Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress  

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday: 

‘Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’

© February 25, 2018 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin February 25, 2018

Based on a Message Shared with BLCF Church on October 30, 2011

BLCF Bulletin October_30,_2011

Announcements & Call to Worship;r of Prayer Prayer

Opening Hymn #358: We Praise Thee, O God, Choruses

Prayer and Tithing: Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings

Responsive Reading #612: (The Lamb of God from Isaiah 53)                

Message by Stephen Mickelson: ‘Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’ 

Let us pray…

‘Do not forsake me, o my darling’ is the opening lyrics for the Western Classic movie High Noon, starring Gary Cooper who portrayed lawman Will Kane. On the day he gets married and hangs up his badge, Will Kane is told that a man he sent to prison years before, Frank Miller, is returning on the noon train to exact his revenge. Having initially decided to leave with his new spouse, Will decides he must go back and face Miller. However, when he seeks the help of the townspeople he had protected for so long, they turn their backs on him. It seems Kane may have to face Miller alone, as well as the rest of Miller’s gang, who are waiting for him at the train station. This is the story of a good lawman unwilling to violate his oath to uphold the law, even though the chances of his surviving his ordeal seem slim.

The movie deals with the universal question as why a person who seems to live his life as an upright and law-abiding citizen, seems to be rewarded for his efforts by being abandoned by the people he took an oath to protect, a moral issue found frequently in the works of Shakespeare and reprised by Sean Connery in the futuristic Science Fiction movie Outland. As we often see, art and literature imitate real life, which brings us to the plight of Job and Jesus when they were tested by the devil.

The Book of Job is considered by most Biblical scholars to be the oldest of the Scriptures and Job, the wealthiest man in his time. It documents the story of this faithful servant of God, who was tested to the point of death by Satan, as we see in Job 1:1-12:

                                                                 Job 1:1-12 (ESV)

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

You may recall that Job lost wealth, family and suffered personal afflictions. His friends told Job that the Lord was punishing him for some sin or transgression committed either by Job or a member of Job’s family. Even Job’s wife told her husband to forsake his trust in God, as Job’s wife suffered almost as much as Job did. Except for her health, she too lost everything: home, family, and possessions. Her attitude and response exactly matched the one Satan had set out to evoke from Job: to curse God and to blame Him for their misery. How ironic that Satan achieved his goal in Job’s sole surviving companion but not in Job himself.

Did Job’s wife realize that she had surrendered to Satan’s manipulative scheme? Did she feel her loss so great that she didn’t care that she was wrong? Or did she respond to her calamity merely in a fit of emotion, which later passed, taking her bitterness with it? We don’t know the answers to any of those questions. All we know is that she responded just as most people would have under the circumstances: she got angry at God and insisted that Job do the same.

We know that Job’s story ended in his being restored to health, wealth and in the family. But these questions arise: “for what reason did God have to allow Satan to test his obedient and faithful servant? Were the Lord and Satan involved in some idle chess game with Job as a pawn?  I believe that the Lord had several reasons for allowing Job to be tested by Satan.

Satan challenged God, indicating that Job’s faith was merely the result of the hedge the Lord has built around Job. The Lord allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth and family, in short, to remove the so-called hedge that Satan had claimed was the reason for Job’s faith. The toughest part for Job was the fact that he had sensed to some degree that the Lord had distanced himself from a person who had demonstrated steadfast trust and faith in his God, (Job 23:3):

Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! 

David, too, had undergone a period of similar testing, and asked God, (Psalm 22:1):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

And even though Satan, may have his way at times, the key to making it through the snares and traps Satan sets is to maintain our trust in the Lord, that He will rescue us from our predicament, (1 John 5:19):

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

And in Psalm 31:14-15, David maintains rediscovers his faith:

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

Not only, did Job and David go through tests, where at some point they had experienced a separation from God, Jesus too was left alone in his suffering on the cross at Calvary, (Matthew 27:46):

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

In order to feel the full weight of the punishment for our sins, Jesus had to be abandoned by God. Was this really necessary? We find the answer in Isaiah 53:4-6:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The lesson taught by Job’s test by Satan was meant not only for our benefit, but a lesson to the other heavenly hosts (angels) present at the time Satan challenged the reason for God’s faith. It taught both the angels and us, that faith does not come from having worldly wealth, but a wealth of the Spirit. Remember, too, in John, that as soon as Jesus had received the Holy Spirit, he was tested by Satan in the desert. The reason why Jesus suffered, unlike Job, was to atone for our sins and to show us an example of obedience and faith to the Father in Heaven, ( 1 Peter 2:21-24):

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

While we demonstrate our faith and trust in the Lord, he offers in return, His Promise of Salvation and Sanctification by way of the suffering of Jesus on our behalf.

We see that Job was allowed to suffer, to teach us and the heavenly host where faith should be based, and how much faith is rewarded for our faith, by bringing us salvation and sanctification from the Lord. We are also given through Jesus, the promise of eternal life and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But what about suffering today, particularly amongst the innocent? Does God have a plan in that?

Paul Paraskevopoulos

Paul Paraskevopoulos

I have shared with some of you about my brother-in-law, Sophie’s brother, Paul, who passed away a few years ago after a short, unexpected illness. Paul was brain injured, having been run over by a truck in childhood. His injury left Paul with the intellectual capacity of an 8-year-old. Even though mentally and physically challenged and being confined to a wheelchair in the last decade of his life, Paul was generally a happy soul, enjoying many of the simpler things in life.

I recall a few years before Paul’s passing, both Sophie and I were called into the hospital in Oakville, as Paul had suffered from a combination of kidney and blood infection. The prognosis was poor, as Paul was not expected to survive the night. At this grim time, I had a concern about Paul’s faith walk: whether or not my brother-in-law had made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour? I knew Paul had attended church with his siblings and later some of the staff from West Park Hospital, as well as with staff from the group home in Oakville. My fears about Paul were dispelled when upon our arrival at Paul’s hospital room, as before either Sophie or I had a chance to say hello, Paul opened his eyes and spoke: “You know that Jesus is in my heart. I love Jesus.” I knew then that Paul was right with the Lord.

Paul Paraskevopoulos between Steve and Sophie Mickelson

Paul eventually recovered from that illness in 2008 but passed away in 2011 from a separate ailment a bacterial blood infection. Although he was not able to speak when we arrived in the hospital, we had assurance from Paul’s earlier testimony that he was still right with the Lord.

It was not until Paul’s funeral, that I had the opportunity to fully understand why Paul was allowed to suffer so much.  Our family was moved to see that some forty or so staff attended the attended the services. It was obvious that Paul had an impact upon this extended family, as staff members said Paul would love to sing, often reprising the hymn, ‘My God is able’ in acapella. Paul was loved and appreciated by his caregivers as much as by his family.

At Paul’s memorial, I shared some of the happier times we had with Paul, but also shared the story of Paul’s faith and testimony. At the cemetery, a staff member who had returned from her vacation to attend Paul’s funeral shared a story about how Paul was at get together which was recorded on video, where he had burst into a chorus of ’Onward Christian Soldiers’ for the camera. It was then I realized that members of the staff of the group home were aware of Paul’s faith, which he openly shared with them through song. Paul’s faith had also shone through his personality, and that many staff members had listened and learned from Paul’s testimony.  God had a plan and a purpose for Paul, as many members of the family and staff had learned through the simple childlike faith, of this child in a man’s body, how both the faith and the Holy Spirit enabled a believer to keep a happy, positive outlook in spite of a life of injury, suffering, and pain. The common lesson we may take from both Paul and from Job is: in spite of any sufferings endured in life, the Holy Spirit brings joy when faith in the Lord is maintained.  That faith provides the believer with an opportunity to give a testimony of his or her faith may explain why ‘bad things happen to good people’, (Isaiah 54:10):

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #224: How Firm a Foundation

Benediction (James 1:12):  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – Amen

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