In The Meantime - Week Four
God is good. And this book for faithful people living in the meantime is "rolling up on us."
There. I used an urban reference to establish my street credentials. Don't hate the player, hate the game.
This particular sermon deals with some fairly serious issues for those of us who really want to believe in God. One of the biggest obstacles that people claim keeps them from believing in and/or being in a relationship with God is their belief that God really isn't good.
Here's a question for most of us...
"Have you ever wondered if God's plans were really on target?"
Or maybe you thought that your plans were better...
What happens when you can't find a good reason for something that just happened to you or in the world around you?
Maybe you would like some answers as to why good suffer while bad people seem to thrive?
Habakkuk kind of wondered these things, too. In fact, he let God have it when he thought that God needed reminding about the things that God loved, valued and lifted up. Habakkuk wanted God to bring revival to the Hebrew people, and set things to right.
God responded by telling Habakkuk that he was raising up the Babylonians to come "instruct" and "destruct" the people of Israel. This was not good news.
The Babylonians were pretty rotten people.
So Habakkuk finds himself in a lose lose situation. He was at the end of his rope, and didn't have a lot of options, and God seemed to be indicating that his options had just shrunk. It's like God was saying, "I hear you Habakkuk. Things are bad. I'll give you a choice. Choose destruction by the Babylonians or destruction by the Babylonians."
You ever feel like God took your options away? Like failure was the only option?
Here's a parable of sorts. It seems that there was this guy who enjoyed hang gliding, you know the kind where dudes jump right off a cliff strapped to a kite. So this guy had jumped off the side of a cliff a dozen times without an incident, but on this one day he jumped off with his hang glide strapped on and the thing just fell apart. By some miracle he managed to grab a branch as he tumbled off the side of the cliff. He was hanging there listening to the branch begin to creak, and he began to scream and shout, "God if you're there, save me!" Suddenly there was a voice from the sky, "My son, I'm here and I hear you. You must trust me, though. Let go of the branch." The man paused. "Is there anybody else up there?"
Hey man, I've been there hanging on that branch feeling like it's the end of the world.
Here's what I want to make clear in this sermon: "When all else fails, you're right where God wants you."
Read Habakkuk 1:12-12; 2:1.
There's a pattern here with Habakkuk. First he complains to God. God responds. Habakkuk doesn't like the response, so he complains some more. Habakkuk had plans. God's plans were different. It's like that old saying, "Make God laugh, tell him your plans."
Habakkuk wants a second opinion. It's like he's asking if there's anybody else up there. I don't blame him for struggling with God over what seem to be God's plans for his people. He wonders why God would allow a bunch of rotten people to triumph over the people of God. He agrees with God that the Babylonians are godless, awful, arrogant, merciless, power-hungry and evil.
God basically says to him, "What do you expect from a pig, but a grunt. But from my people... I expected a lot more."
I found this quote the other day, "The greater the light the greater the responsibility." Habakkuk was faced with the reality that the people of God weren't judged by the same criteria as the Babylonians. God had a higher standard, because these were his people. Everything that God does to, among, with and through his people moves them closer to complete redemption.
That's the plan.
Still, it seems like God is moving in the opposite direction of redemption. He's taking away the options, leaving them with failure and failure alone.
When this happens to us we often find ourselves barely holding on to a fragile faith, wondering if everything we thought we knew about God isn't true. That's why we need Romans 11:33-36.
3 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[a] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”[b]
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”[c]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Brothers and sisters THAT will preach.
All Habakkuk had was God's promise that the Babylonians were not the last word. There was no other option but to let go of the branch and trust.
How do we do that? How do we learn to trust God's plans are perfect?
I think it starts with Breathing and Being Still. When we stop talking and listen, we tend to hear what we couldn't hear over the sound of our own voice. And when we are still we begin to understand that God is God and we are not.
I also think we need to put our feet on sound footing. For me the sound footing I need is the knowledge that God has shown up in the past, and handled it. Scripture may be the lamp that guides my feet, but my experiences of God's goodness are the signposts that remind me where I am and where I am going.
So when we have that sound footing we need to stand on it. This isn't rocket science. Standing requires some action, and a little bit of courage.
And if none of this seems to be working... we need to just let go and commit it all to God. God seems to prefer brokenness, frailty and incomplete-ness. He loves it when we finally say, "I can't..." so he can say "I can."
Several years ago my wife and I found ourselves in a hang gliding accident. We believed God was calling us to move to Chicago so I could attend seminary. We made all the arrangements for registration for me, and for my wife to transfer her job from Florida to Chicago. It was a huge step of faith.
Then we couldn't sell our house. Or my car. Or any of the other things we couldn't take with us. And we didn't have a place to live in Chi-town.
I was clinging to that branch like a beast. And it was creaking. Everything inside of me was telling me to call it off. But Merideth and decided to let go.
One month before we were scheduled to move we received a call from a couple who had looked at our house three months prior, but had expressed no interest. They wanted to come see it again. They made us an offer, but made it contingent upon the fact that we would close by the end of the month. I still had to sell my car, though. And a washer, a dryer, bedroom set, entertainment center, lawnmower and a bunch of other stuff. And we didn't have a place to live in Chi-town.
Merideth decided that we needed to get my son enrolled in school in Chicago, and found a small Montessori-style school downtown. As she searched for an apartment she tried to find one close to the school. There was in fact an apartment available that had the same address as the school. The reason it had the same address as the school was because it was in the same building.
Our deposit arrived in the mail ahead of the deposit of another family who wanted the apartment. We got it.
One week before we were supposed to move I still had not sold my car, my washer, dryer, bedroom set, entertainment center... you get the picture. We'd been advertising everything in the newspaper, and we decided to have a yard sale to get rid of the rest of the stuff.
Someone showed up and bought my washer and dryer. Someone else showed up and bought my lawnmower. Entertainment center and bedroom set? Yup. Sold.
A guy showed up in the middle of it all and asked me if I was selling a Toyota Camry. I told him I was. He test drove it, and gave me a deposit. The rest of the money arrived later in the week. In the meantime, I literally drove my car for the rest of the week, parked it at my friends house on my way out of town and gave him the keys to give to the new buyer.
The money we made from selling our stuff paid for a cross country move from Tallahassee, FL to Chicago.
The options were gone. Failure was inevitable. And I let go. I will never forget this as long as I live.
When all else fails, you are right where God wants you.