The Divine Eagle: Part 4
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 15 November 2003
Click here for Part 3
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love Yahweh, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If Yahweh is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against Yahweh's elect? It is Yahweh who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of Yahweh which is in Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) our Lord" (Rom.8:28-39, NKJV).
There has never been a time, since the days of Noah before the flood, when believers have needed the intimate fellowship and companionship of God. The times are evil and they are not getting any better. Every day I get letters from desperate Christians who are experiencing relentless persecution both from people and from evil powers, who are wondering where this will all end, and what they should do to not just survive but prosper. Ministers and lay people alike are under increasing pressure and I'm afraid to say that the situation will not be getting better until Yah'shua (Jesus) returns. Understanding the Divine Eagle therefore becomes imperative to us.
Last week we looked at the methods that the secular establishment of psychologists, environmentalists, and philosophers use in trying to help people cope with adversity and came to understand that the only way we can rise up over adversity and be blessed by it is to have a correct perception of things. Today I want to take that further by suggesting that once we have a correct perception, we need to have a right attitude of mind. Please note that I am attacking this problem, not from the domain of feelings but from thoughts because it is the way we think that determines the way we feel.
How does an eagle fare in stormy weather? We have talked about how it uses eddies to effortlessly rise into the air by a simple tilt of its wings. But what does it do in really stormy weather? If the eagle's wings are set in a downward tilt, it will be dashed to pieces on the ground. But it its wings are tilted upwards, it will rise, making the storm bear it up beyond its fury.
I was recently in an aircraft and was reminded just how different things appear high up in the sky. Below, nearer the ground, it was overcast, foggy, and dull. The sky looked menacing. As the plane climbed into the clouds it began to be buffeted and all around was a hazy swirl of cloud with zero visibility. But soon enough, by maintaining the tilt of the aircraft upwards, the pilot was able to take us into a crystal clear blue sky where only beauty reigned. Below us was dully and oppressive, but high up in the sky all was peace. Now I have done a great deal of flying in my life and there have been times when I have been through violent storms. I was on a flight to Singapore many years ago and went through such a storm. The plane looked like a battle field after we landed. Yet for most of the flight we flew above the storm in great tranquility.
Unlike Yahweh, Satan cannot be everywhere at the same time. He may have billions of demons, but they too are finite and cannot be everywhere. There are places where Satan never ventures, and that is into the presence of Yahweh, save to accuse men and women when they give him legal grounds to oppress and sometimes possess. The Christian faith, provided we interpret it correctly and apply it to our circumstances, will set the wings of our spirit in the right direction, so that when trouble or calamity strikes, we go up and not down. The calamity that strikes one Christian finds him with his spiritual wings tilted in the direction of the earth so that he writhes I anguish in the dust. The same calamity strikes another, one with his wings set upwards, and he soars above it - calm and serene. What is the difference between the two?
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love Yahweh" (Rom.8:28). This passage has baffled believers and unbelievers alike for generations, and I think the word that separates out those who accept it and those who do not is the word 'love': "all things work together for good to those who love Yahweh". It does not say that all things work together for good for those who 'believe' Yahweh - belief is not enough: there has to be relationship, a relationship based on, and cemented by, love.
Some years ago some theology students were discussing Romans 8:28 with their professor. "Surely, professor," they said, "you don't believe that all things work together for good - all the pain, suffering and misery, do you?" He replied: "The things in themselves may not be good, but God can make them work together for good". That same afternoon the professor's wife was killed in a car accident. Before leaving the college, he dropped in to see the president of the college and told him to give his students the message: "Romans 8:28 still holds good." When the professor died a year later, his friends and relatives inscribed Romans 8:28 on his tomb. Many a student since has stood at that tomb and prayed that he might have that same spiritual insight.
A man who is able to declare that Romans 8:28 still stands good right after the sweetheart of his life has been killed is either a lunatic or knows something that those who do not love Yahweh do not know. Please note that Paul was not saying that tragedy is 'good' - he was not implying that it was a good thing that the professor lost his wife. It is a terrible thing. Pain, suffering, and tragedy are the fruits of evil. No question about that. We all know that here, on this earth, we are in a war zone. There are two opposing powers competing for the souls of men. And even though it may look as though Yahweh is losing the war at times, in truth He has already won it. His intelligence and love are so great that He is able to manipulate the evil that men release on themselves by their evil - either singly or collectively - so that together with everything else the result is only good. That professor is now in heaven with his sweetheart. Her death and his must have seemed terrible at the time but the end was good. True, loved ones and relative had to struggle with the loss, as we all must one day. We make it worse for ourselves only when we fail to grasp the bigger picture. We suffer when our perceptions of reality are confined to a narrow field of vision. And we can fade away in self-pity and sorrow if we have a wrong attitude of mind. The difference between the professor and others who in similar circumstances might have given up and wallowed in the mire is attitude. When Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert - the darling of her life - died, the young Queen sank into despair and remained in mourning all her long life. She wore black for the rest of her days. And whilst one may justly praise her love and loyalty to her husband, one does need to ask if she could not have lived a more joyful and fulfilling life based on Romans 8:28? Every human being experiences tragedy, and most of us can, like Christ, cry out in despair: "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Mt.26:38, NIV). Sorrow is a natural thing. It is therapeutic. The Son of God experienced it in a way that no mortal can ever know, because His sorrow was over the sins of the whole world. Yet, was He crushed? At first it appeared that He was, yet He too triumphantly rose against death, and opened a highway along which we may all now go.
Let us at least begin today by accepting - because this is theologically correct - that our troubles may not be Yahweh's punishment but Yahweh's possibilities. Let us try to understand, by adjusting our sense of perception, that this may well be the beckoning of the Divine Hand to come up higher, and not the sword of Damocles.
There is a lovely Indian proverb which says: "The bursting of the petals say the flowers are coming". So when your heart bursts with grief at the overturning of your comfortable nest, remember that the bursting is only the bursting of the imprisoning sheath petals (calyx) to let the flower out. One writer said: "The heartbreak of Gethsemane was the bursting of the sheath that let the Passion Flower out. And now the whole world is filled with that Perfume." It is wonderful what Yahweh can do with a broken heart and a contrite spirit ... if He can get all the pieces.
If your heart bowed low at this moment because of the troubles and trials that you face? Has Yahweh overturned your nest and sent you plunging into depths of despair and uncertainty? Don't weep over the spoiled nest! Yahweh wishes to make you a new man or woman. Your spiritual resolve has been weakened by too much dependence on things other than Himself. This may be His way to reminding you that you are to lean on Him and not on the arm of flesh. You see, it is not so much what happens to us that is finally important but what we do with it that determines the result. The same tragedy can break the heart if two people - but one may be full of bitterness and resentment while the other knows divine peace. Why the difference? It is because of mental attitude.
Suffering does have a purpose and when people angrily accuse God of being callous and without love because He allows all the suffering that takes place in this wild, they are not only forgetting that we have individual as well as collective responsibility ourselves for all the wickedness that is here because of our rebellion against El Elyon, the Most High God, but that He graciously then turns our stupidity and self-inflicted pain for good by combining it with other things and turning it into a refining fire. Again, we must have a right perception, a right perspective. Paul reminds us in a few verses earlier than our main passage:
"Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (v.18, NIV).
I would like you to picture in your own mind, for a moment, a woman in labour. You women who had had children will know exactly what I am talking about. I am sure that with a little meditation you will be able to recall the pain and anxiety you felt at that time. I am sure all of you had labours that were of varying length, but if I am not mistaken it was anything from 12 to 16 hours on average. Some of you husbands may have been present at those times and will remember the agony your wives went through. Labour starts gradually and then builds up. Now what I would like you to do is imagine that the labour and giving birth last a whole lifetime. Can you imagine the horror that would be!
And yet that is, I think, a fairly good parallel of earth life. This life is one of spiritual labour, for men and women alike. Not every part of labour is painful - it gets pretty bad for most towards the end. Christ said:
"A woman when she is in travail (labour) hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21, KJV).
And what did Paul say? "Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us". Last week we saw that our overcoming leads to our receiving the "morning star", which represents the glory of Christ. In picturing this future realisation and hope, we are supposed to consider the woman giving birth and remind ourselves how the labour itself pales into insignificance after the baby is born. For that is what this life is like. All that remains is that you believe that, for this is the hope of the Christian. Without it, life must, at times, seem like a meaningless hellhole. It is made especially hard by the fact that this life can also seem very long - and when you have been suffering year after year, it can often seem as though there will be no end to it. In such circumstances, despair often raises its head.
A right attitude is, based on our relationship of love with Yahweh, that our Heavenly Father permits us to experience endless difficulties and problems not to destroy us but to develop us. The famous missionary, Hudson Taylor, was once seated in a room with a new missionary to China. He filled a glass with water, placed it on a table, and then struck the table with his fist. As the water splashed out, he said to the young missionary: "You will be struck by the blows of many sorrows and troubles in China, but, remember, they will only splash out of you what is in you." Out of some splash emotions of bitterness, resentment and despair. Out of others splash joy, forgiveness and victory!
The British survived World War Two because they had a right attitude. In spite of overwhelming odds and defeat on the continent by Hitler's armies, they refused to give up. Carried forward by the faith of Winston Churchill, they declared, at their darkest hour, that they would accept nothing but unconditional surrender from the Nazis! Can you believe that? Because of their right attitude, they held out, confident that there would be victory, not because of their might but because of their right. It was the same attitude that Job had towards his accusing friends. But it was not just an attitude - it was also translated into action. They fought bravely in the Battle of Britain and won against overwhelming odds. They were pushed to the very limit of endurance. If we have a right attitude to Yahweh and His Torah, trusting in the Blood of the Messiah (Christ), we too shall have victory. The British knew many defeats - in France, in North Africa, and at Dieppe - but defeat was turned into victory. Edwin Markan said:
Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
There have been many times in my life, some quite recently, when I have just wanted to give up under the strain of life's troubles. But something has kept me going, and if I think about it long enough, it is the promise of what is to come. Without a belief in the resurrection, without the relationship I enjoy in Christ, I am sure I would have caved in long ago. And why do I continue to believe in Yahweh's promises? Because of the many hundreds of evidences He has given me that He is true to His Word. I would be dishonest if I told you I didn't mind His methods but equally I can say I have seen His results. Faith keeps me going - not blind faith, but faith based on numerous evidences, enough to persuade my scientific mindframe.
"No horse ever gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No steam of gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagra is ever turned into light and power until it is tunnelled. No life ever grows until it is focussed, dedicated and disciplined". So said Emerson Fosdick. Adversity may well be the raw power that transports us to the place where we are supposed to be, where we can harness its raw energy and turn it to the good. Adversity is there to be used. "Difficulties constitute the best education in life," said British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Even the German philosopher Goethe understood these things when he said that "the whole purpose of the world seems to be to provide a physical basis for the growth of the spirit".
An elderly Christian stood in the corridor of a train as it was coming into a station. The train lurched several times before it stopped, throwing him from one side of the corridor to the other. When he hit one side, those near him heard him say, "Glory!" When he hit the other side, they heard him say, "Hallelu-Yah!" You see, the jolting brought out what was in him. What do trouble and adversity do to you? Does it shake the glory of Yahweh out?
As we remind ourselves to maintain a proper perspective in life, especially when adversity comes from people, and bitterness, resentment, and hate - and possibly a desire for revenge - tempt us, let us recall the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who poignantly said: "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostilities." Our real enemy is that fallen heavenly being who hates Yahweh and all His works, especially man whom he knows will crush his head.
By tilting our wings in the right way, we can respond to adversity and cry out "Glory!" and "Hallelu-Yah!" because we will be in the heavenly realm and not the earthly. The difference between heaven and hell is in the tilt of the eagle's wings: we can choose to look up or down, to praise or criticise, to glory or fall into the depths of despair. The choice is yours. Amen.
Click here for Part 5
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