Friday, January 13, 2006

world turned upside down


Habakkuk 1:1-5; 3:17-19

Thesis Statement: Remembering God's faithfulness will allow one to rejoice despite unanswered questions.

Introduction:
"Why have you brought me to live in this forsaken hole?!!" "Why have you allowed entire communities to be swept away by Hurricane Katrina?" "Why am I still single?" "Why are innocent people suffering for their faith in Sudan?"

Ah, the many unanswered questions that we lift up to God daily ... If you have felt that your world had turned upside down, leaving you looking to God for answers, you’re in good company. Job, Moses, and David are all common figures that looked to God for answers to their difficult questions. But very few realize that the prophet Habakkuk had this same struggle. Even though his complaint went relatively unanswered, he remembered God's faithfulness and praised Him nonetheless. Today we will study both Habakkuk’s attitude and response to a world turned upside down.

Life for a citizen of Judah around 600 B.C. was anything but enjoyable, especially if you were loyal to Yahweh. Josiah, the righteous ruler, had died in battle with the king of Egypt in an attempt to keep him from coming to the aid of Judah’s mortal enemy. Assyria. Judah became a vassal state to Egypt, to be governed by Josiah’s evil son Jehoiakim. The book of 2 Kings describes Jehoiakim as a tyrant who shed innocent blood in Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah describes him as a brutal despot whose only interest was to enlarge his own palace. The law was in the hands of evil men, and the danger of Babylonian Empire was looming at Judah’s backdoor. It is in this setting that Habakkuk prayed these words:

Read along with me as I read aloud from Habakkuk chapter one, beginning in verse two.

Habakkuk's Complaint

2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.

The cries of Habakkuk could very well be heard in the hearts of God’s people today, wouldn’t you agree? Sin goes unchecked and the wicked prosper. It’s enough to cause anger and bitterness to well up in anyone’s soul. However, that was NOT Habakkuk’s attitude in this passage. He was not jealous of the wicked. He was not out for revenge. No. He brought these questions before God because he saw the Lord’s reputation at stake. How could the holy Judge of all the earth allow sin to flourish? Both Isaiah and Paul rebuked those who behaved as a clay pot taking fault with its maker.

In Romans 9:20, Paul wrote, “Who indeed are you … to argue with God?”

Instead, Habakkuk’s questions were expressions of loyalty. Like the psalmists who cried out for deliverance from their enemies, He is not so much crying out for himself but so that God’s name would be vindicated and thus glorified among the nations. He’s beseeching the Lord who promised in Exodus that he would “not acquit the guilty” to keep His word.

Don’t be afraid to God with your questions. Just be sure that your attitude is one of passionate loyalty to God. As your world turns upside down,

Run to God with your complaints.

However, be aware that the answer He gives you may not be one that you expected. Let’s look now at verse five in chapter one.

The Lord's Answer

5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.

Wait a moment! What was it that Habakkuk was asking?! “How long shall Ii cry for help and you will not hear me?” And God answers, look, see, be astounded … you wouldn’t believe it even if I told you?! What kind of answer is that?!!

This month marks the 3 year anniversary of when I began to look for a job. I would be graduating in a few short months and I wanted a head start in getting a good position as a high school art and history teacher when I graduated. Nothing. No one was hiring for the jobs I wanted. I attended my college’s teacher recruitment conference, knowing that this was going to be where God was going to work. I walked into that auditorium looking well, very smart. With my resumes in hand, I walked up to each booth, put on my most flashing smile and said,


“Hello! My name is Christine Hnat. I understand you’re hiring History teachers. Does your school also have an art program? No? Well, I have been trained here at this college to offer you an art program that would be both cost efficient and yet uphold standards of excellence. … You’re not interested? Well, thank you for your time.”

And on I would move to the next booth. I was Sales-Pitch Barbie. After three hours of selling myself and no takers, I threw in the towel. I left the building determined it was a waste of time to go back.

I checked my mailbox in the commons area and was surprised to find a note from one of the school’s administrators … someone I hadn’t spoken with. Sigh. Another school looking only for a history teacher. I decided to return, but this time Barbie could stay in her box.

“Hi. You sent me this? I understand you’re interested in hiring history teachers.”

“Ah, yes … Christine Hnat,” said the little woman looking at my name tag. “Aren’t you also an art teacher?”

Gasp! It had to have been God!

That Spring I visited Savannah to get a personal look at the school. I hated it. The school was run down and shabby, the other teachers had taken me out to dinner but hadn’t spoken a single word to me, and all I had seen of “beautiful” Savannah was trailer parks and Walmart. And the church … the church was so dead spiritually.

I told God then and there that I wouldn’t take the job even if they begged me! Why had he brought me there?!!!

But God had other plans. I did get an opportunity to go to down to the beautiful historic district of Savannah. As the car drove closer and closer to the heart of town, I pressed my nose against the car windows enthralled with the beauty of Victorian architecture, hanging Spanish moss, and parks … lots of parks. I all of a sudden felt like I was home … it was a little Europe right there in Georgia of all places!

It was then that the Lord spoke to me. “I want you here.”

“But Lord … the job! You know my heart!”

“I will provide. I have a purpose for you here.”

It was not a direct answer … but my hardened heart melted and I trusted in God’s faithfulness. As the Lord said to Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

When your world turns upside down, run to God with your complaints, remember His answers may not be what you expected, and in response … rest in God’s faithfulness.

Turn now to Habakkuk chapter three verse seventeen.

Habakkuk Rejoices in the Lord

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

The summer after I accepted that teaching job in Savannah, Georgia, I went home to Germany on fire for what the Lord was going to do through me and my new students. The school was going taking care of my housing and insurance. I had a car waiting for me there. And I was determined that I would make friends with all the teachers there. God had been so good in providing me that job. He had a purpose in having me there.

Three days before I was to fly from Germany to Savannah, I received a phone call from the school’s secretary.

“Miss Hnat? I’m so sorry to inform you that the school will be closing do to financial difficulties and will not be re-opening this school year.”

What?!! Was this God’s way of “taking care” of a job He knew I really didn’t want? I didn’t quite know how to react … so I laughed hysterically with joy! The Lord had answered the prayers of my heart that I had been afraid to utter. He truly had provided! But then reality set in. Where would I work? Where would I live? What was I going to do?

For two days I frantically searched the internet for employment at another school … but who’s looking for teachers two weeks before school starts? I even thought about going to seminary. On July 30, 2003, my finger was inches away from pressing the send button on the fax machine ready to fax away my application to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary … when the Lord spoke again.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to seminary. I’ll study and be able to share your Word so much more effectively.”

“I told you to go to Savannah. I told you I have a purpose for you there.”

I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a place to live. I had nothing, when I walked off of the plane into Savannah, Georgia. Nothing, but my green Volkswagen Beetle that was waiting for me.

My head was not hanging down in dread or despair. No. My eyes were bright with anticipation. I was living an adventure that God had planned for my life. I didn’t know what his purpose for me was. It would be too much for me if I did know. I had nothing. The fig tree did not blossom. There was no fruit on the vines. The olive had failed.

And yet, I rejoiced. Because God is faithful.

I thought back on all the times my family and I depended on Him and He saw us through. My mind went back to the miracles He worked in the wilderness for the Hebrews. That was my God. And because my God is faithful, I didn’t shake my fist up at heaven in wrath demanding to know why God had brought me here. No, I rested in the knowledge that He is my salvation, He is my strength.

And wouldn’t you know it … I arrived in Savannah on a Saturday. But Tuesday I signed a contract with a Christian High School was more than happy to hire an art teacher. On Thursday, I moved into a lovely apartment. And that next Sunday, the Lord led me to a wonderful church family that I called home for two years. God is good. He is faithful.

When your world turns upside down …

1. Run to God with your complaints

2. Remember God may respond unexpectedly

3. Rest in God's faithfulness

I can tell that some of you are skeptical. You don’t know this God. You don’t know if He is sure to keep his promises. Ladies, don’t take my word for it. Don’t take Habakkuk’s word for it. You have the entire Scriptures at your fingertips. Start in Genesis to know your Creator. Read Exodus, Joshua, Judges to know your Guide and Protector. Read the Psalms to know the one who has won the victory over you. Read the Prophets to know the promised King. And then when you come to the Gospels, there He is … the Promise of the ages, Jesus. God become man so that He could redeem us from our sin and reconcile us to Himself. Ask the women here in this room who claim to know him.

Is he faithful?

I urge you, ladies, if you do not know this faithful God that I speak of He is here in the Bible for you to get to know, and He is here living in the hearts of his daughters. Ask us … and we’ll be more than happy to share with you how God has been faithful in our lives, how we can run to Him with our complaints without fearing rejection, we remember that His ways are not our ways but his plans for us and His answers may be unexpected, and despite any unanswered questions we may have we rest in the knowledge that He is God and He is faithful.

Women of God who are here today, your Savior’s name is at stake. Other women at work, your neighbors, your families are all watching how you handle moments of crisis. Will you keep your faith? Will you rejoice when life doesn’t go as you planned?

Conclusion:

What a comfort to know that we serve a God, not of wood and stone, but of spirit who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His plans, although they may be too much for us to comprehend, are good. When the world seems to be turned upside down, will you remember His faithfulness? Will you rejoice in the Lord despite the unknown?

7 comments:

Lisa said...

I really enjoyed reading more of your testimony and the witness of God's faithful work in your life over the last few years. Thank you for sharing it with us!

Carmen said...

Yes! Yes I will! Thanks Christine, I needed that message badly today!

Bobby said...

Amen!

j.wo said...

Wow, Christine. That's all I can think to say right now. The Lord has spoken clearly thru the mutual message He has laid upon your heart. THANK YOU!!!

I think I shall make Habbakuk my devotions tonight. :)

God bless, and I hope we get to have coffee/tea very soon...

Mark said...

Amen! Thank you for posting that.

Anonymous said...

man, these post just keep getting longer and longer....ugh!

Donna said...

Very good post, Christine - thank you for sharing what the Lord is doing in your life.

That passage in Habakkuk is incredible and expresses so much faith. The Lord IS so faithful, isn't He? I'm so glad that when we cannot see the hand of God that we can trust the heart of God (Charles Spurgeon).

This is such a hard lesson - I can personally testify how the Lord has had to teach and reteach me this, in EVERY aspect of my life... even right now. But it's such a rich lesson to learn, and it touches every thought, emotion, and action that comes out of us.

To be completely grounded in trusting the Lord's faithfulness and character is life altering and is one step closer to being more like Christ. Thanks again for sharing and testifying to us. :)