do it, don't have people coming asking you for it. That's very, very important.
John:4:34Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (Jesus Christ, when He came to this earth as God in the flesh feeling like you do, energy and at night getting tired and having to sleep, He experienced everything that a human being experiences, yet He was divine and He knew in this body He had to accomplish a great purpose for mankind. He said:) " My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."
Christ didn't just show up after the first year of His ministry and say "Oh this is not for me. What am I being called upon to do? To die in an ignominious way that's been prophesied." No He was committed all the way through His ministry. This is in the early part of His ministry He said: "I have come to do My Father's work and to complete it, to finish it."
A similar thought is repeated in:
John:5:36But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. "But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me."
I just watched a video which I have watched five times now, I watched it again last night. You may have heard of Lee Strobel, he was a Chicago journalist, he was an atheist or recent non-believer of God and he came to find God in 1980. He has written a number of very, very fine books. One is called: "The Case for Christ." But the one that really touched me a lot was "The Case for Faith." This video was that I really recommend watching because of a commitment on a side of God towards mankind that is so well expressed. You have to tune out the theology and the pictures and the crosses and so forth. It really has a very, very meaningful message. He took a survey of people as he was writing this book. The survey asked the question: "If you were able to meet directly face to face to God, what would you ask Him?" What question would you ask Him that He could give you an answer right there? And overwhelmingly the question was: Why is there so much evil in this world and why is there so much suffering in this world, when God, you could make it different, it doesn't have to be that way? We take a look a starving children in Darfur, when you see genocide, when you see tsunami. In 2005 when tsunami hit around the world, three hundred and fifty thousand people literally within an hour were drowned and perished, the question came up just naturally, couldn't God stop that? What was this person guilty of? Why is it that a mass murderer is still sitting in prison and living his days out when you have children and all the other people who had nothing to do with anything, perished so very, very quickly. That's a big question among atheists.
The Feast of Tabernacles was just about a month after the tsunami and we were in Estonia for the Feast and interesting enough that there was a Rotary club meeting in the same building that we were at right after our services, which I went to. Most of the members of that Rotary club were Professors at the University of Tartu. They asked me to introduce myself and tell them a little about myself. I told them I was a minister and we were keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in the next hall in this center and that we had services every day at 10 o'clock and I even invited them to come to services. Well, I was approached by one professor afterwards who said: "You are a minister, we don't have too many of your kind." He said: "You tell me why all those people had to perish if there is a God." He wouldn't let go of me at all. "I want an answer from you, why did all those people have to perish? If there's a loving God who cares the slightest about human beings, why did He allow those things?" Of course, these are big questions and those of you, any one of us who have gone thru trauma and tragedy wrestle with these questions. We can intellectually and academically find an answer, but we have to wrestle personally when we are confronted with a situation, having to deal with what good can I find in a death? What good can I find in the death of my parents who both died very young in the church? How does this compute, God why did you do this to me? What am I supposed to learn from this? Well this was I believe just a day or two before the Last Great Day and I invited the professor. I talked to him some and had a pretty good conversation with him about the greater plan of God, because that's the only way the whole thing makes any sense. If you're just talking about short term, snap shots of life, it's really hard to just find a lasting answer. You have to give with God's thoughts for mankind is the days of salvation, you know the broader plan of the kingdom, all this has to be incorporated. I said: "Why don't you come to the message, the sermons that will be given, I believe the day after or two days later, and we would make every effort to explain some of these questions." He kind of looked at me and I was hoping he'd come, but he never did. But people want to know why there is so much suffering when there are so many bad things happening in the world.
We actually had more people that have turned away from God because bad things have happened in the church because leaders didn't act the way they should. I've had two encounters with people from my past here of late. They both actually had to do with funerals; one that I saw at a funeral and these were dedicated people in a church I had pastored before. They just really went down the line with everything the church believed. Because of all the upheaval that have come up and all the smoke, they said: "We're just going back to our old church, we're happy where we were before." They just gave up something very, very precious to them, the understanding of the Kingdom of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ the way we have come to believe and understand it. Another case was a gentleman whose wife died not too long ago and he truly was a very close person to us. We'd talk about theological things for hours back when I was pastor in that area and I couldn't find him. He's pretty elderly now but I finally wrote him a letter, that's the only way I could reach him and he wrote me back and it was just a friendly letter, talking about how that was quite a thing we were into at one time and now I'm not sure he's into anything. It was just sad to see someone who was so strong about his journey in life to where he was going and to turn away and to be turned away from it.
Isn't it interesting how there are people who have disabilities and things going and working against them that can be stronger about commitment then people who are able bodied and who can function normally. There's a number of examples that are really striking. We can talk about a Helen Keller, she was a person who couldn't see, couldn't hear and was able to be an effective communicator in spite of her shortcomings. There's a person who is kind of this movement about the bumper sticker that was out, "Be patient, God isn't through with me yet." It's about a young lady who lost all her ability to learn to talk and have all her functions, how she came back from that because she was so determined and such an example for that. But the example that probably tears me up every time I see the video, "The Case For Faith." It's all about a woman who you may have heard, I admire her very, very greatly because of the obstacles that she has to overcome. Her name is Joni Eareckson Tada, you may have heard of her, she has "Joni and Friends" organization that work with people who are disabled. She's a woman, a beautiful woman who at age 17 in 1967 was in a diving accident became paralyzed from her shoulders on down; she's a quadriplegic. She could have given up, but she's interviewed in this by Lee Strobel and what she says is so moving from a person who is in pain, is a person who cannot use her arms and legs, a person who has had all the wonderful things and opportunities that we have at our grasp or within our grasp, taken away from her. She, in spite of this has been able to do a radio program, write books, paint, just do a pleasure of things, she has a web site, Joni and Friends. Her name is spelled Joni like Joannie, but it's Joni and Friends.org. and she shows all the different things that she does, mostly working in empathizing with people who have gone through similar situations as she has. She has many, many retreats and support groups for people that have gone through just as she has and provide encouragement to go on, don't quit and move ahead and don't let this bother you. It's interesting, in her interview she talks about the fact that in her disability, in her spiritual journey, she has learned the love of Christ in a way that she couldn't have learned it otherwise. She has learned about how God truly loves her in spite of the fact that she will never be able to walk like a regular human being.
How it takes difficulty, it takes evil, it takes things to go wrong to understand how to do things right and to be able to pass them along, how the greatest evil that was ever perpetrated in human history which was mankind all ganging up as Gentiles and Jews to kill the Son of God. What a stupid thing to do, what an evil thing to do. The Son of God Incarnate in the flesh and killed Him. From this God was able to create the greatest good of all and that is to extend grace and mercy for mankind. It's often through the hardships that we'll have the compassion. It's through the hardships that we learn to empathize with people. Christianity is not just head knowledge. Christianity is not only heart knowledge of just feeling good about it. Christianity is an experience, an experience of suffering as well. It is where you really learn.
I had as small experience compared to any of these things. When two years ago on a very difficult trip to Africa, I had slipped and broken two ribs. I didn't even realize that had happened and had a two hour flight from Lusaka, Namibia to South Africa. I knew something was really wrong and I asked Monique Webster who picked me up to take me someplace, to a hospital to look at this, something is really not right. After they took an x-ray they said oops, you broke your ribs good, straight thru, two ribs in the back. They said before you fly back to the U.S., have another x-ray in a couple days and we'll take a look. I said: "This really hurts." The next day it was extremely painful. They took me to the hospital again and found that a rib had actually punctured the lung and one lung was not even functioning, it was filling up with fluid and when I was in the hospital they quickly put me in an ambulance and all I saw was lights and sirens and emergency being said and I said: Hey, I visit people in hospitals, I don't go to hospitals like this." I'm denying this whole experience, almost laughingly. But the next five days, I was in intensive care in the most horrible pain that I've ever had, which I probably have a low threshold of pain. But it was really, really painful because they had to drain my lung from sticking a tube in my back, like sticking a knife in you and it's staying there until they took it out. It was very, very painful, the whole experience was painful. I didn't need it right then, the church was not going through a happy time, I didn't like it (God, what in the world is this about?) Then when I came back I developed some softer thoughts about people and I was still at that time pastoring churches in Lafayette and Terre Haute and I had to visit somebody (one of our church members) and she told me: "Oh Victor, I'm in a lot of pain." It made a whole lot of difference, because I had felt it, I knew what she was saying. It wasn't like, that's too bad, take two of these and we'll pray about it. I won't forget about it. I really empathized with her because when she told me about the pain she had from an injury at that time, I really felt it, I empathized with her. I could look her in the eye and say: "I'm there, I feel it."
So there's a purpose to the things that happen to us. Christianity is more than just a head in the cognitive religion. When we take a look at the macro view, going back to the tsunami, I can't even explain it to you fully; of all the carnage, of all the people who died. The same thing a few years later in Haiti where in one town in Port au Prince where 250,000 people perished in that earthquake. What is God trying to do in this universe? Why is everything so insane? Why do people act insane? Why is the weather insane? Why in this orderly beautiful universe do these things happen and they happen to those who are made in the image of God? Theologians struggle with these questions and maybe we struggle with them too if we get to where they have become questions of our own. But God is creating something very, very special in His process and in His plan. He's seeing it to the end long term. If God was to stop every wrong action and sin comes because people do things that hurt others. Every sin affects somebody in the way that hurts them. If God would stop all that by making us little robots and seeing somebody who is about to commit adultery and He stops them right there, o.k. I shouldn't do that. Somebody who is tempted to steal something from others and his hand is pulled away. What would be created? What kind of a world would we have? What kind of character would be developed? What would we have? There's something very, very special about character that requires pain, that requires misfortune, but we understand the context of that misfortune in the whole plan of God, in the entirety of God's predetermining from before the creation of His Son, would die for mankind and that would be not a pleasant death but one as I said, the Jews and Gentiles ganged up on the Son of God in the flesh and killed Him, orchestrated His murder and He turned that to good, used that as the springboard for mercy and grace for mankind and for forgiveness of sins where He's turned difficulties in your life and my life as springboards for compassion that we can show towards others. There are many things that we can do by the book, but there are things that we also do by the heart and also by the compassion that we feel. It cannot be legislated, it cannot be taught, except through hardship and taught through pain and that is required.
When I came to understand the fact that God had different days of salvation, that human beings are important to God, that we're all special to Him, that He knows how many hairs are on your head so He's going to be very concerned about every single human being and give them every single opportunity, the meaning became clear to me. The point I'm trying to make here is that God will complete what He's doing. Will we complete the job and the responsibility and walk the path that we have also and be committed to it?
Luke chapter 18 and verse 1. This is the parable of the unjust judge, the widow that was bugging the judge.
Luke:18:1And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.
(Luke writes about it, Paul writes about it (not losing heart). There's a message in this, don't lose heart.)
Verse 2: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.
Verse 3: Now there was a widow in that city and she came to him saying, 'avenge me of my adversary.'
Verse 4: And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'though I do not fear God nor regard man,
Verse 5: yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.' "
Verse 6: Then the Lord said: "Hear what the unjust judge said."
Verse 7: "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?" (How much do we pray? How much do we say "God, help me learn from this? God, avenge me, avenge my friends, avenge the people that I work with, avenge my situation.")
Verse 8: "I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
As we come to the end of our days, there's just less commitment, there's a less desire to really believe that. We live in this time of faithlessness. I hope we haven't become that way. I really believe God has a very, very special purpose, not only in my life, but in the United Church of God for that matter of extension of churches we want to say it that way. God has a purpose that He is working out here through His church. Now people get all upset because things maybe go right as we want them to and think that we are in a crisis. I never am in a crisis mode. I just know that things perhaps could be improved and we need to take a basic action or whatever, but God will not leave us. I truly believe that what He started, He will finish. God has begun something with the United Church of God in a very special way in 1995 that I know that He will complete, in spite of some of the hiccups, in spite of some of the difficulties that we've had, He will not leave us or forsake us. That I am absolutely confident of and that's the way I live my days. I can actually sleep at night. When I wake up in the middle of the night which I always do at 2:30 for some reason, the things I think about are not dire, but are about what we can do, how we can make changes, how we can move forward, how we can work with what we have, because I have confidence that what God has begun in the United Church of God, He will finish. He will not allow us to just disappear. That won't happen and to all our enemies who may have wanted to see that happen, it's not going to happen. The United Church of God will survive. The work that God has done and is doing for the United Church of God, will be completed. The work will be finished.
I'll tell you if there's anybody who lived a hard life in the ministry, it was the apostle Paul. It makes my life absolutely a dream, an easy job, a gravy train compared to what the apostle Paul did; shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, everything, one thing after another, yet he didn't quit. He says:
II Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. (Would you lose heart if we just threw you in the clink tonight for 3 days, not knowing what was going to happen to you? The apostle Paul said we have received mercy from God, we have a plan ahead of us, we do not lose heart.)
Verse 2: But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully.
Verse 16: Therefore we do not lose heart. (Once again he makes this statement.) Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. (Because now he talks about the trials he went through. Which every single one of these trials is bigger than probably anything that we have gone through.)
Verse 17: For our light affliction (That's what he called the trials that he had, imprisonment in Philippi, the stoning in Asia Minor.) which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
So what is it that you have gone through that's been an affliction? It's only for a moment. I've looked upon the afflictions that I may have had through my life; the death of my parents probably was the most difficult, and other personal difficulties that I've had turn around. When I look back on them, they were just for a moment. They all did something to strengthen me in my work with other people. I could not do the things that I'm doing unless I had gone through some of these experiences first hand.
Verse 18: While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are seen are temporary, (Everything about this life is temporary) but the things which are not seen are eternal.
That's what God is preparing us for, for eternity, for those things which will last forever, so that we can become like God, who says God cannot lie. Can God say that about you? Victor, you cannot lie. I say to myself, no I'm not quite there yet. Or anybody, or that you are not tempted a certain other way? You know, God cannot lie, why? His character is so solid, it is unthinkable for Him to tell a lie or create everything that He has and just say "April Fool." You know God is very serious about what He's doing. He's very committed to it. He wants to see it to the end. We have to come to the point of where we are so committed that we will do right all the time in such a way that God knows our character. But we're not just marionettes or puppets that He manipulates, but that we will do what's right. We will do what's right in spite of persecution, in spite of sickness, in spite of anything that goes against us. Can we be that way, can we not loose heart and learn from the negative experiences that we have? Again it's interesting that sometimes the people who show the most commitment are the people who have two strikes against them, like Joni Eareckson Tada and when you hear her talk with all things that work against her, I admire that. Shouldn't we do a whole lot better, us that are able bodied, we have our mind, opportunities, families, we don't have everything that we want, but God is working with us in a very special way. Can we rise to a higher level of performance?
Galatians:6:9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
Let's not grow weary while doing good. Just get tired of it all or ask ourselves what its all for? There's a purpose for doing good and doing right things, special character that God is developing in us.
I've given parts of this sermon in talking to young people, spoken about these things to our youth, about sticking with what they're doing and finish up and to complete what they've started. Again, there is a time when people just do not commit themselves to work, to school, to relationships, to marriage, it always has to do with just a lack of finishing what they have started and yet finishing what you start is such an important aspect of God's character. I tell young people to make sure to finish school, it's so important to finish school. When I went to the University of Minnesota as a freshman, it was a huge campus, we had 45,000 on our campus. I was in the Institute of Technology and I was in a big physics class, there were 3 of them, 3 physic classes and had 200 students each. The first quarter of the first semester there were 3 such sections offered, the second quarter there were 2 sections offered and the third semester there was only 1 offered. I asked the professor: "How is it that you qualify to get into the 2 when it was 3 to start with?" He says: "A third of the students drop out the first couple weeks, there's no commitment, and of those who are the second session, half of them will drop out, you'll actually find lots of space there because people don't commit themselves to what they start." I had a Russian class that I was in. I took Russian at the University of Minnesota because it was an easy credit, I already knew the language so I knew I'd get an A. But I became the one that the students came to ask questions and the biggest bugaboo is the Russian alphabet. What in the world is this hen scratching stand for and within 3 weeks a big chunk of the class dropped out. They just couldn't commit themselves to it. Yes it's hard, lots of things in our life are hard, you have to figure them out, you have to stay with it, you have to fail perhaps, but then finally get it. That's what Christianity is, I'm sorry, it's not a gravy train. It is something that you take up your cross and you follow Christ and you finish what you start, you have counted the cost. I hope all of us have counted the cost.
How are we as far as our work is concerned? It's interesting that in Japan, people who enter into professions, a very high percentage of them (I heard it was 80 or 90 percent) stayed in the same job that they started with after they graduated from whatever. Not the U.S., how many times to people flip flop with jobs? It makes organizations and web sites like monster.com just rich. People are jumping around with different work. Of course I know there are reasons why people change jobs, but in Japan and some other countries what you start as a craft in life and a relationship with an employer or something, you stay with for your life.
What about our relationships in marriage? Marriage is not an easy relationship. Even friendships can be difficult at times. How committed are we to our friends? One of the hallmarks of the times in which we live in is that they would betray one another. It is a betrayal of mates betraying another, a friend betraying another. Have we done that or can we be true and committed to a friendship in a very, very open way? What about money and promise to pay? This is a commitment too. Some people think it's important to pay back what you owe. Or simply making promises. You promise that you will be there, I'll meet you at 3 o'clock, I'll be there tomorrow, we'd like to have you over for dinner, we would like to whatever. Can you fulfill your promises? Can you fulfill your commitments? Yes there will be some simple that may sound even heavy, but it's not because it's one of the characteristics in Psalm 15 about a person who will dwell upon God's holy hill, a person who finishes what he's started.
Matthew:24:13But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
The word endure itself is even a hard word, it sounds like a tough word. Endurance is not fun, endurance means that you're going something you don't want to be going through. How many people have just quit at the slightest resistance or the slightest things that have gone wrong?
The Greeks had a race in the Olympics that was unique. The winner was not the winner who finished first. I wish they had this race now but they don't have it. But this was a special award for the runner who finished with his torch still lit. It may have been the last one to come in, but he got special applause and special note for that. I want to run this way through life, maybe not the first, but I want to finish the race. I want to be able to understand the trials that I'm going through and if I don't understand, I know that God is doing something in me where He is going to finish and be the author and the finisher of my faith, not be like those who have just quit and even become atheist. There have been some in the church that were called and baptized that have turned to become atheist because they could not see the commitment that God is making in them and in the church. May
God be merciful to them to return them someday.
So I'll conclude now with the verse I started with, Philippians chapter l, verse 6. Are we confident of this? Are we living it and are we emulating it in our reality and practicality of our lives?
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
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