Monday, July 31, 2017

Amazing Grace received through Faith: God's Faithfulness during Great Struggles

Accompanying Video:

Message Audio:

Jesus causes the dead to live. He pursues us, faithful to His promises, abounding in love. Though trials and temptations come, God’s grace goes along with us. As Christians we can expect much struggle and suffering. Yet we can also expect to encounter great grace and joy.

As the Apostle Paul wrote: “2 Corinthians 6:5-12 (NLT) We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. 8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.”

Today we’re talking about grace in the context of struggle. And we’re going to look at three examples of grace in suffering. 

left- Betsie, middle- Corrie.
First, we talk about Corrie Ten Boom, a young woman living during world war II. She was just an average person, part of a religious family in the Netherlands. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, a Jewish woman came to the ten boom home, and asked for help. Soon Corrie was sheltering Jews in her home, with her family.

The Nazis discovered what was happening, and imprisoned the entire family including Corrie and her sister Betsie.

Corrie and Betsie were placed in a women’s labor camp by the Nazis. Not only that, but they were placed in the worst building at the camp; it was infested by lice. Corrie was terribly upset, and complained to Betsie about what they were having to go through. Corrie and Betsie prayed for the jews at the camps. But Betsie also felt compassion for the guards, and prayed for them, because she saw them as lost without Christ. But Corrie hated the guards, because they were treated so terribly.

Betsie and Corrie managed to sneak a Bible into the camp, and they held services. How were they able to do so? The guards never went into their building because they didn’t want to get fleas. So God’s grace was upon them, even in the midst of trial.

Betsie died in the prison. By a clerical error, just before the end of the war, Corrie was released from the camp. This was a simple mistake, and the rest of the women in her group were executed in the gas chambers that day.

After the war Corrie continued to speak for Christ, and one day at a church meeting, a man walked up to her. She realized that this man had been one of the guards at the camp, one who had severely abused her sister Betsie. The man said he had found Christ, and been forgiven of his sins, but he wanted to ask Corrie personally for her forgiveness. Corrie didn’t think she could do it. But she felt a surge of power go through her, and she took the outstretched hand of the man and she said to him, “I forgive you.”

God’s grace is given to us, so that we may share it with others. We are called to a ministry of scandalous forgiveness. And Corrie lived it out, to the very end. That’s amazing grace.

The struggles we go through are gifts from God. And though we are constantly tried, we can have joy.

As the word says, in 1st Peter 1:6-7 “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 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. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

God refines his people in the furnace of affliction. We know that here: If your like Bob who was afflicted with a rare skin condition, if your like Stanley waking up one day years ago to discover you have stage 4 cancer, if your like Major Ralph and Debbie years ago coming to a new assignment and being told “we got rid of the last officers and we’ll get rid of you too.” If your like Major Leonard and Major Evelyn battling cancer, if your like us, that’s a great sign, your faith is being refined, built up, to endure the starkest struggles.

A faith untested is nothing. We are tested in many, many ways, to show the genuineness of our faith and to prepare our faith to endure even more difficult situations. Faith is the conduit by which we receive the amazing grace of God. His grace surges through the tunnel of faith. It is built upon the foundation of Christ. The enemy seeks to attack us, and destroy us, drive us from the ladder to heaven. But we keep fighting. So the testing of our faith produces endurance, a willingness to keep climbing.

Richard Wurmbrand
A second example of grace through affliction is the example of Richard Wurmbrand. We’ve talked about him briefly in the past I believe, he was a pastor in Romania during the rise of communism in the east. Russian communists conquered the country and they brought together all the church leaders to hear from the communists about how they ought to behave in their pulpits. Speaker after speaker spoke nothing of Christ, but simply pushed communist ideas and attacked the faith. None of the pastors were speaking up. Richard was there with his wife Sabina and she was very upset.

Sabina told him: "Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ! They are spitting in His face."

Richard looked at his wife and said, "If I do so, you lose your husband."

I love her reply. She says, "I don't wish to have a coward as a husband.” Man, I hope I meet a girl who would say the same to me. Toughen up buttercup.

So Richard gets up and speaks, and he says, a government that embraces this sort of evil deserves our pity and our disgust, and we will never stop speaking about Christ.

One day Richard was kidnapped off the street and found himself in a communist prison. His wife searched for him, but was told that he’d fled the country and abandoned her.

Eventually Sabina was arrested as well and put in a forced labor camp. One of the guards there mocked her for being a Christian, and said he would baptize her. He threw her in the icy cold waters, and the force of the attack broke her ribs.

Richard was kept in prison for 4 years, then released, then arrested again, because he refused to keep quiet about Christ. In total Richard Wurmbrand spent 14 years in prison. He spent 3 full years in solitary confinement in a cell 12 feet underground with no windows. He talks about this experience in his book tortured for Christ. He talked about how the guards would do terrible things, in fact once they forced him and several other Christians to take sacraments of urine and feces. They would beat them to near death, starve them, and on the loud speaker propaganda would play constantly. They knew Richard missed his family, so in the cells around him they brought in children to make noise to remind him of his family. Despite all of this, he never renounced Christ, and he never gave up.

In fact every time he was placed back in the population, he shared the gospel with the other prisoners.

He wrote in Tortured for Christ: “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” -2nd Corinthians 12:9-10

John Newton, portrait of
A third example, is that of John Newton, born in 1725 in England. His father was a sea merchant and John took after him. In his twenties while visiting friends Newton was impressed into the royal navy, a practice common in that time. He was later sold as a slave in africa.

He was rescued in 1748 by a ship captain that had been sent to look for him by his father. On the way back Newton’s ship was struck by a severe storm. A hole broke in the ship and as the waters were rising Newton called out to God for help. Cargo in the ship apparently plugged the hole and the ship was able to make it safely to England.

But this experience didn’t even change him. He then became first mate of a slave ship ferrying slaves from Africa. Eventually he became captain of the ship. In these slave ships there would be as many as 200 slaves packed below decks. They were chained together, underfed, and many died on the way to their destination.

But when Newton became very ill with fever, he once again cried out to God for help, and he finally turned over his destiny to God. He left the African slave trade and became an Anglican priest and a prominent abolitionist, living to see the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. And it was John Newton, who penned the famous words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

We are saved by grace, through faith, this is not of ourselves, of ourselves we are as wretched as John Newton, or the prison guards at the concentration camps, or the communist interrogators. And how does God conclude that classic scripture in Ephesians 2, grace through faith, it concludes: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

He has saved us to walk in good works, to forgive the man who abused her sister, as Corrie Ten Boom did, to preach Christ to the interrogators like Richard Wurmbrand did, and to go from shipping slaves to proclaiming Christ and setting captives free.

I’ve been given such an incredible gift in my life, one that I do not deserve. In the rising flood of my disaster, he reached his hand down into the waters and pulled me out. He brought me here. He knew long before today that he would bring me here.

Two years ago, when I first came here a member of our church came up to me and told me something. He said he used to drive through Wausau, my hometown, and he’d go fishing there. And he told me that one day He almost hit a kid who was standing in the middle of the highway.

That was me.

I remember it very clearly. Because for a moment I locked eyes with the driver. I was trying to kill myself you see. I remember the day quite well, I’d been walking around the city for several hours, all night, and into the morning. Death was constantly on my mind in those days. And I walked out onto the highway to die. For a moment I locked eyes with him, and he with me. And he never forgot that.

When He told me that story I knew God was connecting the strands in my life. He knew even then what He would do in my life, and how he would change my story. He knew everything would be OK in the end, and He would bring me to Escanaba to learn to be a pastor.

I hope your excited for the future because I am. I’m so amazed at what God has done in just five years since I became a Christian!

Spending the last two years with you here has been the highlight of my life. I came here not even knowing if I could do ministry. I came here not evening understanding what it meant to be an officer. I’ve learned about the struggles and joys of ministry work. It’s a whole new dimension of living. I can’t fully explain how much I love it. But each day I woke up here scared and afraid, with a heaviness pressing down on me, a sorrow, depression, a sickness and weakness on me, and in the morning I would say “Lord, I can’t do this. I can’t do this without you. Please help me.”

God is faithful. He promised me two years ago that if I was patient, He would renew my strength. And he has done so. Every promise of scripture is true. Every promise of scripture is ‘Yes’ in Christ. I hazarded my future on trusting God, not fully knowing if He would respond, and He did. Christ picked me up, washed me clean, put a Bible in my hands, and said here’s your new life. Because…

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." -Isaiah 40:29-31

As I leave you, today, I want to leave you with one thing: Believe. Hazard everything on this Christ you’ve never met. Don’t doubt Him. He is faithful, and His grace is amazing, it is enough for you, and for me.

May the experience of these three saints, and my experience encourage you to trust Him, in joy, in suffering, to trust Him with all you are and place your eternal future completely in His hands.

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4: Theology: Understanding God
5: Sociology: The Divine Image, the Family & The Social Order
6: Redemption of Man: The Cross (Paradise Regained)
7: Practicing our Faith: Principles to Live By
8: Government & Law: The United States: A Dream Realized 
9: The Future Destiny of Man: The New Heavens & New Earth
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