We have been without electricity for 5 days. It came on this evening (thursday). Without AC the heat and humidity can be stifling. And living by candlelight was getting old. So much of what we consider normal life is connected with electricity. Even pumping gasoline into our cars requires electricity to work the pumps.
As I am sitting here, I feel cool in my house for the first time in 5 days. I have a bit of a leaking roof which I was able to patch with some plastic roof cement. Now it is a very small leak. I also gathered a large pile of tree debris from our yard and the roof of our house. Other than that our house held up fine.
Some in our area had their roof ripped off, carports blown apart, and screened porches torn apart (one guy had part of his screened porch on top of his house). Two hurricanes in a month is enough for us. Unfortunately, Ivan is most likely headed this way. As I am writing this, it is forecasted to be a cat 5 hurricane. It is about 460 miles from top to bottom.
I am taking the time to write you now because this time next week we could be without power, again. If it hits central Florida close to head on, we could also be houseless. But no matter what happens we will continue praising our Lord and looking for what is next in our life. === James Skeen
LIFE IS FULL OF STORMS
The paper has been full of stories about the storm. It has been good to see neighbors pulling together with neighbors, sometimes people that never talk to each other becoming acquainted and helping each other. To see communities team together. To have a government that actually has the resources and moves to help. We are very blessed.
Life is full of storms. As devastating as hurricanes can be, many of you would welcome a hurricane compared to some of the life storms that you are facing. A crushed car, an uprooted tree, or a roof torn off a house sometimes is much easier to fix than the problems some of you are facing. Hurricane Charley blew by our area in about an hour. Some of you have been fighting battles and weathering storms that have lasted months, even years. Some of you are fighting battles that without God's intervention you are guaranteed to lose. And yet, you keep on fighting because giving up just feels worse. Jesus said that you will always have trouble. But Jesus went on to say, "But I have overcome the world's troubles. I bring good news." Jesus came to make a difference amid the storms of life.
WE WISH THE STORMS TO GO AWAY
Sometimes we wonder, when storms are hitting, how can I go on? Do I want to go on? Why should I go on? "I do not know how to fight this. It just seems that my life is an endurance contest." And you question yourself and you question God. "God, hello, are you watching? I am your child. Do you see what is going on here? Are you there?" And you get that silent reply. Most times we want those storms to go away, but they keep on day after day. They stick with us. There is a false belief that bad things should not happen to good people. Especially God's people. But bad things do happen to good people. Joseph was sold into slavery and then he was betrayed again and again. David was hunted down by Saul. Christ was betrayed and crucified. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded. Bad things do happen to good people. We want trouble-free living, but God wants us to grow, to live, to develop. He is a God who knows how to turn your troubles, the troubles you are guaranteed to have, into great blessings for you and those around you. We want our troubles to go away, but God wants to use them and see something wonderful develop in our lives.
CONSIDER IT JOY
I could have you turn to James where it says, "Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials because they will develop your perseverance which will develop a mature and well-rounded character, a character without flaw." That is God's design and desire and many times troubles, storms, are the sandpaper that build that character. Peter says the same thing. In our passage today, Paul does not say it just with words, but also with his life. No other disciple of Jesus suffered more persecution, pain, and troubles than Paul.
Philippians is a letter written by Paul to one of his favorite churches. Because he could not be with them, he did the next best thing-he wrote to them. I want you to catch the flow of the letter. He starts off in verse one, "Paul and Timothy, to the saints who are in Philippi." Basically, that is his way of saying, "Hi, you all. Hi!" Then he goes on in verse three and says, "I thank God every time I remember you." He is encouraging them by telling them, "I am proud of you. I am thankful for you. God is at work in your midst and it is encouraging to me and I want to encourage you on in that work." And so he goes on and says, "My prayer for you, my dream for you, is that your love will continue to flourish." Verse 12 signals a change of pace.
Look at that verse 12, the first word is "now" because he is changing what he is talking about. He is changing the subject. For the first time, he addresses his situation. He says, basically, "Don't worry about me. Don't worry about me." The Philippians had heard that Paul had gone through a lot of struggles. They loved Paul and they did not like what had happened to him. And so they sent Apaphroditis with a gift to help meet his needs.
Now, I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel and everyone else knows that I am in chains for Christ. It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
Then in verse 15:
It's true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others are doing it out of good will. The latter do so in love knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preached Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains, but what does that matter. The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true that Christ is proclaimed. And because of this I rejoice, yes, I will continue to rejoice.
Paul is saying all the way through here, "Don't worry about me. What has happened to me has really turned out great. I am thrilled."
A LITANY OF SUFFERING
At this time, Paul was under house arrest for preaching the gospel. Paul had been through so much that it is hard for us to comprehend the peace of heart he has. Turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 11.
I've been flogged five times with the Jew's lashes-thirty-nine lashes each time. I've been beaten by Roman rods three times. I've been pummeled or stoned and left for dead once. I've been shipwrecked three times." We only know about one time, but three times he says. "I've been shipwrecked. And, I've been lost at sea for a night and a day. I've traveled by foot year in and year out. I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends and struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city. I'm at risk in the country. I've been in danger by the desert sun and by sea storm and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labor and long, cold nights without sleep, without food, without friends.
ENDURANCE - REDEMPTION IS AT HAND
Paul endured storms just to get to Rome and then when he gets there, he is handcuffed to a palace guard twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for two long years. But he says, "Don't worry about me. I'm doing fine."
Paul was not simply chained to a guard, the guard was chained to Paul. The guard could not get away. What many people saw as an obstacle, a hindrance, a restriction, Paul saw as an opportunity. One-by-one the whole palace guard was impacted by his faith, by his hope, by his character, by his testimony. One-by-one until you get to the end of the book of Philippians and he says, "All the saints here greet you even the household of Caesar." The household of Caesar? The servants of Caesar's household, the governors that worked with Caesar had heard about Paul's testimony and some had become Christians. The whole guard knew about it and they shared the truth they learned with others. The way you respond to life's storms can make an eternal difference. That is the purpose for them. That is the redeeming factor for them. That is Paul's message to the Philippians. God wants to help you redeem the storms.
WHY NOT MAKE STORMS WORTHWHILE
You are going to go through storms. You want to merely endure them? Why not make them worthwhile? Why not let God have His way with them? Why not have God involved with you in them for His purpose? This passage shows us the great benefit they can bring to our lives and gives you the key to unlocking them for your future. How you respond to storms can make an eternal difference. First of all, it can make a difference in you. I could take you to that passage in James where it says storms develop a perseverant spirit. That is worthwhile for you. That is of benefit for you.
God will use the storms to shape, to batter, to prune, to strengthen your life and your character. I could have you look down at verse 18 of Philippians chapter one where it says, "Because of these things I've been going through, I rejoice." And I can tell you when you go through storms with God, you will have cause to rejoice for the good things, for the good results, for the strengths that He will bring to your life because it is in your weaknesses that His strength is made known. Knowing you are not alone in this world is a powerful realization.
THE FUNCTION OF STORMS IN OUR LIVES
We spend millions of dollars every year on satellite dishes out in the middle of the Nevada desert or the New Mexico desert just listening to outer space for someone saying, "Hello? Hello, we're here. Are you there?" It is important for us to know that we are not alone in the universe. Mankind wants to know that we are connected, that there is something more, that we are not just happenstance that just sprung up and oozed out of the earth. God wants us to know that our lives are significant. We have a hunger for significance. And that is what God wants to use storms for in our lives, to give them significance.
Secondly, the way we respond to storms can make a difference to others. There are people in the hospital every day that are going through heart problems. Some with God, some without God and it is your choice how you will go through similar storms in your future.
How you respond to life's storms can make an eternal difference in you and also in others around you, particularly in unbelievers.
Look at verse 13, it says, "It's become clear to everyone that I am in chains for Christ." They saw what was happening in Paul's life. Everyone-the palace guards, the servants, even the government officials--heard about Paul and his amazing Jesus. It became the talk of the town and they did not just hear about it, they saw the reality of it in his life and that is what made the difference.
People can hear about your faith, hear about your testimony, hear that you go to church, but when they see some tangible results in your life, then all of a sudden, it takes on greater meaning. It becomes real to them and gives them hope that it might be real for them as well. Your storms can spark interest in Christ and show the reality of Him in your life. People want faith in rotten times. They want to know there is help out there and when they see that you have found help in Jesus, it makes a difference.
WORLD IS HUNGRY FOR AUTHENTIC FAITH
Our world is hungry for authentic faith. Not church faith, but authenticity. How you respond to life's storms will make a difference in the lives of those around you, particularly unbelievers. The example of Paul inspired the other Christians in Rome. Paul's fellow believers in Rome were encouraged to share their faith with others. The believers there in Rome had received a letter from Paul about 10 years previous teaching them the foundational truths of their new faith. But they were under persecution, they were scared, they were running, they were meeting secretly. Suddenly, the whole town is talking about Christianity. It brought encouragement to them to speak about their faith.
When storms hit our lives what can we do to unlock their potential? Look at verse six. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." He who began with you will stay with you. Spiritual courage is gained by knowing that God will never give up on you. God is with you to help and carry you through.
THE THINGS WE CAN DO
The first thing we need to do when the storms hit is to hold onto God. Get reconnected. Our first response usually is, "Oh, no! Why has this happened?" Satan is going to attack you when the storms hit. "See, if God really loves you, He would not let this happen." Satan attacks us amidst the storms. And even though God turns storms to good things, Satan keeps on attacking. You would think Satan would learn that God can turn it around? The thing is, many times, we do not let God turn it around and Satan wins. We listen to the wrong side. We get discouraged. We pity ourselves. We feel like a victim. And instead of blossoming by God's grace, we shrink back, we hide out, we cower, we run away.
Hold on to God. The biblical word for this holding on is "faith." The world may betray you, dump on you, discourage you. Christians may let you down, abandon you. But your God is bigger than all of them. Get a hold of God and trust that God is working in that situation. Sometimes it is incredibly hard to see. Sometimes you will never see what God is doing and why those storms came into your life. And you may never know. But you know what? Believing that God is working in your situation even if you cannot see it directly changes your attitude. That is faith. That is trusting that God is involved in the things that you never see. You have to go through it anyway, why not go through it with God?
Secondly, do not simply hold on to God, but declare your Lord. Why are you doing the things you are doing? Do those around you know why you are doing the things you are doing? Do you give Christ credit when you do things? When you help someone, are you just being a humanitarian or are you being Christian? Many times we do things just to be a "nice guy." But what has motivated your niceness? Without declaring your Lord, you are not being a witness, you are just being a humanitarian. You are just being nice. Give God the glory. Now, that does not mean you have to start preaching at them or be overbearing. When storms hit, declare your Lord. "I do this because Jesus has done so much for me."
And then thirdly, let love flourish. "My dream for you is that love will continue to flourish in your life." That is ministry. That means coming alongside others who are hurting and helping them. What motivates your love? Why do you give? If it is for any other reason than to give to others what God has given you, the motive is wrong. Not just incorrect, as in making a mistake or an error, but morally and spiritually wrong. When storms hit, love becomes much more valuable. Love redeems the storms. Let God love others through you!
HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE THE STORMS?
When storms come your way, how can we learn to recognize how those storms can be redeemed? Number one, look at the storm. What is happening; what is threatened? Number two, look at who you are bound to in the storm. Who are you tied to? Who are you chained with? Who might God want to influence through that storm you are going through? And thirdly, talk to God to determine how to redeem it.
If there is one word that describes God it is redemption. Many have a mistaken notion of God. They see Him as judgmental and harsh. But Scripture reveals a God who always wants to restore sinners and help them to create something beautiful out of their lives. Condemnation always follows human rejection of God's offered grace and forgiveness. God's heart is revealed most in redemption. And God's redemption is not based on whim and arbitrary choice.
The Bible says that before the foundations of the earth were set, the Lamb of God was slain. In other words, our Universe was created by a God who at His core is governed by a redemptive heart!
That is the big picture -- the Son of God coming to redeem humankind by purposely dying and shedding His blood. This was important because it opened up an avenue for God's holiness to be satisfied and thereby allowing His love to be exerted on our behalf. But God's redemption did not stop there. God also wants to redeem the little things because that is who He is. God wants to redeem troublesome situations, the storms of life that batter us and too often beat us into submission. We could not participate in Creation because that is a God thing. We could not participate in the central drama of history, the cross on Calvary's hill. That belonged to the Father and the Son. But, because we have a God who is redemption-minded, we can participate in redeeming life's events, good or bad. It is how we can most become like Jesus Christ!
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