How many of you are country music fans? I like New Country, and I particularly like a new song out by JoDee Messina called That's The Way. Here are some of the lyrics:
Everybody wants an easy ride on the merry-go-round that we call life. Take a drive on cruise control, then you wake to find it's a winding road. I had my dreams in view when the money ran out and the engine blew.
Well, oh that's the way it is, you gotta roll with the punches. That's the way it goes, you gotta bend when the wind blows. You live, you learn, you crash and burn; it's hit or miss. That's the way it is.
I would have to say that most people, Christians included, would like to have the easy ride through life. But let's face it, life is not easy, at times it is extremely difficult.
In the midst of the difficult times in life, there are two things that bring us great comfort. They are: Our trust in the providence of God. And secondly, the love and care of our friends.
1. Our Trust in the Providence of God.
What is Providence? The term "providence" is not found in the Scripture, but the doctrine of providence is very scriptural. The theological term "providence" means nothing short of: "the universal sovereign rule of God." Providence is the preserving and governing of all his creatures and all their actions.
Charles Hodge said, "The external world, rational and irrational creatures, things great and small, ordinary and extraordinary, are equally and always under the control of God."
To me the most comforting doctrine is that of God's providence. God, and God alone, determines what happens in His universe. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, paragraph 1 states it this way: "God from all eternity, did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."
The Bible states it this way:
Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
No one can do anything apart from God's sovereign will. It is of the utmost importance that we understand this if we are to find comfort in times of adversity. No one can harm you in anyway apart from the decree of your loving heavenly Father. What an encouragement to the child of God!
There are two ways in which God works in the world: providence - God's governing of the natural, and miracles.
The nature of miracles: A distinction is usually made between ordinary providence and extraordinary providence. In ordinary providence, God works through second causes in strict accordance with the laws of nature. But in extraordinary providence, He works immediately or without the mediation of second causes in their ordinary operation. The distinctive thing in the miraculous deed is that it results from the exercise of the supernatural power of God.
A miracle has no natural explanation - God works without secondary causes.
Luke 7:14-15 (NKJV) Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.
This is not natural, but supernatural, and so was the Virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea.
Providence is when God takes all of the diverse elements of the natural and orchestrates them to accomplish his purpose.
Which seems more difficult to you? (This is speaking humanly, of course, because God is omnipotent, which means: "He can do anything and He can do anything as easily as He can do anything else.") To me, providence seems much more difficult than a miracle. In providence, God takes a million different circumstances and arranges them to accomplish His will.
When you come to understand that a sovereign God is not only sovereign by supernatural intervention, but He is also sovereign by natural orchestration, you'll have confidence and contentment in the circumstances of life.
God usually works out His sovereign plan through ordinary circumstances. God uses means to accomplish His ends. We can see God working out his sovereign plan through the ordinary events of life very clearly in the book of Esther.
As you read Esther you see the hand of God in every circumstance. God was as sovereignly at work through ordinary circumstances in the time of Esther as He was through the miracles in the time of Moses.
Let's look at the book of Esther and see how God sovereignly moves to protect His people. Esther is the story of an orphaned Jewish girl who became queen of Persia and delivered her people with the help of her faithful uncle. The narrative itself teaches the story without mentioning God or giving prophetic explanations.
Esther 1:1 (NKJV) Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia),
"Ahasuerus", who is better known by his Greek name Xerxes I, ruled the Persian Empire for 21 years from 485 to 465 b.c. He is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (only in Ezra 4:6 and Daniel 9:1). Judah was one of the provinces over which the king ruled (cf. Neh. 1:2).
The King was having a party with his friends and he sent his chamberlains:
Esther 1:11-12 (NKJV) to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.
Her action was a breach of etiquette. The king was used to getting whatever he desired whenever he desired it. Why did she refuse to come to the King? The text doesn't tell us, but as we read, we see that God was removing her so that Esther could take her place.
The king has Vashti put away from him and decides to look for a new queen. Out of all the women brought before him, he chooses Esther.
Esther 2:17 (NKJV) The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Esther was an orphan who was raised by Mordecai. They were both Jews, but Mordecai has asked Esther not to let her kindred be known.
Mordecai over heard a plot to kill the king and told Esther who reported it to the king.
Esther 2:23 (NKJV) And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.
What Mordecai had done was written in the chronicles.
The king promoted a man named Haman to the number two spot in the kingdom, and Haman came to hate Mordecai, Esther's uncle.
Esther 3:2 (NKJV) And all the king's servants who were within the king's gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage.
Mordecai would not bow to Haman (cf. Es. 5:9), because he (Mordecai) was a Jew.
Esther 3:5-6 (NKJV) When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath. 6 But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus; the people of Mordecai.
Haman wants his revenge but does not want to make it look like a personal matter between him and Mordecai. So he began to plot a scheme to whip up anti-Semitic feelings.
Haman goes to the king with a plan to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom, because they don't obey the king's laws. The king agrees to the plan, and letters were sent throughout the kingdom.
Esther 3:13 (NKJV) And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.
Could God have supernaturally stopped this murderess plot? Sure He could have, but He didn't. What God did do was work through natural means to save his people.
Mordecai hears of the plan and tells Esther, asking her to go to the king and intercede on behalf of the Jews. In the mean time, Haman builds a gallows to hang Mordecai on.
Esther, chapter 6, reveals in a remarkable way how God sovereignly uses the most ordinary circumstances to accomplish His purpose.
Esther 6 (NKJV) 1 That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. 2 And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, the door-keepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 3 Then the king said, "What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?" And the king's servants who attended him said, "Nothing has been done for him."
Was it just an accident that the king couldn't sleep on this particular night? Why would he ask to have read to him a register of facts? Why didn't he ask them to play some soft soothing music? Was it just an accident that the reader happened to read from the particular section of the book where Mordecai's actions were recorded ? Was it an accident that this happened on the very night that Mordecai was to be hung on the gallows? Why had not Mordecai been rewarded before now? Why didn't the king reward Mordecai at the time when he saved his life?
4 So the king said, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. 5 The king's servants said to him, "Haman is there, standing in the court." And the king said, "Let him come in." 6 So Haman came in, and the king asked him, "What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?" Now Haman thought in his heart, "Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?" 7 And Haman answered the king, "For the man whom the king delights to honor, 8 "let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head. 9 "Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: 'Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!'" 10 Then the king said to Haman, "Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king's gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken." 11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!"
Why did Haman show up at that moment to ask the king's permission to hang Mordecai? The answer to all these questions was that God was sovereignly orchestrating the events of that night to save His people.
Esther goes to the king and tells him she is a Jew, and of Haman's wicked plot to destroy all the Jews. So Haman is hanged on his own gallows, Mordecai is promoted to the number two spot in the kingdom, and the king sent out an order stopping the slaughter of all the Jews.
Esther 8:16-17 (NKJV) The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor. 17 And in every province and city, wherever the king's command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.
Since we see that God was sovereignly working out the events in Esther for the good of His people, are we justified in concluding that God always orchestrates the events of our lives to fulfill His purpose? According to Romans 8:28, I believe we can.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
The sovereign God is in control of all events that happen in our lives. This gives us tremendous comfort when we understand the very powerful truth that God loves us.
Psalms 86:15 (NIV) But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Most of us are tempted in times of adversity to question God's love. Because we are hurting so badly, our emotions cause us to feel like God has forsaken us. But the Scripture teaches that God's love is just as real in times of adversity as it is in times of blessings. God's love to us is unchangeable.
If you want to be able to deal with the temptation to doubt God's love in times of adversity-- look to Calvary. The most convincing objective evidence of God's love for us is His Giving His Son to die for our sins.
1 John 4:9-10 (NKJV) In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God showed His love by meeting our greatest need-- a need to be redeemed from an eternal separation from Him in hell. No matter how much difficulty, pain, heartache, or calamity we go through in this life, it cannot compare with the catastrophe of eternal separation from God.
When life's circumstances are slamming your face in the dirt, and pain is pouring out of every pore in your body, causing you to feel alone and forsaken by God, and in your anguish you begin to question God's love-- remember Calvary. God's love for you was clearly written in blood on the cross of Jesus Christ.
So, we know that the sovereign God who loves us is controlling ever event in time, every circumstance is under His control. We might not like the circumstances, but we can find great comfort in the fact that God is controlling them for our good.
The second thing that gives us comfort in times of adversity is:
2. The love and care of our friends.
People don't just want to listen to a cassette of some sermon when the bottom drops out. They don't just want to hear theological truths. They want a place to cry; a person to care; someone to bind up their wounds; someone to listen; the security of a few close, intimate friends who won't blab their story all over the church, who will do more than say, "I'll pray for you." They want a refuge.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
These verses teach us that God comforts us in our adversity so we can be a comfort to others who are hurting. How does God comfort us in adversity? Through others! God uses others to comfort us, so we can be used to comfort others.
Have you ever been in the pit of despair, being overcome by your circumstances? I have. And in those times, God uses His word to strengthen me. As I review my theology, I am encouraged and strengthened. But He also uses "my friends." When I think of times of trial, I remember the comfort that I received from my friends. Friends who gave me encouraging words, words of support, words of comfort. My friends reminded me of what I knew the scripture said, and reminded me of God's faithfulness. My friends ministered grace to me. They were used of God as a means of grace. Ministering to one another in time of need is an important means by which the Lord mediates His grace to us.
For the last couple of weeks we have been talking about the subject of "love". We saw in Matthew 22:36-40 that Jesus said that love was the greatest commandment. In the gospel of Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus for further clarification on this command by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" That's a good question. If we must love our neighbor, it is good to know who it is. Jesus answers him with a parable:
Luke 10:30-57 (NKJV) "Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 "Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 "Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 "So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 "On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.'"
In this story, we have a man with a need. A priest and a Levite, who were full time servants of God, come upon this man on their way home from serving in the temple. They ignore this man and walk by on the other side of the street. They saw the man's need but refused to respond. They were hypocrites!
Then a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, they were religious outcasts. But this Samaritan responds to the man and cares for his needs.
The Lord shows that our neighbor is any person in need, whose need we know and whose need we are able to meet. If we refuse to respond to the need, we are not loving our neighbor.
Luke 10:36-37 (NKJV) "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" 37 And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
How do you think that hurt man felt knowing that someone really cared for him? When we reach out in love to people with a need, our acts of mercy are demonstrating the very love of God. Jesus tells us all to, "Go and do likewise." We are all to reach out in love to those in need. As we live like this, we will have a great influence for Christ.
As we said last week, we cannot fulfill any of these commands to love and comfort if we don't "consider" one another. If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't know what others need, then how can we care for them? WE CAN'T!
WE must realize that individually you and I are personally responsible for the welfare of each other? We are to look to the needs, problems, struggles, and temptations of one another.
The lack of concern that we see for each other today in nothing new. The early church had the same problems.
Philippians 2:20-21 (NKJV) For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.
This is a sad verse. "All men seek their own." What he is saying is that everybody is selfish. Paul is literally saying, "There is no other Christian at Rome, apart from Timothy, upon whom he could count on at this time to care about the Philippians."
Paul speaks here in the present tense -- "They are all continually seeking their own interest." This is strong! Paul is contrasting Timothy's concern for the Philippians with the lack of concern by others for Christ. He doesn't say that others care for themselves and not for you, but others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ; to love Christ is to love his people. May God help us all to have the attitude of Timothy and care for each other.
It is my prayer that no one in this fellowship will feel like David did when he prayed:
Psalms 142:4 (NKJV) Look on my right hand and see, For there is no one who acknowledges me; Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul.
How sad to think that no one cares for your soul. Believers, we need each other. Let's not let this be true at BBC. My prayer is that people would find at BBC loving, caring people who are concerned for the welfare of others.
I close with a statement that I started with - In the midst of the difficult times, there are two things that carry us through: Our Trust in the Providence of God. And secondly, the love and care of our friends.
Our responsibility before God, as His children, is to comfort others who are hurting; seeking to help them to trust in the providence of God.