Saturday, April 28, 2018

"But God..."

Calvary Chapel Vancouver Island Ladies Retreat 2018
Saturday morning teaching, April 28, Heather Wathen

Theology is like flour- full of nutrition but dry, hard to eat by itself. Bread on the other hand is delicious- it takes the mixing of flour with oil, water, yeast, salt, and sugar to make it palatable. The difficulties of the past few weeks, not to mention the countless life experiences upon which the whole heart of this teaching is derived, have served as oil to this flour, so that what I have to share would be edible. 
This message has been “baked” so to speak. 
It would have been easier to simply share with you the "recipe" that the Lord has taught me and explain how it has consistently yielded good bread, but no. He wanted me to bake a fresh loaf, to have to use the recipe for myself again, and again, and again. I won't lie. The past few weeks have been rough, but God is good. And what I have to share with you today is not dry theology, but sweet, hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread. 

"But God..."

Life is hard, but God...
Sin is strong, but God...
Insert any negative statement in the first part, and end it with But God..., and you now have the doctrine of HOPE.

Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
No matter what battle you face, tragedy you endure, or trial you experience, God is there present with you ready to turn your suffering into something beautiful, something good.

"But God..." is really a message about grace. It's about mercy. That’s why it's a message of hope.

Let's read the passage that our theme comes from. Listen for the words mercy and grace:

Ephesians 2:4-10

"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved though faith, and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Our Christian walk began with God's mercy in sending Jesus to make the way of our salvation. God's grace is how we are saved, and our faith is how His grace is accessed.

We all know and understand this as believers in Jesus. We hear the words "grace, mercy, faith," and we can start to tune out, because we already know it. 
Hold on one second. Did you know that the same way that we began our spiritual walk is exactly the way we are to live it every single day? No, you don't have to get "re-saved" every morning, but that HOPE I was talking about a second ago is inseparably linked to the gospel message. It's not just the gospel of salvation from sin, but the gospel of our mundane, stressful, painful, tragic, ordinary every day life. 

It's the Gospel for when I feel fat and ugly. The Gospel for when my husband has cancer. For when my kids are prodigals. For when my health is failing. It's the Gospel for when we are in overwhelming debt. For when our family relationships are strained. It's the Gospel for when I am at odds with a dear friend or in conflict with someone at work. It's the Gospel for when I fear the future. It's the Gospel for when I can't stop committing a particular sin. 
Name a problem: the Gospel answers it.  It is the "But God..." of Ephesians 2:4. 
The gospel of God's mercy and grace is the answer to every trouble. 

The Big Question, of course, is “How?” I'ts easy to say, “oh, the Gospel is the answer to every problem,” but what does that mean? How does the Gospel of mercy and grace answer every single problem from a pimple to a tragic loss?

As Christians, we get it that we were saved by grace, but THAT was “easy”- we saw we were sinners in need of a Saviour, believed on Jesus, and received salvation. Simple. However, this trial I’m facing, well…  that’s another thing altogether. You can’t just say a little prayer and Ta-da! all is well. No, this trial, this battle, is so much harder than simply “getting saved”. The answer to it must be harder as well.

Sisters, hear me out. I’m no hellfire preacher, but we too easily forget or simply don't realize that the greatest trial we will ever face is eternal, deserved, damnation. Lets read the verses that preceded our text today in Ephesians 2:1-3:
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,
among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others."

We were dead! We followed demons! We lived only for our lusts. We deserved wrath.
We may not have realized what dire straights we were in at the time, but that is what we were saved from. It was the BIGGEST "But God..." of all time.
 If you have ever read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” a classic, terrifying Puritanical sermon about the true spiritual condition of a person before salvation, you can get a glimpse of what I’m talking about. It describes a person on the sloping edge of a wet, slippery, precipice hanging over eternal doom, held up by the merest thread that is ever weakening and will eventually snap, sending the doomed sinner reeling downward into eternal torment. Only the awesome and incredible power of God’s mercy and grace, as demonstrated though the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, could save any of us from certain, eternal damnation. And He did. The power of the Gospel is unfathomably huge. 
Well... cannot that same power that saved us then can save us every day from all those lesser trials we face?

The answer is Yes of course, but How?

Jeremiah might be able to speak something to that in Lamentations 3:1-23. Have you ever felt like this?

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me time and time again throughout the day.
He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago.
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.
He has been to me a bear lying in wait, like a lion in ambush.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces; He has made me desolate.
He has bent His bow and set me up as a target for the arrow.
He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my loins.
I have become the ridicule of all my people- their taunting song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood.
He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes.
You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.
And I said, "My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD."
Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers and sinks within me.
(*Here is the "But God...") This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Jeremiah goes through this long list of horrors he is facing in the aftermath of God's chastening on disobedient Israel and how he is terribly distressed, but then just as his soul is "sinking within him" under the weight of the troubles, he remembers something! And that something gives him HOPE.

My experiences are a far cry from the aftermath of war, but perhaps you might relate to my list of woes:
I wake up in the morning with my mind and heart already totally clouded by multiple anxieties. There's always so much to do, I could never get it all done- I see the endless list of "TO DO's" in my mind's eye and get depressed. There are relational conflicts, concerns over children, family members, friends, church members. Phone calls to be made. Emails and texts to answer. There are health concerns. Appointments to be made. Appointments to get to. Financial worries. Forms to fill out. Items to file, both paper and digital. Piles to sort. Cabinets to organize. Add normal daily stresses, like management of kids, chores, and meal prep, and before I even set foot out of bed, my mind has run away with any semblance of inner peace. I face the day already defeated. That doesn't usually go well on school mornings. Too many car rides to school include me lecturing one or more of my equally stressed out kids or crying quietly in the drivers seat. Hysterical ranting also rarely adds charm to my marriage relationship.

But if I, like Jeremiah, remember one thing, I can find HOPE in the midst of the crazy: "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope: through the Lord's mercies [the Gospel!] we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!"

We don't get re-saved every day, but the Gospel is new and fresh every day to rescue us! I don't know about you, but I fail on a daily basis. I lose my temper, think and act selfishly, lust, and worry. I let the cares of the world sit squarely on my shoulders, and then wonder why I'm so bogged down with sin, anxiety, and discouragement. I need the Gospel every day

[Now I’ve been throwing around this term: "the gospel"- What is a gospel, anyways? It's a herald, a proclamation of GOOD NEWS- beneficial information you want to know.
What is mercy? It's God's hand of righteous judgment withheld from carrying out our deserved punishment.
What is grace? It's God's undeserved favour and blessing in our life AND it's His power to overcome sin and self. More on that later.]

So, how DOES the Gospel answer every problem?

Well, to break it down, there are basically TWO KINDS of trials that we face, two kinds of burdens that bog us down, and prevent us from experiencing a free, full, and fruitful Christian life:

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

Did you catch what the burdens were? Sins and Weights
Sin is rather self explanatory. It’s those areas in our lives that we regularly fail in. Those temptations that we stumble into, or struggle through. 
But a weight is something that holds you back, prevents you from exercising your full strength or speed. These are the cares of the world- the thorns of the Parable of the Sower. They are our anxieties, our fears, those things that consume our thoughts and eat away at our sense of peace. 

The Gospel answers both of these trials, these burdens, with what we’ve been talking about all along: mercy and grace. Mercy answers sin and grace is the answer to the weights.

Jeremiah knew the Israelites deserved judgment, to be consumed by God's wrath for their sins, but God showed mercy instead: "Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed."  When we fail, when we sin, when we lose our way, God is right there with us, ready to restore us to Himself. People, even Christians, often picture God like Zeus with a thunderbolt ready to strike sinners in his wrath, but Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is full of compassion. He is ready to extend mercy, to cleanse our hearts from our sin, and to bring us back into relationship with Him.  It says in Lamentations that His mercies are new every morning, but I would say they are new every moment. His mercy for us is as close as our next breath. 

What about the weights? The long list of cares that consume us on a daily basis? The trials? Anxieties and fears? How does Grace answer those things? To answer that we need to go back to Hebrews. 

Turn with me to Hebrews 4:15-16
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

When we need help, when we need grace, when our worries and troubles pile up over our heads....
There is a Place we can go: The Throne of Grace. There is a Person waiting there: Our High Priest- Jesus. And there is a Way that we go there: Boldly. 

The word boldly is actually better understood as "brazenly." As in, "uber confidently", perhaps even "scandalously unashamed". Regardless of what you've done, or how guilty you feel, come brazenly to the throne of grace. Can you imagine coming before the Queen of England without an invitation? Sneaking into Buckingham palace? You'd be hauled away as some crazy person or worse. In the past, you might have had your head removed for such insolence as to simply stroll up to a monarch when your presence wasn't requested. Remember Esther? She fasted three days and then resigned herself to the possibility of execution- "If I perish, I perish" -before walking into her husband's throne room uninvited! 
Yet we are welcomed, even requested, before God's throne, also called the "Mercy Seat". Yahweh's heavenly throne is the spiritual reality behind the "Mercy Seat" of the earthly Ark of the Covenant. It was kept in the Holy of Holies in the temple, only accessible once a year by the High Priest and the blood of a sacrifice. Yet, at the cross the thick wall of separation between sinners and God was torn from top to bottom, giving us entrance to His Throne of Grace.

Hebrews 10:19-22, "Therefore brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…”

"Full assurance of faith" means having complete confidence in our right to be there in the holy place because of Jesus' blood. And we can ask God for His grace, His mercy, in that same brazen assurance that we will receive what we ask for. In 1 John 5:14-15, John instructs us to pray with utter confidence in the answer when we know we are asking for something God has promised. And here, in Hebrews, God promises us grace.  We can ask for that grace with 100% assurance that He will give it to us. No fail.

Now, before you ask me about that time you went to God and He didn't answer your prayer, please, remember with me what Grace is. It is God's unmerited favour, His blessing, AS WELL AS His power and strength. Grace has two aspects: blessing and power. Blessing is when God answers our prayer just as we requested Him to. He heals our sickness, provides the thing we need or want, or fulfills that deep longing we have. God often answers our prayers this way. He loves to bless us. We are His children, and like a loving parent, delights to give us what we desire and need.
But have you noticed that God doesn't heal every illness, fix all financial problems, or give His children everything they ask for? Furthermore, He doesn't protect us from all the effects and reaches of sin, either. People will still hurt us. The earth is sometimes a dangerous place- just look to those persecuted Christians killed in other countries around the world and those Christians closer to home who died in tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, floods, and mudslides just this past year!
We have to remember that when we come to God for help, for grace, that help will be exactly what is needed, but not always what is wanted. Grace may also come in the form of the power and strength to endure, rather than just the means to escape the hardship.
Only heaven is heaven, and God has not promised us health, wealth, or happiness in this life, but He has promised us three things:
1. He will be with us in our troubles
2. He will give us the grace/help we need in the midst of our troubles
3. He will use our troubles for our good

Those are the promises He has made us, and that is what we can boldly ask for when we come to Him for help. He does sometimes fix our problems for us, but He also sometimes gives us the power we need to endure our problems instead.

So, back to our theme. "But God..." is simply the Gospel message that we have always known. His mercy is the answer to all of our sins, and His grace is the answer to all of our anxieties. The way we receive it is the same way we always have, from the moment of salvation to today: by asking in simple, brazen faith. The gospel never changed. We just forgot it in thinking we already knew it.

In summary, “But God..." means that every trial, every temptation, every burden, every sin, every anxiety has an answer in Christ. Nothing exists outside the power of His mercy and grace. He promises to use every bad thing that happens to us in our lives for our good, if we will simply trust Him to do so. And as to the big ol' question: “How?” We ask. We ask in brazen confidence in what He has promised. 

That's why “But God…” really is a message of HOPE. Because of what Jesus did, we not only have access to eternal life someday, but we have access to abundant life right now, free from the sin that trips us up and free from the weights that hold us back. We CAN run unhindered because of His mercy and grace available every moment; His Throne of Grace is open 24/7. 
Are you anxious about something? Do you desire victory over a certain sin? Let’s together, right now, go boldly... brazenly before the Throne of Grace, God's Mercy Seat, and ask for His grace, His mercy, and His help in the countless areas of needs represented here.  

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) That's a promise. Let's lay those burdens down at His feet.

God... Yahweh, You are our answer, whatever our question. You are our solution, whatever our problem. We come together, Your children, Your daughters, before Your throne right now and lay down our burdens, great and small, at Your feet.  You care about our wrinkles and pimples. You care about our loved ones. You care about our finances, our health, our problems. You care about what we care about. You know our sins, our weaknesses, our failings. You know, and You still love us, accept us, and want us. We bring it all before You right now and lay our souls bare... naked before You. Take our burdens and relieve us of their weight. They are too heavy for us. We want that abundant life- to run freely, unhindered. We give you thanks for Your mercy, for your grace, and receive it by faith. Thank You! Nothing is too hard for You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.