This sermon was preached on Sunday, January 13, 2019 at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia by Pastor Paul Mims. You can view this sermon at www.csbccl.org
HITHERTO – HENCEFORTH
1 Samuel 7:12
Here we are at the beginning of the year of our Lord, 2019. As we launch forward into the future, it is always good to understand our past. As you look back over 2018, what do you see? As you look forward into 2019, what do you anticipate?
The Prophet Samuel looked back and saw blessings, and he looked forward and saw a glorious future. He saw the blessings of deliverance of Israel from the Philistines and a glorious future for the people of God, if they would be obedient to Him. It had been 20 years that the Ark of The Covenant had been in the little Judean village of Kirjath-jearim. David brought it up to Jerusalem and built a special tabernacle for it. Later, Solomon would build the glorious Temple in Jerusalem to house it.
These were great moves of God for his people. Samuel honored it by erecting a stone of remembrance called “Ebenezer” saying, “Thus far-hitherto-the Lord has helped us.”
Today, I want to do the same for Cornerstone. Let’s look at our
It all began about 30 years ago when the Mountaintown Baptist Association saw a need for a church in Cherry Log. The Association bought this property with a vision that one day a church would be built here. Years passed, nothing happened, and they were getting ready to sell the property. Then, a Bi-vocational minister named James Holloway said, “I will give it a try.” On the 2nd Sunday in July, 1995, a group of about 15 people met and said, “We will build a church!” James was their pastor for 5 years. They grew to a regular attendance of about 30. Only one of that original group is with us today and that is Joyce Callahan.
It was almost 19 years ago that I became Pastor of Cornerstone. After 42 years of ministry we retired from our last pastorate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We moved back to Georgia because our children are in Atlanta. Janice being a Kentucky hillbilly, said, “I want to live on top of a mountain in a log cabin with a wraparound porch.” Our plan in retirement was to live several months of the year on our sailboat traveling up and down the East Coast, and live in our log cabin the rest of the time. We thought that we would do short interims for churches who were without pastors and go on mission trips. I taught a short course in our seminary on the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. I also served as interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Helen, Georgia.
Then one day, I got a call from the search committee from Cornerstone. The caller said, “This is Marcus Laws.” I was amazed and thought, “How could this be?” You see, in our first pastorate at Brevard, North Carolina, our Treasurer was named Marcus Laws, and I knew he had died. I thought to myself, “I thought you were dead.” Marcus said, “We want to talk with you about being Interim or Pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log. We got your name from the Pastor-Church Relations Office of the Georgia Baptist Convention.” Marcus then came over to our house, and we sat on the back porch on a beautiful moonlit August night and he told us all about Cornerstone.
The next day, Janice and I drove over here to see where the church was located and have a look at the building. We saw a first unit rectangular building built out of logs and painted in a bluish gray. We went to the side of the building and looked in the windows and saw wooden pews. Later, when we were invited to come inside, we saw a small entrance with the kitchen on the left and restrooms on the right. This led to doors that opened into the sanctuary. There were only 2 classrooms located behind the pulpit area. There was no baptistery. On our first Sunday there were about 30 people. After about 6 months, I was asked to become Pastor rather than interim. The annual budget was $30,000 and the annual salary offered to me was $9000. There was a debt of over $50,000 on the building.
As time went by, we began to grow. We had to go to First Baptist Church in Ellijay for baptisms. We would arrive after their service, and I would dress in the pastor’s office. On one occasion the pastor left, and my clothes and shoes were locked in his office. It was an interesting drive home.
There arose a need for more educational space, and a new educational building was planned. I told the congregation that we had to pay off the debt which was $48,000 at the time before we could build again. Because of the growth that was taking place we were able to pay off the debt in a short time. I did not want to take the church into much debt for a new building, so we were blessed to have capable men in the church who knew construction. We were also able to obtain the services of the Missions Committee, Building Section, of the First Baptist Church in Blairsville to help us. We built a two-story educational building that had rooms for all age groups plus a dining hall and pastor’s office. One day during construction, I walked upstairs and found one of our members from First Baptist Church in Norfolk working on the room. We got a loan of $122,000, and we paid it off in less than 3 years.
And then, lightning struck! It was on a Wednesday night. We had had a wonderful evening of dinner, AWANA, Bible study, and choir practice. We had just gotten home when we heard a loud boom. A few minutes later, I got a call that said, “Pastor, your church is on fire.” We drove the 6 miles back down here and Saul the church roof line on fire across the sanctuary and educational building. The lightning had struck the ground over the telephone line and ran into the back of the church and started a fire throughout the wiring in the ceilings. I stood there in a gentle rain and watch the building go up in flames. There were fire engines from the surrounding areas to help with the blaze.
Having been through this before some 45 years earlier in our pastorate at First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia, I knew that God would bring good out of it. Our friends at the Christian Church across the street had mercy on us. The pastor stood with me until after midnight as we watched the building burn. He then offered for us to use their social hall for our worship services which we did for the first month. Then we rented their previous building which met our needs for the year in which our present building was under construction. During this time we received mercy from many people. The architect for the Sission Company, who happened to be Mr. Sission’s daughter, on the Sunday after the fire, went to her office and drew the plans for this building. She called me and said, “Come take a look at these plans. It could be just what you need to rebuild.” I brought the plans to our building committee and we have today what she envisioned. Mr. Sisson gave us the logs at his cost. Another architect, who did the system drawings, donated his services for just $1000. Local churches loaned us chairs and other equipment and some sent contributions. The Georgia Baptist convention sent us $3000. The Church of The Apostles in Atlanta where our son, Joe, serves as a Vestryman (Deacon), sent us $4000. Others in that congregation sent computers and objects for the children’s departments. Fortunately, we had over $1 million in insurance and were able to build this building and furnish it debt free. We are now insured for $2.5 million dollars. I think we would all agree that HITHERTO THE LORD HAS HELPED US.
Through the years we have seen people come and go, and our average attendance built up to about 75 attendees. Then a disruption occurred in our fellowship last April, and we lost about 25 members. This was heartbreaking to all of us and we are now in time of reevaluation, revitalization, and recovery. Now let’s look at
Several times a week, I receive an instructional paper from Thom Rainer, who is a consultant with Lifeway, our Baptist Sunday School Board. The one last week had to do with Church Re-revitalizations. He listed several reasons for optimism.
- More church leaders are admitting their churches are struggling.
- Churches are increasingly connecting with their communities.
3.There is significant evidence of greater Great Commission obedience.
- Toxic church behavior is less tolerated.
- Church revitalization has become a major movement.
- More young pastors feel called to lead a church revitalization.
- More church leaders are seeking coaching and consultations.
- Churches are working together toward fulfilling the Great Commission.
I encourage our deacons and all our leaders to subscribe to
www.thomrainer.com for this free educational service.
In the coming months we want to revitalize several areas of church life at Cornerstone. First, we must revitalize our Discipleship Ministry of Bible Teaching in Sunday School. We need to reset the structure, outreach, and curriculum of this vital Bible teaching ministry.
We must also revitalize our Music Ministry in rebuilding our choir who leads us in music worship each Lord’s day. Jim Richter will be back with us soon and will get the choir going again. We encourage all who want to sing to use their talents for the Lord in our choir.
We must revitalize our Men’s Ministry. There are a lot of men who could be reached for a life of service to the Lord. A monthly fellowship time would be of great help to our Men.
We must revitalize our Great Commission emphasis on local, state, national, and international missions. We must take an in-depth look at our community and find those areas where we can make a difference in ministering for Christ. Historically, the women of the church have been responsible for teaching and promoting missions. Let’s pray that God will raise up someone to guide Cornerstone in this great enterprise. This could be a great women’s ministry.
We must revitalize our Outreach Ministry to new and unsaved people of the community. An emphasis on soul winning and evangelism is vital. An evangelism class will be offered soon on Wednesday nights. If we pair this with our INVITE YOUR ONE, it could be very effective.
We must also revitalize a ministry to Children and Youth. If the other areas of the church are revitalized, we will be able to reach families with children and youth. We have had vital children’s and youth ministries in the past and look forward to again having Sunday school classes, AWANA, and Vacation Bible School.
The time has come for a PASTORAL TRANSITION. Through much prayer and discussion, Janice and I have set the date of June 30, 2019 for our retirement.
During the next 6 months, we will work on these areas of revitalization. We will also form a Pastor Search Committee. Our Associational Missionary, Claude Mathis, has already been informed of our decision and will be available to guide and train the Pastor Search Committee in their duties.
In July, we will begin our 25th year as a congregation. It is possible that we could have a New Pastor beginning July 1. If it looks like that will not be possible, the Search Committee will look for an Interim Pastor.
I look forward to these next 6 months with you and I’m thankful for our almost 19 years together.
Hitherto and Henceforth!
Francis Havergal wrote a hymn that expresses God’s care.
Hitherto the Lord hath helped us,
Guiding all the way;
Henceforth let us trust Him fully,
Trust Him all the day.
Hitherto the Lord hath loved us,
Caring for His own;
Henceforth let us love Him better,
Live for Him alone.
Hitherto the Lord hath blessed us,
Crowning all our days;
Henceforth let us live to bless Him,
Live to show His praise.
PRAISE To HIS NAME!
This sermon was preached on Sunday, February 25, at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia by Pastor Paul Mims. You can view this sermon at www.csbccl.org
WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO OPEN THE WINDOWS OF HEAVEN
Todd Starnes wrote a piece called “The Devil Smiled.” He said, “Another American high school has been turned into a killing field. And the nation wonders why. Well, I’m going to answer that question for you. And the answer may leave you a bit unsettled. You see – I believe there is a God – but I also believe there is a devil. And I see his hand at work here.
We’ve raised a generation to believe that truth is relative – that there is no right or wrong. And the devil smiled.
They kicked God out of public schools – banded Bibles and prayer. And the devil smiled.
We’ve destroyed the traditional family – broken homes raising broken kids. And the devil smiled.
There are no consequences for bad behavior – no personal responsibility. And the devil smiled.
Our movies and music and games glorify violence and gore. Marriage vows are poisoned by pornography. And the devil smiled.
What happened in Parkland, Florida is about wickedness – a war with the forces of darkness – good versus evil.
There is no doubt our land is wounded, her people are suffering. But we have turned our backs on the One who has promised to heal our land.
The politicians and pundits would have you believe this is not about God, it’s not about righteousness. They would have you believe it’s about politics and mental illness and gun control. And the devil smiled.”
The Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco had this in its bulletin as a call to worship: “We are all Christians, Jews, liberals, Bolsheviks, anarchists, socialists, communists, Democrats, Republicans, civil righters, pacifists, teachers, scientist, professors – we are all Christians.”
Did you know that 88 of the first 100 colleges in America were organized to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Even the public school system was begun in Boston in 1647 with tax money that placed the Bible at the center of its curriculum stating that one of the chief projects of Satan is to keep man from the knowledge of the Scriptures.
The first college in America, Harvard, was established for Christ and His church. In the bequest that was given by John Harvard to start the University he said: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of life and studies – to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life and therefore to lay Christ as the only foundation of knowledge and learning, and see that only the Lord giveth wisdom.” That was the foundation of Harvard University.
The President of Yale, Timothy Dwight, in a 1714 address to the class and said, “Christ is the only, the true, the living way. And access to God comes through Him. Give yourself then to Him with cordial confidence that the great work of life is done.”
When Columbia University, then known as Kings College, opened in 1754, the following was a part of its advertisement that was published to get students for the school: “The chief aim at this college is to teach and engage youth to know God in Jesus Christ.”
Princeton University in the early years insisted that the faculty be convinced of the necessity of religious experience for salvation. John Witherspoon, the first president said, “Cursed be all learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ.”
The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, was established “That the Christian faith might be propagated.”
What do you suppose would happen if the presidents of one of these universities said something like that today? It would be educational suicide.
Our society has turned its back on God from the rich religious heritage in which we began.
But did you know that there are even churches today who blush at mentioning the term “salvation” or “the shed blood of Christ for our sins.” There are a growing number of churches today who will not say that the Bible is the authoritative word of God for life and practice.
The great Quaker philosopher, Elton Trueblood, said, “We are like cut flowers, beautiful for a moment, but having no root in that which is eternal or of great value, we whither. We are a nation as cut flowers.”
This was the condition of Israel in Malachi’s time. Similar things where the background for what he said to them. There were three main issues that Malachi addressed.
The first was worship. God said to Israel, “I do not accept your worship. Even your priests are corrupt and they have corrupted the people. And that which you bring to me and worship at the Temple I do not accept.”
The second issue was Israel’s identity. They became unconcerned about their identity as God’s people and they intermarried with the pagan peoples around them.
The third issue that Malachi addressed was that the nation’s moral and ethical standards had declined. He accused them of sorcery, adultery, perjury, and oppression of the poor.
This was the setting for Malachi to say – “You have gone away from God.”
In this message today, I want to address what was required for the windows of heaven to be opened with God’s favor upon Israel again. This is also required of America if we are to continue to have God’s favor upon us.
RETURN TO GOD – “Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, how shall we return?” v.7
God was saying to Israel, “Come back to these early commitments, to the covenant that I made with you, and I will return to you.”
Can America turn again to God or have we passed the point of no return before judgment comes?
In the April 1994 edition of Reader’s Digest, an article by former Secretary of Education William Bennett entitled "What Really Ails America" had this to say....
"Today, much of society ridicules and mocks those who are serious about their faith. America’s only respectable form of bigotry is bigotry against religious people. And the only reason for hatred of religion is that it forces us to confront matters many would prefer to ignore.
To a great extent our society has gotten what it wanted - A society without God. But what good has it done?”
Bennett goes on to say....
"Last year I compiled The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a statistical portrait of American behavioral trends of the past three decades. Among the findings: Since 1960, while the gross domestic product has nearly tripled, violent crime has increased at least 560 percent. Divorces have more than doubled. The percentage of children in single-parent homes has tripled. And by the end of the decade 40 percent of all American births and 80 percent of minority births will occur out of wedlock.
These are not good things to get used to.
The United States leads the industrialized world in murder, rape and violent crime. At the same time, our elementary-school students rank at or near the bottom in tests of math and science skills. Since 1960, average SAT scores in our high schools have dropped 75 points.
In 1940, teachers identified the top problems in America’s schools as: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise and running in the hall. In 1990, teachers listed drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape and assault.”
And in the 28 years since that study was done – our schools have become killing grounds. What will it be in the future if we continue on this downward spiral?
In answer to the question, “Can America return to God?” I would answer, “No!” – Unless there is a great spiritual awakening.
God said to Israel, “Return to Me and I will return to you.”
The requirement is: “If My people who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face – then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” Second Chronicles 7:14.
The second requirement is to
REPENT – “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming says the Lord of host. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when he appears, for He is like a refiner’s fire and a Fuller’s soap. And he will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment and I will be a swift witness against the sorceress and against the adulterous and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.”
Jesus applied this scripture in Matthew 11:10 to John the Baptist. You remember that his message was, “REPENT!”
Repentance must begin at the house of God. The people of God must repent of our waywardness before we can expect the country to turn again to God. I would love to see a spiritual awakening begin in Cornerstone and spread to other churches in this area. If God’s people will get right with God – then spiritual awaking can happen all over the country because God still has his people. His church is still alive, but needs to experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a new Pentecost for this age.
But who is calling the nation to repentance? It is going to take a cataclysmic judgment to get the nation’s attention. I predict that at some time in the future this will happen to get our national attention. And the only way out of it, or through it, is to turn again to God in repentance.
There is no way of knowing what the cataclysmic event will be. In recent months, the nation has endured destructive hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes. These are natural disasters. But man has the capability now of atomic missiles, the electromagnetic pulse, which can shut down our power grid, economic collapse, and the possibility of a Third World War. But even these will not get through to the heart of man unless there is a willingness to turn to God.
But one thing is certain – judgment is coming. Unless there is a spiritual awakening the heavens will not open again for God’s favor on this nation as we have known in the past.
As with the nation, so it is with an individual. The windows of heaven may be closed on your life if you are rebellious, sinful, and living your life out of covenant with God. Malachi would say to us today – “Return to God and Repent!”
You say, “Pastor, how do I repent?”
You can pray the same prayer the psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:23-24 – “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
You then need to have an open mind about what God will reveal to you. Confess each sin. Then, forsake it.
Ask God for a total cleansing and a quickening of your conscience and a spiritual insight to see your life from His perspective.
Rededicate yourself to live under the Lordship of Christ, the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and to the glory of God the Father.
The Hymn “CHRIST RECEIVETH SINFUL MEN” was written by a Lutheran pastor, Erdmann Neumeister, to be sung at the end of his sermon on repentance.
“Sinners Jesus will receive; sound this word of grace to all who the heavenly pathway leave, all who linger all who fall.
Come, and He will give you rest, trust Him, for His word is plain; He will take the sinfulest; Christ receiveth sinful men.
Now my heart condemns me not, before the law I stand; he who cleansed me from all spot, satisfied its last demand.
Christ receive and sinful men, even me with all my sin; purged from every spot in stain, heaven with Him I enter in.
Sing it over and over again; Christ receive with sinful men; make the message clear and plain; Christ receiveth sinful men.”
This is what it will take to open the windows of heaven for you.
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!
This sermon was preached on February 18, 2017 at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia by Pastor Paul Mims. You can view this sermon at www.csbccl.org
QUESTIONS THAT OFFEND GOD
(From the Prophet Malachi)
If your spouse said to you, “Do you love me? I don’t feel that you do.” If you had been faithful to the covenant of marriage, that would be offensive to you, wouldn’t it?
God had been faithful to the covenant that He made with Israel, and they questioned that He had been faithful to them.
The Covenant was first made with Abraham and was ratified under Moses. The Covenant from God’s point of view stipulated – “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My Covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6).
The Covenant stipulated: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make any images of God or idols and worship them. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. You shall remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17).
The Covenant was affirmed by the people in a ceremony described in Exodus 24. “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!’”
The Book of Malachi is about the broken Covenant between God and Israel. We also, as Christians, have a Covenant with God that is ratified in our understanding of, and participating in, The Lord’s Supper. The Covenant that God made with Israel is fleshed out to us in Christ and is binding upon us, as it was upon them.
We can offend God in the same way as Israel did by breaking the Covenant and asking the same questions they did.
“HOW HAST THOU LOVED US?” (1:2).
From the year 587 to 536 BC, the people of Judah were in captivity in Babylon. When the Persians invaded and defeated the Babylonians under Cyrus, 42,000 of the Israelites were permitted to return to Jerusalem. They were to rebuild the city and the Temple. They had great hopes that Judah at this time would enter the Golden age of prosperity. They had hoped to see the Shekinah glory of the Lord as in the days of old. But it was not happening. There was poverty instead of prosperity. There was bane instead of blessing. There was struggle instead of success.
Then in the years following 450 BC, God sent Malachi to tell them why they were not being blessed. It was because they had broken the Covenant and needed to have the fires of faith rekindled.
They were saying, “God, we don’t see any evidence of your love.” This was offensive to God because He had been faithful to them.
“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 136:26 Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 15:9-17 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:5 God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1 John 4:8 God is love.
1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
Then they asked God,
“HOW HAVE WE DESPISED THY NAME?” (6:1).
The Lord had asked the priests, “Where is My respect? Says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name.”
The Lord answers, “You are presenting defiled food upon my altar… In that you say, the table of the Lord is to be despised.”
It had been made very clear in the sacrificial system for the sins of the people that the offerings upon the altar are to be pure and without blemish. They were offering lame and sick animals on the altar of sacrifice at the Temple. This was to be a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God who would be without sin and took our sins upon himself. But the priests had broken this holy requirement.
God said to the priests, “You have polluted my altar with your vain worship.” It behooves us to take our worship of God seriously, because He rejects worship that is not in accord with his requirements. Worship that does not focus upon Him is not accepted.
Isaiah 29:13. "...these people draw near to me with their mouths, and honor me with their lips, yet have removed their hearts far from me. Moreover, their worship toward me is the doctrines of men."
The secret of true worship is that we "worship in spirit and in truth"(John 4:24).
Malachi said to the people: “You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say,
“HOW HAVE WE WEARIED HIM?” (2:17).
The answer is – “You say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the side of the Lord, and He delights in them.’”
I miss Billy Graham so much these days. He spoke to the national conscience and was a prophet to America. He said,
“Theologians and pastors are quoted as condoning sexual immorality under certain circumstances. The Bible says through Isaiah the prophet: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
Modern social righteousness often differs from the righteousness of the Bible. Someone has said: “A wrong deed is right if the majority of people declare it not to be wrong.” By this principle we can see our standards shifting from year to year, according to the popular vote.
How do we get our values so mixed up? How do we fall into this trap of Satan? For one thing, we’re shortsighted. We look for shortcuts to happiness. Our lust for immediate pleasure prompts us to think of evil as good.
In one of novelist John Steinbeck’s books, he has a character saying: “If it succeeds, it will be thought not crooked but clever.” In our desire to achieve success quickly, it is easy to get our values mixed up and call evil good and good evil.
Another way to call evil good is to say that morals are relative. Someone has said: “As the occasion, so the behavior.” We have changed our moral code to fit our behavior instead of changing our behavior to harmonize with our moral code.”
Hazen G. Werner said: “There is no more startling phenomenon in our day than the respectabilization of evil.” We accept in stride the false promises of politicians, the misrepresentations in advertising, the everyday dishonesties of Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, the cheating on exams, the usual exaggerations in conversation and the common immoralities of our times. We no longer blush, and we’re no longer shocked by the immorality that’s going on around about us.
The Bible says through Isaiah the prophet: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
God said to Israel, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say,
HOW HAVE WE ROBBED THEE? (3:8).
God responded, “In tithes and offerings.”
Then God said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” 3:10
That was God’s plan for financing the work of the Temple and the religious life of his people. It is his plan today for financing the work and ministry of his church. Notice where God says the tithe is to be given – the storehouse. That is for us the church.
But someone will say, “Isn’t it just is good to give to charity to help people in need?” It is good to give to charity after we have given the tithe to the Lord through his church. The church will then disperse it to various needs.
It is important to realize that this is not an option for God’s people. It is a matter of the heart in showing our obedience and sincerity in worship. “You have robbed me” says the Lord.
I learned to tithe as a teenager working in Ramsey’s grocery store on Saturdays. I gave 10% of what I earned at $0.75 per hour. I gave 10% of what I earned as a college student making $25 a week. We gave 10% of what Janice earned as a schoolteacher and what I made working in a laundry while I was in seminary. In all of our pastorates, we have given 10% of what we earned. We do it joyfully, obediently, and not grudgingly. We also practice “offerings” by giving above our tithe. You see, you do not give an offering until first you have given the tithe – for the tithe is the Lord’s – and the offerings I give are mine. And the windows of heaven have been opened, as God promised.
God said to Israel, “Your words have been arrogant against Me.”
“WHAT HAVE WE SPOKEN AGAINST THEE?” 3:13.
The Lord answered and said, “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge?”
When life gets hard and the struggles increase, and we live in our own strength, we ask, “What is the use of serving God when we are suffering like this? Does he care? Why doesn’t He do something to help me? Why does he tolerate this evil that is all around us? Why does he allow all of the suffering?
Do you know the name, Annie Johnson Flint?
“After high school, she spent one year in teacher training and had a position offered to her, but felt that she was really needed at home. Later in her second year of teaching, arthritis began to show itself. She grew steadily worse until it became difficult for her to walk at all, and she was soon obliged to give up her work, followed by three years of increasing helplessness. The death of both of her adoptive parents within a few months of each other left Annie and her sister alone again. There was little money in the bank, and the twice-orphaned children had come to a real “Red Sea place” in their lives.
Picture if you can the hopelessness of Annie’s position when she finally received the verdict of the doctors from the Clifton Springs Sanitarium — that henceforth she would be a helpless invalid. Her own parents had been taken from her in childhood, and her foster parents had both passed away. Her one sister was very frail and struggling to meet her own situation bravely. In later years, she always stated that her poems were born of the needs of others and not from her own need; but one knows full well that she never could have written as she did for the comfort and help of thousands of others if she had not had the background of facing those very crises in her own life.”
She wrote Hymn 113 in our Hymn Book.
- He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
- When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
- Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
- His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!
This sermon was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on September 17, 2017 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can view this sermon at www.csbccl.org
WHEN FAITH FAILS
In a national study of Protestant churches done in 1990, Peter Benson and Carolyn Elkin surveyed hundreds of people and distilled seven characteristics of a mature faith. You may not agree with everything on their list, but it's still instructive to look at their conclusions.
- Trusts in God's saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
- Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security, and peace.
- Integrates faith and life, seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of one's religious life.
- Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, discussion with others.
- Seeks to be part of a community of believers who give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.
- Holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
- Serves humanity, consistently and passionately, through acts of love and justice.
This is the way that we want faith to be. But there are circumstances that causes doubt to rise. This was the situation with Abraham and Sarah. You remember that in our study last week that Abraham’s faith grew and he experienced God’s protection, provision, and presence. You would think that such a faith could never be shaken. But it was. The promise was that Abraham and Sarah would have a son and enjoy many descendants. But it was not happening. They had waited for over 10 years. Abraham was in his mid-80s and Sarah was in her mid-70s. Life was good except for one major thing – they did not have a biological heir.
Reminiscent of what happened in the Garden of Eden, where Eve offered Adam the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Sarah offers her Egyptian slave girl to Abraham to conceive a child.
I can imagine that Abram thought to himself, “I have faithfully followed the Lord. I have moved from my homeland on the Persian Gulf and travel through the wilderness of Syria and down to this place called the Land of Promise. It may be the land of promise but I’ve seen nothing. I’ve had some rough times during these 10 years. When we got to Haran, my father, Terah, died. That was a very sad time. And then soon after we arrived here there was a famine. Also, a conflict happened between me and my nephew, Lot. He disappointed me in choosing the best grazing lands for his herds. Then I had to rescue him from the marauding Kings. For a while my life was in jeopardy and the promises that God made to me had not come about. I waited. I prayed. I listened. I looked. I struggled. 10 long years I have waited for a son and it has not happened. I have tried to do what God wanted me to do and He has not done what He promised me He would do.”
“Pastor, you told us last week that Abram was encouraged by God and that he believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”
Yes, that’s true. In chapter 15, Abram is a man of faith and the verse that sparked the Reformation 500 years ago is Genesis 15:6 and is quoted in Romans and in Galatians saying, “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”
Now in chapter 16, the man of faith stumbles and falls. His mistake had far reaching effects then, and we are still suffering the effects today. How can this happen to a person of faith?
FAITH FAILS WHEN WE DOUBT AND LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE.
It is not altogether wrong to doubt. Sometimes doubt is very creative and is good for us, but doubt can be very devastating and it was for Abram. After all, he had waited 10 years for the promise to be fulfilled. He was getting older, and what God had promised was impossible in the first place according to human reason, for both he and Sarah thought they were past the childbearing years.
One of the characteristics of women over men is that they want to “fix” things.
“So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go into my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (v. 2).
There are times in our Christian experience when it is good to talk over our spiritual journey with someone else to get their counsel and input. But that can never substitute for the personal and vital relationship with God through faith. What God says to us as individuals must take precedence over what someone else says. The conviction that must burn in our souls and the hope that He gives us in our minds must overrule what anybody says to us even though it may seem reasonable.
Did you notice how Sarah stated her suggestion? “The Lord has prevented me from having a child.” You can sense in that statement a resentment toward God and a question of why this is happened. You can see that part of Abram’s mind was open to that suggestion because of the doubt that was forming there.
Faith fails when someone suggests something to us based on that little niche of doubt about what God will do in our lives. Self-doubt is one of the major obstacles to living the life of faith. We all have those inner voices inside our heads that tell us we are not good enough, not strong enough and incapable of living the faith life. Often, these feelings are from childhood experiences and become ingrained in our very being. Over time, self-doubt can lead to anxiety and depression.
What can we learn from Abraham’s failure? First of all, he doubted the promise of God. The Bible is full of promises that God has made to his people. We can stake our destiny on their trustworthiness. Second, Abraham accepted Sarah’s ungodly suggestion of not only adultery, but polygamy. It is true that such a practice was used in ancient times among the pagan peoples. Third, Abraham did not ask God about it. Prayerless decisions are dangerous decisions.
FAITH FAILURES CAN HAVE LASTING EFFECTS
“And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.” (v. 4).
Sarah became very angry at the way she was treated by Hagar following the conception. She then blamed Abram for the misery she was experiencing. He told her to do what ever she wanted to do to Hagar. She treated Hagar so harshly that she fled from the presence of Sarah.
Then God intervenes in the life of Hagar by sending an angel to minister to her by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel instructed Hagar to return to her mistress and submit to her authority. A promise was made that Hagar’s descendants would be multiplied so that they would be too many to count. The angel instructed Hagar to name the child Ishmael. “And you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction and he will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.” (vv. 11-12).
The name Ishmael means “God hears.” Hagar said, “Thou art a God who sees me.” This was something new to her because her ancestral gods in Egypt did not see people as individuals. Hagar was another result of Abraham’s mistake in going into Egypt.
All of this changed God’s perfect will for Abraham into his permissive will. It was not God’s will for Abraham to have a son like this. The angel gave a prophecy concerning him saying that he would be a “wild donkey” of a man. This meant that his free-roaming lifestyle would put him in conflict, friction, and antagonism with others because of his way of life.
Abraham is the father of Ishmael. The Muslims trace their spiritual lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. They believe that Ishmael was the son that Abraham offered on Moriah. In their view Ishmael was a prophet and a great ancestor of Mohammed. Therefore, in the Muslim view, Abraham is seen to be the father of the great Muslim peoples. The Muslims now number about 2 billion of the earth’s population. In the United States, they number about 3.3 million.
Abraham is also the father of Isaac. Isaac and his descendants are the Jewish population of the earth. Jewish population in the world is about 17 million with almost 7 million in the United States. When you add the Christian world population of 2.2 billion, you can see that the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael and Isaac are about the same. We as Christians consider our Judaic heritage in the Old Testament to be the foundation of our faith. So the total descendants of Abraham number over 4 billion of the earth’s 7 billion people.
Tracing the present world conflict between Muslims and Jews-Christians back to Abraham’s faith failure is reasonable. His mistake in going into Hagar rather than waiting on God’s promise to be fulfilled is causing world conflict today. The fastest growing religions in America today are Islam and atheism.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR FAITH FROM FAILING
Perhaps you have a situation in your life that you have been waiting on God to solve. The breakthrough for which you have been hungering has not happened. You have prayed and claimed the promises in holy Scripture and still you are waiting. What do you do now?
First, claim Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” The verb tenses in the Greek indicate that “God is now working all things together for good.” This means that God is always working in the background to bring about his desired result for our good.
Second, claim Psalm 27:13-14. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Remember that we just have to live with the situation until God does something about it. But also remember that the answer to our prayers can come suddenly. Our situation can change very quickly. We all have to wait.
Third, control how you wait. You can wait passively just hoping that something good will happen to you. This is how Abraham waited. Finally, he said, “That’s it! I have waited 10 years and nothing has happened.
Another way to wait is expectantly. With this approach you are hopeful every day and are expecting to see God work at any time.
Fourth, keep serving God faithfully. Daily devotions minister to the spirit and keeps hope alive. It is important to be in touch with God through prayer and Bible reading in personal devotions and to experience the strength and encouragement that public worship in church gives to our lives.
John Yates was the manager of a hardware store and Batavia, New York. He then became editor of a local newspaper. One day he was reading First John 5:4 which says, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” He then wrote the hymn, “Faith is the victory.”
“Encamped along the hills of light, you Christian soldiers, rise, and press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies. Against the foe in vales below that all our strength be hurled; faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world.
His banner over us is love, our sword the Word of God; we tread the road the saints above with shouts of triumph trod. By faith they, like whirlwind’s breath swept on o’er every field; the faith by which they conquered death is still our shining shield.
To him that overcomes the foe, white robes shall be given; before the angels he shall know his name confessed in heaven. Then onward from the hills of light, our hearts with love a flame; will vanquish all the hosts of night, in Jesus’ conquering name.
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory! Oh, glorious victory, that overcomes the world! Praise be to His Name!