AGCC Sun. a.m. 11/23/97

(see also: 1/8/89)



TEXT: Eph. 3:1,13,20; Acts 27-28; Gen. 37,39-48

INTRO: Disappointment is a hard thing to live with, and sometimes we feel disappointed with God and the circumstances of our lives. The question we sometimes find ourselves asking God is "How could you let this happen Lord?"

The truth however is that the real battle is NOT what happens to us, but HOW we respond to what happens to us! If we trust God in ALL circumstances He will prove that He is able to do above our expectations...but only if we trust Him, and allow time for Him to reveal His purposes in our lives!

Many of the greatest people who have ever lived have had the worst circumstances in their lives, it is how they chose to respond to such events that made them great! Consider the following:

ILLUS: In a famous study by Victor and Mildred Goertzel, entitled Cradles of Eminence, the home backgrounds of 300 highly successful people were investigated. These 300 subjects had made it to the top. They were men and women whose names everyone would recognize as brilliant in their fields, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Gandhi, Einstein, and Freud. The intensive investigation into their early home lives yielded some surprising findings:

* Three fourths of the children were troubled either by poverty, by a broken home, or by rejecting, overpossessive, or dominating parents.

* Seventy-four of 85 writers of fiction or drama and 16 of the 20 poets came from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological drama played out by their parents.

* Physical handicaps such as blindness, deafness, or crippled limbs characterized over one- fourth of the sample.

How did these people go on, then, to such outstanding accomplishments? Most likely by compensation. They compensated for their weaknesses in one area by excelling in another.

God is always greater than the circumstances of our lives...He is always in control, we can trust our lives to Him in every situation and know that He will do above and beyond whatever we could ask or hope!

PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that God is able to do above whatever we could ask or think when we trust in Him and do not lose our faith!

I. ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE! Eph. 3:1,13,20a; Acts 27-28; Gen. 37,39-48

A. Circumstances Acts 27-28; Gen. 37,39-48

1. All of us face life each day with all kinds of expectations..and therefore we also often face disappointments because many times things don't turn out like we expected or hoped!

a. This is a common experience for all people, saved and unsaved!

b. This is because no one can accurately tell what is going to come, we can only guess, some are better guessers than others!

2. Where we often make mistakes however is in assuming that those things that happen that don't live up to our expectations are always bad!

a. God does not make mistakes...and so when things happen, even those things that don't meet up with our expectations are part of God's plan...a good plan!

b. In fact, God's plans may actually improve our life, by His standards of course and not just by ours!

c. What are often present disappointments may in reality be the foundation of great things in our lives later!

ILLUS: Gladys Talbot tells the story of three little trees who wanted to be something in life. The first tree wanted to be a pretty cradle when it grew up. One day some people came to the forest and cut the tree down. The tree was hewn into rough pieces and carelessly put together to form a manger in a stable in Bethlehem. The little tree was disappointed because it was shoved into a dark cave with no one to see it but some cattle. One day however, God laid there His own Babe -- the Son of God. the manger quivered with delight. "Oh, this is wonderful! In all my dreams I never thought to hold a Baby like this. This is better than all my planning. Why, I am part of a miracle!"

Years passed by, and men came to the forest to cut down the second tree. This tree aspired to be a great ship when it grew up. But the little tree did not do great things. It was not made into a great vessel, but instead it became a tiny fishing boat, owned by a simple Galilean fisherman named Peter. The little boat was most unhappy. One day it stood by the shores of the Sea of Galilee dejected and disappointed. A crowd had gathered by the shore and because of the multitude, a Man, called Jesus, stepped into the little boat and taught the people from it. "This is wonderful!" it whispered. "In all my dreams and planning I never thought I would be used as part of a miracle."

After some months, men came to the forest to cut down the third tree. This tree just wanted to remain on the hillside and point to God. But men did not leave the little tree alone. They tore away its branches; they cut into its bark, and deeper, into its very heart. They hewed it apart and put it together again, in the form of a crude cross. The little tree quivered through all its being.

"This is terrible!" it whispered. "They are going to hang someone. Oh, I never wanted this to happen to me -- I only wanted to point to God! This is awful!"

One day, outside of Jerusalem, a great crowd gathered. In the midst of the crowd was Jesus and beside Him was the cross. After nailing Him to the cross, the little tree heard words of forgiveness and peace that were offered to the whole world. Then Christ completed His work of redemption and "gave up the ghost."

And the cross began to understand! "This is wonderful!" it whispered. "In all my dreams I never thought to point to God in this way. I am part of a miracle. This is better than all my planning." -- Talbot, G.M., Stories I Love to Tell, Chicago: Moody Press

3. Many times the circumstances of our lives can not be appreciated until long after the events and we see how God does such great things during such bad times!

a. So what's the lesson?...don't throw away your faith too soon when bad things happen!

b. Look at what God can do IN US, not just FOR US.

4. Two great examples in the Bible reflect this dynamic:

a. Paul - Acts 27-28 - Paul is on his way to jail, then is caught in a storm, threatened to be executed so he couldn't escape during the storm, then shipwrecked, then bitten by a poisonous snake...then finally locked up in Rome!...but all this proves in the end to result in Salvation for lots of people on an Island called Malta and later many get saved in Caesar's household - so a witness is brought to the capitol of the Roman Empire of Christ's love and salvation!...but oh the trip getting there!!

b. Joseph also had great expectations...of ruling over his brothers...but the trip getting there was pretty rough (see Gen. 38,39-48)! Joseph endured rejection by his own family, sold as a slave, accused of attempted rape, locked up in prison for years, and lived in a foreign land before seeing what God meant in it all! And when God revealed His plan, it was far greater than Joseph could have ever dreamed of, for not only did he rule over his own family, but the most powerful nation on Earth at the time, Egypt! He told his brothers later, "What you meant for evil God meant for good" (paraphrased) Gen. 50:20

5. God takes ugly circumstances and creates something wonderful from them if we hang on to our faith during the trials! What we can't see now will one day be a beautiful picture of grace and love though it seems ugly now!

ILLUS: An artist went to visit a dear friend. When he arrived, she was weeping. He asked why. She showed him a handkerchief of exquisite beauty that had great sentimental value, which had been ruined by a drop of indelible ink.

The artist asked her to let him have the handkerchief, which he returned to her by mail several days later. When she opened the package she could hardly believe her eyes. The artist, using the inkblot as a base, had drawn on the handkerchief a design of great beauty with India ink. Now it was more beautiful and more valuable than ever.

Sometimes the tragedies that break our hearts can become the basis for a more beautiful design in our lives. Be patient with the hurts over which you have no control. They may become a source of healing, help, and beauty.

Thomas Lane Butts --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 16-17.

6. We let our happiness and joy rise and fall too much on the immediate stuff in our lives and forget that God IS ABLE to do above what we could imagine or think...but we need to trust Him and give Him the time to make it known!

B. Control! Eph. 3:1,13,20a

1. What we really struggle with is "control"!

a. Though we often say we "trust God" in reality our emotions run on the fact that we really trust only ourselves!

b. Paul's internal confidence did not rise and fall based on his circumstances but on his faith and confidence that God was always in control!

c. It is one thing to believe this, and another thing to actually practice it!

2. Paul in 3:13 has to ask them not to be "discouraged because of his sufferings" for them...shouldn't they have been saying this to him!?

a. Paul wants them to know that his present sufferings are all under God's control so there is no need for them to be discouraged; concerned yes, but not discouraged!

b. When our faith is intact, we may be concerned, but we shouldn't be discouraged...discouragement is really an indication that we are not sure we can trust God!

3. Paul confidence is expressed in 3:20a, hence the reason he asks them not to be discouraged...he is confident in God, not in his circumstances!

a. His viewpoint about God is that the Lord will always do above whatever he could expect anyway

b. It is just a matter of faith and time for all this to be revealed.

c. This is still true in our lives as well.

4. No matter how far we might go in understanding life, the bottom line is that only God is in control....all great minds have eventually discovered this!

ILLUS: I recounted how in his early years Einstein had hoped to develop a "unified field theory" that would explain everything and thereby explain away God. Having failed to do so, toward the end of his life Einstein pronounced, "Subtle is the Lord."

Since God is indeed subtle, I suggested to the commissioners that it would behoove us to teach godly values with subtlety. -- Abraham Pais, Subtle Is The Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein, (N.Y.: Oxford University press, 1982), p. 113.

5. Most Christians do well with believing that God is in control, but do badly in expressing it in their lives!

II. ABSOLUTE POWER Eph. 3:20; Acts 28; Gen. 41-48

A. Capable! Eph. 3:20b

1. "...according to His power" is an important line in verse 20!

a. God is quite capable in handling the circumstances of our lives!

b. Ultimately we must rely on His power and capabilities when we face things we don't have control over anyway!

2. God is fully aware of ALL the circumstances surrounding our lives, and He will use all these things to work out His will in our lives!

ILLUS: An evangelist told the following story in one of his campaigns. He said, "I have a friend who during the depression lost a job, a fortune, a wife, and a home, but tenaciously held to his faith -- the only thing he had left.

One day he stopped to watch some men building a stone church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. 'What are you going to do with that?' asked my friend. The workman said, 'Do you see that little opening way up there near the spire? Well, I'm shaping this down here so that it will fit up there.' Tears filled the eyes of the heart-broken man as he walked away. It seemed that God had spoken through the workman to explain the ordeal through which he was passing."

Perhaps you have recently suffered a great loss. Or maybe you are experiencing physical or emotional pain. The outward man seems to be "perishing." Yet, if you know the Lord as your Savior, you need not despair. All these things are under the loving hand of your heavenly Father, who is using them to prepare you for heaven.

3. Things will never get beyond God's control and we CAN really trust Him!

B. Character Eph. 3:20c; Acts 28; Gen. 41-48;

1. Notice the phrase at the end of Eph. 3:20 "...that is at work WITHIN us,"

a. It is obvious from this line that God's greatest purpose is what He does IN us, not just what happens TO us!

b. God's goal is building character, too often we are more concerned with our reputation than with our character!

ILLUS: Character is what God and the angels know of us; reputation is what men and women think of us. -- Horace Mann

2. God will build a man before He will build a man's ministry!

3. Paul certainly understood that in all circumstances God was more concerned with WHO Paul was than just what was happening to Paul.

a. Therefore when Paul found himself being thrown in prison with Silas he could praise God and sing...nothing had changed between him and God, only the outward circumstances had him chained, not his character!

b. Joseph could endure horrible mistreatment by others and yet remain confident in God because he had a godly character, something he obviously cherished more than just peaceful circumstances! He would not turn his back on God although most of his loved ones and friends turned their backs on him...and in the end God did above what he could have ever hoped or expected!!...but remember, it was a long road to the good stuff!

4. God is able to use the good things and the bad things in life to build our character...but we must trust Him!

ILLUS: The Lord gives us friends to push us to our potential--and enemies to push us beyond it.

Jim Vorsas --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 21.

5. The only difference between Christians who are contented and those who are not is that the contented ones have learned to trust God in all circumstances!

a. It is not that some Christians are problem free while others are not!

b. It is the way we choose to respond to our problems that makes the difference.

C. Changed! Eph. 3:20

1. This promise "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us," opens the door to transform us!

a. It certainly transformed a former murderer named Saul to a miracle worker named Paul!

b. It transformed a young man named Joseph that had a very rough family life and very rough young adult life into the 2nd highest ruler of Egypt!

c. It can transform our lives too!

2. God can control everything, but our heart's response to life is in our control!

a. It is imperative that we hold onto God's hand and trust Him!

ILLUS: A few days before I left home to prepare for the ministry my gray-haired pastor, Rev. Temple, told me this story. I have told it many, many times since, especially in connection with the song, "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow."

"When my son was small, we often walked together out through the fields and neighboring pasture behind the parsonage. At first the little fellow would hold onto my little finger, but he found that when he stepped into a hoof-print or stumbled over something, his grip would fail and down he'd go in the dust or snow. Not giving it much thought, my mind on other matters, I'd stop and he'd get up, brush himself off, and grab my little finger again, gripping a little harder this time.

"Needless to say, this occurred frequently until one day as he was brushing himself off, he looked at me and said, 'Daddy?' I replied, 'Yes, Son, what is it?' He said, I think if you would hold my hand, I wouldn't fall.'

Pastor Temple then turned to me and with a tear in his eye he said, "You know, he still stumbled many times after that, but he never hit the ground. Now, as you walk with God, don't try to hold on to Him, let Him hold on to you. You may stumble but He'll never let you fall."

Fred Musser, The Tabernacle --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 244.

b. There are no circumstances in our lives that are outside God's control!

3. This truth should transform us, while we may not be able to control everything around us, we do have control over our heart!

4. The bottom line is simple: "God WILL DO immeasurably more than ALL we ask or imagine!" ... He will do greater things in our lives if we remain faithful that we can ever hope for...all we need to do is stay faithful and trust Him.

a. So what circumstances in your life today has you bitter or angry...things that has left you feeling out of control?

b. Are you willing to trust God for the long haul and even relax in the midst of the trials now?

c. Do you really believe He sill honor Eph. 3:20, and if so, how does your attitude and actions reflect your belief in this?

d. What would have happened if Paul or Joseph had quit during the horrible circumstances of their lives? ... What will happen if you do?

5. Give God the time to prove His promise here....continue trusting Him by proving yourself faithful even under duress...remember, "He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work in us, TO HIM BE GLORY IN THE CHURCH AND IN CHRIST JESUS THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS (including ours!), FOR EVER AND EVER! AMEN!" Eph. 3:20-21

CONCLUSION: Never underestimate God's power or goodness! HE IS ABLE to do above our expectations! We must learn to accept God's work in our lives even when we have already specified the direction we think He should take, His freedom to work will reveal answers beyond our dreams! TRUST HIM!