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Levi Lusko - Life Is Just Not Fair


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Hey, welcome to the Portland, Oregon edition of the Happy Trails series. We've made it to Multnomah Falls. And this is an amazing thing to see. 620 feet from top to bottom, it's the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States. And it is absolutely breathtaking. You can see it from the freeway. And as you get right up to it, you just are overcome by the immensity of this distance. Apparently, it was owned by a private individual named Mr. Benson up until the 1900s. That bridge actually is named after him, it's called Benson Bridge. He owned this waterfall. Can you imagine? Look at my waterfall. Just before he died, he gave it to the city of Portland, which later transferred it to the United States Forest Agency. Pretty amazing.

And now, of course, tons and tons of people visit it every day. And it's a fitting place for us to launch into our exploration of some of the trails in and around Portland as we explore this beautiful part of the country, but also, take some time to ascend our thoughts and our spirits towards heaven through this section of Scripture that we're going through the Psalms of ascent. If you have your Bible, join us in Psalm 130 for our text this week. And I'm going to title this message as you're making your way there, life is just not fair. And isn't that true? It doesn't take too long as kids for us to begin saying that exact thing: that's not fair. That's not fair. If I haven't both said and heard that phrase a thousand times this week, I mean, you think about it, a child's two or three and they begin to notice inequities.

My sister went to bed a little bit later than I did: that's not fair. This portion of ice cream is a little bit bigger than mine: that's not fair. They got to do this twice, I only got to do it once: that's not fair. And of course, we grow up, but we never really lose this standard that we have of fairness that we require of the universe. We are about to park and someone snakes it at the last moment, just happened to me the other week, because I was backing in so I went forward and as I began to back up, a car out of nowhere came and it just boiled up within me, this that's not fair. Or even if you're sitting at a restaurant waiting for your food, you know what I'm talking about when you're so hungry? You will notice if the table over here that got seated after you did, gets their food before you did. What do you feel? That is not fair.

Now, of course, all these examples are pretty light. There are also more serious ones, where we just feel like life is just not fair. That widowed lady has four kids and her husband who passed away didn't have life insurance. And here, she's left trying to provide for her family without any income or any help. That's just not fair. The child with leukemia. All of us, we just feel like that is just not fair. And I think a lot of times, we take these examples of suffering and injustice and we look to God almost like, where's the fairness in that, God? Interestingly enough, people will often use the unfairness of this world actually to build a case as to why they don't believe there is any God at all. But that logic actually breaks down.

As CS Lewis found out when he began as an atheist and looked at the world as being so full of examples of inequity and unfairness and wickedness, he then began to intellectually process that. And actually came to the conclusion that if there was no God, he wouldn't want things to be fair. For if natural selection dominated the world so thoroughly as some have postulated, then when we would see the strong preying on the weak, we would say, that is as it should be. But within us is this desire for there to be something that we do not see in this world. And that shows us that we were created for and are ultimately, if we believe the Bible, headed to a world where there is fairness. And that's why we grasp for, long for, intuitively know there should be something that we do not see around us. But here's the truth and this may shock you: I don't believe life is fair as it is now. And this may be a bit more provocative for some: I don't believe that God is fair.

No, life is just not fair. But I think we're going to see today, that that's actually a really good thing. Here's what the Psalmist says in Psalm 130. "Out of the depths, I have cried to you, O, Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If you, O, Lord, should mark iniquities, O, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord. My soul waits. And in His word, I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. O, Israel, hope in the Lord. For with the Lord, there is mercy. And with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all His iniquities". I'm so glad that you're with me on this adventure. Let's go.

At the heart of this song is praise because of God's willingness to not be fair. You see, the Psalmist realizes what we need to and that the problem with us begging for fairness, as defined by we get what's coming to us, is that we are so often imperfect. Then, what is coming to us is not something that we would get and enjoy one bit. The context here in this Psalm is a heart of penitence. It's a penitential Psalm. It's one of seven in the whole song book, but of course, we know that we're in a song book within a song book. These Psalms of ascent are songs that are collected together within the larger context of the whole book of Psalms. And seven different times in the whole book, we find this idea really coming up in a Psalm where someone is expressing remorse or expressing grief. They're really sick and sad over things they've done that now would and should bring about a life and consequences that they wouldn't enjoy.

And so that's what is going on. You see that at the gate in verse 1, where he says, "out of the depths I have cried to you". He's really speaking of being at a place where he's feeling like he's in a pit. I guess you could say, like Wesley, he's in the pit of despair. And obviously, not every time someone ends up in that circumstance, it's because they did something. We can come to a place where we feel like we're in the depths of sadness or the depths of sorrow having done nothing wrong. We can end up in the depths because someone else has done something wrong to us. But I know this for myself, I am more than capable of putting myself in that pit of despair in making foolish decisions, sinful choices, selfishly motivated actions. And then I end up in that pit, looking up, wondering how did I get here and realizing all too clearly, I have no one to blame but myself. I don't know how that hits with you or if it resonates with you.

To be in a place where you're saying out of the depths, I'm crying. Out of the depths, from the depths of my heart, I'm sick over what's ended up and how I got here. For me, the way I think about it is so oftentimes, it has everything to do with my words. That my words, springing forth from thoughts I shouldn't have been thinking in the first place, bring me to a place where I've hurt people that I love. Or I've watched the impact of my actions lead to realities that now, I regret. And that's exactly where He is at. Stress, anxiety, frustration, and remorse. He's in the pit. That feeling is the worst. But there, like a flower blooming in the desert, he makes a decision. And that decision is to turn to God from the depths. To turn to God in the midst of his frustration. Out of the depths, I cried to you, O, God. We're all going to end up in the pit. The real question is what are we going to do when we get there? Who are we going to look to, to throw us a rope and to give us the help? And that brings up the first of four things from this Psalm that we can illustrate as reasons to praise God because life is just not fair.

And that is, first of all, that when we cry, He listens. The way I'm putting it on the screen is, the way He listens. We should rejoice that life isn't fair, number one, because of the way He listens. Think about it this way. This Psalmist, it's clear from the context, ended up in the pit because he did something foolish or did something sinful or did something wrong that ended up with him being in the pit. But what he chose to do is to turn to God. What that means is he was counting on God listening to him, even though he didn't listen to God. And that's the amazing thing about our Savior. Listen to this. Just because you don't listen, doesn't mean He won't. So oftentimes, we make our bed and when we cry out to God, if life was fair, He would say, hey, sleep in it. You made your bed. You did this. I warned you. I told you not to do this. I pinged your conscience. You heard that rumble strip. You felt that. But you didn't listen. No, no. God's not fair. We don't listen to Him so we end up in the pit of despair. We cry out to Him. What does He do? He listens to us.

And the Psalmist was counting on that. That's why in verse 2, he says, "Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications". You see, the truth is, and we can celebrate this all day long and we should, God's compassion's, they don't fail. His mercies, they are new every morning. And His arms are always and ever opened wide to you and to me, His prodigal sons who knowing better, who having seen better, who have no excuse for our bad behavior. We ere. We go astray like sheep. That's exactly what we do and yet, what does He do? He rejoices when we cry out to Him. He answers our prayer when we seek Him. He longs to embrace us and hold us and love us because He's a good, good Father. Psalm 50, verse 15 says, "call upon me in your day of trouble, I will deliver you and you shall glorify me". I think we should all be happy today at the unfairness of a God who is willing to listen, even though we don't.

What's amazing about this first hike that we're doing, the Blue Trail Loop on Mount Tabor, up to the top, is that you're right smack dab inside of Portland. And Portland is actually, one of only four cities in America to have an extinct volcano within its limits. And of the four, Mount Tabor is the largest. They don't just call it a volcano, though, because its proximity to the city, they call it an urban volcano, which is so Portland it just makes me laugh. Of course, Portland would have an urban volcano. Its like a regular volcano, but it wears skinnier jeans. But anyhow, this trail is fantastic. And the promise that we have read is that when you get to the top, you'll be able to see views of all of the city. So let's go.

Well, we've reached the top of Mount Tabor. And it really is amazing to be so close to Portland, we're really still in Portland, but you can see the downtown right there peeking out. But while you're on this hike, there's a 3 mile loop you can take. At points, you're just completely in the trees. You wouldn't know the craziness of the city is just right there. And I kind of love that. The way that God can be a refuge for us. That there's a preserve for us in the midst of the complexity and busyness of our life. We can really just find that retreat and find that stillness in His presence, no matter where we are. And here at the top, we want to continue on as we are reflecting on for really unfair things about life, that we should praise God for. And the second is the way He forgives. Not only does He listen to us when we pray about things that He told us not to do in the first place, but while we're praying to Him for those things and we're confessing those things to Him, He's willing to forgive us for sins that we ought not have committed at all.

We see this in the passage where the Psalmist says in verse 3, "if you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand"? He's saying, who of us could stand on our own two legs and think that we could hold our own before you, if you, in fact, we're basing our ability to come before you on whether we had or had not done right. I think we all like to talk a big talk about life should be fair and raising our fists against God because of how bad of a job He's doing running the universe. But the truth is, I think deep down, we all know that if God did, in fact, give us all what was coming to us, we would all be in a lot of trouble. And that's really what the flavor of this here is, he's admitting from the pit of despair, I'm not tall enough to get out of this because I deserve to be in this. I'm the one who put myself here. And I'm not saying that things don't happen to you that others have done, obviously, that's true.

And all the horrific tragedies and injustices are real. But we also, must recognize, as we grapple with our own sin, that all of us have done things that are unjust. All of us have done things that are wrong. That are crooked. And if our basis of getting to heaven, if our basis of standing before God was on us, well, we have all, like sheep, gone astray. In fact, Romans 3:23 says clearly, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Clearly, not a super popular thing. That's not something that people are embracing, but the truth is, all of us have blood on our hands in one way or another. And have done what we know we shouldn't have done. We've all hurt people. We've all sinned against God. We've all been told by our conscience and by the Lord to not do things and we've done them.

And the real problem there is that, "the wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23. And that death is separation from God. That death is separation from who we were born to be and from what on the inside, we know we were created to live with a perfect world. Where harmony and peace are prevailing and the norm, but certainly, not the case. That's the bad news. With you, the Psalmist says, there is forgiveness, though. Therefore, you are fear. Look at it one more time. "But there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared". He says, God, it's completely unfair. When we sin, you shouldn't forgive us. We shouldn't be able to stand before you. You told us not to do it, we did it. I pray to you. You don't say I told you so. You don't rub my nose in the carpet. Instead, you forgive me. And that's why I fear you.

We all have as much chance of getting to heaven by our good deeds, reconnecting to God by our good deeds as I would have digging my way to China through this ground with a spork from Taco Bell. Our hope is not in our ability. Our hope is not in self-transformation or bought behavior modification. But rather, the mercy and love of God. And that's exactly what we get. In fact, that's how God self-identified, as a merciful God. Moses said, who are you? And God said, this is Exodus 34:6, He said, I'm the Lord, the Lord God. I'm merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth. God is merciful. Mercy is defined as us not getting what we deserve. And that's what you want.

You might say you want justice, but next time you get pulled over, let me ask you: do you want the justice that would come from speeding? Do you want the justice that would come from rolling through a stop sign? No, you want mercy. You want the cops to give you grace. You want him to not give you what you deserve. And that's why we should be happy that life's not fair. And I think that's also, why we should follow in God's footsteps. Think about it this way. The Psalmist said, with you, there's forgiveness, therefore, you are feared. People love you because you give forgiveness. God makes friends by forgiving sins. I think we should follow in those footsteps when people sin against us. We can make friends with other people by loving and giving that forgiveness. And not treating people like they deserve to be treated. But he deserves it. But she doesn't deserve this. But you don't know if she did. But you don't know what she said. We can make friends with people by choosing to be unfair and choosing to forgive.

Well, we're now in Forest Park, just on the west side of downtown Portland, minutes away from the city. You have this phenomenal space for recreation. For hiking. Just to breathe. You wouldn't know that you are right next to one of the largest city in Oregon, when you're in the middle of it. It's phenomenal. The idea was first proposed for this park by the Olmsted brothers, the same two that designed New York's Central Park. And they, in 1903, said it would be amazing to preserve some of this beauty and forest for people of Portland to enjoy. And it is magnificent. There are over 80 miles of soft surface trails in this 5,000 acre park, that is one of the largest urban parks in the country. And we've come here to continue our list of four things we should praise God for that are really unfair.

And the third on our list is this: we should praise God for the way He heals us. The way He heals us. Not only does He listen to us and forgive us, but you see, the truth is we all come to Jesus broken. When we approach Him to be forgiven, when we come to Him and first begin the journey of Jesus followers, and some of you watching this, you haven't begun that journey yet. But if you do make that decision to give your heart to Christ, He will forgive you in a moment because salvation is an instant. But the truth is, we all need to know deliverance is a process. Let me say that, again: salvation takes place in an instant, but deliverance is a process. Why? Well, we all come to Jesus with wounds. We all come to Jesus with baggage. With drama. With oppression. With areas where we need deliverance. And a saved soul headed to Heaven, yes, but needing for Him to work out what He's worked in.

That's not fair because it's bad enough that God has to forgive us. And if He chose to just do that and nothing more, it would still be more than we deserve. But He doesn't just forgive us, He then takes us, as martyrs we are, and He heals us and changes us. The Bible says He's seeking to conform us into the image of His son. So imagine that prodigal son being forgiven by His father for the ways that he hurt Him. That's bad enough. To sit in the corner and don't make any noise. No, are you kidding me? You're also going to go out of your way to throw a party? You're also going to give me a robe? You're also going to give me a ring? That's not fair. That's not fair and that's our God. And He truly does heal us and lead us from grace to grace. How does that happen? How does His healing work its way out?

Well, it's back in verse 5 and 6. Look at it one more time. "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word, I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. Yes, more than those who watch for the morning". There are three postures that you need to understand if you're going to walk in this healing that is intended for you. And the three postures are waiting, hoping, and watching. Let's talk about them just one at a time, real quickly. First of all, waiting for the Lord. How are you going to be healed? Well, you have to continue to wait for Him day by day. And that means that you're seeking His face. That means you're continually praying. Not just coming to Him once for forgiveness, but day by day, waiting for God. Choosing each new day to wait for Him. To press into Him. To seek stillness. To seek for your soul to thrive. Waiting for the Lord. This is how you grow as a Christian. Secondly, He says hoping in your word.

We need to continually turn to God's word to hear what He says. This is why gathering together to listen to this message, gathering together each week is so important. Day by day opening up your Youversion app or reading your Bible and writing some things down. Doing your daily SOAP, the Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer, that is going to help you to stay in that thriving relationship with God. You have to wait for the Lord. Hope in His word. And then, third, watch expectantly. He talks about like those who wait for the morning. There were people in the ancient world that their job would be to watch for the morning to come. To watch for the day to break. To watch for the night to be over. And they would be able to be at the end of their shift when the sun finally rose.

So they were eager to get to that sunrise. We actually got up super early this morning to catch a little bit of the sunrise over Portland. And there was some smoke and it was cold. And if you could believe it, about 35 degrees colder than it is right now at that point. And we were there waiting. And it didn't seem like it was going to come. It just didn't seem like it was going to come. We're checking the app. What does it say? Sunrise is coming. You're seeing some of the footage. It finally showed up. The sun finally emerged. We we're seeing the reflection in the water below, magnificent.

And what does this mean for our journey? It means sometimes, it's darkest before the dawn. It means sometimes, it's cold before it's warm. It means sometimes, it's hard before it's easy. And yes, God's going to heal you and these scars and the difficulties. And all you bring to the table and the ways that you are not like Jesus today. He has a plan for all those things, but it's not going to be quick. It's not going to be instant. It takes waiting and watching expectantly. Hoping and waiting and watching expectantly. And just when you seem to think like it's all for not, you're going to see that beautiful sunrise. It's not fair. It's better than that. It's God's grace.

Finally, number four: crazy unfair thing about God is the way He helps you make good. Even after we've been saved, even after we've been forgiven, even after we did something God told us not to do and we did it again, and then we did it another time and He still took our calls. He still answered our prayers. He still was there to hear us and to heal us. At times, he knows that we feel bad about the bad that we've done. It's not blocked in our relationship with Him anymore, but He knows at times, we will carry a sense of regret. A sense of remorse. A sense of I just wish I could get another shot at that: maybe that relationship, that person, that situation. And He knows that for a lot of us, we carry just a deep sense of regret over things that we did in the past. We're forgiven. We're changed. We're healed. But that doesn't mean we're not sad.

And I just love that God is so good, that He works opportunities into our life, if we're faithful, if we'll walk with Him, to really make good on some of the damage we did. In the scripture, we have been considering, it puts it this way, this is verse 7, for the Lord, there is mercy, that's not getting what you deserve. Praise God for life not being fair. But then it says, and with Him is abundant redemption. Redemption. Almost like you got struck out right at the bottom of the ninth inning and then, you later on, had the chance to step back into that same moment and do it again. You know it's that, Napoleon Dynamite, I just wish I could go back, have that shot of redemption. I think all of us, to some degree or another, have parts of our lives that we wish we could have a mulligan at. Take another opportunity. One more take of the camera. If I make a mistake, we can say stop, cut, do it again. But in life, it's not always like that.

However, God is so good that He'll give us the chance and the opportunity to do good in ways that will actually cause damage that has been done to be alleviated in some way or another. I really believe that. In fact, the text says, there's not just redemption, there's abundant redemption. Or another translation puts it this way: with God, there's a thousand ways to be set free. And specifically, I just want to speak to some of us who feel chained, who feel locked out because of regrets of things that we did when we were young or we did 10 years ago. Or things that we did or hurt people or stressed people out that caused them to have to deal with our mistakes. And I believe that if we're willing to give God that right heart, to give God our full and undivided attention, and to walk with Him, that He's so good, He'll even cause there to be life that can help and heal in ways that even more than make up for difficult things that we've done.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Joel 2:25. It says, "I will restore to you, the years that the swarming locust has eaten". And I just love that promise. That if we'll trust God now, if we'll walk with God now, He'll help us to be a help in ways where we previously had hurt and torn down. And the New Testament puts it this way: let him who stole, steal no more. But rather, let him work with his hands. That he may do good. And that's that idea. It's not enough to not steal. It's not enough to not hurt. We then, in an equal and opposite fashion, are able to make good and see that reparation, see that restitution. And where there once was only hurt, it can actually be a source of healing, a source of help. What this means then, for all of us, is that there can be a bright future even after your biggest failure. Now, what does that look logistically? What does that look like specifically? What it looks like is what he says in verse 7. He turns to the rest of his country, the Psalmist does, and says, O, Israel, hope in the Lord. O, Israel, hope in the Lord. What does that mean? That means after he's prayed to God, after he's received that forgiveness, after he's walked in that healing, he now is able to help other people.

So that brings it full circle, where what you've received is now helping people, potentially, helping people to avoid making the mistakes that you did. And when you begin walking in that way, where you're not just needing to receive from God, send forgiveness, send forgiveness, send forgiveness, but now, you're actually able to take that and help other people, you're helping, in a way, to load people up in a time machine and avoid the mistakes that you would have if you could have. And I'm not saying it makes your past like it didn't happen, but it just gives you a sense that you are walking in God, making all things work together for good. And it's a beautiful, wonderful thing to watch.

The crazy thing about that Wildwood Trail is if you keep going all the way to the top, you come out into this clearing where you just see this epic view of the city of Portland, spilling out in front of you. It's kind of disorienting. You've been surrounded by these moss covered trees and just beautiful nature, then all of a sudden, boom. There's the city of Portland. And then, right behind you, there's this stunning mansion, this 23-bedroom mansion that's just there. And I couldn't help but think about how when you keep walking on the trail, eventually, you end up in a mansion. And isn't that just what Jesus promised for us as we follow Him? As we keep walking this happy trail, eventually, it's all going to end up in a mansion? My mind just went straight to John 14 and this concept, this promise: in my Father's house are many mansions.

Yes, sometimes the trail is hard. Yes, sometimes, we've got burning legs. And sometimes, we're tired. And sometimes, we're getting in disagreements even with other people we're hiking with. But at the end of the day, what keeps us motivated is remembering the mansion at the end of the trail. We've seen a lot today, promised to us as we follow Jesus. We've seen a lot. No, life's not fair. Life is just not fair. But what have we learned? That that's a really good thing. Why? Because of the way He listens. His reception. He always answers our calls. Because of the way that He forgives us. There's reconciliation promised to us when we're praying even about things He told us not to do. We've learned that life's not fair, but that's a good thing because of what? The way He heals us. There's restoration for all the things that are broken inside of us. And fourthly, the way that He makes good. He helps make good the things that we've caused damage to. And that's a promise of redemption, generous redemption.

Now as we take inventory of all that: reconciliation, redemption, restoration, reception, I can't help but think, who's going to pay for all this? Who's going to pay for all this? Someone wrecks into your car, you're going to think: who's going to pay for this? And as I look at all this that God's given to us: it's not fair. We don't deserve it. We don't earn it. We don't have it coming to us, and yet, God just in His grace, says here's what I have for you. Here's what I have for you. Here's what I have for you. Part of me thinks, who's going to pay for all this? And the answer is Jesus. What's the title of this message, again? Life is just not fair. You see, God wouldn't be just to look at our sin and go, oh, it's OK. I didn't mean that. Because the truth is, as a just God, there is the wages of sin we learn. And the wages of sin is death. And it wouldn't be fair for God to just say, I didn't mean what I said about being stern. Didn't mean what I said about the soul that sins shall surely die and all of that.

So His command is be perfect. We're not perfect. In His grace, He says I'm going to give you forgiveness, I'm going to give you all these things. But who paid for that? Jesus. As he hung on the cross, He paid for all of our sins. He paid for all of our wrongdoings. When He rose, He gave us Resurrection power and life. And that's how Roman says in Romans 3:26 that God might be called both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. He's just meaning there is a penalty for sin. There is consequences. The wages of sin is death, but He's the justifier, too, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. So listen, life is just, but not fair. You don't deserve anything that God has for you. He's given you everything. But in His justice, the bill was paid by Jesus. And we should rest in that promise, rest in the gospel, and our response should be a heart of worship.

And if you haven't yet, watching this movie on the internet or at one of our Fresh Life locations all across the country, maybe you're sitting in Billings right now and God is just touching your heart. I believe for many of you, today is the day for you to give your heart to Christ and enter into this not fair life of grace. Because God in His justice allowed Jesus to die for you on the cross. Fairness, that's getting what you deserve. I don't think any of us want that. Justice is Jesus getting what we deserve so we could have what Jesus deserves. God looks at you and judges you based not on the worst day of your life, but on the best day of His. Let's pray together. Father, we're so thankful for your grace. We're thankful for your mercy. We're thankful for the cross, where Jesus paid the price for all of our sins. Help us to live out of the power of His Resurrection. We pray, in Jesus' name.
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