What would it be like to be 8 years old, thousands of miles from home, in an orphanage in a foreign country, and have no idea where your mom was? Can you imagine the lonliness? Can you imagine being in that place where you received hardly anything to eat and where you were deathly sick from malaria, all without the comfort of your mom?
One little 8 year old can. Her adopted mother, Mercury Liggins, had an opportunity to go to work in Iraq back in 2004. The opportunity offered a lucrative income, but Liggins had a problem: seven of them to be exact. You see, she had seven adopted children ranging in age from 8 to 16. But then her brother-in-law, who lived in Nigeria, offered to let the kids stay with him in exchange for 1500.00 per month which should have paid for their boarding school.
So Mercury took the offer and hopped a plane for Nigeria. She stayed with them for one month to settle them in, then went on to Iraq. She faithfully sent the money every month. But the brother-in-law began keeping the money instead of paying the school. The boarding school kicked the kids out and sent them to an oprhanage. Can you imagine how you’d feel?
You might say, “Well, yes, I certainly can. I wasn’t in Nigeria but I was abandoned. My mom gave me up, or my dad left home and I was abandoned. I know how that feels, preacher!” Others would say, “Well, it wasn’t my mom or my dad who let me down, it was God. I thought He would be there when my finances fell apart, but, near as I can tell, I was on my own. No miraculous checks came in the mail. I felt like I was left all alone and that God was not there to comfort me.”
And because the comfort hasn’t come, maybe you’ve begun to even doubt God’s ability to comfort. You may really doubt that God’s even in control at all because there is this rising flood of doubt in your soul that comes from the fact that you just can’t make any sense of it all. It seems to you that, if God were really in control, the conclusions would be more obvious and the relief would be much more real. And if you summed it all up this morning, you’d really say that you feel like there’s no comfort and there’s no control.
But then you pull out your Bible and you begin to read verses like these in Psalm 34:
The eyes of the Lor are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all. He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked, And those who hate the righteous shall be condemned. The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, And none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.
Now, most of you in this room would claim to really believe what I just read. If I took a poll, the results would be overwhelming. But were I to get really specific about it, and if I were to ask you, “Has the Lord really delivered you from all your troubles?” and you really knew that I wanted the truth, not the “Sunday School” answer, some of you would probably hang your head and say. “Well, Pastor, I know there must be something I’m missing here, but I really can’t say I’ve been delivered yet.”
And for that reason we walk around with what I call “fake radiance.” We’re beaming on the outside, but it’s not real. We smile and talk as if we’re experiencing unbelievable blessing from the Lord, but, deep in our hearts, we’ve got doubts. I know this happens because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the Christians with the painted on smiles. Hey! I’ve been the Christian with the “painted-on” smile.
Now, if that’s you this morning, I want you to really listen. God does deliver us! Yes, He does! Always! Everytime! Without fail! The problem we sometimes have is that we don’t really understand what it means to be delivered. And that’s our problem. So, from this Psalm, on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I want to talk to you a few minutes about deliverance. Just how does God deliver His children and how does that make us radiant? Well, in the first place, when God delivers
DIV 1: HE CHOOSES SIDES
That’s right! God is not some unbiased bystander, washing His hands in the midst of conflict. He chooses sides! V 15 says that He sees and hears the righteous. It says, “The eyes of the Lord are on (who? That’s right!) the righteous and His ears are open to their cry.” God chooses sides! He also redeems us. It goes on to say in v 15 that “the Lord redeems the soul of (who? That’s right!) His servants and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.”
But there’s a definite contrast in v 16. There is says that “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. Evil shall slay the wicked and those who hate the righteous shall be condemned.”
Well, if the Lord is on the side of the righteous and the Lord is fighting against the wicked, how does one become righteous. After all, if God’s choosing sides, I want Him on my side, or maybe I should say, I want to be on His! How do I become righteous? Well, it isn’t by trying to be good in your own strength. We know that all of us are sinners just like the Bible says. As Romans 3:10 says, there is no one good, not even one. The only way we become righteous is through the blod of Jesus. When we trust Him in His death and resurrection and confess Him as our Savior, we receive His righteousness and when that happens, my friend, God chooses sides! He takes care of His own.
One new believer discovered this. He says that right after he and his wife became believers, the IRS the IRS asked him to defend a tax return from years earlier. Unfortunately, he couldn't defend it. He had been dishonest, and so he began months of painful meetings with the IRS.
Finally, the day came for his last meeting. After parking, he discovered the meter wouldn't take my few remaining pennies, and he was already late. He nearly cried. Instead, though, He prayed, "Lord, we're trusting you with a huge tax problem. It's dumb not to ask you for help with this little meter."
He said, “When I came out later, I saw what looked like a ticket on my car window. I was stunned! Hadn't I asked God to help me? I yanked the paper from under the wiper blade and read these words: "Mike, your time was expired. I took care of it. Chuck."
Incredibly, a friend "happened" to recognize my car and noticed the expired meter. Happened? No. God had used my friend to speak to me that day with a promise of forgiveness and healing, just as he spoke in the months following by resolving our tax debt. You see, when you belong to God, He chooses sides!
Yeah, Right! Now, Preacher, I’m a Christian! I really am, but it seems like to me that God’s been choosing sides alright, only He’s not been on my side, He’s been against me! Nobody’s been putting any money in my parking meter lately!
Well, I know how life makes it seem that way at times, but I tell you, if you really know the Lord, He is for you and He is providing for you, you just have to understand what that means. Let me give you the three primary ways God provides for His children:
First, He provides for you INTIMATELY. V15 says He hears and sees us. There is relationship implied there. God’s purpose is not that you have it easy in this life. He loves you too much for that. He wants you to come to know Him. He wants you to have a relationship with Him that goes far beyond Him becoming your “Sugar-daddy” in the sky. There is never a prayer you utter that God does not hear. There is never a morning when you break out your Bible and start your daily conversation with your Father that loving God doesn’t enjoy the intimacy of your presence and shower you with His attention. God’s on your side because He provides for you intimately.
And then He provides for you ULTIMATELY. V15 also says He redeems the soul of His servants. Did you know that if Jesus never did anything for you but die on the cross and take you to Heaven, my friend, He has provided for you. Ultimately, everything’s gonna be alright because ultimately you will be in Heaven with Him! He provides for you ultimately.
What if you were standing in the church parking lot with a cup of coffee and a doughnut after Sunday school one morning. You don’t see it, but someone, not watching what they are doing, is barrelling through the parking lot about to run you over. Before you know what’s happening along comes one of our great security personnel and shoves you out of the way, but in the process he gets hit and has a broken leg. He has saved you from injury, and maybe even saved your life, risking his own in the process. Anyone with half a lick of the sense their momma taught them would thank that man. But what if you, as they are carting him away to the hospital walk over to the stretcher and begin to berate him. You say, “You clumsy ox! What kind of security person are you? You made me spill my coffee and drop my doughnut. I’m going to talk to the Deacons about this and, if they don’t make it right, I’m going to change churches.”
You say, “That’s ridiculous, Rusty. No one would do that!” You’re probably right. I don’t think they would either, but many people do worse constantly. Jesus, at the cost of His life and unbelievable, ultimate, eternal suffering went to the cross for you, but you accuse Him of not caring at all because you lose your job, or your family member gets sick, or something goes wrong. He would say to you, this morning. “I know you may sometimes doubt that I care when you drop your doughtnut, but never forget. I went to the cross for you. I care intimately and I care ultimately.
And there’s one more way He cares. He provides STRATEGICALLY. I will have to admit that, sometimes, the Psalms can be confusing. We read verses like Ps 34:17 that says, “The righteous cry out and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Wow! That sounds pretty absolute. It sounds like, no matter what’s going wrong, if I pray, God’s got to do exactly what I ask Him to do.
There’s only one problem. Though there are many times God does exactly what we ask Him in prayer, we have to admit that there are also many times when we do not seem to get the answer we want or even need. What’s up with that?
Well, a good way to explain what a verse is saying is to compare it with another verse of scripture. If you compare this verse with 1 John 5:14. There it says: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” You see, all of those promises in the Psalms must be sifted through the seive of the will of God. He does provide for us, but He does so strategically. I can be absolutely confident that anything I need to accomplish His will for my life I will have if I will ask. If I need a a million dollars to do God’s will, somehow, He will supply it. If I need to be healed of my cancer to achieve His will in my life, I will be healed. Whatever I need to do His will, I will have because He provides strategically, he provides ultimately and He provides intimately. When God delivers the righteous, He chooses sides. But also, when God delivers the righteous
DIV 2: HE COMFORTS SORROW
Tucked in the middle of this wonderful Psalm is verse 18: The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite heart. About the time you started thinking you were serving some cold-hearted God who only was concerned that You bring Him glory no matter how much pain you had in your heart, we have this wonderful verse. God is concerned about comforting us. Isn’t that great? How does He do it?
He does it by listening. V 17 says that the righteous cry out and the Lord hears. But he doesn’t just give you a good shoulder to cry on, He gives you a strong and mighty arm to help. He comforts by delivering because v 17 goes on to say, The righteous cry out and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. He comforts us by listening and delivering, but I saved the best for last.
You see there’s something better than making the pain go away. There’s something better than having the bank account restored. There’s something better than even getting the wife back. What is it. It’s v 18 that I began with. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite spirit. One commentator writes:
The righteous may be “broken-hearted” and “spiritually crushed” (that’s the literal translation of “contrite”. It means “crushed) The righteous may be “broken-hearted” and “spiritually crushed”; they may have many afflictions (v 20). God’s presence is experienced within these crisis situations; there is no divine guarantee that the righteous will escape the crises and trials of this life . . . There are no easy alternatives with respect to life’s hardships; there may be protection from evil or deliverance in evil, but the only thing common to the lives of the righteous is the continuation of the divine oversight and care.
In other words, He may deliver you from the fire or He may take you through the fire, but He will never forsake you in the fire.
Listen! God does deliver the cancer patient! Always! Everytime! God does deliver the foreclosed-on church member! Always! Everytime! God does deliver the abandoned spouse! Always! Everytime! How does he deliver? Well, with a listening ear, with a helping hand, and with a powerful presence.
In 1993, Lt. Col. Gary Morsch joined the Army Reserves as a doctor to care not only for U.S. soldiers, but also for wounded civilians and prisoners of war. In 2005, as a part of the war in Iraq, he was called up to serve as the field doctor for a battalion near the Iranian border. He would take care of soldiers in the medical tent, provide supervision and training to eight combat medics, and visit two detainee camps to treat POWs. Even in that war-torn area of the world, Lt. Col. Morsch experienced the peace of God. He says:
One day I was supposed to travel by convoy to a military hospital in Baghdad to accompany a prisoner with a severe abdominal infection, but the mission was canceled after a bomb hit a convoy returning to our camp. That was the third time in five days that one of our convoys had been hit, so we waited until a nearby combat unit could beef up security. A day later we headed out.
As I sat in the back of a Humvee with this very sick POW, I asked myself what I thought every soldier in that convoy was asking: Why are we doing this for someone we consider our enemy? I could see risking my life and the lives of American soldiers for another American. But risking all this for an enemy POW?
In addition to the anxiety I was feeling as we made our way along the dangerous road to Baghdad, I was also feeling very lonely and homesick. When I realized that it was Sunday, and that I was going to miss the chapel service again, I grew even more depressed.
So there I was in this armored vehicle, wearing about 50 pounds of body armor, helmet and weapons—the full "battle rattle." Standing next to me was the gunner, his head sticking through the roof of the Humvee, constantly spinning one way, then another, aiming his machine gun at anything that moved, looking for snipers, motioning for cars to stop or move out of the way, and screaming at drivers who didn't understand.
We drove down the highway as fast as we could, trying to make ourselves a more difficult target to attack, tailgating the Humvee in front of us so a suicide car bomber could not come between us, and being tailgated by another Humvee. Sitting in front of me was a soldier monitoring the radio, who received messages from the Humvees ahead of us and yelled this information to the gunner and me.
I decided to fight off my sorrow by listening to some music on my MP3 player. My son-in-law, Eric, had loaded my player with about 1,000 songs before I left home. Since it was Sunday, I decided to listen to some praise music. The first song was by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: "Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place; I can feel His mighty power and His grace: I can hear the brush of angels' wings, I see glory on each face; surely the presence of the Lord is in this place."
Speeding toward Baghdad, crammed into the back of a Humvee, I sensed the presence of God as never before. I felt enveloped by the presence of God—God around me, God above me, God in me. As tears ran down my dusty cheeks, I peered through the thick, bulletproof window at Iraqis in their flowing robes, their mud-walled houses, children at play, the tall and stately palm trees. And just as surely as I felt the presence of God in that Humvee, I sensed God's presence in all that I saw—here, in this desolate country, with the Shiites, the Sunnis, the Kurds. God was surely here. He loves Iraq.
Then I thought of what this convoy was doing, and the words of Jesus came to me: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). I was filled with a deep sense of peace. I was still worried about the road ahead, but I had a sense of contentment that everything was going to be fine, no matter what happened. I knew that God profoundly loved every person on both sides of this war.
This sense of peace and contentment lasted throughout my time in Iraq. It had nothing to do with bravery or courage on my part, but everything to do with the sense that God was with me, and that many people were praying for me.
Listen, my friend, that is the provision of God. He chooses sides and He comforts sorrow, but he also:
DIV 3: HE CONTROLS SUFFERING
There are just a couple of more verses in this beautiful psalm I want you to take a look at. They are vv 19-20. V 19 says, Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Now that verse tells you the truth, doesn’t it. Hey if you are a righteous man or woman it does not mean that you are going to have a trouble free life. Just the opposite. The Bible tells you right here that the afflictions of the righteous are many. Hey if you got saved because you thought it was your free ticket to a trouble-free life, it’ll only take you about one day to figure out that such a sentiment is false indeed! In fact, I’ve talked to numerous people who say something like this. “Preacher, when I got saved everything started to fall apart in my life.” Listen! Many are the afflictions of the righteous.
But it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to say, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Ok, there are times when the Bible says something that makes you want to rebel in your heart. This may be one of those places for you. You want to scream out: “No, He doesn’t! God doesn’t deliver me from all my troubles. He let my husband leave; he let my father die; he let my girlfriend break up with me; He let me lose my job. I know what the Bible says and it just doesn’t seem credible to me!”
Well, don’t stop reading. Look at v 20. Here is that incredible verse that gets quoted over in John 19:36. It says, He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken. Now, Bible scholars, tell me why John quotes this verse in John 19:36. To whom does John take this verse to refer? That’s right, Jesus. When Jesus was on the cross, He endured unbelievable suffering, but the Bible says that when it came time for the soldiers to do what they did whenever they wanted to bring death more quickly, that is, break the legs of their victims, they didn’t break Jesus legs because He was already dead. Instead, what did they do. They took a spear and ran it into his body and punctured His heart. Then John 19:36 says this:
For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
This is significant. Please listen carefully! When Jesus went to the cross, He suffered immearsurably. He was beaten and bruised. They placed the crown of thorns on His head. They beat him with a cat-o-nine tails so badly that the Bible says He was not even recognizable. They nailed Him to a cross. But listen to me! THEY DID NOT BREAK HIS LEGS! Why not? Becasue God had said, “You will pierce Him, but you will not break his bones!” Do you get what’s going on here? Yes the afflictions of the righteous are many, but God is always in control of your suffering. Listen, Christian! You’re never going to go through one single moment of pain that God doesn’t control. You’re never going to endure one heartache that He’s not aware of. You’re never going to go through one disappointment that He doesn’t know about. Just like God was in control of Jesus’ suffering, God is in control of your suffering. He is working for your good and His glory. God delivers us by controlling our suffering.
Tony Campolo – a great preacher in the northeast - tells about something that happened to him when he was fourteen. His family was very poor, and his Dad couldn’t work because he had Hodgkin's disease. The insurance was running out, and the family didn’t know how they were going to eat.
Tony figured out that he could buy unsold loaves of bread from a bakery in Philadelphia. He could buy a loaf for a nickel, and sell it for a quarter. There was the promise of a hefty profit, but there were a couple of problems: he couldn’t pick the bread up until 9 at night - and the only way he had to deliver it was by piling it on a wagon that he pulled behind his bike.
One dark, cold, rainy night about a quarter of eleven, Tony was making a delivery. He rode his bike over a pothole, there was a huge bang– and his front tire blew out. He was soaked, shivering, and scared.
"God, you're mean,” he remembers crying out loud. “Everybody else thinks you're nice. But I know you're mean. If you were nice, you'd help me."
He sat for a few minutes more – then, for reasons he never figured out, he pushed his bike and his load of bread to a service station down the street. It was closed for the night – and yet the air pump was still running.
Needless to say, the air came out of the tire as quickly as he pumped it in. Like this morning for Jesus, Tony, it seemed, was faced with a hopeless task. Then the miracle happened!
All of a sudden, Tony says, he realized the tire was hard. Somehow - and in some way he could never explain - the tire was holding air! He remembers yelling out loud, "Oh, thank you! Oh, thank you!" He made two more deliveries that night, and rode his bike three miles back home.
When he got to the front door, he heard a hissing sound- and watched with amazement as the tire quickly deflated. The miracle was over. The air was gone.
Who knows how – or why – all that happened? All Tony Campolo knows is that, for the rest of his life, he looked back on that night, and the rain and the bicycle tire, and remembered that God is real! And, like that Light shining in the darkness, for Tony, nobody can take that away.
Do you know what this means for you and your trouble? It means that because of God’s power, you will overcome it. You trouble isn’t going to defeat you, not if you will stay dependent on God. His power guarantees your victory. Because of His power, you will over come it.
And then, because of His purpose, you will benefit from it. I know that there are many things that happen in our lives that we just don’t understand, but God’s purposes for us are sacred and He will accomplish in our lives, His will. And when God’s will is done it is always for our good and for His glory. Because of His power you will overcome trouble and becuase of His purpose you will benefit from trouble.
But then, because of His humanity, He will hurt with you. I just love what Hebrews 2:17 says:
Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
He’s been right where you are and He knows how to help you. Because of his power you will overcome trouble, because of His purpose you will benefit from trouble, and becuase of His humanity, He will hurt with you. But last of all, because of His compassion, He will strengthen me in trouble. He cares about me. He comforts me. Because he cares and because he comforts, He also wants to help me. He srengthens me in my trouble
And if you’re here today and you’ve never given your heart to Christ, may I just say that God’s knows how to deal with you to reach you. It might just be that the very pain you’re blaming God for right now is the very pain that He wants to use to bring you to know Him by faith. Maybe that thing you’re going through isn’t a sign that God hates you but that God loves you so much He will do whatever it takes to get your attention.
Well, it was early August, 2004 when Warren Beemer left San Antonio. Warren was the youth pastor in Ken Hagee’s mega church. He was going on a mission trip . . . to, of all places, Nigeria. As a part of his trip he visited several orphanages. Imagine his surprise when, while he was there in one of those orphanages, a girl came up and started talking to him in English. Now it wasn’t the English that was so unusual. No, it was the peculiar kind of English she spoke. You see, she had a southern accent.
She told him an incredible story. She said that she was from Houston, Texas. Now Beemer knew that some of the kids might try to con him, so he was skeptical. But then the young lady recited her Social Security number. She told him some an incredible story. She spoke of her mother bringing her to Nigeria to live with her brother-in-law. She told of being put into a boarding school, getting kicked out because of an unpaid bill, and ending up in this orphanage. She had lost hope of ever returning home.
Then she took him to see her 6 brothers and sisters. When the children saw Beemer, they began to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Beemer called his pastor and a U. S. Congressman and, within 8 days, those children who had all but given up hope of ever being found were back in the United States.
As surely as God sent Warren Beemer to that particular orphanage at that particular time, God delivers the righteous. And you will never be a radiant believer until you truly settle into that truth. See, most believers lose their joy when trouble comes along. The struggles of life plunge them into deep anguish and waste precious time and precious opportunitites to glorify God. Is that you, this morning? Have you crawled into the pit of pity and begun to blame God. Have you begun to expect the deliverance He hasn’t promised? Have you even walked away from Him because you didn’t understand?
Some need to be delivered from doubt. You are filled with doubt that God even sees you, or if He does, He must not love you. You are beginning to doubt God.
Some need to be comforted in their fear. You need to feel God’s arms close around you. Some of you need to reconnect with the Lord.
Some need to be reminded that life is not out of control.
This is your chance - Sing we fall down, not going to be in a hurry. This is your time to worship - if you want to come forward, or right there at your seat.
Sing - God will make a way - Salvation - need to choose sides!