Worship Set

Happy Day – Tim Hughes
Only You – David Crowder
Beautiful Lord – Leeland Mooring, Marc Byrd 
Cannons – Phil Wickam
The Stand – Joel Houston 

Transcript

 

 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

God’s In It

Part 6: God is in everything.

 

Opening:

          I’ve been in Turkey for the last three weeks, taking a class for my masters program from Whitworth.  The class was “Ancient Christian Sites in Turkey”.  We explored many of the places that we read about in the book of Acts, or the letters of the New Testament, and many other sites from the early centuries of the Christian faith.  I learned lots—you’ll hear a little today and more in the months to come.

          Today, I’m going to wrap up our series, “God’s In It,” with a talk called “God is in everything.”  God is always working, using everything in your life to grow your faith.  We’ll talk about how to recognize God’s work in your life.

 

Offering and announcements:

New series starts next Sunday: Build It Right.  We’re going to take 4 weeks to talk about how to build a lasting marriage.  We’ll look at Biblical principles that you can apply if you are single and building a new relationship, or married and want to improve your marriage.  This will be a great series to invite a friend.

Superbowl Sunday:  We’re inviting everyone to hold a Levi Party on Sunday night and are moving the 6 PM service to the night before.

New Connections: If you’re new to Life Center, I would love to meet you at a new connections meeting in the multipurpose room after the 11:15 service. You’ll have a chance to meet a few of our pastors, and we’ll talk about our values and what it means to be a member here at Life Center.

Bible Class: Check out Tim & Mike’s Bodacious Bible class.  Tim Johnson and Michael Hockett are classmates of mine in Whitworth’s theology program.  And if you want motivation to keep up with Life Center’s reading plan or you want to better understand what you’re reading, try out their class for the month of February.  You’ll love what you get out of it!

 

Introduction: God is always working in our lives, using everything to help us grow.  Look for signs of God’s activity.

God’s in it!  For the last five Sundays, we’ve been talking about some things God uses to grow our faith.  Brad, Matt and Michael have done a great job showing us how God uses Biblical teaching, spiritual disciplines, relationships, serving and circumstances to grow our faith.  God’s in all those things, working to grow our relationship with Him.  I’m going to wrap up the series by talking about how God is in everything—He is always working to accomplish His purposes in us.  And I want to give you some practical ideas about how to recognize God’s activity in your daily lives.

 

1. God is always working. 

          I’ve listed some references from the Bible that describe God’s work in our lives.  We’ll look at just a few; the rest I’ll let you look up and read on your own this week. 

John 5:16-17 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

“My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too.” NCV

In John 5, Jesus heals the man by the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem—He does it on the Sabbath, which upsets the Jewish leaders.  This is Jesus’ response to them: “My Father is always working, and I am too.” 

          I like that.  God is always working.  He never takes a day off.  He never goes on vacation.  He’s never asleep on the job.

Psalm 121:3-4 He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

God is always working—always watching over you.  God is working in everything in your life to help you, to grow your faith, to draw you closer to Himself.  God is always working in everything.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God works in what?  In all things.  God is always working in everything…for what?  For the good of those who love Him.  God is always working in your life for your good.  Please remember that this is for your good as God defines it, not as you define it.  Sometimes what I think would be good for me isn’t at all.

ILL:  How many of you think it would be a good thing to have more money?  A lot more money?  We’ve always heard that money can’t buy happiness, but how many of you would at least like to try?

I read in yesterday’s paper about Abraham Shakespeare, a Florida man who won $30 million in the Florida lottery in 2006.  You think that would be good thing, don’t you?  After he won, friends and acquaintances gathered outside his home, clamoring for cash; they made his life miserable and he talked about getting out of town.  “I was better off broke,” he told his brother.  He’s been missing for the last nine months; his family hoped that he’d skipped town and was on a Caribbean beach.  Instead, they found his body last week buried in the backyard of the boyfriend of a woman who befriended him after he won the money.

Sometimes what I think would be good for me isn’t at all.  Is there anyone besides me who has prayed some prayers that you are glad God didn’t answer?  When we say that God is always working in everything for our good, it is important to remember that He knows what is good for us, and it’s not always the same as what we think is good. 

Ephesians 1:11  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…

God is always working in everything to accomplish His purposes.  He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”  God is always working to accomplish His purposes in our lives.

          There’s a terrific story in the book of Genesis that illustrates this—if you are doing the Bible reading plan, you just read this a week ago.  Joseph was his father’s favorite, which made his ten older brothers jealous.  But when Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down to him, that was too much.  They hated him so much that they decided one day to kill him.  One of the brothers calmed the others down and got them to agree to simply sell Joseph as a slave to a passing band of slave traders, which they did, then they went home and told their father that a wild animal had attacked and eaten Joseph.  And you thought your family was dysfunctional!  Joseph was 17 years old. 

In an Egyptian slave market, a wealthy Egyptian named Potiphar buys Joseph as a slave.  God was with Joseph even in slavery.  Potiphar quickly figures that out and puts Joseph in charge of everything in his household.  Then comes Genesis 39:7, one of my life verses: “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.”  Unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife got the hots for this young stud and when Joseph refused to go to bed with her, she framed him for rape, and Joseph landed in prison. 

God was with Joseph even in prison, and the warden noticed and put him in charge of everything.  When two members of Pharaoh’s court who were in prison with Joseph had dreams, Joseph interpreted them.  Later, when Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret, Joseph did and Pharaoh made him prime minister—ruler over all Egypt.  Joseph is 30 years old when he becomes prime minister.  He has spent the last 13 years in slavery and in prison. 

Several years later, a severe famine strikes Egypt and Palestine; Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt looking for grain.  They bow down before the prime minister of Egypt, unaware that he is Joseph, the brother they sold into slavery more than 20 years before.  Eventually, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.  What is their first emotion?  Is it joy at seeing their long-lost brother?  Not hardly!

Genesis 45:3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

They were terrified!  And rightly so—Joseph has all the power and it’s payback time!  But listen to what Joseph says.

Genesis 45:4-7 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 

Betrayed and sold into slavery by your own brothers.  Framed and convicted for a crime you didn’t commit.  Thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment.  That would be enough to make a guy a little bitter.  But Joseph saw God’s work in all of it.  God is always working.  God sent Joseph to Egypt to accomplish His plan of saving lives.  Joseph was able to see God’s hand, even in the hard stuff. God is always working. 

          God is always working in your life too, working for your good, working to accomplish His purposes, working to grow your faith, working to make you more like Christ.  How can you recognize God’s work in your life?

 

2. The God Hunt: looking for God’s work in our lives. 

          Six years ago, in 2004, I started the year with a series of talks called “The God Hunt.”  We talked about how to recognize God’s work in our lives.  We used a game that David and Karen Mains taught their children; they called it “The God Hunt”.  They taught their children to look for four signs of God’s work in their lives.  These are not the only signs of God’s work, but they are a great place to start.  I’m going to give them to you again; these are also listed in our Life Center journals. 

 

  1. A.   Any answer to prayer.

          The first thing to look for is any answer to prayer.  We have a saying: “when we work, we work; when we pray, God works.”  Jesus told us to pray and promised that God would answer. 

Matthew 7:7-11 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

God answers prayer.  This doesn’t mean that God does everything we ask Him; that would put us in charge and make God our genie.  But Jesus was clear that we should ask and God would answer.

I believe that many of God’s answers to our prayers go unnoticed.  We ask, He answers, and we miss it.  I think that happens for a number of reasons:

  • Sometimes it’s a matter of timing.  If there is a delay between our prayer and the answer, we may not connect the two, or even remember that we prayed about this.  Sometimes God’s answers unfold slowly over time.
  • Sometimes the answer isn’t what we expected, so we don’t recognize it when it comes.  Jesus was the answer to millions of prayers for the Messiah, but He didn’t come as expected so they missed Him.  We can miss answers to our prayers because they weren’t what we expected.
  • Sometimes it’s that we’re just not paying attention.  We don’t take any time to think or reflect on what’s happening so the answers go unnoticed.
  • And sometimes it’s that we’re just not praying.

ILL: In Turkey, we visited Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey mentioned in Acts and 1 Peter, and the home of the Cappadocian monks in the fourth century.  As a protest to the worldiness of the church, these monks retired to the wilderness where they lived in caves carved out of the hills.  Pictures. We spent three days exploring these caves where the monks lived and prayed and worshiped.  These caves were occupied by monks for 1000 years!

          The monks believed that they were saving the world.  How?  By praying.  This a foreign thought to most of us—that we could save the world by praying.  But they believed that God heard their prayers and worked.  When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.  These monks believed that—believed it enough to make prayer their primary work. 

I’m not advocating that we all live in caves and pray all day.  But their example inspired me to pray more.  Answered prayer is one of the signs of God’s work.  How can we see more answers to prayer?

  1. Pray more!  The more you pray, the more answers you’ll see.  The more you ask, the more you’ll receive; so pray more.
  2. Pay attention!  Watch for the answers.  Here’s where journaling can help you.  Jot down things you’re praying for, and then each day as you reflect, look back on your prayers and see if you can spot any answers that God has given. 

The more I pray, the more answers I see.  The more I look, the more answers I see.  God is always working—look for answers to prayer.

 

B. Any evidence of God’s care. 

          A second sign of God’s activity is any evidence of God’s care.  The Bible says that God cares for us in many ways: providing for us, protecting us, helping us.  But like answers to prayer, we miss many expressions of God’s care.  We take them for granted. 

ILL: When the Israelites were in the wilderness, there was no food, so God provided manna, a substance that fell like dew each night, but could be gathered in the morning and made into bread or cakes.  Would that rate as an expression of God’s care?  But what did the Israelites do?  They grumbled about it!  “We’re sick of manna!  Give us meat or we’ll die!”  Amazing!  You think that they would recognize God’s care and be grateful.  Instead, they took it for granted and grumbled. 

In The God Hunt, Karen Main writes, “God’s care is in the basics, in the usual evidences of his care that we take for granted (then have the gall to complain that we can’t see him working on our behalf).  The African American church where David and I attend has a litany of thanksgiving they pray Sunday after Sunday: ‘Thank you that we woke up this morning in our right minds, that we have food on the table, clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, a roof over our head, and a job to go to.’  His care is everywhere, but sometimes we take it for granted.”  If we open our eyes, evidence of God’s care is all around us, like manna covering the ground every morning.

ILL: Here’s a recent answer to prayer and expression of God’s care.  Many of you know that my daughter and son in law, Zac and Amy are adopting two boys from Ethiopia.  Friday was the court date in Ethiopia when the court approves or disapproves the adoption application.  There are lots of things that can go wrong, and it’s common for the court to deny the request pending more paperwork.  But God answered our prayers and the court approved both adoptions.  Here are my new grandsons, Zealand and Stejer!  (Picture) Zac and Amy will fly to Addis Ababa to pick them up in 6-8 weeks.

          And God expressed His care for Zac and Amy and these boys in another way.  It costs $35,000 for these two adoptions.  As you can guess, like most young couples their age, Zac and Amy didn’t have $35,000 in the bank.  But they sent out a letter to friends and family, and God moved the hearts of people to give.  We’ve been amazed and grateful for their generosity, and take it as another expression of God’s care.

God’s care is all around us, like manna on the morning ground.  Look for evidence of God’s care.

 

C. Any help to do God’s work. 

          A third sign of God’s activity is any help to do God’s work.  It is not just professional Christians who are helped to do God’s work.  Every Christian is God’s representative.  Every Christian is an ordained minister, chosen by God to serve Him and do His work.  Every Christian is gifted and called by God.  You are part of His plan, and God has work for you to do that no one else can do. 

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 

You are God’s workmanship, God’s work of art, God’s masterpiece and you were made for a purpose.  You were made to do good works—God’s works—and He even prepared them in advance for you to do.  Every Christian has work to do for God!  And God helps us do it.

ILL: One of the most inspiring moments for me in Turkey was when we visited a missionary in Antalya, a beautiful city on the Mediterranean coast that the apostle Paul passed through on his missionary journeys.  James and Renata Boultema have been missionaries in Turkey for 20 years, 14 of them in AntalyaPicture.  A little background:

Turkey is 99.8% Muslim, but it is a very secular nation.  Most Turks are non-practicing, secular Muslims.  Five times a day, the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer over loud speakers hung from the minarets at the mosques.  It woke us up most mornings around 5:30.  But we noticed during the day when we were in public places and the call to prayer sounded, no one blinked an eye.  It was background noise.  Most mosques we visited were empty.  The biggest challenge for missionaries in Turkey is not Islam, but secularism—most people are not thinking about God.  They are living far from God and not giving it a second thought.  Does this sound familiar?  Being in Turkey often felt just like being in the U.S.

The Boultemas started a church in a hotel.  They began with 25 people, and when it grew, police told them, “You can’t do this in a hotel.”  So they went to the local official in charge and asked for permission to buy land or a building for a church.  When the official said no, they asked, “What do you recommend?”  The official told them to start a cultural center.  The local government had no category for church buildings, but it did for cultural centers.  God was helping them do His work! 

So they started St. Paul’s Cultural Center: a coffee shop called “Paul’s Place” with a Christian library, and a chapel upstairs.  Now, they pack out the chapel twice on Sundays: one international service in English, and a Turkish service in Turkish led by a Turkish pastor.  They have bought the land next door and are getting ready to expand.  The police don’t want them evangelizing on the streets, but it’s ok for people to come to the cultural center.  At their coffee shop, they’ve given away thousands of New Testaments.  God is helping them.

We heard the testimony of Erkhan, the assistant pastor at the Turkish church.  His parents heard the gospel in Germany, started reading the New Testament, and called the number at the end.  They were directed to the Boultema’s cultural center, where they began attending and became believers in Jesus.  They began to share the gospel with their son and invited him to come to church.  He realized that he knew nothing about his own faith so he started to read the Koran, and compared it with the gospel his father was sharing with him.  Erkhan went to church with his parents and saw the love people had for each other; he decided to become a Christian. 

What does that sound like?  Find, tell, bring.  It’s working in Turkey!  Someone comes to Christ, and he finds those he loves, tells them what he knows and brings them to church.  It works anywhere!

I went away inspired to come home and redouble our efforts to reach people here.  God is helping the Boultemas do His work in Turkey, and God will help us do His work here.  We’re both working in very secular nations where most people are far from God.

I hope you’ll make a Love List—a list of people you love who are still far from God—and pray for them every day.  Then do find, tell, bring: find someone you love, tell them what you know, and bring them to church with you. 

Whenever you do something good, an act of kindness; whenever you stand up for what is true, honest and just; whenever you share the good news of Jesus with someone; whenever you help the poor or oppressed; you are doing God’s work in the world.  Look for God’s help doing His work.

 

D. Any unusual circumstance or timing. 

          A fourth sign of God’s activity is any unusual circumstance or timing.  Most people call these coincidences.  But we see the hand and purpose of God behind these “coincidences”.  God is at work, and when God works, the coincidences are staggering!

ILL: Acts 8 tells a remarkable story about Philip.  He was doing God’s work in the city of Samaria, and remarkable things were happening.  Hundreds of people were coming to Christ, and people were being healed.  Then God spoke to Phil and told him head for the road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza, a road that runs through the desert.  No explanation, no instructions, just go to this road.

          Phil does and meets an important Ethiopian government official—in fact, he is the royal treasurer.  This man is returning home after visiting Jerusalem to worship.  He is sitting in his chariot at a rest stop reading the book of Isaiah, from the Old Testament.  God told Phil, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 

          So Phil does and heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah.  “Do you understand what you’re reading?” Phil asked.

          “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” he said.  And he invited Phil up into his chariot.  Now it turns out that the passage he was reading was from Isaiah 53.  “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”  It was one of Isaiah’s most clear prophecies about Jesus!

          The Ethiopian asked, “Tell me please, who is the prophet speaking about?”  And starting with this verse, Philip told him about Jesus.  The Ethiopian believed in Jesus and then said, “Look, here’s water (remember they were at a rest stop—in those days they called it “an oasis”); baptize me!”  Philip did, and the man went home rejoicing, the first Christian in Africa.  God moves Philip on to Azotus—in other words, God sent him to this place for one reason only: to share the gospel with this one man.

Look at all the coincidences! 

  • The Ethiopian official just happened to be at the rest stop.
  • He just happened to be reading the Bible.
  • It just happened to be a prophecy about Jesus.
  • He just happened to be seeking God, willing to ask for help.
  • Philip just happened to be there at that moment.

Coincidence?  No!  It’s God at work. 

Have you had something like that happen—a “coincidence” that had God’s fingerprints all over it?  An unusual linkage or timing?

ILL: There were 24 undergraduate students from Whitworth on this trip, including my son, Michael.  I was the lone grad student, the token old guy.  When we arrived in Istanbul, we met Dan and Judy, a missionary couple who got permission to join our tour.  Dan teaches at a Bible college and Judy is a nurse—it’s always good to have a nurse along.  Picture.  Guess where Dan and Judy are working?  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  In a few weeks, Zac and Amy are going to Addis to pick up the boys.  They know no one there.  Now they do!  What a coincidence! 

Or maybe God is always working.  Look for those divine coincidences, unusual linkages or timing that suggest God is at work.

 

Bonus point: Look for God in unexpected places! 

One more—a bonus point.  Look for God where you least expect Him!  It is easy to see God in the first four trail signs—they are all positive things, happy things, nice things.  But God doesn’t show up only when things are going well, and then duck out when things are going badly.  God shows up and does some of His best work in hardest times.  God is not a fair-weather friend; He’s all all-weather friend.  And it’s in the storms that we feel His presence most closely or see Him work most strongly.  Joseph’s story is a great example of that—God was working in his slavery and imprisonment.  Understanding this helps me to look at my problems differently.  Rather than assuming that God has deserted me, I assume that God is at work and begin looking for signs of His activity.  What is your most difficult problem, your hardest struggle, your biggest test?  Look for God where you least expect Him.  God is always working.