Sovereign

Finding the Love You Want, 21 April 2024

Finding the Love You Want
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 1:19-2:14

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people.
 
Marriage has changed a lot in our culture, just in my lifetime. Its literal definition changed in 2015 in the USA. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative to marriage for many. In the last five decades, marriage rates have dropped nearly 60%. But our text today is about—spoiler alert—a woman meeting her future husband. They didn’t meet on a dating site or at a bar, but it’s a great story.
  
Two weeks ago, we began our series on the book of Ruth. If you missed Pastor Mike’s sermon, the first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does…
 
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT)   
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows, a great challenge in our day, but far more treacherous in their culture. Ruth is so committed to Naomi she gives up her cultural and religious identity to be with her. It’s possible she was impressed not only with Naomi, but her God. This vow is so compelling, Heather and I had it read at our wedding as a declaration of our dedication to one another.
 
Speaking of weddings, today’s message is entitled, “Finding the Love You Want.” We’re going to look at the incredible way God led Ruth to find a husband after the death of her first one. Before we continue, let me make a few important disclaimers. First, married life is not superior to single life. Some of you unmarried people like being single. Others think a spouse will “complete you” and idealize marriage. God doesn’t want everyone married, though it was His design for some of us to marry in order to reproduce, but with 8 billion people on the planet, I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that! There are many reasons why people are single, but it is not a curse. I’m deeply sorry for the way some church people have treated singles, whether it be unwanted match-making, a what’s-wrong-with-you attitude, or creating meat markets called “singles ministries.”
 
We are family, and we need one another. Singles can learn from marrieds and vice-versa and we need to do life together. Our Life Groups are a great tool for this…diverse, small communities where the young and old, married and unmarried, parents and those without kids, rich and poor…can experience life together, serving one another, loving one another. There are two single men in our church family who have each been “adopted” by a family and it brings me great joy to see them live life in such a community, despite not having a spouse. Paul wrote in the Bible,
 
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8, NIV)
 
Jesus was unmarried. There’s no shame in singleness. But if you need help finding a mate, you might want to pay attention to this.
 
VIDEO
 
You’re welcome!
 
Ruth and her mother-in-law have lost their husbands…and they never had the privilege of seeing that video to aid in finding new ones!
 
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. (Ruth 1:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi had lived here and must’ve made quite an impression for “the entire town” to be excited to see her.
 
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21, NLT)
 
This is kind of dark, but I love her honesty. In this culture, names had tremendous meaning. Naomi’s life had changed so much she wanted to be called “bitter.” She felt God was punishing her, perhaps for leaving Bethlehem to live in a foreign country that worshipped other gods. While I can see why she felt it was a punishment, the Bible is filled with refugees, immigrants, and aliens and cares deeply for them. Guess what the name Ruth means? It means friendship or clinging. How appropriate! And Naomi? It means pleasant! Note in these two verses Naomi says, “I” or “me” eight times! She so fixated on herself she doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Ruth, saying “the LORD has brought me home empty.”
 
It’s easy to pick on Naomi, but as Pastor Mike said two weeks ago, there’s much we don’t know about her, and there are things that reveal both her godliness and imperfections. One writer noted the similarities between her and Job. They both experienced tremendous loss and suffering, though Naomi did it as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner while living in Moab, things Job never experienced.
 
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22, NLT)
 
Harvest time has always been important, but especially in an agrarian society. They couldn’t run up to Kroger and grab a frozen burrito or pick up fast food. If you don’t harvest, you die. Chapter one began with Naomi leaving Bethlehem and ends with her returning.  
 
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1, NLT)   
 
Hello Boaz! He’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband and is wealthy and influential. The book of Matthew mentions he is the son of Rahab, the former prostitute in Jericho who hid Israel’s spies in the book of Joshua.
 
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
 
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” (Ruth 2:2, NLT)   
 
They were hungry and needed food.
 
So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3, NLT)   
 
“As it happened.” The author is telling us this is not chance or coincidence, but God’s providence. He is at work in this situation, and He’s far more active in our lives than we realize. Ruth is a hungry, desperate widow, but God sees her. God sees you, too. This story is remarkable, but the greatest impact of Ruth and Boaz will not occur in their lifetime. God is doing something that will impact generations for centuries…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
This process of picking up leftover grain was known as gleaning (see Leviticus 19:9-10). There’s a food bank in metro Detroit called Gleaners.
 
While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said.
 
            “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied. (Ruth 2:4, NLT)   
 
This seems like a nice guy! He’s a wealthy, influential man who takes time to greet the poor collecting his leftovers.
 
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” (Ruth 2:5, NLT)
 
He notices Ruth…because she’s new? Because she’s young? Because she’s beautiful? The culture was patriarchal where every woman must belong to a man, whether it’s a husband or father. Unfortunately, some of these attitudes remain today, where women are treated as second-class citizens and single women are incomplete.  
 
And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:6-7, NLT)
 
She’s a hard worker. That’s a good character trait.   
 
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9, NLT)   
 
This is probably not typical treatment of a gleaner. Either Boaz is very kind, he has an interest in her, or both.
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
Remember, Naomi was from Bethlehem, but Ruth was from Moab,
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Boaz is kind, but he’s also heard about the kindness of Ruth…without social media! Could this be a match made in heaven? We’ll see!  
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
All Ruth is seeking is food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. But she is a vulnerable widow, as is Naomi.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
Now she has food, all right, but not from gleaning. These aren’t leftovers. She’s eating with the master of the house, so to speak. Not only did she have quality food, she’s dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I hope there’s a doggy bag for her to take some food to Naomi!
 
And that’s where we end today! Come back next time for the continuation of the story and see what happens between Ruth and Boaz.
 
So What?
 
The moral of this story is if you want to find love, glean from the nearest farm and hope the owner sees you and shows you favor! Not quite, but it is a truly remarkable story. It’s important to see that God is the main character. LORD—the all-caps sacred name for God—is mentioned several times. This is much more than a tragedy becoming hopeful or the search for a spouse.
 
There are some principles that apply not only to dating, but all friendships. First and foremost, God is sovereign. He is in control. Although He didn’t force these events to take place, He had a plan for Ruth…and Naomi…and Boaz…and an even bigger plan that we’ll see later in the series that impacts us today!
 
Second, God sees needs. He saw these widows. He hasn’t forgotten them. And He sees you, too. We have many actual widows in our First Alliance family. God sees you. We do, too, and want to love and serve you in your loss, grief, and loneliness. I read a remarkable statistic that 90% of wives will be widows for at least part of their lives. Throughout the Bible, we see three vulnerable people groups God instructs us to care for: widows, strangers, and orphans.
 
Third, God sees deeds. He not only sees our needs, He sees our deeds! Ruth showed radical love to her mother-in-law. She could’ve listen to Naomi who said, “Go find a husband. I don’t want to be a burden to you,” but instead, Ruth was committed to Naomi. God saw this, and others did, too, which is why Boaz heard about it and a primary reason why he showed such kindness to Ruth.
 
I’m not sure who needs to hear this today, but listen to these words from Paul:
 
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
 
Ruth didn’t explicitly stay with Naomi for the Lord, but her devotion was an expression of love. Ruth was a woman of faith who loved God. This was clear in verses 1:16 and again in 2:12.
 
It’s easy to feel hidden and unnoticed. Sometimes the work we do takes weeks, month, years, even decades before it’s noticed, but God is always watching…and in time, it’s likely that your good deeds will be noticed and rewarded. Don’t give up. Don’t worry about human applause. You will be rewarded for eternity for the things you do for the LORD.
 
By the way, we don’t do good works to get saved. We do good works because we’ve been saved. Faith without works is dead. As Dallas Willard said, God’s not opposed to effort. He’s opposed to earning. Serving God and others should be the natural response to the cross, the empty tomb, and God’s amazing grace toward us.
 
Ultimately, God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. That blessing may be finding the love of your life. It might be experiencing the joy of a deep friendship. What we do matters. Who we worship matters most of all…and my heart is full of gratitude for our amazing God and His faithfulness. 
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Trust God's Sovereignty, 22 March 2020

Patiently Trust God’s Sovereignty
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 12

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: God is sovereign and He can be trusted, despite what we see, think, or feel today.

Why? It might be the most common question asked by children.

Why do I have to get out of bed?
Why do I have to brush my teeth?
Why do I have to eat breakfast?
Why do I have to go to school?

Come to think of it, these are all questions adults ask, too!

One of the most universal questions throughout history has been, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” I’ve asked it. I’m sure you’ve wondered it. Job did (12; 21). The psalmists (37; 49; 73) and Habakkuk (chapter 1) and Malachi (2:17; 3:15) did. Jeremiah did, too.

I hope today we can answer that important question…and draw closer to Almighty God.

We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a bullfrog…and a prophet! God’s chosen people, the Jews, had repeatedly broken their covenant with God. Last Sunday we looked at their disgraceful practice in the temple, worshiping other gods. The difficult life of a prophet involved speaking for God to disobedient people, warning them of the consequences of their actions.

In chapter one, Jeremiah was understandably reluctant to accept God’s call for him to be a prophet and obey the LORD. Last week in chapter seven, Jeremiah told the people their sins and evil were too much for God. They had willfully chosen to walk away from God.

Today we’re in chapter twelve. It begins,

You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. (Jeremiah 12:1)

This is a great start. Jeremiah understands God is right. God is always right. God is always righteous. That’s His nature, His character. He can do no wrong. He cannot sin. He cannot fail or make a mistake. He is perfect in all of His ways.

It’s vitally important for all of us to understand God, to know God. We cannot fully comprehend Him, of course, but He is knowable. He wants to be known by us. He has given us the Bible to discover His wonderful attributes, including his righteousness.

I realize you might not agree with Jeremiah. You may think He’s forgotten you, made a mistake, or failed you. I can assure you though it may feel that way, you will someday understand why…

  • - Your loved one died
  • - You lost the job you loved
  • - That relationship failed
  • - You were born with those challenges
  • - There’s no toilet paper at the store!

Jeremiah acknowledged that God is always righteous, always right when a case is brought before Him. Now Jeremiah does just that; he brings a case before the LORD.

Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1b)

There it is! Why do good things happen to bad people? Jeremiah admits God is righteous, but is He a God of justice?

It’s ok to question God. Some have been taught they should never doubt or question, but this is one of many good, honest questions directed toward God. He wants to hear from us. He can handle anything we throw at Him! He’s God!

Jeremiah continues,

You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. (Jeremiah 12:2)

They talk about You, but they’re far from You, LORD. Don’t you see what’s going on? They are religious but not righteous. They’re fakers, actors, hypocrites. Why don’t you punish them?

Yet you know me, LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! (Jeremiah 12:3)

How do you really feel, Jeremiah?! Jeremiah was set apart by God and he wants God to set apart the wicked…for their day of slaughter!

How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.” (Jeremiah 12:4)

God had sent a drought, yet the people refused to acknowledge their sin and God’s judgment.

Why do you permit it, LORD? Perhaps a better question than, “Why?” is, “What are You up to, LORD? He is sovereign and in control, even when it doesn’t seem like it. He’s good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t ask a question for which you don’t want the answer! God responds to Jeremiah…and it’s not what he expected.

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)

God says, “Jeremiah, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Your relatives, members of your own family—even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you. (Jeremiah 12:6)

This is a disturbing verse. God warns Jeremiah to not trust his own family…or their words.

Warren Wiersbe notes, “Jeremiah was asking, ‘How can I get out of this?’ But he should have been asking, ‘What can I get out of this?’”

We are to live by God’s promises, not explanations. Of course, we don’t understand everything that happens in this world. If so, we’d be God!

We like easy, comfortable, and safe. We like sunny days at the beach, but the only thing that grows at the beach is your waistline! Growth requires testing, discipline, pain, challenge, and…change. Often the very things we want removed from our lives are the very things God is using to grow us, mature us, shape us, and make us like Jesus.

And life’s trials should always draw us back to God, enhancing our relationship with and dependency upon God. Maybe today’s trials are designed to create tomorrow’s miracles. Singer/songwriter Laura Story penned these words in her song Blessings:

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops/ What if Your healing comes through tears/ What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near/ What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Trials are an opportunity to trust.
Trials are an opportunity for others to pray and support us.
Trails are an opportunity for God to show His power.
Trials are an opportunity for us to grow.

But I still don’t like them…and neither did Jeremiah! God continues,

“I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. (Jeremiah 12:7)

This may not seem like love, but sometimes love has to let go. For God, sin cannot be tolerated.

I know of someone who recently broke up with his girlfriend, not because he didn’t love her, but because he did. He knew he couldn’t meet her expectations and released her to pursue her desires. I think that’s what God is doing here. The people had broken their covenant with God. They turned their backs on Him. He tried and tried and tried to get their attention and urged them to repent—to turn back toward Him. They refused and chose to follow the ways of their ungodly friends and neighbors and finally God says enough. It’s sad. It’s tragic!

My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her. (Jeremiah 12:8)

They have been opposing God and He’s had enough. The Hebrew word for hate can also mean turn against. The people roared at God like an angry lion.

Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour. (Jeremiah 12:9)

Speckled or colored birds stood out from the other birds, and consequently the others would surround and attack the odd creature. This is Judah.

Now there’s a series of images God uses to describe the devastation that lies ahead.

10 Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard
and trample down my field;
they will turn my pleasant field
into a desolate wasteland.
11 It will be made a wasteland,
parched and desolate before me;
the whole land will be laid waste
because there is no one who cares.
12 Over all the barren heights in the desert
destroyers will swarm,
for the sword of the LORD will devour
from one end of the land to the other;
no one will be safe.
13 They will sow wheat but reap thorns;
they will wear themselves out but gain nothing.
They will bear the shame of their harvest
because of the LORD’S fierce anger.”

Can you image God saying these words to us? I sometimes wonder if He’s not! Our money says, “In God We Trust” but we seem to trust more in our money than in our God. We’ve marginalized faith in the public square, passed laws that are in direct violation of scripture, and become so self-absorbed that there’s no time or energy left for the relationship we were created to have with our Creator.

Is God angry with the USA? Is He angry with the world? Is the coronavirus a punishment? The best answer I can give is “maybe.” Keep in mind, this passage was not written to 21st century Christians in Toledo…but it was written for us. We’re told that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We’re told that if we disown Jesus, he will disown us before the Father (Matthew 10:33).

I have a pastor friend who posted this last week:

Pestilences (pandemics) and plagues don't come from satan. They come from God. There is not one instance in the 130+ mentions of pestilences and plagues in the Bible where they are attributed to the demonic realm. EVERY one is said to have come from God, even if it's by the agency of angels. We don't rebuke pestilences and plagues. We REPENT. (Joe Sazyc Sr.)

That’s what the Jewish people failed to do…repent. Will we?

This is what the LORD says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. (Jeremiah 12:14)

Is anybody ready for some good news?

But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. (Jeremiah 12:15)

God has remembered the land. It’s His land, only loaned to the Jews. The people would spend seventy years in captivity and then be allowed to return to their land and restore the nation and temple…and their worship of God.

And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 12:16-17)

In this instance, God is pro-choice! He gives the people the choice to follow Him or the false god Baal. They get to determine their own destiny, the consequences of their allegiance. Even today, nation who follow Jesus receive a certain blessing, while those who ignore Him will pay the price…now and/or in the future

So What?

What in the world can we learn from this dark chapter in a book written thousands of years ago? First,

We all experience suffering because of sin.

The good and the bad both experience pain, loss, and suffering. It’s easy to be envious of the wealth, pleasure, or power of others. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, right?! But as long as sin is a part of the human condition, we will be hurt and we will hurt others. Social media begs us to compare ourselves to the highlight reels of others, but that’s the point…we only see the highlights…the smiles…the Instagrammable photos. I promise you, ever person you’ve ever met or seen has suffered. They may be in agony at this moment, just unwilling to be honest and vulnerable.

Perhaps you could care less about others. You’re struggling now. You’re doubting or questioning God now. God for it! He’s listening. He cares. It might not feel like it, but He’s at work. He’s up to something.

Your story is not over.

Every good story has a moment of tension—the climax. Have you ever heard a good story where the main character is just happy, happy, happy from beginning to end? No! There are moments of suspense or crisis that are followed by resolution. The same is true for your story.

When you ask, “God, what are You up to?” you open up to the opportunity to see how God will heal, redeem, restore, or otherwise answer your prayers. We don’t like moments of trial, but that’s how we grow. Today may be excruciating, but there’s bright hope for tomorrow…and He is with you today, whether you like/know/acknowledge/feel it or not.

The same can be said for the wicked. Their story is not over. Judgment Day is coming…for all of us. “Vengeance is mine,” says the LORD (Romans 12:19). The bottom line is…

God is sovereign. He can be trusted,
despite what we see, think, or feel today.

Conclusion

If anyone had a right to ask why good things happen to bad people, it was Jesus. After all, he was the only truly “good” human to walk this earth. The people who denied, betrayed, sentenced, and executed him could all be considered “bad,” yet he loved them and prayed for them.

Jesus never asks us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do…and we have the same Holy Spirit to give us the love, grace, courage, and strength to do it.

There’s a question more common than, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” and that’s, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” The worst possible thing happened to the only good person as he was beaten, mocked, and crucified for you and me. We often say it’s all about Jesus and as we’ve gathered here to worship Jesus, we close with a song which talks about his life, death, and victory…a victory which is ours as we trust God and follow Jesus, regardless of the temporary injustices we may see around us. The best is yet to come!

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Sovereign, 20 May 2018

    God is Sovereign
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Romans 8:28-30

    Series Overview: This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: God is sovereign and in control…but we also must be responsible with our free will.

    We are spending several weeks this month talking about the attributes of God. There is
    None Like Him. Amen?

    Two weeks ago, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

    Today we look at another word frequently used in church but less often in the culture—sovereign. God is sovereign. Great, but what does that mean? Some dictionaries may use words like ruler, supreme in power and authority, or greatest. I’m going to suggest the best way think about God’s sovereignty is to say, “God is in control.” This is great news, but it can be difficult to understand. Hopefully our time together will engage your mind and heart and cause you to grow deeper in love with Jesus.

    True or false: God is in control of everything?

    True or false: God’s will is always accomplished?

    True or false: God controls history down to every detail, micromanaging individuals’ lives?

    The Bible is clear about many things, yet others are difficult to discern. We’re talking about God, after all, and while we can know God and know Him personally, we can’t fully grasp everything about God.

    Is God really sovereign? Is God in control? If so, why are children killed by shooters at school? How can sex trafficking thrive not only around the world but right here in Toledo? What about those victims of drunk drivers?

    I’m fascinated by people who will blame God for the sins and stupidity of people. After all, God has given us freedom. We have free will. We were not created as robots, but rather we have the capacity to love…and hate. Relationships cannot be authentic without choice. So God can be in control, yet allow humans the opportunity to do good or bad. Most of our suffering stems not from God, but the sins of others—or ourselves. God is in control, but He has also given us responsibility. Can you really blame God for an unwanted pregnancy? Is it His fault you failed the exam you never studied for?

    But why does God allow evil? Why did God create satan in the first place? Did He know Lucifer, the once-mighty angel, would rebel against God and be cast from heaven (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-14)? These are great questions I’m not fully able to answer. Again, there are things we simply cannot know—yet—about God. But there’s one thing of which I am sure:

    God is sovereign and in control, He can be trusted, and He is working for the good of those who love Him. His plans and purposes are in process. It might not seem like it today, but just wait. God is not surprised by anything in today’s
    Toledo Blade. He’s not asleep or aloof, but there is a tension between His sovereignty and our responsibility. If we seek first His Kingdom and His glory—not merely our own pleasures—we will discover true meaning and purpose. Jesus said,

    So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

    God is in the process of working out His plans and purposes—not necessarily ours. He loves us, but His highest priority is our holiness, not our happiness; His glory, not our gratification. But let me say again God loves us. As His children, He has our best interest at heart…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    All parents understand the tension of discipline. We’d love for our kids to always do the right thing, but when they don’t, we must punish…out of love, not hate.

    When I was a young boy, I was so frustrated with my parents. I wanted to have total freedom to play with my friends as long as I wanted and mom said I needed to be home by dark. “My friends can stay out as long as they want!” I said. My mom replied, “Because I love you, I want you home.” I didn’t understand the boundaries at the time, but I sure do now!

    It feels great to say God is in control…until we encounter trouble in life and we ask God, “Why?” or “Where are you?”

    I must say (again) there are many things I don’t understand. I have plenty of questions for God. But I’ve also learned as I read the Bible and get to know God personally He is good. His ways are not like my ways. His wisdom far exceeds mine. He is God and I’m not. He can be trusted. That has been true when I’ve unexpectedly lost my job, when my dad died after years of battling Alzheimer’s, when my daughter was hospitalized for months, when my son struggled through the teen years, when our daughter’s leg was amputated, when our family faced an array of mental illnesses, when friends have abandoned us, …do you want more?

    Oh sure, let me throw this one in…when your airplane fills with smoke and you have an emergency evacuation, climbing out the window onto the wing, and then jumping to the tarmac! Yes, that happened…to begin our vacation in Colorado. Fortunately, the plane had landed and nobody was seriously hurt, praise God!

    But what if the cabin filled with smoke midair? What if my mom, step dad, Heather and I all perished? Would we still praise God? Would He still be trustworthy? What about those families this morning in Texas planning funerals for their children? Are they singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” this morning?

    I want to encourage you an oft-abused passage of scripture, but one which is nevertheless true. Romans 8 says,

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    Family, please think twice about quoting these verses when someone is in the midst of a sudden crisis. Timing is everything. The passage is always true, yet often people need to grieve. Quick answers are not adequate when someone is dealing with intense suffering. Job’s friends demonstrate often the best thing we can do when a loved one suffers is be present and quiet. But let’s look at this text.

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

    God is in control. He is at work, and because He loves us, He is working for our good. But there’s a condition. The condition is that we love him and have been called according to his purpose. Sometimes things take time. Tomorrow you might understand that which you cannot begin to fathom today. Your story is not over. You’re not abandoned, even if it feels like it. This too will pass. God sees you. God knows. God is with you. God loves you. And as we’ve learned from David in the Psalms, it’s ok to let Him know how you feel. He can handle your anger, questions, doubts, and even rage. But let me declare God is at work…accomplishing His purpose.

    Now this text raises one of the most hotly debated questions in theology, the study of God. Look at the rest of the passage:

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    The Message translation declares

    God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. (Romans 8:29-30,
    The Message)

    God foreknew us. He predestined us to follow Jesus. He calls, justifies, and glorifies. Now here’s the question:
    does God choose us or do we choose God? If God is in control, does that mean we have no choice, no options? When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, was it God’s fault the people of Israel remained in slavery throughout the plagues (Exodus 9:12)?

    Christianity is divided in many ways. For example, there are Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants and Messianic Jews, all deeply committed to following Jesus and the Bible, but doing so with differences in worship style, tradition, and sometimes even beliefs. There are charismatic Christians who are very demonstrative in their worship while others are very reserved.

    Another division in Christianity involves
    Calvinism and Arminianism. Have you ever heard of Calvinism? Arminianism? The issues behind the debate between the two began in the 5th century, but it wasn’t until the 17th century when it took its current form.

    Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564.
    Calvinism has at its core the belief that God chooses us to be saved. We really have no choice in the matter. Reformed, and Presbyterian churches generally follow Calvinism.

    Arminianism—which is not the same as being Armenian, which I am by my family of origin—places the emphasis on human choice. We can choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. Jacobus Arminius gave his name to Arminianism. He was a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609.

    Who’s right, Calvinists or Arminians? It depends upon who you ask! In case you’re wondering, the Christian & Missionary Alliance does not take a position on the matter. You will find those in the Alliance who are Calvinists and others who are Arminians—and some who are something of a hybrid!

    A.W. Tozer, in his classic book
    The Pursuit of God, began by saying,

    Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.

    Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.

    We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him," and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the out working of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: "Thy right hand upholdeth me."

    Does God pursue us? Yes.
    Do we pursue God? Yes.

    I actually believe it’s not an either/or but a both/and scenario. It’s two sides of the same coin. Like a dance, God leads, and we join Him…or not!

    Why am I married? Is it because I asked Heather to be my wife, or because she said yes?

    Since the Alliance refuses to take a position toward Calvinism or Arminianism, it behooves us to follow their example and say there’s room for both at First Alliance Church. God is in control. God can be trusted. Even if it doesn’t feel like it today.

    D6: The fact that God’s authority supersedes all other authority demonstrates that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

    D6: God’s actions and characteristics in Exodus 15* illustrate that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

    (*look it up!)

    We can rest in the fact that God is in control. He knows and understands all things and has the power to make all things work out for His glory.

    I know many of you at this moment are questioning God. Life is not what you expected. You can’t harmonize God’s goodness and sovereignty. If He’s really in control, why is He allowing my life to be such a mess—or maybe even causing my life to be such a mess? I get it. Really. I’ve asked God questions through tears. I’ve cried out to Him so many times, failing to understand Romans 8:28…or much of the Bible. At this moment I still have questions for Him…but I’ve learned He can be trusted. The things He allows today will not be permitted forever. Judgment Day is coming—for all of us—and I urge you to repent and trust Jesus Christ to be your Savior and LORD if you have not yet done so.

    If there’s any injustice, any scandal, anything that doesn’t make sense, it’s why God would send His only Son, Jesus, to live and die and receive the punishment for our sins. If anyone had reason to question God’s sovereignty, it was Jesus on the cross! But praise God the story of Jesus didn’t end on the cross…He rose from the dead and is alive today!

    Likewise, your story is not over. As Laura Story sings in her song
    Blessings,

    Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise


    I started to cry just reading those lyrics again as I reflected upon God’s faithfulness.

    Recently Pastor Soper in Mission 119 stated regarding Numbers 22-24:

    When God has determined to bless a people, nothing but nothing but nothing is ever going to interfere or block that plan.

    Nothing will ever thwart God’s purposes and plans. He may use a talking donkey, a pillar of fire, plagues, the changed heart of a leader, miraculous healing, …but God is ultimately in control.

    My friend Lewis Winkler writes in his blog

    Herein lies the secret to finding real safety, in the arms of a good and loving God.  But being in His arms is not actually intended to make us feel safe.  Sometimes it does, but at other times it feels like the most dangerous place on earth.  That’s because His goal is to make us more like Jesus, and that’s often an uncomfortable and unpleasant process.  It doesn’t necessarily feel fun or safe.

    It might not look or feel like God is in control today, but whatever we experience is shaping us—it is for our good if we are truly following God.

    So What?

    Because God is sovereign, we don’t have to be! I often say, “God is in control…and I’m not!” I don’t always appreciate that in the moment, but I’m certain it’s good.

    And God is good…even when it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes we must simply wait.

    We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (Psalms 33:20-21)

    God and His plans and purposes are worth the wait. I have many questions for God and I bet you do, too. There are some things we simply won’t understand today—or maybe in this life. That’s where trust comes in. That’s where faith comes in—not a blind faith, a leap of faith, but rather a step of faith which trusts God above our limited understanding.

    Still, there are other times when our questions
    are answered and we get glimpses of God’s will, His plan, His purposes in the midst of what appears to us to be anything but good.

    Here’s a great example:

    Alliance Video

    Credits: some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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