11-15-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
God At Work…doing a new thing.
Last week we began to talk about the various ways that God works in our lives. Sometimes he shows up in dramatic, spectacular ways—other times in quiet, subtle ways.
|There’s a story in the Bible about a tired, old prophet hiding in the mountains. A devasting wind came along (something like a tornado), tearing the mountains apart and shattering huge rocks. After the wind, a tremendous earthquake shook the mountain. After the earthquake, a wild fire swept through the valley and raced up the sides of the mountain, burning everything in its path. And this prophet, Elijah, watches all these dramatic events—but he didn’t see God. It wasn’t until he heard the sound of a “gentle whisper”—a “still small voice” (KJV)—that Elijah heard from God (1 Kings 19).|
If you want to meet with God, there are times when you have to stop what you’re doing, step away from all the distractons and activities, and focus—listening for God’s gentle, soft whisper.
God never changes. He is consistant, steady, and reliable. Nothing ever rattles him. God is not caught off guard by Muslim terrorists seeking to disrupt peace and order, trying to drive the world into chaos and war. We are shocked by such events; not God. He’s not surprised by mankind’s capacity for evil.
God knows our nature—that human nature that holds us hostage to sin.
Ever since Adam and Eve chose to leave God’s way, we’ve needed a Savior. We are trapped by sin—all of us (the Muslim world, the Hindu world, the Buddhist world, the secular world, even the Christian world). None of us can escape our sin nature or the consequences of sin.
But God loved the world—all the people of the world—so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. But God doesn’t merely want to save us; he wants to change us. Transform us.
- He wants to change hate and fear into love and kindness.
- He wants to change addiction and self-destructive behavior into healing and hope.
- He wants to change greed and selfishness into contentment and generosity.
- He wants to change our destiny in hell to give us instead a destiny in heaven.
He wants to do a new thing in us. He wants to teach us new things and lead us in new directions.
God is the Creator…IS the Creator, not WAS the Creator. He didn’t just create the world in six days and then sit back to see what would happen. God continues to work. God continues to create.
God wants to create something new in you!
Isaiah, the OT prophet, pleaded with the people to open their eyes and see the new thing God wanted work within them. He said:
(Isa 43:18-19) 18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
There are four ways (at least) that former things from the past can hinder us from seeing new things God wants to do within us.
- When we’re stuck on past failures or disappointments. Labels. Hopeless attitude.
- When we’re limited by the “tried-and-proven.” Old customs. Traditions. Tried-and-proven methods.
- When we’re content with former blessings. Plateaued. Not hungry. Satisfied.
- When we’re fearful about the future. Familiar and comfortable seems safer.
- We are hindered from seeing the new things God wants to do when we’re stuck on past failures or disappointments.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails at something. Everyone sins and needs forgiveness.
God loves us and desperately wants to forgive us—but some people cannot forgive themselves. They get stuck on their past failures.
They beat themselves up emotionally…and spiritually. They cannot see themselves as anything more than the mess that they were.
So they become trapped by their upbringing—by their dysfunctional family, by their addictions, by the labels that others put on them, by their overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
I read a minister/author* who told about walking through the twisted little streets of Kowloon in Hong Kong, where he came upon a tattoo studio. In the window were displayed various samples of tattoos that you could get—a tattoo of an anchor or a flag or a mermaid or whatever.
But what struck him in particular was a tattoo, which you could have inked permanently on your chest or arm—three little words: Born to lose.
The man entered the shop and pointed at the words. He asked the Chinese tattoo artist, “Does anyone really have Born to lose tattooed on his body?”
He replied, “Yes, sometimes.”
The man said, “But I just can’t believe that anyone in his right mind would do that.”
The Chinese man simply tapped his forehead and said in broken English, “Before tattoo on body, tattoo on mind.” [*Norman Vincent Peale in Power of the Plus Factor, in Christianity Today.]
Labels can cling to us for a lifetime. Even if they’re not tattooed on our bodies like billboard signs for others to see, labels can be imprinted in our thinking and on our minds. These can be things others say about you—or things others do to you.
And negative, defeatist, backward-looking thoughts, like a toxic waste dump, can affect your whole life.
A number of you are gluten-free. You take extreme measures and go to great lengths to avoid any kind of food with gluten in them. You are disciplined. You are self-controlled.
I wish we could encourage people to be just as disciplined with the way they think—jus as self-controlled—in the way they think about themselves! Wouldn’t it be great if negative thinking were treated like gluten? “Oh! I can’t have any of that! I can’t tolerate put-downs. I’m on a negative-free diet.”
(Prov 4:23, NASB) Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
(NIV) Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
(GNT) Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.
The problem is, it’s tough to change our thinking. When we’re trapped by our past or carrying labels others have pinned on us…when our thinking has been shaped by our past, we need God’s power through Jesus Christ to set us free from those destructive ways of thinking.
|Ephesians 2 says that we were dead in our sins, following the ways of the world, “gratifying the cravings of our [sinful] flesh and following its desires and thoughts.”
Then in Ephesians 3, Paul prays that we’d have the power “to grasp how wide… long… high and deep is the love of Christ… to know this love…” and be filled with God, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”
He goes on in Ephesians 4, saying that we can stop living like the world, “in the futility of their thinking… darkened in their understanding…” separated from God “because of the ignorance that is in them…” We read that we should instead “be made new in the attitude of your minds.”
To be free of your past, let Jesus give you a new heart and a new mind.
- It’s also hard to see God’s new thing when we’re limited by the “tried-and-proven”—by what’s worked in the past.
Old customs or traditions can put a lid on new things God wants to do. We’ve seen methods that work. They’ve been “tried-and-proven,” so we think, “Why try anything new? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Of course, if everyone always reacted like that to every innovation and every creative idea, where would we be? We wouldn’t have cars, because the horse-drawn carriage was tried-and-proven. It worked just fine. We wouldn’t have automatic washing machines, because clothes can be cleaned on a rock in the river just fine. We wouldn’t have smart phones, because the pony express could deliver messages across the entire continent just fine. We wouldn’t have the Internet or the printing press, because a feather quill with ink puts words on parchment just fine.
If we lose the ability to dream of new things—if we don’t have a vision for God working in a fresh, new way—if we put God in a box and try to confine his creative power, then we have shut the door to amazing things he still wants to do!
I’m not suggesting “change merely for the sake of change.” I’m not talking about latching on to something just because it’s new. The latest is not necessarily the greatest.
What I’m saying is that there is a danger of admiring the past so much that we limit what God wants to do in our future.
|The Israelites in the wilderness, facing a few problems and difficulties, looked back fondly at their lives in Egypt. Sure…they were in slavery back then. Sure…their task-masters drove them mercilessly. But at least they didn’t have the problems of the wilderness! At least in Egypt they had good things to eat—onions, leeks, garlic, cucumbers, melons. (Num 11)|
Their distorted view of the past robbed them of the courage to press through to the future Promised Land. An attitude like that will cripple our spirits and prevent God’s blessings!
Imagine some young Israelite, born and raised in the wilderness, saying, “I remember when all we had to do was pick up food lying on the ground! Manna every morning; buckets filled with quail! Now, those were the days! What’s so great about this so-called Promised Land? Now we have to plan ahead and plant seed and weed gardens. Why should we have to work to get our bread?”
That didn’t happen, as far as I know. But I see something similar that happens to a lot of Christians who look back fondly on the past. They fixate on traditions and customs, making them more important than anything else.
|The Bible tells about people who will try to judge you by how well you adhere to certain customs. They will judge you by the things you eat or drink. They will judge you by what you do with certain religious festivals or Sabbath days.
But the Bible says all those kind of things are just “a shadow of the things that were to come.” It says that the “reality… is found in Christ.” (Col 2:17)
Those customs worked in the past. They were “tried-and-proven.” But they were not intended to remain forever. They were merely shadows of the coming reality. Those religous traditions were merely hints of better things yet to come.
If you’re focused on shadows of the past, you’re going to miss the reality of things still in the future. If you focus on shadows, you’ll miss the reality found in Jesus.
- We can also miss God’s new things by being content with former blessings.
It’s hard to see God at work in the present if all we can see are the miraculous ways he worked in the past! Past victories can lock us into thinking that’s the only way God can work in the future.
God wants to do something new! But if you try to put him into a box—well first of all, he won’t fit in your box; second, you’re going to miss what God is doing when he does something out of the box.
Celebrate what God has done! But be careful, because rejoicing in the past (a good thing) can become dwelling in the past (not good). We can make insist that past blessings become the formula for the future. The danger? Instead of expecting new things, we end up suspecting new things.
God says, “I’m going to do a new thing, something you’ve never seen before—something you’ve never heard of or dreamed of.” If your initial, gut-level response is, “That can’t be God,” be careful.
There is a risk that glorious memories of the past can can stunt our spiritual growth and prevent us from moving into God’s future.
|One time as the Israelites grumbled on their wilderness journey, God punished them with a bunch of poisonous snakes. So many were bitten by the snakes and died, that the people came to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned! Please ask the Lord to take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed, but instead of taking the snakes away, God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so that whoever was bitten by a snake could look at bronze snake on the pole and live. (Num 21:8-9)
(This was a prophetic picture of Jesus. He became sin for us and was hung on a cross so that sinners could look to him and live. See John 3:14-15. It also became a symbol used by the medical world)
The bronze snake brought a great miracle of healing and deliverance. And the people kept the bronze snake for many years. They brought it with them into the Promised Land. They kept it all through the period of the judges and way into the time of the kings.
But something happened as time passed. The miracle of the bronze snake became a stumbling block to them. They began to worship the snake. They burned incense to it and gave it a name: “Nehushtan,” which sounded like the Hebrew words for both “snake” and “bronze.” It became such a problem that years later when King Hezekiah purged the land of idolatry, removed the places for worshiping false gods, and cut down the Asherah poles, he also broke the bronze snake into pieces. (2 Kings 18:4)
It’s a story of something good and miraculous, which became a stumbling block. The same thing can happen to us. We can be tempted to worship the past when God wants to give us an even better future.
(Isa 43:16,18-19) 16 This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters… 8 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
In the past, God made a dry path through the sea. He turned the water into dry ground. An amazing and miraculous escape! God even used that escape route as a trap for the Egyptian army, who followed the Israelites through the sea. The waters came surging back, and the soldiers and horses and chariots were covered by the sea. It was an amazing victory! Never seen before or since!
But now Isaiah says, God is doing a new thing! Don’t limit him to merely turning water into dry ground. No, he wants to turn the dry, parched deserts of our souls into streams of living water. He wants to turn the wasteland of our lives into a beautiful garden filled with the fruit of the Spirit!
(John 7:37-38) Jesus said, 37 “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
God has new things for us. He doesn’t want the past—no matter how good—to limit our future. He wants us to experience his blessings in new ways—beyond anything we’ve experienced before. He wants us to anticipate new things—even streams in the desert.
- The past can blind us to God’s plans when we’re fearful about the future.
Lee Strobel (God’s Outrageous Claims) tells about an opportunity his father had years ago… A fast-talking guy came into the Rolling Green Country Club in suburban Chicago pitching an idea for a new-fangled restaurant and selling franchises for $950. His dad was skeptical. He chuckled about the venture that night while discussing it with his wife. “A hamburger stand!” he said. “How does he expect to make any money selling hamburgers at such low prices?” So a few days later, he politely told Ray Kroc that he didn’t think it would be prudent for him to invest in such a questionable enterprise with the crazy name, McDonald’s. Of course, McDonald’s ended up making billions of dollars, and several of his golfing buddies became millionaires because they took the risk of making an initial investment in Ray Kroc’s dream. But Lee Strobel’s dad? His apprehension and excessive caution prevented him from doing the same.
How often does fear or apprehension hold us back? I’m not talking about financial investments, but in spiritual investments!
I came here more than 18 years. It was a new adventure for me. I had to take a risk, but the “investment” gave me many returns. I’ve been blessed with the privilege of serving with a wonderful bunch of people. Together, we’ve enjoyed many good things from the hand of God.
Now, we could live in the past. We could avoid any further risk. We could let those good experiences become the ceiling for what we expect from God.
As good as the past was, we could be apprehensive about the future.
But let me say this: God doesn’t want us controlled by fears. He doesn’t want us constrained by worries or anxieties. He wants to do a new thing!
We don’t know what the future holds, of course. But God does! The question is, are we going to look longingly at blessings of the past? Or will we dare trust God for an amazing future of new things?
|After the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, they were finally poised on the border of the Promised Land. But Moses was gone. Joshua was chosen to lead them in, and the Lord said to him:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9)
Don’t let fear or discouragement get in the way of the new thing God wants to do in you!
What is your need today? God has the power to provide something new for you.
- Some think the problem is a person: If only I had never married him (or her). If only I had a different boss, my job would be great.
- Others think the problem is a disease: If only I was free from cancer, my life would be perfect.
- Others think the problem is finances: If only I had the money, I could fix this.
- Others think the problem is some difficult situation: If only I had been born in a different home or had a different family, I wouldn’t be like this.
These things are not the biggest problems. The biggest problem is when we do not forget the former things… when we dwell on the past… when we can’t perceive the new thing springing up.
May God help us! May God increase our faith! May we see the new thing God is doing! May we press in to receive something fresh and new from God!