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The Revelation of God in Human Life: When God Intervenes

November 11, 2012
Sermon:  The Revelation of God in Human Life: When God Intervenes  
Text:  Acts 12:5-7; Exodus 14:11-15; Numbers 13:26-33; II Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1, 6 

 

Our Scripture passage this morning comes from Acts 12:5-7.  Please follow along in your Bible as I read.

Hear now the Word of God.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.  He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.  “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

I stayed up late Tuesday night like many of you, watching the presidential election results, but went to bed before hearing either speech.  When I woke up the following morning, I started receiving text messages and e-mails.  The word Disheartened was on the subject line of the very first e-mail I got.  I do not know how the election struck you, but many people, especially here in South Carolina, were shocked and discouraged by the results.  The stock market plunged.  We sense great fear in our culture.  Has the election caused you to be fearful, angry, or depressed?  Have you thought of moving to Greenland or Australia?  Have you decided that you simply have no hope for your future or the future of your children?  If so, the problem is not political.  The problem is faith.

All political platforms are utopian, pie in the sky, be they communist, socialist, fascist, the platform a monarch, or even a democratic or republican platform.  All candidates make promises to deliver us from hardship and give us the life we are seeking.  They all claim to be the true light, the city set on a hill, which will provide peace and security.  Their propaganda basically says that without them we are doomed.

When we are fearful, enraged, or disheartened about politics, it means that we have invested in something other than the one true God.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is idolatry.  Putting faith in something other than the Almighty, putting faith in something other than the One who is sovereign over the entire world, is idolatry.

Many good Christians take part in politics, representing both sides of the aisle.  Even those good Christians can disagree.  That is how this country operates.  Those of us who are Christians must remember, though, that we have a higher allegiance.  Perhaps you remember that the early Christians were led to believe at first that the Roman Empire would grant to them peace, grace, justice, and protection.  The Romans even used the word salvation to describe what they could offer to citizens under their rule.

The gospel gives a different perspective.

Do you remember the conversation between Jesus and Pilate when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”?  This entire line of thought goes back to the Old Testament where the prophets continually pointed out that it was not this king or that king who had the people in his hand.  It was not some savvy political alliance or some astute decision maker. It was God, the sovereign God of Israel.  It was God and God alone.

We may engrave on our coins the words “In God We Trust.”  What matters most is that we engrave the words “In God We Trust” on our hearts.  Too many of my friends have become so focused on the outcome of the election that they have no joy now.  They are full of dread, worry, and fear.  They have lost their sense of humor.

God is sovereign.  Those of us who are Christians must set our sights on Him.  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus.”  Do you know the words of that hymn?  Our hope lies in God.  We also sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand.”

I see this same fear at work in this church, and so this sermon.

I want to tell you two stories.  The first story is about an ancient people while the second story is about contemporary people.

I want you to turn with me to the book of Exodus, Chapter 14.  Here we see the people of Israel being pursued.  Ahead of them was the Red Sea.  Behind them was the powerful army of the Egyptians.  The Israelites cried out to Moses in Verse 1.  Then we see an exchange between Moses and God, with God providing direction.

 “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us into the desert to die?  What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance of the LORD.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move forward.”

We have an instant replay perspective here.  Remember that God had not yet parted the sea.  “Move forward,” God directed.  The people started moving.  Can you imagine taking those first steps toward the water?  Then God said to Moses, “Raise your staff.  Lift your hand.”  God parted the sea, allowing the people to cross on dry land.  Before the sea ever parted, they had to move forward.  It is true that God can certainly make a way where there seems to be no way. God protected His people by destroying the Egyptians.

In Numbers 13 the Israelites have arrived at a place called Kadesh-Barnea, located on the border of the Promised Land.  Moses made a decision to send twelve spies, one from each tribe, into the land to explore it and return with a report.  We pick up in Verse 26:

They reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.  They gave Moses this account:  “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!  Here is its fruit.  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.  We even saw the descendents of Anak there.  The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, the Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Caleb and Joshua were a minority of two.  The majority of ten declared, “No way.  We cannot do it.”

Verses 31-33:

“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”   And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored.  They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw there are of great size.  We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from Nephilim).  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

These people not only had doubts about their own ability, but now they also had doubts about God.  They were overwhelmed by the power of the culture.  Moses accepted the majority report.  The result was that the people of Israel wandered aimlessly in the wilderness for forty years because they lacked faith.  Disobedience to God is costly.

After all that wandering they came to the threshold, the Jordan River.  Moses knew that because of his own disobedience, he would not go into the land of promise.  The mantle has fallen on Joshua.  Moses, giving his last thoughts to these people, offered words of encouragement, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  It is a verse worth remembering.

Consider Peter at the time of his imprisonment.  He was chained between two Roman soldiers.  More soldiers were standing guard at the prison and outside at the iron gate.  What did Peter need in this moment?   Did he need someone to go his bail?  Did he need a lawyer?  No.  Please note that the church was praying.  That is a very important point.  Scripture says that deliverance came because the church offered constant prayer to God.  Even though Peter was in an impossible situation, one he could not figure out himself, God was at work.  God came and set him free, intervening in the form of an angel.  The chains were broken, and Peter and the angel passed by the sleeping soldiers, those at the gate, and those at the iron gate.

I want to share a second story with you, a story involving a group of people who are more contemporary than the people of Israel.  It is the story of Morningside.  I, of course, do not know the entire story, but I do know what has happened here during the last sixteen years.  Morningside was started after a revival at the corner of Converse and Caulder avenues.  A tent had been pitched there, and a revival scheduled to last a few days continued for almost a month.  Southside Baptist Church decided that location would be a good place to establish a mission, which they called Morningside because the location was on the east side of town.  The small congregation worshipped in a military chapel, which was moved from the old Camp Croft to that corner.  When Fred Dabney came as pastor, the congregation grew by leaps and bounds.  They were able to build a new building, and the church thrived.

When I came to Morningside, a number of the charter members talked with me about a period in the church history that was very difficult.  Those members said that Morningside became caught up in what was called white flight, making the decision to leave the neighborhood where they were located and move to this property.  They felt the need to escape a neighborhood in transition.  Those same members told me that they felt as if God had removed His blessing from the church.  A chairman of the deacons told me that times were really hard for Morningside.  He came by the church several Friday afternoons and told the staff, “We cannot pay you this week.  We have to wait until after the offering is received Sunday.”  The church came through that period.  Then Mike McGee brought stability to the church, leading it to develop a real heart for missions.

When I was called to this church, not one single aspect needed to be fixed.  I remember that on January 1, 1996, New Year’s Day, Clare and I came to the church and sat on the back pew in this Sanctuary together, just the two of us.  We prayed about whether God was calling me to come to Morningside.  I will never forget Clare’s comment:  “Kirk, this church is a sleeping giant.”  She was right.  Morningside was one of the best kept secrets in Spartanburg.  Not many people knew how good this church really was.  Once they found out, many people wanted to come here.

After my first Sunday here, Tom Grier, who owned the Reidman Building, along with Randy Brown, talked with me.  Tom said, “You are going to need our building.”  Tom Grier and Randy Brown had in mind that Morningside would set up the Grier/Brown retirement program.  Members who were astute in business matters led us in this matter, and eventually we came to the decision that we could purchase that building at a cost of $500,000.  It was a big step for the church, but we paid it off in six months.

In the meantime, we refurbished the buildings here at Morningside and paid off a debt of $135,000.  Could I coordinate that?  No.  I had a very little part with that accomplishment.  God was at work in this place.  When we refurbished the buildings, we took on a line of credit of $100,000 but never needed to touch it because God provided the resources we needed.

The time came when we knew that we needed a new building.  Our fellowship hall was inadequate, and our educational space was limited.  We started making plans to build what is now our fellowship/educational building at a cost of $3.2 million dollars.  We waited until we had $1,000,000 on hand.  We borrowed almost 2,000,000, but not quite.  We paid off that debt in just three years.  How?  God made a way for this church to do what He had asked us to do.

In time, Caine Halter informed me that he wanted to sell the Caine building, also on property adjacent to Morningside.  The church struggled with that decision, but we knew it is not a good idea to pass up available property adjacent to the church.  Some of our very fine lay people got their heads together and determined that we could purchase the property, but finances would be tight.  The church made a commitment to purchase the property.

A month or so later a member asked me to go to supper with him.  He invited Clare, as well as Ed and Betty Zimmerman.  While together at supper, he stated, “I would like to give the Caine building to the church.”  The church had moved forward first.  Then God provided the money to pay for that building, which cost $650,000.

No.  This is not something taught in seminary.  It is not something I can coordinate.  It is not something we can do in our own strength.  We must rely on what God can do.

We usually end the year with a surplus because you are so generous in your giving.  We came to one year when the surplus was not very large.  People expressed some concerns about cash-flow going into the next year.

Soon after the first of the year, I conducted a funeral for a woman.  Three or so days later, her daughter walked into the office and handed me a check made out to the church in the amount of $100,000.  She said, “My mother told me that the first check I was to write after she died was for Morningside.”  The cash-flow problem was solved.

I had no way of knowing that money would be available.  None of us had any way of knowing.  God had orchestrated that blessing.

What is God going to do next?  I do not know.  I do know that we must be people of prayer, earnest prayer.  I know that we must pay attention to God and trust Him.  I know that we must respond to God when He invites us to participate with Him in ministry.  I know that if we have the faith to move forward, even when we cannot see the way, God will make a way.  I know God’s promises are sure.  Moses offered these words, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you.  He will never leave you and He will never forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

You ask, “Pastor, how do you know this?”

I do not know it by human reasoning.  I only know it by faith.  I know that faith honors God, and God honors faith.

I want to give you three passages of Scripture to look up and turn into prayers.

–          II Corinthians 5:7:  “We live by faith and not by sight.”

–          Hebrews 11:1:  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

–          Hebrews 11:6:  “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Some years ago I recognized that we needed a way to say who we really are as a church.  I came up with a simple benediction:  We are a family of faith, living in hope, serving in the joy, and bonded in love.  I ask you, please, to live with those precepts in mind.

Do you know Christ Jesus as your Savior?  Have you put your faith in him and him alone?  Have you acknowledged him as the Lord of your life?  If not, could I invite you to make that decision?  I ask you to heed the promptings of God.  If you put your faith anywhere else, it is idolatry.

Kirk H. Neely
© November 2012
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