“I Lift My Eyes”
“Bound for the Promised Land”
A Charge to the Congregation
When I Find Myself in Times of Trouble
I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to be here with you today. On this side of things, I love worshiping. I’m a retired pastor for about a year and a half, and when I come to this church and sit with my wife, I can’t get through a service without tears filling my eyes. Something that is said or sung in this place touches me at a place deep in my soul. First Baptist of Richmond has had a profound influence on my life from almost the beginning.
I was born of Virginia Baptist and was wrestling with the call to ministry early on, and I remember the first time I ever stepped foot in this building. It was for a Foreign Mission Board appointment ceremony, and I was sitting in the balcony up there. I went and checked out that seat again this morning early, and I heard Baker James Cauthen. Do you remember him giving the charge to the new missionaries? Ted Adams was my favorite seminary professor at Southeastern. I sat on the front row and drank in everything he had to say. Dr. Flamming was a real encouragement to me when I was president of Virginia Baptist and Jim and Christy have become. Dear friends. We always look forward to coming into this place on Sunday because we know we’re going to hear a great sermon from Jim Somerville. So I don’t know about you, but I’m a little disappointed today that, that he’s not preaching. But we’re going to do our best.
We’re going to we’re going to go through this for the next few moments and hopefully I’ll have a message from God’s word for you. The longer passage you heard some of it, the longer passage from First Peter starts in chapter four. Would you take a Bible and turn there? The Pew Bible or your own or your phone or whatever you use? First, Peter, Chapter four, beginning at verse 12. Four, verse 12. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come to you, to test you as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insomuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you’re insulted because of the name of Christ, you’re blessed for the Spirit of God and of glory and power rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or a thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler, a busybody. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed. But praise God that you bear that name, for it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household. And if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God? And if it’s hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? So then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good.
It was the spring of 1945. Vice President Harry Truman was back in his old quarters in the Congress, in the Capitol building. He was having a drink and maybe playing some cards and catching up on congressional gossip when suddenly that meeting was interrupted, and he was summoned to the White House. They didn’t tell him why, but they rushed him to the White House upstairs and took him into a room where the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, was standing. He suspected it then. She said to him, “Harry, the president is dead.” He said to her what you would say. “Mrs. Roosevelt, is there anything I can do for you?” She said, “Harry, is there anything we can do for you? For you’re the one in trouble now.” The next day, he said, I felt in that moment, like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me. He asked the reporters if they ever prayed to pray for him then. He didn’t know anything about the atomic bomb, the decision he would have to make very, very soon. He knew there was a war to end.
You’ve not had troubles like that. But maybe you’ve had some fiery troubles, too. You’ve not suffered like Peter suffered in Acts Chapter three. He healed a beggar, a lame beggar, and he got called on the carpet. The religious leaders brought him in. They roughed him up a little bit. You’ve not had that happen to you. In Chapter 12 of the Book of Acts, Herod decided he would gain some popularity points by arresting Peter, had him thrown into the inner prison surrounded by guards, and the scripture says in Acts chapter 12, and this is a lesson for us that Peter slept. As far as he knows he’s dying the next day. Somebody else had already been executed. He was next. And yet he slept like a baby.
You’ve not had that happen to you. but you’ve had some trials. All God’s children have problems. What are you going to do? When I find myself in times of trouble? What do you do? Well, what’s your reaction? The initial reaction? He says, don’t be surprised. It can be startling. You didn’t see it coming. It came so suddenly. Everything is fine in your life. You’ve got things together and then reality breaks in. There are a lot of folks out on the golf course today. You invited them to come to church, but they’re not interested. Ask them again sometime. But they’re not interested. They don’t need God, but Tuesday they’ve got an appointment with their doctor. And the oncologist is going to give them some devastating news. And suddenly they’ll be interested, in eternal things. Reality has a way of breaking in. Fiery trials show up suddenly.
David Lodge was in a play in London’s West End back in the early 60s, and in the play, his character had to demonstrate nonchalance at a particular moment in the play, and to do that he picked up a transistor radio and cut it on, expecting to hear Chubby Checker and The Twist. Instead, he heard the startling news bulletin out of Dallas that President John F Kennedy had just been assassinated. He tried to turn it off. He realized the devastation of that news. He tried to cut it off, but the audience heard it and they got up and rushed out of the theater. Reality broke in.
Don’t be surprised and don’t give in to self-pity. When troubles come in, your family life and your physical life. When trials come, sometimes we say, “Why me? Why did this have to happen to me?” Well, I don’t know that it had to happen, but it certainly did happen. But why me? Why not me? Why not you? Troubles come to everybody. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow. Do you sing that song? God knows. He knows our every trial, our every need. Stay calm. That’s what Peter does in Acts Chapter 12. He stays calm. You might want to look for a reason. Now, you may not find one for why this is happening to you right now, but go ahead and look. Often we bring trials on ourselves. Why did God do this to me? God didn’t do this to you. You made a bad choice.
And so Peter mentions that, don’t suffer like a murderer. If you’re a murderer, you’re going to be arrested and tried and convicted. Don’t suffer as a murderer or a thief or any other kind of criminal or even as a busybody. You stuck your nose in somebody else’s business and it backfired on you. Sometimes we bring troubles on ourselves. We shouldn’t blame God. The scripture that you heard read earlier, be sober, be alert. Your enemy, your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. I don’t know if you believe in him, but I believe the devil is real. I believe he exists. I think that’s the only way you can explain some of the things that are happening in our world. And the devil, if he’s real. He has an agenda for each one of us. He doesn’t want to just make life difficult. What does Peter say? He wants to devour us like a roaring lion. Walketh about seeking someone to devour. He wants to destroy your family. That’s why you’re tempted in some of the ways you’re tempted. He wants to destroy your family. Those children growing up under your roof that are looking to you for an example, for life. If he can destroy you, he can destroy them. He’s always trying to destroy churches like this. If the witness of First Baptist Church can be sidelined, he’s won a major victory.
Some troubles come because of the attack of the adversary. But in chapter four, verse 19, listen to this. So then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful creator. Sometimes suffering is God’s will for us. It’s not that he sits in heaven devising ways to make our lives miserable. You’ve not had troubles lately, so he just decides to send a lightning bolt your way. It’s not that. But he has a will to give us hope and a future. Difficulties come because he has his will that he’s working out. And when we suffer as a Christian, when we suffer for the name of Jesus, we take a stand. We stand for righteousness. Sometimes we suffer persecution. Not like they do in Third World countries and other places of the world where people give their lives for their faith. It hasn’t happened to us and we’ve, but we’ve suffered some persecution, some ridicule. Maybe we’re, we’re not included in some things because we make others feel uncomfortable. We shouldn’t do it intentionally, but it just happens sometimes. That’s God’s will. He says, Continue, continue to do good. John Lewis spoke of good trouble and there’s a trouble that’s good when it makes a difference for the Gospel of Christ. Romans Chapter eight, verse 18 says, For I reckon that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. God’s glory and God’s power.
So troubles come. They come for a lot of reasons. Maybe the worst thing has happened to you. You’re going through the worst thing right now. I don’t know what it is. The worst thing. I love what Frederick Buechner said with God because of the resurrection. The worst thing is never the last thing. You’re going through something right now, but God on his throne can do something wonderful. Even with that, the Bible doesn’t say that all things work together for good things don’t work together for good. The Scripture says in Romans 8:28 that God is able to take all things and when they’re placed in his hand, bring about good from them. It’s God who does it. It can be God’s will. The question is for us today, before we go, is how are we going to respond? How are we going to react? We want to act correctly when we go through trials and tribulations.
Somebody once taught me that maturity is the ability to respond appropriately in any given situation. So if you’re mature. Now in every situation that’s a that’s a tall order, but most situations you can respond correctly. We have that freedom. We can choose our response. Peter stays calm and acts Chapter 11. And that’s why he writes to us when we go through this difficulty. Don’t be surprised. Chapter four, verse 13 says, But rejoice. Rejoice. In Philippians chapter four, Paul the Apostle said, Rejoice in the Lord. Always and again I say, Rejoice. Don’t worry about anything. But in everything with prayer and supplication. Make your requests known unto God and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard. Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. So rejoice. It doesn’t mean be happy. Happiness is determined by circumstances, and your circumstances are not good. But you can rejoice. Joy is the settled disposition of your heart, toward God. It’s a, it’s a thermostat rather than the thermometer that measures happiness. It sets the mood of your spirit. And then in chapter five, Resist the devil if the trial is coming from the devil and he’s seeking to devour you, resist him. James said the same thing. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and say no to the devil.
Now I’m afraid of a lion. You know, the MGM lion on the movies used to scare me when I would go. And I’ve never been face to face with a real lion. But when I see lion cubs on some nature program on television, they’re so very cute, aren’t they? And they’re being cared for and maybe nursed and and they’re just lovable. And we need to remember that they’re lions. That are going to grow up when you allow them in your heart. They’re going to grow up. Until they destroy you. So resist the devil and he will flee. Don’t give him an opportunity. Don’t, don’t make plans to do evil. We’re tempted enough as it is in everyday life. Don’t plan on it. Don’t. Don’t make provision for the flesh. Seek to live for Christ in everything you do.
But I want to close with this because this is going to be the most important thing, I think, when you’re going through trials and troubles and difficulties in your life, remain close to the family. Remain close to the church. First Peter, Chapter five, verse nine. Resist the devil. Stand firm in the faith. Because you know that the family of believers. I love that word. It’s not the church isn’t an organization. It’s not a club you join. It’s a family you’re born into. You know that the family of believers of in the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. We draw strength from each other. I know there Sundays you don’t feel like coming. There are other things going on. It’s too, it’s too rainy outside or it’s too beautiful outside. Any number of reasons to not be in church. Maybe you’re hurting. Maybe a church hurt you somewhere along the way and you’ve given up on organized religion. I was, I was in an Uber recently, and the driver was a crusty sort of individual, and I tried to start a conversation with him about faith, and I ask him about his religious affiliation. And he said, “Oh, I don’t I don’t go to church anymore. I was raised in it. I was a Catholic altar boy and I saw so much corruption, religion is just a crutch. I don’t need it.” And I said,” Well, you know, maybe one day you’ll change your mind. Maybe God put me in your Uber to remind you that he loves you, even with that attitude.” He just gruff and grunted when we got to my place. As we’re pulling into the driveway, he said. “The doctors told me this week, I’ve got just a few weeks to live. I’ve never told anybody that. But I’m telling you.” I said, “Maybe God put me in this car to remind you that he loves you and wants you to come to him.” We need each other. Especially in time. Don’t quit on church and don’t quit on your faith, when the times are tough.
One more story and I’m gone. I was doing a funeral back in Alexandria a few years ago in our chapel, and it was an elderly woman. And as we were planning the service, her 20 something year old granddaughter asked if she could sing. And of course it’s family and I’m going to let them do what they want to do. But I said, You sure you want to do that? I mean, it’s hard enough to speak when you’re a family member, but to sing and hold a melody, it’s going to be hard, she said. But I want to do it. So she sang. She didn’t have anybody to keep her baby, her toddler, and she stood up behind the pulpit holding a child as she sang His Eye is on the Sparrow, and I know he watches me, Ethel Waters old song. And she was all right. She did okay with it until she got to the chorus. I sing because I’m happy. And she broke down. Began to weep. Inconsolably. She stopped. But the pianist continued to play. And the congregation picked up the melody and they kept singing until she was able to get into the song again. And I thought, Well, that’s what church is. There are times when we lose the melody. We don’t know the words. We, we don’t know what we believe anymore. It’s in moments like that that the the church, our fellow believers, they sing for us until we can do it again. What’s the point of the sermon today? Troubles are going to come, if you’re not in trouble right now, you’ve just come out of it or you’re getting ready to go into it. God is there. God will take care of you as you look to him for strength. This is the word of the Lord for us today.