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Last week, Bernie came to the church door. He showed up about five minutes before I was getting ready to leave for an appointment, and my first response to his arrival was, oh, no, not now.
Bernie had been drinking – I could smell it on his breath. He was sweating profusely and was a little bit shaky, though he spoke clearly without slurring. Bernie asked if I could help him, and I asked what I could do for him. He said he was an alcoholic, and he needed a ride to Hillcrest Hospital, because he’d been part of a 12 step alcohol program, and had “fallen off the wagon.”
I thought, OK, I can take him to the hospital on my way to my appointment. I was relieved he hadn’t asked for money, because we cannot give any money to someone who has been drinking.
In my five-minute ride to the hospital, where I dropped him off at the emergency room, Bernie told me he really loved Jesus, but was having a hard time staying off the alcohol. I told him that admitting himself to this program at the hospital was a good step, and that I was sure the Lord would help him. Bernie was clearly hurting physically, but seemed genuinely touched that I would help him in this small way.
When we got to the drop-off point in front of the ER, Bernie thanked me – almost excessively – for helping him. He reached over across the seat and wanted a hug. Smell, sweat and all, I hugged Bernie, and he hung on tightly for a moment as I assured him of God’s love and care for Him. As he stumbled away from the van, he called back for me to pray for him, and I assured him I would. And I did, as I drove on to my appointment – I did pray that Bernie would find help and find compassion from the Lord.
And the Lord spoke to me clearly that, despite my initial attitude, all Bernie really needed was compassion.
I watched as Bernie sort of stumbled into the ER at Hillcrest. I was ashamed of my initial attitude, and the Lord said to me clearly: all he needed was a little compassion. All he needed was to be treated with respect and dignity.
And at that moment, I knew God would have me bring this message to TCF this morning.
We’re in a time in our fellowship when we need this reminder - of the source of compassion, and of how God uses us as His tools of compassion.
You may have heard the phrase, “Been there, done that” – it’s the title of this message. It’s a phrase that represents the idea that someone has already experienced something. When someone says that to you, it means they have some understanding of what they’re discussing with you. In some ways, it might mean that they have sympathy for you, maybe even real compassion, if that’s what’s called for.
In the vernacular, it mostly means they can relate to you and your experiences, and admittedly, it’s often a dismissive way of expressing that, whether good or bad, they’ve “been there, and done that.”
In our Christian lives, in times of difficulty or suffering, it’s often helpful to talk to someone who can relate to your experience. Now, I’ve never been an alcoholic like Bernie, but I know what it is to be hurting, for different reasons than Bernie,
and more importantly, I know the source of real compassion, and real comfort.
His compassion and comfort are revealed in His Word. The Word of God is living and active, and it’s for this time and this place, whenever and wherever this time and place might be.
God can speak to us through His Word, just as clearly as I’m speaking to you, by using these words written almost two millennia ago.
2 Cor. 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Do you remember the story about Tony Toto, of Allentown, PA.? He operated a pizza parlor there. Tony Toto survived at least 5 attempts on his life, all arranged for or carried out by his dear wife, Frances, & her lover.
Twice she arranged for assailants to beat him over the head with baseball bats. On one occasion she put a tripwire across the basement stairs in their house, hoping that he would trip over it & plummet to his death.
Twice she arranged for him to be shot. The first time she drugged his chicken soup so he would sleep soundly, & he was shot in the head, but miraculously survived. The 2nd time he was shot in the chest, but only sustained minor injuries. Now this is a picture of a real happy couple, isn’t it?
Even more miraculous than Tony’s survival was his attitude toward his wife once he found out she was responsible for all of this. Tony, a self?confessed lady’s man himself, said that he held his wife blameless.
When she was found guilty & sent to prison for arranging for his murder, he took their 4 children & visited her every week - every single week. Then when she was released from prison, she went back to their red brick home to resume her married life with Tony.
With his arm around her, Tony said, "We’re more in love now than ever before. I don’t understand why people break up over silly little things."
WHEN YOUR BACK IS AGAINST THE WALL, PAT RILEY, NBA COACH
The Los Angeles Lakers were dominating the Boston Celtics in the final round of the 1984 National Basketball Association championship. The Lakers beat Boston on their home floor in Game 1. They beat them by 33 points in Game 3. They were ahead by 10 points in Game 4 and cruising and then it all changed.
Two days after losing the deciding seventh game, the Lakers were back in Los Angeles for their last team meeting. Coach Pat Riley looked at the young faces and said, “Even though we lost, they can’t take away our pride and our dignity; we own those. We are not chokers or losers. We are champions who simply lost a championship.”
The Lakers came back for the 1984-1985 season sharply focused. All year long, they heard about how they were a “show time” team that folded as soon as things got tough. The Celtics and their fans referred to us as the L.A. Fakers. Abuse and sarcasm were heaped on, and the Lakers had to take it. Yet still they achieved a tremendous season and ripped through the place at a high pace. On May 27, they got to face their tormentor, the Celtics, in Boston Garden.
The next day’s headlines called Game 1 of the 1985 finals The Memorial Day Massacre. A 148-114 humiliation was the most embarrassing game in the history of the Lakers franchise. The Lakers saw themselves become exactly what they had been called: choke artists, underachievers. The troubling question was why was it that every time the Lakers faced the Celtics, they became paralyzed with fear.
Before they went out for Game 2, the Lakers gathered in the dinghy locker room of the Boston Garden. The players were sitting there, ready to listen and to believe. Every now and then, you have your back pushed up against a wall. It seems like there is nobody you can depend on but yourself. That is how the Lakers felt on that day. If they lost, the choke reputation would be chiseled into stone, a permanent verdict. If they won, they had an opportunity to prove they could keep on winning. It was a do or die situation.
Coach Riley faced Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the star center, and said, “When I saw you and your father on the bus today, it made me realize what this whole moment is about. You spent a lot of time with Big Al today. Maybe you needed that voice. Maybe everyone in this room needs to hear that kind of voice right now--the voice of your dad, the voice of somebody in the past who was there when you didn’t think you could get the job done.”
“A lot of you don’t think you can win today. A lot of you don’t think you can beat the Celtics. I want each of you to close your eyes and listen.” And they did.
And Riley began his tale, “When I was nine years old my dad told my brothers, Lee and Lenny, to take me down to Lincoln Heights and get me involved in the basketball games. They would throw me into a game and I would get pushed and shoved. Day after day, I ran home crying and hid in the garage. I didn’t want anything to do with basketball.”
“This went on for two or three weeks. One night, I didn’t come to the dinner table, so my dad got up and walked out to the garage where he found me hunkered down in a corner. He picked me up, put his arm around me, and walked to the kitchen. My brother Lee was upset with him. ‘Why do you make us take him down there? He doesn’t want to play. He’s too young.’
“My father stood up and staring at Lee, said, ‘I want you to take him there because I want you to teach him not to be afraid, that there should be no fear. Teach him that competition brings out the very best and the very worst in us. Right now, it’s bring out the worst, but if he sticks with it, it’s going to bring out the best.’ He then looked at his nine-year-old, teary-eyed son and said, ‘Pat, you have to go back there.’
So Coach Riley told his players, “I thought I was never going to be able to get over being hurt and afraid, but I eventually did get over it.” As he was talking, he was slowly pacing back and forth the locker room. Looking at the players, he saw that Michael Cooper was crying. A couple of other players looked as if they would start crying too.
Coach Riley went on, “I don’t know what it is going to take for us to win tonight but I do believe that we are going out there like warriors, and that would make our fathers proud.”
The Lakers won the game. They also won three of the next four games. The 1985 championship was won by the Lakers. Seven times in Laker history, the NBA Finals had been lost to those adversaries. Now the Celtic Myth was slain and the choke image with it.
During the off season, Michael Cooper told Coach Riley that the pregame message had gone deep for him. As a boy, Cooper had a grievous leg wound, an ugly cut through the muscle. Doctors did not think he would ever walk correctly again, much less become an athlete. He was sustained through those times by a wonderful mother and devoted uncle. So he had heard those voices.
All of us have at least one great voice deep inside. People are products of their environments. A lucky few are born into situations in which positive messages abound. Others grow up hearing messages of fear and failure which they must block out to hear the positive. But the positive and courageous voice will always emerge, somewhere, sometime, for all of us. Listen for it, and your breakthroughs will come.
Fear of failure will lead you to despair, wrong decisions, and host of other problems. However, when the voice comes through it will counsel courage, that affirms your life and your ability, and it will position you to do your very best.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13:8
CYMBALA'S EASTER STORY
Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the slums of New York. He tells the following story: It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.
As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, “Could I talk to you?”
We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, “What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine.”
He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, “What’s your name?”
“How long have you been on the street?”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-two.” He looked fifty--hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.
“Where did you sleep last night, David?”
I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat.
I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”
I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels.
But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening. I pleaded with God, “God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!”
Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I...
The lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston and walked timidly, without an appointment, into the president of Harvard’s outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge. She frowned. "We want to see the president", the man said softly. "He’ll be busy all day", the secretary snapped. "We’ll wait", the lady replied. For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t. The secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted doing. "Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they’ll leave", she told him. He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The lady told him, "We had a son that attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus". The president wasn’t touched, he was shocked. "Madam", he said gruffly. "We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery". "Oh, no," the lady explained quickly. "We don’t want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard". The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, "A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical property at Harvard". For a moment, the lady was silent. The president was pleased. He could get rid of them now. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, "Is that all it costs to start a university? Why don’t we just start our own?" Her husband nodded. The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California, where they established the University that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about. You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.
[Source unknown: Circulated email attributed to Paul Harvey]
Ill: French novelist and playwright Alexander Dumas once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician. The argument became so intense that a duel was inevitable. Since both men were very fast and superb shots they decided to draw lots, the loser agreeing to shoot himself. Dumas lost. Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him. The rest of the company waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his career. It rang out at last. His friends ran to the door, opened it, and found Dumas, smoking revolver in hand. "Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened," he announced. "I missed." Today in the Word, Moody Bible Institute, January 1992, p.33.
Parents, if you get angry with your kids for something they do wrong, and you lose it, do you wait for your children to apologize or do you set the example and go to them? Teenagers, do you find it beneath your dignity to humble yourself to obey your parents’ reasonable expectations? I remember one time saying to my mother when I was 18, “this is beneath my dignity.” If she could have, she would have rolled her eyes and laughed but she was dumfounded that I would have displayed such a proud and haughty response. Demonstrating my lack of humility. Do we display this kind of attitude toward God when He speak to us?
Paul Harvey wrote in Guidepost Magazine about his own baptism. He said that even though he had received almost every reward for his broadcasting ability that he still felt empty inside.
One summer, however, he & his wife were vacationing in a place called Cave Creek, AZ. Sunday morning came & they decided to go to church. So they went to this little church, & there were only 12 other people present.
He believed in Jesus, but he had never gone forward in a church service. One night he had prayed in his hotel room & asked Jesus to come into his heart, but he felt that there was still something that was missing."
He said that the preacher got up & announced that his sermon was going to be about baptism. Paul Harvey said, "I yawned. But as he started talking about it I found myself interested. He talked about the symbolism behind it, & how it symbolized the complete surrender of one’s life to Jesus Christ, & how there was nothing really magic in the water. But there was this cleansing inside that took place when you yielded yourself to Jesus."
He went on to say, "Finally, when he came to the end of his sermon he said, ‘If any of you have not been baptized in this way, I invite you to come forward & join me here at the pulpit.’"
Paul Harvey said, "To my surprise, I found myself going forward. The preacher had said there was nothing magic in the water. Yet as I descended into the depths & rose again I knew something life changing had happened - a cleansing inside out. No longer did ...
STEINBECK AND HIS HELL-SERMON EXPERIENCE
In a fascinating story of his journey across the United States, John Steinbeck tells of a Church service he attended during his travels in the State of Vermont. Tongue-in-cheek, he says,
"The preacher spoke of Hell as an expert. Not the mush-mush Hell of these soft days, but a white-hot Hell served by technicians of the first order. This reverend brought us to a point where we could really understand it: a good hard-coal fire, plenty of draft, and a squad of devils who put their heart into their work -- and their work was me.
"I began to feel good all over ... this Vermont God cared enough about me to put my sins in a new perspective. Whereas they had been small and nasty and best forgotten, this preacher gave my sins some size and bloom and dignity. I hadn’t been thinking very well of myself for some years, but if my sins had this dimension there was some pride left. I wasn’t the naughty child after all, but a first rate sinner ... I felt so revived by this sermon that I put $5.00 in the collection plate.
"And afterward, out in front of the Church, I shook hands warmly with the preacher and as many of the congregation as I could. It gave me a lovely sense of evil-doing that lasted clear through till Tuesday."
I have no doubt that each one of us can identify to a certain extent with Steinbeck’s Vermont experience -- especially the part about the impact of the Sunday sermon lasting "clear through till Tuesday"--if that long.
(Source: John Steinbeck, from a sermon by Don Hawks, "What Do I Expect to Hear?" 7/13/08, SermonCentral.com)
Sermon Central Staff
ROAD RAGE AND PATIENCE
(From Bob Bob Mionske’s Blog on Cyclists and the Law)
Charles Montgomery writes:
"The driving experience primes car drivers for meltdowns. They are conditioned by popular culture to see cars as symbols of freedom, yet city driving is a slow-motion trap that subjects drivers to constant restrictions on their movement. Drivers are thwarted from enjoying the promise of motion by traffic lights, by congestion – and yes, by cyclists – and they suffer the natural but impossible desire to escape and move forward. All this while being strapped to their seats!"
In fact, there are a number of factors influencing driver anger; road rage psychologist Dr. Leon James has identified fifteen sources of driver anger, including:
• Restriction: “Being prevented from moving forward when you expect to arouses frustration, and along with it anxiety and an intense desire to escape the restriction. This anxiety prompts drivers to perform risky or aggressive maneuvers to get away or get ahead.”
• Regulation: Regulation of driving “feels like an imposition and arouses a rebellious streak in many, which then prompts them to disregard whatever regulations seem wrong or inconvenient.”
• Lack of personal control: The “lack of personal control over traffic events is frustrating and often leads to venting anger on whoever is around.”
• Being put in danger: “Hair-raising close calls and hostile incidents” result in “physiological stress, along with many negative emotions — fear, resentment, rage, a sense of helplessness, and a depressed mood.”
• Venting: Vented anger “is felt as an energizing rush. This seductive feeling is short-lived, and is accompanied by a stream of anger-inspiring thoughts that impair judgment and tempt us into rash and dangerous actions.”
• Unpredictability: “Streets and highways create an environment of drama, danger, and uncertainty.”
These feelings, simmering beneath the surface, threaten to boil over in anger as soon as somebody to blame can be found. And then along rolls a cyclist, taking up road space, slowing people down, wearing funny clothes, not paying taxes, and not even obeying the law! Never mind that some of these stereotypes may not even be true; the cyclist makes a convenient scapegoat to blame.
Patience with circumstances – we make plans, and want to stick to them, but everything seems to get in the way.
Patience with capital – much of the current meltdown of the economy has to do with the impatience of investors – we want to double our money now. I heard this amazing woman Jacqueline Novogratz share stories of how "patient capital" can bring sustainable jobs, goods, services -- and dignity -- to the world’s poorest. – If investors have a vision that goes beyond betting on the fastest horse, and are willing to work with entrepreneurs in the 3rd world, we can move beyond charity to true development.
Patience with history – How long oh Lord? – 7 times the Psalmist asks this.
How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
(From a sermon by Mike Wilkins, Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, 10/19/2009)