February 12, 2019
*Edited for this blog format: This is content from the sermon God gave me to share with my local church family, January 20, 2019.
God has given me a message for you that you need today, or will need in the future.
Sometimes God does something for us or communicates something to us that we do not understand at the time. Jesus told Peter when He washed his feet "you don’t understand what I’m doing for you right now, but later you will understand." (John 13:7)
So hold onto, remember, tuck away whatever you sense God impressing on you through this message. Even if you don't understand it right now.
This whole issue of Not Understanding God is what I’m speaking about today.
If you like to take notes, the Title of this message is: When You Don’t Understand God.
Not understanding God usually comes into play when His actions, or what He allows to happen, does not line up with what we expected from Him.
We get confused when what God says, or does, or allows does not match up with what we understood of His character.
Why did you do that, Lord? Why did you say that? How could you allow this to happen?
Questions are welcome in the presence of God. He is our Wonderful Counselor.
Ask - so you will receive. Seek - so you will find. Knock - and the door will be opened to you.
But before we read the passage of scripture today that caused me to not understand God, and to ask Him those questions… Before we look the historical, Biblical record of something horrific that happened, and try to the best of our ability to test all things and hold fast to that which is true about God’s character, Jesus wanted to present a character test to us, first.
Those of you who know my 13-year-old daughter, Selah, knows she loves stories.
She loves books, she loves movies, and she loves to take these quizzes online where you answer questions and they tell you which character in the story you are most like.
If you saw her last Sunday she had a book this thick because it’s a compilation of all of Jane Austen’s novels.
She’ll come to me and ask me “Mom, there’s this quiz that will tell you which of the Bennet sisters you are, and I think I already know which one I am, but can I take it?”
The character quizzes are all about: Who am I in the story?
Selah loves character quizzes.
And I realized Jesus likes character quizzes too because He presented quite a few of them to His disciples and others through stories:
There is the character quiz from the story of the 2 sons:
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' "'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” - Matthew 21:28-31
The character quiz is to determine: Who did what the father wanted? Which character in the story are you?
There is the good Samaritan character test (Luke 10:29-37) Question: Who was a neighbor to the man in need? Who are you in the story?
There is the story of the prodigal son and the older brother. Question: Do you understand the unconditional love of the Father? Who are you in the story?
But the story Jesus directed me to read this morning as our character quiz is the parable of the sower.
Join me in reading from Matthew, chapter 13. I’m going to read verses 1- 9, and then Jesus’ explanation of the parable in verses 18 - 23.
The point of this character quiz from Jesus is to get us to consider: Who are we in this story?
(READ: these verses before you continue)
As God continues to speak to us today about His character, and about how to respond with faith that pleases Him when we do not understand Him - He wanted me to start here with a prayer that will prepare all of us who are willing to be the good ground that both hears and receives a word from him and in time produces an exponential harvest.
So please pray with me:
Lord Jesus - No matter which kind of soil the seed is thrown on - the seeds have to take root or there will be no harvest.
Let the words You sow in our hearts, Jesus, take root. And not be choked out.
Make us good ground.
I am giving You, Holy Spirit, all my heart, my mind, my attention and I’m asking you to bear much fruit in my life through the truth you sow into me through your words today. Amen.
Okay, here we go:
Good ground that is prepared for seed is first churned up and broken open.
I think this story God directed me to share from today is going to effectively prepare us in that way.
Please turn with me to Joshua, chapter 7.
(READ: all of Joshua chapter 7)
There is a lot here I don't understand.
Why did you do that, Lord? Why did you say that? How could you allow this to happen?
Now, we know a little about Achan outside this chapter:
We know that:
- Achan witnessed all the male role models in his life disbelieve God. Not one of them entered the promised land because of their disbelief. Achan saw firsthand their choices and the consequences.
- Achan was one of the “40 thousand equipped for war” who “hurried across” the Jordan river on dry ground, into the plains of Jericho in the LORD’s presence. Achan knew the power of the LORD. (Joshua 3:10, 13)
- Achan was fed manna. He knew the provision of God. (Joshua 5:12)
- Achan was a part of the victory in the battle of Jericho. He had experienced God doing for and through His people what He said He would do.
- And, the last instructions Achan received before entering the battle of Jericho was to keep himself from the things set apart, or he - and the camp of Israel - would be set apart for destruction. (Joshua 6:17-18)
Achan made his choice, fully aware of the consequences of his disbelief and disobedience. So if I’m honest it’s not so much the death of Achan - but of all the innocent people who died and were impacted because of his sinful choices that I simply cannot understand.
Now, if you got done reading this chapter, and felt God prompting you to stand up and speak about His character, His faithful love, and trusting Him when you don't understand Him… you might feel the tightening of anxiety or the heart-pounding I felt in my chest when I sensed God saying: this is what I want you to share from.
It's a similar situation to when the disciples had thousands of hungry people around them needing nourishment and Jesus said “you give them something to eat”. - Mark 6:37
I’m very aware of all I lack. I don’t understand the Jewish culture or this time period in history. I don’t understand Hebrew, or the differences in translations that might help me better understand this brutal situation. I have never heard someone teach on the story of Achan, and though I may have read it before I was not familiar with this story.
But even with all my lack of education about the culture, and the language translations I understand that because one man chose to sin, that about 36 other Israelites were killed in battle, and the people lost heart, their leader Joshua was deeply grieved and shaken that God had allowed them to lose in battle and that all Israel took Achan, and his sons + daughters and stoned them to death and burned them.
There is a lot I don’t have to offer about happened here.
And just like in the situation with feeding the five thousand, God was asking me to bring Him what little I do have, and to trust Him that He will break it down, pass it around, and make it more than enough for each person sitting at His feet.
The truth is, even if you and I did understand this story, there will always be something about God we don’t understand.
I don’t fully understand myself, or the people in my family, so I definitely won’t ever understand everything about God.
His ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours - there will always be situations we find ourselves in, or stories we find ourselves hearing or reading about where our honest response must be:
Why did you do that, Lord? Why did you say that? How could you allow that to happen?
But just like Jesus’ disciples experienced how God could take those 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that felt and seemed like not enough and make it more than enough - He can and will do the same thing for you and me as we find ourselves in similar situations.
So I said, “Okay God, You tell me what I even have to offer, and I’ll bring it to the table.”
God gave me 3 truths to share about what we need to remember when we don’t understand God.
The first truth God spoke to me was this:1. Remember what you do know. (Which is - there is a lot you don’t know).
God brought to my mind the story of my next-door neighbor, Mildred Rosamond.
About 7 years ago my husband Jason and I bought an old townhouse foreclosure and began the long DIY renovation process.
We finally finished the renovation enough to begin moving in. In between one of our first trips of taking stuff inside I came out to my car and noticed this big, beautiful basket full of stuff on the hood of the car.
I took it inside and there were fruit, snacks, a Kroger gift card, and things for the kids and this beautiful note telling us congratulations! and welcoming us home and to the neighborhood. The note was signed by our next-door neighbor, Mildred Rosamond.
I loved Mildred before I even met her.
She was always telling me how she loved the sounds of my kids' voices coming over the fence into her backyard (and never telling me how she heard my stressed out mom-voice in correcting them). Mildred had such a kind face.
As the years unfolded we did life together and became dear friends.
She came over for dinner, invited my kids to tea parties, her front yard was free reign to the kids and Jason removed the snakes from her garden that she was terrified of.
Mildred cheered with the girls as they proudly showed her produce from our garden, she made blankets and gave gifts for every baby I had all the way up through Levi, and we talked about Jesus and other things dear to our hearts - like her husband and young son who she missed deeply because they were already in heaven.
As Mildred’s health and abilities declined we helped her more with things like getting her groceries in the house, and we became acquainted with her daughter, Vickie, who stopped in frequently to help her mom with whatever was needed.
Even though we had moved out of the townhouse by the time Mildred decided to move to an assisted-living community in New Braunfels you bet we brought the whole wild gang of kids and all went to Mildred’s going away party. Her face was full of joy, as it usually was.
That was the last time I saw Mildred.
I’ll never forget when our other cul-de-sac neighbor, Dorris, who was also good friends with Mildred and our family, told us that Mildred had been killed in a terrible car crash. My heart was already grieving because Jason’s dad had just passed away from Alzheimer’s disease a couple of days before.
And now I hear that my sweet neighbor was killed - along with 12 other seniors in the minibus who had gone on a weekend retreat as church group - by a 20-year-old who was texting and driving.
13 wonderful people killed in a moment. And the 20-year-old young man who drove into them survived.
That’s what all the headlines read: “Truck Driver Indicted in Church Bus Crash that Killed 13.”
The situation was so gruesome it took a couple of weeks to arrange the funeral. And by the time of Mildred’s funeral - exactly three Saturdays after Jason and I had buried his dad - we knew we had another funeral to attend in two days on Monday, for Jason’s 31-year-old cousin who’d had a seizure while riding his motorcycle, crashed, and was killed.
3 funerals in 3 weeks.
There were several other loved ones who were also grieving unexpected and painful losses during this same time.
But at Mildred’s funeral, something happened that I will never forget.
The pastor read one small note that impacted the way we understood the character of God in Mildred’s story.
I asked Mildred’s daughter, Vickie, to send me this note so you could hear about God’s faithfulness and love for Mildred in her own words:
"To my very much loved children, grandchildren, and Dillon.
I have a feeling I may be going to see Jesus soon. I've been thinking a lot about my mother lately. Don't be sad for me - I won't hurt anymore. If you only knew how bad I hurt every day you would sing for joy with me. I love you all very much. You've been my life since Daddy died."
I am so glad Mildred - who did not journal - scratched down this little note and left it on her makeup table, under a small dish.
Jesus was preparing her to go home to Him.
This note is dated the same month in which she died. And her daughter told me it is something she will treasure for the rest of her life.
But even if this note did not exist? God was still faithful to Mildred. We just wouldn’t have known about it.
One of the things that bothers me so much about the story of Achan is all the loss of life because of one person’s choice to sin. What about those who died who didn’t make the choice to disobey God here? What about them? Was God just and loving to them?
In Joshua chapter 7 there are 26 verses - that is less than one verse per person who died. That is less than a headline.
And God brought this story of Mildred to mind to remind me: remember - there is so much I am doing that you do not know about.
There is so much Jesus sustains me through and ways He loves me that even my own husband doesn’t know about… just because of limited time and non-stop life.
Here is the first truth we must remember:
Headlines don’t tell the whole story. Articles don’t tell the whole story. Single chapters in the Bible don’t tell the whole story.
God wrote a whole lot of notes for us - preparing us both for what is to come and for what we are enduring now - that will deeply impact our understanding of His character if we will read His words, and treasure them.
I don’t know what headlines or hard stories you are hearing about, reading, or living.
But I know that God wants to remind you today that in the midst of all you don’t understand about Him: Remember what you do know. Which is that you don’t know a lot of what He’s doing.
Here is an action point for us:
How many things has God done for us that we have not recorded?
How differently would our stories be understood if we took just one small note a month and wrote a couple of sentences about what God has been communicating to us lately?
It might make the world of difference for someone else’s understanding of God’s faithfulness to us.
Last summer I had the privilege of leading a group of women at a retreat through writing two of their personal stories of God’s faithfulness to them, emphasizing what a difference it makes to the next generation to understand why we have hope in Jesus… and after it was all over I walked outside and gasped aloud when I saw this:
Of all the places I could have spoken about the importance of writing down our stories of our hope in Jesus, I was invited to the one place in New Braunfels, Texas where Mildred lived her last days.
I got to sit for a moment on Mildred’s memorial bench, and think about my dear friend who loved Jesus, and of His faithfulness to her.
I will share the 2nd and 3rd truth God gave me to share in a blog tomorrow. Until then remember:
You are so, so loved.
Read Part 2 HERE.