Monday, October 14, 2019

Finding our Refuge



Earlier last century, one of our presidents was returning to the US aboard a ship from Europe. When they pulled into New York harbor an enormous crowd was there to cheer and receive the president back home. He was the first to disembark. Everyone else had to wait and watch. One couple leaning against the railing was a missionary and his wife, retiring after forty years on the mission field. The man said, “You’d think after all we’ve done for the Lord, all the sacrifice and suffering, there would be at least someone to meet us here at the dock and celebrate us coming home.”
His wife said, “But we’re not home yet.”

Rev 21:3-4 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." 

Until that day, we live in the land of the unexpected, of tears and death and mourning and crying and pain. We have bodies that wear out, relationships that grow sour, disease and illness that can take us down, accidents and issues that rob us of joy and darken our ability to anticipate God’s intervention. We have storms that can sneak in on us and flood our world. Or that can rage against us and change the very landscape of our lives.

My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death [fear of dying or misery of his circumstances] have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would wander far away. I would lodge in the wilderness. I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest. (Ps 55:4-8)

We’ve been there. Honestly, some of us are there right now. Feeling anguish from the anger of the storm. Wanting to get out of it but can’t. What do we do? Where do we turn? How do we hasten to our place of refuge? David gives us our answer:

Ps 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

David uses a word for trouble that simply means: pressing in. It’s a broad and general word that covers any circumstances that we would describe as trouble. David didn’t specify what kind of trouble. He wanted what he was saying to apply to any trouble.

We like to be different, to think what we are going through is unique, nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen, obviously what I’m going through is so serious there couldn’t be any solution available.

So, to make sure we realize whatever we’re facing qualifies for God’s help, he just
says trouble, then gives the promise: God is our help.

Ps 46:2-3 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah. Stop and think about this.

Worst case scenario. What’s the worst thing we can imagine? Then fit your circumstances in there somewhere below worst case scenario and since God can handle worst case scenarios, you have nothing to be afraid of.

Ps 46:4-5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 

Rivers were sources of life, provision. Communities develop near rivers. The river meets the people’s needs. In David’s mind, the river is evidence of the presence of God meeting our needs. All we need is flowing through that river. 

Then he says: God will help her when morning dawns. Night beings fear, loneliness and foreboding. We typically just want to get through the night and get it over with. But David lived with confidence that each morning brought the new day and no matter how dark the night, he anticipated the new day would bring his help.

Ps 46:6 The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. 
Much distress came against that city, but when God spoke, everything changed. David saw much trouble in Jerusalem, many storms, but his experience showed him whatever he saw wasn’t final because God hadn’t spoken yet.

Vance Havner – living in the great not yet. Between cry and answer. Between prayer and response. Between promise and provision.

Present circumstances don’t indicate what God is doing. What do we hold onto?

Ps 46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. 

That same God David found absolutely faithful in his life is with us. As he was David’s refuge and stronghold, He is ours as well. David had trusted and found God able. So, he could say, “Let me tell you about the God who cares for you.” 

If you need a guide to get you through harsh and unpredictable territory, you want someone who’s been there and knows how to get through.

Ps 46:8-9 Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. 

Behold the works of the LORD: Look at what God has already done to meet the needs of His people and accomplish His good purposes in their behalf. That’s why we read our Bibles. Every page encourages us to trust Him more as we learn He is without limit.

He has never failed. Me and my troubles will not become the exception that ruins His perfect record. So…

Ps 46:10 Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 

Cease striving, be still, stop churning over things we cannot control, trust in the God who writes the final chapter. And however long the storm lasts, be assured of this…

Ps 46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. 

The Lord is with us. The most powerful words of comfort and hope to face any trouble.

Do you remember as a kid waking from a nightmare to find your mom sitting there saying, “It’s alright, Mommy’s here.” Those words shattered your fear. Why? Because we believed if Mommy or Daddy was there, nothing could happen to us.

Mark 4:36-40 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" 
What was the problem? Jesus was there. But they hadn’t learned to trust Him yet.
On God my salvation rests; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. (Ps 62:7-8)
He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is big enough for whatever you face. (Ps 91:4)

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until this distress passes by. (Ps 57:1)

Don’t think for a moment that God doesn’t know how much it hurts, how broken are our hearts, how painful are our thoughts, how deep the darkness, how long the night. But also, don’t think for moment any of that changes the fact that God is here, taking care of His child. Nothing can stop God from taking care of you right now, in the midst of whatever storm is raging against you.
Why doesn’t God just take away the storms? Because, we’re not home yet. Until then, storms will come and go. But the presence of God in our lives is our assurance He will help us in all our troubles.

TAKEAWAYS:
  1. It’s great to believe; it’s greater to trust.
  2. When the God who cannot lie tells us He is with us, we can count on that being true.
  3. Since He has never failed even one of His children, rest assured He will not fail you.
  4. Hang on through the night because joy comes in the morning.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Overview of First Corinthians - Moral Failure



We’re looking at how Paul addressed troublemakers in Corinth. Thus far, we’ve considered divisive and compromising troublemakers. Today, we consider the publicly immoral troublemakers to teach us: God is faithful even in moral failure.

1Cor 5:1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. 

We’re not told what the sin was. Someone having his father’s wife doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s generally assumed the son had taken his stepmother away from his father and was having an on-going, illicit relationship. Whatever it was, Paul described it as so bad even the heathens don’t do something like this.  

However, Paul’s problem wasn’t just with the man, but with the church for allowing him to continue in fellowship with them while living in blatant, public sin. Most of us try to keep our sins private. This man paraded his.

1Cor 5:2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 

Why so harsh, we all make mistakes? By not confronting this sin they were condoning it.

Titus 3:10-11 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. 

Like the earlier troublemakers who divided the church into clickish groups, creating factions, Paul sees anyone who, when living in public sin being permitted to remain in fellowship within the church, is a source of division. 

Some will condemn. Some will accept. Some will keep from making eye contact to not take a stand. And before long, each will turn on the others – taking up the offense of either side. Just ignore it. No, pray for him. Love him because love covers a multitude of sins. That’s his problem, not ours. You can hear their arguments. Paul’s remedy? Separate the man from the herd. 

We understand quarantine. Someone or something has a contagious disease, we isolate them to keep what they have from spreading to others. 

Place a rotten apple in a basket of fresh apples and soon the rottenness of the first apple will infect the others. For the sake of the good apples, the bad apple has to be removed.

2Cor 6:14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 

For whatever reason, the people within the church were overlooking the sin to maintain fellowship with the man. Paul says: there is no fellowship with someone walking in darkness. Why? We can’t be right with each other when we’re wrong with God. Neither can we be wrong with each other and right with God.

A mom was waking everyone up for church one Sunday morning. When she knocked on one door, a voice said, "I'm not going!" "Why not?" "I'll give you two good reasons. One, they don't like me. Two, I don't like them." She said, "I'll give you two good reasons why YOU WILL go to church. One, you're 47 years old. Two, you're the pastor!"

You’ll remember in Bible terms: Relationship is the result of being right with God. Fellowship is the result of living right with Him. In earthly terms, relationship is our familiar connection with a person and fellowship is how we get along.

In certain relationships, we choose to work around someone’s bad behavior for the sake of fellowship. But, we’re not getting along; we’re overlooking their behavior to keep from losing the relationship.

You’ll see this in abusive marriages. You’ll see it in a volatile workplace. You’ll see it in young love where love is blind to obvious red flags. And you’ll see it in churches.

But Paul isn’t setting up an Inquisition where we establish the rules and chop off the head of anyone who disputes those rules. In fact, though the action of removing him was considered punishment, Paul wasn’t interested in making him pay for his mistakes but to repent and be restored. Only the convicting power of God could bring him to that point. The church was to cooperate with God’s plan.

Rom 12:19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God

Leaving room for God to work is a challenge. We’ll either rush in to forgive where there’s been no repentance or withhold forgiveness even after God has restored them. It’s not our job to stop their suffering or to make them pay. God says, follow my lead. Don’t trust your own feelings to know what’s best.

What was the objective – restoration. Not getting everything back to normal which was the Amish intentions. God is redeeming a life from a bad choice. Being right with God is the ultimate goal. We’re called to help, however God chooses to do that. 

Gal 6:1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 

Trying to correct someone else is serious business. We have to approach them as if we, but for the grace of God, could be right where they are. 

John 8:3-11 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." 

Caught in the very act. A great opportunity for Jesus to publicly cast her away and condemn to hell all who go down the road she had gone down. But instead, he exposed the sins of the others and forgave the sin of the woman.

We have to be careful when confronting. When Peter confronted Ananias and Saphira for lying about a contribution they gave to the church, they dropped dead. That would be hard to explain to law enforcement. “Well, Officer, as soon as their sin was exposed, down they went. I guess God just took them home.” God had to deal harshly and quickly because their sin threatened the whole church. Letting it stay without consequence created a dangerous precedent. 

What’s one of the biggest issues in churches today? Priests and Ministers remaining in office with no consequences after they have sexually violated someone within the church.

Look at how that destroys lives, poisons the church’s reputation and ridicules righteousness. Satan has established a stronghold in their lives. Remove them and keep them removed until they repent. Then keep them out until there is evidence the stronghold has been broken. Most may never serve again. That’s not punishment that’s consequence for their actions.

Sin like that cannot be ignored. Paul compares this sin to leaven.

1Cor 5:6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.
 
Leaven influences what it’s added to. When sin is being compared to leaven, that sin is influencing the whole life or the whole church.

So, instead of revulsion against the sin, they were boasting about how accepting they were toward the sinner. Paul reminds them they are to flee immorality, not embrace it. In this case, he tells the church to disassociate with the man. He is no longer welcome until he acknowledges his sin and repents. Now, realize, Paul isn’t setting precedent for every incident of unrighteous behavior, he’s dealing with a blatant, public sin that’s dividing the church. If he did that for all sin, I’m not sure who’d be left to attend?

So, what happened? We learn this in 2Cor 2:6-8 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 

It would seem clear the man was a believer, a part of the Corinthian church, but had followed his fleshly impulses into moral failure as a public sin. And it would also seem, after he repented, the church wouldn’t let him back in. 

It was bad enough they wouldn’t deal with the sin at first, but then after he repented wouldn’t forgive. Have you ever felt that someone’s actions were too bad to reconcile with? Like they’ve committed some unpardonable sin we can never forgive? 

Jesus said: Matt 12:31 Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

It’s unclear what defines blasphemy against the Spirit, however, that’s the only known unforgivable sin. But the first part of that verse is quite clear. There is no sin so horrific God cannot forgive, no rebellion so offensive that God cannot restore, no choice so bad God cannot correct. God will deal with the man. The church must follow God’s direction.

So, what’s the Good News? God is faithful because He doesn’t leave us where He finds us. He will never leave us satisfied with ungodliness and unrighteous behavior without convicting us, convincing us and forgiving us when we repent and return to Him. 

That’s what makes the Good News good news. There is always an answer! Even in moral failure, God is faithful. Why? He wants fellowship with us and will restore us to that fellowship if we repent of our sin and return to Him. 1 John 1:9

TAKEAWAYS:
 

  1. Typically, parents are the best people to discipline their children.
  2. They have the perspective of both knowing the child and loving the child.
  3. When parents understand their children, they know what method of correction works best for each child.
  4. It would make sense, then, when God wants to correct His children, He will choose what’s best in each case.
  5. Our job is to not interfere with His job and to receive back those whom He restores.