Exodus 34:6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and FAITHFULNESS.
Deuteronomy 7:9 Deuteronomy 7:9—”Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the FAITHFUL God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is FAITHFUL.
I struggled this week to have a direction and prayed off and on through an entire evening one night this week without having a sense of what God wanted me to share. I went on to bed, still thinking about what we might need to hear. I woke up at 5 am the next morning, and God said, “Tell them I am faithful.” (And then I went back to bed for a bit.) So, today I have come to tell you that God is faithful.
Allow me to reminisce. I was attending the Wesleyan Holiness Women’s Clergy conference in North Carolina in March of 2020 when all of the sudden, the Governor of NC mandated that no groups of over 100 could gather. There were about 400 women clergy gathered at this event, and the gathering was thrown into chaos as the steering committee and those working at the event site had to figure out how to allow our meeting to go forward since 400 women had traveled from all over the country to attend.
We were put in groups of 100 and were separated into different ballrooms at the convention site and had to participate via live stream if we weren’t in the group of 100 that got to be in the main worship area. Every time there was a service, we rotated, so every four opportunities, we got to have a live experience. That same weekend was the last weekend our church was open for in-person worship until Mother’s Day of 2020.
Reports of toilet paper flying off the shelves and schools shutting down were signals that things were rapidly changing. Not only were they rapidly changing, but they changed from day to day. What was suggested and what was predicted kept being changed. The entire rest of 2020 and even well into this year now, has been nothing but turmoil and change.
We do have the ability to be flexible; some of us more than others. We are hardwired with coping skills, but none of us has what it takes to navigate constant change. Humanity needs stability. We need an anchor. In some measure, predictability enables productivity. We need something to count on in order to thrive.
We not only had to be online here at church for a few months, which was fraught with major challenges due to an unreliable internet, but we had to change so much about the way we did ministry. Even when we did resume in-person worship, our children and youth met outside, new sanitation measures were taken, and our discipleship ministry didn’t resume until the Fall. We had to cancel lots of outreaches and fellowships. We had to change the way we experienced several worship components. The momentum we had early in 2020, which was huge, was gone.
As I have mentioned before, I believe we have yet to see the emotional and spiritual effects. We’re seeing economic effects. I was told this week by a medical professional that they are seeing record numbers of young children with mental and emotional challenges at their hospital. People have been beaten down. People have broken down.
We had more church members pass away during that time than at any time in the history of the church. Our volunteer base was greatly diminished. I immediately thought about our church mortgage. $23,500.00 a month is no small change. How would the pandemic affect our giving? Fear and worry have been pervasive for many. I could have easily gotten sucked into both.
I’ll be honest, when this mess started, I kind of dreaded being in a leadership seat where I was having to make calls and shift things around and lead in response to government mandates, people’s fears and anxieties and strong opinions. For a hot second, I kind of wished I had a different seat. As I turned to the Lord, I just sensed Him saying, “I will be with you and I won’t fail you.” That was enough for me to put my big girl pants on, to roll up my sleeves and to do whatever would be needed to be done. There is one thing God cannot do, and that is fail! And He has not failed us. While people are still on the return to in-person church, our on-site attendance has greatly increased. Our giving has remained strong. New people have joined our fellowship. We have still seen people saved and baptized during the pandemic. Our staff and volunteers have been given the creativity and energy needed to do what had to be done. God has been faithful.
I want to briefly mention three ways I see evidence of God’s faithfulness in the midst of constant chaos and change. God’s PROMISES are kept. God’s PURPOSES prevail. God’s PRESENCE is real and transforming.
God promised to be with me during these past fifteen months or so, and He has. He is the God who is faithful to His Word. Every Word God speaks is guaranteed to come to pass. My word is backed with good intentions and great desire. God’s Word is backed with all power and authority. I mean well. God does well. I am capable of forgetting a promise. God will never forget what He has pledged. There is a dependability, a reliability we can have as we lean into the promises of God. There are conservatively over 7000 promises in the Word of God. How many of you could keep 7000 promises? None of us, right? But our God can.
Even if I could remember every promise I had ever made, I can’t say that when it got time to make good on each promise that I would want to. Most of you know that I am not a pet person. First of all, I am allergic to all cats and to a lot of dogs. Second, I’m not a fan of being jumped on and licked and sniffed and such. Third, they are a whole lot of WORK. I have enough of that to satisfy my passion for work. So, it has always been a hard “No,” at our house where cats and dogs were concerned.
When asked, we always responded with, “When you get your own apartment, you can have a dog.” Well, when Josh decided to attend a local community college for his first year or two, and live at home, we thought it would be a good idea to create an apartment-like experience for him in the basement. There is a separate entrance on the side of the house, and he could come and go as he would if he was living in a college dorm or off-campus apartment. Well, once Thom got to work on the apartment, Josh reminded us that we said he could have a dog once he had his own apartment. What were we to do? We had made a promise. Our integrity was on the line. We had to make good on our word. We/I reluctantly said, “Go ahead.” I wasn’t happy about it, but he caught us in a technicality, so I had to give in. I now have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “Dog Grandma.” Suffice it to say I was a reluctant promise keeper.
Listen, God is not a reluctant promise keeper. He doesn’t have to be reminded of His promises or be talked into fulfilling them. When He says something, it is because it is in His heart to do it for us.
At the heart of God’s promises is the idea of Covenant. Psalm 105:8-He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations.
A covenant differs from a contract because it is personal. It is relational. It reveals a bond, a desire for someone’s highest good to be experienced with partnership, support or help from the person making the promise. The promises of God have been made for our benefit and because He is in a love-relationship with us, Because God has bound Himself to us for our highest good, He will always keep His promises. That is a faithful God.
Not only are God’s promises kept, serving as a sign of His faithfulness, but God’s PURPOSES will prevail, which also serves as a sign of His faithfulness.
God doesn’t start stuff and forget about it. God doesn’t get involved in something only to change courses later. God doesn’t do anything halfway. God’s involvement in the world and in our lives is an expression of His faithfulness to see things through. This particular characteristic of God’s faithfulness has run through my mind repeatedly as I have reminded myself that God hasn’t brought this church this far to leave us now. That mortgage is His to figure out. The next steps in ministry are His to reveal. Our staffing needs will be taken care of as He will direct. Our former building will be occupied or sold at His direction. That million-dollar giver that God told me to start praying for over 13 years ago will show up at just the right time. Because when God purposes for something to happen, you can take it to the bank.
Psalm 138:8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
God is faithful to accomplish His purposes in the world as well as in your personal life. I want you to be encouraged by that because many of you are waiting on something to happen. You’ve been praying for God to move, for a schedule to clear, for an appointment to open up, for something to get straightened out, for a legal situation to be completed, for a new place of employment, for the realization of a God-given dream. Don’t allow how circumstances appear to become evidence that trumps everything God is doing and can do that is yet unseen. God works in time and in concert with your obedience and faith to accomplish His will.
I remember when I was sitting in my apartment in Wilmore, KY and was finishing seminary. I was 26 years old, and I heard a voice as clear as mine this morning say, “You are young, you are single, and you are a female. There will be no place for you.”
Oh how I leaned on the Word of God to reassure me that I hadn’t misheard God by going to seminary. I ran into verses like I Thessalonians 5:24, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” “Do what?” I Thessalonians 5:24 follows a verse about being sanctified and living a holy life and how God can enable you to do so. That was the “it” Paul was referring to, but in that moment of questioning and wrestling with my call to ministry God told me the “it” was whatever He wanted “it” to be, and because He had called me to ministry, He would open the door for me to serve Him in full-time ministry.
Listen, God doesn’t leave us hanging. When He steers us in a direction, it is for a purpose. When He educates us in a certain way, it is because He intends for us to use that knowledge. When He shapes our attitudes and passions, when He gives us ideas and desires, as we follow and obey Him, we can be assured that none of that is random or simply a good idea we came up with on our own.
I never dreamed about being in ministry as a kid. I never asked Santa for a pulpit for Christmas. Ministry wasn’t my idea. But God directed my steps. God steered my path. God had a purpose for my life. Because it wasn’t my idea, I knew I could trust Him. God took me through a back door where He literally took me out of the country, into the Middle East for two years, opening my eyes to the world around me and to diverse cultures to ready me to be a worship pastor at a church whose slogan was, “Where the Nations Worship.” Hmmm. Think that was a set up? So, as I sat in my seminary apartment and wrestled with the demeaning voice that had just come at me, I reminded myself that God finishes what He starts, Philippians 1:6, and that since God had called and equipped me, He was getting ready to open a door for me to walk through. In just a few weeks, I was interviewing at a growing church in Cincinnati and was driving a U-haul north and was towing my car behind it.
My call to preach came three years before this church became available. I didn’t mishear God three years earlier. It just took three years for everything to line up according to God’s plans. Listen, waiting is never wasted. It serves the purposes of God. If you are waiting on something you know God has for you, if you are wondering if the preparation to which you have given yourself was to no avail, just hang on. God always fulfills His purposes. God is faithful to both His promises and His purposes.
The third way I want us to consider God’s faithfulness has to do with His presence. God’s PRESENCE is transforming. It is a game-changer. He promises to be with us, to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). And when you recognize and acknowledge God’s presence in a situation, whether the situation changes or not, you will become empowered in supernatural ways to handle whatever you must face. It is God’s presence with you that parts waters, that shuts the mouths of lions, that causes you to focus and have clarity in your decision-making, that routes your enemies, that cuts through red tape, that gives you a promotion or blessing you would never have known.
You may be in a situation right now and you wonder how you are going to make it. Hear me. Because of the faithfulness of God to be with you in every circumstance, you will make it. God’s presence can enable you to stand through the trials of life and will give you supernatural strength to deal. The Psalmist said this in Psalm 18:29: With my God, I can scale a wall. God can and will enable you to do things you never thought possible. The Psalmist didn’t say, “God will give me a boost, and help me until I can struggle and strain and stress and huff and puff and expend every ounce of energy and slip and fall and start from the bottom of the wall and repeat all of the steps until I finally make it.” No, friends, God’s presence is like the rocket power in one of those now old-time video games where when the button is pushed, the little cartoon character soars into the air over the obstacle. He still had to run and to jump but something enabled him to succeed. The rocket power made it possible.
God is the rocket power giving an ease to difficult circumstances because He is with us in the midst of them. The Psalmist testified that even in the valley of the shadow of death there was special help for him because God was with him.
It took us 12 ½ years to talk Thom’s mom into living with us. I thought she was punking us when she finally agreed to come. We didn’t know her time with us would only be a year and half. We didn’t know how complicated and difficult that year and a half would be, but oh, how glad we were that she came. During her last six months, there were personal needs that Nana had that required me to step in. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. I’m not up to this. But with God’s help, I will do whatever I need to do.” And you know what? I did it. Whatever was needed, I did it. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t done it before. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have training to do it. It didn’t matter that it was difficult for me to do it. God was with me, and He enabled me to do what the situation called for. And it was a blessing. And Nana and I had some good laughs about some of the awkward and uncomfortable moments. I saw her determined faith. I felt the presence of God right there with me. She felt it, too.
Listen, you may doubt your ability to perform a certain task, but you don’t ever have to doubt the presence of God which trumps any deficiency you might have.
The Hebrew root for the word, “faithfulness,” carries the idea of strength, support and being held up. I was held up by the presence of God. They were my hands tending to Nana’s needs, but my hands were being strengthened by the hands of God.
You can’t see the presence of God, and you can’t always sense His nearness, but you know that if He wasn’t with you, you wouldn’t be doing what once seemed impossible. That is evidence of His faithful presence in your life.
God’s promises are kept. God’s purposes will prevail, and God’s presence will transform every experience you have. God is faithful.