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Putting Things Right When Everything Is Going Wrong

Thank you for the opportunity which shall be ours in just a moment to deal with the Word of God. 

First, just a couple of announcements. There are tables in the back where you can pick up materials related to some of the key programs and ministries of this church, particularly our small group ministry. My understanding is that the table has not been there up to now, but it is there tonight. And I hope that you will make yourself aware of the kinds of things that happen in the life of this great congregation as we seek to serve Jesus Christ here. Also, back at the door is a place for an offering. One of the things that we do in response to all of the greatness and the goodness God has bestowed upon us is to offer to Him a little bit of the earthly substance He has provided for us. Your gifts and offerings will not only allow us to continue doing Sunday Night Live, but will also allow us to continue serving Christ through missions in this community and far beyond it. So in the name of Jesus Christ, I invite you, please give to the Lord.

Sunday Night Live, holy mackerel. How in the world can I put things right when you guys get it all wrong? Look at my name. The very idea. I am only the senior minister in this church. Now, my mother and daddy will be proud. Having gotten that right, let’s see if we can put other things right, especially when everything in life seems to go wrong. But first, we pray. 

Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

A great word of Scripture. Paul, Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies who is to condemn. Is it Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who, indeed, intercedes 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 Thy sake, we are being killed all the day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all of 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 heights nor depth nor anything else in all of creation shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

 Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Did you hear the story about the rather prominent CEO of a large corporation who thought that he had everything going his way in life, and then, suddenly, everything began to go wrong? The first place, he went to the doctor for his annual physical, and he discovered that he was right on the verge of a serious illness. And, in fact, the doctor said that it was going to be necessary for him to go to the hospital immediately and check in, and begin to undergo a series of rather strenuous tests. Well, he was somewhat shaken by that. And he was not accustomed to handling things when things go wrong in life, and he responded with a lot of bluff and bluster. And so when he made his way to the hospital, and he went to the admissions office, he began to blow off steam in great frustration. And he began to mistreat everybody that he encountered, at least verbally, abusing them here and there. And as you know, in the admissions process in the hospital, you go from one person to another to another, each person with a different function. And in each place, he became more and more obstreperous.

And then, in the midst of it all, he pulled out his cellular phone, and he put in a call to his office and discovered that things weren’t going well there, and he exploded. And he proceeded to berate the person on the other end of the line. In frustration, he then clicked off the phone and turned it on again and called his stockbroker, discovered that the stock market was down, down, down. And in great despair, he let forth a long string of profanities that singed the ears of everyone in the admissions complex. He even began to treat the other people who were trying to get admitted to the hospital badly. They were feeling bad enough already, and he came down strongly upon each one of them that he encountered.

The situation was getting worse and worse. And as a matter of fact, you could just tell everybody in the place thought, “What a jerk this guy is.” And then he came to the last station in the admissions process, the place where the lady behind the desk pulled out the little plastic identification bracelet that they put on, the last thing before they send you on to your hospital room. She held out the little identification bracelet to him, and he pulled his hand back, and he said, “What are you going to put that blankety blank thing on me for?” I love what the woman said. Very calmly and very gently, she said, “That, sir, is so we will know the right mommy to send you home with when it’s time to go.” Sometimes, when everything goes wrong, we act like children.

There are those times in life when everything does go wrong. And usually, it comes unexpectedly. Your business is going well. Suddenly, a competing product hits the market. The next thing you know, you’re awash in red ink. Your family is progressing nicely, and you’re feeling quite good about things. And then, suddenly, they call from school to say that your child is failing or perhaps has had an experience with drugs. Or maybe your spouse delivers the sledgehammer blow that he or she is considering divorce. You’re feeling perfectly well, and you go to the doctor, and suddenly, in just a word – cancer – everything changes. You’re fighting some great temptation in your life and doing so well, and then, suddenly – just one little moment of weakness – and a feeling of victory is transformed into the ashes of defeat.

What do you do when things go wrong in life? From my study of the Scripture, and in particular from my study of a single verse of Scripture, I want to suggest that the best way to put things right when everything goes wrong is to adopt in life both an offensive and a defensive strategy. Now, that word is drawn from the word of God through the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” 10 words, I want to carve those words onto your brain. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” I want you to say those words with me right now, out loud. Let’s say them together.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Again, a little louder.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Louder, still.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Yes. If God is for us, who can be against us? From that verse, I draw two strategies for putting things right when everything goes wrong. First, a defensive strategy. I can summarize it in two words. Stay cool. All right. You’re going to have to help me now. The room divides right here. Everybody on this side of the room, you’re the defense. Whenever I say, “Our defensive strategy,” and point to you, I want you to respond with the two words. What are they?

“Stay cool.” 

That’s pitiful. Our defensive strategy is: 

“Stay cool.”

Thank you. Stay cool. If God is for us, then we can remain cool, calm, and collected no matter what. If God is for us, then it doesn’t matter who is against us. If God is for us, then we can handle anything life sets before us. And so our defensive strategy is:

“Stay cool.”

Thank you. Stay cool. You see, the problem is that most of us, when we encounter a difficult situation in life, we respond with an emotional response, and emotion simply magnifies the difficulty. And so therefore, whenever the tough times in life come, when everything begins to go wrong, what is our defensive strategy?

“Stay cool.”

Yes. Stay cool. 

True story. Two men, both of them arrested at the same time and jailed unjustly. One of them responds emotionally. He is plunged into despair. He winds up hanging himself in his jail cell. The other responds with cool and calm. He proceeds in his jail cell to sit down and start to write. Before he finished, he had written one of the great classics in Christian literature. His name was John Bunyan, and what he wrote was Pilgrim’s Progress. Two men, faced with the same circumstances, the same difficulty in life. Everything went wrong. One of them stayed cool, calm, and collected. The other did not. Our defensive strategy when everything goes wrong is:

“Stay cool.”

Yes. 20/20 the other night, did you see it? The interview with Christopher Darden, the prosecuting attorney in the O.J. Simpson trial? He has a new book out called In Contempt. In the course of his interview, he was very harsh in his criticisms of that trial. One of the things that he said was that Judge Lance Ito let the courtroom become like a circus, and he let the trial get out of his control. In fact, Christopher Darden went on to say that Johnny Cochran actually ran the trial. In passing, in the interview, he mentioned the Medina trial. Do you know the Medina trial? It involved Judge Harold Medina. The trial took place a number of years ago. It was after the Second World War, and it was at a point in time where the Cold War was just beginning to heat up.

And it was during that period of time that 11 card-carrying members of the Communist Party were arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the government of the United States of America. They were put on trial, and the judge in the trial was Judge Harold Medina. It was the strategy of those communists to so disrupt the proceedings in the courthouse that Judge Medina might be led to misspeak himself or make some technical error so that they could then go on and have the trial declared a mistrial.

And so in a very well-organized and orchestrated conspiracy, they began, for example, to harass Judge Media and everyone associated with him. They would put phone calls into his home, day and night. They sent threatening letters. They harassed members of his family when they were out in public. They created an enormous raucous around the courthouse. They played to the press. They turned the courtroom into a circus. In fact, frequently in the trial, they would stand up as a body and begin to chant, right in the middle of the proceedings, “Medina shall fall like Forrestal. Medina shall fall like Forrestal.” You see, they had learned that Judge Harold Media suffered from acrophobia, the fear of heights. And it wasn’t long before that that our Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, had taken his own life by leaping from the window in his hospital room. It was national news, and they knew it, and so they would chant in the courthouse, “Medina shall fall like Forrestal. Medina shall fall like Forrestal.”

What they didn’t know about Harold Medina was that he was a Christian. And all during that long and difficult trial, regularly, Harold Medina would leave the bench and retreat into his chambers for what he called a faith transfusion. He would lie down on the couch in his chambers, and he would become very quiet and very calm. And then, he would repeat the words over and over and over again, “If God is for us, who can be against us? If God is for us, who can be against us?” And it was on the strength of those words that he was able, in the midst of all of that chaos, to remain cool and calm and in complete control. And as a result, that trial went on to become one of the most noted trials in American jurisprudence history. And it is that trial to which people point whenever there is a trial now that has great prominence and publicity surrounding it. Harold Medina set the pattern. He was cool, calm, and collected. Our defensive strategy is: 

“Stay cool.”

Yes. Friday afternoon, Tricia, Beth, and Beth’s fiancé, Bobby Hewitt, and I had the privilege of going out and watching the golf tournament at Bay Hill. Bobby Hewitt’s favorite golfer is Paul Azinger, and we loved watching Paul Azinger. And as we were there at the 18th hole, watching Paul Azinger prepare to hit, and he picked up the grass, and he let it fly to see the wind. He did everything you could think of. And I looked at Paul Azinger just a few feet away. And then, I looked across the fairway, and there was Johnny Miller; Johnny Miller, once a professional golfer, now the NBC commentator. And it reminded me of something that had happened not so long ago in Paul Azinger’s life.

Paul Azinger was at the top of the golf profession, and then you will remember he was stricken with cancer, the kind of cancer that kills. He was forced to withdraw from the PGA Tour and undergo a long and very, very complicated and difficult series of chemotherapy treatments, depleting him drastically. Nearly died, and in the midst of it, he was in terrible despair. All of his great accomplishments and achievements in the golf world seemed to be gone, his future vanishing before his very eyes. He was in the deepest, darkest moment of his life, and everything – but everything – was going wrong. And it was at that point that Johnny Miller came to visit him in the hospital. And the day Johnny Miller came, Paul Azinger was at his lowest ebb. He was lying in the bed, crying. And Johnny Miller walked over to him and took his hand, and he said, “You know, Zinger, what really matters in life is not what we accomplish or what we achieve. It’s what we overcome.”

Those words turned Paul Azinger around, and he began to reclaim the center. He’s a very deep and devoted Christian, and he reached out for that faith, remembering that if God is for us, who can be against us? And then, very coolly and calmly, he began to regain control of himself. And then gradually, very coolly and calmly, he began to regain control of the circumstances around him. And out of that coolness and calmness, there came a day when he returned to the golf tour. And I sat Friday afternoon and watched him hit an absolutely magnificent shot to the green on 18 at Bay Hill. And the ball landed four feet from the cup, and the crowd erupted in applause. He strode to the green, tapped in the putt, and once again, the applause was overwhelming. And I think the applause was overwhelming because the people there knew where he’d been and what he’d done. Our defensive strategy:

“Stay cool.”

Yes. If God is for us, that’s all we need to know. So we have a defensive strategy. We also have an offensive strategy. This is the offense. Two words, hit hard. Our offense strategy is:

“Hit hard.”

Whew. Yes. The best offense is a loud offense. Our offensive strategy:

“Hit hard.”

If God is for us, who can be against us? You see, we don’t have to just surrender to the circumstances around us. We stay cool, calm, and collected, yes, but then we attack the circumstances which confront us in life. George Patton, Battle of the Bulge: the German panzer divisions had driven a wedge between the Allied Forces, and virtually all of the Allied Forces were in retreat. It was a critical moment in the Second World War, everybody in retreat except the forces of George Patton because George Patton said, “Always attack. It confuses the enemy.” When you’re beaten, when everything is going wrong, when everything is against you, and it looks like you ought to retreat, Patton said, “Attack. The enemy never expects it. They think you’re going to turn tail and run. Attack. It always confuses the enemy.”

I like what Ralph Waldo Emerson said. He said, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” When difficulty comes, you use your offensive strategy, which is: 

“Hit hard.”

Yes. You’re doing great. I have shared with you before that I am absolutely terrified to stand in front of people and speak. This has been a problem all of my life. I’m very shy and reserved, and I have difficulty doing precisely what I’m doing right now. And every Sunday, I go through a terribly difficult process where I acknowledge that fear. It’s the fear of standing and talking to people, yes. It’s also the fear of knowing that on any given Sunday, literally, through this church and through television, thousands of people are going to hear what I say. And there is a terrible pressure involved in that, and I always wonder if all of those people out there – with all of their hopes and joys and triumphs and victories and defeats and frustrations and tragedies – I wonder if there is any way that I can find to speak a word to them. Or if somehow the Lord will transcend me and speak in spite of me to them. And there is a great fear in standing up under that responsibility. And yet, I have long since learned that the best way for me to handle that fear is to face it. The best offensive strategy is:

“Hit hard.”

So every Sunday morning, under the grip of the Holy Spirit, I hit it because if God is for me, who can be against me? “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” But we have to keep the two strategies in tandem. We have to have the defensive strategy, which is:

“Stay cool.”

And we also have the offensive strategy, which is:

“Hit hard.”

So we stay cool, and we hit hard. We stay cool, calm, and collected on the inside, and then we attack. We hit the fear, the difficulty – when everything goes wrong around us – knowing that if God is for us, who can be against us? Phyllis Zamoki, a woman who lives in the Midwest, works for a national corporation, frequently finds herself in New York on business. Once not very long ago, she was in New York on business, called a friend who lives in New York, and asked if they might meet to go to the theater and a play. And so they did, and afterwards they went to a restaurant for dinner, and they had such a good time being together that they talked until well past midnight right there in the restaurant. And then, as they left the restaurant, recognizing that it was quite late, the friend said, “I better call a taxi, take you back to your hotel, Phyllis.” 

And Phyllis said, “No, no, no. I got here riding the subway. I’ll ride the subway back.” 

And the friend said, “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” 

And Phyllis said, “No, it’s all right. It’s perfectly all right. I’ll ride the subway.”

And so she headed over toward the subway ramp down under the street, and she went down and recognized that there was no one in the subway station. She felt a little clamminess on her spine. And then, the train came, and she got on the train, and there was not another breathing soul on the train. And the train went to the stop where she was to get off, and she got off into the station, and once again, no one. It was so quiet. And now, fear began to grip, and she began to head toward the stairs leading up to the street, and suddenly, out of the shadows stepped five young men. They stared at her for a moment, and she froze. And one of them said, “Kind of late to be out, isn’t it, little lady?” Now fear really gripped her heart. Another one said, very menacingly, “Would you like to have a little company?”

They were standing right at the base of the stairs where she was to walk up to the street. And in that moment, as fear took over, suddenly, she remembered that on the previous Sunday, her pastor in the church she attends out in the Midwest had preached on Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And so she stood very still for just a moment and tried to calm her anxious soul. And she whispered to herself the words over and over again, “If God is for us, who can be against us? If God is for us, who can be against us?” And then, suddenly, she looked at the five young men, and she started walking right straight toward them, and she said, “Let me pass.” And there was a long moment of dead silence as they stared at her. And then, suddenly, the leader of the group stepped aside, and she walked up the stairs and into the hotel. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Face the fears in your life, and the fear you feel will die. Employ the defensive strategy: 

“Stay cool.”

Employ the offensive strategy.

“Hit hard.”

Face the fears in your life, and the fear you feel will die. The best way to put things right when everything goes wrong is to remember, if God is for us, who – I say who – who can ever be against us? If things are wrong in your life, let me suggest that you begin to put them right by taking a step of faith. There are envelopes on the outside edge of each row of chairs. I want you to take those envelopes, and I want you to take out the card. Pass the envelope down. Each person, take out a card. I want you to take a few moments and fill out that card.

 

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