11-08-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

What has God been doing in your life this week? It’s a good question, but I often have to stop and think, “What has God been doing?” It’s easy to miss God at work in our lives.

I can see extraordinary, the sensational miracles. You don’t miss the lightning and the fireworks! But it’s easier to miss the smaller sparks of static electricity, the regular activities of God — can I call them the “ordinary” miracles?

God is with us everyday! He goes before and behind us. There’s nowhere we can go to get away from his presence.

Ps 139:7-10 (David) “7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me,your right hand will hold me fast.”

Acts 17:27-28 (Paul) “…he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’”

God is everywhere! Our very existence is dependent upon him! But we get preoccupied with ordinary tasks and daily routines. We get distracted by jobs and kids and oil changes and smart phones.

So it’s easy to miss God at work when we’re all wrapped up with earthly affairs.

BUT…for those willing to look — for those willing to slow down enough to step away from the routine — they will find strong evidence of God at work. His footprints are all over this world—signs of a supernatural God behind (and within) a natural world.

The Case for a Creator (Lee Strobel). The mysteries and wonders of the universe — standing beneath a star-lit night; looking across the Grand Canyon (or a vast blue ocean that stretches to the horizon); watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon; examining the impossibly complex, double-helix strand of DNA…

We just have to open our eyes to see what is already there. When we do, we’ll find God at work!

The Christian’s faith is not just mindless superstition! Faith doesn’t rely on speculation or guesswork. Our faith isn’t based on a collection of myths or fairy tales or fables.

Christian faith — what we believe — is undergirded by real, tangible evidence. We can see evidence of “things not seen” partly because we’ve seen evidence for God in the things we can see!

So our faith reassures us that God is — that he is in control, and that his supernatural power is available to us in a natural world. This is what we believe!

However, we must be honest enough to admit that there are times when it’s harder to see God at work. There are times when we look and we wonder, Where is God anyway? Is he really in control? Why doesn’t he do something?

Job 23:3,8-9 3 “If only I knew where to find him… 8 But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. 9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”

FB message Friday from a friend in another state. She said: “I am in a very tough situation with my work. I should not have taken this job. What can we trust God for… Does God [even] care what job I do…? Augustine [said] “Love God — and do what you want.” Yet Scripture also says he ordains our steps.” [Which is it? Does he care or doesn’t it matter?]

Another person said to me this week, “I’m beginning to think God doesn’t answer my prayers. Maybe he doesn’t care. I do the best I can and try to live a good life. I ask God for help, but he sure didn’t come through last time. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. He didn’t help out, and I failed. But what really ticks me off are those who succeeded even though they didn’t deserve it. They goof off and screw around, but they got what I was trying to get.”

Psalm 73:3-14 (Asaph) (NLT) 3 For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. 4 They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. 5 They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. 6 They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. 7 These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! 8 They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. 9 They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth. 10 And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words. 11 “What does God know?” they ask. “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?” 12 Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. 13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? 14 I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

There is evidence for God all around us, but the truth is, we don’t always see God at work. We can’t always understand what God is doing. Even when we believe he’s working, there are times when we feel like we’re living in a fog, barely able to make out where we are or where we’re going — let alone make out where God is or what he’s doing. The fog of life obscures our vision.

God at work…behind the scenes

It’s at those times that we need to remind ourselves: God is still at work. But he’s working behind the scenes instead of out on center stage.

In a play, there are actors with lead roles. You notice them. But there are also stage hands and sound technicians working behind the scenes — people you don’t really see. It’s easy to miss that they are fulfilling an important function. You can’t have a play if there’s no work done behind the scenes! True, we need God center stage, but we also need him working behind the scenes.

…even in chaos.

Maybe your situation seems even worse than that. It’s not just that God’s hidden behind the scenes. Your problem might be that what you see on the surface doesn’t look like God has anything at all to do with it. It’s like the show has been hijacked by the devil. Things look out of control. They seem a chaotic mess.

But if you look deeper, even in times of chaos, you can find something deeper going on. You just need to look at things from a competely different perspective.

On occasion my wife has worked on an embroidery project — a piece of cloth with a beautiful design stitched in it, often with encouraging words. She did one once for a friend who was dying of cancer. It had a picture of a little bird and the words, “His eye is on the sparrow.” Before it was finished, though, it looked a mess! The view from beneath was a crazy, senseless tangle of threads and knots. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the threads in the cloth. The design was incomprehensible. But later, as you looked at the cloth from the other side, that’s when you gained a different perspective. That’s when you could make sense of what was going on.

When we go through times of doubts and fear, it’s as though we’re looking at the embroidery from beneath, before it’s finished. Life may seem like a tangled, chaotic mess. But one day…when we’re able to see the embroidery from above, from God’s perspective, that’s when things will finally make sense. “Wait for it…”

…despite doubts and fears.

There are times now when circumstances threaten to overwhelm us: Where is God? Why does his voice seem so far away? Has he abandoned me? Is he even listening? Does he even care?

At times like that discouragement can begin to erode our faith. Our hearts can grow calloused and hard. Our apprehension and fears increase. Our imaginations can run wild.

We can be like the little kid who woke up in the middle of the night. He needed to go to the bathroom, but his bedroom was way up on the second floor, and the only bathroom was down on the main floor, next to his parents’ room. It was dark, and he was afraid of the dark. But eventually the call of nature became so strong that he decided he had to overcome his fears. So he crept out of bed and tiptoed down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, just to be safe, he peeked around the corner to make sure there were no monsters lurking in the dark. And that’s when I saw it (because that little kid was me). I saw a giant bear sitting in the middle of the living room. My heart started thumping inside my chest. I pulled back behind the corner and gulped, trying to figure out the situation. It couldn’t really be a bear. There’s no way a bear could get inside his house, certainly not in north Minneapolis. So I looked again. Sure enough, right in the middle of the living room where there should have been empty space was a giant bear! I wondered if I could sneak back upstairs and wait till morning to go to the bathroom, but I decided there was no way I could do that.
There was only one thing to do: I ran as fast as my 7-year-old legs could take me down the hallway and into the bathroom. I shut the door and locked it. But after I was done, I still had a problem. I still had to get past the bear so I could go back to my bed. I tiptoed down the hallway and peeked around the corner. Still there.
So let’s take a look inside the mind of a second-grade kid. He’s thinking: This doesn’t make sense. There can’t be a bear here. And yet, there it is. There is SOMETHING there that doesn’t make sense. If I’m going to go back to sleep, I have to know what’s going on.
   That’s when I decided I had to prove to myself that my fears had no basis in fact. They were just wild imaginations. They didn’t make sense. So to prove to myself that I was being ridiculous, I forced myself to run across the living room and hit the bear as hard as I could with my fist.
Now, the night before my aunt and uncle and cousins had been over to visit. And for reasons unknown to me, my Dad’s big, furry winter coat was left draped over a kitchen chair placed in the middle of the living room. The bear was nothing more than a coat. I could go to sleep in peace.

There are times when circumstances or people begin to fuel our doubts and fears. Wild imaginations take over.

What can we do?

When thoughts and speculations rob you of inner peace, God has a solution: We need to “attack” the bear.

  • Doubt the doubts.

Face your fears head-on. When you feel like God is a million miles away, when it feels like he has forsaken and abandoned you, attack the bear.

  • Relive past victories.

You know God is real because you’ve seen it. He’s done amazing things. You’ve heard it from others. You know it in your head, but just now your heart is confused and struggling.

So what do you do? Recall God’s blessings. Rehearse the victories. Remember what God has done and you can overcome your fears, your worries, and your anxieties.

Phil 4:6-7. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I don’t want to give pre-packaged pat answers. I don’t want to spout religious or spiritual platitudes. I don’t want to heap on you admonitions or exhortations or guilt.

I want to be real enough—honest enough—to recognize that doubt and struggles can come to anyone, especially when you’re dealing with emotional junk. Anyone can be vulnerable.

But you’re not alone. Many others have struggled in similar ways, so…

  • Join the club.
  • John the Baptist doubted and asked Jesus: Are you the one…or should we look for another? (Matt 11:3)
  • Paul experienced so many troubles that he said: We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure…we despaired of life itself… We felt like we received a death sentence. (2 Cor 1:8-9)
  • Job wanted to take God to court are argue his case against him. (Job 9:32; 23:4)
  • Moses whined about the difficult, overwhelming task he’d been given. (Num 11:11)
  • Elijah complained that he was all alone—the only one left who was still trying to serve God. (1 Kings 19:10,14)
  • David cried out, “My God…why have you forsaken me? I [pray] but you don’t answer me.” (Ps 22:1-2)

So if you wonder at times where God is or how he could possibly be working in the midst of your situation, you’re in good company.

What I want to share over the next few weeks are biblical truths that I trust will help us navigate difficult times—life’s challenges.

Some of you may feel nervous about the future because of the changes that are happening. After 18½ years as senior pastor here, I’m retiring the end of the year — shifting the focus of my ministry. That means this church will be facing major transition as well.

Undoubtedly, things will be different in the future, but I see this as a very positive thing! This will be a chance to see God at work in amazing new ways! You might feel uncertain. You might wonder what God is doing. But your feelings can open the door of faith. You can allow God to work in fresh ways.

I believe these are going to be very exciting, faith-stretching, kingdom-building times. I’m excited about seeing God at work in the future ministry of this church.

Change is coming, for sure. There will be a new lead pastor. Some programs and ministries may be tweaked. But I can assure you that this is God’s church! It is not Pastor Rich’s church. It is not the elders’ church. It is God’s church!

And God wants to use his church — you people — to do his work. So God invites you to be part of a great thing, even in difficult and soul-stretching times.

So we’re providing multiple opportunities for you to join with us in prayer — and to ask questions and dialogue with the pastoral search team. You can come whenever your schedule allows: every Sunday morning in November between services as well as three evenings (two on Sunday; one on Saturday).

  • Review God’s promises.

Over the next few weeks, I want to look at several specific things we can do that will help us see God at work more clearly. If you’re in a difficult place where you need better vision of God and his ways — or if you just are hungry for more of God — then I hope you can be part of the messages over the next few weeks: God At Work…

  1. (Nov 7/8) …in these times. Do not fear the future.
  2. (Nov 14/15) [He is] Doing a new thing. So let go of the past.
  3. (Nov 21/22) [He is] Walking with us. Even if you can’t see him.
  4. (Nov 28/29) [He is] Lifting our vision. So don’t fear the valleys.
God At Work—in these times