Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend…. [NIV: Wounds from a friend can be trusted….]
Romans 8:28-29 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Intro: Back in 1921, a missionary couple named David and Svea Flood went with their 2-year-old son from Sweden to the heart of Africa – to what was then called the Belgian Congo. They met up with another Scandinavian couple, the Ericksons, and soon the 4 of them felt led by the Lord to move out of the central mission station and take the gospel to one of the more remote areas of the Congo.
-At the village of N’dolera they were rebuffed by the chief, who would not let them enter his town for fear of alienating the local gods. So the two couples decided to go half a mile away and build their own huts.
-They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but there was none. Their only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week.
-Svea Flood – a tiny woman only 4 feet, 8 inches tall – decided that if this boy was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead him to Jesus. And in fact, over a period of time she succeeded.
-But there were no other encouragements. Meanwhile, malaria struck one member of their little group after another. In time the Erickson’s decided they had had enough suffering and left for the relative security of the central mission station.
-Then, in the middle of this primitive wilderness, Svea found herself pregnant. When the time came for her to give birth, the village chief softened enough to allow a midwife to help her. A little girl was born, whom they named Aina.
-The delivery, however, was difficult, and Svea was already weak from malaria. The birth process was a heavy blow to her stamina. She lasted only another 17 days
-Inside David Flood, something snapped. He dug a crude grave, buried his 27-year-old wife, and then took his children back to the central mission station.
-Giving his newborn daughter to the Ericksons, he snarled, “I’m going back to Sweden. I’ve lost my wife, and I obviously can’t take care of this baby. God has ruined my life.” With that, he left, rejecting not only his calling, but God Himself.
-Sometimes tragic things happen, even in the lives of those who are doing their best to walk close to God. Bad things do happen to good people. I have to admit that I am still processing this theme. Is God behind everything that happens in this world, or does He just let things happen and then picks up the pieces afterward? Could it be a little of both? I sense that it is not binary in nature, but there is one thing I am sure of: God can be trusted no matter what! Job 5:17-18 17 "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. 18 For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.
-We have trouble with the idea that God might actually be behind some of the pain we face. Isn’t life hard enough? Yet the Bible does not guarantee pain-free living. Rather, it urges faithful people to embrace suffering as part of the package. There will be tragedies and brokenness. Whether God is behind them or not, I don’t know, but He is fully present in our situation, transforming us into the image of His Son.
-No matter how difficult life can become, we know that "… in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
-His purpose is in v.29. It says, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…"
-Do you realize what that means? It means that God is working through everything that happens in the lives of those who love Him to help us become more like Jesus. And no matter what the problem or heartache may be, if we love Him, and if we let Him, even the problems and wounds we face in life can be an important part of this process.
Prop: God uses today’s pain for tomorrow’s glory. I’d like to look at 3 benefits that come into our lives through our problems. And as we see how God has used problems in the past to bring about great blessings, it will help us in the problems we face today.
I. God uses problems to direct and shape us
-Many of the difficult things we experience in life are not random accidents or streaks of bad luck. Some of them are allowed and at times even orchestrated by God to direct us, shaping us into the image of Jesus.
-Picture a large rock in the middle of a barren field. Sitting there by itself, it is ordinary, overlooked, and without much use. But in the hands of a master sculptor, it can become a masterpiece. Your life is a lot like that rock.
-Even though you can’t see it right now, God has been busy creating something amazing in you. He really has. Through everything you’ve endured. Through that confusing situation you’re facing right now, God has been and still is working on your behalf.
-The problem is that we can’t see what He’s doing while it’s happening. All we see are the chips flying. The chisel’s blow isn’t evidence that God has left us or is angry with us, but rather that God is right in front of us: eyeing our progress, smoothing the rough edges, patiently bringing the image of Jesus out in us.
-I’d like to show a video skit that gives us a better idea of the work that God is doing in us as we trust Him and allow Him to shape our lives into what He wants us to be.
-God is using the events of our lives to shape us into the image of Jesus.
II. God uses problems to correct us
-Sometimes we may be stuck in a rut and God uses problems to change our direction in life. It isn’t that we’re doing anything wrong - it’s just that we need a new direction.
-But there are other times when we’re definitely wrong. We have strayed into sin, and we need God’s correction, His discipline, in order to have our fellowship restored with Him. So God will use some problem in our life to stimulate us to think about the sin that we have fallen into and to correct our behavior.
-One of the most familiar parables in the Bible is "The parable of the prodigal son." Who “…set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
-"When he came to his senses, he said, ’How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father." (Luke 15:11-20)
-God knows how devastating sin can be. And when we give in to sin, He has promised to correct us. So when we’re having problem after problem, we may need to ask if there is some area of our life that God is trying to correct. Not all problems are allowed for the purpose of correcting us - but some are. Finally…
III. God uses problems to protect us.
-We can see this illustrated in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph was his father’s favorite son. And as a result of this favoritism, his brothers were filled with hatred and bitterness towards him. Then one day their hatred boiled over and they sold him as a slave to a caravan travelling to Egypt.
-As you read this story in the book of Genesis, it seems that one moment he was the favorite son, getting anything he wanted, and the next, he was in chains and being sold into slavery.
-Life couldn’t seem to be any worse for Joseph, but God had a purpose and a plan for his life. He was watching over him and protecting him, even though Joseph didn’t realize it at the time. Since Joseph was human, I am certain that he had some questions for God along the way. “God, why is this happening? What are these wounds for? Will any good come out of my situation?” We also know that he honored and trusted God.
-The story of Joseph’s life is a remarkable one, and only the miraculous hand of God could have accomplished it, taking him out of slavery and making him a ruler in Egypt, second in power to Pharaoh himself.
-Years later, during the time of severe famine, Joseph saw his brothers once again when they came to Egypt to beg for the privilege of buying food. At first they had no idea that this Egyptian ruler standing before them was Joseph.
-But finally, Joseph revealed himself to them. When that happened his brothers were petrified with fear and begged Joseph not to kill them. Joseph knew how much his brothers had hated him, but he also saw the hand of God working in his own life, and how God had protected him through it all. So here is what Joseph said to his brothers [Genesis 45:4-8].
-"… do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. … So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."
-So we must learn to trust God - even when problems come. He will direct and shape us, correct us, and protect us, because He has promised to work out all things for the good of those who love Him.
-Illus. Cont. - Eight months later both of the Erickson’s were stricken with an illness and died within days of each other. The baby was turned over to some American missionaries, who adjusted her Swedish name to “Aggie” and eventually took her with them back to America.
-As a young woman, she attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. There she met and married a young man named Dewey Hurst. Years passed. The Hurst’s enjoyed a fruitful ministry. In time her husband became president of one of our Assemblies of God colleges, Northwest College/University (D.V. Hurst).
-One day a Swedish religious magazine appeared in her mailbox. She had no idea who had sent it, and she couldn’t read the words. But as she turned the pages, all of a sudden a photo stopped her cold. There, in a primitive setting was a grave with a white cross - and on the cross were the words “Svea Flood.”
-Aggie jumped in her car and went straight to a college faculty member who, she knew, could translate the article. “What does this say?” she asked.
-The instructor summarized the story: It was about missionaries who had come to N’dolera long ago … the birth of a white baby … the death of the young mother … the one little African boy who had been led to Christ … and how, after the whites had all left, the boy had grown up and finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village.
-The article said that gradually he won all his students to Christ … and the children led their parents to Christ … even the chief had become a Christian. Today there were 600 Christian believers in that one village alone …
-There is more to the story. For the Hurst’s 25th wedding anniversary, Northwest College presented them with the gift of a vacation to Sweden. There Aggie sought to find her real father. An old man now, David Flood had remarried, fathered 4 more children, and generally dissipated his life with alcohol. He had recently suffered a stroke. Still bitter, he had one rule in his family: “Never mention the name of God because God took everything from me.”
-After an emotional reunion with her half brothers and half sister, Aggie brought up the subject of seeing her father. The others hesitated. “You can talk to him,” they replied, “even though he’s very ill now. But you need to know that whenever he hears the name of God, he flies into a rage.”
-Aggie was not to be deterred. She walked into the squalid apartment, with liquor bottles everywhere, and approached the 73-year-old man lying in a rumpled bed.
-“Papa?” she said tentatively. He turned toward her and began to cry. “Aina,” he said. “I never meant to give you away.” “It’s all right, Papa,” she replied, taking him gently in her arms. “God took care of me.”
-The man instantly stiffened. The tears stopped. “God forgot all of us. Our lives have been like this because of Him.” He turned his face back to the wall.
-Aggie stroked his face and then continued, undaunted. “Papa, I have a story to tell you, and it’s a true one. You didn’t go to Africa in vain. Mama didn’t die in vain. The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus Christ. The one seed you planted just kept growing and growing. Today there are 600 African people serving the Lord because you were faithful to the call of God in your life ….”
“Papa, Jesus loves you. He has never hated you.” The old man turned back to look into his daughter’s eyes. His body relaxed. He began to talk. And by the end of the afternoon, he had come back to the God he had resented for so many decades.
-A few years later, the Hursts were attending an evangelism conference in London, England, when a report was given from the nation of Zaire (the former Belgian Congo).
The leader of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers, spoke eloquently of the gospel’s spread in his nation. Aggie could not help going to ask him afterward if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood.
-“Yes, madam,” the man replied in French, his words then being translated into English. “It was Svea Flood who led me to Jesus Christ. I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day your mother’s grave and her memory are honored by all of us.”
-He embraced her in a long, sobbing hug. Then he continued, “You must come to Africa to see, because your mother is the most famous person in our history.”
-In time that is exactly what Aggie Hurst and her husband did. They were welcomed by cheering throngs of villagers. The most dramatic moment, of course, was when the pastor escorted Aggie to see her mother’s white cross for herself. She knelt in the soil to pray and give thanks.
-Later that day, in the church, the pastor read from John 12:24, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” He then followed with Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”
Conclusion: As we close, maybe you are dealing with some wounds or problems or pain in your life. Some wounds are self-inflicted, some are God-inflicted, and some are inflicted by others, whether intentional or not. Some wounds might simply be the product of living in a sin-sick world that desperately needs to embrace Jesus so He can come and heal us.
-I hope that your pain does not blind you to the One who is working hard to bring good out of your situation. Who knows how many people might be helped or brought into relationship with Jesus through your life and the wounds you have. Your pain can be someone else’s gain. It can also bring you closer to God as you learn to trust Him to make you more like His Son Jesus.
-Let’s take a minute and bow our heads together. If you are going through some rough times and could use a little encouragement and strength today, I’d like to pray that you receive what you need from God today. If you would like to be included in that prayer, would you show by raising your hand? God is faithful to use whatever you are facing to change you into the person He wants you to be. Let’s pray.
(The story of Svea Flood was adapted from the book, “Fresh Power” by Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI)
[Portions of sermon adapted from Melvin Newland, sermoncentral.com]