Friday, February 24, 2017

Matthew 13:24-30 – Dealing with Difficult People

Matthew 13:24-30 – Dealing with Difficult People

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.

So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’

He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.

Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Anywhere you go, whether work, school, or church, you will encounter “Difficult People.”  You know the type – Demanding…hard to please… unpleasant …people who, for one reason or another – push your buttons.  

We understand it’s part of life to be put in situations with people we may not like, but knowing that ahead of time doesn’t make it easier.  And nowhere is it more difficult than in Church… or when a person you work with claims to be a Christian… and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make yourself like them.  

Be honest… you know it’s true!?!?

When you find yourself in that situation, you want to do right by the Lord… you want to be the bigger person and show kindness in the face of hostility.  But it’s hard... because something in us just wants to ‘give that person a peace of our mind.’  

We come to church and feel guilty that there is something between us and a fellow Christian that we just can’t seem to get passed.  

We go to work with people who profess to know the Lord, but their attitudes stink and they are often unethical and unChristlike.  It’s a very hard thing to act lovingly in the face of such blatant hypocrisy.

WHAT are we supposed to DO?  Avoid them?  Share our feelings?  How do we handle this thing in a way that is pleasing to the Lord? And WHY would God put us in this position anyway??

Jesus provides insight in our text.  

At some point in His public ministry, Jesus’ sermons took on a different flavor.  He used parables: stories from everyday life to communicate important principles.  Many of these stories were hard for the average man to understand, and often the disciples would come to Jesus privately for clarification and He would explain Himself so they would not be kept in the dark.  Such is the case with our story today.

What we will learn this morning is the “who, where, what, and why” of difficult people.  Notice…

1. First: the Who – WHO is Jesus talking about in this parable?  We already know they are difficult people.  But who are they really?  Notice v. 24, “He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,  but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”

An enemy planted weeds in the farmer’s wheat field.  They were the product of someone’s hatred for the farmer.  The weeds would vie for the same nutrients, they would occupy the same spaces, but in the end, they were NOT wheat.  They would not … they COULD NOT produce the fruit the farmer required.

Darnel weeds give the appearance of authenticity… especially when they are not yet mature.  When they are small plants, they look very much LIKE wheat.  But the problem is… they never produce fruit… just more weeds.

Why would the enemy DO such a thing?  

Isn’t it obvious??? Because he wants to inflict harm upon the farmer's work!

  • Maybe he thought the farmer’s reputation would be damaged in the community when word got out that his wheat was inferior.
  • Maybe he thought the weeds would actually HINDER the good wheat… choking it out… preventing it from yielding a good harvest.

Whatever he thought, Jesus is introducing MORE than some imaginary thing in some make-believe place.  He is describing the activity of Satan as he attempts to hinder the Church of Jesus Christ.

Satan has his 'darnel weeds’ in every church.  People who LOOK authentic.  They SAY all the right things and can turn their “Christian testimony” on and off like a light-switch.  But they are NOT fruitful.  Though they have the same opportunities as the wheat, they are made of something fundamentally DIFFERENT.

They are competing for the time and ministry that should be devoted to the GENUINE, and they hinder the Lord’s reputation in the community as people outside the church talk about ‘all the hypocrites at that church.’  

Everywhere, Satan has his weeds.

They are in the Church at-large, as we see whole denominations twisting the doctrines of God for their own gain. A Church more interested in being LIKED by the world than REACHING it.  There are weeds in our community who call themselves “Witnesses” and “Latter Day Saints," appearing to be sincere and hard-working, but they are actually hurting the Lord’s work by creating confusion.  They LOOK like the real thing - but they are made of something fundamentally different than the real thing.

AND we see his weeds in the LOCAL church – people who profess to know the Lord, who go to church, who sing the songs and may even GIVE MONEY or SERVE in various capacities, but their lives outside of the church give no evidence whatsoever of a relationship with the Lord Jesus.  No fruit.

Satan has his weeds ⇒ everywhere.  They can’t remain hidden among the genuine forever.  Circumstances, time, and the light of the Holy Spirit have a way of revealing the truth.

This is the WHO of this text.

2.  We also see the ‘WHERE.’  It wouldn’t be treachery if the enemy had planted his own weeds in his OWN field.  Stupid - but not treacherous.  It wouldn’t accomplish anything if he kept his little group of counterfeits in one specific place or even planted them in a corner of the farmer’s field.  No… it would be too easy for the farmer to just uproot the weeds… it would be too simple for the community to ignore them.  
  • So they are intermingled WITH the wheat… dispersed everywhere there is GOOD seed.  

That’s the only way the enemy can be successful in his efforts to hurt the Farmer's work.

Which explains your frustration with certain types of folks, no matter WHERE you go to church or what name is on the sign.  This explains why there is disharmony, church splits, hypocrisy, and infighting.

The weeds aren’t just OUT THERE where they can be easily identified and recognized for what they are.  No.  They occupy pews and pulpits – they sit on committees and count money – they teach classes and sing specials.  Even here …in this place, among people we know and love – there are counterfeits of the enemy, intended to disrupt, hinder, and even destroy the crop of God.  I know that sounds harsh - maybe even a bit paranoid – but it’s fact.

The “Where.’  ⇒ They are IN the church.

3.  But after the who and the where, Jesus proceeds to the WHAT.  What will the farmer do in response to this action of the enemy? There are three things I want you to notice:

First, the farmer doesn’t try to get rid of the weeds.  He leaves them there.  While it IS true that people will talk bad about the farmer’s abilities… while it is true that the weeds will be an aggravation and hindrance to the farmer AND the wheat, the farmer lets them stay.  He continues his business as usual.  He continues to feed and water and fertilize his wheat.  He continues to fight the crows and other pests.  He focuses his efforts on making his wheat top-notch and healthy.

There is a lesson to be learned here folks.  

It’s not your job to uproot the weeds.  It’s not my job to destroy those who disagree with me or create problems for me.  The Lord knows there are weeds among us and He wants us to go about our business – to stop focusing on THEM and the problems they cause.  We are to put our energies into producing the very best fruit we CAN for the glory of God.  

Focusing on THEM becomes an excuse… God wants you to quit blaming others for your lack of development.  He wants you to quit focusing on everyone else and what THEY are doing - and focus on YOUR OWN walk with the Lord.

Secondly, you will notice that not only does the farmer allow the weeds to stay, he has set a day in the future when the weeds and wheat WILL BE harvested.  A time when they will be separated.  A ‘day of reckoning.’

The Lord is going to work all of this out in HIS time.  He has a day set when He will separate the counterfeit Christians from the genuine.  

But not only does the farmer allow the weeds to grow side-by-side with the wheat, and not only has he set a time for harvest, when he gathers his wheat into his barn He will simultaneously BURN the weeds.  

That is a symbol of Judgment.  And that judgment will be worse than anything we could have ever done to the weeds ourselves!  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord!”  SO, unless your name is “Jesus,” you probably ought to leave the deciding of these things to Him!

And to be frank - the reason I need to leave it in God’s hands is because

I can be wrong about people.

I might assume that some folks ARE saved because they are so nice and they treat me so well… and I might assume that OTHERS are NOT simply because there are parts of their personality I don’t likeAnd I might be wrong on both accounts.  God will work all of that out, my friend.  And HE won’t be wrong.

4.  And then finally, not only does Jesus teach us the Who, Where, and What of difficult people, He also shows us - WHY. That's the bottom line, isn't it??

WHY does the Lord allow difficult people to remain in your life? 2 Reasons:

First, the Lord allows these counterfeits to stay for their benefit.  After all, who knows but what the constant exposure to the word and prayer might open their hearts to faith and repentance?  Who knows but what your love, encouragement, and example might prick their conscience - may FINALLY GET THROUGH TO THEM and be used to make an eternal difference in their life!?!  

I know THIS, there is absolutely no hope of them ever coming to a saving knowledge of the Lord without them being exposed to God’s love and truth!

But even MORE importantly, Jesus allows these counterfeits to stay for YOUR benefit.  Notice what Jesus says half-way into verse 28 and in all of verse 29,  when His servants ask, “do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”

God is concerned about YOU.  He has two basic concerns:

FIRST, He wants you to become more like Christ.  He wants you to be compassionate, zealous, and pure.  He wants you to have a dogged perseverance where you refuse to quit.  He wants to build your character and shape you into a weapon of the Gospel– so often He will allow difficult people to come into your life to drive you into the presence of God.

And SECOND, He knows that the wheat might be damaged if He removed the weeds.  He knows if He took the weeds out of the church now, He would be removing a lot of folks that we love… maybe even members of our own families.  And the “hole” that would be left might cause some of us such heartache that we wouldn’t survive it spiritually.  Heartbroken.  Defeated.

So, instead of praying that God would remove difficult people… instead of allowing your spirit to sour and your reactions to them to be judgmental and harsh,
  • ask God to use that person to make YOU more like Jesus.  
  • AND ask the Lord to use YOUR witness to make a difference in their lives.

Remember - We are taught repeatedly in the word of God to “return GOOD for evil,” to be “patient in the face of affliction,” and to “turn the other cheek” or “go the extra mile” for those who make demands of us.  

Why do you think those stories are THERE??  

Those stories and commandments are not just in the Bible to take up space.  God wants you to do the right thing, even when everything within you screams against it, because He has a plan to help you, strengthen you, to make you fruitful and effective for HIS glory.  

And to accomplish that, sometimes He must drive you to your knees… He must get you into His presence – even IF you are only coming as the result of someone else’s mistreatment.

BOOM!  <Mic drop>

No matter where you go… or what a person claims to be, regardless the positions they hold – there are weeds in the work of God.  And when you come across them you are going to get frustrated, hurt, and even angry.  They are a problem NOT just because of what they do to YOU, they are a problem to the Work of the Lord.  

But listen... Not all difficult people are weeds – some are just mean old Christian folk! (lol) that need to get their heart right… Amen?  

But that isn’t what Jesus is talking about here.

He is teaching us about counterfeits who make our job much more difficult - our lives miserable.

And the Lord expects more of us than to throw our hands up and walk away…He wants us to press on... to pray.  He wants us to live the life in front of them - IN SPITE OF THEM.  It is for our good and for HIS glory that He does this.

So with THAT understanding, maybe the Lord has brought to YOUR mind a difficult person… a person hard to like… who tries and often succeeds in making your life miserable.  

Why don’t you come, right now, and pray about that situation.  Pray that God would work in this thing ... that He would strengthen your character, your love, and your resolve and that God would use your example to bring conviction to that “weed.”

Will you?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Acts 17:16-34 – Reaching the Unreached

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?”  Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, (a place where people would debate religious and philosophical thought) saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’

What therefore YOU worship as unknown, THIS I proclaim to you...

According to legend, when Jesus returned to heaven following his death, burial, and resurrection, the angels gathered ‘round Him in amazement.  They gazed at his wounds…they shuddered to recall His suffering.  Finally Gabriel broke the silence… “Master, you suffered terribly down there.  Do they know and appreciate the extent of your sacrifice??”

“No,” answered Jesus.  “Not yet.  Right now, only a handful of people in Jerusalem know.”

“Then what have you done to let everyone ELSE know?” asked Gabriel.  “I’ve asked those who believe in me to spread the news until the whole world knows,” answered the Lord.

Gabriel, knowing the nature of humans, asked, “So what’s ‘Plan B?’”

“I have no ‘Plan B,’” answered the Lord.  “There is no other strategy…
…I’m counting on them.”

And some 2,000 years later…He still has NO OTHER PLAN. 

Right now, if it all depended on you, would anyone make it to heaven?  I’m not talking about what you have done in the distant past or what you hope to do in the future when everything in your life suddenly becomes ‘IDEAL,’ I’m talking about right now…what are you doing to influence lost souls with the gospel?

Paul had had a rough time of it.  Everywhere he went, he faced rejection and ridicule.  He was intimidated and put in prison.  He was beaten and left for dead.  But still he pushed on, knowing that the only hope a man has of seeing heaven and escaping that awful place called ‘hell’ is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

What made him ‘tick?’  Unlike Peter and John, Paul hadn’t walked with the Lord Jesus, hadn’t seen His miracles or heard His life-changing words.  I guess you could say - of all the Apostles, Paul had the least opportunity.  Why, then, do we see HIM ‘turning the world upside’ for Christ?

After he met Jesus, he was gripped by 3 attitudes that enabled him to reach so many for Christ.  And the truth IS - WE need these same attitudes if we are going to fulfill the great commission.  What are they??

1.  First, he had an Inescapable Burden.  Notice how Paul felt in v. 16, “...while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”
He didn’t pass his time waiting - detached.  Being a missionary was in his blood - even when waiting on his friends.

The word “provoked” is a candid revelation of the emotions Paul felt as he walked through that city.  “His spirit was provoked” when he saw all that man-made religion – all the confusion man's philosophy had invited upon this city.  It is describing how WE might feel when our concern for the lost meets the shock of people’s wrong choices.  We KNOW they need Jesus – but BOY – are they messed up!

There are so many barriers that the world and the devil will build in the human heart to prevent a man’s salvation… EVEN religion.  In fact, religion might be one of the BIGGEST hurdles we have to overcome.

You talk to people about the gospel TODAY - and you are likely to hear about how MORAL they are - or - that they BELIEVE in God -or- they BELONG to a church or civic club that meets the needs of the underprivileged - BUT WHEN YOU PRESS THEM, it is obvious they have never repented of their sin and in faith trusted Christ to SAVE them.

Paul saw it when he toured the streets of Athens.  A city filled with religion… people who felt intellectually superior.  They already had ideas about God and the afterlife and really weren’t as open about changing as they wanted it to seem.  They were already persuaded in their minds about what it meant to be spiritual.  Their philosophers had written books – their professors had presented arguments.  So the natural result was a city “full of idols.”  It was a confusing mess... but it was THEIR mess and they were content with it. It blew Paul's mind.

When WE go to places like this, we take photos.  We marvel at the architecture…we are interested in the culture and the food and the way people live on the other side of the world.  We come back with all kinds of stories to tell our friends, and we give almost NO THOUGHT to the prevailing darkness - the utter lostness in those places.

Not Paul.  As he waited for his friends to join him, Paul was broken-hearted.  He saw them the way GOD saw them.  He didn’t care about their culture.  Their buildings, streets, and food meant nothing to him.  He was gripped with concern, knowing if something didn’t change, they would ALL go to hell. 

It wasn’t a camera - but tears - that filled his eyes.

Paul was not always this way.  There was a time when he opposed the Gospel with the same strength he now uses to advance it.  He knew what it was to be blinded by religion.  And when the Lord spoke to Paul, it was not to congratulate him on how pure he had lived or how religious he had been.  No.  The Lord thundered out His error… knocking him off his camel, face first in the Damascus dirt.
Humbled and Broken, the message he had spent his life opposing, he would now be advancing.
Paul had an inescapable burden for souls – a burden birthed in him the moment he was saved… a burden that only grew the more he learned and read.  A burden that drove him to inconvenience himself, to pray and to preach – to spend whatever monies and energy he had, his very LIFE if need be, because of ALL that was at stake.

Do you have an inescapable burden for the lost? 
  •         Do you sometimes find yourself awake at night thinking about your friends and family who don’t know Jesus? 
  •         Do you get up on Sunday morning PRAYING, BEGGING God to get ahold of a heart??
  •         Do you look for opportunities to interject Jesus into your conversations? 
  •         Do you put your money where your faith is?

Don’t be so offended by their error that you remain SILENT.  Remember, you were once where THEY are - and those people are one heartbeat away from eternity.

2.  Second, not only did Paul have an Inescapable Burden, He also had an Indisputable Boldness.  He knew not everyone would be thrilled about his faith or interested in his message.  He knew that he would be hated, mistreated, and abused.  But he WAS NOT ashamed.  When he thought of all the abuse our Lord had suffered at the hands of the very men He came to save, Paul was more than willing to bear the reproach of Christ.  His concern for souls drove him to endure verbal and physical abuse – in the hopes that ONE might be saved.  As he said in 1 Corinthians 9:

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Are you bold like that?  Pushing through the harsh words – and clever put-downs to share your faith?
Let’s just be honest - Many of us HAVE caved to the pressure.  You know full well what it will mean when you start sharing Christ with your lost friends and family.  You know that you will be labeled a fanatic – people will call you a “hypocrite” or “judge.”  People you care about will start avoiding you.

Because of your fear of rejection and ridicule, Jesus has become your ‘best kept secret.’
How do I know this??  Because I know Christians, that's how.

One day I was out visiting, inviting people to church, when I came across a lady who seemed interested.  She told me where she worked and I said, “Oh, well you must know ‘so-in-so.’  She is a member of our church!”  Her response?  “She goes to church??  I didn’t even know she was a CHRISTIAN?!?!”

Sadly, that woman is NOT the exception.

I learned a long time ago - people talk a pretty good talk at church. They talk about how much they love the Lord.  They carry their 5 lb. Study Bibles to church.  They sing the songs and recite the scriptures.  Church has become their SAFE SPACE…  where they love sharing Jesus with those already saved and do almost nothing to advance the Gospel among the lost. 

“But preacher, you just don’t understand!” Yes – I DO understand.  Because every time I share my faith – I face the same battle.

Sure you will be ridiculed.  Sure there are people who will write you off and say ugly things about you.  So what???  One of these days, those people will go out into eternity and I don’t want their blood on my hands.  And besides all that, not everyone WILL reject the Lord. 

Which leads me to our final thought…

3.  Not only do we need an inescapable burden… not only do we need an indisputable boldness, third, his was an indispensable behavior.  God didn’t call you to be a tourist… but a witness.  God didn’t give you this precious message to hoard.  He wants you to GO.  Paul was COMMITTED to go where lost people were. 

Without the willingness to Go where they are, all those classes you’ve taken, books you’ve read, and seminars you’ve sat through to learn how to share your faith – are WORTHLESS.  That ‘plan of salvation’ card you keep as a bookmark in a Bible you don’t read - is worthless without a willingness to put yourself ‘out there’ for folks.

Paul was not a tourist; he was a witness.  He took seriously the command of the Lord, Who said, “Go be witnesses for me!”  He went where the people were. 
  • First to the synagogues where there were people who were lost. 
  • THEN to the market place where there were people who were lost.
  • Wherever they were, THAT’S where he went.

Not only did he go where they were physically, he approached them where they were spiritually. 
Not everyone who needs the Lord is in the same place spiritually. 

Some are completely ignorant of the truth… while others have been exposed to God’s Word. 
Some are cold and seemingly closed.  OTHERS are even under conviction right now because the Spirit and another Christian has been laying the groundwork for you.

Many seem so blind that it will take a miracle to get through to them.  And in those cases we have to trust what Jesus said: “What is IMPOSSIBLE with man, is POSSIBLE with God.”

When Paul went to the Jews in Athens, they were already very MORAL people.  But even GOOD PEOPLE need Jesus… amen?

Others he went to were so utterly blind by sin that they were ignorant of even the most BASIC of concepts of the one true God.  They were convinced that their INTELLECTUALISM … superstition… knowledge, would save them.  They were blind - blind to the truth, to their need.  But Paul was able to whet the appetites of those bound in darkness.  They said, “we want to hear MORE about this.”  He knew how to tap into a person’s basic desire for truth, forgiveness, meaning and purpose.

If we would be effective in our efforts to reach people, we must go where they are… we must understand their arguments and how to counter their mistaken ideas with God’s truth.  Get to know people, how they think, what they believe… and THEN articulate the Gospel in a way they can understand.

Although I have shared Christ hundreds of times over the years, and though I have been privileged to see many come to the Lord, it isn’t my nature to just approach people and start talking about Jesus.  I have to make myself do it.  I don’t like being rejected EITHER. 

But regardless their response, we are told to “GO!” And listen, you can't catch fish sitting on the couch.

Crotchety old Alice was a terror to neighborhood kids, stray dogs, and delivery boys.  Whenever someone came by, they were greeted with a sour face and waving hedge-clippers.

When James and Jean Mader moved next door, they mustered the courage to talk to Alice about the Lord.  “I’ve made it just fine all these years without the Him, I don’t need anyone telling me what to do.” 

But the Mader’s would not give up so easily.  They built a relationship with Alice, doing kind things for her, living the Gospel before her, and praying that God would change her heart.

Coming home from vacation, they found Alice’s house empty.  She had suffered a stroke while they were away.  She would spend her remaining days in the nursing home.  The Mader’s would visit her often… taking flowers for her room, bringing little things like lotion or puzzle-books she might need.  Each time they went, James would read a passage of scripture and pray for her.

One day, sensing the leading of the Holy Spirit, James asked, “Alice…would you like to ask Jesus to come into your heart and forgive you of your sins?”  Though unable to speak, the tears in her eyes and the gentle nod of her head gave him the answer he had been praying for.  He read John 3:16 and led Alice to Jesus.

It took the Maders 12 years to win that grumpy old woman to Christ… but they never gave up.
Will you be a witness?? 

Maybe there was a time when you did.  In fact, there are MANY things you once did that have fallen by the wayside.  Over the years you just sorta lost interest, got too busy, focused on other things.
Others of us NEVER HAVE shared our faith.  The fear of rejection or saying the wrong thing has nailed our shoes to the floor and we just don't think we can do it.

Others of us LONG to be effective witnesses.  And every time we hear a message like this there are names and faces that flash across our minds knowing how much they need the Lord.

There are three things we need to be effective witnesses:
  • We need an inescapable burden.
  • We need an indisputable boldness.
  • And we need Paul’s indispensable behavior – a willingness to go where they are – physically and spiritually.

So maybe you would like to pray that God would make you a better witness.  Will you?