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“God’s Algebra!” Romans 8:9-17 Key verse(s) 16:“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
One of the unchangeable and mysterious laws of mathematics is that whenever you multiply a positive number by a negative number you will always get a negative number. I remember my 7th grade teacher, Mr. Kramer, drilling that into our heads. There was no way of adequately explaining why a negative times a positive will always equal a negative. And, for a math underachiever such as myself, it simply was a matter of memorizing the theorem and forgetting the understanding part of it. From a purely logical perspective, it always seemed to me that whichever number was the larger ought to be the determining factor in any equation. It just made sense. The big guy was going to defeat the little guy in a wrestling match. The larger hawk would always overpower the smaller sparrow. If you mixed a little bit of gravel with a lot of sand you would still have more sand than gravel. I always had a hard time understanding the concept of something small overpowering something very large.
This seemed logical to me for the most part. Even daily life as it played itself out around me testified to the fact that the equation embraced faulty logic. For example, when you were having a good day and things were going along pretty well and you stumbled into calamity for some reason, if the amount of good you had happened to collect did not exceed the magnitude of the calamity, the bad would always put the hammerlock on the good sending you down to the mat every time. It was a question of balance. If your alarm didn’t go off in the morning and you were late for class, that could be overcome in general if you simply negated it by hitting a home run at recess and added a couple of good test scores to the mix throughout the course of the day. That seemed pretty logical to 13-year-old kid who was simply trying to make the best of life at the moment and was determined to finish each day with more good on his plate than bad.
Sometimes being a Christian and having to deal with the bad and negative things in our lives also has this same underpinning of illogical calculation. Life can real deal out some pretty heavy blows sometimes. Even worse, when we are already down for the count, there are even those days when bad piles on bad. If we use the logic of the 13-year-old boy just trying to make it through the day, days like this become unbearable. There simply isn’t enough good within our grasp to deal with all the bad. That’s when despair steps in to put its heavy boot on the back of our neck to keep us down for good.
Thank God for they mystery of His Holy Spirit. When He is inserted into the equation of life, what Mr. Kramer taught me in 7th grade mathematics starts to become even more illogical, however in a reverse sort of way. Whereas algebra dictates that a negative times a positive always equals a negative, God’s textbook, the Bible, dictates that a negative times a positive always equals a positive. When life becomes overpowering it doesn’t matter how much of it is negative. When we put the Holy Spirit of God into the equation the outcome is always the same; we get the help we need to cope and to restore our faith. This is a mystery that flies in the face of earthly logic but it is trustworthy. Sorrow and Affliction x the Holy Spirit = Patience. But God’s algebra doesn’t stop there. Patience x Experience = Faith. It doesn’t seem logical at the outset, but no matter how big sorrow and affliction are, they never come out the winner in this equation.
Sermon Central Staff
FEAR AND THE DECEITS OF THE HEART
I think Edward Welch chose brilliantly the title for his book on overcoming the fear of man: When People are Big and God is Small. Maybe you can relate to his personal awakening to this problem when he was a high-school senior:
"I had always been shy and self-conscious, controlled by what my peers thought (or might have thought), but I never considered it seriously until the day of the awards assembly. I was up for an award, and I was scared to death I would get it!
"The auditorium bulged with over two thousand high-school juniors and seniors. From the back, where I like to sit, it seemed a good mile or two up to the platform. All I could think of was what my classmates would think of me while I walked to the front. Would I walk funny? Would I trip going up the stairs? Would one person -- I prayed it would not be a girl I liked -- think I was a jerk? What about those who were also nominated or who thought they were deserving? What would they think of me if I won instead of them? What would I ever say for a brief acceptance speech? 'God, please don't let me get this!' I prayed.
"After a number of lesser awards were announced, the vice principal went to the podium to introduce the winner. He began with a short, somewhat cryptic biographical sketch. It did not sound exactly like me, but it was generic enough to fit. I was starting to sweat, but I sat motionless for fear that someone would think I was getting interested. Finally the announcement came: 'And the winner of this year's senior award is...Rick Wilson.
"Rick Wilson! I could not believe it! Of all people. No one even thought he was a candidate!
"You can imagine my reaction. Relief? No way. I felt like a total failure. Now what would people think of me? They knew I was up for the award, and someone else was chosen. What a loser I was.
"Immediately my mind began spinning out justifications. If I had worked at all this year, I would have won. I certainly had the potential, I just didn't want to win. I'm a late bloomer; when I get to college, I will show them. I was ashamed to go back to class. Pitiful, isn't it?"
Dr. Welch describes well the deceit of the heart. Many fear success, for it would put us on display; yet we also fear failure, for then we are shown to be less wonderful than we had hoped. The Bible mentions often this heart-struggle. Almost 600 verses contain the word, "fear" and related synonyms. One of the profound comments comes through the prophet Isaiah: "And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. [So God promises to restore and revive his people, to protect and deliver them. Then he says,] 'I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?'" (Isaiah 51.11-13).
(From a sermon by Glenn Durham, How Fear Controls People, 5/31/2010)
From rags to riches. These kinds of stories always excite us somewhat. They are feel-good stories and they always offer to the common person a bit of encouragement to make something of ourselves in life. HAVEN’T WE ALL DREAMED AT ONE TIME OF PERHAPS DOING SOMETHING GREAT OR EXTRA-ORDINARY? Perhaps not becoming rich and famous but perhaps doing something out of the ordinary. That’s what 25 year-old Jennifer Hudson of Chicago did. She was a talented singer who got her start in church like many others. She tried out for the American Idol show and made it. She even made it to the final 12 in 2004. On April 21, 2004, Hudson became the sixth of the 12 finalists to be voted off the show, finishing the competition in seventh place. But that didn’t stop Jennifer Hudson She persevered In November 2005, Hudson was cast in the prized role of Effie White, the role originally created in a legendary Broadway performance by Jennifer Holliday, for the film adaptation of the musical Dreamgirls. I never saw it but it was hit with many. On February 25, 2007, she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film. At 25 years old, Hudson became the eighth youngest winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She also became only the third African-American to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. During her acceptance speech Hudson said through tears of joy, "I have to just take this moment in. I cannot believe this. Look what God can do. I didn’t think I was going to win." At least, she had the good sense to give God the credit for this good thing in her life. Better than most. Of course, we assume and believe that Jennifer Hudson is a Christian. From rags to riches and it’s not over for Jennifer Hudson. But listen to this: Ps. 84:10 “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” No matter how much we prosper in this life (including Jennifer Hudson) may we all realize that heaven will be better Glorification in heaven will be better
The year was 1980, Bill Brodherst who hadn’t ran in any race since his high school days decided to begin training for a marathon known as the Pepsi Challenge 10k in Omaha Nebraska. Sending in his application, he wasn’t sure they would accept him as a participant, but soon the approval came back and he was a designated part of the running pack. His major reason for wanting to be in this race was that Bill Rodgers, a nationally known runner was also competing in the challenge and Brodherst wanted to be able to tell others that he had run in a race beside the great Bill Rodgers.
The reason that Brodherst had not run in races since his high school days was that he had been cruelly struck down in the prime of his life with an aneurysm that caused doctors to question if he would ever walk, let alone run. But with determination that only a few may ever understand, Mr. Brodherst continually took on the impossible and met the challenge. Eventually he did learn to walk... but always with a need to drag on foot behind him as he progressed. His running was not much different. One foot ahead, drag the other up... one foot ahead, drag the other up.
At the beginning of the race Brodherst joined the other runners and as the gun went off, the hundreds of competitors trotted off and Bill slowly followed. For a while he could still see them in the distance, and then the crowds cheered him on for a while. Eventually, he heard the sounds of their feet... coming back towards him and towards the finish line. Then the crowds gradually disappeared, and Bill Brodherst ran on alone towards the halfway point. When he reached he found that everyone had left, assuming their were no other runners. But Brodherst doggedly half ran, half dragged himself to the marker and placed his hands on it so that there would be no question that he had reached that destination.
Turning and making his way back toward the final marker he found that he was the forgotten man: the police stayed with him for a while but then they had to leave to return to their duties. Children came out to taunt and imitate him as he painfully made his way on. The markers that had laid out the course had been taken down. But Brodherst trudged on to the goal. Finally, it was in sight... although the crowds had disappeared and all that was left was the line that had painted on the street. Bill Brodherst struggled on with no one to watch his victory over his personal ...
WHEN KNUTE ROCKNE was coaching at Notre Dame, a sports columnist in the South Bend newspaper earned the reputation of being the meanest and cruelest writer in the country. This anonymous writer wrote about the teams weaknesses, pointed out the mistakes of individual players and told them they were lazy, they broke training and didn’t discipline themselves. The angry players came and complained to Rockne who listened with sympathy but said he could not stop the writer. He advised that the only way the players could stop it was to go out and play so well they proved him wrong.
LATER it became known that the writer of the columne was Knute Rockne himself. He knew their weaknesses and used the paper as a device to develop a better team. God’s Word often makes us uncomfortable but it always tells us the truth because God loves us and wants to make us winners.
Have you ever noticed in life that a good start isn’t always enough. Now there is nothing wrong with a good start mind you, but it is often not enough to get us to the finish line, or to the winners circle.
And if you don’t believe me, ask the Atlanta Braves who won the first 2 games of the 1996 years world series against the Yankees in New York. I think the scores were 12-1 and 6-0. They were pretty excited about their start. But winning those 2 games gave little comfort as they watched their opponens hold that trophy 4 games later.
Or you can ask the 1969 Baltimore Orioles. Who dominated the majors that year. Won 109 games -- more than any other team. And their opponents in the World Series were the New York Mets. Everyone expected the Orioles to win easily, and then when they won the first game -- it seemed as though they had it in the bag... But in just 4 more games it would be all over, and the New York Mets would be the ones wearing that World Series ring. In 1969 the Orioles and all of Baltimore were convinced of the truth that a good start isn’t enough.
Or take the Buffalo Bills who in their 4th Super bowl led the Dallas Cowboys going into to halftime...(watched game at church...I was abnoxious - if you can belive that) But as good as that first half was , the Bills will be the first to tell you that at the end of the contest - when the Dallas Cowboys were the one holding the trophy - that a good start is not enough... The week following the game the city of Buffalo did not throw a parade to celebrate the half time lead...
And I think we all have experienced the reality of this truth in our own everyday lives.
Perhaps, we start out real good on a new diet or exercise program....
Or on a project around the house, a class in school, a job in church or in paying off some bills.... I mean we are out of that starting gate like hungry grey hounds chasing a rabbit.....
But time passes and the diet ends, the exercise stops, we fail the class, the job doesn’t get done and the bills are still where we left them. You see, though there is nothing wrong with a good start -- it just isn’t enough.
‘Grow as You Go.’ The first sermon in this series took us to Moses and his encounter with God. We were told that God had a role, an important one at that, for Moses and it was in line with God’s plan and story and not Moses’ plan and story. In other words, we ‘grow’ in our Christian faith and character as we ‘go’ along in life by remembering that the Christian story and faith is about God and not about us and though we have a role in that story and it is not the role of director.
Out next stop took us to 2 Chronicles 26 and the painful and tragic story of King Uzziah. We learned that Uzziah, who became King of Israel at a young age, governed well because he governed with the help of God who made him successful. But one day, due to an increasing belief in himself and a less increasing reliance on the Lord, Uzziah exceeded his authority and with a heart that was filled with pride and power, fell from power and afflicted with leprosy, and spent the remaining years of his life literally cut off from his people.
Uzziah’s story thus serves us as a powerful and important reminder that as we go and grow in our faith and character, we must pay attention to the gaps between our skills and our character because the latter rather than the former will undo us and cause us tremendous pain and disconnect with God.
This morning we move through the Old Testament to the book of Daniel and the person of Daniel and here we encounter the opposite of Uzziah. Here we see a man who says yes to the right things so that he can say no to the right things. (You heard me right, Daniel is some one who says yes to the right things so that he can say no to the right things.)
The lesson we learn from Daniel’s life as it applies to ‘growing as we go’ is, in the words of Eric Simpson, ‘what we say ‘yes’ to grants us power to what we have longed to say no to.’ Spiritual growth and development; the process of going and growing as followers of Jesus; requires us to say ‘yes’ to some things and ‘no’ to other things. Daniel’s story tells us what he says ‘no’ to, at least in this chapter of his life.
Now it is always important to place the text we examine in its context and, very briefly, here is the context of our main text this morning. Our text begins with a statement about a governmental decision being made by a new King, a new ruler, in fact a conquering king and ruler, ‘Darius the Mede.’
As we read in Daniel 5:30 and 31, the former King, Belshazzar, the last of the Babylonian kings, was overthrown and the Babylonian empire, which had overthrown the remnants of Israel, was no more. A new empire, the Persian-Mede empire was now the top dog in that part of the world.
And by this time in his life Daniel most likely was 80 years of age. He had already served two kings, often at risk to his life and those of his friends, because of their faith and their commitment that they kept saying ‘yes’ to God while saying ‘no’ to the challenges. Now he was beginning service to a third king.
So now Darius is the new ruler and he orders some administrative changes and places Daniel and two others in key leadership positions much to the jealousy and anger of others who decide to play to the pride and power of the king and get him to make a law setting himself up as god of the nation. The result is a very serious and life-threatening challenge to Daniel, his character, and his faith.
So Daniel hears the new law, ‘For the next 30 days, only King Darius is to be worshipped and anyone who does otherwise will be cast into the lion’s den,’ and he goes home. Now there perhaps is a tendency to think that Daniel was unmoved by the turns of event because he goes home. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t.
Let’s suppose for a moment he wasn’t moved. Let’s suppose that he went home, to pray, ‘just as he had always done.’
Wow! What kind of faith! What kind of assured confidence in God that God, His God, whom Daniel had faithfully followed throughout the years, would take care of the situation.
What really moves me in this passage is that Daniel went home to pray ‘just as he had always done.’ This three times a day prayer was more than a religious ritual, it was a habit of the heart and soul, that God used to nourish and grow Daniel into the man of God that he was.
But what if Daniel went home, troubled and uncertain? What if this time he thought, ‘This might be it?’ And yet, he went home and prayed ‘just as he had always done.’
Well, as the story continues, Daniel is observed praying (he is easily seen through the open windows) and later he is arrested, charged with breaking the new law, and sentence to death in the lion’s den. But, God protects him and he survives and is vindicated by a very, very relieved and humbled king who orders that a new decree honoring Daniel’s god.
So while the fear of Moses and the pride of Uzziah serve as reminders of the struggles and temptations we deal with as we grow and go, Daniel serves us as a reminder of how to respond to those temptations and struggles by saying yes to certain things and no to others.
Slide 2 Daniel said yes to God over and over over again. That phrase, ‘just as he had always done,’ is one that we need to pay attention to. It indicates a habit, a priority, a practice, (and an intentional one at that) that Daniel did for many, many years.
He went home to pray not just because he was taught it or was told to do it. He went home, day in and day out, when it was easy and when it was hard, and prayed to God. He set his face and heart toward God because he believed in God and believed that God’s way was THE way.
This consistent practice of prayer shaped Daniel’s character. It enabled him to become the person that we read about in this book; a person of consistency, honesty, faith, and maturity. And because he did, God was honored and Daniel thrived through both difficult and quiet circumstances.
(Slide 2b) Daniel said yes to those things that helped him perform God’s agenda. In the first story of this book, Daniel makes the decision not to eat the rich and tasty food given to him and his friends. He did for perhaps two reasons. First, because the foods offered went against the Jewish dietary laws and second it would put himself in the position of becoming dependent on the King in ways that could leave him vulnerable later on.
(Another reason, based on the results of the different diet chosen by Daniel in verse 15, could have been was that it was simply not healthy for someone to eat.)
But whatever the reason, Daniel, even at this early age, said ‘yes’ to God’s ways and purposes so that he could say ‘no’ to whatever would cause him to compromise his faith.
(Slide 3) In saying ‘yes’ to God and God’s ways, he said ‘no’ to some things as well.
By saying ‘yes’ to God and His ways, Daniel had the power and the willingness to say ‘no’ to certain things that I believe we can safely say were a part of his life and experiences as recorded in the book of Daniel.
In our main text he said no to worship another human being as god. Now, it seems that we do a good job of such worship these days.
Think for a moment about the entertainment industry. Many people spend many hours and spend (and pay) much money to learn ‘the latest’ about an entertainment star. Paparazzi chase people and automobiles to the far corners of the world just to get ‘that picture’ that could tell a new and sordid story.
Now it’s one thing to admire someone for a meaningful performance or good character acting. But it is another thing to worship, to put before anything else, another human being, who seems to make more money and get more fame by being bad than being good. (The same could be said for leading sports figures.)
Stephen Covey believes that about 90 or so years ago our society and culture began to be more concerned with, (and I am paraphrasing Covey here) a ‘winning personality’ rather than a ‘winning character.’ Some would probably say that Moses did not have a winning personality, that he was too moody, too uncertain, and probably too old. Others would have probably not picked him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But God used him.
Uzziah, on the other hand, had that winning personality. He was a great king who did much for his people. He was a winner! Who could ask for more in a king?
Then there was Daniel; he was probably good looking. He had talent. He could have been a bigger influence and an even bigger star if he would have joined the party more. But his character was more important than his popularity.
Daniel said ‘no’ to the very powerful and tempting offer to ‘join the crowd.’ He was more concerned about honoring God with his life than being popular and liked. He said ‘yes’ to God so that he could say ‘no’ to those things that would create the conditions for character (and spiritual) breakdown.
(Slide 3b) He said no to those things that could compromise his faith and character. As we read and re-read his story, we see Daniel consistently refusing to take shortcuts that would make life easier for him. And I truly think he did so because he had seen first hand what the wrong kind of compromise had done to his nation. A turn to chapter one reminds us that Daniel was among those taken away from his homeland and brought to the capital of the conquering nation and chosen to be education in the ways and life of the new nation.
But even while God, as the text says, gifted Daniel with the ability to understand dreams, Daniel said ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to the compromises his new surroundings offered him. I just wonder if the memories of his defeated homeland remained in his mind.
So, growing in our faith in and relationship with the Lord requires us to do three important things: (Slide 4)
1. Remember that we are a part of God’s story not the other way around. This is about becoming a humble person.
2. We need to shorten the gap between our giftedness and our character. This is about becoming an authentic person.
3. We need to learn and practice saying ‘yes’ to God so that we can say ‘no’ to those things that would destroy us. Jim Kane
Hosting a TV show, I’ve interviewed my share of beauty contest winners; I once even had Miss America on my show. But when a friend asked if I would judge a beauty contest at a nursing home, I thought, Good heavens! What on earth would be the criteria for judging?
When I arrived at Wood Dale nursing home I saw a list of the eight contestants and their ages, from 85 to 92. This isn’t going to be easy, I thought.
One woman wore a flowing blue satin dress. Others had done up their hair in elaborate coifs, and some had spots of color on their cheeks. They walked past the judges, some more gracefully than others, happily waving at the audience. When the contestants reached the emcee, he asked each one of them in turn, “What was the most important day of your life?”
“The day I got married,” one woman declared. “When my son was born,” said another. “I just celebrated my fiftieth wedding anniversary,” said a third. How will I ever be able to choose? I wondered. Then 88-year-old Sybil sashayed up to the microphone. And when I heard her answer to the question, I knew we had a winner.
“Why, today of course,” ...
ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS
A friend once asked Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in science, how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but she always inquired; "Isidor, did you ask a good question today?"
Rabi said, "Asking good questions made me become a scientist."
ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS
A friend once asked Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in science how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn’t so much interested in what he had learned that day, but she always inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?"
Rabi said, "Asking good questions made me become a scientist."