Saturday, April 18, 2009

Where is God?

A message I will give tomorrow at our church in Kyoto.

Getting dumped  //  being gossiped about //  being ignored.

In varying degrees, most of us have felt the pain of rejection, of disrespect or of being unwanted or unloved.

Whether it is this or some other form of hardship or struggle, we all face pain in many ways as we go through life.

As some have said, “If you haven’t suffered yet in some way, just wait a few more years!”

Living in a world that has been corrupted by human sin, sometimes it is hard to see the goodness and love and mercy of God through it all.

But does God have a purpose for any of these pains and sufferings?

While we can praise God when good times come, where is God when things really hurt?

Does he care?  Couldn’t he stop it?  Why would he even allow it in the first place?

These are all questions that need answers and that I would like to at least begin to address today.

I realize this topic is way too big for one message, but I hope to give you at least a starting point from which you can continue to seek God on your own in preparation for your own future struggles.

Joseph was a man who loved God, but his brothers had rejected him.

They were the ones who were ignoring him and talking behind his back.

You see, Joseph was his father’s favorite, and everyone knew it but Joseph.

Not only was Joseph a talented young man, he also loved God.

This made his brothers hate him even more.  “Goody two-shoes”, they probably called him.

One day, Joseph’s brothers had had enough of Joseph and they did an evil thing.

They put him in a pit and then sold him to a slave-trader who happened to be going to Egypt.

They told their father that wild animals had suddenly attacked and killed Joseph and all that remained was his bloody coat.

As Joseph slowly marched to a foreign country all alone, leaving everything and everyone he knew, how rejected and alone do you think he felt?

 How much pain was ripping through his heart, and what were his thoughts?

“Look at where my faith in God has gotten me, no where!  I am finished following this God.”

Is that what he said?


Though Joseph undoubtedly experienced great pain, he continued to trust God, even when he didn’t understand what God was doing.

Joseph knew deeply that God was a good and faithful God to those who love Him.

He knew not only from his own experiences, but also from the amazing stories he had heard about God’s faithfulness in the lives of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Abraham.

Their lives also had been far from easy, but God had never failed to work all their experiences for their good.

The fact is, behind the scenes, God was amazingly engineering all of this rejection and pain in Joseph’s life, for a good purpose.

But Joseph’s story is not finished.  And your story is not yet finished either.

Maybe some of you today are struggling in your view of God, and you just can’t see how God could allow what has happened to you to happen.

And maybe more than just one bad thing has happened to you.

Well, Joseph could identify with that.

You see, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the captain of the guard in Egypt.

Joseph submitted to God’s will and worked hard and faithfully for his new master.

You would think that his good deeds would show God that he had passed the test and he could now be rewarded.

But that was not the case.

Again Joseph faithfulness to God was tested, as Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph not once, but many times.

Joseph literally ran from adultery, but the spurned woman he left behind, viciously lied about Joseph and for this righteous act, Joseph was sent to jail.

For eight long years Joseph sat in a dungeon.  He probably wondered, “Am I ever going to get out?”

But he was not complaining there.

He continued to seek God and God comforted his heart again and again with the knowledge of His faithfulness and goodness in every circumstance.

Genesis 39:21 says, “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”

As many Christians have reported, God is often times nearer in times of struggle than in good times.

In our weaknesses, we depend on God more and God loves to show himself strong to the weak.

He loves to show us that his personal love and presence is more than enough to make up for any trial we could ever experience.

And God encourages us to seek Him in our struggles.

You may find that in your struggle, God’s love draws you closer than ever before.

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:  I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and revive the heart of the contrite.”  - Isaiah 57:15

Because Joseph knew God’s personal love deep in his heart, he was able to continue in faithful hard work, and the chief jailor started to take notice.

“And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge... because the LORD was with him.  And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.”  (Gen. 39:22)

Joseph also had an ability from God to be able to interpret dreams.

He had correctly interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, but when they were set free, they forgot all about helping Joseph out of prison.

Finally, when Pharaoh himself had a dream, Joseph was remembered and God allowed Joseph to be able to give a good interpretation.

He tells Pharaoh that his dreams were from God and that they mean that there would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.

Well, Pharaoh recognizes that Joseph’s wisdom is from a divine source and immediately puts Joseph in charge of everything in the kingdom.

He suddenly goes from a prisoner to the second highest official in all of Egypt!

Finally, we are beginning to see what God is up to.

Joseph orders that extra grain be stored for the seven years of plenty so that when the seven years of famine come, Egypt alone is ready.

And as the famine continues in the whole region, Joseph’s brothers hear of the reserves in Egypt and their father sends them to go buy grain in Egypt.

When Joseph’s brothers stand before him, though Joseph recognizes them, they obviously no longer recognize him.

They had no reason, of course, to suspect a top official in Egypt to be their own brother, whom they had sold into slavery.

Joseph is deeply moved when he sees his brothers, and he secretly works through his pain and finally resolves to forgive his brothers and help them in their time of need.

Now think about this - Could you forgive someone who has messed up your life for over twenty years?

How in the world was Joseph able to do that?!

Joseph was able to forgive his brothers because he saw how God had used all of it for good.

God had saved his whole family - which incidentally became the whole nation of Israel – and God did it through his own slavery.

In Genesis 50:20 Joseph tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Though evil actions had sent Joseph to Egypt, and evil actions made Joseph a slave, God is the One who planned it all, before time, for a good and holy purpose.

And God has a purpose in your life as well, to save those who believe and to use many means, even pain, to get you to see that He is the Lord, and He is enough.

What an awesome God!

Though God can never do evil, he does allow and plan for evil to come about through human and demonic wills for his good and wise and holy purposes.

And behind it all, God’s plan in every detail, will be fulfilled.

He is sovereign over all events, even the sinful human decisions like the one Joseph’s brothers made.

You see Psalm 105:17 is the God-inspired commentary on what happened there.  “...he (God) had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.”

Psalm 139:16 says, “in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

And Eph. 1:11 says, “...having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”

God has a plan that cannot fail, and even when we don’t understand it, everything that happens works for the good of those who choose to love him.  (Rom. 8:28)

And therefore we can praise God that he is good, even when all we see and feel around us is only evil and pain.

It is as if God is painting a great masterpiece on a canvas all around us and all we can see is a very small part.

The ugly blacks and browns, when considered only by themselves, don’t add any beauty, but when considered in the whole painting, they make everything just perfect.

In Isaiah 46:9-10 God says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”

“I will accomplish ALL my purpose”

 There is not one ultimate purpose of God’s that will not be accomplished because he declares it all from the beginning!

God will never be left saying, “Well, I wish I could have done better there!”

 or, “I wish there was something I could do to help Mark out of this mess.”

God already knows the best plan from the beginning and therefore declares the end from the beginning. 

How that truth should cause us to trust in, rest in, love and praise God today!

All of our sufferings – every single one- have a good purpose.

Well, then, does all this mean that God does evil or somehow sadistically enjoys it when evil is being done to me?

The apostle Paul answers this question clearly in Romans 9:14, “By no means!”

God cannot do evil because He is good and holy.  He hates evil, in and of itself.

But doing evil and allowing evil to exist for a good purpose are two very different things.

In God’s inscrutable plan, He allows evil to exist, and plans for it to accomplish his good and holy purposes.

But most of his plan we will never fully see or understand until we get to heaven.

Unlike Joseph, some of our lives do not end so well.

And that is why we need to look to Jesus, and not just to Joseph.

Jesus is our model and our focus in suffering.

Jesus, God in human flesh, was also rejected, betrayed, mocked and sold - not just into slavery, but into death.

Judas, Jesus’ good friend, whom he had lived with and talked with every day for three years, betrayed him for a measly thirty pieces of silver.

His three closest friends rejected him at the exact moment he needed them most.

One of them, Peter, even denied three times that he even knew Jesus.

But this wasn’t even the half of it.

On the cross, Jesus’ own Father would turn his back on his own dear Son.

There, all alone and painfully suffering, he would experience for the first time the rejection of his Daddy, as he took on the wrath of God for our sins.

But ONLY in this way could Jesus truly suffer and fully pay our sin debt, and only in this way could God show us the extent of his love.

The most wicked crime in all of history, the murder of Jesus, though planned through the evil wills of men and demons, unwittingly accomplished God’s sovereign plan fully.

Their purpose was to destroy Jesus.

God’s good purpose was to save all who would trust in Him through His death and resurrection.

Acts 2:23 says, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Acts 4:26-28 adds, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.  For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”

Even though He had planned it from all eternity, God the Father wept that day.

Though the plan was sure and the plan was good, the reality was that it was harder than anything that we could ever imagined.

And God knows the horror and the searing pain of what you are experiencing also because he has experienced Himself.

Any pain that you know, God has experienced it also, and even more.

If there is anyone who deserved to have a life of no pain, it was Jesus,

And yet he chose the cross because he loves you and because he wants you to know his love.

And though you may not understand everything you are going through right now, or what you have experienced in the past, God does and God knows and God hurts with you.

And God wants to use it all for your eternal good.

But God does not expect you to understand it all right now.

Joseph did not understand it all, and even Jesus, who knew the answer intellectually, in emotional agony cried, “Father, why have you forsaken Me?”

It is not just okay to be honest with God about your emotions-  God wants you to pour out your true thoughts and feelings to Him! 

Though it is not okay to accuse God of doing wrong, we need to confess our confusion, and our hurt and our anger.

We need to crawl up, as it were, into our Daddy’s lap and pour out our hearts to Him.

He is there waiting, wanting to listen you.  He is there in the broken parts of your life, just as he was for Joseph in that prison cell.

And God’s love is so strong; He can handle your deepest emotions.

Dave Busby once said, “I sincerely believe that most Christians don’t do real heart work with God.  I think we say nice things to God.  And yet there is so much pain and rage toward God in so many of our hearts that we are too terrified to admit it out loud.  We are scared to death if we express our true feelings audibly to God.  Instead we pretend we are not really hurt towards God.  And then when someone tells us to just meet with God and be close to Him, we can’t because we have all that dirt down in our hearts that we must get out first.”

Jesus wants you to find him deeply in the valleys of your life.

Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;”

And for those who trust in God with their whole lives, God promises that everything is working for your good. – Everything!

But for those who reject the Creator, while everything may go well all of your life and you die peacefully at an old age, everything will ultimately work for your destruction.

Though God has given you life and breath and all good things, He will turn to you and say, “You never acknowledged Me.”

And because God has been ignored and rejected as the fountain of all goodness, he will shut people out from his goodness forever, in hell.

But today he is saying to you, “Repent, come back to me.  Today is the day of your salvation!  I want to rescue you too, yes you!”

To those Christians who suffer year after year and continue to hope in Him, the Scriptures say, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves released from the stalls.”  (Malachi 4:2)

All the years of waiting in difficult times will be swallowed up in joy as you are released into utter joy and love forever and ever in heaven.

By the power of Christ’s resurrection, you will kick up your heels and dance for joy and rejoice forever like a calf that has been set free.

I’ll end with God’s words of promise to His people as recorded by John in Revelation:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Rev. 21:3-4)

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