The “SURE THINGS” Series #1
"A SURE REWARD!"
TEXT: Prov. 11:18; Matt. 10:42; Lam. 3:21-23; Gal. 6:8-9; 2 Tim. 4:6-8; Heb.12:11-13
INTRO: Springtime is such a great time! Everybody is anxious to plant a garden. Dreams of squash, cabbage, tomatoes, radishes, strawberries, corn, etc. fill the mind as everyone excitedly plants their seeds or small plants!
BUT ... weeks later the real harvest comes -- dandelions, crab grass, prickly stems, wild grass ... several other things that we never thought we planted ... indeed we never did! Here's where the story gets sad, while many get excited about the harvest from the stuff they planted, not many get too excited about the work involved throughout the process of summer to see this dream harvest! So, some ignore the weeds, let them grow in hopes it won’t make a real difference ... and as one might expect there is NO reward at the end of summer beyond a few shriveled up green beans, and perhaps a small number of tiny squash not fit to squish!
What am I saying? God has promised us a sure reward ... but that doesn't mean the harvest of righteousness comes without labor! It is true, we cannot by our works be saved, but the corollary is also true, we cannot be saved AND NOT WORK!
Harvest and the rewards of crops come from not only planting seed but maintaining a long process of weeding and working the soil to produce the most and the best!
PROP. SENT: Too many Christians are willing to get by with as little commitment to God as possible ... they will settle for shrunken fruit and tolerate the weeds in their life ... but if you want the sure reward accept the sure responsibilities ... and you'll reach a sure harvest!
I. SOWING RIGHTEOUSNESS Prov. 11:18; Gal. 6:8-9
A. Planting Prov. 11:18
1. One of the great tragedies of western mentality is the belief that we need more than we actually do ... and that we SHOULD receive without responsibility!
a. We as Americans consume most of the world's energy ... yet we comprise a really small amount of the total number of humans on the planet!
b. When oil in the Middle East is threatened we are quick to respond to what we consider as a threat to our “national interest” … or what we believe is our need for security!
c. Tragically however we ignore other serious needs around the globe where injustice is costing lives; those don’t always fit into our “national interest” so we have a tendency to ignore them or treat them like they are problems the locals have to solve.
2. Any farmer can tell you what is so obvious ... you can only get back what you plant!
a. You can't plant dandelions and get strawberries!
b. You don't get milk out of hay ... at least not without the help of cows to process it!
3. This proverb is clear ... IF you sow wickedness you are going to earn deceptive wages!
4. But ... if you sow righteousness (live our God's commandments) your reward will be sure! It will mean more righteousness in you ... and possibly rubbing off onto others!
ILLUS: Lettuces, radishes, and such garden crops are soon out of the ground and ready for the table -- a month almost suffices to perfect them. But an oak requires long centuries to come to the fullness of its growth. Those graces which are most precious and durable will cost us longest to produce. Those good things which spring up hastily may have some transient worth about them, but we cannot look for permanence and value in them. There is no need to deplore the slowness of our spiritual growth, if that which comes of it is of a solid character. -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
5. The biggest problem with people is that they always think that they are going to be the exception to this rule … that they can sow "wild oats" and still get "strawberries!"
6. No farmer would last long if he planted this way!
B. Process Gal. 6:8-9
1. So far many people are with me ... but this is the point where I might lose some popularity!
2. IT IS NOT ENOUGH to simply plant the right stuff ... maintenance as a process must continue for the desired harvest to show!
ILLUS: My garden has taught me to think ahead. For it to be fruitful, I must plan. I must build soil, plant, and nurture what I have planted. It has also taught me to hold the harvest lightly. Over the course of a season I can lose a crop to spring rains that rot the seed, slugs that eat new shoots, rabbits that eat everything, hail that breaks the strong, and drought that withers the weak. I can lose a crop because of my ignorance or my carelessness. Until I have the fruit in storage, where it can also spoil, I live with uncertainty. I do my best, work faithfully, and hope. -- John Leax in In Season and Out. Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 1.
3. It is July and August that separate the gardeners from the observers!
a. What do I mean? The gardener is the one who knows there is going to be a daily commitment week in and week out before the desired rewards are going to become a reality!
b. The observers are those who look at their garden throughout the summer and hope somehow the stuff they planted will produce fabulous fruit and vegetables in spite of the weeds overtaking what they planted ... but without the process there can be no produce … the certainty of a sure reward!
4. Now let's be honest ... the process includes effort and hard work!
a. Notice verse 9: “Don't become weary in well doing ... for in due time we will reap a harvest IF WE DON'T GIVE UP!
b. We participate in the process.
5. The process cannot be ignored ... at least there have been some honest folks that won't bother to plant because they know they are NOT going to continue the necessary maintenance!
II. SEARCHING REASON Lam. 3:1-33
A. Perspective Lam. 3:1-20
1. Jeremiah was asked to do a tough job ... He was asked by God to tell Judah that they were going to be taken captive because of their evil hearts and constant failure to obey God, even the few righteous people were going to experience the consequences of the evil majority ... NO ONE was going to escape this captivity, not even the good people!
2. The people thus hated Jeremiah ... and Jeremiah was discouraged that even the righteous people were going to suffer, including HIM!
3. Like most of us ... we can understand the neighbor’s garden getting weeds, but why ours?
4. Jeremiah begins doing what many righteous people do when they are included in ugly suffering even though they have been faithful ... they begin to search for reasons to give an answer!
a. But like many things in this world ... they aren't always clear answers!
b. Jeremiah struggled ... and was miserable, he began weeping, in fact so much so that he is known as the "weeping prophet."
c. It is he that authored the book of "Lamentations" ... meaning sorrow or crying!
5. He begins by seeing only the suffering and the apparent fruitlessness of being righteous without benefit of immediate reward!
ILLUS: Lord Joseph Duveen, American head of the art firm that bore his name, planned in 1915 to send one of his experts to England to examine some ancient pottery. He booked passage on the Lusitania. Then the German Embassy issued a warning that the liner might be torpedoed. Duveen wanted to call off the trip. "I can't take the risk of your being killed," he said to his young employee. "Don't worry," said the man, "I'm a strong swimmer, and when I read what was happening in the Atlantic, I began hardening myself by spending time every day in a tub of ice water. At first I could sit only a few minutes, but this morning, I stayed in that tub nearly two hours." Naturally, Duveen laughed. It sounded preposterous. But his expert sailed, and the Lusitania was torpedoed. The young man was rescued after nearly five hours in the chilly ocean, still in excellent condition. Just as this young man did, so Christians should condition themselves by practicing devotional discipline, behavioral discipline, and discipline in doing good. -- Cited in Christianity Today, February 1979, p. 25.
6. It is here most of us will struggle in this life ... the apparent fruitlessness that at times seems to exist when you do everything right but no reward seems forthcoming!
a. In other words, like Paul said in Gal. 6:9, we become "weary in well-doing!"
b. We can't see why it pays to keep doing what's right when no reward shows up in the process!
c. But that's the point ... some rewards don't come in the process! They come in the harvest! YOU HAVE TO KEEP BELIEVING AND TRUSTING IN THE KNOWN OUTCOME OF THE FINAL HARVEST to keep the process going when the rewards don't show yet in the present!
B. Personal Lam. 3:21-33
1. Suddenly, Jeremiah abandons reason and logic ... and looks to God's perspective; this will bring a radical change personally for a weary prophet!
2. Let’s be honest ... sometimes it just seems weary to live for God and stand up for what's right, especially when no rewards seem to come along with it!
3. We ask ourselves, "Why do I keep trying ... all I get is more pain!"
a. If we throw in the towel here we throw away the distant reward! Sometimes too the reward is just around the corner! Some crops come in earlier than others!
b. Sometimes we might be so close to victory when we quit!
ILLUS: Quarterback Tony Rice led Notre Dame's football team to a national championship in 1988. Before the season, sportswriters wondered whether Notre Dame could beat the tough teams with a quarterback like Rice, whose passing often was inaccurate. They didn't know that coach Lou Holtz had bought Rice a dart board and told him to practice throwing darts an hour a day. Rice didn't see how that would help his passing, but he did as his coach said. Soon he began to throw passes with more accuracy and confidence--both of which were evidenced in a banner season. Christians likewise find the practice of sharing a sentence or two of testimony or prayer on a regular basis can sharpen those skills. Any activity will improve with practice. -- Richard C. Kauffman, Jr. Leadership, Vol. 10, no. 4.
4. Jeremiah however knew there was going to be no victory near ... God had already told him this captivity was going to last for 70 years!
a. At this point some would have said, Why bother trying ... no reward for 70 years!
b. But Jeremiah looks beyond just the future reward 70 years down the line and discovers some GOOD THINGS in his present position ... God had given him personally some promises:
5. First he finds something good about the whole situation: "Because of God's great love we are not consumed!"
a. It might not seem like much ... but if God really wanted to just get rid of them He could easily have skipped captivity and gone for annihilation!
b. Therefore God still cared!! God's plan wasn't just pain ... it was cleansing!
c. God loved enough to purge them and not quit on them!
6. IN OTHER WORDS: God was committed to the process of weeding, and pruning, and breaking the hard ground up … WHY? TO PRODUCE A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE!
7. Secondly, Jeremiah remembers earlier God had given personal assurances to him that he would live ... even though he too would suffer, and he begins to see the present love of God that He had failed to see in all his self pity and dwelling on all the negative aspects to suffering!
a. Great is God's faithfulness!
b. His mercies are new every day!
c. I'm His property .., I belong to HIM!
d. He states it is good to learn to wait for God's rewards!
e. HE UNDERSTANDS THAT GOD DOES NOT WILLINGLY BRING AFFLICTION OR GRIEF (verse 32) TO MAN … He does so because of the wrong choices we might make that would only destroy us if left unchecked! HE IS LOOKING AT THE FUTURE REWARD ... AND WEEDING US IN THE PROCESS SO AS TO HAVE THE BEST FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS POSSIBLE ... AND TO ACHIEVE A SURE REWARD, not an uncertain one!
f. In all this Jeremiah finds hope restored again ... and strength for the long haul suffering he and Judah is about to discover!
ILLUS: Some of the arable land along the shore on the southeast coast of Sutherland is almost covered with shore stones, from the size of a turkey's egg to eight pounds weight. Several experiments have been made to collect these off the land, expecting a better crop. But in every case the land proved less productive after having removed the stones, and on some small spots of land it was found so evident, that they were spread on the land again, to ensure their usual crop of oats or peas. We would like to be rid of all our infirmities which, to our superficial conceptions, appear to be great hindrances to our usefulness, and yet it is most questionable if we should bring forth any fruit unto God without them. Much rather, therefore, will I glory in infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
g. This section of Lamentations is the high point of the entire book ... what "reason" couldn't give to Jeremiah the character of God answered!
III. SURE REWARD! Matt. 10:40-42; 2 Tim. 4:6-8; Heb. 12:11-13
A. Puny! Matt. 10:40-42
1. Jesus offers something that on the surface isn't a really exciting sure reward!
a. Giving just a cup of cold water in His name guarantees a reward!
b. So what? “This is puny stuff” ... this would be the natural man's response, maybe even the response of some Christians ... WE WANT BIG THINGS, BIG REWARDS ... skip the puny stuff!
c. Most people don't want a "COLD WATER MINISTRY."
d. Yet, if you can’t learn to do the puny things you will never learn to do the big things!
2. BUT WHAT WE FORGET IS HOW PUNY SEEDS ARE WHEN WE PLANT THEM ... AND HOW BIG THE REWARDS ARE WHEN THEY COME TO FRUITION!
3. Never regard yourself as too big to do small things ... they are the stuff of garden seeds ... they will reap for you a SURE REWARD!
4. Zechariah 4:10 says it best: "Who has despised the day of small things?"
a. It won't be the big things in life that mostly shapes you ... it will be the smaller things!
b. It is a man's faithfulness in the little things that qualify him for larger things!
c. Too many of us have a western mentality -- BIG IS BETTER! Without those "puny" things however BIG IS BITTER, NOT BETTER!
B. Potential! 2 Tim. 4:6-8
1. Paul lasted through the tough times because he never lost sight of the goalposts!
2. The avid gardener continues to work throughout the tough heat of summer, in spite of the storms ... and the insects, etc. because they have their sights set on the reward of fall -- HARVEST!
3. NO CROSS ... NO CROWN! We all want the crown but we despise the cross or the pain of it!
4. Jesus who was perfect struggled in Gethsemane ... until He saw the reward of being faithful and enduring: HEB. 12:2-3 “JESUS "WHO FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM ENDURED THE CROSS SCORNING ITS SHAME, AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD. CONSIDER HIM WHO ENDURED SUCH OPPOSITION FROM SINFUL MEN, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT GROW WEARY AND LOSE HEART!”
5. CONSIDER THE POTENTIAL REWARD before you quit or stop weeding out the garden and end up quitting in the process ... there is much to be gained by not quitting ... A SURE REWARD IS WAITING FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT QUITTERS!
ILLUS: Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward, of discipline. It is to be bought with a high price, not merely claimed. ... The [professional] skater and [race] horse are free to perform as they do only because they have been subjected to countless hours of grueling work, rigidly prescribed, faithfully carried out. Men are free to soar into space because they have willingly confined themselves in a tiny capsule designed and produced by highly trained scientists and craftsmen, have meticulously followed instructions and submitted themselves to rules which others defined. -- Elisabeth Elliot in All That Was Ever Ours. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 16.
6. The potential rewards of the future in and of itself should be enough to drive us on, even when we don't see or receive rewards now! This was Paul's point to Timothy!
C. Pay-Off! Heb. 12:11-12
1. Here it is ... ok, suffering isn't fun ... committed, faithful walking with God now without immediate rewards is tough ... but the REWARDS WILL BE MORE THAN WORTH IT ALL!
2. In fact this passage not only implies the future rewards ... but points out the present benefits that are rewards in and of themselves:
a. Harvest of righteousness!
b. Harvest of peace
c. Training for survival ... even finding good in painful trials!
3. IF we continue ... if we allow our feeble arms and weak knees to be strengthened, if we level our pathways (get the ruts covered over and throw out the rough stones, get rid of the rubble) then another benefit will be that those who are lame won't be disabled ... but healed!
4. How do we help others to walk ... by taking care of our own walk! Clear our own path and we will help those more disabled to walk ... in fact it will help them be healed!
5. THE SURE REWARD IS FOR THOSE SURE FOOTED ... WHY SETTLE FOR LESS HARVEST WHEN WITH SOME EFFORT YOU CAN HAVE A GREAT HARVEST!!
CONCLUSION: WE all love rewards! What we don't like is the effort that is required to be able to receive those rewards ... there can be NO crown however without the cross! Just as sure as the rewards of God's promises are to us, so are the efforts required to get there! This is not salvation by works ... but rather works by salvation! A great reward is a sure thing to practicing believers ... DON'T GET WEARY AND QUIT! HARVESTIME IS COMING!