Well, we made it through our second week of our ABC classes - we all survived, didn't we? We did! We survived. One of the classes that I began teaching this semester was called: "The Former Prophets" - and we go through Judges, and we get into the Kings. I was trying to look ahead a little bit, and I was really struck by this one story…it's one we're probably pretty well familiar with - it's over in I Kings, Chapter 8. I Kings, Chapter 8 and in Verse 10...in this particular event, it just rings so familiar with this fantastic blessing that God poured out on His people as they took the land in Canaan, and as they finally got to a point where there was security, where there was rest. And here in I Kings, Chapter 8, it's the dedication of the temple, where finally there's no more tent that we're hauling around in the wilderness , that we have something secure , something set , something that's going to remain. And in Verse 10 of I Kings 8, we find Solomon dedicating the temple, he's praying, he's honoring God, he's giving God the credit for all these things. And as he speaks here, we see it came to pass, the priests came out of the holy place - notice what happened, it says:
I Kings 8:10 the cloud that filled the house of the Lord ,
Verse 11: so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
So here at the dedication of the temple, God's presence was evident. You know, He had been leading them around in the wilderness; they had the cloud, they had the pillar by night, the pillar of fire - but here was proof that God was with them; He was continuing there. In fact, it was so overwhelming, they had to quit ministering. So, I guess I'd have to cut the sermon short if that happened today! But, it's amazing - could you imagine if you were there? What would that have been like, to have this happen right there in front of your eyes. A little bit later, look at Verse 22, it says:
Verse 22: Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven;
Verse 23: and he said: "Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their heart.
So, here he is giving the credit to God for all that had happened. In fact, it was a long prayer that goes through the chapter here - over to Verse 54 it says:
Verse 54: when Solomon finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the Lord , he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.
Verse 55: Then he stood and he blessed the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying:
Verse 56: "Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses."
So, God followed through…this was just such an amazing victory - a huge triumph for Israel. You know, there were times as they were coming to the promised land that it looked like it was never going to happen - there's no way we're going to be able to take the land. And yet, God didn't sell them short; He led them, He showed them the way, and He helped them to accomplish the wonders of His blessings. So, this was an amazing triumph for God's people. The dedication of His temple: God's presence right there with them!
And of course, we all know our history, that this continued throughout all the history of Israel - well you know, not exactly , did it! Well, if there's a good king, things went pretty good - if there was a bad king, it didn't go very well! And it didn't go very well, and then there was another bad king, and it kept getting worse and Israel goes into captivity, then Judah has its problems as well, till we get to the point of II Kings 25 - just fast-forward a little bit through time, and here you have this amazing event taking place, in II Kings 25. Look at Verse 8: (II Kings 25, Verse 8)
II Kings 25:8 Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month (which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), - guess what happens? Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.
This was not for a friendly visit, was it? Not a friendly visit here. What did he do?
Verse 9: He burned the house of the Lord and the king's house; all the houses of Jerusalem, that is, all the houses of the great, he burned with fire.
Here we have the destruction of the temple - God's very house is destroyed; devastating. It was unbelievable - could you imagine what heart-break there would be, to witness this with your own eyes - the failure of the people, just the devastation that there must have been. So you go from this unbelievable high , this wonderful victory, this huge accomplishment, the achievement of God, in His very presence in the house of God, in the midst of Israel - and yet, not all that many years later, the destruction of God's house - the destruction of the temple.
So we begin to think about these tremendous events. We begin to think: what's happened in our life over the last year or so? We've been through a year of tragedies and triumphs, haven't we? There's been some amazing things that have happened. What's our perspective on those things? You know, what comes to mind when we witness these types of things in our lives? What do we think of, what is our perspective on them? Because some amazing things, surprising things, have happened. For most, both personally, certainly on a church-basis as well…we've been through a lot, haven't we? It's been amazing to consider the things that have happened. It made we think of, the way that things occurred, because you know there were times throughout the Bible, these types of things seemed to continue.
We go to the time of the crucifixion - go over to Luke, Chapter 22, Verse 54. Over in Luke 22:54Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off. See All..., Christ has just been taken - it's before the crucifixion, and here we are at the crux of events for Peter. Peter is faced, in a sense, with prophetic events; faced right dead, square on, over in Luke 22 and Verse 54. Notice what it says here, as Peter is faced with some difficult situations here - notice what it says - Peter, of course, is facing these difficulties - and in Verse 54:
Luke 22:54Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off. See All... Then, having arrested Christ, they led Him and brought Him to the high priest's house. And Peter followed at a distance.
So, imagine what that must have been like - Peter's nearby.
Verse 55: Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.
So, they're hanging out around a fire - in the daytime.
Verse 56: And a certain slave girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."
Verse 57: But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him."
You see, he's beginning to fulfill that prophecy of Christ that he'd denied Him three times: Peter said, "Oh no, no, I'd never deny you Lord."
Verse 58: And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are of them."
But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"
Verse 59: Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean."
Verse 60: But Peter said, "Man I do not know what you are saying!" And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
That was part of the prophecy, wasn't it? This next verse is what always startles me when I read it… at that moment , it says:
Verse 61: the Lord turned and looked at Peter.
Imagine what that must have been like; he was in such close proximity with this priest's house, Christ could turn and look at him dead in the eye . How would that make you feel? There was no way, in your mind, you were ever going to give up on Christ…you'd never deny Him; you would never say, "I don't know Him", and yet, here it was, and the One, the Savior, looks you dead in the eye . That had to just tear his heart out - he must just have felt devastated - absolutely devastated .
We begin to think about events like that…maybe we don't have anything quite that extensive happen to us, but it is a difficulty when we face those trials, when we face those problems, when maybe we've just let down, or we've failed; we've fallen short, where circumstances had happened, and even accidents, health problems - those kinds of things can just wear us down and just feels like, "where's my hope?" It's an interesting scenario, when you go back…let's leave Peter here for just a minute - we'll come back to him momentarily.
But one of the things that came to my mind as I thought about the temple, and the amazing things, the triumphs that they had as they built that temple, and God's presence filled it, and then seeing it all destroyed many years later. You know, God didn't give up on them; God didn't give up on His temple. And back in the book of Haggai…Haggai, Chapter 1...probably not a chapter that comes to mind when you think of trials and tribulations, but the prophet Haggai had a lot to say about this. So, if you'll turn over there with me, let's notice what God had to say about this triumph of the temple , and then the upheaval and the ruin and destruction of it, and yet, was God willing to leave them there? Well let's see…now if you turn over…get past the Book of Hosea, and past Joel, and get past Amos, Jonah, Zephaniah, you'll finally get to the Book of Haggai…and notice here, the people are in captivity; they were carted off . Well, what happened, did God just leave them there? Were they supposed to be there just indefinitely, or just "that was it", it's over, was done? God deserted them? Well, notice at the beginning of the Chapter, Chapter 1, Haggai, it says:
Haggai 1 : 1 In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, (here's what God says),
Verse 2: "Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: 'This people says, "The time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." ' ''
See, God doesn't like the fact the temple has been destroyed, and what's the peoples response? "It's okay, it's not that big a deal - we're happy." Verse 4, it says - God said:
Verse 4: "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?"
Verse 5: Therefore, God says, the Lord of hosts: "Consider your ways!"
You see, the people had become so focused on themselves - it's such a selfish outlook : "Hey, it's okay, we're fine; we're doing alright - captivity's not so bad. We've got a nice place to live, there's food to eat - we're happy." God says, "No, that's unacceptable - you've got a house to live, but where am I supposed to live? Where is My house ?"
Verse 7: He says : "Consider your ways!
Verse 8: "Go to the mountains, bring wood, build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,"
He goes on to say in the end of Verse 9:
Verse 9: "Because of My house that's in ruins, while every one of you runs to your own house.
"You've got a place to live, but your perspective is so far removed from what's right , you've forgotten about the One who gives you every blessing." See, they got to the point ofbeing so focused materially , they didn't act, they didn't do what God wanted them to do. Basically their confidence in God had atrophied; it had weakened. They lost their focus.
I was reminded of this the other day, I was reading an article about the former Soviet Space Program. It wasn't all that long, when, you remember the Cosmonauts, they'd go up in space and they had this on-going battle between the United States, who would be the first in orbit, you know, who could orbit more times than anyone else…it got to the point they were trying to see who could stay up in space the longest. And they had a group of Cosmonauts, two fellows went up to the nearest station, the nearest space station…it's in the early 80's. And they stayed up there 211 days! 211 days - that's like seven months up in space - can you imagine that? I mean, they broke the record, shattered it, you know - great! They finally come back to earth…of course they would land on the dry ground… I don't know if you've ever seen a footage of those events. It's pretty amazing how the spaceship…bam! It hits the ground, and bounces along. And then they opened the door to that spacecraft, and then of course, after 211 days in space, the Cosmonauts jump out of there and they're waving at everybody, and they're honored, and everybody's cheering, and…well,. they didn't do that !
Does anyone remember that? That first record setting, amazing time in space, they opened that door, and you know what happened? They had to go in and lift them out , because they couldn't walk - the men couldn't walk; they could hardly move. Their hearts were palpitating; they had high pulse rates; their blood pressure was all over the place; they were weak, they were dizzy. In fact, they couldn't walk for a week, because they'd been up in zero gravity for all that time.
Now, what was interesting, just a couple of years after that, another Russian Cosmonaut goes up and he spends 326 days in orbit in that near space station. That's almost a year up there, and yet that time , they do bounce on the ground, they open the door, and guess what? The do jump out, and they are waving, and they don't have those same problems at all. And so, what was the difference? The difference was something called: The "Penguin suit." Did you every hear of a Penguin suit? I hadn't either! It's not a tuxedo! You know, with the bow tie and the whole thing! That's a different kind of Penguin suit!
But this penguin suit was one that was made of a special fiber, and running throughout the suit that the Cosmonauts would wear, were elastic bands, and they would put on this suit for quite a few hours every single day, and so, let's say they would move their arm…these elastic bands would cause resistance - and so it just wasn't like zero gravity, and it was so easy to do anything, so that your muscles would…actually this resistance would work those muscles - so it took effort to be able to move, to lift their legs, or stretch out their arms, or turn their neck, because these things like…I imagine like a bungee, or did you ever pull a bungee - it takes a little bit of effort to do that sort of thing. And so, that other group that went up for almost a year wore these penguin suits, and that resistance made all the difference. So their muscles stayed in tune ; they were exerting themselves constantly, so they didn't lose their strength. Their heart stayed healthy as well.
Now, when you think about that, wouldn't zero gravity be nice? Wouldn't it be nice just to kind of float around…did you ever daydream that in life? You know, wouldn't it be nice not to worry at all about anything? Wouldn't it be nice not to have any trials; wouldn't it be great just to have perfect health…like never have to worry about those kind of things, where no one in my family, no one in our church would get sick, or face difficult trials - that would just be the life, wouldn't it? Not really! I think God's reminding us of something very, very serious here; I think the point is, if you're going to be strong, it's going to take some effort. And I don't think it's any different spiritually. I think spiritually it's the same thing, that spiritual growth is strengthened by exertion , by doing …if we've just got the easy life, would we really fulfill God's purposes? I think the easier our life is in some ways… you notice what happened in Haggai's time? Easy life weakened their spiritual fiber…" ah Jerusalem - who needs the temple; we're alright; we're doing pretty good!" You see, they lost their perspective; they atrophied in their spiritual sense in that.
So it takes effort, and you see these challenges that come, the tough challenges that we face, cause us to put our faith in God; it changes our outlook. It helps us to realize where our strength really comes from. You know, where does our strength come from? Are we focused on God - are we focused on His purpose for our life? You see, God wants us to get on that spiritual penguin suit , and exert ourselves so we can grow in grace and knowledge, so we can put His way into practice, not just float around in a lazy haze and think that that's a wonderful life. And it's not - it's not; we miss our purpose if that's the case.
Now, over in II Corinthians Paul wrote about this…now not about the penguin suit! But he wrote about this concept of what it takes to keep our spiritual focus, to keep that in the forefront of our minds. So as he writes to God's church in Corinth, he's writing to us by extension as well here… right at the very beginning of II Corinthians, Chapter 1, Verse 3 - II Corinthians, Chapter 1, Verse 3, for he gives credit to where credit is due, right as he begins here in Verse 3, he says:
II Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ , - that's the focus - you see, God's people had lost that; they had lost it totally. But, blessed be God - who is God? Well, one of His characteristics: He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
Verse 4: Who comforts us - with the perfect life, and no problems, or difficulties, or challenges, or trials, or…no! He comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
There is a lot of down-home comfort in that couple little verses there; the word keeps going over and over and over you. Did you notice that it's not a self-centered thing either? You know, we talked about how they became so self-centered - they were focused on only themselves, and our house, and our life here, you know, in captivity…it's okay. Well, you know, here He's saying: I'm going to comfort you through difficulties; I'm going to comfort you through trials; I'm going to help you personally to get through these things. But just getting through them is only part of the purpose - do you see what the other part of the purpose is? It's not just for ourselves, not just for selfish reasons. But he says: so that we're able to comfort others; we're able to comfort those who are in any trouble. So, we're passing it on, that God might use us as an instrument of His comfort; of His encouragement - we could be used by God to pass that on. So then in Verse 6 he says:
Verse 6: If we're afflicted , - it's because you deserve it! - Oh no, it doesn't say that! It says: it's for your consolation and salvation - you mean trials and difficulties and problems can work for saving me - so that I can be a part of the family of God - so when Christ returns I can stand with Him? That's what He's saying here - absolutely!
What do we do when we're faced with challenges, when it is a tragic situation. When our heart has been ripped out by some terrible difficulty. You know, what happens after that? You see, through Christ, he says, it's effective for enduring the same sufferings which we suffer. So, Paul could understand that. Could you imagine, what if Paul would have been like those in Haggai's time? You know, would one beating have been enough? Say, yeah, " one stoning - that's enough for me; I'm done preaching the gospel." Was, "One shipwreck, that's enough - I've had it, I'm finished. God, how could you let that happen?" Was that what his attitude was? But each time, in a sense, it looks like it strengthened Paul; it helped his resolve. He went through some amazing, devastating events - he came through even stronger . But it is such a phenomenal thought…can you imagine that? But that's what happened.
In fact, it reminded me about a little story I was reading…I had a friend that lived down in Alabama, and he told me a little bit about it, so I had to check him out to see if it was really true! So I was reading a little bit about these farmers in Southern Alabama. They used to plant a lot of cotton…this was kind of at the turn of the century, this would be the 1900's, early 1900's or so, and every year they would plow up absolutely as much ground as they possibly could, and they planted cotton. And it was great! They made out very well - cotton was in high demand around the country, especially at that time - textiles and all the things you could make with it. They did very well for themselves, until one year came along…planted as much cotton as they could, but something showed up, changed the whole story. You know what it was? That's right! It was the boll-weevil. The little bug that just destroys everything, so that year, they went to harvest time…just devastated the crop. There was hardly anything to speak of.
So the farmers lost about everything they could, and well, they mortgaged their homes, they did everything they could to get out there the next year. And so, they plowed up as much ground as they could, and you know what they planted? Cotton! That's what you plant when you live in Southern Alabama! So, they planted as much cotton as they possibly could, and they didn't have the pesticides or the knowledge of how to control those things like we do today. So they went to harvest time…what happened? Not much to harvest at all. That boll-weevil came back, destroyed the crops - it wiped out most of the farms down there - just wiped out the families. It was an unbelievable devastation.
Now, the interesting part of the story, is that if you were a farmer there in Alabama, you were able somehow to survive that first year, somehow survive that second year…you could plow up your ground the next year…there were just a few of them that were able to do…not very many, but a few of them were able to plant the next year. So they got out there, they plowed up their ground…you know what they planted? Peanuts! They planted peanuts that third year around, and you know what? Those peanuts were hearty - they were strong. An amazing thing, the country loved peanuts , and were ravenous about anything we could get our hands on that had to do with peanuts! And so, if you were a farmer, and you survived those first two years, if you were able to finally get to the end of that next harvest with the peanuts, those farmers that did …you were able to pay off all your debts from the last two years, and it was just an amazing recovery. Absolutely amazing recovery!
Now, you know what the farmers did? They decided to build a monument because of their prosperity. So they built a monument right there in the town square - you know what it was a monument to? Not the peanut - the boll-weevil ! The boll-weevil - so if you were to go there today, you would see in this town square…you'd see this lady dressed in…almost, a little bit reminiscent of the statue of liberty. She's standing wearing flowing robes, and she's got one arm up in the air, but she's not holding this lamp of lighting the way for the humble masses or anything like that! But you know what she's holding up in her hand? A giant boll-weevil! It is unbelievable - in fact, I've got a little picture - you can't see the picture, but I've got a little picture of the little engraving that's right near the monument, and it's amazing - you know what it says? Here's exactly what it says: "The boll-weevil monument, dedicated December 11, 1919, in profound appreciation of the boll-weevil" it says, "and what it has done as the herald of prosperity." "This monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama." Isn't that amazing? The " herald of prosperity " - are you kidding me? People went out of business; they had to sell the farm. But they had a different perspective coming through the trials, through the devastation, through the destruction - they didn't give up. They kept looking forward. It was time to build , it was time to replant , it was time to find new ways of doing things - wasn't time to quit; wasn't time to give up. It wasn't time to be satisfied: "Well, okay, well, we'll just find a different profession - give up on farming." Well they didn't…they didn't! And they appreciated the fact that the boll-weevil changed their perspective.
So, what about our challenges, what about our trials? What about the heart-breaks and the difficulties…even as a church, that we face. Do we give up? You know, what does it do to our perspective? You know, are we like those Southern Alabama farmers? I think we need to be. I think that's what God would like us to learn from these things - at least one of the lessons he wants us to learn. Because, if you remember where we left Peter - look over in Acts, Chapter 2, Verse 14. Peter had been devastated by his own lack of character…of course, he didn't have God's Spirit at the time either…obviously that came into play. But, with God's Spirit, Peter realized it was time to move forward. Acts Chapter 2, Verse 14, here after God's Spirit is poured out on the disciples, some amazing things begin to happen. Remember, Peter has something to say about what God is doing, and so in Acts, Chapter 2, Verse 14 it says:
Acts 2:14But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: See All... Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.
Verse 15: "For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour.
Verse 16: "But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: And he talks about the fact:
Verse 17: "And it will come to pass in the last days, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
This very first Pentecost you know, Peter sees that God has something awesome in mind; there's something that needs to be done, it's time to build, it's time to move forward; it's time to accomplish things with the Spirit of God. And so Peter sees that; he talks about it; he inspires the people through God's Spirit, and ultimately, even that very first day, look at how things build …almost like harvesting that crop of peanuts.
Verse 40: And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation."
Verse 41: Those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
What a trial! A fantastic victory! What a difference of perspective from where we left him, just before the crucifixion. What a reminder for us - that's our goal: "I want to be like that; I want to have that perspective. When I get cut-out and get my legs knocked out right from under me, I want to have that perspective." God wants us to realize, it's not over; it's time to look ahead. It's time to remember where we should have our focus at times like these.
II Timothy, Chapter 4, the Apostle Paul gave that young minister, Timothy, I think some very special instructions when it came to things like this. So right at the very beginning of the chapter, II Timothy, Chapter 4, Verse 1, we find the Apostle Paul, maybe in a sense, considering these kinds of things - certainly the concept that when we're faced with trials and difficulties, where do we put our focus? Where's our direction? What is our attitude toward those things? II Timothy 4, here's what Paul says to the young minister…he's telling us too, I think, by extension - he says:
II Timothy 4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
So, he's telling them: "This is something you've got to take to heart. This is almost a commandment; you need to do this." What do I need to do? What does that young minister need to do? What do we need to do , as God's people? You see, Paul then says:
Verse 2: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
You know, put God's way into practice. It doesn't matter if you're an Evangelist; it doesn't matter is you're a Pastor, or teacher…it doesn't matter if you're a member… do these things; be ready at any time. Now we know we've got a time to be ready coming up September 10th - we'd better be ready! What an opportunity we have then. But anytime these kinds of things could come up. Maybe it's a co-worker, maybe somebody you work with would come and say: "Well, show us the deal on this Sabbath thing, anyway." Are we ready for that? How are you going to answer that? What are you going to say? What are you going to do? Maybe you're in school and one of your friends say: "Why can't you come to the game on Friday night - is something wrong with that? What's the problem?" You just say, "Well, I've got plans." Well, we could say that, but where does that put us? Are we saying, "You know, my house is alright; I'm pretty comfortable; I don't really want to deal with that." Or, are we standing proud, in the right way, of our faith. Are we willing to share that; are we willing to stand for the truth. You see, Paul's saying: "In season and out of season." When the opportunity arrives, be ready for it. Be ready for it, because it's going to come. We'll all have that opportunity at one point or another, and so everyone of us can preach the gospel, and if we aren't asked, guess what? How we live , the example we set will be that preaching, that will be that answer; that will be that "being ready in season and out of season", just by the fact, we're living God's way; we're putting it into practice. So, then down in Verse 5, he says:
Verse 5: Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, - there's going to be challenges; there's going to be trials - do the work of an evangelist , (he says to Timothy), fulfill your ministry. (Fulfill your service.)
Verse 6: For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.
Did Paul ever give up? Did he ever say that was good enough - "fine, I made it, I'm set, I'm comfortable." He didn't! He said:
Verse 7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
He continued on; he did the will of God right to the very end. Phenomenal! What a great example for us: never to give up . Because you cannot stop right in the middle of the story. I think that's something we all have a tendency to do, I think, at times. You know, we get to the point, I'm up against a brick wall and…Oh, is that it? Is that it? Now what do I do? I think that's when God has something greater in mind for us. In fact, I was reminded of this - the other day I was reading a story about Cincinnati. I was trying to figure out, "Okay, what is Cincinnati all about?" I am a newcomer here. I don't follow baseball, but I guess the Cincinnati Reds are a pretty big thing around here. I did find out, they used to be called the Red Legs …I thought that was pretty funny! Was that the socks, or did they do something else with their legs…that was the socks - okay! Red Legs!
Well, I was reading this story about baseball history…I'm not a "trivial buff" or anything, but this was kind of interesting. Opening day, 1954, Milwaukee Braves were visiting the Reds - the Red Legs, at that time, right? The Red Legs. So they're coming to town; there were a couple interesting baseball players that started that game. Ends up, the Reds won the game…you probably already knew that…the Reds won the game, nine to eight, and there was a fellow in that game that set a Major League baseball record. He hit four doubles …four doubles in that game! That's amazing, because even today, you don't hear about that happening - not very often. I'm sure there's only a handful of guys that have ever done that. Anybody know what that guys name was? Somebody should know! Nobody's a really big baseball….maybe you'll recognize his name. I didn't recognize his name because I never knew anything about the Reds, but what a "made for baseball" name! His name was Jim Greengrass. Sounds like a baseball name, right? You get out there in the field…green grass - alright! Jim Greengrass . Okay, you've never heard of him, right? You never heard of him - even Cincinnati - imagine that! I thought somebody might. Yeah, Jim Greengrass, everybody's heard of…. nobody's heard of Jim Greengrass!
Now, the interesting thing is, there was another guy in that game - he got up to bat five times - five times. You know what he did? He was 0 for 5 - 0 for 5 - never got on base , and nobody's ever heard of that guy! Hank Aaron! And Hank Aaron, that was his first game. He was a Rookie in 1954. He was a Rookie…the very first game, he went 0 for 5, and a guy named Jim Greengrass, who played about four or five years, hit four doubles in the same game! How would you feel? Can you imagine? Well, forget it! Well, Hank Aaron said: "Alright, I'm a loser; I'm not going to make it - I might as well give up right now." Of course, he didn't do that - he went on to become the home run king - even beat Babe Ruth's record! I even know that! How do you like that?
But it just is a reminder of when I heard about that story - you don't give up when you're right in the middle of things, right? If things look bleak and when it's tough…and I'm not trying to trivialize it in any way, because you know, it's not like we've just struck out - that's pretty minor compared to some of the things that we have faced. We've faced some tragic things; we've faced some difficult circumstances. You may have faced loss, or death, or sickness, or just terrible things - difficult things. Things that test your faith; we face those things. But that's not the time to lose our perspective; it's not the time to give up. It's not the time to stop. And when we're faced with those kinds of challenges, I think that's the time that God says: "Pay attention." I think that's the time that God says: "You know, now that you're listening , let's get going - let's move forward." You know, when you have a life-changing event happen, it's time to go forward ; it's time to follow God. Because I believe that those are the times that God's saying to us: "I've got something big in mind; I've got something big in mind that I want to see happen ."
I mean, is the temple the only example in the Bible that we could turn to in that regard? Because you know, they went back and they built that temple! That was an amazing thing! But that's not the only example . Is Peter the only example of that? So many that was able to maintain their faith that God could use…he submitted his life and he could be used powerfully by God…is he the only one? Is he the only one that faced life-changing events, that could have given up at any time, and didn't? I mean, just start at the beginning. Go back to Abraham - Abraham could have given up. And what about Moses? Moses could have. How about Lot and Jacob, and you start naming them - they go right down the line. How about the prophets; Christ Himself. The apostles. Is the church any different? It's not any different. It's just such a remarkable reminder, that when those kind of events happen, when we're faced with those kinds of things, be ready to follow God - be ready to follow God, because I believe that's the time He's opening a door - He's going to open a door for some big things to happen.
Philippians, Chapter 3, Verse 2 - Paul wrote to Philippi and as he wrote this letter he recounted the things that really should set our perspective , should really shape our thinking. He focused in on the important outlook that we each should have, even though there's difficulties, even though there is trials. It's to be expected - that's the way life is right now. But it should help us focus on what God has in mind - the big picture. Philippians 3:8, he writes:
Philippians 3:8 But I indeed also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, - all of that; all of it. He says: I've suffered the loss - not just a couple of things; a few things here and there - he says: all things, and I count them as - something important - something valuable, something useful? He says: I count them as trash; rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
Verse 9: and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness,
So, it was a refocusing, that God is in charge; God is in charge of my life. God is in charge of our congregation; God is in charge of the church. And He wants the best for us; He wants us to grow through our challenges and our difficulties. He wants to bring us to the victory; He wants the best for us. And so, what is Paul doing? He's focusing on Christ ; he's focusing on the Father . That's where it needs to be. Because he knew that meant the gospel was going out. God was going to do something big ! And so he kept on - Verse 12, he says:
Verse 12: Not that I've already attained, - I haven't made it; I'm not perfected; but in spite of the difficulties, in spite of the challenges, I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Verse 14: I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
And so, he pushed himself ; he pushed himself, so when he faced a trial, it refocused him that much more to counting on God, to looking to Him, to realizing in every challenge, in every heartbreak, you know, through God there's success around the corner; there's accomplishment around the corner. We can prevail; we can overcome. It's possible when we put God first in our life.
Remember back in Haggai? Maybe we could turn to one final Scripture over in Haggai, Chapter 2 - we don't want to leave those people in their paneled houses , do we? We'd better look at that just for a moment. Back in Haggai, let's notice something interesting that happened. Second Chapter of Haggai…probably should have had you hold your place there…sometimes it's hard to find that one. But back in Haggai, Chapter 2, Verse 1, notice what happens here. Yours may be a little different; I'm going to read this from the New Century Version , but notice what Haggai, Chapter 2, Verse 1 says:
Haggai 2:1In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying, See All... On the twenty -first day of the seventh month the Lord spoke His word through Haggai, the prophet. What did God say:
Verse 2: "Speak to Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua, son of Jehozadak, - he was the same guy that we just talked about in the first chapter -
Verse 3: Do any of you remember how great the temple was before it was destroyed? What does it look like now? Doesn't it seem like nothing to you? But the Lord says… see we might feel this way - we might feel like: "What happened to my life? What happened? I used to have it all together; I used to be in pretty good shape." And what happened to the church? You know, we might think that - "We used to be a whole lot better off!" We remember what that was like? He says: "What does it look like now?"
Verse 4: God - the Lord says, "Zerubbabel, be brave; also Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; be brave. You and all the people in the land, or who live in the land, be brave", says the Lord. He says, "Work; because I'm with you."
Verse 5: " I made a promise to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is still with you; so don't be afraid."
We came out of the Egypt of this world's sin; God's been working with us, and so He says to us: "Don't be afraid" - don't be afraid. This is what the Lord God Almighty says:
Verse 6: "In a short time I will once again shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land;
Verse 7: ' I'll shake the nations, and they'll bring their wealth, and I'll fill this temple with glory,' says God Almighty. <
Verse 8: 'The silver is Mine, the gold is Mine,'
Verse 9: 'The new temple will be greater than the one before.' 'And in this place I will give peace,' says God Almighty.
We are God's temple today ; He wants to give us peace. He wants that temple in us to be built, to be strong and secure , and I believe He has done the same thing with us today, spiritually speaking. That He has brought us through so much, and now we're positioned…I believe we're positioned for growth . God's got something big in mind. I'm not sure exactly what it is! But you look at all the examples, and it says: "We've got to move ahead; we've got to move forward; we've got to preach the gospel to the world; we've got to put that into practice in our lives every single day, so we can be that living sermon - that preaching of the gospel in front of everyone's eyes that we meet."
So, God expects that of us, so let's be dedicated, even in difficulties, even in tragedy, realizing that God can bring every tragedy to triumph.
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