HOW TO FACE LIFE’S PROBLEMS
(The presence of problems does not mean
the absence of God or his control or care.)
Pastor Jeff Wood
First Presbyterian, Sebastian
July 19, 2015
Did you hear about Mr. Hokie Pokie dying and the trouble they had with him down at the funeral parlor? Yeah, it seems that with him and the casket they kept putting his right foot in and he’d put his right foot out, his left arm in and he’d put his left arm out.
Haven’t you found that Life is kind of like that? Stuff doesn’t fit, comes out? An investment hasn’t been climbing but descending. Your kid. Why is he so right on here and so off over here? We might even think it about the whole spiritual life. Praying is tough, tough, tough. We get the right foot of prayer in and the left foot of Bible reading pops out, or we get some gentleness in but a struggle with greed pops out. Or the church. That mission project we got involved with looks fine but there was that thing with the carpet. Fine here but a pain there. We find ourselves asking, “What gives? What am I doing wrong, we’re doing wrong, God’s doing wrong?”
Interestingly enough some folks came to Jesus with just the same kinds of question. They had been thinking that God would show up and then things would clear up. God’s messiah would arrive and straighten things out. Instead he’s been stirring things up or, oddly, just sitting tight. Religious leaders are bothered by him. The Roman occupation army is still there. In the part of the Bible we are going to this morning, there are people saying, “The program with you isn’t clear as a bell. What gives?”
Let’s hear what Jesus says. If you are trying to connect your life with God’s and there are problems still in your life, or if you are thinking that you want to try life with God, so you can know what to expect, hear what Jesus says. If you are looking at the world or the church and seeing a mess, then hear what Jesus says. It’s about problems, how to face them.
In the name then of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit these words: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? When then did the weeds come from?'
"'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?"'
"'No, he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"
And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.
I once heard a counselor say, “There is an answer for that but do you know what the problem with it is? It is so simple that most people won’t attend to it; they’ll act as if it is simple, it will just happen by itself..” We have this story from Jesus and what we can draw out of it about life is simple. May we listen and apply.
Lesson one. The first lesson is indirect but important. There is something here in the very staging of the story that we could easily miss. Ever stub a toe and break it? Remember how your attention keeps looping around to that ache? Problems have a way of preoccupying us and it is totally normal for us with Jesus’ story to notice and be bothered by the enemy and the weeds. It is the hurt big toe. But one of the givens in the parable is that there is a God and he is sowing good seed. When thinking about how to face problems see that God is and God sows and God sows good seed. See the good. The Bible says there are gifts in life and that every good gift comes down to us from God. God is and God sows gifts and messages. He sows to us even Jesus Christ. Isn’t it great that we know him and he knows us whatever else is happening around us? See the good and you see God. See the good. Heed the seed.
Sometimes our lawns can get so out of shape that we are thinking weed-killer this and weed-killer that … but we should consider what an old farmer advised, “You ought just concentrate more on growing grass than killing weeds.” That’s a great principle. Concentrate on growing grass more than killing weeds. See the good, feed the good. The Bible says, “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, … think about these things.” (Phil 4:8) Get yourself to noticing the good seed.
Lesson two. Now with a lawn that has, say Augustine and Bermuda (those types of grasses in it), if you water well (instead of starving weeds), you will find that the Augustine will crowd out the Bermuda. The good grass will overtake the bad grass. That doesn’t happen in Jesus’ story. Got that? The wheat doesn’t crowd out the weeds. I wish it did but it doesn’t. Good doesn’t just overtake evil. This isn’t a bright progress of humankind parable. So while we see the good we need also to live with the bad … for the time being. In other words, we can handle problems if we expect them and say, “That’s the way this life this side of eternity is.”
Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking POW in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. He advised against plain optimism saying that those folks succumbed. Rather he advised, paradoxically, to be optimistic and realistic. Believe you will overcome but that it will be a long, hard battle. That’s the lesson here.
Jesus doesn’t give us a big explanation here about the presence of evil and problems in the world. He doesn’t encourage us to excuse ourselves with, “The devil made me do it.” He doesn’t encourage us to see a demon behind every bush. He doesn’t lecture a lot about all this. He just briefly and definitely makes it clear that there is an enemy.
Handle problems by expecting them.
Lesson three. See the good. Expect some bad. Three, release the judgment. We get so often into handling problems by figuring out payback. Life is hard. Someone did us wrong. We are upset and take it on someone … maybe even ourselves or God. But with payback we are not handling problems so much as increasing them. It embroils us and wraps us so that we are like a dog on a leash under a picnic table, tangled and stuck.
Besides what it does to us, the basic reason for not doing payback is that we are not able to judge rightly because we do not know it all. Remember, the owner of the field (God), stops the workers from their suggestion to get in there and separate wheat and weeds. Too hard to tell this particular weed from the wheat until the heads sprout. That’s what Jesus recognizes. Even if you could, you’d damage the wheat in the process because those roots are tangled together. God knows more and cares more than we.
Stephen Covey, the author, tells of being on a subway and getting irritated at a man’s children making a fuss. Confronting him about it, the man said, “Oh, I guess you’re right. We are coming from the hospital where their mother just died and they don’t know how to behave.” Looked like carelessness but wasn’t. Looked like a weed but wasn’t. You just don’t know. If Jesus, left the final sorting to God, then how much more should we? This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be discerning, discriminating, evaluative. But it is to say, “Forget payback and leave it to God.” Make good judgments but don’t be a judgmental person.
Lesson four. Here’s the final point: Trust the care. There are fingerprints of care all over this little parable.
I once long time ago had some car problems and there were a couple of trips into the dealership’s shop. The last straw was driving home and finding that something that hadn’t been broken was now broken in the process of fixing whatever original problem it was. Ooooooh, I was so mad. I called and got the manager. I gave him a piece of mind (and I don’t have that many pieces I can afford to give away). Do you know what he said? “That is inexcusable. Bring it in and I will personally see that we make everything absolutely right.” That calmed me down. That was nice to hear. God says, “I personally will make everything absolutely right.” The harvest will come and I’ll sort it out. That’s God’s care. Trust it.
While some of our problems are grave and we should have a gravity in looking at them, let’s consider gravity on the planet. In outer space people lose muscle. God works all things together for good for those who love him; he uses even the weeds, if you will, to develop character.
There was that accident at the intersection with the tortoise and the snail. When the traffic cop arrived he asked, “What happened?” And the tortoise and the snail answered, “I don’t know. It all happened so quickly.” There is something funny about God and us and time. Birthdays come slowly but exam days too quickly. Just desserts come to others too slowly and to us too quickly. But in this story of Jesus what is clear is that the problems are here just for a time.
Yes, the world’s got strife…but just for a time. Yes, the church is a mixed bag … but just for a time. Yes, the spiritual life is hard … but just for a time. Yes, there are a hundred things that give you and me heartache and confuse us … but just for a time. And that it is just for a time and not forever is because God cares.
And he says there is a purpose for that time, to not hurt the wheat, to see which seeds turn into wheat and which into weeds. He’s taking care of you, of the world. That world is too valuable to just write off.
There is nothing in this story, even with enemy and bad seed, that cries, “This is out of control!” No, God is in control and he cares. Trust that.
See the good. Expect some bad. Release the judgment. Trust the care. Jesus knows we all have a bunch of Mr. Hokie Pokie’s to deal with. Some are frivilous and some are awful. He knows. He’s at work. He cares. He has won and he will make it all complete.
Prayer: I don’t know what problems you have come with here today. What evil has got your goat or got you down. I do know the Bible says, God’s here in Jesus Christ and He is at work. Bring this message in to your life and ask God to help you believe it. “God, we wish everything were all clear but we thank you for telling us today that you understand what’s going on, that you are for us, and that you will make things right. Tie that message into our hearts and help us live as good, wise, and hopeful people. Make it so by your Spirit we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
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Pastor Jeff Wood has been a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian since 2014.