11-22-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
God At Work…walking with us.
Deut 6:4-12. 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. [8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.] 10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at various ways God that works in us. He works, for instance, (1) in quiet, subtle, almost invisible ways (so we must take time to listen). He also works by (2) doing totally new things (but we must let go of our past).
We’ve barely scratched the surface on the subject.
God works in an infinite number of different ways. He is unlimited. God cannot be put in a box. He cannot be contained. So there is no simple formula for the way he works. Just about the time you think you might have a handle on how God works, he throws a curve ball.
We will have all of eternity—and still never see all the ways that God works. So what you learn this month barely begins to scratch the surface. It’s a very limited time to learn about an unlimited God.
But I’d rather serve a God who is far and away beyond me than a God I could figure out. Wouldn’t you? The minute you can totally understand God is the minute he is reduced to your level. When you can fully explain the mysteries of God, that’s when the infinite become finite.
So I’m content to merely scratch the surface.
Today we’re talking about how God is at work…walking with us.
We know God is always present. The theological term is omnipresent, which means “present everywhere at the same time.” A couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember, we read David’s words to God:
Ps 139:7-10 “7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” And the answer, you’ll recall, is you can’t get away from God. He is omnipresent! He is always with us. No matter where we go.
We often talk about the journey we’re on. Everyone is on a journey—and God is walking with us. True, some are wandering away from God (but he still has his eye on them). Some are angry with God or rebellious and push him away or ignore him, but he’s still with them.
Others want God with them on their journey. They’re open to his love and grace. They give permission for him to lead them. They want God to show them the way to go.
When we decide to walk with God, God works in amazing ways!
Sharon and I were talking about this the other night, remembering how God has led us through the years. Sometimes opportunities came because we knocked on the door. We knocked, and the door was opened to us. Other times, we knocked and nothing happened—at least not right away.
One day as I was studying, the phone rang. There on the other end of the line was a person I had never met. But I knew about him. I knew his name from books and magazines I had seen. So suddenly, I found myself—unprepared and unrehearsed—in a phone interview (with someone who would normally have intimidated me), interviewing for a job with a large Christian magazine. It was totally unexpected. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t even know there was an opening—and if I had, I don’t think I would have dared to apply for it.
But God works in mysterious ways. How had this man even heard about me? Well, I discovered he was talking to someone in another state at a different company and mentioned he was looking for someone with ministry experience who could write. The man went to his files and found my résumé, which I had sent a couple of years before. It had lain there dormant all that time with zero response.
The seed that was planted began to sprout, but not as expected. Eleven months later (after more conversations, assignments, and visits) I moved to Chicago and began a new stage of my journey.
When we decide to walk with God and trust him with our future, we may not always get what we ask for. Sometimes it’s even better! But you may have to wait.
Years ago, I heard Zig Ziglar tell about a strange plant, the Chinese bamboo. It’s an amazing tree, very different from all the others. If you plant a Chinese bamboo seed, nothing seems to happen—for years! The seed will lie dormant in the ground—not for one…or two… or even three years. Nothing happens with that seed for four years! And then suddenly, in the fifth year, an amazing thing happens. After four years of nothing, the seed suddenly sprouts and breaks through the soil. And then it takes off at an astonishing rate! In just five weeks, a Chinese bamboo tree can grow to a height of 90 feet. It’s almost as if you can actually see the tree growing before your very eyes! (That’s almost 31 inches per day!) http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_jX693LClr-0/SX5WI5LTZXI/AAAAAAAAA58/C5Ckn7–JII/s320/03_bambootree.gif So Zig Ziglar asked a question: Does the Chinese bamboo tree grow 90 feet in 5 weeks? Or does it grow 90 feet in 4 years and 5 weeks? What do you think?
Often when we’re waiting for a dream or a promise to be fulfilled, we think God isn’t doing anything. We wait for months or years and nothing seems to be happening. It’s as though we planted a seed in the ground, and the seed refuses to germinate.
But later—perhaps years later—that seed we planted suddenly comes to life. It pushes through the soil and sprouts and takes off. But not because we had anything to do with it. It’s all God!
We could try our best to make the seed grow, but we’d only mess things up. We could water it faithfully. We could talk nicely to it. Encouraging words. Motivational words. We could scrape back the soil to see how it’s doing down there. We could massage the seed…try to stimulate it to sprout. We could crack open the shell so it would be easier for the tender sprout to emerge. But everything we might do would only mess things up!
Why? Because the timing of the seed is God’s business, not ours! And even when it appears to be lying there dormant, doing nothing, God is up to something. The spark of life and promise are locked within the seed. But God is at work!
Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a man who scattered seed on the ground. And then, night and day, no matter what the man does, whether he’s awake or sleeping, “the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain…” (Mark 4:26-28)
It’s not us. It’s God. He works night and day, whether we’re awake or sleeping, no matter what we do.
Our text from Deuteronomy says we’re to live by God’s Word when we walk by the road, when we’re sitting at home, when we lie down, when we get up… It’s not just when we’re at church. It’s not just when we’re doing something religious or talking about something spiritual. It’s when we’re just doing regular, ordinary things.
Deut 6 describes life—everyday living: traveling, going places, relaxing, resting, rising to face the day. It says undeserved blessings and surprising moments of grace come to us as we walk with the Lord daily.
Deuteronomy is kind of like Moses’ last words to the people. He reminded them that after 40 years waiting for the promise, they finally were to receive all kinds of undeserved blessings—“cities you did not build, houses filled with…good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig…vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.” (v 10-11)
And he warned them: when this happens, he said, “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (v 12) Forget the Lord? How is that even possible?
Moses mentions four areas to be cautious about—four things people do that can cause them to forget:
- It’s possible to forget the Lord if we drift away from God’s Word. (v 6-7)
“These commandments…are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (v 6-7)
Neglect God’s Word, and you leave yourself spiritually vulnerable. If you don’t read and study and hold God’s Word in your heart, then other words or philosophies can creep in and poison your faith.
- It’s possible if we are influenced by the gods of this world. (v 14)
“Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you.” (v 14)
Are there “other gods” being worshiped around us? Absolutely! Our culture may be called a “Christian” culture, but there is a huge difference between cultural Christianity and real Christianity. In the last days there will be those who have a form of religion but deny its power (2 Tim 3:5)
You probably know people who—if you ask—will call themselves Christian. But that’s merely a label. Sometimes it’s real, but for some it’s just a superficial label. And if you peel back the layers to see what they really believe, you may be shocked to see them following other gods.
Like the god of materialism—as they chase after the “almighty dollar” and put their work or the career ahead of following God…as they keep a tight hold on their earnings and spend for their own pleasure rather than live a generous life. “Greed,” the Bible says, “is idolatry” (Col 3:5)—which makes our country a nation of idol worshipers. Don’t follow the god of materialism!
Or like the god of fame—as they mimic and follow famous people. It’s not enough that Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight push these gods on us. Advertisers promote this form of idolatry all the time. They know that women will buy Aveeno skin care products if Jennifer Aniston endorses them. They know men will wear Wrangler jeans if they see Brett Favre wearing them. Or they’ll buy State Farm Insurance if Aaron Rodgers tells them about the discount double check. And if you’re a Vikings fan, don’t get too smug. Now there’s a Pepsi commercial featuring Teddy Bridgewater…. Whatever team you cheer for, don’t follow the gods of fame!
Or like the god of political correctness—as people try so desperately hard to fit in and not offend anybody—even at the expense of compromising the plain and simple message of God’s Word.
• When society’s quest for “tolerance” undermines eternal “absolutes,”
• When politicians chase votes and popularity but abandon God’s truth,
• When “personal rights” become more important than confessing “personal wrongs” (i.e. sins),
the country is headed the wrong way. Don’t follow the PC god!
- It’s possible to forget the Lord if we take his blessings for granted. (v 10-11; 8:13-14,17)
All these blessings, Deuteronomy says, were not because of you—cities you did not build, good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, vineyards and groves you did not plant. (v 10-11)
Moses intensifies the warning in Deut 8: If you’re not careful, he says, you’ll forget the Lord “when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied… your heart will become proud… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’” (8:13-14,17)
This is a huge temptation for Americans. From the very first, from the Declaration of Independence, this country was built individual freedom, hard work, “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps,” innovation and ingenuity. It’s been a land of opportunity for so many that we begin to take it all for granted. We think success comes because our own power and the strength of our hands produced this wealth. But if we think that, we forget about God.
This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. It’s a day we set aside to give thanks to God for all that he has done. It’s a tradition that traces back even before the Declaration of Independence to the early Pilgrims who suffered through a terrible first winter when they lost 50% of their number. The 51 who survived did not take their blessings for granted. They knew it was only because of the help of God—and their Native American neighbors—that they had a harvest the following fall. So they gave thanks! When we take our blessings for granted, we are in danger of forgetting the Lord.
- It’s possible if we complain about life’s hardships. (v 16)
Moses warned the people: Don’t put the Lord your God to the test…as you did at Massah (6:16).
So what happened at Massah? You’ll find the story in Exodus 17. They were in the desert, and God had them camp in a place where there was no water available. So they quarreled with Moses. They grumbled against Moses. They were on the verge of stoning their leader, when God told Moses to go out in front of the people and strike the rock of Horeb with the staff in his hand.
(Exod 17:7) And he called the place Massah [which means “testing”] and Meribah [which means “quarreling”] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Don’t do what you did at Massah, Moses said. Remember? Remember how you complained about your circumstances? You allowed difficult times to make you think that God had abandoned you.
We should not complain. We should be thankful for what God does in hard times. Stressful times can strengthen us, increase our resolve—our inner fiber. Good things can come from times of great stress.
A couple weeks ago during worship, Steve Tucker’s guitar string snapped. The tension just got to be too much. So he handed the guitar to Zack, who took it and put another string in place. And then Zack tightened up the screws. He stretched the new string to the breaking point!
He didn’t increase the tension because he wanted the string to break. He increased the tension so the string could make music—music that was in tune, on key, and in harmony. Music that fit what the other 5 strings were playing.
If Zack had not stretched the string, it would have been worthless on the guitar. It could never make music if it merely lay there, loose and floppy.
It’s the same with us! God knows that our best music—our greatest service to him, the highest praise we can offer—come out of difficult times, times when we’ve been stretched, when we’ve experienced stress. That’s when God creates beautiful music out of a life that’s stretched—maybe to the breaking point.
When you come through difficult times and are victorious, you bring God praise. Your faith in times of stress produces a beautiful sound—music that honors the Lord. God takes our trials and turns them into something beautiful!
(Isa 55:8-9) 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Kim Williams was a factory worker, working in a glass factory as a technician. Life was good, but one day in 1974 something went horribly wrong. A panel exploded and engulfed him in flames. He was burned over most of his body with third-degree burns. He nearly died. But somehow he survived, and he began a long, painful series of more than 200 surgeries and extensive rehab. He and his wife rented an apartment closer to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville for his treatments.
And that’s when something unexpected came out of tragedy and loss—something good. One day Kim saw a notice about a songwriting course. It sparked an interest in him. When he showed up for the class, his face and body were still covered in bandages. But something clicked and the class led to new opportunities. Eventually he teamed up with an up-and-coming young singer named Garth Brooks. Later he teamed up with another song writer to write one of the most honored songs of country music. Maybe you’ve heard it sung by Randy Travis. It’s called “Three Wooden Crosses.”
Kim Williams would never have written that inspirational song—a song that has encouraged so many people, if he had not gone through all that pain and loss. It was a literal “trial by fire” complete with scars that produced something good. http://kxrb.com/3-wooden-crosses-writer-triumphs-over-adversity/
God may test us to do something good in us. But when we’re tested, we should not be so presumptuous as to test God. At Massa, the people put God to the test. We put God to the test when we complain about hardships, troubles, and problems.
That’s when our hearts and our heads get all messed up! Our thinking is polluted with the enemy’s lies: “Oh…the Lord isn’t even with you. God has abandoned you. Your life is ruined. You’ll never make it.”
Scripture tells us there is a battle in our minds—in our thinking. The truth is, Satan wants to defeat you with discouragement, fear, depression, worry—whatever it will take.
The National Institute of Mental Health says that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults (18%). More than $42 billion are spent each year on anxiety disorders. [http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics]
So when worries and fears and depression begin to plague your heart and mind, what will you do? You can visit your doctor—because there may be some chemical issues going on, which can be treatable.
But don’t forget the spiritual battle. There is an enemy who wants to discourage you and defeat you. So you need to do is to demolish the strongholds of negative thinking; you must take every thought captive and make your thoughts obedient to Christ! (2 Cor 10:3-5).
But don’t stop there. You also should pray, taking your requests to God “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” (Phil 4:6) What does God promise if we do that? “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)
Your enemy wants to get your mind off God and away from his Word. The enemy wants you to focus on your troubles; he wants you to take your blessings for granted; he wants you to follow the gods of this world; he wants to fill your heart with anxiety.
But God wants to fill your hearts and minds with peace—a peace that surpasses understanding!
Over 40 years ago, Andraé Crouch wrote “Through It All”:
I’ve had many tears and sorrows,
I’ve had questions for tomorrow,
there’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong.
But in every situation, God gave me blessed consolation,
that my trials only come to make me strong.
Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God.
Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.
I thank God for the mountains,
and I thank Him for the valleys,
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through
For if I’d never had a problem,
I wouldn’t know God could solve them,
I’d never know what faith in God could do