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TRUE FAITH IN THE MIDST OF OVERWHELMING STRIFE

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
AND
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

10 NOVEMBER 1991

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

1 Kings 17:8-16
Luke 4:23-30
James 1:2-4

Preparation Verse: (James 1:2-4)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

At various times in the course of our lives, we face some difficulties, and the way we deal with them can have an effect on their outcome.

We may have a bill to pay, and we don't have enough money to pay it. Do we just ignore it? Or do we call up the people and explain our situation, offering to pay half now and the balance a little later?

If we hide, or even seem to be hiding, from our debtors, it only makes the situation worse.

And lying will only compound our problems.

But what if our problems were worse than this example?

What if we didn't have any food to eat? What if our children didn't have any food to eat?

What would we do?

Think carefully about how far you would go to solve this kind of overwhelming strife.

Would we consider that our problem was perhaps a test from God, just to see how we would react?

In the time of Jesus and earlier, the nation of Israel had corrupted their religion from that which God had ordained; therefore, God had sent “signposts” before them in order that they would turn back to Him.

These signposts are often in the form of strife, even overwhelming strife.

In Luke 4:23-30, Jesus is trying to remind the people of their hardness of heart, so that they would turn back to God.

He is trying to let them know that they can avoid much of the hard times if they return to God, or things could get worse if they reject Him.

23. And He said to them, "No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your home town as well.' "

Jesus sees the hardness of their heart, and He is reminding them of it.

God can use any one of us to point the way to godliness, and with strangers it usually is received better than at home where people know us.

24. And He said, "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his home town.

If people's hearts are hard, this is usually the case.

Right here in our midst there could be several of us who recognize a deep truth of God that the rest of us have missed or not followed; but these people keep quiet because they are afraid of being rejected.

Jesus recognizes this, so He proceeds to tell the people about several instances of God's rejection of His own people, because of their hardness of heart, and how He reached out to foreigners with soft hearts, in the time of their strife, as signposts to Israel.

25. "But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;

26. and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

27. "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."

These are fairly drastic warnings.

How would you respond to such a warning corning in a time of pending strife?

How do you think the people responded to Jesus?

28. And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;

29. and they rose up and cast Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

30. But passing through their midst, He went His way.

They didn't react very well to strife, or to the One who reminded them of the reasons for their problems, did they?

They rejected both the Lord and His teaching from the synagogue and from their community.

But we, in our land, would never think of doing such a thing, would we?

The vast majority of the people, even in our own community, are doing just that.

And very few of the rest are doing the things that God wants us to do.

We are not very good examples of Christ.

We are not very good signposts to turn the people back to God.

We are not, because we usually don't deal with the strife in our lives any better than the rest of the world does.

Turn with me to 1 Kings 17:8-16, and let's look at this woman from Zarephath, and see how she deals with the overwhelming strife in her life; and why the Lord sent Elijah to her, and not to the widows of Israel.

8. Then the word of the Lord came to Him, saying,

9. "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you."

10. So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, "Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink."

11. And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand."

This woman seems to be responding just as the Lord told Elijah she would.

But listen carefully to her answer, and Elijah's reply:

12. But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die."

13. Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son.

14. "For thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.' ''

Talk about strife!

Talk about overwhelming strife!

Talk about being tested in the midst of this strife!

Talk about it as this woman is facing her overwhelming strife, and imagine that each of us is in her position, and consider how we would react.

15. So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days.

16. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.

God blessed this woman and her household because she was faithful to His word in the midst of overwhelming strife.

She and her son were facing almost certain death, and yet she shared her last meal with Elijah.

Through her, God erected a signpost to the house of Israel and to the church today: that there are people, outside their religion and our religion, who are more faithful and righteous than they are or than we are.

Let's look again at verse 12, for in that passage we can observe a great deal of what God sees in this widow's character.

She says, "As the Lord your God lives...." And in so saying, she is acknowledging that she believes in the God of Israel.

She is acknowledging that God is a living God, unlike the gods of wood and stone and metal in her own country.

And much more.

She places her complete trust in God.

She has resigned herself and her son to death, rather than to steal food or to kill even an animal for meat.

If God will not provide for her, she and her son will accept God's will, and they will eat the remaining flour and oil and then die together, in the hope and assurance of their eternal life together with the Lord.

How strong is our trust and faith in God in the face of our own strife?

If in our heart we cannot resign ourselves to this kind of faith, then perhaps we have priorities that come before God.

And if this is the way you feel, then perhaps you're not ready to go to heaven.

And if you're not ready to go to heaven when the Lord calls, are you ready to be left behind and go to hell?

That's a chilling alternative, isn't it?

Why is it that we don't want to accept the fact that God can call us home just as easily through our death that is the result of the strife in the world, as by any other means?

Why is it that we believe that we are justified in killing some person who is evil in our eyes, in order to preserve our own lives?

Or, why is it that society believes that they are justified in killing billions of animals every year, just for their pleasure, when there is more than enough plant foods to satisfy their hunger?

The rapture of the church is when the believers are removed from the presence of the non-believers.

It is the non-believers who will remain alive upon the earth.

The believers are the ones who are taken or martyred.

Christians, we have our priorities backwards.

We should seek to be with the Lord whenever He calls, and we shouldn't worry about the way in which we go.

Remember that this woman of Zarephath wouldn't even kill an animal in order to preserve her and her son's lives longer than the Lord desired them to stay upon this earth.

That's the kind of faith that God wants us all to have.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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