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For six weeks I'm featuring the full text of my latest sermon series below.
The Divine Elephant

Reason Enough
for Embracing Today
Part 5
"Power Over Problems"
Delivered the weekend of February 7 & 8

          “I have good news and bad news,” we hear.  If you were given the option, which would you rather hear first?  In the long run it doesn't matter, because you're going to hear both anyway, and you’ll have to deal with the bad news as well as rejoice over the good news. 

Plan On Problems
Best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren gave an interview a couple of years ago.  In that interview he said, “This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.
            “I used to think that life was hills and valleys – you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth.  I don't believe that anymore.  Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life.
            “No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on.  And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.”
            I need to be reminded of this truth.  It reminds me of a famous line by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Into each life some rain must fall.”
            Life will have problems; you can plan on it!  I don't like to hear that any more than you do, but it's true.  Given that fact, what can a person do?  We certainly don't want problems to ruin our lives, so how can we gain the upper hand over them?  How can we have power over problems? 

The Right Perspective
The recent emergency landing of an airliner in the Hudson River has left all of us with an indelible image of that plane sinking into the river.  The passengers huddled on the plane's wings in the deep, frigid water that was ankle-deep and quickly rising as the plane continued to sink.
            Picture that scene: zoom in on the plane’s wings and the people gathered on those wings.  It looks pretty hopeless, doesn't it?  Were they terrified by what they were facing, feeling that they would die?  I don't think so, because if you zoom out farther on the picture you’ll see a ferryboat coming to their rescue.  They weren't alone with the big problem of the plane in icy water.  They had company; help was near!
            We're continuing our series of six messages on the theme “The Divine Elephant: Reason Enough for Embracing Today” with part five: “Power Over Problems.”  If God is REAL, He’s the biggest and best part of our human existence — and the reality of His presence should make all the difference in the world to us!  He's the Divine Elephant in the room, and we shouldn’t ignore Him!  If we let God be the most important part of our lives, we can (and should) look at our problems from a completely different perspective than if He wasn't part of our lives. 
We should be able to affirm what King David wrote: “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-7)
            The way we face and cope with our problems depends on the perspective we take toward them.  When we picture our problems with God in the picture, we have the right perspective!  Oswald Chambers wrote, “We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.”
            I regularly catch myself reacting to a problem as if I have no faith in the God who loves me and is with me.  At such moments I need to remind myself to look at my problem from a proper perspective, with God in the picture.
            In another of King David's psalms — his most famous one, psalm number twenty-three in our Bible — he gave us the image of a shepherd: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)  The shepherd’s rod was used to fight off any threat from wild animals that might kill the sheep.  The staff was used to guide and control the sheep.
            Near our daughter’s family’s home in
Mexico at Refuge Ranch there’s a shepherd's shack on a hill.  When the neighbor brings his sheep there to graze and then spend the night, the shepherd stays in that shack.  Before I go to bed I often step outside to watch the stars.  When I glance up at the shack there's a single light bulb burning.  The shepherd is in there, close to his sheep, watching over them to protect them from theft by man and death by wild dogs.
            God is our shepherd — and a very good shepherd He is!  As we go through our valleys of problems and challenges, He’s with us as long as we don't wander away from Him!  We can, if we choose, affirm with King David, “My hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:5b) 

Honest-to-God Thoughts and Feelings
Having strong faith that God is with us in the midst of our problems doesn’t mean that we should face our problems blithely, with no concern or frustration.  The psalms in the Bible are full of honest-to-God prayers where the psalmist talked honestly with God: with no holds barred, admitting his confusion, frustration, and all other emotions.  In the psalm that’s the basis for this message King David stated, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8) 
Let me give you an example — from another psalmist — of what pouring our hearts out to God can look like.  The psalmist cried out, “Will the Lord reject forever?  Will he never show his favor again?  Has his unfailing love vanished forever?  Has his promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:7-9)
            It's all right — in fact, it's best — if we’re honest with God in our prayers about our problems.  We can't hide our true thoughts and feelings from Him anyway, because He knows better than we do what we're really thinking and feeling!
            Sometimes after a real tragedy a Christian tries to be very positive, exclaiming, “Praise the Lord!”  That person isn't being realistic.  We want to reach the point where we can praise the Lord and affirm His goodness in the midst of our troubles, but that doesn't mean that we should bury what we're really thinking or feeling.
            God can't do His best work with us in the midst of our problems if we try to gloss over them with some trite religious-sounding phrases.  Often God wants to use our problems to teach us and to help us grow into the people He wants us to be.  That can only happen when we reveal our true thoughts and feelings to Him.  Hiding those thoughts and feelings, or ignoring them, won’t further the work that He wants to do with us and in us.  “Pour out your hearts to him,” the psalmist David reminded us. 

A Problem's Possibilities
            When we pour out our hearts to God concerning our problems, the result we're usually looking for is that He gets rid of it!  Anyone who says “I like my problems” is weird — or they’re not thinking clearly.
            God does sometimes solve our problems by removing them, and that's absolutely wonderful!  He can heal us, guide us to a job, restore relationships, and much more.  Those things are certainly possible for Him to do, but sometimes He has us wait before He removes the problem or sees us through to accomplishing the challenge before us.  In another psalm David affirmed, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)  Waiting is very difficult; in fact, it can be considered a form of suffering.  We use terms that imply suffering when we describe waiting, like “I can't stand it anymore!” or “This waiting is killing me!”
            There are times when the problem is never removed.  The apostle Paul had that experience: though he was used by God to heal others, when Paul asked for healing from what he called a “thorn in the flesh” the Lord said turned down his request.  Paul described it: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
            Sometimes God's agenda for us seems to be served best by allowing our problem to remain to one degree or another, or in one form or another, as with Paul.  God isn’t limited to working in a problem-free environment!  In fact, He does some of His best work with us when we're with Him in the midst of problems.
            Recently Kay Yow, a famous and successful college women's basketball coach for
North Carolina State, lost her 21-year battle with cancer.  Her funeral was attended by more than 1400 people, and the speaker was Kay Yow herself!  She had taped a twenty-five minute video that was played at her funeral.  In it she said, “And it's been a wonderful journey, especially since the time I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”  Talking about her Christian faith, she said, “It has changed my life.  It has changed the life of every person who has accepted Him.”  Then she said, as the funeral crowd watched and listened, “I don't want you to fret over the fact that I'm not here or question why I'm not here, because God knows what He's doing.  He doesn't make mistakes.”  We need the kind of faith that Kay Yow had: faith in the Lord that sustains us during and through our troubles.
            Eugene Peterson reminded us that “Prayer is not begging God to do something for us that he doesn't know about, or begging God to do something for us that he is reluctant to do, or begging God to do something that he hasn't time for.  In prayer we persistently, faithfully, trustingly come before God, submitting ourselves to his sovereignty, confident that he is acting, right now, on our behalf.” (Tell It Slant, p.144)
            God should be the biggest part of our lives.  In the midst of our problems, let's not ignore the Divine Elephant in the room!  An awareness of His presence, and a positive response to that presence, can make all the difference in the way that we deal with our problems.  With Him we can have power over problems!  “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:5)

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