Today, we are starting a new series called “In the Meantime” where for the next few weeks, we’re going to address the question: What do you do when there’s nothing that you can do? What do you when you find yourself in a set of circumstances and there’s no way to change it? Problems where there are seemingly no solutions. Questions, but no answers. At some point in your life, and for many of us more than one time during our lives, we are going to find ourselves in a set of circumstances, or in a season of life, when it is what it is, and it looks like there’s no way to change the situation.
These situations come in all shapes and sizes. For many of us they are relational. You’ll find yourself in a marriage that’s not going well. Neither of you want to get divorced, but neither of you want to change either. So looking into the future, it’s just the way it is.
For some of you it’s with your kids. They have their own options, so they didn’t want to grow up and be what you thought they should be. You kept telling them in the ninth grade, “These grades count, these grades count.” And about halfway through their senior year they said, “Oh yeah, these grades count,” and now it’s too late. They’ve chosen friends that you see aren’t good for them, they got engaged and then married to one you’ve wondered about, and it’s just what it’s going to be. You’ve got relatives you didn’t choose, and an extended family that you’re stuck with, and it is what it is, right?
For some of you, the problem is financial. It seems that no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you work, it’s just one thing after another that comes up and you can’t get ahead.
Some problems are professionally. Somebody said you did something that you aren’t so sure you did, and now you’ve gotten bumped out of an entire industry that you can’t go back to. It’s permanent and there’s no solution. There’s no in a few minutes, if I wait a few days, if I wait a few years. This is it.
For some of you it’s a health issue. You’re not going to die of whatever it is they said you have, but it’s debilitating, chronic and it’s going to go on and on. They can treat it, but they can’t cure it. This is your new reality. This is your new normal.
I don’t know specifically what all of your situations are, but during this series, we’re calling those places “In the meantime.” Places where you are stuck, so in the meantime, this is just the way it is. We’re not looking for a solution because in all reality, there’s likely not a solution. And there are some options, but the options are not good. In fact, they’ll only make things worse than they already are.
So what are you going to do? You can run. Although you don’t want to run. You can abandon your family or give up on your kids, but I know you really don’t want to that. You can quit, but you don’t want to do that either. You can drink yourself into oblivion, but you know that’s only temporary and just creates more problems. And then, there’s the whole internal battle that we all have in circumstances like this.
We get jealous of other people, when we look at their wrinkle-free life and we think that was the life I was supposed to have. Someone said to me recently, “I feel like I’m living somebody else’s life. When I looked into my future, it was all planned out. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but where I am now, I feel like this is somebody else’s life. And there’s no way to recapture what I had hoped my life would be. This is the new normal. This is the current reality. There’s no going back.”
It’s easy to get resentful. It’s easy to get angry. And it’s really, really easy to compare.
All of us have a picture of a preferred future. All of us have a picture of what family’s supposed to be, what romance is supposed to be, what being financially stable is supposed to be. And when you find your circumstances are just not going to be that way, what do you do when there’s nothing you can do?
In these seasons of life, we draw some really bad conclusions and believe some really ugly lies to the point that we tell ourselves these lies are true. Like, I’ll never be happy again.
You look back on a season of your life when you were truly happy. Like in high school, when your parents paid for everything and you did everything. It was the perfect world. You had no bills and all the freedom in the world. Or that first year of marriage, or those first few years of dating and romance when you’d found the person of your dreams and you were so happy. Now you look at your life and you think, I will never be happy again. And you start believing that lie.
We tell this lie too. Nothing good can come from this. The situation is so dark and you are so far down, that there’s just no end in sight, so how in the world could something good come from this?
And for some of you, maybe you’re at that point of ultimate desperation where you think there’s really not any point in continuing. There’s no point in battling through this relationship or situation. You don’t even see any point in living.
So for the next few weeks, we’re going to dive into this “happy” topic, where in the meantime, what do we do when really there’s absolutely nothing you can do?
Now if you are saying to yourself, she’s doing it again. She’s talking directly to me today. I don’t how, but Pastor Trish has this weird way knowing exactly what I need to hear and it feel like she’s talking directly to me. It’s not me by the way, that’s the Holy Spirit.
But for those of you today who are thinking that, I want to talk specifically to you. It’s like a triage, when a lot of people are injured and you put the most critical at the front of the line, then work your way through the line. That’s what I’m doing today. I’m running to the end and bringing all of you who are in a ‘In the Meantime’ situation, who are in the center of a crisis, up front and I’m speaking to you as we answer the question, where is God? Does God know, does God care, is He even hearing my prayers? Because if somehow God knows about this, that’s almost enough.
So here’s some good news. The New Testament speaks directly about this. This is nothing new. For some of you, this may be the season of your life where God has your undivided attention, and you’re as mad as you could be at God. You’re just angry.
But the bottom line is this, God is not absent, God is not apathetic, and God is not angry with you. God is not absent although He may feel absent. God has not lost interest in you no matter how far down you’ve seemed to sink. Nor is God angry.
And the reason I add angry is because so many times I hear people ask the question, “What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” In fact, some of you are watching today, or are back in church because you think you need to do something right. So you at least go to church, give God some money, sing Him a song and try to get His blessing back. But let me clear this up, that’s not how it works. We’ll get deeper into that another time.
But the good news today is simply that God is not absent, God is not apathetic, and God is not angry. God’s silence does not equate to his absence. Now before we jump into the heart of this, there is something I’d like to bring up because we need to recognize this about ourselves.
When we’re in the midst of an “In the Meantime” moment, where everything’s dark and it is not going to change, and we lift our eyes and we begin to pray, there is a little bit of hypocrisy (huh-paa-kruh-see) there. Because let me tell you something that I know about every single one of us.
There has been a night in your life, a spring break in your life, a weekend in your life, a date in your life when the presence of God was the furthest thing from your mind. Isn’t that true? At some point in your life, there was that weekend, that week, that night where you were driving to get in trouble on purpose. And trust me, in those moments you were not thinking, “God, I just want to feel your presence in this moment. Let’s listen to some worship music.”
Now I was going to go into more detail here, but because of young ears, I’ll just leave it there. You each know the moments I’m talking about. When we think God doesn’t care, or at least we hope; we think God doesn’t take individual behavior into account, or so we hope, we are able to tune God out. I mean, come on, you got lots of practice all those years when you tuned your mother out. Isn’t it amazing, when we don’t want to sense the presence of God, we know how to shut God right out? All of us have done that.
So here’s what’s amazing about what we’re going to talk about for the next few weeks. In spite of that, your Heavenly Father loves you and the reason I can say that with confidence is because of one of the most famous statements in all of history, much less, all of the scripture is “For God so loved the…Christians, the good people, for God so loved the God-fearers?” John, who knew Jesus personally, and as an older man, looks back on his life and his time with Jesus, and he penned these words, “For God so loved the what?
The world… That he gave His only Son. See, the reason I know that God is not absent, the reason I know that God is not apathetic, and the reason I know that God is not angry, is He poured out His anger on His Son for you, and when He sent His Son to die on the cross, He settled once and for all whether or not He knows your name, whether or not He cares about you, and whether He is concerned about every detail of your life.
Even in those dark moments, when you tuned out the presence of God, God was present. And now, in these dark times when you need to experience the presence of God, God is still present.
Now, let me tell you how I deal with this and then, I’m going to give you an example from the scripture. This is just me, but this is helpful for me. When I’m in dark moments and when I have big doubts or unanswered questions, and my “In the Meantime” situation just kind of takes the legs out from underneath my faith, here’s what I retreat to. I retreat to this question.
Did this happen to anybody in The New Testament? If I can find one person who I know God loved and that I know God cared about, and if they had this same question or had this same kind of experience, then I feel better.
If they expressed these same doubts, then I think, okay you can be a God follower and have doubts. You can be a follower of Jesus and have seasons of life where it seems like God is silent. Then I know I’m not the only one, nor the first one.
And here’s the extraordinary thing. If you are in an “In the Meantime” set of circumstances right now, where it just seems like for the foreseeable future it’s not going to get any better, it may only get worse, and you feel like God is silent, I have some great news. You are not alone, and you are not the first.
Today, I want to go through two very familiar stories, but I’m not going to go deep into these stories. I simply want to just touch base on these. In both accounts, two people that Jesus knew and that Jesus loved, He kind of set up to ask the question, “God, where are you? Do you love me? Do you even know my name? Do you care? Please give me a sign. I just need to know that you’re present in the midst of these circumstances even though they may not change.”
The first one is, John the Baptist. Now Baptist doesn’t mean he’s a Baptist. It means he was baptizing. So, really he should be John the Baptizer.
One day, Jesus is teaching in Galilee to his disciples as he’s preparing to send them out, and a group of guys walk up and ask Jesus a very important question.
2 John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3 “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
Are you really the Messiah sent from God? Are you really the one we’ve all been waiting on? So where was John? Why didn’t He ask the question himself? John the Baptist was in prison. And the reason John the Baptist is in prison is he started taking shots at some political people in his area.
He was working his ministry up and down the Jordan River were there was a king named King Herod Antipas. He is the son of King Herod the Great that slaughtered all the babies in Bethlehem just after the Christmas story. King Herod Antipas had a brother named Herod Philip (The first King Herod named everybody Herod. In fact, there was even a niece named Herodias. Everybody was a Herod like it was some kind of ego thing.) So anyway, Herod Antipas is the king, and his brother Herod Philip married their niece Herodias. Now, that’s kind of weird. You got to pay close attention here because it gets even weirder.
As time goes by, Herod Philip goes to Rome for an extended trip. And while he’s in Rome, his wife/niece has an affair with his brother, King Herod Antipas, her other uncle. So, she’s left one uncle for the other. (I told you, you have to pay close attention) So they got married. And this is a big scandal, and everybody knows about it. There’s no magazines or tabloids, but everybody knows about it.
Now this would be very disturbing in any culture, but especially in the Jewish culture. So John the Baptist, in part of his preaching and talking about sin and repentance, keeps using Herodias and King Herod as examples. And King Herod thinks it’s kind of funny. Herodias, not so much. So, she had her new husband/uncle have John the Baptist arrested and thrown into prison, a dungeon in fact. But not just any dungeon, she has him sent to the eastern most part of the kingdom, out in the desert at a place called Machaerus (Ma-keer-us). It’s one of his palaces on a hilltop out in the desert.
As time goes by, he begins to have what we all have when time goes by and nothing changes. He begins to doubt. Now, here’s the interesting thing, Jesus loved John the Baptist. In fact, remember when nobody knew who Jesus was, and everybody knew who John the Baptist was. As John one day is baptizing, he sees Jesus and he stops and says, “Okay, you’ve been following me, but that’s the guy to follow right there. I’m not even worthy to tie His shoes. Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptist announced Jesus. Now you may remember that Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth who is John the Baptist’s mother. So that makes John and Jesus cousins. In fact, here’s what Jesus said about John the Baptist. He said…
“I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.”
That’s what Jesus said. John the Baptist is the greatest to ever live on earth. Greater than his own father, mother. Yes, John the Baptist is the greatest person who ever lived. That’s what Jesus thought of John the Baptist. But now John the Baptist isn’t sure about what he thinks of Jesus, and here’s why.
12 When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 13 He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.
When Jesus first heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison, what do you think he did? Visited? Maybe sent him a care package? Sent him a cake? Maybe sent his disciples down to Machaerus (Ma-keer-us) to visit? Maybe sent him some loaves and fish? Maybe broke him out? Maybe turned Herodias into a loaf and fed her to the fish? I mean, he could have done that. What do you think Jesus, the Son of God, does when one of His relatives, the very guy who announced He’s the Savior of the world, the guy that Jesus thinks is the greatest person on earth, ends up unjustly in jail?
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He moved to Capernaum. Now without looking at a map you might miss this, but this is a really big deal. When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he was in the area of Nazareth and then moved to Capernaum. John the Baptist worked his ministry up and down the stretch of the Jordan River. And when he was arrested they put him out in the desert in Machaerus (Ma-keer-us).
So Jesus went in the opposite direction. It’s like, this is how you feel. John’s in the desert, and you’re up north of the lake at the beach. Couldn’t you have visited, sent a letter, baked a cake, let him know you care?
As Jesus and his guys are at the beach, John the Baptist is in the desert dungeon, and he had been there over a year, probably closer to a year and a half when he finally has had enough, and he calls the guys in who were bringing him food because in the dungeon, they didn’t feed you. You had to have friends bring you food. And if you didn’t have friends to bring you food, you starved to death. There’s no court date, there’s no trial, you’re just in the dungeon till they remember that they need to do something with you, or they need your room. So about a year and a half later, John’s been hearing these rumors about Jesus and all the miracles He’s done, and he’s like, “What about me? Have you forgotten your blood, your cousin? The one who announced you?
So John sends some of his friends to ask Jesus the question. Are you really the one? Or should we be looking for another? And Jesus says,
4 Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”
In other words, I want you to tell John that you can keep believing in me because of all the things I’m doing for everybody else. And there is our life, isn’t it?
The reason I tell you this is because when you’re hanging out in Machaerus (Ma-keer-us) and you’re wondering where Jesus is, Jesus can still love you and Jesus can know exactly where you are, and Jesus can know your name and not love you any less and not be any less active in your life. He did it for John the Baptist, the greatest man on the planet, and he can for you. He may even be doing that right now.
Now here’s the fascinating thing. Right after these guys leave, to go back to give John the message, Jesus says the most interesting thing.
6 And he added, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
This is a powerful statement. “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” In other words, blessed is the one who does not interpret my silence as absence. Blessed is the one who when I do certain things or don’t do certain things, or don’t answer certain prayers or don’t speak or change the circumstances. Blessed is the person that trusts me and believes in me and follows me in spite of me.
Blessed is the person that continues to trust me even when I don’t seem to be acting on their behalf, just like John the Baptist. Don’t interpret God’s silence as absence.
Jesus knew all about John. And your Heavenly Father knows all about you.
The only reason I bring up this next story is because it actually happened right in the spot where John the Baptist used to baptize. So some time goes by, John the Baptist is either still in prison, or maybe has already died. He never was released, and instead was beheaded by Herod because he new wife wanted his head on a platter.
And so, in the very spot where John the Baptist use to baptize, Jesus is teaching to the same people John taught, and one day and a man runs up out of breath and says, “Lord the one that you love is sick,” but doesn’t use a name. John 11:3
Now think about this, if somebody ran up to you and said “Hey, the one that you love has just been in a car accident”. Who would you think of? If you have kids, you’d start with your kids or maybe your spouse.
So who’s he talking about? Lazarus.
Lazarus was a very close friend of Jesus. And this is what’s so interesting. Jesus loved Lazarus so much, all they had to say was the one that you love is sick and Jesus knew who he was talking about. So what would you expect Jesus to do when he finds out someone He loves is sick? I mean, come on. Strangers touched Jesus and they were healed. Jesus healed all kinds of people. Now somebody he actually knows is sick.
But when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where he was for another two days. In fact, when you read the story in John 11 it’s interesting. All the guys get up, Jesus says, “Sit back down.” They say, “Aren’t we going? He’s not going to make it.” Jesus says, “No, we’re not going. We’re going to wait. Cause I’m up to something that you don’t understand.” God’s going to do something nobody anticipates. Lazarus can handle it. Mary and Martha his sisters that Jesus also loved, can handle it. They’re going to be mad at me, and they were. They’re going to misunderstand me, and they did.
Jesus said, “It’s okay, sit back down.” And Lazarus got sicker, and sicker, and eventually died. Yet Jesus knew his name and loved him. Don’t confuse God’s apparent absence for apathy, that God doesn’t care.
I want you to understand, that your unanswered prayer does not mean God is uninterested. You and John the Baptist, have something in common. You and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus have something in common. You and some of the finest people who have ever walked on the planet, and some of the people that God has used in the most unique way, have something in common.
There are seasons in our lives where we feel abandoned, but we’re not abandoned. There are seasons in our lives when God seems silent and still, but He is neither silent, nor still.
Remember Jesus said “Blessed is the one who does not stumble, who does not lose their faith on account of what I’m doing.”
So, let’s go back to what we said in the beginning. The lies that we tend to believe.
There are three things you will be tempted to believe in the meantime.
- I’ll never be happy again. That’s not true.
- Nothing good can come from this. Not true
- There’s no point in continuing. That’s defiantly not true.
In the midst of the “In the Meantime” situations, we quickly lose three things: Our joy, our hope, and our sense of purpose. But I have some great news for you. Based on the accounts of people in the New Testament, and based on the accounts of people that you know, and that I’ve met, and based on the story that you’re going to hear in just a few weeks as part of this series, you can restore your joy. You can regain your hope, and you can regain a sense of purpose.
So, I want us to say these statements out loud together, and then we’re going to close. Even if you don’t need it right now, and even if you don’t believe it, I want us to say these out loud because if you are in the midst of this kind of circumstance, if you are facing this kind of trial right now, you need to renew your mind to what is absolutely true of you, and true of your Father in Heaven. So let’s just say these together, ready?
- I can be happy again. Let’s emphasize the “can.”
- Something good can come from this.
- There’s a purpose to this pain.
You don’t have to be able to see it. You don’t even have to be able to imagine it, just know that you can be happy again, something good can come from this and there is a purpose as we will talk about next week.