Monday, May 18, 2020

God's Deliverance

After concluding an amazing study of the Book of Esther, the theme being the Sovereignty of God, we’ve looked at how God works behind the scenes to accomplish His plans and purposes. The invisible work of God, the doings of God that we don’t recognize while they are going on but only see when we look back, remind us that we belong to a God who can do all things, that nothing is impossible for Him, and who can use whoever or whatever He chooses to fulfill His plans.

Within the subject of God’s sovereignty, always comes the question as to: to what extent is God engaged in all that goes on? Some say completely, that nothing happens that God does not make to happen. Others soften that to say, nothing happens that God doesn’t permit to happen. Then there are others who say, some things just happen.

My personal statement of God’s sovereignty is: God doesn’t plan everything that happens, but in everything that happens God has a plan. Like temptation. James says God doesn’t tempt us to sin. Then Paul adds, when we are tempted, God has a plan to make us able to endure or escape. God doesn’t plan our temptation to sin, but when we face it, He has a plan to help us resist.

Can God cause a flood or a hurricane or a tornado or a virus? Of course. Does He cause every flood, hurricane, tornado or virus? No. But in them, He has plans.

When insurance companies declare some savage act of nature an act of God, they forget there is an enemy whose desire is to steal, kill and destroy. Can God cause such destruction? Yes. Does He? Not always. Satan is known to prowl about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. 

I’ve heard some say Covid-19 is God’s judgment on the world. I’ve also heard those same voices make similar connections every time there has been some major event or outbreak. AIDS was God’s judgment against homosexuals. 911 was God’s judgement against America’s immorality. The Titanic sank because of the boast made by the builder, “Even God cannot sink this ship.” There’s no question we all deserve God’s judgment, but not every tragedy reflects that judgment.

A white supremacist burns down a black church. Was that evil or an act of God’s judgment? A fire takes away a family’s every possession. Was that evil or an act of God’s judgment? A child drowns in a backyard pool. Was that evil or an act of God’s judgment? 

We’re about to enter hurricane season. Will each storm carry God’s wrath? 

It’s easy to select big topic events and make God responsible. And knowing how much evil there is in the world, it’s not hard to accept any tragedy as God’s judgment. He did so in the past, so He must be doing so now.

But, it’s hard to make every tragedy an act of God’s judgment. When a loved one dies, or a family member is paralyzed in a car wreck, or a sweet, elderly person has a stroke, we reach for the compassion of God for consolation, not try and fit this into the category of His wrath against evil. 

We know God works behind the curtain, in the unseen realm, accomplishing things we cannot think of or imagine or ask for. He turns the evil Satan intends into good. He makes beauty come from ashes. He accomplishes what’s best in our lives. He makes us able to withstand the fiery darts of the enemy. We cannot lump everything that happens into something He has caused by His wrath. Because He also is a God who redeems, who restores, who revives.

There are times God uses evil to accomplish His plans but He doesn’t create the evil for the plan. Evil does its own work, so He creates a desire within the heart of His children to cry out for His help when that evil shows up.

How can you tell the difference when God is working us through a crisis?
1.      He doesn’t condemn.
a.     Rom 8:1-3 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son
b.     The argument Paul had with the law was its obligation to a system that didn’t work. It was a duty roster of things to do, with no sense of purpose other than “this is required.” To enforce the things to do, those who managed the law (the Pharisees) used condemnation. They placed restrictions on the people, they took away privileges, they judged people as worthy of punishment once they violated a rule.
c.     They took over the Scriptures by deciding what it meant. It was their interpretation that became more important than what the Scriptures said. Like some do to our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
d.     One governor said we need to give up our personal rights for the common good. That’s socialism. That’s not the principle upon which our country was formed. It’s not who we are!
e.     Matt 5:19-20 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [Who is Jesus talking about?] For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 
f.      Pharisees came about during a crisis to take charge of the outcome and simply stayed in charge. This was during the silent period between the Old and New Testaments. Actually, they began after the Maccabees took back their land from the Greeks and cleansed and restored the Temple in 167 B.C. The people had lived a long time without any clear instruction as to what it meant to live as a Jew. Somebody had to redefine Judaism so here come the Pharisees. A good idea that took on a life of its own.
g.     Pharisees are good at defining how people are to live and making rules. But their enforcement of those rules has always been by threat and coercion. They could only be successful when they had the power to condemn in order to impose their will.
h.     In shutting down our economy, the government defined what was an essential business. The business owners had a different definition. Since their business was essential to their livelihood, many of those businesses reopened. Most were simply shut back down. Some owners were arrested.
i.       Earlier this past week, after Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said he would pay the fine and serve the jail time for a hairdresser who reopened her shop and was arrested and charged, Governor Abbott declared there would be no punishment for disobeying the restrictions. Harris County leaders had imposed a $1000 fine for anyone not wearing a mask. The Mayor of Houston was asked about that and asked back, “How else will we get them to abide by the rules?”
j.       Those are the words of a Pharisee. We must have leverage. Pharisees must have some way to pressure people to abide by their rules.
k.     I grew up watching how churches imposed their wishes on their people. Each church had its forbiddens: no TV, no movies, no card playing, no drinking, no dancing, no makeup, no short skirts, no smoking, no cussing. But how do you enforce such rules? In sermons the preacher would pressure the people to agree by condemning those actions publicly. Condemning adds guilt. Guilt is a cheap motivator.
l.       Jesus doesn’t condemn. If there is an area in our lives that needs correcting, He convicts, which is the power of persuasion to convince us the way we’re heading is wrong. Condemning makes the choice for us – comply or pay. Conviction shows us the best and urges us to agree.

2.     He gives us hope not fear.
a.     Paul was caught in a storm at sea on the way from Caesarea to Rome.
b.     Acts 27:20-25 Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned. When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.' Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 
c.     The circumstances of the storm, the length of days this had been going on, and the actions of the captain and crew scared the hope out of everyone. Fear made sense until God spoke. “Don’t be afraid, Paul. I’m going to get you through this.” How could Paul remain afraid after God had spoken?
d.     David had a similar moment. Ps 42:5-6 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember You…
e.     God’s response to crisis is trust Me. I’ve got this. I can handle getting you through this. Despair cannot compete with the presence of God.
f.      I’ve watched the news. There was once a day when it seemed the news casts were to give you information, not manage your reactions or control the narrative. This week I heard a montage of news broadcasts from probably 15 various stations repeating the exact words in delivering a message that basically said trust the media to tell you the truth. Who is giving them the exact words to say? Who’s controlling the narrative? The media has proven itself unreliable.
g.     I also notice that the media will push any crisis to an end-times scenario. This is the worst thing that has ever happened. We don’t see how we’ll make it through. The world will never be the same.
h.     Obviously, they’ve never lived through a hurricane, or watched a subdivision rebuild after a tornado, or documented how a city restores itself after a flood, or a family rebuilds after a fire.
i.       Sure, there’s loss, sure there’s pain, sure there’s suffering which is what they try to capture in their news footage, but there is always recovery. The moment of crisis is the most dramatic part of the story when emotions are raw because of the tragedy of loss, but don’t forget hope. Don’t forget that every crisis has a past but no crisis has ended the world. This one won’t either. The world will not end until the angel of God blows the trumpet.
j.       Hope overrules fear. It doesn’t mean we’re not disturbed by what we see. It only means what we see isn’t the final answer. God controls the outcome. Nobody else. Never let what you see determine what you believe about God’s ability to manage a crisis.

How can you tell the difference when God is working us through a crisis?
3.     He calms us instead of stirs us up.
a.     Luke 12:22-26 And He said to His disciples, "For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?”
b.     Worry is one of the most damaging emotions. Worry is imagined expectations made real in our mind. Sometimes those imaginations are fed by what we read or watch, who we listen to, or are simply fears generated by the suggestions of Satan’s minions in our minds.
c.     I read this this week: The Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte once talked about our tendency “to hang very heavy weights on very thin wires.” For example, we hang the heavy weight of our happiness on our health, only to have that wire snapped by a bad report from the doctor. Or we hang the heavy weight of our security on our job, only to have it snapped by an economic downturn. Or we hang the heavy weight of our purpose in life on our family, only to have it snapped when the kids move away.  
d.     Worry is caused by the fear of loss, having something taken away that we feel is essential to our lives. Fear makes us believe: every additional person that dies from the coronavirus is getting death one step closer to me.
e.     Worry is Satan’s greatest tool to distract us from trusting God. As long as we are worried, we’re not trusting. Satan’s purpose for worry is to get us to react to our concerns rather than place those concerns into God’s hands.
f.      A king or general measured the ability of his army to defeat another army by the amount of resources he had: how many soldiers, how many weapons, how many horses. His confidence rested on what he brought into the battle.
g.     David said: Ps 33:17 A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. 
h.     It wasn’t the horse that won the war, it was the man riding it.
i.       When worry takes over we often, in a panic to find our own answers, will place hope where it doesn’t belong.
j.       The scariest words to ever hear are: Hello, we’re from the government and we’re here to help. We’ve been led to believe that the government is the answer. They have the resources, they have the ability, only they understand the problem, they have the solution.
k.     History has proven otherwise. Help typically comes with strings attached, or personal agendas being met, or there’s some hidden masterplan no one knows anything about, or this being just another attempt to get more people under the oppression of a new master.
l.       What we’ve seen in the past few months are Governors becoming dictators over their states. Some benevolent dictators making good and supportive decisions. Others have reached too far into peoples lives and livelihoods. Their overreach is causing damage that will take years to fix. I can’t blame the people in Michigan or California from revolting against their leaders.
m.   You watch other decisions being made by some who govern. Shut it all down. Keep it shut down. It may never open again. Forget the past, we have a new normal now. And you sense this isn’t America any more. It’s taking on the characteristics seen in communist or socialist takeovers. If left unchecked, what we end up with will be far different than when this all began. My question is why? What’s going on? Why the oppression? Why the fear? Why the hopelessness?
n.     It’s because our world, in general terms, is a godless society. Many of those making decisions come from a secular worldview of life without God. Godless men making godless decisions can only bring about godless solutions. That’s why we pray for those in leadership: that God will overrule any godless influence and guide them to what’s best.
o.     God’s way doesn’t stir up our fears, our concerns, our hopelessness. God’s way calms us. We may not be able to do anything about what’s going on around us, but within, in our minds and hearts, we can remain calm.

Ps 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 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. 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. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. 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. Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. 

Stanley Praimath, Vice President for Fuji Bank, was in his office in the South Tower at the World Trade Center when his phone rang. "Are you watching the news?' asked a woman in their Chicago office. "Are you alright?" "I'm fine." Wondering why she had called, he turned to look out the window and saw a low-flying commercial jet heading straight for his tower.

He dropped the phone dove to the floor. He scrambled under his desk where he began praying, "Lord, help me," as the plane smashed into the tower. The smell of jet fuel was in the air. Equipment was scattered all around with rubble covering the floor and dust in the air. He began clawing his way out. "Lord, I have to go home to my family. I have to see my daughters."

Just then he saw a light. "I am here to help you." He thought this was his guardian angel! His guardian angel. It turned out to be Brian Clark, a Christian who was an executive three floors below. The two climbed out of the rubble to safety.

Praimath realized the Lord had some reason to let him live. He said, "I took the filthy, tattered clothes I was wearing that day, put them in a box, and wrote DELIVERANCE over it. I told my wife, 'If I ever forget what God can do, I want you to bring this box to me, open it up, and show me what the Lord brought me through."

The word deliverance in the Greek means to heal, preserve, to be (or make) whole. It’s also the word from which we get our word saved.

It is part of the package of what God does for His children. Within salvation is God’s promise of our deliverance. But deliverance from what? In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus has us ask for deliverance from evil. The evil of godless men’s intentions. The evil from our own desire to rebel against God’s best. The evil attacks from Satan and his minions. Deliverance from what distresses us.

We are in a season of distress. We need deliverance. Deliverance from condemnation. Deliverance from fear. Deliverance from what steals our calm.

We don’t need the government controlling our lives.

We don’t need the media stirring up our emotions.

We need our God to deliver us from evil.

Let’s ask for that. I think it appropriate to pray the Lord’s Prayer and emphasize the part that says: Deliver us from evil.

1.      We must fight the urge to believe everything we see and hear.
2.     Discernment is a part of what God provides when we ask for wisdom, so ask.
3.     Fight the tendency to let what we see and hear decide matters that are unfinished as though they are finished.
4.     Never allow what we see to change what we believe about God.
5.     Always remember, God is in charge of the final outcome.
6.     Trust Him to do what He does best – managing the crisis and then restoring what the enemy has done to steal, kill and destroy.

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