According to the Bureau of Standards in Washington, a dense fog covering seven city blocks at a depth of one hundred feet is composed of less than one glass of water. That amount of water is divided into about sixty billion tiny droplets. Yet when those small particles settle, they can almost blot out everything from your sight. Many Christians today live their lives in a fog. They allow a cupful of troubles to cloud their vision and dampen their spirit. I hope that is not your story. Founder of Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll (born 1936) once said, “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.” That leads us to today’s scripture lesson.
We find ourselves today in the Epistle of First John. The author is John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. He was the only disciple who died of natural causes. He was a fisherman by trade and along with Peter, Andrew, and James, was a member of Jesus’s inner circle. He wrote this letter approximately the year 90 AD, after he penned the Gospel of John, yet before the Book of Revelation. It is a general letter addressed to all believers. That means it was written to us too. It was written to encourage all believers to remain faithful, while many have walked away.
That is why our words for today are so hopeful. Verse two grabbed my attention for that reason, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” There is something warm and pastoral about that verse. John reminds us we are members of God’s family, not by human efforts. We are children of God because of grace. That family membership means we have been given an open relationship with God. That family membership does not vaccinate us against worldly problems. However, it does mean two things. First, the problems of this world are temporary, but our relationship with God is eternal. Second, you are not in this world alone because God is with you. God is with us today. That is important because life can be hard. Can I ask you a question?
Have you ever had a problem? Let me answer that question for you, “Yes!” I have never met a person who did not have a problem. I have problems. You have problems. The people sitting next to you have problems. The people in front of you and behind you have problems. It is sad but true. Problems are part of the human experience. If you take an inventory of your problems each one of your problems falls into one of four categories. These four categories come from CNBC. This is the list:
The Simple Problem With these problems the cause and effect is obvious. For example, if you are driving down the road and the low gas gage comes on, so you stop and by gas. There is a simple solution.
The Complicated Problem With these problems there is an element of the unknown. That is when you call in an expert for help. For example, you have a cough that will not go away, so you call your doctor. Your faucet keeps dripping, so you call in a plumber. The answer is simple to the expert, but it is not so simple to you.
The Complex Problem With these problems you can only figure out what went wrong, so you can make sure it does not happen again. For example, you discovered you are allegoric eating shellfish, so you will never eat shellfish again. Only a fool would repeat the action.
The Chaotic Problem With these problems there is elements that are out of your control. You can do your best to control them, but they are uncontrollable. For example, the weather can cause chaotic problems. Hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis occur periodically. Meteorologists can explain why they happen. City planners can prepare for the next one, but no one can stop them. Many pray it will never happen again.
Take an inventory of your personal problems. How many simple problems are you facing right now? How many complicated problems are you facing right now? How many complex problems are you facing right now? How many chaotic problems are you facing right now? They all have one thing in common. They are all temporary. They will not matter in a hundred years. You are a child of God. The only thing that will matter in one hundred years is Jesus. The problems of this world are temporary, but your relationship with God is eternal.
People ask me, “What is the most difficult part of your job?” The answer is not preaching. I love to preach, and I look forward to those early mornings and late nights where I get to wrestle with the text. What does God want me to say this week? The answer is not administration. We have some wonderfully skilled people who handle it. The answer is not fundraising for the next mission trip. I have been humbled many times by your generosity. The answer is not meetings, because we have pared them down to a few and they do not last long. I find meetings to be self-destructive in the life of the church. The answer to that question is not constant phones, text, and emails. You can contact me anytime. I need to be needed. The answer to that question is not being criticized or being held accountable by everyone. It just means you are interested. The answer to the question, what is the most difficult part of your job, is pastoral care. I find it to be absolutely exhausting. It is not that I do not care about you. It means I care too much. I love being your pastor, and you have wormed your way into my heart. I think of you as you were when I came, twenty-seven years ago. It is hard to believe you and I are twenty-seven years older. Time goes fast and time is not always our friend. Time can be cruel. I could tell you countless stories, but I will tell you just one.
Her name was Ruth, some of you knew her. I always liked her. In her own way, she was fun. When I came, she and her husband lived alone. They had raised their family, two boys. In time, her husband died, and, in more time, she was placed in a local facility. The owners did their best to make it like home, but everyone who lived there wanted to go home. Ruth was fortunate because family visited her regularly. At one time she had a clear opinionated mind, but not on the day I visited. I did not recognize her sleeping in her chair. When I walked near her, she woke up. I was relieved when she called me by name. She said, “Russ!” I dominated the conversation for a few minutes and updated her on the church. She responded, “That’s nice.” Out of the blue she looked at me and said, “Do you know who I’m really mad it?” I was afraid, she was going to say, me. I said nothing. She said, “My father. Have you seen my father? I have been in this place all this time and my father has not come to visit me once.” On that day, Ruth was 87 years old. I scrambled for something to say, then she said, “Now that I think about it, my mother has not come to see me in a couple of weeks.” I was devastated. I emotionally limped to my car and called her daughter-in-law. We swapped stories and ended by talking about happier times. The hardest part of my job is pastoral care. Ruth is just one example. There are so many. You are such nice people, and your problems are so great. I do not know how you can have a smile on your face. It is obvious, you are child of God.
Years ago, Dr. Raymond Edman (1900-1967) wrote a little book called In Quietness and Confidence. He says every time a Christian faces trouble we must do two things. First, we must face the problem head-on. Second, we must remember four clear statements. These are the statements:
I am here by God’s appointment. In other words, God wants you in that situation for some reason. That statement is important because it reminds us that God has not forgotten us. I guarantee you that God has not forgotten you.
I am in God’s keeping. In other words, God will care for your needs. I did not say extravagant living, I said basic needs. Do you remember the story of Elijah? He drank from the brook and existed on sandwiches, bread, and meat. During my time at the church, we have never had a single church member die of starvation. Some could you lose a few pounds? God cares for our needs.
I am under God’s training. In other words, God has a plan for your life. Your troubles are molding your heart for something special. What sensitivity have you gained because of your hardship? How have your problems changed you? The lesson of humility is hard to accept.
God will show me the purpose in God’s time. I would like to say the purpose for your suffering will be revealed soon, but I do not want to lie to you. When I get to heaven, I have a list of questions for God and so do you. It is fine to question God. It is a sign of a growing faith. In God’s time, we will get our answers.
Do not let your problems just be a problem. Accept the fact that your problems are an opportunity to witness to your faith. Non-believers blame God and others. Believers turn to God. Let me end with this story.
In 1985, Bruce Goodrich (1967-1985) was training to be a cadet at Texas A&M University. One day, Bruce and the other newcomers were expected to run until they dropped. It seemed like an innocent hazing prank. The problem was, Bruce did, but he never got up. He died from heat stroke. He died before he went to his first class. Shortly after his funeral, Bruce’s father wrote a letter to the university. What kind of letter would you write if your child had just died in a senseless way? This is what Bruce’s father wrote:
I would like to thank the university for the kindness you showed my family during our time of need. I am pleased Bruce had a Christian witness on the campus. While we may not understand the events of the past few weeks, we know God does. God does not make mistakes. We know that Jesus is caring for Bruce now.
Can anyone here question that father’s faith? Can anyone question your faith? Your problems will fan your witness to its greatest and brightest potential. Do you remember the quote from Charles Swindoll? He said, “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.” What are you going to do the next time hardship visits your house? Never forget, you are a child of God!