May the Spirit of all Truth open our minds today as we read and study Your word, O God, and may we be willing to be led into all truth and to be taught what is the will of the Father in each of our lives — and give us willing hearts and the opportunity to share with others the pearls of truth You would teach us today.
If anyone in the Bible knew about hard times, it was Saint Paul. And he shared his struggles with us, saying, We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, ERV1). And one translation puts it, we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! (2 Corinthians 4:9, Phillips2)
One year ago, Carmen and I were knocked down. We experienced what no parent should ever have to face. I know, as I relate this to you, that many of you have been in a similar place. I share our story to honor you and to stand with you in your own sorrow and grief.
The very word “cancer” is maybe one of the most feared words in our English language. Some emerge from that diagnosis to live a long and happy life, but most do not. Such was the case with our son and with us. For thirteen months we were on the familiar roller coaster, experiencing times of hope alternating with times of despair. Then came the final moments
as our son’s earthly life slipped away. Something no parent should ever have to experience, but there it was, staring us in the face.
We were knocked down for sure. But, praise be to God, we were not knocked out. How can I say that? I can say that because, first, God is in charge, not us. Carmen’s and my faith in God was secure enough that we knew He was in charge. We knew He knew what His plan was, and we knew that His will for us is always perfect and right on target.
Second, we had support. Why do you think that God ordained the church to be the body, the presence of Jesus? In part, it was so that we could band together and love each other and as Saint Paul says in Romans 12:15, Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. This loving congregation showed that support. I know that many of you wanted to travel the 660 miles to be with us for the funeral. Seven of you, I call you the “Suffolk Seven” — Janet, Margaret, Pat, Betty, Mary, Bennett, and Jim — were able to come and be with us, surprising us with a loving and comforting presence. Yes, we were knocked down, but we were far from being knocked out. We knew that God was in control. We knew that God had the steering wheel in His hand. We knew that God had the master plan in mind. We knew that God knew what He was doing. And we praise His name over and over for being our God and for loving us.
We’ve all been knocked down, haven’t we? What was it that knocked you down? Was it the loss of a job? Or, was it the failure of a marriage? Or possibly it was a friend betraying you? Maybe it was falling into some kind of addiction. Or maybe it was the death of a loved one. Possibly it was financial ruin. Or maybe it was just the cruelty of life coming down on you like an avalanche. We are all clay pots, easily broken. We are often knocked down. But were we knocked out? Someone said, “If there are no ups and downs in your life, it means you are dead.” We all experience it, don’t we? Most of us feel like we can handle “moderate trouble”. We can handle a cranky boss or a sick child or a prickly neighbor. We know what to do when we have a fender bender or when the electricity goes off. We can scrimp for a few days when the money is tight, and we know when we’re sick enough that we need to go see the doctor. Because we know that “into each life some rain must fall”, we know where to find the umbrella when we see the dark clouds gathering.
But what will we do when the rain becomes a thunderstorm and the thunderstorm becomes a flood? What then? As Mike Tyson famously remarked, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If you live long enough, you’ll be punched in the mouth more than once. Sometimes you’ll see the blow coming. More often it seems to come out of nowhere.
It’s a big mistake to think that God promises to shield his children from the slings and arrows of life. What happens to others happens to us, too. We get sick, our children get sick, we get laid off, the recession takes away our savings, the chemo doesn’t always work, and sometimes we end up in divorce court. What then? Remember this: We are all missionaries. We are all witnesses to our Christian faith. The world looks at us carefully to see if our faith is worth anything. They watch us to see how we respond to the ups and downs of life. The world will judge our Christianity mostly by how we respond when we take it on the chin and get knocked down. If Christians are truly the light of the world, then when is the light most
likely to be seen? Will our light be seen in the bright sun of midday? Or will our light best be seen in the darkness of the night? We Christians are the light of the world 24 hours a day. Our testimony is best given in the midst of hardship and sorrow. Our testimony will speak
more loudly when it comes in the dark of midnight. Anyone can sing when the sun is shining. But if you can still sing at midnight, the world will hear you in a different way.
So what can we expect as Christians who live in this world? Well, we can say with Jimmy Stewart, it’s a wonderful life. But we know it’s not an easy life. If you follow Jesus, you will face suffering. You will face trouble and distress and perplexity. Sometimes you will feel backed into a corner. Sometimes you may think God has forgotten you. But if you hang on, you will see God’s power at work, and though you are broken by life, out of your brokenness will come the fragrance of Christ himself.
Remember the song from the famous movie, If there’s something strange in your neighborhood Who you gonna call? If there’s something weird and it don’t look good Who you gonna call? If you’re seeing things running through your head Who you gonna call? An invisible man Sleeping in your bed. Who you gonna call? If you’re all alone Pick up the phone And call . . . The song says, “Ghostbusters”. But I say, call God! Christian friends don’t just call God, run to the cross! Nobody was knocked down more than Jesus. Nobody was vilified, lied about, tortured, whipped, beaten, persecuted, or hated more than Jesus. He went to the cross and he wants you to join him there. And the Lord Jesus will be glorified by the way you respond to your trials.
I have to ask, do you know Jesus? Have you trusted him? He died on the cross and rose from the dead. If you put your life in his hands all will be well. Maybe the Lord is using the hardships of life to draw you to him at this very moment. If so, then I will simply say, run to the cross! Run to the cross and lay hold of Jesus Christ who loved you and gave himself for you. Trust him completely as your Lord and Savior. And for all who do know him, rest in this truth: Whether we live or whether we die, no matter what happens tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we need not be afraid. You may live another 50 years or you may die in the
next 24 hours. In the ultimate sense it doesn’t matter for all things are in the Father’s hands. “No (one) . . . need fear the years, for they bring (us) . . . nearer, not to death, but to God.”
I looked at the calendar the other day and I was reminded that my younger years are far behind me. I don’t know any more than you know how much longer I have, but I am determined in that time to do all I can to help us as a church to be more loving, accepting, welcoming, encouraging, warmhearted, friendly, supporting, encouraging, neighborly, and affectionate.
Life is hard and there are so many things that will knock us down. We need a place of refuge, a place, as they said in the TV sitcom “Cheers”, a place where everybody knows our name, a place where we can share each other’s burdens, a place where we can rest from the weary labors of everyday life.