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James Merritt - Where Is God?

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    James Merritt - Where Is God?
TOPICS: Hard times, Desperation

You know, one of the most popular comic strips of all time, in fact, it was my favorite, I didn't read comics much, but I did read one as a kid growing up, and it was "Peanuts" by Charles Schultz. And many of us remember Snoopy and Linus and Lucy, and of course the hero, Charlie Brown. Well, Schultz, who was a believer by the way, was also something of a philosopher. And the reason why people loved his cartoon so much is because Schultz had a way of putting us in his cartoons. He would give us certain situations and he would play them out in his cartoons and we would say, "Yeah, you know, that's how I feel".

And in one cartoon, Charlie Brown's at the beach and he's building this beautiful sandcastle. He's worked on it for hours. He got this beautiful sandcastle. And he finally puts a finishing touch on it and he kind of steps back, you know, to admire it, and about that time, this huge wave comes, crashes into it and wipes the whole thing out. Well, the final scene shows Charlie Brown and he's got that trademark sad, resigned look and he's standing over that pile of sand that used to be that beautiful sandcastle. And here's what he says, "There must be a lesson here, but I don't know what it is". You ever had a Charlie Brown moment?

There must be something here to learn, there must be a lesson, but I don't know what it is. And I'll tell you, I've learned there is no greater teacher in life than trouble. And to be honest, you learn a lot more about yourself and about your faith in God and about life in the hard times than you ever will in the good times. And let's be honest, we're in one of those hard times. Sandcastles of money, RRAs, 401Ks, investments and jobs have been wiped out by this tidal wave called COVID-19. And when times like this hit, people of all stripes and sorts, people of faith and no faith, religion, no religion, go to church, don't go to church, they come out of the woodwork and they have one big question, "Where is God"? I promise you, unbelievers are saying to us who are believers, "Yeah, where is your God right now? Where's this mighty, awesome, loving, holy, precious, wonderful, compassionate God? Where is God right now"?

And frankly, it's a good question. And I don't want to be defensive, but I have to be honest, it does make me wonder why don't we worry about where God is in the good times? You know, in the good times we don't even think about God. We kind of put God on the shelf. But the moment a bad time hits, you know what we do? We pull up God off the shelf, stick a pin in Him and try to hold Him to account. Well, the best known man in the new Testament, outside of Jesus, was a man named Paul. And if anybody had a right to be asking that question, where is God? It was this man. He blazed a trail for the Christian faith that no one else has ever come close to.

There was a time in his life, in fact, we're gonna study about it here in just a moment, he was the greatest missionary, the greatest apologist, the greatest church planter, the greatest theologian in the entire world. And what did he get for all of his love for God? What did he get for all of his faithfulness? What did he get for all of his good works? What you're going to see, it's the words we're going to study today in a letter he wrote to a young pastor named Timothy. It's called 2 Timothy. And Paul is writing this book from a Roman dungeon that he would never escape from, he was facing imminent death, and he was wrestling with this question, where is God? We're kind of like Paul. We're kind of under house arrest. And many of us right now, we feel like we're living in dungeons of despair and discouragement and disappointment and disillusion.

And we've seen this beautiful sandcastle we spent all of our life working for, earning, spending money on, building, been washed away by this tidal wave of a disease. And we're asking ourselves, where is God? And Paul does us a big favor. He tells us where God is in the good times, in the bad times, in all the time. So let me let him answer the question for you. Where is God? Well, first of all, God is walking with me. God is walking with me. Now, Paul is recounting how he got thrown into prison to begin with. And what he says is just gonna break your heart. I'm in 2 Timothy chapter 4, here's what Paul says, "At my first defense, no one came to my support. Everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them".

Now let me tell you what's going on. The word defense there, of course in the Greek word apologia, which gives us the word apology or apologetics, and it literally means to give a legal defense. And here's what Paul is talking about, let's look back to when Paul was on trial. Back in that day in the Roman court system, an accused person, if you were on trial, you had two hearings. The first hearing was to establish the charge, and the second hearing was to determine guilt or innocence. The first time it was kind of like the grand jury and an indictment, and then the second hearing was like the trial. What Paul is talking about this first hearing, when he's facing the charge, that's been laid against him. And he says with no bitterness, he just as a matter of fact, he says, "But no one came to my support".

Now, the words for support is also a legal term. And it refers to the appearance of one person who would speak up on behalf of another person in a court of law. Back then it was called an advocate, today we would call it an attorney. So, the judge had called for anyone that was willing to stand up in Paul's defense to come forward, but not even the crickets spoke up. Nobody would take the case. Not one lawyer, not one attorney would come to Paul's aid. Then to make matters worse, he said, "Everyone deserted me". Because in Roman law, if you were a defendant, you had two ways to defend yourself. You could try to hire an advocate or a defendant, but if nobody would defend you, which in Paul's case nobody did, then you could call your own witnesses.

So, here was Paul in his greatest hour of need, he can't find one person anywhere, not one, who was to stand up and say a word in his defense, not one. A lawyer wouldn't take the case. Nobody was there to stand up and say a word for him. And you might say, "Well, Paul, it looks like you're all alone". But then Paul adds these words, "But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength. Yeah, everybody deserted me. Nobody supported me. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength".

Now, I want you to put those two statements together 'cause I want to teach you something. He said on the one hand, "Everyone deserted me". But then he said on the other hand, "But the Lord stood with me". Okay, now what does that tell you? This is a good lesson for parents to teach your kids. Everyone doesn't always mean everyone. When I went to college, I used to hear people say, "Well, everybody gets drunk every now and then". I didn't. "Everybody sleeps around before they get married". Well, I didn't. And I'm not trying to make myself a holier than thou person, I'm just simply saying that I even learned early in my own life, everyone doesn't always mean everyone. And here's the good news, if you are a follower of Jesus, it is impossible for everyone to leave you. It doesn't always mean everyone. You ever had anybody walk out on you? Cut and run? Leave you holding the bag?

Can I tell you a heartbreaking experience that every pastor's had in their own ministry? I've had people in my ministry, I pastor at five churches. I've had people in my ministry, I pastored five, 10, 15, even 20 years plus, and one day, they just left the church. Not a word of thanks, not a goodbye, not a let me tell you why I'm leaving. I'm thinking right now of one couple I pastored in another church. This couple was going through a very, very difficult time. And when nobody else stood with them, I stood by them. I stood with them publicly. I went through some tough times with them. You know what they did one day, left the church. To this day, I don't know why they left the church. I even called and left them a voicemail to say, "Hey, what have I done or what have we done"? Never heard a word back from them. I don't mind telling you, it hurts when you feel like people desert you.

And maybe you've been there, you say, "You know, a business partner left me. A spouse walked out on me. A child ran away from me". Okay, but let me just tell you this, the Lord will never leave you. There was a teacher that was teaching a children's Bible study class at church on this whole concept that God's always with us. And she had to be quoting this verse of scripture where Paul said, "Well, you know, everybody deserted me, but the Lord stood with me". And this teacher said, "Can be anybody in the class tell me what that verse really means"? And there was a little girl that raised her hand and she said, "I know exactly what it means". And the teacher said, "Well, what does it mean"? She said, "Well, what that verse really means is, is when there's only one of us, there's really always two of us". Well, she was a great theologian. She was exactly right.

When you think there's only one of you, there's always two of you. "The Lord stood with me". And then Paul says this, "Not only did the Lord stand by me, He gave me strength". Now, learn this, God did not save Paul from his troubles. He stood with him through his troubles. He strengthened him in his troubles. You see, trouble really only comes in one of two forms, either it's a foe or it's a fear. And what God does is, He promises you, "I'll give you the strength to face your foe. And I'll give you the strength to fight your fear".

So, here's the good news, if you are a child of God, right now, you may feel extremely lonely, but you are not alone. Oh yeah, you may look around, you don't see one hand going up for you, you don't see one person walking towards you, you don't see one person speaking for you, but you can know there's always one person standing with you, and that is the Lord. So, if you're asking the question right now, in all that's going on, "Where's God"? He is walking with you. Where's God? Not only is God walking with me, God is working through me. He's working through me. He's working through you. Now get this picture in your mind. I want to take you back. You're in this Roman courtroom, it is packed. Somehow the crowd begins to sense, this is no ordinary defendant. This not your typical run of the mill dime or dozen Roman citizen.

I imagine the judge even thought to himself, as he's listening to Paul, "I've never had anybody in my courtroom like this. I've never seen a defendant like this before. Nobody's ever stood before me like this". Because since nobody else would stand in Paul's defense, he's given the opportunity to speak in his own defense. Except Paul does something that shocks the courtroom. He doesn't go on defense. He goes on the offense. What was the Lord strengthening Paul to do? Listen. "He strengthened me," Paul said, "so that through me, the message," he's talking about the gospel, "the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth".

Now at that moment, when the judge said to Paul, "Paul, you can't find an attorney, there's not a friend in the courtroom that will stand up for you. You're by yourself. So what do you have to say in your defense"? And at that moment, Paul gave this strange defense that probably was ever given in the history of Roman law. Here's what he does. He said, "Yes, your honor, I'm on trial today because of the story that I want to share with you". And he tells this strange story about this Nazarene carpenter, who was born of a Virgin, who lived a sinless life, who died a criminal death on a cross, but who came back from the grave so that even you, your honor, and all of you in this courtroom, all of you Gentiles, all of you pagans, all of you unbelievers, all of you could be relieved in this carpenter and you could be saved.

Because remember, this was not a Christian crowd that was listening to Paul. It was not a Christian judge that was handling the case. It was not a Christian jailer overseeing his imprisonment. It would not be a Christian executioner that would chop off his head. And Paul knew, "This is my time. This is my chance. This is my opportunity. This is God's moment. I will not waste it, I will not blow it. I know now what you've done, Lord. You have put me in the spot so I can speak for you and allow you to work through me". And this is my prayer for us. It's my prayer for me. I pray that we will not waste this trouble that we've been going through.

See, trouble has a way of opening hearts that are normally closed, opening eyes that normally don't look, opening ears that normally don't listen. Like never before, and I want you to remember this, as we're going through these tough days, and I don't mind telling you, they are the toughest days I've ever been through and I've ever seen our nation go through. I want you to remember this, when we're in trouble, God is more interested in doing something in us and through us than he is in doing something for us. So, Paul got a chance to preach the gospel to a people he would have ever had the chance to do before, in a place he would have never had to do before. And people that needed to get under the sound of the gospel, got under the sound of the gospel.

So, there's a great lesson to learn here. Anybody that knows that you are a follower of Jesus, when you're going through a tough time like we're going through right now, and I promise you this is true, there are people in your neighborhood that are watching you right now. There are people that you work with that are watching you right now. There are people you're interacting with in social media right now, they're watching you because you go to church, you've claimed to love the Lord, you claim to trust in God, and they're watching you right now to see how you handle this trouble. And I promise you, they're gonna be testing you 'cause here's what they're asking you right now.

I mean, you don't think that my neighbors asking this of me? Do you really believe what you say you believe or is this just talk? Do you really believe what you've been preaching all this years or has it just been a bunch of hot air? Do you really trust this Jesus and love this Lord only when the sun is shining? Or you gonna love this God and trust this God when it's pouring rain and the roof is leaking and your house is flooding? See, the greatest thing that God was accomplishing through Paul was His glory and His honor. And that's why Paul goes on to say it in the verse 18, "To Him be glory for ever and ever, amen". See, the number one thing that would matter to Paul, Paul was not overly concerned. "Will I be found innocent or guilty? Will I get out of jail or not get out of jail? Will I live or will I die"?

The number one thing that Paul understood that really matters when you are in trouble, is not how the trouble turns out, is not how the circumstances end, is not how the story is concluded, the most important thing is that God is glorified. That's what I want from my life. I want God to be glorified as long as I live. I want God to be glorified even up to the moment that I draw my last breath. And that's what God always wants to do in you and through you and that's glorify Himself. So, I want you to remember this. Yes, everything does have a purpose, the good times, the bad times, trial and trouble, sunshine and rain. God always has a purpose for trouble.

You say, "Well, I don't really see it right now". Get in line, neither do I. God always has a lesson to learn. "Well, I'm not sure what it is". That's all right, you may or you may not. You may see it, you may not. You may understand it, you may not, but God always has a purpose. He always has lessons He wants to teach. He always has a work He wants to do in you and through you even more than for you. And I'm telling you, God never takes a break. God never takes a vacation. God never runs away from trouble. God never is without a plan. And so, remember when trouble comes, remember this, God is wanting to use that trouble to do something in you and through you, to work through you that which will glorify Him.

So, where's God? Well, He's walking beside me. "The Lord stood with me". He's working through you. Why is He standing by you and giving you strength? Because he wants to do something through you and in you for other people. Where's God? God is watching over me. He's not just walking beside me. He's not just working through me. He's watching over me. Now, let me remind you, Paul is writing these words knowing he's probably looking at the sunset of his life. There's no need for him to plan a vacation next year because he won't be going on one. He knows full well, these may be the last words that he will ever write. And oh, by the way, they were.

What you're reading in this chapter in 2 Timothy 4 were the last words Paul would ever write. He doesn't get out of that prison alive. But then he makes one of the boldest statements of faith you'll read anywhere in the Bible that's always true. Now, listen, this is so powerful. He says, "The Lord will," not might, not can, not could, not should, not shall, "the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack". Now it'd be very easy to misunderstand what Paul said or just to refuse to believe it. Because I've already told you now he writes, he said, "Look the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack". You say, "Well, wait a minute. But you said he didn't get out of prison". He didn't. "He didn't make it out alive". He didn't. "He was killed for his faith". He was. "Then, that's not true. Evil did win. He wasn't rescued". Well, wait a minute, let's look deeper. The word there for delivered, it literally means to take from the presence of or to keep from danger.

Now, there's one of two ways that you can get rid of danger, you can either have the danger taken away from you or you can be taken away from the danger. So let me give you an analogy. You're a follower of Jesus. You get sick. You go to the doctor and the doctor says you have a tumor. You have cancer. As a matter of fact, let's say the doctors call it a terminal illness. You're not gonna recover from this. Now, we all know that God can heal. And we know that all healing comes from God. What we sometimes forget is God can heal in one of two ways, He can give you temporary healing, or He can gave you permanent healing. In other words, God can either take the disease away from you or God can take you away from the disease. In other words, He can heal you temporarily or He can heal you permanently. Because if you think about it, if every earthly healing was permanent, we'd never die. So, every earthly healing has to be temporary.

You say, "Well, what's the point"? When Paul said, now this is gonna rock your world, when Paul said, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack," and you may not like it but this is true, if what Paul said is true, you can only draw one conclusion. Now watch this, you need to write this down. You need to hold onto this. If the Lord does not rescue you from something, then it really isn't an evil attack. If the Lord does not rescue you from something, then it really isn't an evil attack. So, let me put it to you this way. You know the only thing that's really evil to you and me, anything outside of the will of God, that's all. Anything inside the will of God is not evil. And my greatest example of this is the cross. Jesus was not delivered from the cross. But what the devil meant for evil, God meant for good. And we all know this.

No, God does not always deliver a Christian from being burned at the stake. God does not always deliver a Christian from being tortured for his faith. God does not always deliver a Christian from being beheaded for his testimony. God doesn't always deliver His son from being crucified on a cross. But God will deliver you from anything and everything that is contrary to His will for your life. One of the greatest verses in all the Bible, for me, is this verse. I love this verse. "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me". You can take that to the bank. "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me". That doesn't mean that there won't be any sorrow, any sickness, any suffering, any stress.

What it does mean is that God will take any sorrow, any suffering, any sickness, any stress, and He will use those things to accomplish His purpose in my life. But then Paul goes on to say, now watch this, "And will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. Will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom". You know what that means? That means that everything that happens to us in our earthly life is getting us ready for eternal life. That's why it's so much better to die in a moment and live for eternity than to live for the moment and die in eternity. So, let me tell you the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. Here's a big one, whether you're a Christian or whether you're not, one of these days, we're both gonna run out of time, but only the non-Christian runs out of hope.

If you're a Christian, you may run out of time, you will never run out of hope. I want to show you a picture of something that most of us carry around every day. It's the dollar bill. And I know that you recognize what that is on the dollar bill. You may have never thought about it or studied about it or wonder where it came from, but on that dollar bill is this eye. And our founding fathers called it the Eye of Providence because they so believed in God's providence that they commissioned a Swiss artist, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, to incorporate this all seeing eye in the design of the Great Seal of the United States. So every time you pull out a $1 bill, it's just a reminder, God's eye is on you. It's a reminder, you know what, in the toughest time I'm going through, God is walking beside me. In these difficult days, God is working through me. In this horrific event, God is watching over me. And here's the wonderful news, He will bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom. Get in your car the next time you do, think about it.

The windshield in your car is bigger than the rear view mirror. You know why? Because where you are going matters a lot more than where you have been. Your future matters a lot more than your past. And here's the good news. This God of this seeing eye, He holds your past, your present and your future in His hands. And here's the great news, from eternity past to eternity future, He has never dropped anybody. So here's what I know, I can know for all of our days that whatever troubles, trials, tribulations, suffering, sorrow, sadness, sickness and stress that we face, here's what I know, He will rescue us from everything that is evil and at the end of it all, at the end of it all, you draw your last breath, He'll be waiting with open to welcome you into His heavenly kingdom.

So where is God? Well, forever and forever, He's never moved. He's at the same place He was when His son died on the cross, walking with us, working through us, watching over us. Don't you want to know that God? Don't you want to put yourself under the shadow of His wings? Don't you want to put yourself in the hands of His compassionate care? You can only do that through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And I want to ask those of you right now watching me, just be honest about this question, if you were to die today, be honest, would you die with God or without God? 'Cause let me tell you, you'll die one of two ways, you will die totally alone, no matter who else is in the room, doesn't matter. You will die totally alone, or you will die with this God who wants to welcome you into His heavenly kingdom.
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