Monthly Archives: October 2017

Brokenness to Wholeness

Peninsula Community Church

Brokenness to Wholeness

October 29, 2017

Jeremiah 18:1-6 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Today, we will continue to look at the subject of the potter and the clay. We will focus on a couple of lessons we learn from this story. To appreciate these lessons, we must recognize that we are the clay. This is confirmed by Isaiah 64:8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. There is no doubt that we are the clay and He, the Father, is our potter. Whether we realize it or not, we are the works of His hands. Even from the beginning of time, He has been forming us and shaping us.

Remember the story of Genesis, the beginning of all things. In Genesis 2:7 the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Someone has stated that we are nothing more than dirt and water mixed together. He formed us and shaped us into the distinct person we are today. We are set apart from all other parts of the creation because God breathed His breath into mankind. It is that breath of life that sustains us. It is God who continues to shape us into what we are becoming.

Robert Morris, of Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas, stated that the word “formed” carries the idea of being molded by squeezing into shape. When God formed man, He squeezed him. Man was formed out of the dirt. He molded and shaped our physical body. Today, He continues to mold and shape us, but He works more with our character and personality. For that reason there are times we can feel like we are being squeezed. Does it feel that way to you?

One of the themes evident in this passage is that God uses the pain of brokenness to grow us and develop us into what He desires. The presupposition is that in brokenness, we actually grow, if we allow God to work is us. So, if you will bear with me, I would like to make some observations regarding this discussion. I must admit that the basis of this comes from a message from Robert Morris. I am using his skeleton but adding my thoughts to the skeleton.

First of all, clay can only be molded by water. During the time of this writing, water was the primary source to keep the clay wet. From Scripture, we understand that water represents the Word of God. When Jesus stood before the woman at the well, He stated that if she knew the gift that stood before her, she would never thirst again. He was referring to the water of salvation and the fact that He was that water (John 4). He, being the Word, is what we need to be molded and shaped by God.

We must also recognize that it is the water of the Word that is the only thing that can mold us into a vessel of honor. Without the water of the Word, we will dry out and begin to crack and fall apart. We must also realize that while we are saved by God immediately, the process of being molded takes time. In fact, it is a lifetime of molding. Note in our passage that when the clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand he put it back on the wheel again and reworked the vessel into something even more usable. Truthfully, we are always in the process of being molded and shaped by a loving potter who knows the outcome and purpose for which we are being formed.

The second observation is that the clay has to be separated before being molded. To produce a usable vessel, the potter cannot leave any junk in the clay. If there is something left in the clay, it will cause problems later in the process. It could be small rocks, sand, or tiny limbs. If these things are not removed, they can cause huge issues down the road.

You see, God must pull everything out of us that does not look like the vessel He is forming. He is also taking everything out that will cause weakness later. He knows if He does not remove the junk then we will not be as useful as we could be. Without removing the junk in our life, we are susceptible to failure and breakdowns later. Within us are anger, pride, jealousy, insecurity, fear, and so on. Pride is one of the biggest issues, because we must admit we need Him. If you allow pride to remain in your life, you will fall.

The third observation is the vessel that is formed comes in all sizes, shapes, and colors. We have different influences, talents, desires, and experiences. We must stop judging other pots and comparing ourselves to other pots. It is pride for a pot that is not finished to talk about another pot. We must know that we are not the potter and, as such, we do not know the purpose or plan the potter has for the other pots around us. We must trust that the potter knows what he is doing. We judge others on so many levels. We judge people on their race. We judge people on their social and financial status. We judge people on how they look or do not look. We must not arbitrarily judge others, as we do not know what God is doing in them. Besides that, we have enough to worry about in our own pot to worry about what they are doing.

The fourth observation is that clay has no input to its outcome. Listen to this interesting passage in Isaiah 29:16. You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding?” Sometimes, we try to exchange roles with the potter. We attempt to tell the potter what we want Him to do. In Isaiah 46:9, we find people often try to argue with God. In this passage we do not see the clay speaking to the potter. It never says “What are you doing?” Or, “I know a better way!” Some of us need to stop telling God what is best for us. We need to stop telling God what is best for the pots around us. Sometimes we do not like the pots around us, so we ask the potter to take a little off here, squeeze a little more here, and do a little more there. But we must remember that the Potter is in control of every pot. We must yield to Him. So, stop resisting and saying you know a better way.

The fifth observation is that the clay must go through the fire. The clay in its natural state is soft and the clay gets real muddy when the water is added. To resolve this, the clay must be cured and perfected through fire. For us, this happens through the difficulty of life. When we go through a fire, we are not to be surprised. If you put gold in a fire, the impurities come to the top. When the impurities come to the top, the refiner scoops out the impurities so that the gold is continually purified. So, how do you respond to trials? How you respond may define the impurities of your heart. When the impurities are revealed, we must allow God to remove these impurities so that we are made stronger. After this is complete, then God turns up the heat a bit more. We go from the wheel to the fire, back to the wheel, and then to fire.

The sixth observation is that the clay has a breaking point if it stays in the fire. If it gets away from the water too long it will dry out and be negatively impacted. The problem is that in the trials of life we can resist God, but if we are without of the word we dry up. If we are out of His presence, we dry up. We dry up physically. We dry up emotionally. We dry up mentally. If the common things of life are irritating us, then we might be dried up. We need to add the water of His word to our hearts.

In the final analysis, God is control and He has a plan for you. He is working in you, even if you do not see it. He is molding something new and fresh out of your life. God works in us and sometimes it is through brokenness that we grow the most. It is through brokenness that we become more pliable and more available for God to deposit His grace and His power in us. Sometimes, there are some impurities in our life and through brokenness God delivers us from those things. We experience what appears to be a crushing blow and we feel the pain of the moment. But, God uses the pain and when we accept His grace and we surrender to His way, He produces in us an enlarged capacity to understand God’s will and purpose in us.

In 2 Timothy 2:20-21 Paul states Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. There are honorable vessels and there are dishonorable vessels but even the must dishonorable vessels can be redeemed and positioned for honorable usage. The enemy loves to deceive us into thinking that whatever state we are in now and whatever we have done is what defines us, and nothing will ever change, but we are always being shaped and molded into something better than what we are in the present. In the end, His goal is for us to be like Him, being a reservoir for His presence.

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Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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The Potter and the Clay

Peninsula Community Church

The Potter and the Clay

October 22, 2017

Jeremiah 18:1-6 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Last week, we discovered that we have a great treasure in jars of clay. What a powerful realization! We have His treasure, the treasure of grace and mercy, in clay pots which are fragile and easily broken. This was done so that we understand the power within us, a power that surpasses all other powers. It is the power of the living Christ. He chooses to fill us with His power, so we are empowered in our weakness to do the impossible and do the unimaginable.

Over the next couple of weeks, I would like for us to look at Jeremiah 18 and the story of the potter and the clay. In this process, we will look at the calling of Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. We will look at this story from the perspective of the potter and then from the perspective of the clay. In so doing, the goal is to establish our identity in Christ and understand the calling we of God on our life so that we are able to accomplish all that He has for us.

To be honest, I wanted to jump right into the subject of the potter and the clay, but as I was reading this and was preparing for the message, I was struck by the calling of Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house to see what God was doing. One of the things that struck me about this is that God uses the everyday mundane things to teach us about His love and His grace. He wants to use the everyday things we encounter to show us deep spiritual truths. The problem, however, is that we can miss things in the busyness of life. We can ignore the instruction of God, because we are blinded to the truth being revealed. We can miss what He is saying, because our focus is on our problems and not on the will of God.

So with that in mind, let us take a few moments to look at this passage. First of all, note that Jeremiah had been given a word from the Lord. Here is the deal, God spoke and He continues to speak to us today. He speaks through His word. He speaks through the impressions of our hearts that are confirmed through His word, in prayer, and through counsel.

God calls Jeremiah to do the following. “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” It is interesting that in the ESV that God says He will “let” Jeremiah hear His words. Notice this, the word of the Lord was spoken to Jeremiah to arise and go down to the potter’s house so that he could hear God’s word. In other words, I am speaking to you to go to the potter’s house where I want to teach you a powerful lesson.

In this regard, let me make a couple of comments for our inspiration and spiritual growth. First, we must know that God speaks but let us be sure it is God speaking. I have had people come to me to say they have a word from the Lord about doing certain things. This may or may not be true, but we must use the phrase “a word from the Lord” sparingly, as we can potentially blaspheme the name of God if we use this term lightly or under false pretense. The problem I have is that we use this phrase as spiritual blackmail, by using it to leverage our will against another’s will.

We must be careful and know that God is speaking when we infer that He is. Using this phrase unwisely is a form of control, as we believe that if we say we have a word from the Lord then it forces the hand of the person to which we are communicating. It is a form of pride, as we can present this in a way that infers we have a corner on hearing God, while others do not.

We see here that the first thing that God calls Jeremiah to do is to arise. It is my belief that God is asking Jeremiah to be attentive to what God is calling him to do. The word arise is a word that calls for action. In other words, do not be passive. Do not sleep or slumber when God speaks and shares a word that will forever transform our life. The Bible warns us about being asleep and missing what God is doing in us and through us. In 1 Thessalonians 5:6 Paul warns us So then  let us not sleep, as others do, but let us  keep awake and  be sober. Therefore, arise in this instant speaks of having a listening ear and an open heart to what God is doing.

Then Jeremiah was called to go down. To understand that God is calling us, requires an action on our part. God wanted to position Jeremiah so he would hear and receive a word. This was an act of obedience. Notice Jeremiah did not move until he was called by God. He heard and he responded. He went where God called him. So many times, we have the nudge from the Holy Spirit. We have that voice that is calling us to do something and act on God’s plan for our life. We can hear from God, but we must also be positioned to obey what He is calling us to do.

To go down is the very essence of faith in action. Notice that Jeremiah did not know what the end result was, He only knew that he was to respond to the calling of God. This is not a passive faith where we sit back and wait for something to happen. When He speaks, we act. We are obedient to what He calls us to and no more. We do not do anything, unless we hear His voice.

The third part is that God promises that if Jeremiah does this, God will let Him hear His words. Here we find a couple of lessons. One, if we listen, God will speak. The question is do we have ears to here what He is saying. Are we too busy, self absorbed, or uninterested? If so, then it will be extremely hard to hear God’s voice. His voice will get lost in the noise of life.

Secondly, God is always communicating. I love this. He is communicating through His word. He is communicating through the people we encounter. He is communicating through our experiences in life. He is communicating through nature. God is in the communications business. He is communicating and He wants to communicate with us in very real terms. The question to be addressed is, are we listening? Are we listening to the noise around us or to the voice of God? Have we become deaf to the voice of God? Notice too that it is “my words!” It is God’s words and not man’s word. It is not the pastor’s words. It is not a friend’s word. It is His word. Now God can use all of these, but we must be sure that it is God’s word confirmed through Scripture.

In all of this, there was a required action. Once Jeremiah understood the call, He had to act on that calling, one step at a time. There is a tendency in the church to speak about the sin of commission, but do not address the sin of omission. The sin of commission are things like lying, stealing, murder, and the like. The sin of omission is knowing God’s will, or knowing what God’s word says about a certain thing, and failing to react to that word in a positive way.

James reminds us whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is a sin (James 4:17). If we do not respond to that which we know to do, then for us it is a sin. Remember the quote; The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. So sin is not just in the doing, but it is neglecting that which we know to do and that which we have been called to do. Like all sin, there is redemption and forgiveness at the cross for those sins committed and those that come by way of omission.

There is no neutral ground, we are either actively obedient or disobedient. We are never neutral. We cannot be on the fence. We must decide what we will do. That is why Jesus stated that we will be either cold or hot but we cannot be lukewarm. Lukewarm water is spewed out of the mouth of our Lord (Revelation 3:16). Joshua understood this principle when he stated that Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:14-15) Joshua confirms we are to decide whom we will serve and then serve that person with all of your heart in obedience to His will and purposes for our life.

Notice that Joshua states, whatever you choose, it does not matter, but I am going to choose to serve God with all of my heart. May it be with us also. No matter what everyone else does we will choose to follow after God. We must choose whom we will serve and why. Will we, like Joshua, make a decision to fully engage our lives in obedience? If we do, the benefits will be out of this world. If we do, God will show us some amazing things in our life. He will reveal things to us that we could not achieve on our own. So, are you listening the voice of God? If so, are you hearing and responding to that voice?

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Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Treasure in Jars of Clay

Peninsula Community Church

Treasure in Jars of Clay

October 15, 2017

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Before us today is an awesome picture of the reality of life and the power of Christ within us. When we look at the phrase, jars of clay, we find that it is an interesting phrase. Jars are containers. They serve a purpose. In this case, Paul tells us that it is a container for that which is most valuable. We are the jars of clay and within us is the presence of God.

Through the years, I have seen some interesting ways people hide their treasures. I have seen people put money in the freezer. The idea is that a thief would not look in the freezer and in the case of a fire the money would be safe. I have seen people who would paint an old mayonnaise jar white and place their valuables in the jar. One of our friends would place their valuables in a tucks pad container as they said no one would consider looking in there.

Paul wanted his readers to know that we are a jar. We might be imperfect and we may be fragile but we are a container created by God. We see this in Jeremiah 18 in the story of the potter and the clay. What we find is that the container itself is not as critical as why the container was created. It is also important to know that what the container looks is not as important as what is inside the container. Scripture also tells us that outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed. As clay pots we can be broken, damaged, and cracked.

Throughout my life, I have been guilty of dropping things and breaking things. In fact, my friends have at times called me “grace” because of my clumsiness. Perhaps you have had one of those moments where you have broken something? Perhaps it was a vase, a planter, or a pot. Perhaps the item you broke appeared to be strong and durable, but as you knocked it over, you realized the exterior was fragile. How many times have we broken something and then attempted to glue it back so no one would find that we had broken it? In this passage, Paul is reminding us that as a vessel of clay we are a fragile vessel, but it is a vessel that houses the presence of God.

Here is a fact that we know through Scripture. While we are weak and fragile, He is strong. It is in our weakness that He is manifested most. Too often, we can believe that weakness is a negative character flaw. I am sure you have heard the statement do not let them see your weakness. Or, do not let them see you sweat. In other words, do not be honest about who you are and what is going on in your life. Hide your emotions. Hide your pain. But that is not God’s word and that is not God’s way. When we are weak, His strength is revealed in us in ways that we cannot imagine. There is strength in weakness when we turn to God.

Look at what Paul says about all of this. He says, we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. This is an amazing statement and one that fills us with hope and faith. Notice what Paul says. First, we are under great pressure, but we are not crushed. How often do you feel the weight of the affliction you are under? When afflicted we can feel knocked down and devastated by the issues we face. Too often, it seems like there is an endless barrage of problems, and we reach the point where we are waiting for the next shoe to drop.

To understand this, we must know that we all have problems. We will face issues. We will encounter difficulties. We have been instructed to not be surprised when you face these things (1 Peter 4:12). Difficulties are a part of our life and there is no way to avoid them. I love the “Rocky” movies. I know that it is just a movie, but it illustrates the power of this concept. How many times do we find Rocky beaten to a pulp, but somehow he finds an inner strength to rise up and continue the fight? In the movie Creed, the latest addition to the Rocky series, Creed has been knocked down and on the mat. His mind is racing through history and the events of his life. He gets up and goes on to win the round. That is what Paul is saying here. We are afflicted. We are beaten up, but we are not crushed. We are knocked down, but we are not knocked out.

Secondly, Paul states that we are perplexed, but we are not driven to despair. We all have problems, but our problems do not have to drive us to a place of lost hope. It is noteworthy that the word perplexed means to be completely baffled. The word despair is defined as the loss of all hope. When we are baffled by the issues we face, we can be drawn to a place of hopelessness. We are blinded by the difficulties we face. In the moment, there is a real sense that this is the way it will be, and we will be at the mercy of the pressure of the trials in our life. Paul acknowledges that we all face issues that can perplex us, but we do not have to see our life degenerate to hopelessness. So, you might be perplexed, but you do not have to be hopeless.

Thirdly, Paul states that we are persecuted, but not forsaken. Loneliness is one of the toughest  emotions we can experience. Feeling forsaken can diminish our faith and hope. Persecution causes us to feel we are all alone and abandoned. In 1 Kings 19, we find that Elijah had been faithful to God, but is facing a time of discouragement and despair. He is feeling hopeless and lost. He is feeling alone. He makes this statement, “I am the only one left who loves you and is following you and now the others are trying to kill me.” Do you ever feel that way? You might reach a point where you scream, “God why me?” “I am doing everything I know to do and no one else is doing what is right? I am all alone.” Then God reveals a great truth to Elijah. Elijah was not alone as there were seven thousand in Israel that had not bowed a knee or kissed Baal. This was an important revelation of truth, as one of the great tactics of the enemy is to isolate us and deceive us into thinking that we are alone and no one cares. This drives us to isolate.

Finally, Paul states that we are struck down, but we are not destroyed. I love that Paul does not try to minimize the impact of the difficulties we face. He is honest and does not deny the fact that we will have difficulties and those difficulties can rock our world. Like Rocky, we can be knocked down, but we do not have to be knocked out. We may be damaged, but life is not over. We may have cracks, but our life does not have to be over. Our exteriors may be cracked and dented, but God uses cracked and dented pots.

The question for you might be how can this be? I am beaten up. I am in a great battle. I am weary. I am tired. Paul reminds us that we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but it is okey because we are reminded of a powerful truth. We are clay pots that are fragile and easily broken, but it is to show that the surpassing power of God is at work in us. The choice of words here is important. Notice that Paul does not just say His power is at work in us, but it is His surpassing power. You know what that means? There is more power in God than any power in the persecution and the issues we face.

Listen to the words of 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. This is not a sadistic concept, but it is a recognition of the power of God working in our weaknesses. Notice that Paul prayed three times to have his thorn in the flesh removed. Rather than remove the thorn, Jesus stated that His grace was more than sufficient to get him through the issues. The question for us is where am I putting my faith and trust. Is our focus on the problem or is it on the Lord, who is more than sufficient than my problems? When we recognize the Lord as our source of strength, it is there that we are the strongest.

So what would happen if we embraced the fact that we are jars of clay? What if we did not ignore that, as a human, I really do get tired and weary sometimes? What if I had a biblical understanding of what it means to be weak? The response here is not to work harder or even do more, necessarily. Trying harder in our own power does not resolve our problems or our weaknesses. Generally, working harder leaves us more depleted and tends to destroy our joy.  Jonathan Parnell writes, “Embracing weakness brings more peace because we realize afresh that God loves us by his grace, not because we are strong. Our joy doesn’t rest in our ability, but in the approval God gives us in Christ, the one in whom he chose us before the ages began according to his own purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9).” For that reason we can rejoice in our weakness. For that reason we realize and accept that we are the containers for the all surpassing power of God.

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Making Sense out of Suffering

Peninsula Community Church 

Making Sense out of Suffering

October 8, 2017 

John 11:1-8, 11-16  Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was… After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

I have always been fascinated with this story. It is an amazing story of faith, trust, and belief in something greater than ourselves. This story is as applicable to us today as it was in that day. Just like Mary and Martha we encounter problems in our life that are beyond our comprehension. We encounter problems that cause us to question “Where are you God?” “Why did you not do something to intervene? Why did You let this happen? When you look at the underlying heart of those in this story it seems that is the question that is being asked.

We are all too familiar with tragic stories and events in our life that leave us with more questions than answers. On Sunday night, a horrific scene unfolded in Las Vegas. This was a tragedy that was unprecedented. It revealed the amazing power of one man to take the lives of so many and wound hundreds more. That coupled with three major hurricanes and two major earthquakes in Mexico. There is so much that is present in our lives to cause fear, faithlessness, and hopelessness. There is so much around us that leads us to ask where is God in these times?

I am convinced that this story sheds light on the difficulties we face and the problems we encounter even today. Notice this is not a parable, which is a word picture or story that is used to express a theological or Biblical insight. This is a real life story experienced in real time. The pain felt here is very real. The death of Lazarus for the characters in this story was final and there appeared to be very little hope for a different ending.

We find Mary and Martha’s brother was sick and was about to die. If you remember it was Mary and Martha who served Jesus when He visited their home. These sisters, who loved their brother, brought this devastating news to Jesus. They were filled with an expectation that Jesus would respond to their need. After all Lazarus was Jesus’ friend also. But Jesus does the unexpected. He says to them do not worry, I will be there in two days. Can you imagine the sinking feeling in their heart? I can imagine their response might be hey Jesus, Lazarus does not have two days. Our brother is dying and he needs your intervention. He needs you now. Heck, we need you now.

We do not know Mary’s heart here but I wonder if she had thought “remember me Jesus.” I was the one who anointed your feet. Jesus, it’s me. Don’t you remember all that I have done for you. While everyone else was eating and enjoying themselves, I served you. While my sister was busy making dinner and serving the guests, I was anointing your feet and wiping them with my hair. Doesn’t that count for something? She pulled the “I deserve it card” on Jesus. The reality is, we do not deserve any of the blessings of God, but He gives them anyway, because He loves us and He is a grace giving God. Now many times do we play that card?

With that said let us look at a couple of lessons from this passage. First of all, suffering is undeniable. We cannot deny the existence of trouble and the problem of sin in this life. Trouble and difficulty happens to us all. It does not matter who you are or what you have done. One of the problems with society today is they attempt to deny the existence of evil or have misdefined what is evil.

The second lesson for us is that suffering is unavoidable. If you are alive and you are breathing you will have problems. You will suffer. People do dumb things. Things happen. Problems exist. Jesus said that in this life you will have problems. Every book in the New Testament deals with the issue of trials and difficulties in some way. One of the reasons we suffer trials the way we do is that people have rejected the truth of God. When truth is rejected, the foundation to understand God is removed. The result is suffering.

In Romans 1, we find that when people reject the truth, there is a consequence. The people of Paul’s day rejected God and they rejected truth. This resulted in futile thinking, becoming  foolish, and action that came from an impure heart. Notice, God gave them over to these mindsets which are opposed to God’s way of thinking. God allowed them to follow their own desires because they were not willing to follow and obey the truth.

The third lesson for us is that no matter what happens, Jesus has not forgotten us. He always knows best and He can take the worse of situations and bring them in alignment with His purposes. One of the problems is that many times we begin to believe that our suffering is a measurement of God’s love for us. But that is untrue. It is a lie that is propagated in our hearts to cause us to reject God and turn our focus away from Him. Jesus loved Lazarus which is a recognition that the suffering he experienced was not incompatible with His love for him.

To show that God is in control notice the two statements made by Jesus. These statements remind us that He is all knowing and He is all wise. Two things exposed here. This situation was a pathway to bring glory to the Son of God so they might believe. The point was that Jesus was to be glorified through this difficult situation. The glory of God is the manifestation of his presence and is a manifestation of His presence in people’s hearts and into their situations. That is and has always been the plan. The end result was to be a stronger believe in Jesus.

Let’s bring this closer to home. We were all shocked by the news of last Sunday night. So many lives were negatively impacted by the shooting. But there is another side to the story. You see when we experience a dark moment in our life we can focus on the problem and the suffering and miss what God is doing.

What we do not always hear on the news is the positive accounts of God’s grace. The focus has been on the shooter, as it should be, but we can miss other stories within the story. There were great stories of heroism through this event. While the shooter represented the worst of us those who stepped up to help, even under the worst of circumstances, showed the best of us. Whether it was the war veteran who placed his thumb in the wound of one of the victims to stop the bleeding, to those who used their personal clothing to stop bleeding. We saw those who used their personal cars to transport people they did not know to safety and to the hospital. We have heard the story of those who shielded others and were killed themselves.

There is another aspect of this that bears mentioning as well. We have a friend, Dave Early, who founded a church in Las Vegas. Dave has since turned the church over to one of the cofounders, Chris Martin. Chris made the following observation. This crime has brought people together like nothing else. They are sharing their goods, they are donating blood, they are passing out water. They are distributing food. The city is active with the grace of God. People are more open to hear the message of hope found in the Gospels. People are focusing their attention toward God like never before. The son of God is being glorified and people are believing in Jesus.

The final lesson is this. Through every situation we face and through every difficulty we encounter God’s glory can be revealed. As His glory is revealed, we learn to trust God more and in a deeper way. Remember the end of the story. Lazarus was dead, but with a word from Jesus he rose. He was alive and he walked out of the grave healed and whole.

I cannot help but think of Joseph’s words in Genesis. He suffered. He was rejected by his brothers. He was sold into slavery. He was falsely accused. He was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. He was forgotten and lived in the reality of broken promises. But in the midst of the story every time a difficulty occurred, we find that the Lord was with Joseph. In the end, listen to Joseph’s own words. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21).

God’s glory was revealed and faith was built in Joseph’s brothers. Mary and Martha were able to experience God’s glory and their faith was built. Today, we can be impacted by the trials of life but we can also be encouraged to see the glory of God and have our belief in God restored. Rather than focus on all that is bad and wrong, we can focus on God. He is at work. He has not forgotten you. He is with you. He wants to glorify His name and He desires that in the process that your faith will grow.

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Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Small Steps – Big Dividends

Peninsula Community Church 

Small Steps Big Dividends

October 1, 2017

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Have you ever found that following the will of God can be confusing, frustrating, and seemingly unknowable? How many times are we frustrated with the knowing the will of God because we do not get the whole plan or purpose of God at one time? If you are like me, I want to know the beginning, the middle, and the end of what God is doing. To be obedient to His will, I tend to want to have all of my ducks in a row. But, the fact is, most often when obeying God, I do not have the whole story or the whole plan. The result is that sometimes I can be confused and frustrated. This is even more confusing because there are times where He has detailed what He wanted but that is a rare occasion. So I have to obey what I know. I must take the small steps I know in order to move toward the destination of God’s purposes.

With that in mind by using our text as a baseline, we can make a couple of observations about making decisions that result in obedience to God’s will. Note the simplicity and profoundness of this statement. We make plans in our heart, but God directs our steps. As confirmed by the words of Solomon, we make plans in our heart. The fact is we all have an idea or a vision of what could be or at least of what we hope could be. You see without plans, hopes, and dreams we live a miserable life. In fact, the Bible says that without a vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). To prevent perishing, we must have the right kind of vision and the right kind of goals. We must have vision, but it must be God’s vision. We must have hope for something better, but it must be a hope in God and who He is as our creator.

Notice that Solomon addresses the heart first. We all make decisions in the heart. Decisions in the heart can be good, but they can also be nonproductive. The reason for this is that the heart is the seat of our emotions. While we make decisions from the heart there is a problem. Our heart is not always the best source for making decisions because as Jeremiah says our heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). The heart by itself is not a good decision maker.

Let me ask you a question. How many times have you made an emotional decision that did not work as well as you would like or you thought it would? How many times have we made decisions based on the emotion of the heart which resulted in more problems than was resolved. Let me illustrate. If I am angry at someone, I can make choices in that moment that may not be aligned with God’s will. I can be convinced that I am doing the right thing. I can even convince myself that it is God’s will. Unfortunately, our emotions can affect our decisions and can affect us in a way that derail what God is trying to do in our life and in the life of others. We must understand that our emotions, by themselves, are a poor guide to decision making. Today, much of the craziness in our society is a direct result of misplaced emotions.

Too often we hear people say “follow your heart” but that can be bad advice when we depend only upon an emotional erratic deceptive heart as a resource for decision making. Remember Jesus words. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Matthew 6:21 & Luke 12:34). You see it is so easy for us to follow the emotions of the heart that can be deceptive and can lead us to the wrong destination. If our treasure is misplaced or our values are misguided this can lead us to make bad decisions that do not honor God’s purposes for us. We can easily be emotionally driven to make decisions which down the road do not have an eternal positive affect.

A number of years ago Michelle and I had taken a trip to upstate New York with friends of ours to look at some property. The plans were to build chalets on the property which was near some of the beautiful ski resorts in the Adirondack mountains. The salesman was quite convincing and he began to tug on our emotional heart strings to buy this property and all the advantages that would come with the property. He was really convincing and almost had us. Emotionally, we were about to give in, but we had promised each other that before we made a major financial decision we would spend 24 hours considering the purchase. We are so glad that we took that action. As we considered the purchase, we prayed and looked at all of our options. After doing so, we made the decision not to purchase the property. We are so glad we did because the whole project went bankrupt and the property was devalued to the degree that no one was able to recover their cost. If we had made the decision solely on our emotions, which we were close to doing, we would have lost our investment because we would not have been able to sell the property. In fact, we understand that the property sat there for years and those who made an investment lost it all.

Now don’t get me wrong, plans born of the heart are not altogether wrong, but it is wrong when that is the only motivation or factor used to determine God’s will. When the heart is the only motivating factor, we can get ourselves in trouble. In fact, Solomon recognized there were plans made in the heart, but those plans must be submitted to God, who will direct our steps to fulfill His purposes. We make plans in the heart, but He directs our steps.

That brings us to the second part of this passage. God directs our steps. Remember we stated that so often we do not always get the full benefit of knowing what God wants us to do. The problem is that too often we have a great vision, but we get frustrated when the details of the vision are not revealed or accomplished immediately. Over the last couple of weeks, our guys have been studying the book “Greater.” One of the points Steve makes in the book is that we need to have a large vision and a greater view of what God wants for us, but we must take small steps to see God’s will accomplished.

So how does this idea of taking small steps work. Because He directs our steps the first step we must take is to pray. To ascertain God’s will, the best first step for us is to pray. Sometimes, if we are not careful, we can minimize this vital step. Without prayer, we can miss even the most simple steps that can lead to obedience. Without prayer, our focus can be misguided. Through prayer, we will have God’s direction to what steps we can and should take. I can tell you from a personal experience that when you pray God will direct your steps, He will change your mind, He will redirect your attitudes, and refocus your thoughts.

Beyond prayer, fulfilling God’s will always begins with small steps of obedience. We step where we know to step. We step where God shows us. As we take the small, known steps of obedience, we will see God begin to unfold and reveal His ultimate purpose. We must understand that God wants us to dream big and have a large vision of what He can do in us. But every dream and vision, no matter how large, must begin with smaller steps.

Perhaps you have a vision of being a better student of God’s word. How much are you reading now? Are you reading at all? Let’s say that you are not reading the word at all, but you know that it is critical that you read the word and allow the word to direct you. So if you are not reading at all, take a small step and begin reading for 5 minutes. Perhaps you want to become a faithful giver/tither which is an act of obedience to God. Perhaps, financially it scares you to start with 10%. So why not start with a small step and give 5%, and then grow your giving to 10% or more. We know that tithing is a biblical principle and one that we are called to do. So start somewhere.

Do you have a relationship where you need to see healing and restoration? Perhaps the small step you can take is to write a letter that is bathed in pray, love, and grace so that you express your need and issue in love. Perhaps a step you can take is to forgive the other person that has wounded you before they move toward you in forgiveness. Perhaps God has called to lead a ministry or teach a class. Perhaps the small step you can take is to talk with people to see if there is an interest in your subject or the ministry you want to start. Perhaps the small step is to sit in on current classes or assist someone with teaching a class. Small steps.

Small steps centered in God’s will brings huge dividends. We may not know the full extent of what God is calling us to, but we can be obedient to take the small steps that point us in the direction of God’s will, and brings us closer to the fulfillment of His plan. We make plans in our hearts, but God direct our steps. So, start somewhere. Do what you know to do that honors God. Sometimes God will take our small steps and do something amazing, something that is beyond our imagination or belief. That is why things do not always turn out the way we think when we obey God.

A number of years ago I was asked if I would visit a family member of someone in our church. I agreed to do so and headed off to the hospital. Small steps. I had no clue how this would turn out. I stopped at the information desk. Small step. I went to the room and met with the individual. Small steps. I spent several minutes with him. Small step. During the conversation we spoke about the need for him to accept Christ. Small step. By the end of our conversation we prayed and he accepted Christ as his personal savior. Small steps, but huge dividends for eternity. I wish that was the end of the story but it is not. As I left his room, I was on cloud nine. As I turned the corner, I ran into the family who was there to visit their uncle. I noticed however that they were headed in the opposite direction from where I just had been. I asked them what they were doing and they said they were going to visit their uncle, but I said his room was in the opposite direction. To my amazement the information desk had given me the wrong room number because they had two patients with the same first and last name. You see I made plans. I took some small steps. But, God directed my steps and that day a man who I did not know came to Christ and eternity was impacted.

So what about you? What are some of the small steps you need to take? Small steps, big dividends. Maybe you don’t know what to do. Begin with prayer. Ask God to give you a large vision but then pray for God to direct your individual steps. If we will, He will.

As we close, I ask that you take a piece of paper and do this. Write a couple of words that would define what you need or where you believe God is calling you. Then under that write down one or two small steps you can take now in obedience to God.

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Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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