Thursday, February 20, 2014
The God Who Is There
Shrek: For your information, there's a lot more to ogres than people think. Donkey: Example? Shrek: Example... uh... ogres are like onions! [He holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs] Donkey: They stink? Shrek: Yes... No! Donkey: Oh, they make you cry? Shrek: No! Donkey: Oh, you leave 'em out in the sun, they get all brown, and they start sproutin' little white hairs... Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers. Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake! Shrek: I don't care what everyone else likes! Ogres are not like cakes. Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, "Let's get some parfait," they say, "No, I don't like no parfait"? Parfaits are delicious! Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
There is much to commend about the Shrek movies. But, one of the things that we come to understand is that, even though he might think that he is -- donkey is not a good example of a beast of burden. In fact, he is often a burden.
Jesus understands the concept of a beast of burden when He shares in Matthew 11:29-30, one of my favorite passages: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (NIV) Only someone who knew about oxen could use a yoke illustration. Paul also understands what it is to carry a heavy weight. His exploits are well-catalogued. At the beginning of 2 Corinthians (1:1-11), we see him talk about his burden for (and because of) the believers at Corinth.
Last week was one of those weeks where you understand the meaning of family a little bit better. It is always important to talk about family, emphasize family…but, even more important to be family. We have those times…we need those times as human beings and as believers in Christ. Paul considered the Corinthians his family…black sheep perhaps…but, family nonetheless. He experienced a number of trials in his life and ministry and a number of them, as we have been discussing on Sunday mornings, are with these folks. Paul is in Asia Minor (what is Turkey today) and he experiences some difficulty, although we are not told of the circumstances. What we do know is that Paul is weighed down like a beast of burden with a load too heavy to bear. In fact, he thinks that he might die (2 Corinthians 7:5). Yet, he would be able to treasure the great lessons from such trials…not to trust in himself, but trust in the Lord. When he is weak, the Lord is able to make him strong. The God who raises the dead is certainly sufficient to be able to handle any difficulties in our lives. He is able, but we must be available.
When Paul reports what God has done for him, a chorus of praise and thanksgiving goes up from the saints to God. And for Paul, the highest service a Christian can give on earth is to bring glory to God…even through suffering. Paul is never ashamed to ask Christians to pray for him. He does so in seven of his letters (Romans 15, Philippians 1, 2 Thessalonians 3, Philemon, Ephesians 6, Colossians 4, 1 Thessalonians 5). Paul and the believers in Corinth help each other in their struggles and together, they all seek to glorify God (2 Corinthians 1:11, 24). We can see that the gift of Paul’s deliverance from what appears to be certain death (however it was to take place), is the result of the participation of many people. Difficulties certainly have the ability to increase our faith and strength…we must simply remember who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing for us – He is there! So, Paul may not always exactly be exuberant about his circumstances, but he could praise the God who is in control of all circumstances. He knows that praise is the key to victory over difficulty, discouragement. He also has fellowship with Jesus in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10), and so can realize God’s comfort through this. Likewise, we are able to do the same. Paul also makes it clear that people do not necessarily need to experience the exact same trials in order to share God’s encouragement.
As the Corinthians struggled, at times, God allows church families…including our own…to experience trials in order for us to grow in love, grace and understanding. In all of this, it is not so much our love for Him that comforts us, but knowing how much He has loved us, and does love us. He was willing to go to a cross and die in order to purchase our salvation. In times of trial and suffering, some people are prone to think only of themselves…their difficulties…and they forget others. As one person said, we must not be cisterns…that is, we collect blessings, understanding that does not go anywhere nor does it do anyone any good. Rather, we are to be channels of blessings, help for others’ benefit. In this, we minister to one another, grow in the Lord.
Shortly after coming to Christ, Sadhu Sundar, a Hindu convert to Christ, felt called to become a missionary to India. Late one afternoon Sadhu was traveling on foot through the Himalayas with a Buddhist monk. It was bitterly cold and the wind felt like sharp blades slicing into Sadhu's skin. Night was approaching fast when the monk warned Sadhu that they were in danger of freezing to death if they did not reach the monastery before darkness fell. Just as they were traversing a narrow path above a steep cliff, they heard a cry for help. Down the cliff lay a man, fallen and badly hurt. The monk looked at Sadhu and said, "Do not stop. God has brought this man to his fate. He must work it out for himself." The he quickly added while walking on, "Let us hurry on before we, too, perish." But Sadhu…having a new perspective on life…replied, "God has sent me here to help my brother. I cannot abandon him." The monk continued trudging off through the whirling snow, while the missionary clambered down the steep embankment. The man's leg was broken and he could not walk. So Sadhu took his blanket and made a sling of it and tied the man on his back. Then, bending under his burden, he began a body-torturing climb. By the time he reached the narrow path again, he was drenched in perspiration. Doggedly, he made his way through the deepening snow and darkness. It was all he could do to follow the path. But he persevered, though faint with fatigue and overheated from exertion. Finally he saw ahead the lights of the monastery. Then, for the first time, Sadhu stumbled and nearly fell, but not from weakness. He had stumbled over an object lying in the snow-covered road. Slowly he bent down on one knee and brushed the snow off the object. It was the body of the monk, frozen to death. Years later a disciple of Sadhu's asked him, "What is life's most difficult task?" Without hesitation Sadhu replied: "To have no burden to carry." (From a sermon by Horace Wimpey, God's Guidelines For Thanksgiving)
As Francis Schaeffer acknowledges in his book by the same name, is “the God who is there”, there in your life, guiding, strengthening, comforting, and ultimately saving you? In my experience of life, I have come to realize – those who have not experienced much pain and struggle, do not have much to give when it comes to helping others through the valley of the shadow of death. This is because, agape, service, come from a deep place…such places that are not available on the surface. They come from wading through some deep waters. Like Paul, we must allow Him to bear our burdens, to deliver, comfort us, so that in turn, we can bring comfort to one another and to others! This is the only hope that the Corinthians have to learn and grow as a church family…and it is not any different for us or any other church family.