The Good on the Other Side of Bad

I noticed a couple leave our worship service yesterday morning just after I began to preach. I didn’t take it personal but I did wonder if they were offended by the message. The thought of that bothers me a little but let me explain why. (Please don’t get the wrong idea I don’t think it’s about me at all.)

I began my message the way I usually do, since I preach in series, I was catching everyone up on where we were last week. So, I shared that God has the power, through the Gospel, to reach anyone no matter how far away they seem to be. I announced that we were all born into this sin problem and God has the power and ability to fix it; and He has. That’s just good news!

I did wonder, however, if some of the first time visitors to our church yesterday found themselves uncomfortable and offended by my statement that we’re all born sinners. If you struggle with this, just please know that this statement is completely biblical and the gateway of truth that opens up into the greatest news in all creation. This is why I say if someone is offended by this message it bothers me a little. They didn’t stay around long enough to hear the truth that relieves all the tension:

There’s a good that can only be found on the other side of the bad.

I would suggest that no passage of Scripture demonstrates this better than Isaiah 53. The words of Isaiah in this passage are just desperate. I don’t know how else to describe it. Line after line he writes of pain that actually begins back in chapter 52 with a man beaten beyond recognition. In the midst of all these descriptive words of agony like stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded and crushed there is a ray of hope that this was all “for us.”

Why would Isaiah write about such punishment and brutality which could be surmised in one simple English word; bad? All these words are written to culminate in one attention gripping statement, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” What?! The will of the Lord?

If you don’t already know, as Isaiah writes such soul piercing words he is actually writing about Jesus and what He ultimately did on the cross; and it went just as Isaiah said. He was beaten beyond recognition, He was mocked and yet did not return a word and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. This is where the good news comes in.

He did it all for us! There is a good (though the word “good” can barely describe this) that comes in complete contrast of the bad. In other words, what happens because of all these words of desperation is a promise of good that’s equally as breath taking as the words of wounds. Isaiah 53:11 sums it up completely:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11, ESV)

Isn’t that awesome news! “Many to be accounted righteous,” on account of the pain that Jesus suffered.

So, maybe those I noticed leaving our service had a stomach ache or a family reunion. I hope it was something like that. Not because it’s about me but because the news is so good. I want everyone to hear the entire message of the Gospel. There’s a difficulty that we have to deal with, that is, things are not ok. But, because of the work of God through Jesus, there is a good that we can realize on the other side of what seems so bad and that “good” ultimately affects every aspect of our lives. God is good!

How Long Should We Preach?

This is the question that pops into many of the minds of those sitting in our worship services each week. How long is he going to preach? Ask ten different pastors how long a sermon should be and you may get ten different answers but that’s not actually the question I’m talking about. (We’ll save that debate for a different time.)

Paul told Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, that there was a day coming in which people will no longer listen to sound doctrine. Paul states that people will “heap up” teachers to “suit their own passions,” which means, they’ll basically only listen if someone’s telling them what they want to hear. That’s just a little scary.

But, there’s a charge from Paul to Timothy in verse 2 to “preach the Word” which in context is equated with sound doctrine, and preach it, when it’s convenient and you feel like preaching and even when it’s inconvenient and you don’t feel like it. Obviously, these words to Timothy are meant to charge and encourage him to keep preaching even when it’s tough; and trust me sometimes it’s tough.

So, why would we keep preaching? How long should we keep at it?

It’s easy to focus on the people that Paul describes in this passage. That is, those who are not interested in hearing doctrine and realizing the change and growth that the Scriptures can deliver. But, the charge is to focus on, and keep preaching in the hearing of, those who do have ears to hear and those who are spiritually prepared and ready to hear from God. And here’s the good news, even today there are still many, many people who want to hear from God!

The only thing that limits the power of God’s Word and the Gospel is the lack of an ear to hear. So, as long as there’s someone listening we must keep preaching! As you plan your worship time this weekend in your church, be sure to recognize that God wants you to hear His Word preached and that’s for your edification. Don’t worry, if you plan to attend Vienna Baptist Church my average sermon is less than forty minutes long.

To all my preacher friends out there, be encouraged; there are people still listening! Preach the Word!

The Attention getting God

If God could get your attention what do you think He’d say? Have you ever thought about that? As I read through Amos this morning in my Bible I was faced with some answers to questions like these, along with the reminder that God is constantly trying to get my attention through His Word, through nature which speaks of Him and even some times through circumstances. So, what is He trying to tell me?

Here are a couple truths that I found:

  1. 1.     God actually speaks through the prophets and Apostles that we might know His plans. That right, God wants you to know what He’s up to!

The prophet Amos, as He speaks on behalf of God, records these words; “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”[1] He goes on to say, “The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” In other words, when God speaks His plan, they can’t help but talk about it!

So, how does this affect you and me? That’s a great question. Not only does God have a plan for the nations, which is the context of Amos, but He also has a planned laid out for you and me as individuals. Notice what God said to the prophet Jeremiah as He revealed His purpose for Jeremiah,

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”[2]

God speaks in order to reveal His plans, and yes, those plans involve you!

  1. 2.     God speaks through His prophets, and His own works, to get His people to return to Him.

We all struggle with situations in life and struggle at times to get a handle on why things happen; especially bad things. We know, by the truth of Scripture, that God is not capable of evil, nor does He tempt anyone with evil (see James 1:13). But, God will use difficult circumstances for good as He desperately tries to get the attention of His people.

Several times in chapter four, Amos states that though God has used drought, blight, mildew and pestilence to try and gain the attention of His people, “[they] did not return to me.”

I’m not going to argue that it’s in any way difficult for God to communicate to His people; he did create the entire universe in a word, but He has made effort to communicate. God communicates first through His word, then through his world and even, at times, through circumstances.

So, let me ask you, how is trying to say to you today?

Here’s the good news, when He gets our attention and we begin to seek Him, we will find Him and find some answers. Notice again the words of Jeremiah:

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”[3]

God’s trying to get your attention today. Seek and listen, and watch the answers of God’s purpose in your life come.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Am 3:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Ibid (Je 29:11).

[3] Ibid (Je 29:12–13).