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Posts Tagged ‘encouragement’

We’re finishing up our series on Christians and suffering today. Last time we looked at three kinds of suffering we go through as Christians.

  • First, there’s the lowliness and suffering that comes from living in a fallen and sinful world – sickness, brokenness, tragedies and death.
  • Second there’s the lowliness and suffering we freely choose, in that we lower ourselves to love and serve others.
  • And finally there’s the lowliness and suffering that comes our way because of our connection to Jesus – rejection and persecution.

Anytime we go through these kinds of suffering it unleashes a struggle within us. Will we remain faithful to God? Will we take the easy way out of the test? Will we lay down our cross to find relief?

This struggle is a part of what I’m calling the inner cross. And my message today is this – the secret to being victorious in our times of suffering is to overcome by the Spirit in the realm of the inner cross.

First we look at –

Jesus’ inner cross: Mark 14:32-42

When Jesus faced his greatest trial – the cross – he experienced the inner turmoil of it all. Jesus was fully human and as he said to the disciples about humanity, “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).

Mark tells us, “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” (Mark 14:33-34). Jesus doesn’t want to die, and certainly not the shameful death of a criminal or blasphemer on a cross (Hebrew 12:2).

Three times he prayed for deliverance. This, even though he knew it was God’s will for him to go to the cross. (He told his disciples this three times – Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But this is a final discernment. Is there not some other way, God? “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.’” (Mark 14:35-36). (See also Hebrews 5:7-8)

During these times of prayer he received help from the Spirit. As he said, “the Spirit indeed is willing” (Mark 14:38). The word “willing” can also be translated as “eager to be of service” or “ready.”

We see the evidence of the Spirit’s enablement in two ways: 1) Jesus prayed, “not what I will, but what you (Father God) will” (Mark 14:36). He submits his heart to the Father. And then 2) He rose up from prayer to do God’s will. He said, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:41-42). And he then went to the cross.

By the power of the Spirit Jesus crucified his human desire to live and be honored. He denied himself and took up his cross (Mark 8:34). He received strength to endure arrest, slander, shame, torture, crucifixion and death.

So there’s a death within before there’s a death without. He finds victory by the Spirit at Gethsemane, which allows him to find victory in his circumstances of suffering at Golgotha.

Paul’s teaching on the inner cross – Romans 8:1-17

There are several points of contact between Paul’s teaching here and the story we’ve just looked at. Paul seems to have Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane in the background as he teaches. 1) There’s the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8). 2) He talks about prayer to “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). 3) There’s a theme of suffering (Romans 8:17; also 18-39). 4) And he highlights how the Spirit enables us to overcome (Romans 8:3-4, 13). We’ll focus on this last theme.

Because Jesus suffered for us and overcame, we receive the benefits of God’s salvation. After presenting in Romans 7 the futility of trying to obey God from the heart without the Spirit, Paul describes this salvation. We are forgiven – “there is now no more condemnation” (Romans 8:1). And we receive the Spirit of God into our lives (Romans 8:9, 15-16).

And because of our new relationship with God and the presence of the Spirit within in us we are enabled to fulfill “the righteous requirement of the law” (Romans 8:4). We are empowered to do God’s will. And we can do this because we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

More specifically, we are enabled to crucify the desires of the flesh by the SpiritPaul says, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13).

Paul is saying here that by the power of the Spirit within us, we are strengthened to be able to crucify our own desires that oppose God’s way. “By the Spirit we put to death” these desires and thus any deeds that would come from these desires. As he says in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Again, the Spirit is key. And again the inner cross – putting to death our wrong desires by the Spirit – is the key to walking faithfully before God in our times of suffering.

Let’s look at –

How this works

When we’re in a time of testing and suffering, and we’ve discerned that it’s God’s will for us to go through this, and we’re struggling within – so that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17), like Jesus – we can call out to God our Father for help.

And in prayer we can receive encouragement and strength from the Spirit. Without the Spirit we would easily cave in. The desires of our flesh want to avoid suffering. The flesh wants the easy way out, it wants comfort and security. Or it leads us to just give up.

But the Spirit strengthens us to say no to the desires of our flesh. And when we say no a crucifixion takes place. There’s a death within to our own desires, so that we don’t act on these unfaithful desires of our flesh. By the Spirit we put them to death (Colossians 3:5). Our “old person” (Romans 6:6) dies a little bit more. This is the inner cross.

Also, there’s a resurrection within. The new person God is creating us to be is strengthened to walk in the path God has for us. We are raised to new life within so that we can walk in newness of life without.

Just as Jesus had to gain the victory at Gethsemane before he could gain the victory at Golgotha, so it is with us. We must prevail in the realm of the inner cross by the Spirit, before we will prevail in our lowliness and suffering.

Let me end with –

A word of encouragement

 1. We’ve been given all that we need to overcome by God’s grace. As 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” We’re not left to our own resources. We rely on God’s Spirit and power. As Paul says in talking about suffering, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” – Romans 8:37.

2. Even if we fail, God’s grace is sufficient. It’s true, as James tells us, “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). We will not always respond correctly to our times of trials and cross bearing. But as 1 John 1:9 teaches, //“if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And then we can move forward again by God’s grace.

3. God will come through on his promises. As we’ve seen, the faithful will be exalted and blessed (Matthew 23:12, Luke 6:20-26, Mark 8:35). As Romans 8:17 says, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

On the day of the great reversal, when the kingdom comes in its fullness, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom and we will be lifted up by God to receive honor and glory.

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Our lives can certainly be difficult. I think we can all testify to that. We have our daily stresses and hardships. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (He is talking about securing our food and clothing needs.) So we have it on Jesus’ authority that each day has more than enough problems in it.

On top of this we go through times of intense testing, crises that stretch us to the breaking point. Speaking of this kind of testing, Hebrews 12:11 says, it “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time.” So we have it on Scriptural authority that testing is indeed painful.

God allows us to go through these things. Now notice, I’m not saying that God causes these things to happen in our lives. We live in a sinful and broken world and bad things happen all the time. But God definitely does allow us to go through them. And these things can weigh us down and wear us out. So I want us to look at four things this morning that will hopefully encourage us and give us strength to carry on.

Know that even in hard times, God loves you

When you’re in a time of testing you can definitely feel forgotten, alone and abandoned. So it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care about you. We ask, “Why would God let me go through this?” But we need to understand that even if God lets us go through tough times, God still deeply loves and cares for us.

We know this first of all because we see that God let his own beloved Son, Jesus, go through difficulties. And we know that God loved Jesus above all. So there is allowance of hardship and love together.

Second, Hebrews 12:5-8 teaches us that God will also let us, his beloved children, go through hardship. Again there is allowance of hardship and love together. Let’s look at these verses. The readers were having hard times for sure, experiencing persecution.

The writer says, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children? “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every child whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as children. For what child is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate and not children.”

In this we see that God allows and uses hardship for the benefit of those he loves. In fact, God’s allowance of hardship actually shows that God loves you and owns you as his own child. You are not abandoned, but loved. God is concerned about you and your well-being.

This leads us to the second thing we should remember –

God can bring something good out of your suffering

Now, this is not something you can share with someone flippantly. When you are going through hard times this isn’t usually what you want to hear. Or even need to hear. It is nevertheless true.

It was true for Jesus. Hebrews 5:8 says, Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” And we also learn through our suffering about following God and being righteous.

Scripture talks about this in a number of places:

  • God allows us to be tested “for our own good, in order that we may share his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10.
  • Going through difficult times “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.
  • Romans 5:3-4 says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
  • Testing “is intended to make you worthy of the Kingdom of God” – 2 Thessalonians 1:5.
  • James 1:3-4 says, “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God is doing a great work within us as he allows us to be tested and tried.

Romans 8:28 is a familiar verse and it comes from a context of talking about suffering. It says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Whereas for so many in the world, their suffering seems to be pointless and for no reason, the promise of God to us, his children, is that whatever God allows us to go through he is able to use for our good; and for the good of others. He can bring something good out of it. And we can hold on to this, even if in our trial we can’t possibly see how it is so at the time.

God won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear

1 Corinthians 10:13 is a great verse. It says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When we are going through hard times, these become a test of our faith. The question is, “Will we remain faithful to God in the midst of it?” What this verse says is that God will not let us get into a situation that we cannot handle in terms of remaining faithful to him.

Satan will try to discourage us, and cause us to give up. But God always provides a way of escape. God will make sure that we have the grace and strength we need to get through it, or that the situation will change.

This is God’s promise to us and we need to remember it when we think that we can’t handle our testing. The fact that God has allowed it, means you can handle it.

You will be blessed if you endure

Let’s look at some Scriptures:

  • Paul said, “let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” – Galatians 6:9.
  • Jesus says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – Revelation 2:10.
  • As Paul said, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” – 2 Timothy 2:12.
  • James tells us, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” – James 1:12.

As difficult as our trials are, we can know that the blessings will far outweigh them. As Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” It is more than worth it.

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Our title today is “Don’t grow weary and give up!” And our text is Galatians 6:9, if you would like to turn there in your Bibles.

Galatians 6:9

The apostle Paul says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Let me begin by pointing out a few things about this verse. The phrase, “grow weary” can also be translated, “get tired,” or “become discouraged.” It means, “don’t lose your motivation in continuing a desirable pattern of activity.” [BDAG]

In this case what is desirable refers to doing what is right or as the ESV says, “doing good.” This means living the Christian life, or more specifically in v. 10 it means doing good for others – that is, being a Christian and ministering to others both within and outside of the church.

The sense is that you have been doing good for a while and the temptation over time is to get tired and weary of this. The promise is of a harvest in due season; of fruitfulness in due time. (The reaping language comes from vs. 7-8) And the condition is “if we do not give up;” that is, if we don’t lose heart or faint from weariness.

If we put all this together it can read: “And let us not grow weary/ get tired of doing what is right/good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up/lose heart.”

Now, let’s look at –

Galatians 6:9 in the context of the book of Galatians

Galatia was the name of a Roman province in Paul’s day, in what is now modern Turkey. Paul preached the gospel here on his first missionary journey, recorded in Acts 13 and 14. And a group of several churches was formed in some of the cities in this territory – Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

Well, it wasn’t long after Paul left that new teachers had come in and were teaching a different Gospel saying that Gentile believers need to become Jews to truly be saved. In other words, faith in Christ and his death on the cross was not enough. And some in Galatia had accepted this new teaching. And this led to a terrible conflict with lots of hurt and pain all around.

1. Paul was upset. There is no letter quite like Galatians, where his emotions are raw and in the open. For instance, he says in 3:1-3 – “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” It seemed to Paul that these new teachers had put a spell on the Galatians so that they abandoned the truth. 

2. Accusations were made against Paul. These were made by those whom Paul labeled “trouble makers” (6:17).

– They said, Paul is a people-pleaser. Specifically, when he is around Jews he preaches circumcision, but when he is around Gentiles like you, he doesn’t. He does this to make it easier for you; gain more converts. (5:11; 1:10). Paul corrects this by noting he has suffered persecution for the cross of Christ, which is not a mark of a people pleaser; and that it is they who seek an easy life by preaching circumcision since in this day most of the persecution came from Jewish sourses (6).

– They said, he is not a real apostle with a message from God. Paul responds in detail, of how God called him and gave him a message to preach on the Damascus road when he saw Jesus. (1, 2)

– They said Peter doesn’t support his ministry. Paul responds that Peter along with James and John had approved of his message before he came to Galatia. They gave him the right hand of fellowship. (2). [It’s a bit more complicated than this given the Antioch incident, where Peter seemed to be against Paul, but Paul notes that he corrected Peter publicly.]

3. There was dissension and division in the church of Galatia. In his list of the works of the flesh, notice how many have to do with conflict gone awry – “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” – 5:20.

And Paul talks about the danger of gossip and slander – “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” – 5:15. He talks about the danger of “becoming conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” – 5:26.

To all this he contrasts the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – 5:22-23. Paul is saying, the manifestation of the Spirit in our lives in these ways is the antidote to such destructive works of the flesh.

4. There were strained relationships. Paul says in 4:13-20 – “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose . . . my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” They worked together closely and cared for one another, but now Paul is not sure where he stands with them.

5. Difficult action needed to be taken. This was serious stuff and sorting through it was not necessarily easy.

  • Those who were confused needed correction. Paul works at this throughout most of his letter. And he comes out and says it bluntly in 5:4 “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Some people needed to relearn the gospel.
  • Those caught in sin needed help. Paul says in 6:1-2 – “Brothers and sisters, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Notice how this involves gentleness, humility and love on the part of the one who seeks to restore another.
  • The false teachers needed accountability. He says in 5:7-10 – “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.”

What a mess!!! Can you imagine? One thing we learn from all this is that conflict isn’t new. It was there in the apostolic period, recorded for us in the New Testament. And as we look at this particular example in Galatia – we don’t know how long it went on, but surely it would have taken a toll on them. And thus we understand the the temptation to give up from weariness. And also the need for this exhortation not to do this in Galatians 6:9, which is his last word of teaching to them, before he closes out the letter. “And let us not grow weary/ get tired of doing what is right/good, for in due season we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up/lose heart.”

I believe –

This is a word of encouragement to us

Perhaps you have been through conflict or difficult times in your personal life, in your church life or at work or school. And the result is that you are weary this morning. The word of encouragement is – Don’t give up! Why? Because we will reap a harvest. God will come through for us. When? In due season. It may be in this life, or it may not be. Some labor faithfully with little fruit to show for it in this life. But certainly the harvest will come in the fullness of the kingdom.

This is a message of hope. Your work is not for naught. Despite our difficulties, God is faithful and will give us a harvest of blessing. So don’t let life’s difficulties cause you to give up and put you on the sidelines. Continue on with your Christian faith strong. And continue to do good and minister to others.

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Today I want to share with you briefly some words of encouragement regarding going through times of testing, trials and tribulations. We seem to have a lot of this in our congregation right now. And then I want to give you a chance at the end to come forward for prayer for God to strengthen and encourage you. First,

 Some thoughts on trials

Sometimes God spares us from difficult situations. This is what we pray for when we pray in the Lords’ prayer, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We are praying for God’s protection; for God to shield us.

If you are praying this, as I encourage you to do regularly, who knows what all you have been spared? The other week I was about to pull out into an intersection after the light turned green and someone barreled through the red light. If I had gone normally I would have been hit hard. But I hesitated. Is this connected to my praying this? It is likely.

And I believe that we will be surprised on the final day when all that God has kept us from is made known. I also believe that we should give thanks even now for all that God has not let us go through!

If in these cases God allows us to go around difficult situations, we look next at how sometimes God allows us to go through trials.

  • Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.”
  • And he says in Matthew 6:34, talking about the stresses of everyday life, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Each day has more than enough trials in it.

When God allows us to go through trials it may be that after a time God will deliver us. That is to say, God will step in and give us relief, bring us out of the difficult situation, and let us have a more normal life once again, with just our regular problems.

God is certainly able to deliver us from any trial we may find ourselves in. As God himself says, “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Absolutely not! God can deliver us from any situation.

Here’s an example: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. You know the story. They refused the king’s order to bow to an idol and so they were condemned to be thrown into a great fiery furnace.

The king said, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15). They said, our God is able, but even if he doesn’t we still won’t bow to an idol (3:17-18). And so the king was angry and they were thrown in.

But they didn’t burn! And someone else was in the furnace walking with them. And so the king called them to come out. And they had no marks from the flame; no signs of burning. God delivered them. And the king said, “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (3:29).

But also, when God allows us to go through trials, it may be that God will not deliver us. In this case, the difficult situation will remain with us long term, or for our whole life. It might be an illness, a disability, a situation of family brokenness that you can’t fix, or perhaps depression or anxiety.

Here’s an example from Paul. He talks about how “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. But God said no. Three time he prayed and God said no. Paul continued on throughout his life with this difficulty, whatever it was, with no relief.

We also have to include here the reality that not only are we not delivered, but that our trial may bring our life in this world to an end.

Think of Jesus. He prayed in Gethsemane to be spared testing. Mark tells us he prayed, “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (Mark 14:35). And he prayed “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). Both of these are variants of the last request of the Lord’s prayer.

But God said no. Three times he prayed and God said no. He had to go through it. He went through this trial even unto death.

Since God does indeed allow us to go through all kinds of trial, let’s end with –

Some words to remember in our times of trial

– to strengthen and encourage us.

God walks with us in these situations. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – Psalm 46:1. God is present with us and helps us in our difficult situations. God also tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” – Hebrews 13:5. He doesn’t say, I will see you on the other side. He is with us no matter how hard it is. God says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

God protects us in the midst of the trial. Not only does Isaiah 43:2 say, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” it goes on to say, “When you pass . . . through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

The imagery of deep waters and fire speak to times of difficult and dangerous testing and tribulation. And the promise for those who walk with God is that God watches over us and does not allow us to be overwhelmed – by whatever we go through.

God will give us the strength we need. As God said to Paul concerning his thorn, so it is true with us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9. God’s grace is sufficient for you. His power will give you what you need to move forward in your time of weakness.

And then finally, through God we always have the victory. We have victory when God delivers us from our trial in this life. But even if we are not delivered we have victory!

Think of Paul and his thorn. What did he say about all of his problems? “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. Now that Paul is with God, God has now delivered him from his thorn. And what Paul is teaching us is that what we will endure in this life is temporary and it cannot be compared to the glory that is to come.

Think of Jesus. Yes, he died. But he was delivered from death itself. He experienced an even greater deliverance. And because of Jesus, even if we die, we don’t die! Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” – John 11:25-26.

Whether God delivers us in this life or in the next, we have the victory through him. Praise be to his name!

William Higgins

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We’re talking about secrets today. A secret is something hidden or concealed; something unknown to others.

Not all secrets are bad. You might be keeping a confidence regarding something private that someone told you. And that’s good.

But often our secrets are things that we’re trying to hide, because we don’t want anyone to know – because it won’t reflect well on us.

I remember, when I was a kid, my father was an artist and even though he didn’t go to church, my mother’s parents’ church asked him to paint a rather large mural as a background for their baptismal.

Well, my father had a studio in our house and when he was working on this, he let me mess around some with a paint brush. I think it was painting little birds flying in the air. Something really simple. Anyway, he ended up starting over completely.

But I told my grandfather that I helped paint a part of the mural and played it up, even though what I did was covered over. So every time I came to church there my grandfather would ask me, “now which part did you paint?” And I felt bad. I hadn’t painting anything on the picture he was looking at. But I had to keep it a secret because of what I said before.

Now, of course, I know that he knew my secret and was just messing with me . But I didn’t want him to know the truth, which meant I had to keep lying so I didn’t look bad.

A really good secret is one that no one knows about, right? Not like in my case. For instance when you:

  • gossip about someone – you look around and don’t see anyone else, so you think, “Hey, no one knows. I’m all good.”
  • cheat on a test to get a better grade or fill out tax forms wrong to save some money – you think, “No one saw me, so it’s OK.”
  • look at pornography in a magazine or online – you think, “No one’s home, so I’m safe.”

But my point today is that this isn’t true. And that’s because –

God is everywhere

– whether we are aware of his presence or not. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “’Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.”

Now this doesn’t mean that God is in relationship with everyone. Or to say it another way, that everyone is conscious of God’s presence. Most are not. To be in relationship with God is to experience a whole different level of God’s presence. But apart from this relationship, God is still present everywhere in a more general way.

And since God is everywhere –

God knows everything we do

Let me highlight several Scriptures to bring this truth home. In Psalm 139:7-8 the psalmist begins by asking, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” He can go to the highest place in all creation or the lowest place, the realm of the dead – and God is still there.

And as he says in v. 2 – “You know when I sit down and when I rise up.” God knows everything we do, even as little a thing as sitting down and then standing up. God takes note!

Psalm 33:13-15 says, “The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he . . . observes all their deeds.” Notice all the “alls.” God sees everyone and everything they do.

Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” God watches all that we do, both good and bad.

But not only this –

God knows everything we think

1 Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches all hearts.” In Luke 16:15 Jesus said, “God knows your hearts.” Psalm 44:21 takes it a step further and tells us that God “knows the secrets of the heart.”

And this leads me to my point this morning –

There is no hiding from God

God knows everything we do and everything we think. Hebrews 4:13 says, “No creature is hidden from God’s sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Here we see that God not only knows everything; we are naked and exposed before him – but we will have to give an account for everything we do and think – even those things that we think are our ‘little secrets.’

As Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

You can hide a secret from others. You can even bury them so deep that you hide them from yourself. But you can’t hide your secret from God. God knows them all.

As a side note here, on the final day everyone will know all our secrets. God knows everything already, but at the judgment everyone will. 1 Timothy 5:24 says, “The sins of some men are conspicuous (e.g. obvious or well known) going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later (that is at the time of judgment.)” As Jesus said in Luke 12:2-3, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” There will no longer be any secrets.

Given that God is everywhere and knows all that we do and think –

We need to be more careful about what we say and do!

Think about in school, when the teacher is out of the room. Kids get loud and say and do things they normally wouldn’t. But when the teacher comes back it gets quiet. And I also know from my own experience being a pastor that when I come around, at times the conversation stops or changes.

Well, what we have to learn is that even when no one else can see what you are doing or hear what you are thinking – God is right next to you looking at what you are doing and hearing what you are thinking. It’s like the teacher is in the room or the pastor is, but it is much more than this. God is in the room.

And have you ever said something that was supposed to be a secret but someone else heard? Isn’t it a terrible feeling? Well why don’t we have that feeling, knowing that God is hearing us? Is it because we don’t believe that God is listening?

If you do believe this truth, then before you:

  • gossip about someone – you don’t, because you realize God is right there listening.
  • cheat – you stop, because you remember God is right next to you watching.
  • look at pornography – you recognize that God is there and so you remember to do what’s right.

Finally, a word of encouragement concerning God’s presence. It’s not all about God watching and us being accountable. The truth that God is everywhere means that –

God is also near to help us

– in our moments of temptation and struggle. Especially those of us who have a relationship with God.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him.” The one who has all power, the source of all encouragement, the one who has everything that we need to overcome – is present and willing to help. God is looking to strengthen us to do what is right.

So we need to call on God for help.

  • What if you were trying to cut down a large tree with an old ax, and a logger was standing next to you with a new chain saw the whole time? Does this make any sense?
  • Or what if you were struggling to dig a trench, and a friend with a backhoe was sitting there the whole time. Does this make any sense?

In the same way it doesn’t make sense to ignore that God is right next to you all the time ready to help and to encourage. Call on God. He has what you need to make the right choices.

William Higgins

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God Can Use You

I want to share with you a word of encouragement today. I want to affirm that God can use you. God can work through each one of you to advance his kingdom on this earth.

  • He can use you right where you are in your place in life – your job, school, network of friends and family
  • Or God can call you out and put you in a different place, perhaps as a  missionary, pastor, bible translator, teacher, service worker, etc.

Now this might seem like an impossibility in your own mind. Perhaps you think, ‘I’m not worthy,’ or ‘I’m not significant enough,’ or ‘God only uses certain kinds of people’ or ‘I’m not gifted enough.’ But I want to challenge you that God can and will use you, if you’re open to it. And I want to show you this from the Scriptures.

First of all –

Age is not an obstacle

Children, listen up. Samuel was just a boy and yet God spoke to him and told him about the future – 1 Samuel 3.

And remember the children who thanked God for Jesus as the Messiah when he taught in the temple – Matthew 21:15. The children knew more than the scholars and leaders of Israel. And Jesus approved of their praise to God.

God can use you. You are not too young.

Teenagers, Daniel was a teen when he was taken away from his home and carried off into exile in a strange land.

But he was faithful to God. He decided to be a vegetarian in order to avoid any possible contamination from idolatry. And God blessed him for this. He was stronger and looked better than the rest.

Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four youths, (Daniel and his friends) God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” And they stood before the king as his favored counselors because they were “ten times better” than the others – Daniel 1:20.

How does God want to use you? Have you thought about it? Are you open to it?

Older adults, have you bought into the American idea that life is for the young, and that you are to be put out to pasture when you retire? Well, God doesn’t agree.

Think about it:

  • Abraham & Sarah were called to a whole new life when he was 75 years old – Genesis 12:4.
  • Moses began his ministry when he was 80 years old – Exodus 7:7. And he ministered for 40 more years.
  • Caleb was 85 when he fought for and obtained his portion of the promised land – Joshua 14:10-12.

So, let’s say you are 55, or 65 or more. Have you thought about the possibility that God has a new thing for you to do; that perhaps the most important part of your service to God is still before you? This was the case with all four of these people. But you have to be open to this, and listen to God.

Age is not an obstacle to being used by God to do great things for his kingdom.

A sinful past is not an obstacle

Maybe you get down on yourself because of all you have done wrong before, and you think, ‘I’m not worthy to be used by God.’ Well you’re right, but this applies to all of us. None of us are worthy to be used by God.

But God is a God of mercy and uses us nonetheless. Think about these people who had a checkered past, but who were greatly used by God:

  • Moses had murdered someone (Exodus 2:12). But he became the greatest of all Old Testament prophets. God spoke to him face to face – Deuteronomy 34:10-12.
  • Rahab, who was a Gentile prostitute, became an ancestor of the Messiah and an example of faith – Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31.
  • Matthew was a tax collector hated by his people for oppressing them. But Jesus said to him, “’Follow me’ and he rose and followed him.” – Matthew 9:9. He became an apostle.
  • Peter denied Jesus with curses and oaths (Mark 14:71). This is a horrible sin for any follower of Jesus. But Jesus called him again to “feed my sheep” – John 21:17. And he became a crucial leader in the early church.
  • Paul, who persecuted Christians, imprisoning them and watching some die, said, “I thank . . . Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-13.

When we repent and are forgiven – we are forgiven. We are clean and pure! God gives us a new start; a chance to begin again. So instead of serving sin following our selfish desires, he gives us a chance to serve him and work for his kingdom.

A lack of ability is not an obstacle

This may seem strange, but it’s true. Here are three similar examples:

  • God called Moses to speak for him, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent . . . but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10. But God said he would help him and gave him Aaron to help him.
  • God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Ah Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak . . .” – Jeremiah 1:6. God touched his mouth and said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” – Jeremiah 1:9.
  • Paul was an apostle of Jesus, but he was not a good public speaker. As the Corinthians said, “his speech is of no account” – 2 Corinthians 10:10. But God worked powerfully through him.

All of these call to mind what is recorded later in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Speaking of Paul’s weaknesses, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Our inabilities are places where we have to rely on God. Often it is precisely because we have a lack, that God can work powerfully through us.

Lowly circumstances are not an obstacle

You might think that God only wants to use “important people,” or “famous people.” But God loves to use those who are insignificant in the eyes of the world, but who are significant to him.

  • God chose lowly Israel to be his people. God said to them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples – Deuteronomy 7:7. But God made himself known through them and from them came Jesus.
  • God chose Gideon to be a judge of Israel. Gideon said, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” – Judges 6:15. But God said, “I will be with you” – Judges 6:16. And he used him powerfully.
  • God chose David to be king. He was the youngest, most insignificant son of Jesse. As God said to Samuel – “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. God used him mightily.
  • God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother. She was a simple peasant girl. She was not famous. She did not stand out. She herself spoke of her “humble estate” – Luke 1:48. But God did a miracle and used her to bring forth the Messiah.
  • God chose Peter, Andrew, John and James as apostles. They were hardworking fishermen. As Acts 4:13 says, “They were uneducated, common men.” But God did great things through them.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 speaks to this – and really to all of the obstacles we have looked at.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . ..”

And God still chooses this way. It is just how God likes to work.

Let me just end by saying that there is nothing more amazing than having God use you. We were made to be used by God to bring forth his plan for his creation – whether we are an evangelist through whom thousands are saved or whether we simply encourage others to be faithful right where we are.  This is what gives us true significance, meaning and purpose. And it is what gives us a true sense of fulfillment and peace.

I encourage you – open yourselves up to what God has for you.

William Higgins

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We are bringing our series on Haggai to a close today. I hope that you have been looking at the book yourself, reading through it and thinking about it over these last few weeks. I certainly welcome your comments and questions. As I said at the beginning, it’s short, but it has a lot in it.

What we are doing today is looking back at the book as a whole to learn some things about serving God. Some of it will be review, some of it new. I thought it would be good to pull together the teaching on this theme and look at it all at once. The first lesson is that –

1. God requires our service

This comes out clearly in chapter one in the contrast between God’s house and the people’s houses and what God has to say about this. The Lord asks, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house (the temple) lies in ruins?” – Haggai 1:4. This is one of the most pointed questions in all of scripture, especially given the wealth that we have in this country.

And then God says, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord” – Haggai 1:8.

They were putting themselves first, busying themselves with their affairs and not God’s. And God calls them on it and requires them to put him first.

God also challenges us because we so often put ourselves first. Our work and our houses are fine, but God’s work and God’s house gets little attention in our busy lives. What we learn from Haggai is that we need to fulfill the call to serve God.

2. God calls us to serve even when it’s hard

In Haggai they were experiencing bad economic times. And so to obey meant taking a risk; giving of their time and resources to do God’s work when they already felt that they didn’t have enough to take care of their needs.

It was also hard to obey because people were critical of their work on the temple. It lacked the glory proper to a temple of God. And so people were thinking and saying things that discouraged the workers.

It won’t always be easy for us either. Whether it is has to do with lack of resources, or criticism, or other factors. God speaks to us through the book of Haggai to say to us as well that we need to serve God even when it is hard. If you only serve God when things are easy, you won’t be serving God for long.

3. Disobedience brings God’s judgment

They were under God’s corrective discipline for not working on the temple. This comes out in several places. The Lord says, “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce . . .” – Haggai 1:9-10.

If they had obeyed, God would have blessed them according the covenant he had with them. But they disobeyed and the blessing was withheld.

Too often we think that we can walk in willful sin and still have God’s blessing. But we clearly learn from Haggai that blessings only come with obedience.

4. The only solution to disobedience is repentance

We saw how they tried to cover over their disobedience with sacrifices. But their sacrifices were unclean. They weren’t acceptable because of their disobedience.

What God wanted was that they “turn” to him (Haggai 2:17); that they set aside their disobedience and serve him.

We also have all kinds of ways of trying to gain God’s favor even while we willfully choose to rebel against God. We try to do other good things to cover over or balance out our sin. But none of these things work.

What we learn from Haggai is that we need to repent of our sin and get to work serving God.

5. God helps us to serve him

This is the sequence of events in chapter one:

  • God challenged their disobedience
  • They resolved to work
  • God stirred them up, and
  • Then they worked

What comes before the work, is God doing a work in them.

Haggai 1:14 says, “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God . . ..” God acted to move them along and enabled their obedience.

It’s the same with us. God doesn’t just call us to serve, he empowers our service. That’s because none of us can serve God in our own strength. And so, we learn from Haggai that we need to receive God’s help as we serve him; we need to have God stir our spirits. We need God to stir us up!

6. God encourages us as we serve him

This is a big theme in Haggai. God is revealed as an encourager. For instance, in chapter one, as soon as the people decided to obey, the Lord encouraged them. Haggai 1:13 – “I am with you,’ declares the Lord.” God was concerned to give them hope, to know that they could do what he asked of them.

In chapter two when they were discouraged at the prospects of their work on the temple, the Lord spoke to them. Haggai 2:4-5 – “Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.” Here we have lots of words of encouragement, so that they wouldn’t give in to discouragement and stop working.

When they began to obey the Lord, he told them in Haggai 2:19 – “from this day on I will bless you.” God wanted to assure them that his hand of judgment was lifted and they would have a good harvest to provide for their needs in the coming year.

Finally, the Lord encouraged Zerubbabel with a word to him and a promise concerning the house of David. Haggai 2:23 – “I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Zerubbabel is not rejected, but will be used by God, along with his line.

It’s easy to be discouraged as we try to serve God. We have our own personal weaknesses, other people that discourage us and hard circumstances.

But we learn from Haggai that we need to receive God’s encouragement into our hearts, so that we can be strong and continue on. Whether it’s through other people, through the scriptures or straight from God, however it comes, we need to receive it.

7. God gives value to our work

This comes out clearly in the second message, when they fretted about their lack of ability to make the temple glorious with silver and gold. Their work wasn’t amounting to much. As God said, the temple is “as nothing” – Haggai 2:3.

  • But God promised to bring in silver and gold for the temple – Haggai 2:7-8.
  • And God promised great glory for what they were working on. It would be more glorious than the previous temple – Haggai 2:9.

God took what they had, which wasn’t much, and gave a value to it that it didn’t have in itself.

And in the same way, we need to trust that God will take our work and give it lasting value. Even if we can’t see it with our own eyes, or if it is off in the future.

———————-

So, the book of Haggai is a call to do God’s work. And I hope that by looking at this book you will be challenged and encouraged to do what God is calling you to do.

And I also hope that you will take to heart the lessons that we learn from Haggai about serving the Lord.

William Higgins

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