On Thursday my husband went to a one-day conference in Virginia about three hours away. He hadn’t been on the road heading home long when out of nowhere he started chilling, started to sweat and was nauseous. When he shared with me what was going on, I was concerned. The fact that it came on all of the sudden was alarming and the thought of a possible heart attack went through my mind. He started praying, and I started praying. He kept driving.
He had moments of chilling and more nausea and dizziness but kept pushing through in order to make it home. When he got to the bridge in Charleston he knew something was terribly wrong. He was growing weak and dizzy and actually saw a bright light. He cried out to the Lord because he thought he was dying. He asked God for help and asked God if he was passing from this life to take care of me and the kids.
There had been no place to pull over on the bridge. He managed to cross the bridge and get to the side of the road. He flung his door open to alert passersby that he needed help. He put his seat back and went to call 911, but by that time he couldn’t lift his arms to reach for the phone. At some point he sort of passed out. No one stopped to help him. He had an awareness that something was really wrong. He heard the cars passing by and was aware of where he was. Though no one stopped to help, God was an ever-present help. God was there. God had heard his prayers that had started way before the moment of crises. They started at the first sign of illness and distress. God had been escorting Thom home.
After some time passed, maybe ten minutes, he had some clarity and even though he was weak, he decided to drive home. Josh had been sick on Monday and Tuesday with a fever and some kind of virus, and we concluded Thom had acquired the same and that he probably suffered a fever-related seizure while driving-something he had a lot of as a child. It was an emotional moment when he made it home, and when we think about what could have happened, I am so glad that when Thom desperately needed help, God was his Refuge. God was the One He called out to. God was the First and only Responder on the scene. He was there in trouble. Thom knew that about God and had experienced God as his Refuge many times. That is why he didn’t hesitate to call to Him for help.
Please stand as we honor the Lord’s Word with just one short verse.
Psalm 46:1-God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) As believers we understand that God is the One we worship. We are to make time to acknowledge Him as Lord. Check. We are here this morning doing just that. We are to obey the words of the Bible in an effort to live in a way that pleases Him and reflects that He is our Lord. None of us who believe in Him this morning will deny that we believe that is important. Sounds like we are good to go on Commandment One or are we?
Beyond just wanting to show our affection for Him and wanting to demonstrate our allegiance to Him, this idea of having no other gods before Him should also urge us to not look to anything or anyone ahead of Him when we are in distress or trouble, when we are confused or concerned, when we are afraid or even ashamed. Perhaps we are doing well acknowledging God as Sovereign and the One worthy of worship, but are we also acknowledging Him as the One who is the Source for answers, strength, hope, help, and healing when we need it? Is God our first Refuge or our last Resort?
As a pastor, it has been my experience that many people keep their struggles quiet, keeping them under wraps, and to try to manage their issues on their own and do so often by pursuing help from every avenue but the ones God has provided. Psalm 46:1 tells us God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Ever-present, but often ignored in the moments during which we need Him the most. Often, instead of running to God as our Refuge, we run from Him.
One pastor I read on this idea said: “Considering God as a last resort always results with a loss of time, missed opportunities, delayed breakthroughs, financial loss, family division, and experiencing unnecessary heartaches, hurt and pain.” (http://andrewbills.com/daily-devotional-should-trusting-god-be-your-first-option-or-last-resort/)
I saw something on social media that read to me as the worst advice ever. It said: “When nothing else works, surrender to God, and let your faith carry you through.” I read that and thought, “What?” Surely not! Surely the person who wrote it didn’t think you should exhaust every possibility, take every course of action, try every human pathway, and then if none of those worked out, see if God has anything up His sleeve. That probably wasn’t the writer’s intent, but it was the way it read to me. That’s certainly not a winning strategy.
What does Matthew 6:33 teach us? “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Go to the King of the Kingdom first, get an audience with the King first, take your trouble to the King first, and seek His Kingdom to come into your crises, seek His righteousness to be demonstrated in your crises and things will unfold in your life for His glory and your benefit. He is to be our First Refuge and not our Last Resort.
If we are believers and God is our last resort, what does that say about our faith? Romans 1:17 tells us “The righteous shall live by faith.” Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
One distinction between us and the rest of the world in addition to our belief in the Plan of Salvation and our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord is the pattern for our life. We are not only saved through our faith, but we are to live by faith; faith that God is good, faith that God is actively involved with us, faith that God is aware of our situation and desires to impact it in some way. He isn’t supposed to be an occasional Resource, but an ongoing Refuge for daily life.
If God is our last resort we aren’t living by faith. If we turn to God as a last resort that isn’t a result of our faith, but it is an act of desperation. In football that’s called a “Hail Mary Pass.” Another person I read after this week said: “Desperation isn’t faith. Desperation is actually the opposite of hope”. Our other options have played out, we have no further options, and we’ve given up. So we’re gonna try something ludicrous, on the tiny chance it might work. (http://morechrist.blogspot.com/2013/07/god-must-be-our-first-resort.html)
Listen, if we don’t ask in faith we ought not to expect to receive in faith. I can’t prove it from Scripture, but I believe there is an added blessing that comes to those who live by faith. I’m not saying God can’t or won’t hear a “Hail Mary” prayer, but I know He is at work in a consistent and strategic way in the lives of those who consistently walk in faith. So, I guess if there is a point one to this sermon it is this:
- Those who make God their Refuge walk in faith.
So why is it that we don’t always walk in faith? What would be the reasons for not doing so? I am sure there are many, but I came up with two from James 5:13-16. Turn there with me.
The first reason I see that we don’t always walk in faith is that we don’t always like to acknowledge the truth.
James 5:13-16 13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
James tells us in verse 16 to confess our sins. We’ve all heard that “Confession is good for the soul,” but it is often one of the hardest things for us to do. Our political correctness has convinced us that it is more important to help everyone feel “ok” about their feelings and their lifestyles than it is to espouse a standard that anyone should live by.
Evidence of this is in just about every newscast, and it isn’t just part of mainstream culture, but it has invaded the church. People are walking on egg shells in an effort to keep anyone from feeling bad about their attitudes, actions and choices. The focus is on individual expression, individual freedom, and individual choice even when the individual expression, freedom and choice negatively impact other people.
The whole issue of transgender, recently brought to the national forefront by the decision of Bruce Jenner to transition into a female is another example of how elevating feelings and personal choice over truth has sweeping and negative consequences on those who want to walk in truth. Here is truth: Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God created two distinct sexes. He created men and He created women. God did that on purpose for a purpose. As a woman, I reflect aspects of the image of God that a man cannot and vise versa. Together, as two distinct sexes, when we are redeemed by the blood of Christ, we reflect God’s image in the world. Those who support transgenderism have come to their own conclusions that gender doesn’t matter, that the sexes are interchangeable, and that there are in infinite variety of genders. That isn’t the truth of God’s design. But rather than admit the truth that there is brokenness and sin in their lives, they try to fix their conflicted selves with surgery, but here is truth: Cosmetic surgery will never address what is happening in our souls.
Here is truth: Psalm 139:13-16 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
When God designed our bodies, He didn’t make a mistake. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. That we are male or female ought to be celebrated and applauded and appreciated. However, instead of acknowledging what God has done by design, we have made courageous heroes out of those who seek to alter God’s plans in favor of their own.
In a Lincoln, Nebraska school system, teachers have been encouraged to refrain from using the terms “boys” and “girls” in favor of more gender-inclusive language. They have been encouraged to identify kids as skateboarders or bikers as milk drinkers or juice drinkers instead of who God created them to be. You see, once you move away from truth as fixed, anything anyone wants to demand or mandate so as to preserve their feelings or desires about their personal way to live becomes legislated to all. That is a slippery slope that should have all of us concerned.
My personal commentary on the issue is that transgenderism is one more Satanic attempt to mar and blur the image of God in our world today.
Rather than wrestle with what is conflicted on the inside and deal with the root of the problem, persons who pursue sexual reassignment surgery try to deal with their issues by changing something on their outside.
Listen, walking in truth is an internal commitment. It isn’t something that can be negotiated anywhere but inside our souls. We can blame God and say we were born in the wrong body, we can blame others and say we are broken because of what they have done, or we can admit that our own choices have landed us in the middle of chaos and confusion. Cosmetic surgery can never cure the confusion in our souls.
I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate reasons to be confused or that pain and trauma we suffer, especially as children, doesn’t have a profound effect on how we view ourselves, but the way to address those issues isn’t by altering our outsides but by aligning our insides with the truth of God’s Word.
The Psalmist said, “Surely you desire truth in the deepest parts.” (Ps. 51:6) And just because you don’t wrestle with transgender issues doesn’t mean you are fully walking in truth this morning so don’t dismiss point two entirely. When you resist the arrest of the Holy Spirit, when you justify attitudes and actions that are against God’s Word, when your life is characterized by drama, chaos, fighting, division, defeat, worry, and a lack of peace, it may not be about someone else who is causing you problems. It might be about you not walking in truth in the deepest places of your heart.
When Adam and Eve sinned and God confronted them, they did everything they could to wiggle out of it and to try to get themselves off the hook. God kept the conversation going. God was looking for confession. God wanted Adam and Eve to admit and own the truth. They transgressed God’s law. They sinned against God’s command. When they did own the truth, He covered their sin. There can only be covering where there is confession which means there can only be real healing where there is the admission of brokenness.
People who want to pretend to be ok or who want to blame others for why things are the way they are or who want to manipulate their circumstances or their physical appearance or other people in order to avoid the truth will never live whole and healthy lives. While Jenner would argue that his transformation is a step toward becoming real and honest about who he really was, the truth is it is a big step away from who God created him to be. An internal struggle can never be ended with an outward adjustment, and I believe Jenner’s future will prove my statement true.
We can’t put on nice enough clothes to cover our failures and weaknesses, but the good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus will cover us when we walk in truth. It is “OK” to not be “OK” all of the time. That is truth! We allow God to be our Refuge when we walk in truth even when we are conflicted within ourselves. Too many, however, even Christians make God and truth their last resort after they have gotten caught and they are sitting in a pile of rubble and devastating loss. Lie after lie after deception after deception becomes too much to admit to and it often isn’t until God exposes their deeds (which will always happen one way or another) that they will come clean making God their last resort. If something isn’t right with us, we need to deal with it at the most basic of levels and get with God about what is really going on.
Walking in faith and walking in truth go hand in hand. We must have faith that when we confess our sins, He will hear us and forgive us. We must have faith to believe that the Spirit of God can empower us to stay connected to the truth of God’s Word and live it out even when it demands everything we have.
So I guess point two was this:
- Those who make God their Refuge walk in truth.
Our James 5 passage says that not only are we to confess our sins, but we are to confess them to one another. This verse suggests accountability. We are to not only admit our struggles to God, but also to trusted Christian friends. Walking in faith and in truth means we allow others to walk alongside us in our journey so that they can hold us accountable.
One of the aspects of Refuge God provides comes to us through the prayer support and encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. But just as we often resist truth, we also often resist accountability. We don’t want anyone in our business. We don’t want anyone’s opinion. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do.
I have actually had Christians tell me they choose to attend a mega church because they can slip in and out and don’t have to get to know anybody. They like to limit accountability in their lives. What they don’t understand is that the benefits of accountability far outweigh the awkward risks. Getting another perspective, having the support of someone’s prayers, having someone to listen as a sounding board, all of these by God’s design are meant to provide a refuge for us in times of trouble. But just like walking in faith and walking in truth, accountability at the last second is often too late.
How many crises could be avoided if we were truly accountable along the way? How many issues could be resolved before there was a train wreck if we admitted smaller struggles along the way? Accountability isn’t about confrontation, but edification and mutual support. I’m not suggesting you should spill your guts to your twenty-five co-workers or the neighbors who live on every side, but each one of us should have at least one person in our lives who walks closely with the Lord and can be trusted with confidential information. Accountability isn’t just for weak people, but it is for strong people who are smart enough to know they are just one decision away from caving.
Accountability is really just about intentionally building a relationship with someone who will have your back when you need it. If you aren’t sure where to start, try getting involved in a Sunday School class, a small group, the CWC or the men’s group on Wednesdays. To try to do it alone, to try to fight Satan on your own, leaves you vulnerable. God speaks through His Body. He teaches and corrects and encourages through His Body. Why not take advantage of the Refuge God provides through accountable friendships?
So I supposed point three today would be:
- Those who make God their Refuge live accountable lives.
God is a Refuge, but He can’t be our Refuge if we won’t live and walk by faith.
God is a Refuge, but He can’t be our Refuge if we won’t walk in truth.
God is a Refuge, but He can’t provide for us everything He desires to if we won’t connect in a spiritual relationship with the members of His Body
Today, will you run toward Him and let Him be your Refuge in these ways and not your last resort?