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Sermon Alan Frauenstien 26012020

 

Where in the World Was Your God?

St. James Church of England in Kenilworth, Cape Town is where Sue and I used to worship when we lived in Cape Town. It is comparatively speaking quite a large church, so on Sunday night 25 July 1993, a windy stormy night, there were still around 1200 people in church when a storm of a very different sort was unleashed on the church. About halfway through the service, when 2 young teenagers were singing a duet together, two terrorists burst through the doors and opened fire with fully automatic rifles spraying the congregation with live rounds. When they were fitting a second magazine to continue firing, a person in the congregation who was armed returned fire wounding one terrorist which caused them to retreat and run out and escape into the night. As you can imagine, the damage and chaos they had caused were unbelievable, eleven people lost their lives that night and more than fifty-five were wounded. Here in this place of God where Christians were worshipping and praising God – absolute carnage, pain, suffering and great bereavement was created.

Of course, the incident made huge impact in South Africa and internationally and filled the news for days afterwards. I will never forget a question one journalist asked in the media:

“Where in the World Was Your God?”

This was a recurring theme in the media – where in the world was your God? Why did He allow this to happen to His church?

There are other instances where we cannot understand where in the world God is when tragedy strikes, why does God allow His children to go through tragedy, pain and suffering.

Many of you will remember Austin Hemmings, he and his wife Jenny and their three children worshipped here for many years in the 1990s. Austin was an elder and worship leader until they moved to Devonport in 2008. Austin took up a new job in the city and on 25 September 2008 on his way home from work he went to the aid of a woman he did not know who was being assaulted by an estranged partner. That man stabbed Austin in the chest and a few minutes later Austin died in a pool of blood on a dirty Auckland city pavement.

His murder robbed Jenny of a loving husband and their family lost the love and support of a father in their formative years.

Many of you will also remember Grant Van Kampen. A man of God, he worked as a missionary before becoming Youth Pastor here at Fairfield Baptist Church. One afternoon in September 2008 while working on the wharf at Port Waikato the ladder he was strapped to slipped and both fell into the water. The ladder dragged him under, and he drowned, leaving his young wife Carolyn, a widow, and their two young sons, fatherless and too young to fully comprehend their loss.

When these sorts of tragedies happen, we can’t help but ask how we make sense of this.  How do we explain this from a biblical point of view? I want to use these examples as a backdrop to try and understand such questions better.

Before we do though, I want to say that I am very sensitive to the pain and suffering that we all go through, some more so than others. So, through it all, it is not my intention to trivialise anyone’s pain, loss or suffering. My heart goes out in tender love to all those who undergo severe suffering.

I am also convinced that the heart of the Lord is drawn to those who hold fast to their faith in times of desperate despair.

Our Texts: James 4: 13 to 17

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

1 Peter 1: 3 to 9

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

  1. Questions in a Fallen World

When God created this world, it was a perfect world. Genesis tells us that on the 6th-day creation was complete, and it was very good! A perfect world!

But since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, we have lived in a fallen world. The fall, as it is known, Adam and Eve’s disobedience allowed sin into the world and now we live in this world under a curse. The world has fallen into sin, it is now spiritually flawed and morally corrupt.

The world in which we now live falls far short of God’s standard of perfection, and as such, it is alienated from God.

As Christians, we are caught up in all the tragedy of this fallen world. We are not exempt from the bad things that happen, wars, famines, natural disasters, diseases, heart attacks, road accidents, robbery, rape, murder.

We can try to minimise the risk, reduce the danger, but ultimately, there is no place in the world that is safe. This world is out of control and there is nowhere to hide. We cannot control what happens to us in this fallen world! Even as Christian believers – we are not exempt.

On the contrary, Jesus told his disciples to anticipate suffering:

John 16: 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble.”

Paul reaffirms this in his letter to the Philippians in chapter 1:

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.”

As Christians, we have a double whammy:

  1. Pain and suffering as inhabitants of a fallen world, and
  2. Pain and suffering on behalf of Jesus our Lord.

So, a question arises, if pain and suffering are inevitable, how do we respond?

But there is another dimension to the question.

You see the human spirit is capable of withstanding all sorts of pain and suffering, even the prospect of death if the circumstances make sense.

Get that – if the circumstances make sense!

Many martyrs, political prisoners and war heroes have gone to their graves willingly and confidently. They understood the sacrifice they were making and accepted it because it had meaning in their lives.

So, a further question arises, how do we respond to pain and suffering when our pain and suffering makes no sense at all?

 

  1. Answers in a Fallen World

“Where in the world was your God?”, asks the media. The Media always want to explain things and find reasons behind all circumstance, but that is not always possible.

As Christians, we need to come to terms with the fact that we cannot always explain things. Pain and suffering in this world are not always explainable.

We call this the inscrutability of God – there is a dimension to the nature of God which we simply cannot understand or explain.

If God is absolutely good, and yet He allows bad things to happen in this world, then we must conclude that there is a dimension to the nature of God which we simply cannot explain.

And God is not obligated to explain himself to us. The scripture tells us so!

Proverbs 25:2: It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.

Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God.

Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

Clearly the scripture tells us we lack the capacity to grasp God’s infinite mind or the way he intervenes in our lives.

What did God Himself ask of Job in chapter 38?

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy?”

Do you know that our planet Earth is precisely the right distance from the sun to benefit from its heat? A little closer and all the water would evaporate, as on Venus. A little further and everything would freeze as it does on Mars.

Also, Earth is just the right size to generate the right amount of gravity. Any smaller would cause less gravity and make everything weightless like on the moon, and any bigger would cause more gravity which would trap poisonous gases that suffocate life as on Jupiter.

Have you ever looked at some of the pictures sent back to earth by the Hubble spacecraft? Here are some images sent back to earth. This is what it looks like trillions of miles out there in deep space. Glorious displays of living light as planets explode huge cosmic dust clouds trillions of miles wide, deep recesses of the universe, dark holes of nothingness, great cosmos of stars and planets and moons.

And within these trillions of miles of deep space, sits our little world, perfectly placed!

There are people who believe this came about purely by chance! How can you not see the hand of intelligent design in this precise and intricate balance of physical, chemical, and biological interactions?

Personally, I think it takes a greater step of faith to believe that our world came together by chance than to believe it was created by intelligent design!

And if God created all of this, this universe, then He must sit outside of it all. He is so great that he is even bigger than the universe, he sits outside of the universe that he created.

Yet he loves us so much that he also sits inside the universe with us!

And when we go through dark painful patches, we want to take our puny little fist of dust and shake it at the creator of the universe and demand that he tells us why! Isn’t that how we are sometimes as humans?

God is not obligated to give us an explanation? He has told us all we need to know about him in His word. We would do better to explore His word and learn all we can about Him from what he has already revealed to us about Himself.

His holiness, His goodness, His faithfulness – His overall control over everything that happens in this world, even though we don’t understand or comprehend them.

And there is something we can understand about pain and suffering in this fallen world. Gods word explains it this way.

 

        3. Faith in a Fallen World

James 1: 2 to 4 and then 12

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Peter tells us the reason our faith is tested is to produce perseverance

Are you familiar with the Adversity Principle?

Biologists have long recognised this principle at work in plants and animals. Consider a tree growing in the rain forests. Because water is so abundant, it does not push roots down deep, its root system is shallow, only a few feet below the surface. Consequently, it is poorly anchored and can easily be toppled by a minor windstorm. But a tree growing in an arid desert region must send its roots down deep in search of water. Consequently, it is securely anchored and can withstand gale-force winds.

Animal world: Compare fat flabby zoo animals versus strong, lean and fit wild animals who must hunt their food every day.

This adversity principle applies to us also. The more you exercise something, the stronger it gets. We need to be strong. We are in a war, a spiritual war. We need to be in the best shape possible to fend of Satan’s fiery darts.

So, as we go through pain and suffering, our faith is tested, multiple times, it gets stronger.

How we respond to tragedy, pain and suffering reflects our faith. Our FAITH is best displayed during adversity.

Displayed to who? God? No, He knows if your faith is genuine. But there is a whole world out there watching you to see how you respond.

It is to the world you display your faith. That is the best testimony.

Dawie Theron lost his wife on the night of the attack on St. James Church was interviewed by a journalist and quoted as saying, “Whoever you are who has done this, I forgive you and urge you to repent of your sin and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation”.

Jenny Hemmings, two days after Austin’s murder, made a public statement forgiving the man who killed her husband. The press reported, “The wife of Austin Hemmings says she feels no anger or bitterness towards the man who killed her husband.”

The world does not understand this reaction, and so it is the greatest testimony of our faith when we respond to tragedy in this way.

How you respond to adversity, pain and suffering in your life might be your greatest evangelical moment.

 

      4. God with Us in a Fallen World

I’ve indicated that we can explore the mind of God only so far and then, inevitably we run out of brainpower. His thoughts are not only unknown to us, but they are also largely unknowable. He has never made himself accountable to man, nor will he ever. He will not be cross-examined or interrogated. Nowhere in the bible does God speak defensively or seek our approval for His actions.

He simply says, “trust me”.

We see this trust in the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They refused to worship the golden image made by King Nebuchadnezzar and were threatened to be cast into a blazing furnace.

Their reply is classic:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from you, but even if he does not, we still will not worship your golden image.”

Here we see faith in God at work. Even if He does not deliver them, still they will believe. When we give our life wholly to God and place our faith exclusively in Him, whether we understand the circumstances or not, that is faith. Believing in something we do not see and cannot understand!

When God’s people go through the trials of life – He has promised to be there with them. Our faith is not anchored in signs and wonders but in the sovereign God of the universe acting according to His plan and in His time.

Isaiah conveyed this message to us directly from the heart of the Father:

Chapter 41: 10: So, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Paul puts it this way to the Romans 8: 37: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

       5. Living in a Fallen World

Nothing is certain in this life. We are not in control of what impacts on our lives. There are greater forces in life that are in control.

Unless you can acknowledge that God is in control, then the events that take place in our lives make no sense at all. Life is random. But it’s not! God is in control!

Here is an analogy to help us understand what living in a fallen world is all about at present.

Think about World War 2 and the Normandy Invasion in June 1944. Prior to the invasion, Hitler/Germany, invaded, amongst others, France and their troops now occupied all of France. France had fallen into enemy hands. However, following the Normandy invasion on the west, the failed invasion of Stalingrad on the east and the USA’s victory at the Battle of Midway in the Pacific (good movie coming if you are into war movies) it was no longer possible for the Nazis and their allies to strategically win the war. But in desperation, a crazed Hitler fought on for 11 months, refusing to believe he had lost the war. Hitler’s generals, knowing all was lost, conspired against him and plotted his assassination at the wolf’s lair, but they continued fighting the war. Now for the invasion forces, the invasion began on 6th June, but actually it began before that. The invasion forces were merely waiting for their role in the invasion. The French resistance, who were in the know, were given instructions to blow up certain bridges and roads to thwart the Nazi’s from sending troops into Normand. Also, American Rangers and British Commandos flew in by glider or were parachuted in to cause chaos behind enemy lines before the invasion began. But for those not in the know, the invasion began on 6 June 1944. Of course, those back at home also had critical support roles to fulfil.   So, each part of the allied forces had their role to play in the invasion, different roles at different times.

Now compare that to our situation. Just as Hitler invaded France, Satan invaded the world when Adam and Eve sinned, and he has been occupying it all the time since then. It is a fallen and occupied world. However, with the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, he has lost the war. He can no longer strategically win the war, yet he prowls around like an angry lion looking for those to devour. Also, his demons know the war is lost, but they must continue to obey him. Remember when Jesus restored the two demon-possessed men at Gadarenes the demons shouted at Jesus “What do you want with us, Son of God?” “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” and they were cast into a large herd of pigs. You see they know their time is yet to come, that is when Jesus returns.

Understand that we are already living in the last days. That began with the death of Jesus on the cross and the day of Pentecost. And we are not waiting for the resurrection, that has already begun with the resurrection of Jesus – we are waiting for our role in these things. Just as the French resistance created havoc with the occupying German forces, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to create havoc amongst Satan’s demonic forces. And just as the various Allied forces had different roles at different times, we, the faithful church of Christ, to have different roles at different times to play. Those roles too imply different degrees of suffering and pain. If a French resistance fighter was captured, they were tortured for information then put to death. The price of capture for some Christians is death. But we must keep our focus on the long game and prepare the way for the return of Jesus. Victory in Christ is unmistakably certain. He shall return.

Doesn’t it make you realise just how foolish we all are sometimes when we argue over petty things?

If you have somebody to say sorry to, go and say sorry. Don’t leave it. If you have a gift to give, money to give, do it now. Make that phone call, or write that letter, send that text or email– what does it cost you. You may not get the chance tomorrow, tomorrow they may be gone.

What did our text say, your life is a vapour – mist – here today gone tomorrow?

Now is the time to do things – today. Get those petty things, that pride, get it out of the way.

God’s word tells us as Christians how to live in a fallen world:

1 Peter 4: 19

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Philippians 4:6

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Colossians 4:2

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

And if you aren’t yet a believer, what you are doing with your life – where will you spend eternity? If you were involved in a tragic and sudden death if your life was taken suddenly, where would you go? Do you have a hope, a hope in eternal life?

I want to tell you that there is a God in control, and He has provided a way for you to be reconciled to Him in this fallen, alienated world. That is through believing in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross but rose again as the eternal son of God. And He is here this morning, in this place, and He stops at your seat and asks you, “are you ready for eternity?

Jesus himself has said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest”.

When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, you relinquish the responsibility of trying to explain what is happening to you in this fallen world. Effectively, you allow God to be God and let Him deal with all of that.

And in this lies the secret to joy and peace in this fallen world – peace that transcends all human understanding.

We cannot fully understand God, but we can fully trust Him!

We cannot fully comprehend God’s ways, but we can fully surrender to them.

When we surrender our lives to Jesus we receive that peace which transcends all understanding. We can’t fully understand it because we can’t fully understand God.

As I said, I think it takes a greater step of faith to believe that our world came together by chance than to believe it was created by intelligent design!

It is that faith in intelligent design, believing in things unseen, that gives us peace and hope for the future.

Not the hope for good weather tomorrow so we can go to the beach, but the assurance and the conviction of things not seen. 

You can have an “endless hope” not a “hopeless end”!

Place your hope in Jesus, he can be there for you and with you in all of the great uncertainty in this world. He can remove all the pettiness that is robbing you of all the joy, all the peace and all the hope that could be yours. Will you take this Jesus as your saviour, then do so today, right now. Say yes to Jesus, He is here, say yes, quietly to yourself, right now.

If you would like to talk to us about that, or prayer, there will be those here at the front willing to speak with you or pray with you.

Pray

Loving God, please teach us to be present in life, refusing to worry about tomorrow as You affirm Your constant presence.

Father, help us to remember daily that You know every step we take. Help us to trust in Your provision for every potential problem or sudden setback we face today.

Digging Deeper: Questions for Reflection

  1. How can acknowledging God as the Maker of time help you trust Him when His timing doesn’t meet your preference? How can living in the present give you peace?
  2. When has God protected you from something that you didn’t even know about? How did He watch over your way or help you stay clear of that threat?