Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - “In the Midst of the Ashes”

Over the past couple of months, my family and I have faced one tremendous hardship after another. Just as the pharaoh of Egypt in Genesis 41 had the dream of seven fat, healthy cows and the scrawny, thin cows, we saw 2018 as a season of famine. Things that we had taken as gifts from God, we arrogantly saw as entitlements. We went through the season of feast with no real thanks for His blessings and, in some cases, continued to ask for more blessings. We were no longer good stewards of what He had given to us. Over time, just like pharaoh's dream, the scrawny, thin cows came out and ate the seven fat, healthy cows. We, like pharaoh, began to wonder why this was happening to us. Instead of praying for guidance and wisdom during this time, we questioned God and His taking away of His blessings. We began to wonder even if He was listening to us. We soon learned that He was and was working to teach us something very important about what we were doing in our lives.

God does want to give us the desires of our hearts and to provide only good things to us; however, we, as His children, cannot take Him and His blessings for granted and just blatantly expect Him to give us more and more. Like Job in chapter two, we must realize that God can easily allow things to be taken away from us to either teach us lessons or to show our true character by exposing our true thoughts. Let us look at Job’s response to his wife when she tells him to just “curse God and die.” “10 But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.

As I considered my predicament, I, too, found myself sitting in the midst of my ashes. My health had been taken away. Because of my illness, my family and I have had to deal with financial hardship. Like Job, I soon found myself doctoring my own affliction and thinking why God had allowed all of this to occur. I began to wonder if I had sinned and was being punished for my action. I began to search my heart and soul for answers and quickly discovered that I had sinned in the most casual of ways. I had let my arrogance and human desire for advancement and greed to become the master of my life. Just the blessing of having another day to serve the Lord and His children soon became just another day and some chore that I was expected to do. I was not even thankful for His abundant gifts. I accepted them and demanded even more.

Have you found yourself doing the same things of accepting God’s blessings without being truly thankful for them and demanding more from the Lord? As I endured more and more heartache and setbacks in my health and more financial problems due to my illness, I felt that God had abandoned me and that He was going out of His way to make me suffer. I questioned His will for my life and, like Job, demanded an answer from Him. Instead of asking for wisdom to discern His will in my life, I wanted a quick and easy answer to my problems and wanted to return to a happy “business as usual” way of life. Let us look at Job 20. “20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you? 21 Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone.

When we are facing an overwhelming situation as Christians, we can either feel that God is angry with us and just ask to be forgiven in hopes of just restoring us back to our old lifestyle or we can look inside to see if there is deeper meaning to what we are going through. In my life, I began to see that God was not angry with me and that He continued to love me. When I began to search my soul, I realized a couple of things. The first was that God provides all things and they are His to give and take away without an explanation. Once again, I return to Job. Let us look at chapter 1 and see Job’s response when he finds out that all of his children had been killed in a horrible storm. “20 Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. 21 He said, ‘I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!’ 22 In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

I, like most people, would blame God for my horrible troubles and trials and could not find it within my heart to praise Him. It is not a natural thing for people to do. It would be easier and more “human” to blame God. Job saw things from God’s perspective. All things, prosperity and even family and friends come from the Lord. We do not have anything without Him. God is the provider of all things and we are just His humble servants and children. All things are His to give and to take away. When I read that passage, I began to realize that all that I had I had taken for granted and just expected them to be there. I expected health, wealth and everything else just to be there for me and that included my family. As I pondered this, I soon realized that I had truly been sinful in my arrogance in believing that I was entitled to His blessings and was guilty of taking them for granted. I further realized that each blessing was special and that each was truly a good gift from Him. Let us look at what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount about God’s gifts in Matthew 7:11. “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” The operative word is “ask”. We cannot just expect Him to deliver blessings and good gifts to us like a broken slot machine in a Las Vegas casino or make demands of Him like a spoiled-rotten child who screams, “I hate you” the minute we do not get what we desired.

There were countless numbers of times while I sat in my living room recliner when I demanded that God provide a miracle to heal me. I demanded that He take this cup away from from me and did not care about His will in my life. When it did not happen, I, just like a spoiled-rotten child threw a tantrum and demanded answers. I metaphorically stomped my feet and demanded that He tell me why He wasn’t providing “MY” miracle. I quickly reminded Him of His own words in Jeremiah about having plans only to prosper me and not to harm me. Once again, I acted like a child.

The other thing that I realized is that all things work for good in God’s kingdom. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” It was at this point I realized my second mistake. God causes all things to work together for good even when He withholds or takes away His blessings. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow and a very difficult lesson to learn. Even as my family and I continue to deal with my illness and its financial consequences, I realize that even this is working in accordance with His purpose in our lives. Like good parents who explain their reason for punishing a child, God is telling me the same thing, “I am doing this for your own good.” As a child, I did not understand this and wanted only the good things, but I finally put away my childish thoughts and began to see things from God’s righteous viewpoint. When I began to do so, I realized that, once again, He is teaching me a lesson and reminding me of His place in my life. Like Job said, I realized that everything is His and His alone to give or take and I realized exactly what Paul was saying about everything working for the good of those who love God and are called by Him for His purpose. By removing His blessings for good health, He was reminding me of how I arrogantly expected His blessings and how I took them for granted. I also realized that by Him taking away those blessings that He was doing it for my own good to teach me that I cannot just take Him or His blessings for granted. As Job points out, we must accept the good with the bad. As we experience the bad, we must not look to blame God but rather look at ourselves to see if we are being arrogant, greedy or gluttonous when it comes to God’s blessings.

Are you just expecting God to just continue to provide His blessings and demanding more and more even when He has met your daily needs? Are you acting as a good steward of what you have received or just expecting God to continue to give you more and more as you continue to fritter away what He has provided? Are you blaming God for His withholding of His blessings or miracles in your life when you have not even thanked Him for the simple ones that He has given you like seeing the beginning of new day or seeing the conclusion of that day? When I began to realize that I hadn’t even thanked Him for the simple blessings of meeting our basic needs of food, shelter and clothing or the gift of life, I felt ashamed. Like Job, all I could do was cover my mouth. I had nothing to say or demand.

If you are feeling that God is withholding His blessings or taking things away from you, stop and think about what you are doing in your life. Are you praising Him for what you are receiving? Are you truly thankful for each day, breath and heartbeat? My suggestion to you is to praise and thank Him daily for what you have and always to remember that all things work for the good for those who love the Lord. Once you do that, you can rest assured that you can stand firm in His grace.

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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