Typically, I would now ask you to open your bibles to Ephesians 3:20-21 so that we could continue our study in the book of Ephesians. We very rarely deviate from our study of a book, but today I have decided to do so.
Because of the things that have happened in this season of life it seems best to take a Sunday to use other texts of scripture to encourage our hearts and to direct our steps as we go trough the things that we are now experiencing. My goal is not to give vent to my own opinions; but, rather, to allow scripture to help us during this chaotic time.
This sermon will follow a simple outline.
First, We will acknowledge the things that are going on around us
Secondly, I will seek to encourage those whose hearts have been unsettled by these things
Thirdly, We will explore why we are made to go through things
Lastly, We will explore what we can be doing now at this time as we go through this season
#1 Acknowledgment of Recent Events
Everyday life comes with its own stresses and anxieties. Some of you have already been dealing with challenges long before all of these other things began to happen. (Health, Relational issues, Vocational Concerns)
Several months ago, none of us had any idea that this year would have produced all of these trials and tragedies that we have endured over the last several months.
A couple months ago, out of nowhere, we found ourselves shutting down our entire nation as we dealt with the pandemic of COVID 19. Since then, many people have died or become sick, there is still no vaccine or cure. People have been laid off, businesses have closed, supply lines have been strained, shelves at the stores are often bare.
Then over the last two weeks we have seen our nation thrown into great turmoil which began with the needless, senseless, and unjust death of a man named George Floyd.
As a result of this, there has been an outcry for justice and reform. There have been protest marches throughout the cities of America, including our own city. Over the last couple weeks, cities have been burned, businesses have been looted, people have been hurt, and some have been killed. Lawlessness, chaos and civil unrest have erupted. And throughout all of this, our leaders are divided as to how to best handle these situations. In this most urgent moment, when we need to know a wise way to address righteousness, justice, equity and every good path, our lawmakers and leaders seem unable to guide the nation.
None of us knows what the future holds; but it is a safe to say that the rest of 2020 will still set before us many challenges.
Encouragement For Those Who Have Been Unsettled
As I have talked to many people throughout this time, I have found that all of these things have unsettled many of our hearts. Many people are experiencing confusion, panic, loneliness, fear, anxiety, times of despair and heightened depression. In these moments we are not always sure how to resolve these things. We go to the scriptures and we pray but it is a real struggle. We have received grace; but often these things persist and we wonder why?
I would like to remind us that devout Christians can experience these things. Gospel-centered people will experience anxiety and depression. A Christ-centered person will find their heart overwhelmed and in despair. A saint, who has been grafted into the nourishing vine, will enter into seasons where they may forget that they do not support the root, but that the root is still supporting them even if they are unaware. (Romans 11:18)
Do we find it strange that believers can experience such strong emotions? Let us consider two separate texts that may help us appreciate these things. In Psalm 77:1-3 the psalmist says, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.”
The psalmist prays, he believes he will be heard, he seeks the LORD and stretches out his hand towards Him; and yet, the psalmist is not immediately comforted. In the very next verse he says, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.”
Let us consider a second text from the book of Job. In the midst of Job’s immense suffering he spoke these amazing words in Job 19:25-27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
What an amazing revelation Job speaks of here. However, it is fascinating to consider the words that Job says immediately after this great revelation. Job says, “My heart faints within me!”
This is another example of how believers can have great hope in the gospel and in their Redeemer and still experience great sorrow at the same time. In Job’s case, his heart fainted within him.
When these things happen, we have an opportunity to grow in our faith and to learn about God’s strength and grace. Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 these words, “…I have learned in whatever situation to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 that a thorn was given to him in the flesh. Three times he pleaded with the Lord for it to be taken away from him. But Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
As a result of these things Paul then makes this amazing statement, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Through all of these calamities that we are currently experiencing, believers have been given a great opportunity to display to the world a very strange thing. In the midst of all of these hardships and calamities we can display Christ’s strength and a heart that is content in all circumstances by the grace of God.
#3 Why Must We Experience Times Like This?
So many people have given up on the possibility for good to come out of this year. People seem to be looking forward to next year in the hope that it contains better possibilities. None of us knows what the future holds. There could be even more calamities and chaos.
I say this because I have not seen our nation truly repent and turn to the LORD. So many still think that politicians, scientists or something else can save them. So few have humbly turned to the LORD and have called out for His help. When people speak, you rarely hear in their words an acknowledgment of their need for God.
In Amos 4 we see a time when the LORD sent six calamities upon His people. Yet, at no time did they turn to the LORD in repentance. If they would have repented the calamities would have ceased.
In Amos 4:6 God sent famine and lack but the people did not return to Him
In Amos 4:7-8 God sent a drought upon the land and still the people did not return to Him
In Amos 4:9 God struck them with blight and mildew which ruined their crops. The locust came and devoured their crops, but the people did not return to the LORD
In Amos 4:10 He sent pestilence upon the land and conflicts with other nations, but the people did not return to the Lord
In Amos 4:11 God overthrew some of them as He had with Sodom and Gomorrah, yet they did not return to me
In Amos 4:12 God says, “Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
As a result of this the prophet laments, weeps, and grieves for the people of Israel (5:1)
The LORD desired that the people would turn to Him and be saved.
He desired to see true humility and genuine repentance.
He wanted them to realize their hopeless and helpless condition.
He wanted them to see that there is salvation in no one besides the LORD. The LORD says in Amos 5:2, “Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel; forsaken on her land, with none to raise her up.”
Someone might ask, where is the hope if we are going through such times?
As I considered this question, my mind went to the famed preacher Charles Spurgeon. He faithfully served the people of God his whole life. Yet, some of his greatest battles and most severe trials were reserved for the last years of his life when his health and strength were that of an older man.
In 1887 Spurgeon was embroiled in what came to be known as the Downgrade Controversy where he fought against the liberalism that was creeping into many of the churches associated with his denomination. Jason Allen writes, “At that time, Spurgeon was less than five years from his death. He was near the height of his popularity in the Baptist Union and globally but near the depth of his personal anguish. Physical ailments like failing kidneys and chronic gout wracked his body, and depression plagued his soul. Simply put, he did not need, nor was he much poised for, the conflict he was about to enter.”
Four years later, in May of 1891 Charles Spurgeon wrote to a friend a very short note in which he simply says, “Dear Friend, I have trembled on the edge of the abyss, and, now, though away from the crumbling sides I am weak as a little child. Pray for me...yours truly, C.H. Spurgeon.”
Why would God make this faithful and devout man go through such trials? Why did God allow Spurgeon to taste the bitterness of the rejection of some of his closest friends and even the betrayal of his own brother?
Listen to what Spurgeon says eight months after having written that short letter. “On looking back upon the Valley of the Shadow of death through which I passed so short a time ago, I feel my mind grasping with a firmer grip than ever that everlasting gospel which for so many years I have preached to you. We have not been deceived. Jesus does give rest to those who come to Him, He does save those who trust in Him, He does photograph His image on those who learn of Him. Cling to the gospel of forgiveness through the substitutionary sacrifice; and spread it with all your might, each one of you, for it is the only cure for bleeding hearts.”
Through all of these things, Spurgeon would not come into heaven weak and frail. No, he would come running and leaping; praising and rejoicing; confident and sure. Through these trials Spurgeon had come to know even better the One in whom he had believed and placed his trust. (2 Timothy 1:12)
#4 What Can We Do In The Midst Of This Process?
Friends, we live in a world that is full of trouble.
And there are countless voices trying to speak into these situations.
Yet, there are only a few people that we should be listening too.
Right now, many people are speaking about justice, righteousness and equity. But how are we to consider these things in the right context?
Proverbs 2:1-9 is one of many passages that reminds us that we are not born with an understanding of these things. They are not innate to us. A proper understanding of righteousness, justice, equity and every good path; are the fruits of a relationship with God. And we find that there is a process that every believer has to go through to obtain these things from God.
Consider the opening two words of this passage, “My son”. Here is a father speaking into the life of his child. In Proverbs 1:8 we read these words, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mothers teaching.” There are only a few trusted people who should really be able to speak into our lives. In this text, Solomon is speaking to his son. Scripture testifies that the LORD gave Solomon more wisdom than anyone has ever had except Jesus Christ (1 Kings 3).
But even Solomon knew that his son would grow up in a world where so many people are voicing their opinions. Every one of them desires to have our attention and to influence us in some way.
We are also told in this passage that the one who fulfills certain conditions, which we find in Proverbs 1-4, will understand righteousness, justice, equity and every good path. We see these things in Proverbs 2:5-9.
As we consider the process that we must engage in to know God and to understand righteousness, justice, equity and every good path; I would like you to consider three things.
First, ask yourself if you are committed to fulfilling these conditions.
Secondly, consider those people you know who have gone through this process and are trustworthy to listen too.
Thirdly, consider those who has not gone through this process and be mindful of this when they are speaking.
We are told in Galatians 6:1 that it is the mature who are called to restore others in gentleness when they have been caught in any transgression. Is everyone who is speaking so loudly now a spiritually mature person who is able to restore others gently?
The first condition is found in Proverbs 2:1-2 shows us that we have to desire to know the truth and labor diligently in it. It says, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding...”.
This person wants to conceal the Word in their heart, guard the Word of God, and defend the truth. He listens to the Word of God with the inclination that he is being taught truth and his ears are eager to receive the Word. Such a person will seek to apply the Word of God to his heart and to apply it in all areas of his life. They come with a focus of being taught the Word of God and will not be content with anything less.
The second condition is found in Proverbs 2:3 says, “yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding...”.
To gain wisdom you must be a person who prays for it. A baby cries for food and we ought to cry out to God for wisdom. Desiring God’s wisdom is not enough, reading the bible and theology books is not enough, memorizing all kinds of information is not enough; God says that we have to ask Him for it.
James 1:5-7 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the LORD; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
When I was in college studying theology, my favorite professor Dr. Autry, would always begin with prayer. I can tell you with all sincerity that I failed to understand the significance of those moments in class. The gaining of wisdom begins with humble prayer.
The third condition is found in Proverbs 2:4 says, “if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures...”.
To gain wisdom you must give yourself to diligent study. Remember that Solomon is not talking to those who were planning to go into the ministry. He is not speaking to rabbi’s, pastor’s or theologians. He is talking to his son and he tells him that if he wants to know God and to understand righteousness, justice, equity and every good path; that he must do these three things.
Look at many of the people in our culture and pay particular attention to the effort they put into pursuing everything under the sun. And yet, most people do not put that same energy into seeking and searching God’s Word for these treasures.
We have seen four things today.
First, we are living in a world full of calamity and chaos
Secondly, faithful Christians can be unsettled by such things
Thirdly, God uses these times to bring people to repentance and to mature His saints.
Lastly, We saw that wisdom and maturity is a process that all believers are called to pursue.
The application is clear.
First, have a heart that receives God’s Word, Pray for Wisdom and Seek the Scriptures for the great treasures that they contain.
Secondly, Guard your heart from those who are speaking even though they have not received this wisdom from God.
Thirdly, surround yourselves with mature believers who have wisdom.
We may be scared, but we have a Rock on which we can trust. There is a story of a young boy who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck. At one point in the storm he found himself thrown up against a large rock. He climbed as high as he could and grabbed onto it all night. The next day, when others rescued him they asked, “Were you scared?” The boy answered, “Oh yes, I trembled all night long but the rock never moved.”
Jesus Christ is our Rock and on Him we can rest.