Pastor Craig Carter
As most of you are well aware, we were scheduled to resume in-person worship in our newly renovated church facility last Sunday, June 7.
With everything in place and ready to go, we received word on Friday, two days before the planned opening, that we did not have the required certificate of occupancy and services could not be held in the building until several issues were remedied.
Needless to say, that news was quite disappointing and very frustrating since we have endured delay after delay and setback after setback in the twenty months since the destruction of our two church facilities by Hurricane Michael.
Later that evening, I got a call from dear friends at the church I served in Alabama that their two sons had been injured in a car accident. Their 11-year old, Carter (named after the family’s favorite pastor of course 🙂 ), was taken to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where he underwent 8+ hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures.
Several hours after that phone call, Debbie Wilkerson texted me that her husband, Bobby, had died at home after his long and difficult battle with lung disease.
So, in less than 12 hours, I had endured a trifecta of troubling circumstances.
Thankfully, those kind of distressing situations don’t happen all the time, but sadly, they occur all too often, don’t they?
Sometimes it seems like we have to face more than our fair share of trials and troubles, but the truth is, over time, they balance out because none of us is exempt from disappointments and setbacks.
The question is not, “Are we going to face difficulties like the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a life-threatening illness, hurricane damage, or a global pandemic?” The real question is, “What are we going to do when those kind of things happen?” How are you and I going to respond to life’s problems and painful experiences?
As someone has pointed out, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
And in order to react in a good and godly fashion, we need God’s perspective.
Last Sunday I introduced a new sermon series that will help us focus on what is most important during our regathering and rebuilding process this summer. It is titled, Essential, and in it we are going to identify what is truly necessary in life.
We started our exploration with the most basic ingredient – God Himself. God is essential because He gives us the power to live, move, and be who we are. For the next few weeks, I’d like us to turn our attention to some of the things He provides, beginning with God’s perspective.
Throughout his New Testament writings, the Apostle Paul suggests there are two ways of thinking: There is the world’s way and there is God’s way. Scripture makes it clear they are not one and the same so it is critical that we somehow discover and adopt God’s perspective on all matters.
Paul refers to it as having “the mind of Christ” or “renewing our minds.” He speaks about this subject at great length in his letter to the Philippians where he encourages his readers to “think and act as Jesus did” (2:5 NIRV) and to “think about what is true” (4:8 NIRV). Remember, this letter was written in terrible conditions from a prison cell.
But, despite that set of dreadful circumstances, he was still able to say…
I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me. I know what it’s like not to have what I need. I also know what it’s like to have more than I need. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. I am content whether I am well fed or hungry. I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough. I can do all this by the power of Christ. He gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11b-13 NIRV)
Wouldn’t you like to learn how to be content no matter what happens to you?
You, like Paul, can be when you have God and His perspective on things. It is Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that gives you and me that mindset that enables us to react to life’s circumstances in God-honoring ways.
This process of learning and embracing God’s perspective is a life-long pursuit that comes by doing what we talked about last week – making God all that we want in life. So I’d like for us to investigate how it may be found when we suffer setbacks and disappointments as we all inevitably do.
Paul faced his share of disturbing situations, yet he was able to keep keepin’ on and remain faithful because he had God’s perspective. From his experience, we can identify several categories of trials and tribulations.
God’s perspective is essential when we face…
Paul faced all sorts of disastrous situations including being beaten, tortured, and imprisoned. But a major catastrophe occurred when the ship transporting him across the Mediterranean Sea encountered a typhoon-strength storm called a “northeaster.” As a result, the vessel was battered by wind and waves and ultimately shipwrecked on the island of Malta (see Acts 27).
How did Paul respond to this calamity? He encouraged both crew and prisoners, he testified about his faith in the Lord, and he healed many. Paul’s conduct brought honor to himself and to God. In other words, Paul used the disastrous situation to serve God’s purposes.
You may have heard a saying quoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is attributed to a variety of sources, including Winston Churchill. I don’t know who originally said it but it goes like this: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” In other words, when tragedy strikes, use it to accomplish something positive.
That’s God’s perspective on disasters – don’t let it go to waste, use it for His glory.
I have found that cataclysmic events normally cause people to react in one of two ways. They either turn people off to God or they cause folks to rely more on God.
Disasters also make some people retreat and become resentful or they make folks more compassionate, especially to persons enduring similar circumstances.
Which of these perspectives I just described seem to be more like God?
We react to disasters in a good and godly fashion when we turn to God in faith and then, with His help, recycle our pain and use it to help others.
I’m preaching to the choir when it comes to Lynn Haven UMC members, who definitely have God’s perspective when it comes to reacting to disasters. When Hurricane Michael devastated our church and community, we leaned into God and trusted Him fully. We never missed a worship gathering, including just four days later in the parking lot. We kept reaching out to our community despite our losses, and, since 10/10/18, we’ve prayed, given, and served more than we ever did previously.
Folks have taken notice, especially across our denomination, and have been encouraged and inspired by our example. We recycled our pain and reached out in compassion and generosity when a similar Category 5 hurricane (Dorian) struck the Bahamas last summer. We raised more than $12,500 for their relief within the first week. I have a feeling we’ll do that much and more in future hurricanes.
How about my friends whose sons were injured last Friday night? They’ve already relied on God in significant ways and don’t you believe they’ll be the first on the scene when other parents face similar situations?
Debbie Wilkerson lost her husband of 38 years last Friday night but God’s kingdom gained a widow that I know will find ways to care for other widows in the future.
When disaster strikes, don’t get bitter, get better. For that to happen, it’s essential that you have God’s perspective in the disasters. You also need His perspective in the…
How many times have you had your future all mapped out and well-laid plans in place?
How many times have things turned out just like you had planned? If you’re like me, probably never.
We face a lot of detours in life, don’t we?
Rarely do we make it from point A to point B without first having to go to point C, D, E, and F. That’s precisely what happened to Paul during his second missionary journey.
He intended to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to various areas of Asia Minor, but here’s what happened instead…
Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time… [Then] Paul had a vision: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. (Acts 16:6, 9-10 NLT)
God had altogether different plans for Paul and Silas and, because they obeyed His call, they were able to reach new people on the continent of Europe. So, their detour wasn’t a detour at all, it was what God intended all along.
That’s typically God’s perspective on detours – they don’t take us off-course, they actually get us where the Lord wants us to be. So rather than resist the twists and turns we face in life, we need to embrace them.
That’s because, with God’s help, they take us to where we really need to be. Here’s an example from my own life:
As I prepared to graduate from the US Air Force Academy, I found out my academic advisor was going to Gunter AFS and he offered to request me for that assignment, but the only officer slot was already filled. I was disappointed I couldn’t join him in his research and so I had to go elsewhere and I wound up at Eglin AFB. It was not a bad detour for a 21-year-old, and guess what happened there? I wandered into a church where my relationship with God was renewed and I just so happened to meet a beautiful young lady, who was smitten with me and made it her life’s ambition to become my wife. That’s my side of the story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂
Three years later, I transferred to Gunter AFS, my wife, Lee, was able to finish college in Montgomery, and I experienced a call to ministry through some influential people that weren’t there three years earlier. I am where I am today and I am who I am today because of that detour.
If you’re not exactly sure where you’d like to be right now, don’t feel that all is lost. Seek God and His perspective and then follow His directions to get to where you need to be. You can trust Him to carry you through the disasters, the detours and also the…
We live in a fast-paced world and we hate delays, don’t we?
Paul said he learned to be content no matter what happened. But he obviously was never stuck in traffic, didn’t have to wait in line at the DMV, nor was he placed on hold by customer service while trying to get a refund.
But I think he would have been content even in those circumstances because he knew that delays teach patience and patience is a virtue (and a fruit of the Spirit).
Do we view delays in a similar fashion? Are we aware that God does some of His best work when we’re having to wait?
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes a time when God delayed in granting him something he had prayed earnestly for:
I was given a thorn in the flesh … Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me … For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NLT)
Paul found God’s perspective and realized the benefit of having to wait for an answer. The delay caused him to rely on God’s grace and it was revealed by enabling Paul to do things and minister in ways he couldn’t do on his own.
As I have said many times before, God isn’t nearly as concerned about our circumstances as He is about our character. I’ve also discovered that, rather than wanting us to be happy, God wants us to be holy.
And one of the primary ways in which God shapes our character into Christlikeness and makes us holy is through patient waiting upon Him to act. Read Paul’s description of how it typically happens:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. (Romans 5:3-4 NLT)
We want God to zap us in the microwave to make us into the people He wants us to be, but God prefers putting us the crockpot and slow cooking us over time.
So problems, trials, and delays can be viewed in a positive fashion when seen from God’s perspective. They give us endurance, they promote strength of character, and they fill us with hope.
And for those of us in the Lynn Haven UMC, having experienced delay after delay and setback after setback, we probably feel like we’ve got enough patience and perseverance, right?
If you’re like me, you might feel as though your character has been shaped sufficiently and when we hear news that there would be yet another delay in getting into our building, we cry out, “How long, O Lord?”
We were supposed to be in here June 2019. We had even scheduled Vacation Bible School to take place in July. Then then it was Fall, or by Christmas, then March 29th, or June 7th, or … who knows when? Every disaster, every detour, every delay has made us into a resilient, faithful group of Christ followers that is going to be a powerful force for God’s Kingdom.
We must keep in mind that delays give God, who is patient, time to work. But they also give us time to prepare for what He is about to do. For example, Christ has delayed His return to give folks time to get ready:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 CSB)
Could it be this most recent delay in getting in the building is to give us more time to prepare? It’s caused me to reflect on what is my role and how should I react to what happened.
I was reminded me of my role as pastor to spend time in prayer and teaching the word. It occurred to me this past week that we were about to occupy a building after 20 months without a dedicated time of prayer to prepare it and ourselves.
That’s why we met today, June 14, at 8 am and prayer walked around the building. And we’re going to do that every day until we get in here for worship – whether that’s 7 days or 77 days from now. Some folks will be on Zoom each day, others will meet at the church. But like the Israelites did around the city of Jericho we’re going to seek the God’s help as we go up and possess this piece of property.
Hopefully, the walls won’t fall down, but if they do, they do. After all, the church is more than a building, isn’t it?
Can we agree that God’s perspective makes all the difference in the world?
Rather than disappointments and setbacks, the Lord enables us to see disasters, detours, and delays as ways in which God can work to carry out His divine work. So it’s essential that we seek and adopt His perspective on these and all matters.
Whatever you and I may face right now or will ever face, let’s say with David, “O Lord, you are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.” (Psalm 142:5 NLT)
As we regather as God’s people and rebuild God’s church, it is essential that we put God at the center of all that we do. But as I mentioned in an email this past week, you are also essential to God’s work in this place. I thank God for each of you and your commitment to Christ and His church.
It’s been a long and difficult journey but we’re getting close to the Promised Land. I can’t wait to see what awaits us there and I’m so glad to be going with you.
Until then, stay well, be strong, and remember: the essential thing is to keep the essential thing, the essential thing. To God be the glory!