Life is full of obstacles. Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. Obstacles can stop us in our tracks and cause us to turn back. Obstacles have a tendency to keep us from experiencing some of the greatest moments in life.
I can remember going on the ski trip with our high school and middle school kids years ago. The goal of the trip then, and still to this day, is to get everyone on top of the mountain by the last day. For many of the kids who have never been skiing before, when they arrive and see the size of the mountain, getting to the top seems like an insurmountable obstacle, an utter impossibility. Fear, a lack of confidence, and inexperience can paralyze the mind and body of a young neophyte skier. If he or she will listen and trust their leaders, go to ski school, and refuse to allow their shaking knees and racing heart to keep them from getting in the chairlift on the last day, then they will experience something they will never forget in their life. It is on top of the mountain that they will see what they have never seen before. It is on top of the mountain that they will feel what they have never felt before. It’s on top of the mountain that a memory will be etched in their heart and soul that will help them face other seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the future. And it is on top of the mountain that they will get to share in the fellowship of those who have overcome.
We will face obstacles throughout our lives. Connie and I had the opportunity to go to Colorado about one month ago. It was an amazing experience as we hiked in the mountains each day and saw some of God’s most beautiful creation up close. One night we decided we would hike up to Emerald Lake the following day. The next morning we drove up to the point where we were to park our car. There were some people there and we asked them about the hike. They told us the area had a late, heavy snow and an avalanche had wiped out the road. No problem right? We’ll go anyway. The road, which normally takes you through Schofield Pass is said by many to be the most dangerous road in Colorado, but now part of that road had been wiped out.
About a mile after we started our hike we came upon some Aspen trees that had been downed by the avalanche and were blocking the road. It was really no big deal as we climbed over some and ducked under others. We kept walking and suddenly there was this huge, 50 foot high snow wall that blocked the road. What made things even more treacherous was that the snow wall funneled down into a canyon. If you happened to fall you would have about a 1000 foot tumble and slide before you reached the bottom of the snow funnel. We stopped and looked around for another path, but the only way to Emerald Lake was over the obstacle in front of us. I said, “I don’t think we should try it. If you slip and fall there is no way I can catch you.” Connie said, “Let’s just try it. If it gets too dangerous we can turn back.” I said, “Hold my hand and follow me.” We tried that for a minute, but it didn’t work. Connie said, “I have to do it myself.” We started up the snowbank with Connie scaling the mountain of snow like Spiderman at his finest. I was watching Connie, praying she wouldn’t slip. I had visions of helicopters airlifting paramedics into the secluded area to pull Connie out of the canyon below, but because we are both here this morning I’m sure you’ve already figured out none of that happened and we made it. We made it! We high fived, fist bumped, and Connie said, “I ain’t no sissy!” We finished and the reward was the most beautiful sight of Emerald Lake and the surrounding snow covered mountains that made it look like it was December even though it was the end of June.
I’ll never forget our journey to Emerald Lake, but there are many more journeys ahead and more treacherous obstacles we will have to face in life. Those obstacles will either buckle our knees and crush us or cause us to trust God and press on.
We are all in the same boat. Obstacles are part of life, yet the way we deal with obstacles varies tremendously. I want us to spend the rest of our time this morning learning how we might gain strength and confidence to scale the mountains we will face in life regardless of how large and seemingly insurmountable they may appear. Turn with me to Romans 8:35-39 and let’s read together.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NIVO)
The Apostle Paul faced obstacles throughout his life, yet the obstacles failed to stop him from pressing on because of the truths He believed so strongly, truths that are found in Scripture. What are the obstacles you are facing this morning? Are they health issues that you or someone you love is facing? Doctors don’t seem to know what’s going on. They’ve run test after test, but still don’t have any answers. Or maybe they have found an answer, but it’s not the one you were hoping for. Instead of writing out a prescription the doctor has said, “There’s no cure. You need to prepare for the end of your life.” Maybe your obstacle is an important relationship that has turned sour. Resentment has replaced respect, delight has turned into disappointment, and you just can’t seem to escape the overwhelming feeling of emptiness. You are facing an obstacle, but you’re also being presented with an opportunity, an opportunity to trust God, to lean upon God, and find what’s lacking in your relationship with the one you love in your relationship with God. Could it be that your greatest obstacle is anxiety? You are anxious about your future. You’re anxious about your kids and the challenges they are facing and will face in the future. You’re anxious about your job security. You’re anxious about your disposition towards anxiety whenever troubles and trials come your way. Your anxious because you are anxious. Your anxiety is an opportunity for you to trust God, pray continually, and put your hope in Him. I could go on and on couldn’t I? Some of you are facing obstacles that I didn’t mention, but they are obstacles, they loom large in your life, and you need to see them as opportunities to put your roots down deep into His provision for your life.
I know that what I’m saying is so foreign to so many of us. Our inclination, our desire, is to simply get the obstacle out of our life as soon as possible. We desire the quickest resolution possible of the problem, but God desires to transform us as we deal with the obstacles of our life. I want to share three things that I believe will enable us to deal with the obstacles of life in a biblical way. If we will apply these principles to our daily life as we face the obstacles of life then we will grow in our walk with the Lord, we will grow into mature followers of Jesus, and we will be able to walk with others in a way that will be beneficial to them as they deal with the obstacles of their life.
First, we must know Jesus to know that nothing can separate us from His all-powerful presence and provision for our lives. This is the truth Paul came to know and share with the church in Rome when he said, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Time and time again throughout God’s Word men and women have found themselves between a rock and a hard place and they found their help, their strength, their ability to face life’s most difficult obstacles in Christ. Let me share just a few examples with you. Turn with me to Psalm 121 and let’s read together.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 NIVO)
The Psalmist knew where his help came from, but the question for you and me is, “Do we?” When you find yourself facing life’s most challenging obstacles where do you turn for help? Let’s be honest. Most of us turn to a friend who we think can help us don’t we? The Lord desires that our first call would be to call out, to cry out to Him for He alone is our ever present help in our time of need. Turn with me to Psalm 46 and I’ll show you why I say this with full confidence.
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah (Psalm 46:1-3 NIVO)
Let me give you a real life example of what I’m talking about. You may not know the story of Hagar. She was an Egyptian servant of Abraham and his wife, Sarah. God had promised the couple that He was going to give them a baby, but they became impatient with God’s plan when the nursery began to gather dust. They came up with their own plan, not a good plan, and certainly not God’s plan, but it was a plan. Abraham would sleep with Hagar and they would claim the baby as their own. Once Abraham slept with Hagar things got dicey between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah treated her horribly and so Hagar fled. Hagar was all alone, sitting beside a spring in the desert when the Angel of the Lord, which was really the Lord Himself, came to her. After their conversation, Hagar said,
13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13 NIVO)
“You are the God who sees me.” Yes He did, and yes He does! Hagar, an Egyptian servant girl became the only woman in Scripture who gave God a name. When God provided for Abraham, Abraham called Him the “God who provides.” After the Israelites defeated the Amalekites, Moses called Him, “The Lord is my banner.” Gideon saw the Lord and was afraid he was going to die. Afterwards, he built an altar and gave God the name, “The Lord is peace.” There are others in God’s Word who gave God a name which reflected how He had worked in their life, but Hagar knew God as the God who saw her plight, her predicament, and did not leave her alone. While she was all alone, He was the God who saw her and reminded her that she would never be alone. And neither am I and neither are you my friend.
It is this knowledge that prepares us for the obstacles and strengthens us as we go through the trials and heartaches of life. He is God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He has given you every breath you’ve ever breathed. He has sustained you, even though most of the time you weren’t even aware that it was His sustaining power that saw you through.
Secondly, we need to realize and embrace the fact that life is full of obstacles and hardships, but God is Sovereign over every single one that will come our way. Hardships and obstacles are not aberrations of life, they are part of the very fabric of life. I can’t overstate this fact. It is vitally important that you believe it and not be duped by the snake oil salesman of the faith. Let me explain to you what I mean.
I’ve been a follower of Jesus for many years now. I’ve recognized that there is a tendency for many followers of Jesus to believe that if they are good and do good then good things will come their way. Those same people tend to believe that if they sin then bad things will come their way as a form of God’s punishment. Therefore, if I’m going through a hardship, being confronted by obstacles, then I must have done something wrong. This tendency in people has been capitalized on by false teachers, what I call snake oil salesman whose teaching about God is false. I read an article this week called, “The Gospel That Almost Killed Me,” by Sean DeMars. Sean is a pastor today, but when he was a new believer he was taken in by a man named Roger who taught him the “prosperity gospel.” The man knew so much Scripture and was so persuasive in the way he taught that Sean bought it hook, line, and sinker. In his article he writes,
Over the course of the next six months, this man indoctrinates me with the prosperity gospel. Just a few months earlier, I’d never even opened a Bible. I have no idea I’m being given arsenic in my Kool-Aid. I take it all. I believe it all. I know it’s true. It has to be. It’s all right here in Scripture. Look, she touched the hem of his garment and was healed. Look, Jesus couldn’t heal them because they didn’t have enough faith. Look, all throughout the Old Testament you see curses for sins and blessings for righteousness. Prosperity for the good, pain for the bad. It’s so plain. So obvious. But stuff isn’t making sense. I’m still without a job. I can’t pay my rent. My mom isn’t getting saved, and I keep getting cold sores. None of these things should be happening. There must be sin hidden somewhere in my heart. Now I have the flu, and I don’t have any money to buy groceries. I just need to claim it. I just need to rebuke Satan and his lies, and believe that what I’ve proclaimed in the name of Jesus will surely come to pass. Maybe I’m not tithing enough. Time to double up. I’ll get it back one hundredfold. Maybe more. I just need to sow in faith. But it’s still not happening. “Roger, hey man, I don’t understand. It seems like this stuff isn’t working. What am I doing wrong?” “Dude, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the problem ain’t with God or his Word. It’s got to be something in your heart or in your life. Let’s pray about it.” (DeMars, Sean. The ‘Gospel’ That Almost Killed Me. The Gospel Coalition.)
Have these people never read the Bible? Have they never heard of a man named Job who was a righteous man and yet suffered severely? Are they unaware that Jesus’ closest friends, His disciples, all ended up losing their life because of their association and allegiance to Jesus? The one who wasn’t executed, John, the man who wrote the Gospel we’ve been studying, was exiled because of his faith in Jesus. Are they oblivious to the great men and women of God throughout history who have suffered every kind of ailment as well as persecution and the scorn of the world? The man who is known as the “prince of the pulpit,” in my estimation the greatest preacher other than Jesus, Charles Haddon Spurgeon suffered from many physical ailments as well as severe depression throughout his life. Let me read to you an excerpt from an article in Christian History,
Spurgeon thought of his own depression as his “worst feature” and once commented that “despondency is not a virtue; I believe it is a vice. I am heartily ashamed of myself for falling into it, but I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.” (Amundsen, Darrell, The Anguish and Agonies of Charles Spurgeon. Christian History.)
Yet, Spurgeon’s ongoing battle with depression didn’t crush him. He knew where he could find strength for the ongoing battle. He said, “…I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.” Pastor Spurgeon also knew that God was Sovereign, not just to provide him with the strength to fight his battle, but to also prepare him to minister to others who were fighting the same battle. Professor Amundsen writes,
Spurgeon comforted himself with the realization that such depression equipped him to minister more effectively: “I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary. ” (Amundsen, Darrell, The Anguish and Agonies of Charles Spurgeon. Christian History.)
God is Sovereign. This life is filled with troubles, trials, and obstacles that will wring us out, exhaust us, and possibly even drive us to despair if we do not embrace the fact that this is part of life, just like the joys that come our way, and that God is at work even in the most difficult times of life. We can trust Him. We can lean on Him, We can cry out to Him. We can know that we are not alone and that God desires that we rely upon Him, draw near to Him, through it all. The Apostle Paul learned this lesson in one of the most anguishing times of his life. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. Paul writes,
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NIVO)
Did you hear that? “…this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…”
Last of all, we need to remember that we are part of the Body of Christ, we have been given brothers and sisters to help us along the way. Over and over again in Scripture we read the phrase, “one another.” It’s such an important phrase. We need one another.
In Hebrews 11, the author goes through this impressive list of men and women, Abraham, Rahab, Moses’ parents, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and others who “by faith” relied upon the Lord. Then, at the beginning of Hebrews 12 we read,
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, 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. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIVO)
Our eyes are on Jesus, in our hearts and minds we know those who have gone before us who have overcome incredible obstacles through faith and their reliance on the Lord, and their stories, their faith, strengthens us.
Our help doesn’t just come from those who have gone before us. God has provided help for us by providing those who will walk beside us, those who have gone through battles, faced obstacles and overcome them, and are willing to pray for us and walk with us as we face our own obstacles.
After Connie and I had made our way to Emerald Lake and taken in all the incredible sights, we had to make our way back to our car…and that meant we would have to cross the avalanche all over again. While we were at Emerald Lake we met an older man named Robert. Robert lived in the area and he knew the mountains. As we talked with Robert I said, “Do you have any advice for us as we make our way back across that mountain of snow and ice?” Robert said, “The best way across is to find the footsteps of someone who has gone before you and stay in their tracks.” I immediately knew I was going to use that in a sermon one day! Robert said he was going back and we could follow him. So we set out. Robert stepped in the footprints of someone who had already made the journey, Connie followed Robert, and I followed Connie.
On the way over the avalanche the first time Connie and I were hugging the mountain, we were down on all fours, sweat was pouring, our hearts were racing, but on our way back we never touched the mountain…we just followed Robert as he stayed in the steps of someone who had gone before us. Robert was a faithful guide for us that day, but there is One better. Do you remember the verse we read in Hebrews 12:2? Let’s read it again.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, 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. (Hebrews 12:2 NIVO)
Do you think Jesus knows about tough times and the obstacles we face in life? You better believe He does. He endured the cross so that He might be a faithful Guide for you and me as we endure the toughest times of our lives. I want to invite you this morning to surrender your life to Jesus.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 16, 2014
2 Corinthians 1:8-9