Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning. Besides the fact that it is a privilege to speak the Word of God, it is also interesting that a unique set of circumstances has come together with this message. The theme that was given to me was “Broken and Blessed.” This theme fits well with what has been happening to us recently. It was about a year ago that we together with our home church agreed that my work there was completed. We had been in Manitou for 12 years and completed our ministry there at the end of July. When we were done, we sold our house and moved to Winnipeg because we had not found another church. We have lived there and for the past seven months I have been unemployed. I received unemployment, Carla worked and I also had odd jobs, but it has been a difficult time because we were looking for another place of ministry and were not finding it. There have been days of questioning, doubts, all kinds of reflections and a whole load of puzzles. It has been a time of being broken. In preparing this message, I have had the opportunity to reflect theologically on this time and to put down on paper some of the things which I have learned in this time. I am glad I could do this. About two weeks ago, we received a call from the Rosenort EMC church and will begin there on April 1. So my recent experience has been one of being broken and also blessed. I hope that you will permit me to do some personal reflection as we look at the Biblical texts together.
There are times in our life when we feel that our life or something in it is broken. Perhaps you feel that way this morning. We don’t like having trouble and just as all of us would avoid pain when it comes to a visit to the dentist, all of us would also like to avoid the pains which life sometimes brings us… and yet they come.
I am convinced that such reflection on what it means to experience being broken and also blessed is very important. There are certain thoughts which tempt us and trouble us in the midst of our struggle. We ask, “Why is this happening?” We wonder whether God exists or whether He cares about us. We wonder who is in control and we try to take control. We wonder if our faith is strong enough. There are some people who believe that if we have any trouble in life that we just don’t have enough faith. We attended a church once where this was taught and the theology was evident in what was preached. Some have identified this as the “name it and claim it” theology. On the other hand, there are some who seem to revel in sorrow and think that being spiritual means enduring suffering and expecting nothing from God. With all these different reactions to times of brokeness, it is important to take control of our thinking. We need a good theology of suffering. I am not going to pretend to be comprehensive about that today, but I hope that reflection on the texts that I have been given and some thought about these things will provide us with some sound thinking in this direction.
I. God Desires To Bless
During the last few months, there were days when I began to wonder where God was. Although I have always believed in God, I wondered if he cared about me and where he was in the midst of my trials. I have been tempted to forget about what God wants and do what I want. Although such doubt is natural, is it justified? What does the Bible tell us about the nature of God and his desires for us?
A. Seen In The Rainbow
One time when the whole world was broken is the story of the flood. The story of Noah is a story that tells us something of the nature of God and answers this question. At a time in human history when people had become very wicked, God, who is just and holy determined that it was time for judgement on the earth. He called upon Noah to build an ark in order to preserve one family and the animals of the earth and to bring them through the judgement of flooding and to repopulate the earth once again. After the flood, Noah made a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. At the time of that sacrifice, God spoke to Noah and made a covenant with him that he would never destroy the earth by a flood again.
In this covenant, we see what God’s desire is. A covenant is a promise, but it is even more than a promise, it is a contract. God, as the creator and ruler of the universe, declared with all solemnity and seriousness that he would enter into an agreement with sinful humanity. Promising not to destroy the world by a flood again tells us that it is God’s desire to bless and not to destroy.
God also made a sign of the covenant for everyone to see. The sign of the covenant was the rainbow. The rainbow would be a reminder to God that he had made this promise and would keep it. Of course, the rainbow is much more for us. It tells us that God will not destroy the earth by flooding and that it is his desire to bless and build up his people.
The other thing that we notice is that God is the only one who can create and sustain a rainbow and so God is the only one who can keep the promise. The keeping of this promise is in the hand of God. The rainbow assures us that God’s promise stands inviolate.
Now this story tells us some important things about who God is. The presence of the rainbow reminds us of the desire of God. It is not his desire to destroy, but to build up. It is not his desire to leave people in brokeness, but to bless them.
We also realize that God has not only revealed this desire, but has also acted on it. Since that time, the whole earth has not been flooded. Every time we see a rainbow, we can be reminded that God has made this covenant and that He is a covenant keeping God.
B. Demonstrated In The Coming Of Jesus
As we continue to study the Bible, we find again and again that God is a covenant keeping God. Always in the history of His people, we see that it is His desire to bless and build up and not to destroy. The greatest example of this, is of course the coming of Jesus.
I Peter 3:18a is a passage that arises in the context of suffering for doing good. It was written to believers who were experiencing severe persecution. To these broken believers, Peter reminds them of the greatest evidence of God’s grace and faithful covenant keeping when he says in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Jesus Christ died on the cross in the greatest act of covenant keeping and blessing the world has ever seen. The flood was necessary because people walked in wickedness. God, desiring to bless, but also being holy and just, had to destroy the evil. But having washed the evil from the earth, it was evident that this was not the end of it, there would need to be a better solution and since he had promised not to wash the evil out of the earth by a flood again, He brought us Jesus as that better way. By his blood, God is both just in that he deals with evil and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus so that he can keep his covenant to bless.
I like the promise in Romans 8:32 which says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
C. Our Response
During the time of our struggle over the last half year as I have been tempted to doubt the power of God or the love of God, I have often been helped as I have reflected on the Bible and such passages as these. I have been encouraged to know that God is the one who has promised to bless and that he is a God who keeps his promises.
I don’t know what your struggle is today. I suspect that there are times when you wonder where God is or why he is doing what he is doing in your life. I suspect that you question his sovereignty, his power or his love. The stories of the rainbow and the coming of Jesus are both stories that tell us that God’s desire is to bless and that he keeps the promises he makes.
One practical thing which we can do and which I have tried to do at the times when I was most discouraged is to remember the God of promise. I try to think back over the times when God has blessed and answered prayer for me. I have reflected on stories in the Bible when God has acted and have also reflected on the things that have happened to me in the past when I have seen God act. These have encouraged me in the times of struggle.
Psalm 22:1-5 speaks about this,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
In these first two verses we hear the broken and struggling cry of the writer, but he goes on.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.
4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”
In our brokeness, let us remember the God who makes and keeps his promise to bless.
II. God Blesses Because Of His Mercy
But what reason do we have to hope in the promises of God? Have you ever thought, “ God should give this to me because I deserve it?” Or perhaps it goes the other way around, “God will never bless me because I don’t deserve it.” These are temptations, sometimes one and sometimes the other, which I have struggled with as I have experienced brokeness. It is important that we think correctly about this to avoid pride or on the other hand, discouragement. I like the thoughts which Psalm 25 gives us on this theme.
A. The Psalmist Experiences Mercy
Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In order to maintain the acrostic, there is not a clearly developed internal sequence of thought. But there are some important things to learn and some things that encourage us in this Psalm. In it the Psalmist alternates between prayers and expressions of confidence. In so doing, he reflects the struggle many of us experience in times of brokeness.
The Psalmist begins by expressing his trust in God. It is likely that it is in a time of struggle, for in the second verse, after declaring his trust in God, he mentions that he has enemies and his prayer of trust has to do with deliverance from those enemies. Vs. 2 suggests that trust is mixed with anxiety.
In verse 3, David indicates his foundational belief about the nature of God. God is a just God who delivers those who trust in Him and puts to shame those who are treacherous. We often reflect on God in this way and it is correct to see that God is a just God and that he will bless those who trust in Him and will judge those who reject Him and persist in their wicked ways.
But as we read on, suddenly the Psalmist remembers that he isn’t all that good either. He may be reflecting on the fact that he too has sinned and has done things that could bring the judgement of God. He prays in vs. 6,7, “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”
It is in this prayer that the Psalmist comes to the correct perspective. God blesses us and brings us mercy not because we have done all the right things and deserve to be blessed, but because of His mercy. I like the prayer which David prays when he says, “according to your love remember me.” This also assures us that even though we may not be perfect in every respect, if we trust God, we can also experience blessing because it does not depend upon us, but on God and his love.
B. Our Response
We so easily fall from this understanding, but whenever we do, we either glow with pride or wallow in self pity. If one day we are feeling deserving, we are hopeful because God is going to bless us. If we have done some wrong, or are aware of our sin, we are defeated and struggle with doubt.
When we learn to recognize that God blesses because He loves us, then we rest and place ourselves into the hands of a loving God. There is a picture that I have seen of a small child in the large hands of its father. That is how we can feel when we remember that we are loved.
When we rely on the love of God it puts a whole different spin on our time of brokeness and on our time of blessing. It reinforces once again that we live by trust in the mercy of God.
III. Being Broken Prepares Us For Blessing
That does not mean we will not experience brokeness. Times of struggle, questioning and loss are not indications that God has forgotten his promise, or forgotten us or that as some want to say, we don’t have enough faith. I am not pretending to give a complete theology of suffering here, but one thing that I have learned which the scripture we are looking at today also reinforces is that sometimes times of brokeness and struggle are necessary to draw us to God and to prepare us for new blessings. As I was preparing this message this week, I was reading in my devotions in Hebrews 5:8, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” Jesus learned obedience from the things he suffered. Why should we expect to be any different?
A. Wilderness For Learning Trust
One of the wonderful truths of the Bible which we often overlook is that God uses wilderness experiences to bring us to himself and to prepare us for blessing. It is amazing how many of the people in the Bible who accomplished great things for God had a time of struggle and how often this experience took place in the wilderness. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness until God called him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before they experienced the blessing of God in the promised land. David spent time in the wilderness before he became king. Elijah and even in the New Testament, the apostle Paul spent time in the wilderness. What is the purpose of such wilderness experiences?
After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness. Mark 1:9-15 tells us that while there, he was with the wild animals and experienced the temptations of Satan. Several things are worthy of note.
First of all, we notice that in the wilderness he experienced temptations and was with the wild animals. We wonder why the Bible makes mention of the wild animals. I think the answer is that the whole experience – wilderness, wild animals, temptations – was a time of vulnerability. One writer says, “Jesus confronts the horror, the loneliness and the danger with which the wilderness is fraught when he meets the wild beasts.” These things speak of a time in which Jesus had to learn as a human being that he did not have the resources within himself to do God’s work, but that he had to rely on God. The wilderness experience of Jesus was a time of aloneness and a time of lack. In this time, Jesus could not depend on anyone but God.
That, I believe, is the purpose of wilderness experiences. They bring us to a place where we can’t do it and we know that the only way we are going to make it is with the help of God.
When we left resigned last February, we were sure that we would quickly move into a ministry of our preference. I had 12 years of solid ministry in one church and 22 years of experience. I left the church under good conditions, I had the encouragement and support of many. I knew many people in our church conference among conference leadership and among church leadership. I was at the prime of ministry having experience, but still being young. And yet, none of these things brought me what I so much wanted. I had to realize that I cannot rely on anything that I have, but must rely on God alone.
B. Wilderness Before Blessing
When Jesus had come out of the wilderness experience and had overcome the temptations, he began his ministry. The text uses the important words, “the time had come.” It goes on to say that Jesus began to preach the kingdom. God’s purpose for mankind, his desire to bless them now began to be heard by the people of the earth, from the mouth of God’s representative. This is a time of blessing for Jesus as he begins to do what he was sent to do and as he announces God’s blessing for the people of the earth. The time of struggle preceded blessing and was preparatory to it.
We are looking forward to the blessing of once again being involved in ministry and as we will move into ministry, I hope that I will remember the lessons I have learned.
If you are going through a time of difficulty, perhaps you need to look at it this way. Perhaps it is a time in which God is preparing you for some greater ministry or greater blessing. When brokeness has purpose, it is much easier to bear and although this may not be the answer to your particular brokeness, it is still valuable to use times of struggle as times of growth.
C. Comfort In The Wilderness
There is one more important thing to notice about this time in the wilderness. Although he was tempted and was with the wild beasts, we also read that the angels ministered to him. How comforting! God does not abandon us in the midst of our times of trial.
Elijah experienced the same thing and we read about it in I Kings 19:5-7. After the wonderful victory in which Elijah soaked the wood and the sacrifice and the fire of God came down and burned it up and after praying and receiving rain after a long drought, Jezebel threatened Elijah and he became afraid and ran away. After fleeing to the desert, he was exhausted and discouraged and these verses tell us that an angel came and ministered to him.
One of the things that we have tried to do in our struggle is to look for the evidences of grace in the midst of our struggle to remind ourselves that we are in the hands of a loving father. We have seen many from the fact that we found a place to live that didn’t require a lease and permitted pets to the jobs we have had. The opportunities to preach and even the way in which sermons I have prepared and others we have heard have helped us deal with stuff we were going through. One weekend we attended a particular church and were surprised that a young fellow we knew was going to share. As he shared his story, we found that he had experienced God’s blessing in wonderful ways in a situation that was quite similar to ours. What an encouragement his testimony was. It was another evidence of God’s grace.
So whatever your struggle, I encourage you to look for the ways in which angels are ministering to you. Look for the evidences of grace.
What is happening in your life?
Are you in the midst of being broken? Then think about who God is, how he has acted in faithfulness in the past. Put your trust in him no matter what because He loves you. He desires to bless and in time He will bring blessing into your life as well. Look for the times of grace which God brings into your life.
Are you rejoicing and feeling blessed? Then remember that this is a gift of God who has given this blessing. Do not become confident in your own goodness and ability, but remember to trust in God at all times.
It is important to reflect on these things in this season of lent, because in a short while, we will see just how good God is as we think about the coming of Jesus, for this above all is the evidence of God’s covenant keeping and His mercy.