Never Give Up!

INTRODUCTION

As I thought and prayed about what to share with you today there were many possible topics that crossed my mind. I even went through the file of messages I’ve preached in the past to see if there was something that would leap out at me and I could say, “Yes, that’s what God wants me to share”.

Although there were a number of texts and topics that were intriguing and I would have loved to preach, there still wasn’t anything with which I could confidently say, “Yes, that’s IT!” Then as I was praying yesterday I sensed the Spirit of God prompting me to read through 2 Corinthians. As I was reading through the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church my attention was grabbed, and my spirit quickened as I read 2 Corinthians 4

READ FROM BIBLE 2 CORINTHIANS 4 (1-18) NLT

I believe that I am to encourage you today to never give up. Twice this phrase appears in this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Twice Paul assures his readers that “we never give up” or as the NIV puts it, “we do not lose heart”. In spite of the difficulties, and trials and troubles that press in against Paul and those who serve with Him in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are triumphant as they declare that “we will not give up”!

How refreshing to hear in a world where giving up seems to be the usual behavior. Far too many people give up on their marriages, give up on their careers, give up on their families, give up on their churches, give up on their politicians, give up on their faith, give up on their integrity, even in some cases give up on their life. Few people rise above the crowd and are willing to fight for anything anymore. Far more people are willing to go with the crowd, blend in the background and “just make it” through life.

Now I don’t know why the spirit of God has impressed me to speak on this subject today. Certainly there were times as I prepared where I was tempted to give up on this text and move to something tamer and easier to work with. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to be faithful to speak this today because I believe that there is a reason and it will encourage you, or challenge you in some way.

Let’s begin by asking the question,

What causes people to “give up”?

While there are a lot of reasons why people may give up, usually you narrow these down to one of five:

1. Hurt
2. Tired
3. Scared
4. Comfortable
5. Lost Hope

What are some of the things we shouldn’t give up on?

– Family
– relationships
– giving to worthy causes
– praying for the lost, praying as the Spirit prompts

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!'” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:1-8 (NIV)

– sharing the gospel
2 Corinthians 4 is Paul’s reaffirmation that He will not give up sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

– gathering together

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

– keeping your integrity

5 I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. 6 I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.
Job 27:5-6 (NIV)

– caring for others, doing good

9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV)

– what God has planted in your heart (vision) and living for Him!

Why is it important to NEVER GIVE UP on these things?

Illustration:

It’s madness-
To hate all roses; because you got scratched by one thorn.
To give up all your dreams; because one did not come true.
To lose faith in prayers; because one was not answered.
To give up on your efforts; because one of them failed.
To condemn all your friends; because one of them betrayed.
Not to believe in love; because someone was unfaithful.

Remember that, another chance may come up.
A new friend, a new love, a new life. Never give up on anything.

1. Those who give up will never know what the outcome could have been.

2. The truly valuable (whether it’s relationships, work, outcomes) ALWAYS cost something. It’s WORTH the fight!

3. God never gave up on YOU!!

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

How can we keep from giving up?

Let’s look at some lessons we can learn from Paul about not giving up. He understood what it was like to sacrifice everything to fulfill God’s calling. He understood how being hurt, tired, afraid, too comfortable and seeming hopelessness can tempt you to give up on what’s important.

1. Learn to enjoy the grace of God

“Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up” (2 Cor. 4:1 NLT). Paul knew the only reason he was doing what he was doing was because of God’s grace. So often we hear Satan whispering in our ears that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not gifted enough or have failed too many times to do what we are doing. We need to remember that God does everything to us, through us, and for us by grace through faith. It’s all a gift. God knows every stupid thing you’ve done and will ever do and He still wants you to finish what He’s started in you.

Give up the pretense that there’s anything you’ve done to earn what you have and where you are. But for the grace of God you would not even have what you have. If you don’t get this, you risk being caught in a performance trap that will tire you out, burn you up and tempt you to give up.

2. Be authentic

“Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not waling in deceit or distorting God’s message, but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth” (2 Cor. 4:2 NLT) Paul is basically saying, “what you see is what you get”. He didn’t hide anything. If you’re going to last and not give up then you’ve got to be who God has made you to be. You’ve got to take off the mask. Don’t try to live your life on someone else’s script, if you do that you’ll always be afraid of being exposed and you’ll always live in stress. Don’t try to hide the problems, expose them, face them and work through them.

3. Remember it’s not about you

The more you focus on yourself, the more likely you’ll give up on the things of value when the going get’s tough. To truly last, you’ve got to check your motivation. The why always determines the what and the how long. You’ve got to constantly be asking the question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

Twice in this passage (vs 5 and 11), Paul tells his readers why he does what he does – for Jesus’ sake. Why does he deal with the whippings, imprisonments, and criticism? For Jesus’ sake. His motivation isn’t his own well-being, but the global glory of God. And he’d do whatever it takes to see that expand.

In whatever you do folks, you’ve GOT to live for an audience of one. If you don’t get over the fear of criticism, or failure, you’ll probably end up giving up. It’s not about you,

4. Accept your own limitations

“Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). Paul teaches we’re all fragile and breakable. And that’s a good thing. It’s through our weakness that others can see God’s power.

Unfortunately, we don’t like being clay pots. Instead we try to be invincible. The quickest path to giving up is to try to be Superman or Superwoman. You can’t do everything so it’s important you focus on the important. Even in that, learn to yield whatever it is you are doing to the provision and strength of God working through you.

On another tact, remember regrouping and rethinking and trying a new approach is not quitting.

5. Do everything out of love

“For all this is because of you, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to overflow to God’s glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15 NLT). Paul says everything he does is for the benefit of others. He doesn’t do it for himself; he does it for others. He is motivated by love. It’s very hard to give up on something you are doing because of love – when you think of others before yourself. If you get this mixed up then you won’t last long.

6. Position yourself for renewal

“Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT). We’re all getting older and breaking down physically. We can slow the process, but we can’t reverse it. But we don’t have to break down internally. How do we avoid that? Paul says we get renewed “day by day”. Paul got recharged every day, and we should to.

Listen, you will quickly give up if you aren’t positioning yourself to be renewed regularly. You’ve got to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually. Do something fun every day. Take a Sabbath day of rest every week. Get away for a vacation every year. Rest and recharge. The Sabbath is so important that God commands it right along with not lying and not killing people. You need rest if your are going to persevere.

Positioning for renewal also means learning to get into the presence of God. When you pray, when you read God’s word, when you praise Him you are positioning yourself for renewal.

7. Live in light of eternity

“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NLT).

Remember Paul experienced all kinds of trials. He was beaten, shipwrecked, and criticized, but he called them just “momentary afflictions” Why? He had an eternal perspective.

That was Jesus’ perspective. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. If we’re going to persevere and never give up then we must focus ourselves on eternity. When you have your eyes on eternity, your struggles will seem small. When you are focused on the prize, the problems will become insignificant. It is so easy to become wrapped up in what is seen, and felt in the present and lose sight of the future. But the future will never be reached if we give up. When you have your eyes on eternity, your struggles will seem small. Only he who sees the invisible can do the impossible!

CONCLUSION

I don’t know what worthy cause or pursuit God has placed before each one of you in this room of people today. But I do know that God’s message to you is to never give up. That worthwhile endeavor may not be reached today, it may not happen tomorrow but you’ve got to persevere and believe that your perseverance DOES matter.

ILLUSTRATION:
When things go wrong as they sometimes will;
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill;
When the funds are low, and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit –
Rest if you must, but do not quit.
Success is failure turned inside out;
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;
And you can never tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit!

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Jailhouse Praise

Jimmy and Dave found a sink hole that seemed to appear out of nowhere one day. The hole was on a path they usually traveled to go to Mr. Earl’s pond where they would fish for sunfish and perch. In the summertime they traveled that path often and the day they found the hole, they knew it was a new one because it was right in the middle of the path.

Being typical boys, their first instinct was to look in the hole and see just how deep it really was. It was too deep and dark for them to see anything, but if they yelled real loud they would get an echo that was better than those you would hear out at the Grand Canyon.

However, the fun level soon dropped dramatically after a long period of hollering in a hole and the two boys now turned their attention to checking the depth of the hole by dropping things into the limestone darkness.
It was a very scientific process. They would drop a rock into the hole and count the seconds until they heard the rock hit the bottom. There was only one problem. The hole was so deep they could not hear the rock hit the bottom.

Their fun now turned into work as they dropped huge boulders, tree stumps, and whatever they could find into the sink hole, still with no success of hearing a sound from their efforts.

They were now desperate to find a bottom to the hole. As they looked for larger items to push into the sink hole, Jimmy found a railroad tie in the undergrowth near the path. The two summer tanned boys with all their might dragged and pushed the railroad tie to the hole and slowly let it fall into the darkness. As they waited for the sure sound of a crash to the bottom, they were amazed at the sudden appearance of a white goat running from the undergrowth where they found the railroad tie. The goat ran right past the startled boys and went immediately into the darkness of the sink hole.

In total shock Jimmy and Dave moved slowly to the edge of the hole and looked in. All they saw was settling dust, darkness and heard absolutely nothing.

From behind them, Mr. Earl was coming up the well traveled path and as he approached the now pale boys, he asked them if they had seen a goat along the way.

“Funny you should ask,” said Dave with his eyes as large as china saucers. “We have just seen a goat and it did the strangest thing, too!”

“Yeah,” answered Jimmy and pointing to the hole in the path, “A goat just ran out of those woods over there and jumped in this hole for no apparent reason, less than a minute ago.”

Seeming somewhat confused Mr. Earl smiled at the boys and said, “Well, that must not have been my goat. You see, my goat was tied with a long rope to a railroad tie.” (Tenessee Farm Bureau, September 2000)

That’s funny, huh? While this supposedly true story gleaned from the September 2000 issue of the Tennessee Farm Bureau is hilarious it also points out how dangerous sink holes can be…

In 1993 a 100 foot wide sink hole opened up under a hotel parking lot in Atlanta Georgia that killed two people and destroyed four dozen cars. On July 14 2001, after 4 days of severe rains in Hernando County Florida, eighteen sinkholes, the largest of which measured eighty feet across and over one hundred feet deep opened up in a two day period. No one was injured but one emergency worker narrowly escaped injury when the earth sank beneath him as he was clearing debris with a backhoe.

The holes in our lives we have labeled depression, anger, weariness, fairness, loss and brokenness, may not open as suddenly as sink holes but they are as dangerous and sometimes as deep. And, whether you are a person caught in the throes of depression or a goat tied to a railroad tie, they can be easy to fall into, mighty difficult to climb out of and especially hard to fill to prevent further falling.

Our text for today speaks about the incredible hole that Paul, Silas and company found themselves in while serving God in Philippi. No doubt for the average person, for most of us, if this happened to us this hole would have broke us. Yet how on earth could a beaten man sing songs and praise God? The reality is that it is possible in midst of our worst situations for God to fill us with praise. Our response is to praise the Lord, to let out what HE has placed within. It is better out than in!! The Apostle Paul knew there was power in praise, so lets look and see just what Praising the God can do, because I believe friends – that no matter what holes we happen to stumble across in life the key to climbing out of those holes and filling them up is found in simply understanding the power of praise…

THE POWER OF…

I. Praising the Lord brings reality into focus

A. Reality is not necessarily just what’s on the surface!
1. The Apostle Paul’s present condition: Tell the whole story as found in our text. Focus on the negative (Verses 19-24).

2. What might be our present circumstances: good or ill?


B. Reality is and should be focused on God!

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:18 (NIV)

Note the Apostle Paul’s reaction to his circumstances (verse 25!)

Acts 16:25 (NIV)
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

No wonder Paul later wrote in the introduction to his letter to the Philippians,

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

No matter what we face in life, the believer has the assurance of the reality of God’s presence. Forgetting that reality makes it easy to succumb to despair and hopelessness – remembering this leads to gratefulness and praise.

The power of praising the Lord brings Reality into focus.

THE POWER OF…

II. Praising the Lord brings freedom from bondage (vv. 26)

26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.— Acts 16:26 (NIV)

A. Praise brings about supernatural EVENTS.
Listen carefully… because Paul and Silas sang Hymns of praise, God had an open avenue into their circumstances.

There was a violent earthquake, the prison doors flew open and the chains fell off. Is this a natural occurrence?

Do you remember the story of the Battle of Jericho (Joshua 6: 6-20; especially verses 6, 14, and 20)?

Joshua 6:6,14,20 (NIV)
6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. 20 When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

What caused the walls to fall, 7 days of Marching around the city? Was it 7 days of the 7 priests blowing trumpets? OR WAS IT THE PRAISE OF THE PEOPLE AS THEY SHOUTED TO THE LORD? AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN!

B. Praise brings personal freedom!
Paul’s chains fell off!
– Talk about emotional freedom (Paul and Silas could have been held in bondage to fear, bitterness, rage, depression, self-pity, anger etc.)

Not only does praise bring personal freedom in affecting individuals but also…

C. Praise brings corporate freedom
Every one in the prison was now free! Good and Bad are freed! People who knew Christ as Lord were Freed! People who had just heard the Praise of the living God were Freed!!

Is amazing to me but when you Praise God you are not only ushering in personal freedom but YOU are also having an affect on those around you.

The Power of Praise brings freedom from bondage!

THE POWER OF…

III. Praising GOD is a vehicle of salvation to the lost

27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family. 35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
— Acts 16: 27-36 (NIV)

A. Praise brings questions!
One of the most famous question in all of Scripture: “What Must I Do To Be Saved (Verse 30)?”

A man in fear for his life had seen some incredible things on third shift. Beaten, imprisoned men sang about a Savior. Something supernatural had happened. God became real and this jailer did not know this God

What example do we set? Does it cause anyone to notice at all, or do we just complain and gripe like the rest of the world? How do we respond to the struggles of life – in faith or in frustration? If we pull a “Job” or a “Paul & Silas”, we will respond in faith and others will see and ask the most important question of their entire life: “WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?” – What must I do to climb out this hole that I am in? What must I do to fill the hole in my life? What can I do to experience that joy in my life?

B. Praise reveals the answer!
When Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (verse 31), was he just blowing smoke, or did he BELIEVE IT?

WHAT HAD JUST TRANSPIRED IN HIS OWN IMMEDIATE LIFE?!? He had just been saved! There is a physical and a spiritual dimension here. Paul found Jesus on the road to Damascus, (Acts chapter 9) and he believed in Him. Now, not only was Paul physically saved from death and imprisonment, but how do you think his faith was effected by this miracle? Paul was living proof of what Jesus can do!

What was the net effect? Not only did the jailer come to know the Lord, his whole family was freed from the bondage of sin and death. Personal and corporate Salvation was experienced by the Lost!

One Last thought: look at verse 34. Read between the lines. What do you believe to be the response of our New Convert to the faith? I believe he PRAISED THE LORD!

Acts 16:34 (NIV)
34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God–he and his whole family.

CONCLUSION

What keeps you from praising the lord with your whole life? What keeps you from being a living model of praise so that the world might know? Are you willing to praise the Lord even in the midst of the holes you find yourself in?

The Power of Praise brings reality into focus, brings freedom from bondage, and is a vehicle of salvation…

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.

“She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder.

Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an air bag that saved her life but took that of her child?

“Good afternoon, may I help you?” The shop clerk’s approach startled her.

“I….I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.

“For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving “Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”

Then the door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi, Barbara…let me get your order.”

She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses; Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped: there were no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

“Yes, please,” Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest.

“Uh,” stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uh….she just left with no flowers!”

“Right, said the clerk, “I cut off the flowers. That’s the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that!” exclaimed Sandra.

“Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today,” explained the clerk. “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.”

“That same year I had lost my husband,” continued the clerk, “and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”

“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.

“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and never to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I have always enjoyed the ‘flowers’ of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.”

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”

Just then someone else walked in the shop.

“Hey, Phil!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

“My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement…twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems,” laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra incredulously. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”

“No…I’m glad you asked,” Phil replied. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from “thorny” times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific “problem” and give thanks for what that problem taught us.”

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special.”

I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said to the clerk. “It’s all too…fresh.”

“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.”

Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment.

“I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.

“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”

“Thank you. What do I owe you?” Sarah asked.

“Nothing; nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.” The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first.”

It read:

“My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the life I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant.”

Praise Him for your roses, thank him for your thorns. (quoted on the website, Motivating Stories)

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The Team with a Dream

INTRODUCTION:

An Australian travel writer at the beginning of a six month tour of Canada was checking out the Vancouver Hilton, and as he paid his bill said to the manager, asked, “By the way, what’s with the Indian chief sitting in the lobby? He’s been there ever since I arrived.”

“Oh that’s Big Chief Forget-me Not,” said the manager. “The hotel is built on an Indian reservation, and part of the agreement is to allow the chief free use of the premises for the rest of his life. He is known as ‘Big Chief Forget-me Not’ because of his phenomenal memory. He is 92 and can remember the slightest detail of his life.”

The travel writer took this in, and as he was waiting for his cab decided to put the chief’s memory to the test. “ello, mate!” said the Aussie, receiving only slight nod in return. “hat did you have for breakfast on your 21st birthday?”

“Eggs,” was the chief’s instant reply, without even looking up, and indeed the Aussie was impressed. He went off on his travel writing itinerary, right across to the east coast and back, telling others of Big Chief Forget-me Not’s great memory. One local noted to him that “How” was a more appropriate greeting for an Indian chief than “ello mate.”

On his return to the Vancouver Hilton six months later was surprised to see ‘Big Chief Forget-me Not’ still sitting in the lobby, fully occupied with whittling away on a stick. “How?” said the Aussie to the Chief, who again did not stop to look up.

“Scrambled,” said the Chief. (quoted in “Dream Team” by Paul Decker)

Now, that’s a great memory!

Don’t you wish you could have that kind of memory? I know I do -I wish I didn’t have to ever use the phrase, “Sorry, I forgot” or (as I’m sure some of you would agree with me for yourselves) even hear it spoken to me!!

Come to think of it, we all like to be remembered don’t we? How many of you can recall a childhood experience of team picking or group picking where there would be two assigned people given the task of picking their teams from everybody one at a time. How many of you recall wanting to be among the first picked! You wanted to be remembered. How many of you have ever sat in at a banquet or appreciation dinner where people are being lauded for their accomplishments and you hoped and wished that you get remembered for what you have done. Or maybe you hope your spouse remembers you when its your birthday or anniversary or other special occasion?

It’s interesting the lengths that some people will go to be remembered. Throughout history there are stories of incredible men and women who have their names recorded because of something they did that caused them to be remembered. I don’t know if many of you saw a documentary on Michael Jackson that was done a couple of years ago. It was a time when our family had two channels on TV because we didn’t have cable and we kind of got stuck watching it. However, I remember one thing that stood out after all the things that were said during that interview, Michael made the statement, “I want to live forever”. He clearly did not even want to think about death. Aside from the obvious reasons that might fuel that desire there is another that I believe could be seen in the way Michael behaved when surrounded by adoring fans. In one section of the documentary Michael is visiting a zoo with his two young children with what was supposed to be a small private group of people. However word got leaked of his visit and he and his entourage are quickly engulfed with swarms of paparazzi and people vying for an opportunity to see Jackson. What stuck out was the fact that Jackson thrived on the attention. He seemed to enjoy the attention so much that he even apparently forgot about his children who were dangerously close to being harmed by the mob. I believe Jackson wants to live forever because he doesn’t want to die and be forgotten!

Being remembered is something that consumes a very large part of our consciousness.

I also remember reading an issue of the Pentecostal Testimony that carried the theme of “Influences” and a big part of the publication contained stories/testimonies of people remembering those who had a big impact in their life. A common thread describing this impact in each of these stories was how certain individuals led others to Christ and/or helped them to mature and grow in their faith and they are remembered because of their selfless acts.

Being remembered in this way is of greater value than being remembered because you can break 10 eggs by bending your fingers backwards as I saw on an episode of Guinness World Records. But the truth is people are often remembered for the frivolous or bad things as much as the good things.

The Bible is full of names of people God has made sure were written down so that they would be remembered. He chose the different individuals to include in His written Word – people who were remembered for things that shouldn’t be done and people who were remembered for things that are of value – all for the purpose of telling His story and leaving an example for us to follow (or not follow!).

Today as I read Nehemiah chapter three you’ll notice that there are a lot of names. Let me set the context for why we find these names in today’s text before I read it:

In the first two chapters of Nehemiah you’ll learn that our major character (Nehemiah) had left the Persian palace of King Artaxerxes, where he was the trusted cupbearer, and with the king’s blessing, returned to his nation’s capital, Jerusalem, to repair and rebuild its walls.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, after a through evaluation, he successfully passed on his vision to complete the walls to the people who lived there. He was able to do this because he established a link between what God was doing through him and what God was in the midst of doing for their history. Nehemiah demonstrated to the people that God had been working behind the scenes for their benefit (recall the king’s blessing on Nehemiah’s venture). This proof of God’s thumbprint awakened the dormant faith of the people and now they were ready to be a part of something God had His hand on.

So, as we come to chapter 3, we discover that the building has begun. Here in this chapter is faithfully recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the names of those that worked on the wall. They are recorded because God wants them to be remembered. They are Jerusalem’s dream team. They came together and pulled off what others thought would be impossible. God makes sure that they are remembered for their accomplishment in fulfilling His purpose.

Today I want to highlight to you in Nehemiah 3:1-32 seven approaches to re-building the wall of Jerusalem that ensured its success. In doing so I believe that you’ll discover as I did the key to being successful in the plans the Lord sets out for your life and the life of WPA. How do you want to be remembered?

First, let’s look at Nehemiah 3 (read text 3:1-32)

Now…

I. The first approach is PRIORITY.

Nehemiah 3:1 (NIV)
1 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel.

The first verse shows us that…

Any work for God must begin in the spiritual center.

We see here that the Priests didn’t sit on the sidelines when it came to this work.
They committed themselves to the work and joined right in.

What is also significant here is that the very first place that is worked on is the Sheep Gate.
This is important to note because this gate is the closest to the temple.
It probably took its name from the animals that were brought in for sacrifice.
Since the Sheep Gate is mentioned first, the idea of “Put God first” is reinforced.
The priority is thus established.
The spiritual center for worship is to be protected.

This is true for each one of us as well today.
Just your presence here communicates your desire to protect your spiritual center.
You are here to worship and feed your soul.
You are establishing what your spiritual priorities are.

II. The second approach is UNITY.

Nehemiah 3:2,4-5 (KJV)
2 And next unto him builded the men of Jericho. And next to them builded Zaccur the son of Imri. …. 4 And next unto them repaired Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz. And next unto them repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabeel. And next unto them repaired Zadok the son of Baana. 5 And next unto them the Tekoites repaired;…

We see here that…

Work for the Lord is accomplished shoulder to shoulder.

Did you notice what is repeated through the text?
Repeatedly, throughout the text, the words “next to them” appear.
These are people working together, side by side, with the same purpose.
They are building a wall together…

Note also the variety of backgrounds found amongst the people that Nehemiah draws from in building the wall.
Personally, I would have looked for the construction types. You know the guys…
They have big arms, sleeveless shirts, hard hats over a ponytail and a tattoo or two.
That’s who I would have picked.
Here, however, we find that Nehemiah brings along a great variety of people to accomplish the task: priests, goldsmiths, perfume-makers, merchants, and district rulers.

As they build next to each other, they build each other up and demonstrate how absolutely indispensable unity is.
Each person’s portion of the wall comes together with someone else’s portion and they must meet together.
They must match.
This is so much a lesson we need to learn in the church.
For note this…

We will never get beyond how well we are getting along.

If we are not united by a biblical purpose, we will nit-pick, gossip, argue and fight and we will not accomplish God’s agenda. Unity isn’t getting rid of our agenda  it’s aligning our agenda with GOD’S. Unity happens when what God wants is worth more than what we want.

III. The third approach is INDIVIDUALITY.

Nehemiah 3:11 (NIV)
11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens.

Nehemiah 3:14 (NIV)
14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.

See here that…

Work is done by distinct individuals.

I have pointed us at verses 11 and 14 because we have two different people with the same name.
The building was not done by people that were identical and could be stereotyped.
No, these were different kinds of people that worked in harmony.

Also note 3:12…

Nehemiah 3:12 (NIV)
12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.

Shallum and his daughters are mentioned here. They are respected and honored. This was not exclusively men’s work. This was for all that had a stake in what was going on.

Keep in mind that I’m not talking about individualism here – in other words the idea that the individual is more important than the whole – but I’m talking about their individuality – the idea that each person brings important qualities to the whole that makes them of equal value to each other.

Let us also note at this point that since we are all different, we need organization.

Cooperation needs coordination.

This is so true in the church as well. Just as it was back then, we have contrasting personalities, complementary abilities, and distinctive abilities. Because of this, each one of us possesses a certain dignity. What each one of us has to offer has value.

IV. The fourth approach is GENEROSITY.

Nehemiah 3:13-19 (NIV)
13 The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah…14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. … 15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Col-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. … 16 Beyond him, Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of a half-district of Beth Zur, made repairs …. 17 Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18 Next to him, the repairs were made by their countrymen under Binnui son of Henadad, ruler of the other half-district of Keilah. 19 Next to him, Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section, from a point facing the ascent to the armory as far as the angle.

Work is done by those willing to sacrifice.

As you look at this section of people, note that they were all out-of-towners. Some of them traveled 15 – 20 miles. This means that there was little or no immediate benefit to them if Jerusalem’s walls were repaired. Yet they showed up for this sweaty, back-breaking work.

They had their own fields to cultivate. They had their own farms and places of business to be maintained. They had families to care for. Yet, they willingly left them for a period because of the greater cause. They were people of sacrifice and generosity.

Through the centuries, the church has been built on those that have sacrificed and were even willing to work behind the scenes. They were ready to do anything to further God’s agenda. They did it whether it was cleaning, catering, repairs, visiting, or literature distribution. Whatever needed to be done, they set aside other cares, and exhibited generosity. The church continues to need sacrifice and generosity today. In fact, the church is paralyzed and unable to accomplish its purpose without it.

Here’s the cool thing – I have found that whatever you sacrifice in obedience to the Will of God, He takes care of!

V. The fifth approach is NOT PRIDE but HUMILITY

Remember the Dung Gate that I referenced earlier? Notice who it was built by again…

Nehemiah 3:14 (NIV)
14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.

Now take note of some people mentioned in reference to the section of wall between the Fish Gate and the Old Gate…

Nehemiah 3:5 (NIV)
5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

Work for God is not accomplished by those filled with self-importance.

Verse 5 is intriguing because it is the only negative in the chapter. The leading citizens of Tekoa knew the need of Jerusalem, but they refused to help. The text tells us that they did not put their shoulder to the work. Pride kept them from it. They wouldn’t stoop this low. They were too important.

But do note this…
All that are recorded in this chapter are positively reported except for these people.
They are remembered forever for their failure.

And it is a lesson to us as well…God notices the goof-offs. We must remember that pride is a cruel enemy.

Proverbs 3:34 (NIV)
34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.

James 4:6 (NIV)
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

1 Peter 5:5 (NIV)
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Pride inflates our self-importance, makes holiness impossible and, thus, we are unable to fulfill God’s plan for us.

VI. The sixth approach is RESPONSIBILITY.

Nehemiah 3:28-30 (NIV)
28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30 Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters.

Work for God is completed by those that are determined to give their best.

Nehemiah gave out assignments wisely. He encouraged many of the people who wanted to help, to work opposite of their residences. Interestingly, it was an opportunity to protect ones’ own reputation. Their work would have a direct impact on their own homes, so it had better be good. No one would want his or her present work to bring future embarrassment.

Sometimes, our search for a ministry opportunity is not so far away. It is the wall right in front of our homes. It is the people that God has already brought into our life. It is our family. It is the people we live around. It is the people that we work with or go to school with. So be careful not to be looking elsewhere when the wall in front of you is in disrepair.

Be responsible for what God has already given you to do.

VII. The seventh approach is INTENSITY.

Nehemiah 3:20 (NIV)
20 Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.

Nehemiah 3:27 (NIV)
27 Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.

Now note that the…

Work for God is finished by those that are willing to go the extra mile.

Earlier In this chapter, you may recall that Meremoth, Meshullam and the Tekoans all finished one part of the wall. What they didn’t do at this point was brush off their hands and clothes and say, “We’re done.” No, they looked for more opportunity. They were eager to do God’s work and went the second mile.

In verse 20, Baruch is also mentioned as one that is zealous to accomplish the building of the wall.
He was enthusiastic. He was on fire. He had passion.

There is a tale told of that great English actor Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: “I wish you would explain to me something.” “Well, what is it? I don’t know that I can explain anything to a preacher.”

“What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.”

Macready’s answer was this: “This is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.”

(G. Campbell Morgan, Preaching, p. 36. )

Let me tell you this…
The church still needs people with passion of every age. People who believe in the truth, live in the truth and proclaim the truth with passion.

The church is looking for people that look to see what needs to be done and are willing to put feet on it.

The church needs people that will not settle for what has been, but for what needs to be done!

CONCLUSION:

All of theses approaches to rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem together demonstrate that…

1. We must have the courage to be a team.

God has not called on us to act rashly and do our own thing when doing His work.
He has called us to coordinated cooperation.
He calls us to have the courage to set aside our preferences, our desires, our hurts and our pride so that the team will succeed.
He needs people that will commit time, talent, and treasure to complete the task.

You have to admire Nehemiah here, for he takes a disorganized, unmotivated, and uninspired people and turns them into an army with a mission.
You know, Nehemiah teaches us many lessons about leadership.
One of them is that…

2. We must recognize that visions from God are bigger than us.

It has been said, “If you can do this job yourself, then your vision is too small.”
You have to appreciate Nehemiah’s “can do” attitude.
But you must realize his source.
He is confident about God’s agenda and God’s call, so he moves forward, even though it is huge.

By gathering the team together, though, he teaches us that…

3. The church is not designed for loners.

Whether you are a leader or a follower, the principle still applies.
We are not meant to do anything alone.
God has designed the church to function together.
We need each other.
Of course there may be some of you with a “longer” bent and I’m not saying to you that you aren’t welcome in the church of Christ. What I am saying is that by its very nature, those in the church are in it together. No matter how much of a “loner” you may be, you are still created (along with all of us) for community.
For…

4. We are designed to do this together.

Paul calls it being part of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4) This means you have a place! This means as a part of His body you will be remembered – that you have value that you are important.

This long list of names recorded in Nehemiah…
It shows us that God is a great believer in putting names down.
It also means that God has not forgotten our names either.
You may feel obscure and unimportant, but God does have a place for you.
He has a strategic place for you at the wall.
God has a job for you to do in the church that matches up perfectly with what He has wired you to do.
You belong on this team.

No more loners.
It’s time to have courage, be on the team, and build what God would have us build – His kingdom together.

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cold. sweat. fear.

Introduction:

I want you to think of the greatest fear you face today. Your greatest fear may dominate your thoughts, your life, your days and your nights. For some of you, your greatest fear is an enemy that controls you and leads you according to its own design and desires. I do not know what your particular fear is – only you really know it. You may have the fear of failure, or maybe you are afraid of success. Maybe you are afraid that a secret you’ve been harboring for many years will be “found out”. Maybe you have a fear of getting too close to people – or you have a fear of being rejected. Maybe you are afraid of change, or afraid of losing something. Whatever you fear may be, there are some of you who have a fear that cripples and controls you.

Today, I want you to think about what your life would be like without the control of that fear. I want you to imagine today what you life would be like if the control of that fear was broken? What would it be like to have the victory and overcome your greatest fear? Yet it’s not only something you can IMAGINE… it is already possible in light of scripture.

A key verse that immediately came to mind when thinking on the subject of fear is that which is found in 2 Timothy 1:7:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)

What a wonderful promise! For indeed God does not give believers the spirit of fear – He grants power, love, and sound mind. Note, however, the context of this verse: Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, a young man Paul has been mentoring and teaching. In this particular section of his letter to Timothy, Paul is urging him to remain faithful to God, faithful to the truths he has learned even from a very young age at his grandmother and mother’s knees. There is a linkage between those who place their faith in God, who obey God, and the degree to which fear controls their lives.

Scripture is clear about the Biblical principles concerning God’s response to His children’s obedience. The reverse side of the equation is that disobedience and rebellion will always have a consequence of pain and suffering. The reward or retribution in our lives is NOT always immediate but make no mistake, they will come in due season.

We know as Christians that we do not serve the Lord because of the reward…it is not an end in itself. What is our motivation then for obedience to God’s word?

• He is sovereign and therefore deserves our devotion and obedience
• He has divine wisdom and knows what is best for our lives
• Our obedience should spring from hearts filled with love and gratitude.

If I were to ask you, “Are you committed to living in obedience to Christ?” There could be only one of three answers…

• “Yes, I am doing all that He has asked of me.”
• “No, I am not doing what He has asked of me.”
• “I am doing some of what He has asked of me.”

Our scripture for today highlights the premise that partial obedience is NOT acceptable in the eyes of God. Here me, as we talk this morning about the fatal flaw of fear – a life of victory over your greatest fear begins and is sustained by a life of complete faith in and obedience to God’s Word. So let’s take a few minutes to look at 2 Kings 5.

Background

2 Kings 5 tells the story of a man that struggles with the question of obedience. He is a real life character and his journey in obedience certainly applies to our lives today. There are 5 basic principles that must be reviewed if we are to live a victorious life free from fear. Personal application of this message will not only break the bondage of fear in your life but it could also prevent pain and suffering that comes through partial or willful neglect of what God has directed for your life.

There are three main characters in our story today:

• A MAN…Naaman, a general in the Syrian Army
• A MAID…she has no name and certainly a hidden hero
• A MESSENGER of God…whose name is Elisha.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the historical account in the Bible:

Verse 1:
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2 Kings 5:1 (NIV)

Naaman was a brave, highly respected military man. He was a general in the Syrian army. Although he was greatly decorated for his military genius, there was one dark cloud over his life. He had leprosy. Leprosy is a disease that reduces an individual to a grotesque figure as a result of them not being able to feel. The longer people live with this disease the more unrecognizable they become. Incurable and terminal; much like a terminal cancer or the AIDS virus. It was frightening and overwhelming and was something you could not hide from others.

Verse 2-4:
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.
2 Kings 5:2-4 (NIV)

There was a maid that the Syrians had captured from Israel and brought to Syria. She still remembers her spiritual foundation and the one true living God, the Lord of Israel. She remembers His acts and tells the general’s wife about the prophet of God, Elisha. When you are in a helpless situation you will do anything to get relief, even if it means going to the enemy. However let’s remember that at this point in the story the general’s hope is in a man and not in God.

Verse 5-6:
5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:5-6 (NIV)

The King of Syria allowed him to go and sent letters and the equivalent of around $5 million dollars in today’s monetary rate. Like most in our world today, the first attempt to overcome any fear is to buy the fear away.

Verse 7:
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
2 Kings 5:7 (NIV)

The King of Israel thinks that it is a trick to cause a war and he believes that the Syrian King wants him to cure Naaman and so he goes into depression at the time of the request. Tragically, this reveals how far the King and the country had fallen from their faith in the Lord. It’s sad that there is never any indication that the King ever thought that God just might be at work in this situation! Fear does that – it blinds us to possibilities and makes mountains out of seeming impossibilities.

Verse 8:
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
2 Kings 5:8 (NIV)

Elisha hears of the news and sends a message to the King. This is where the messenger of God enters the scene.
Verse 9-10:
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
2 Kings 5:9-10 (NIV)

Naaman comes to Elisha’s home but the man of God does not come out, he simply sends the Word of God to greet the general via another messenger. Elisha is immediately painting a word picture for this General that it is the power of God and your obedience to His word that is the key to overcoming your fears. How vitally important it is for us to point people to Christ and His Word rather than tie them to our personality or our position.

Verse 11-13:
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
2 Kings 5:11-13 (NIV)

Naaman is furious! He wanted to be free from his fears via his healing; but he only wanted it on his terms and not in obedience to God’s word. His reaction tells the story. “You won’t even come out of your home to meet me and then you ask me to wash in the dirty Jordan when there are beautiful, clean waters in Syria!” The servants of the general have a clear head and persuade him, “How can it hurt, we are already here…go ahead and wash.”

Verse 14:
So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
2 Kings 5:14 (NIV)

The result of his obedience is obvious to everyone. Through obedience to God’s word he is able to overcome his greatest fear and live in victory forever!

This is a very powerful story in scripture but in order for it be more than just another Bible story there are five principles that explode from this book that must be applied in obedience to God’s word. If we are to fix our greatest fears and gain victory over their crippling control in our lives then applying these 5 principles is vitally important.

fear fixer #1:

UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR FEAR IS GOD’S OPPORTUNITY TO STRENGTHEN YOUR FAITH.

What was the general’s most pressing problem? Was it his desire for power, popularity, prestige, position? No, it was the physical problem of leprosy. It was this disease that occupied his thoughts day and night. It mattered little that he had money, title and power, what he needed was a cure!

There are times in our life that God allows a problem in our life that can seem so hopeless to create the opportunity for Him to bring His power into our situation and through His work increase our faith. What was God teaching the general in this situation? He was teaching that the God of Israel was the one true and living God and that when you trust and obey Him you shall know His power and the reward for obedience. How often we look at our situation and exhaust all our personal resources in an attempt to conquer a problem that can not be conquered. Could it be that God is allowing the problem to continue to get us to the place where we will say, “You alone have the power to deliver us in the midst of the situation.” Would you be willing today to consider that your problem, that your fear, presents an opportunity for God to stretch and strengthen your faith?

fear fixer #2

OBSERVE THAT OBEDIENCE MAY REQUIRE WHAT SEEMS TO BE IMPRACTICAL

Naaman was angry because the prophet did not meet with him personally and also because he did not want to wash in the Jordan River. To this general, the solution offered was ridiculous and unreasonable. The real problem was PRIDE. His own foolish pride prevented him from immediately obeying God’s instructions.

The act of Water Baptism is to many people what the Jordan River was to Naaman. They are to pride full to follow the command of Christ and obey the very basic and simple of all commands. Like the general many will say, “What will others think when they see me in the water?” Instead they should only be concerned about what God thinks.

Naaman would not obey because he thought the request was both impractical and unreasonable! The problem was God did not tell anyone else to go to the Jordan and wash 7 times…He told Naaman – first! Human nature does not want to do something that someone else has not done first. We want to look around and see if others are going into the “Jordan” and if they are then we will consider the call. The key to victory in our Christian life is obedience to HIS PERSONAL COMMAND OF OUR LIVES.

Illustration: Phillip in Acts 8 was obedient to the command of Christ and the result was salvation of the Ethiopian. It wasn’t practical but it was personal!

Some are called to give their life to Christ, others to write a letter, or to mend a broken relationship, or to get up in the middle of the night and share the Gospel or pray. You must understand a basic biblical principle that there are times God will ask you to do what you may believe to be impractical or unreasonable. You will NEVER taste the true rewards of obedience if you are bent on debating with God about His perfect will for your life.

We don’t need to figure out God’s will we need to do God’s will in faith!

Further, I wonder how many things that seem impractical or unreasonable really just appear that way because of what our fear would lead us to believe…

fear fixer #3

TAKE NOTICE THAT FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH GOD’S WILL MAY COST YOU WHAT YOU DESIRE THE MOST

Naaman’s greatest desire of his heart was to be free from the bondage of the leprosy. Yet, when he faced the opportunity to do just that he became furious at the request, thinking the remedy was out of the question as far as he was concerned. His reaction to God’s perfect will illustrates three basic problems that many people face when dealing with their fears:

1) PRIDE: He was outraged that the prophet would not personally come to see him. It was an insult to his pride. Pride would have kept him from that which he needed the most.

2) ANGER: (v.11) His anger was a result of a preconceived idea about how God should act and what God should do concerning his situation. How many people do you know that get angry at God and others when God doesn’t come through just as he would have desired. Frustration and anger always follows the person who attempts to put God in a box.

3) UNBELIEF: His major problem was His inability to believe that God could really overcome his fears by his simple obedience. His unbelief could have robbed him of the greatest blessing of his life. I know because it did the people of Nazareth…”He could do there no mighty work because of their unbelief.”

Those three obstacles, pride, anger and unbelief almost kept him from finding the very thing he needed the most, to be free from the fear and reality of his disease. “What would people say? What will people think? I want God to work on my terms…not HIS!”

Illustration: Think how the Devil would have used that scene to attempt to ruin his opportunity for victory. General went into the river with many laughing him on the banks…dipped once, twice, three times…he would hear the laughter and be filled with anger, frustration, embarrassment and fear. But he would continue, four, five, six…perhaps he thought it would be a progressive miracle of God’s grace…now the disappointment is greater than ever before when suddenly someone yells from the bank, “one more time, sir…the word of God said seven, not six…please just one more time.” The General complies and goes down into the water for the seventh time as he comes up out of the water…the rest of the story is history. Skin smooth and new and he is completely healed.

That seventh time in the water is the completion of the perfect will of God. There are too many of God’s people that are throwing up their hands and calling it quits after the first few times facing their circumstances. Tragically there are some that are walking away from God’s very best after six times down. Because of discouragement and fear they leave the waters of God, one small step away from the greatest victory in their life.

The greatest question that must be asked of us today as we face our greatest fear is this: “Have I done everything that God has desired of me? Am I controlled and captivated by the power of His Spirit?”

fear fixer #4

REMEMBER THAT PROPER COUNSEL ALWAYS ENCOURAGES YOU TO FOLLOW GOD’S WILL (V.13)

Naaman was blessed with at least two assistants that cared enough for him that they were willing to confront him when he was close to walking away from the very thing he had longed for his entire life. They encouraged him to remember the Word of God and to do the perfect will of God. It won’t always be easy but it will always be victorious.

We have far to many generals in the Army of God who have turned and walked away from victory and gone back to Syria the same way they came.

Parents have even been so foolish as to tell their children or teenagers, “Don’t get so excited about this “God thing”. You need a balance.” If we are going to see the victory over your fears today we are going to have to return to the counsel of the godly and that is the one voice that is encouraging you in the midst of difficulty to “do the will of God.”

Far too many people pay more attention to the people who feed their fears than the ones who feed their faith. Learn to recognize the difference!

Fear fixer #5

DON’T FORGET THAT THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE WILL BE A STRONG WITNESS TO OTHERS (V.15)

Naaman’s obedience to the perfect will of God not only changed his life but also impacted those in his circle of influence; the men with him, his king and even an entire nation. This same kind of testimony occurred some years later when three young Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego took their stand in the face of tremendous odds and won the witness of God to a pagan king and his nation.

When you overcome your greatest fear in obeying God’s word not only will it change your life but it will be used greatly by God to challenge the lives of others. People are rarely motivated by eloquent words – but will frequently move to follow the one who makes a path. You could be a Naaman to someone today!

CONCLUSION

Where did real obedience begin in this story? With the General? With Elisha? With the King? With the General’s wife? With the captive maid from Israel? NO! I believe the real obedience began when whoever it was years earlier shared with a young Jewish girl about a personal relationship with the God of Israel. She then faithfully reported that testimony to Naaman’s wife and the rest is history. The power of an obedient spirit will spread much further than we have any idea.
You want to know a secret about fears? Our fears are signposts of what God wants you to do. If there’s something you are not doing because of fear then more than likely it is exactly that which God wants you to obey Him in.

So we come to a close of this message and we end where I began today, by asking, “What is your greatest fear?” After reading God’s word can you now embrace and believe in VICTORY OVER YOUR FEAR? God is waiting for you to take one step of faith into the waters of obedience. The victory is yours for the taking.

1. UNDERSTAND THAT YOUR FEAR IS GOD’S OPPORTUNITY TO STRENGTHEN YOUR FAITH
2. OBSERVE THAT OBEDIENCE MAY REQUIRE WHAT SEEMS TO BE IMPRACTICAL
3. TAKE NOTICE THAT FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH GOD’S WILL MAY COST YOU WHAT YOU DESIRE MOST
4. REMEMBER THAT PROPER COUNSEL ALWAYS ENCOURAGES YOU TO FOLLOW GOD’S WILL (NOT LISTEN TO YOUR FEAR)
5. DON’T FORGET THAT THE REWARDS OF OBEDIENCE WILL BE A STRONG WITNESS TO OTHERS

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A Crippling Want

James 4:1-10 (NIV)
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

INTRODUCTION:

Pray:

Envy… I’d like begin today by reading to you a couple of interesting stories I picked up while surfing the Internet a few weeks ago.

Story #1: “The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypisalanti, Michigan at 7:50am, flashed a gun and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away.”

Story #2: “Karen Lee Joachimmi, 20, was arrested in Lake City, Florida for robbery of a Howard Johnson’s motel. She was armed with only an electric chain saw, which was not plugged in.”

Story #3: “Three guys decided, late one night, to rob a petrol station. Taking in baseball bats and knives they entered and demanded money from the station clerk. But they weren’t aware of a couple of rather important things:
(1) The clerk was an ex-Israeli.
(2) The clerk was an ex-Israeli Army officer.
(3) The clerk was an ex-Israeli unarmed-combat instructor.
Needless to say they ended up in hospital. For a long time. (No charges were pressed by the petrol station owner, and the police decided that there wasn’t much point following through.)”

Story #4: “When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find an ill man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline and plugged his hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had.”

Story #5: “Burglars in Larch Barrens, Md., tried to cut through a safe using a Laser Tag gun.”

Story #6: “Germany: Oil of Olay no longer turning the trick for her, a woman decided that she would bathe in the milk of a camel (a modern-day Cleopatra). So she stole a camel from the local zoo (where *else* can you find a camel when you need one?) and transported it back to her house – where she realized that the camel’s name was “Otto.”

Story #7: “(Location Unknown): A man successfully broke into a bank’s basement through a street-level window, cutting himself up pretty badly in the process. He then realized that (1) he could not get to the money from where he was, (2) he could not climb back out the window through which he had entered, and (3) he was bleeding pretty badly. So he located a phone and dialed “911” for help.”

Needless to say the name of the site where I got these stories shouldn’t be much of a surprise to you. The Internet site was called “Stupid People”. The reason I shared these stories is because I thought it would give you a slightly humorous look at stupid things people will do when they envy something. For most of these criminals, they went after money – they probably envied the “easy” life that people with lots of money live. The woman with the camel – she envied the smooth skin and good looks that the “aging” women in Oil of Olay commercials portrayed.

What’s not funny, are some of the following excerpts from various articles that I found…

e.g. “Leo Wilson, Jr., 16, was shot to death for his Nike sneakers and satin sports jacket, police say.” Or how about this one, “Wheatley High School junior Adam Joseph Martin, 18, gave haircuts to neighborhood kids to earn enough to buy his new $125 Nike athletic shoes last week. Saturday night, staring down the barrel of a 9mm pistol on a Houston street, he handed over his prized possessions to two robbers, who fatally shot him anyway.”

The people that committed these murders were after a pair of shoes made by Nike. Hmmm….Envy…what will it drive people to do…?

What is envy?

James 3:16 (NIV)
16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Galatians 5:21 and Romans 1:29-32 list envy as one of the acts of a sinful nature.

Romans 1:29-32 (NIV)
29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

I would venture to say folks that one of the principal causes of evil and sin is the dangerous feeling called envy. Envy left unchecked, becomes a primary instigator and propagator of every other evil thought and action imaginable. Envy is a characteristic of the wicked, it is selfish ambition, greed, malice, murder. It is no wonder that James attributes the cause of fights and quarrels among his readers as being “…your desires that battle within you?” (4:1) And he goes on to describe this disturbing characteristic to be when “…you want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight…” (4:2)

Webster’s Dictionary: Envy: “a feeling of antagonism towards someone because of some good which he is enjoying but which one does not have oneself || a coveting for oneself of the good which someone else is enjoying…”

Vine’s: “envy, is the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others; this evil sense always attaches to this word…envy desires to deprive another of what he has,

Dr. Gary Collins (Homemade, July, 1985): To envy is to want something which belongs to another person.

In other words…ENVY is saying… “I like what you’ve got, I don’t like the fact that you have it, and I want it”!!!

How many of you have ever had this feeling? It is the emotion of a child who throws a temper tantrum when his/her sibling has something they want. It is the emotion of a woman when she sees someone in the clothing store trying on clothes three sizes smaller than her size – clothes that don’t even come in her size. It is the emotion of a man when after a fruitless daylong attempt at catching “the big one” a boat pulls in to shore with a 7 yr old kid holding a 10lb Rainbow. It’s the emotion of us all when we hear on the news the latest winner of the 500 million dollar jackpot. For some us this feeling is fleeting – it is an emotion that we feel for only an instant – but for others it is a feeling that sticks in our heart – that irritates us and grinds away at us.

Proverbs 14:30 “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”

Folks, if envy rots the bones then it’s going to cripple you! A person with envy is a person with a troubled heart, a troubled mind and a troubled life. How does envy cripple us?

1. Envy cripples our ability to examine ourselves.

The Story of Cain and Abel

When God accepted the offering given to him by Abel and rejected the offering given by Cain it made Cain very angry. Envy began to stew and broil in Cain’s heart

The Lord warned Cain of this brooding emotion –

Genesis 4:6-7 (NIV)
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Instead of heeding God’s warning and examining himself Cain let his envy consume him until he killed Abel, “I like what you’ve got, I don’t like the fact that you have it, and I want it”

Envy cripples our ability to examine ourselves.

How many of you have ever said, “Gee, how come God answers their prayers but not mine?” Zoom, envy has planted its seed in your heart. If you are not careful it will blossom and consume you. You’ll fail to realize and examine the motives of your prayers –

James 4:3 (NIV)
3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

There are those that envy the perfect family in the midst of the breakdown of their own family. “Get off your behind, stop envying what others got and examine yourself — take a close look at what you are doing in your own family!!!”

There are those that envy the fortunes of the rich – when you should be asking yourself, “If I had that much money what would I spend it on, how would it change me,” I’ve heard story after story of what happens after the “big winner” cashes the check and the destruction their wealth brought to their lives.
The reason why envy is so dangerous is because it leads the person in an ever downward spiral and because it cripples our ability to examine ourselves – everything wrong, or hurtful thing we do seems justified by, “I like what you’ve got, I don’t like the fact that you have it, and I want it”

2. Envy cripples our security. ENVY CRIPPLES OUR TRUST IN GOD.

Joseph and his brothers

Genesis 37:11 (NIV)
11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

One of the saddest thing that happens to a person is when their envy leads them to feel insecure. With envy you start taking things into your own hands instead of letting God take control of things.

“I like what you’ve got, I don’t like the fact that you have it, and I want it”

3. Envy cripples our relationships.

Not only did envy cripple the security of Joseph’s brothers but it also crippled their relationship. Not only was there strain placed on the relationship between Joseph and his brothers but also among the brothers themselves as they would have to live with their actions for the rest of their lives. And not only among the brothers themselves but on their relationship with their father, Jacob. This burden was only broken by Joseph’s willingness to forgive many years later.

Envying others leads to a bitterness in our talk, an abruptness in our actions, back-biting, gossiping, slander. Envy can take you from being a close friend with someone to being a bitter enemy. It can break up families, tear apart churches and ruin communities.

Greek proverb: As rust corrupts iron, so envy corrupts man.

The saddest thing however is that not only does envy cripple the relationship you have with others but envy also cripples the relationship you have with God. I’ll be speaking more on this a little bit further on.

4. Envy cripples our ability to enjoy what we have.

Haman

Esther 5:11-13 (NIV)
11 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 12 “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

Princes of Babylon envy Daniel

Daniel 6:3-4 (NIV)
3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

ILLUSTRATION: Dwight L. Moody once told the fable of an eagle who was envious of another that could fly better than he could. One day the bird saw a sportsman with a bow and arrow and said to him, “I wish you would bring down that eagle up there.” The man said he would if he had some feathers for his arrow. So the jealous eagle pulled one out of his wing. The arrow was shot, but it didn’t quite reach the rival bird because he was flying too high. The first eagle pulled out another feather, then another – until he had lost so many that he himself couldn’t fly. The archer took advantage of the situation, turned around, and killed the helpless bird.

Envy not only cripples our ability to enjoy what we have but also to be thankful for what we have. How many of us have ever said, “If only I had…” and you can fill in the blank. Yet, in saying this we forget that the living standards we are privileged to enjoy in this country are considered luxurious to someone living in countries like Zimbabwe, the Sudan, or Maramar.

5. Envy cripples our spiritual growth.

1 Peter 2:1-2 (NIV)
1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, The implication made in this passage is that if you don’t rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind, you will not grow up in your salvation – that is you will not grow spiritually.

For some who have not even experienced the rebirth that comes from Christ’s salvation this growth will not even get started because of envy.

Envy is a worldly and sinful emotion. It is one of the most prevalent characteristics of today’s society and hence it is no wonder that James writes to the envious,

James 4:4 (NIV)
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

An envious spirit sets you against God, “ouch”!

One of the outward reactions and results of envy in our heart is a proud spirit. I hope you are noticing that in this summer series on Fatal Flaws there is an obvious connection weaving it’s way throughout all the flaws. Notice how Moses is described…

Numbers 12:3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

James 4:6 (NIV)
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

We are to crave spiritual milk – that is crave God’s will, God’s plan, God’s desires not OUR desires. When we see others who are being blessed, PRAISE GOD! Don’t let envy set its footmarks all over your soul.
In James 4:7 we are told to “Submit to God” and to “resist the Devil” By now you probably get the picture that envy is not a Godly trait!! It isn’t – it is one of the biggest tools the enemy has in his arsenal to drag a person further from God. But James affirms that if you resist the devil he will flee form you!!

When you feel , “I like what you’ve got, I don’t like the fact that you have it, and I want it” resist it, say instead “I like what you’ve got, I want it, but I LOVE GOD MORE” Positively confess where your heart is. Don’t allow envy to take root!

James goes on further to write that if you come near to God he will come near to you. FOLKS IF YOU HAVE ENVY IN YOUR HEART TODAY I WANT YOU TO LISTEN TO WHAT JAMES SAYS IN THE NEXT TWO VERSES!!! In vs 8-9 James tells us that in order to Come near to God we must…

1) Wash our hands

that is we must come to God with repentance, faith , and reformation. We are all sinners and in order to come near to God we must be cleansed. Remember that it was God who provided the wash basin! It is with Jesus sacrificial blood that we have the opportunity to wash our hands. We must lay our envious thoughts bare before God and say Lord forgive me.

2) You must purify your heart (you double-minded)

Double-minded refers to those who are wavering between God and the world. Purifying ones heart involves a resolving in mind and purpose to follow the ways of God – to crave spiritual milk – not an envious craving for things of the world. It involves having a sincerity in coming before God. Our single aim must be to place God before anything else in the world – to place God as our only aim. The next time envy begins to sink its creeping tendrils into our spirit we must say “I like what you’ve got, I want it, but I LOVE GOD MORE!”

3) Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

This is not a command stating that you can’t be happy or laugh! It is merely a caution that this subject matter that has been talked about is one of utmost sincerity. The cleansing of hands and purifying of your heart is not frivolous in nature but is one of utmost sincerity and importance. Likewise the spirit of envy is one that cannot be ignored. Yes we can rejoice at God’s forgiveness but we must first grieve at our sinfulness, we must mourn our broken relationship with God because of that sin, and we must wail at our demise due to our broken relationship with God. It is in this trio of grief, mourning, and gloom that you’ll find the proper submission to God. When we realize our need for God and our lostness apart from Him then we begin to understand that in order to be a friend to God we must also be an enemy of worldliness. We must pull envy’s roots from our souls and cast it aside.

James wrapped up his treatise in verse ten when he states that if you “Humble yourselves before the Lord…” “…he will lift you up.”

Matthew Henry wrote, “Before honour is humility. The highest honour in heaven will be the reward of the greatest humility on earth.”

Are you envious of someone today? Is your heart steeped in pride? Let’s pray.

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