Watch Out: Circumstance

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the Pastors here on staff.  Today we are in week three of a short  four week series that we are calling Watch Out!  And we’re looking at those times when the Bible gives us very specific warnings to watch out for.

To introduce the talk today I thought I’d show a video from the Youtube channel – it’s a bridge they call the can opener bridge in Durham N.C.  And before we watch the video I want to show you a picture of the bridge – and I want you to notice these signs – Notice all of them.

First – we have the warning about the height restrictions. 

then – these warning placards

then – this beam, this beat up thing ought to warn you trouble is brewing.

then – these red lights.

finally – this giant screen spelling out that they are over height

And I know what you’re thinking – that looks like Squidward.  Well even if Squidward himself were to appear in the middle of the road with a stop sign- do you think it would stop what you and I know is about to happen?

Last I checked they had 173 videos of trucks crashing into the bridge.  173 times people either didn’t pay attention to the warning or ignored it – because they didn’t think it applied to them.  And bam.

So the idea behind this series is to not be like those truck drivers.  When the Bible tells us to watch out, we’re not going to ignore it, or pretend those warnings don’t apply to us.

Let’s not be that truck driver.  Because honestly there’s so much more at stake than a truck repair.  We’re talking about our souls – we ignore these biblical warnings at the peril of the health of our souls.

And so this morning we jump in and we’re going to look at principles that come to us from the Old Testament.  And we’re going to read from the book of Deuteronomy – which is the fifth book of the Bible.

What’s the setting?  Well it’s been 40 years now since Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt – 40 years later they are on the cusp of entering the promised land.  And Moses calls his people together to give them some final instructions before they inhabit the land God gave to their forefather Abraham some 400 years earlier…

And we’ll read most of chapter 8 – where we will actually find two great dangers – two seasons in our life that are seasons of great spiritual danger.  the first season will not surprise you the second might.

So let’s read…  Deuteronomy 8 NLT  Moses instructs his people…

 “Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. 

Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.  

Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 

Two dangerous seasons of life…   two great tests of our faith.  Beware!  Danger lurks! The first great test is – what happens to my faith when nothing is going right.  What happens to my faith when nothing is going my way.

The story of the Israelites is a story of God’s rescue, God’s provision, God’s protection – and yet – in the midst of all of that – God recognizes a serious deficiency in the character of his people.  And that deficiency shows up especially in times of adversity.

They struggled to follow God when things weren’t going their way.  And someone might say – who blames them?  Most of our life is built around the idea of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  And if God suddenly isn’t scratching your back anymore, why follow him?

Why follow God if he’s going to treat you this way – and perhaps you are here today and it’s your first time giving God the time of day since who knows how long ago – because somewhere in the past you feel he let you down.  He didn’t stop the pain and again – there’s something in there that seems reasonable.

Which is why it’s so dangerous of a time.  Our natural inclination is to say – fine – if this is what I get – then I’m out.  You might even have people in your life you are telling you that…

the most famous example in the Bible I can show you is Job.  Job had everything and then very suddenly had nothing.  He lost his wealth, his health, his family – and his wife – not Mrs. Encouragement – she comes alongside him and suggests…

Job 2:9 His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”

And many people do.  Fine God – forget you.  I’m out.

What’s your natural response when nothing seems to be going your way? Could we together imagine becoming the kind of person who – like Paul, can say – whether well fed or hungry  – we’ve learned how to live above our circumstances – we’ve learned the secret to being content – even when nothing is going our way.

Props to Job – by the way.  How does Job respond, when nothing is going his way?   I think all we need to read to understand why Job passes his test comes to us in this one verse – Job 13:15, Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;

Have any more powerful words ever been uttered by the human tongue?  Can you imagine being able to utter those words?  Let’s.  Let’s right now decide that we will become the person who can utter those words.

It’s part of God’s plan for us – to turn us into the kinds of people who, cling to Him in good times and bad.  Our contentment doesn’t revolve around favorable circumstances.

Now – you might be going through a season that is very difficult right now, and I do not want to come across as callous.  What you are going through is real pain and I wish you weren’t going through it.  But I want to encourage you to allow this difficult season to push you closer to Jesus.

And one way is to realize that God can use our pain to produce something inside of us that needs producing.

For instance – this passage highlights two ways this season of life strengthens our faith.

First – Difficult times are humbling times.  Verse 3 talks about how God used this season to humble his people.

When the body begins to fail we finally realize that it’s been God holding it together all these years.  Do you really think your alarm woke you up this morning?  God is the one who brings sleep, and who wakes us each morning.  And sometimes, it’s not until we are knocked down flat on our backs that we finally remember to look up.  It’s a little easier to look up when that’s the only option we have.

Sometimes God uses difficult times to align us back with reality.  And the reality is that every heartbeat of my body is a gift from God himself.

But secondly – and this is very important- the text in Deuteronomy tells us that God uses difficult times to test and improve the quality of our faith.

We find this principle also taught in the New Testament – most clearly by the disciple Peter, who write in his first letter to the early churches,

1 Peter 1:6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.

Now – let’s pause and remember who the test is for…  – it’s for us.  God is not wondering what our faith is like.  He knows already.  He isn’t in the dark about where you and I stand.  So then, who is the test for?  It’s for us.

We need the test because our hearts are easily duped.  We easily think our faith is strong and pure and can withstand the refiners fire!  It’s not until we are in the fire that we will find out the condition of our faith.

When nothing is going our way, it forces us to examine our relationship to God. Is he our heavenly Father?  Or has he been our sugar daddy?

God already knows how we view him.  But it’s not until nothing is going our way that we will be forced to find out if we know it.

Now before we move on –  I think it’s worth asking – How can we tell is something is amiss – if something is askew in our relationship with God?  How can we tell if the warning lights are flashing?  I’ll guarantee that what was true for the Israelites is true for us – and that is – the Israelites resorted to grumbling and complaining – naturally and easily as soon as things weren’t going there way – grumbling and complaining.

A grumbling and complaining reaction is a sure sign that we need to watch out – there’s something wrong.  And we bring it to the Lord and ask him for help.

This is why, by the way, I highly encourage you to sit down and begin writing out a list of things to be thankful for – I think Josiah’s encouragement is spot on for us this week, and not just because it’s thanksgiving, but because one of the two great tests of our faith is what we do when nothing is going our way.  will we cultivate gratitude – grumble and complain?

Now let’s talk about the second great test of our faith – and we find it in the next portion of Deuteronomy chapter 8…  Let’s continue. “So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. 

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills.  

It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking.

It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. 10 When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

11 “But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. 

12 For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, 13 and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!  

14 Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 

15 Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! 

16 He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. 

17 He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ 

The first great test is – what do I do when nothing is going my way.  The second great test is- what happens to me when everything is going my way.

What an interesting passage!  What is the warning here?  One of the most spiritually dangerous times in your life is when everything is going your way.  Three times there is the explicit admonition to be careful or to beware.  Beware that in your plenty you don’t forget about the Lord.

A long time ago there was a family that attended the church where I was pastoring.  And this family was neat – neat story – they kind of came from a non-religious background – and they discovered a relationship with God and grew in their faith pretty quickly.  And their family had a remarkably good things happen – as a result of their faith – their marriage was stronger – their family was stronger – they took Dave Ramsey classes and their financial life improved dramatically – got out of debt- put money away.  All good things…

Then they disappeared.  And so I took the husband to lunch one day and asked him – what’s going on?  Feels like it’s been some time – and he told me – well, the kids came to church and got sick and so we stayed home a few weeks – just to get them mended up and we realized how much we enjoyed having Sunday morning to ourselves.  It’s a lot of work getting the kids ready for church – and by not going to church, well, we found we really enjoyed not stressing out about going to church.  So we decided to stop going.

(This was long before covid by the way – I know we still have families watching from home – and so – just to be clear this isn’t a sideways message directed toward you – this is just an example.)

You know what?  I wish it were isolated incident.  But there have been quite a few people in my years as a pastor, who weren’t prepared for the good times!  They weren’t aware of the danger of having everything going their way.

When everything is going our way, watch out! Look at what I have achieved with my own strength and energy.   We start taking credit for the success.  We start thinking that we’re brilliant.  And slowly, as time goes by – we drift, we stop thinking about God.  We stop depending on God, the ego inflates and the soul shrivels.

Now if grumbling and complaining spirit is a symptom of failing when nothing is going your way – then what is a symptom of spiritual failing when everything is going your way?

I think that you can never go wrong by doing a little inventory on three staples of spiritual health.  Am I serving? Am I giving?  Am I growing?

Am I serving?  Or has suddenly my time become too valuable?  Is it someone else’s deal?  Have I forgotten that Jesus washed feet?  What exactly am I above doing for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of the health of my soul?

Am I giving money away?  Many people look at giving their money away as something only very spiritual people do – something maybe someday you will be able to do – but the Bible seems to indicate that the spirit of generosity should be one of the first fruits that are developed in the Believer.

And by the way study after study has shown that the more people make generally, the less percentage they give away.  Be careful now.

Are you doing anything to intentionally grow in your own spiritual Journey?  Are you reading, growing, are you experimenting with the Spiritual disciplines?

Maybe you are realizing that, you what I’m really not doing any of these things…  well, great!  I’m glad you are listening – the lights are flashing, the warning signs are lit up, will you heed them or will you be another who crashed for lack of heeding the warning signs.

Now the best news is this.  If these times are filled with peril, then they must also be opportunities for tremendous spiritual growth.  When everything is going your way, and when nothing is going your way – both of these seasons are opportunities for growth.

How?  When nothing is going our way, we remember that Jesus died for us on that cross.  He died the death that we should have died, in order that he might walk with us today in the life you are living.  The good news of Jesus means that you will never walk alone.  And even if the road you are traveling ends with your death, you are safe in his hands.  the life you are living is already an eternal life.  Death is but a blip for you, so hang onto Jesus and delight yourself in the knowledge that you are his and he is yours.

And know that as you travel your difficult road God is always at work.  And who knows how he will use your pain to bring relief to others in the future.  And that might be little consolation now, but hold onto it – because it is true.

Jesus was forsaken on that cross in order that you might never be.  He will never leave you marooned in this kind of world.

And if everything is going your way now – I’d encourage you to dive deeply into the good news of Jesus.  Remember the price that Jesus had to pay for your sins.  Remember who butters your bread.  And give thanks this week.