- Have you experienced a season of painful waiting in your life? How did you respond?
- What questions do you ask of God or about God when life is difficult?
- When you need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, what do you do? What experience can you draw from to stay fixed on the truth that He is FOR you?
Good morning everyone! Welcome to Hope City Church. What an exciting day. Yes… I know it’s an exciting day for all of the football fans out there. But it’s even more exciting here at Hope City because today we have officially launched 2 services. We want to provide more options to better serve our community, as well as care for our dream team by ensuring that you can attend one service and serve during a service.
But it’s funny as much as we have prepared and worked for this day, something still doesn’t seem right… Something feels off a bit. Hold on… wait… I’m sorry. Let me take care of something. [Go off side stage- put on Rams Jersey]
THAT’S Better! Notice that I’m not only wearing a Rams Jersey, but an AUTHENTIC TODD JOHNSON jersey… I know, it’s a St. Louis Rams Jersey and they’ve got new Jersey’s for tonight. Did you see the Patriots new jersey for tonight? which of their Jersey’s do you like best? J I’m kidding…
Who is ready for this game? Any Brady fans out there? That means that the rest of us in this room are rooting against you. Just saying… Tonight over 100 million people will watch football’s biggest game of the year. Research says this is the way our country is rooting. But let’s be generous and say that half of those watching are Patriots fans, and the other half are Rams fans.
Here’s what we know. Tomorrow is going to be bathed in the stench of disappointment for almost 500,000 people. And for others they will wake up with their team having brought home the Lombardi trophy…
The other half will wake up and require two, maybe three cups of coffee to get out of bed. Disappointment will set in… Why… because of this word right here: PAIN, specifically the pain of loss.
Isn’t it interesting what we do in pain? In pain, we generally ask 3 questions.
WHY: WHY DID THIS HAPPEN? It was the referee’s fault…. It was my business partner. It was the economy. It was my spouse… We try to figure out why pain happens.
HOW: HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? He was such a good person! They were the perfect couple! How could that ever happen to them? We ask ourselves How it could happen because we never saw it coming.
WHEN: WHEN WILL IT EVER CHANGE? When will this season be over? When will I get a new job? When will I ever make enough money? When will we ever stop fighting?
In pain we blame… Why, How, When… These are the thoughts that go through our heads. And very often, we get lost in these thoughts, because there really isn’t anything to fill these blank spaces with. And there they sit, empty…
Turn with me to John 11, page 733 in the Bible’s around you. Jesus shares with us yet another “I AM” statement. Throughout this series we have been learning more about who Jesus says HE is and discovering More about who we are in the process. We are going to see how Jesus address’ the issue of pain and suffering in people’s lives. Look with me.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
It is clear that Jesus has a great relationship with this family.
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. [i]
Can you imagine this scene? You’re good friends with Jesus and your brother gets sick, then he gets worse. You start calling friends and family together in order to say their last goodbyes. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus… And don’t you love the way that they say this…
Lord, the one you love is sick… verse 3
It’s as if they are reminding Jesus of His feelings towards him. Jesus, don’t forget, you love Lazarus. HINT HINT. Jesus why won’t you do something, here? But then John reminds us of another detail here in verse 5.
Lord, the one you love is sick… Verse 3
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Verse 5
There is no question that Jesus knows he is sick, and there is also no question that the one who is sick is loved by God.
When we are in pain, we jump to conclusions that God must have forgotten about us, that He doesn’t love us, or doesn’t care about us anymore. We think that if God is good, than bad things shouldn’t be happening to us.
We actually minimize God and make him small when we say that God has forgotten us. That’s what people do. People forget people. God is incapable of forgetting you. He knows exactly what is going on in your life today, he knows how many hairs are on your head. He loves you too much to forget you.
God has a purpose for you in your pain. You may not see it yet.
But what does scripture show us here? These people were all loved by God, and yet, pain still was a part of their reality. Someone here needs to hear this:
(PT. 1) Your Difficult Days are not God’s Disapproval of You. In our pain, we start questioning God. God, HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN? Or, GOD WHY DID YOU LET IT HAPPEN? And we all want to know, GOD WHEN WILL THIS CHANGE? Somewhere in here, we buy the lie that because there is pain in our life God must not love us.
- When we ask HOW, We can start to DOUBT We doubt His goodness, His power and strength, and even His love for us.
- When we ask WHY, it is so easy to throw up our hands and resign ourselves to DISCOURAGEMENT.
- And the question, WHEN will it ever change reminds us of God’s DELAY in timing.
Last week we celebrated Hope City’s second birthday. But over 2.5 years ago, Tiffany and I started planning and preparing for what we are doing right now. It started out with gathering a launch team and then there was the need to raise money. I’ll never forget the day that I stood in front of a group of people and said we are going to plant a church here in Sarasota because we want to see the local church be an anchor of hope in our community. We want to see lives changed by Christ, and men, women, students, and children live out lives of meaning that can only be found in Jesus. And I went on to explain the vision for our church and how we were going to accomplish that, through CONNECT GROUPS, excellent FAMILY PROGRAMMING, engaging TEACHING, and relevant WORSHIP. And then I said, in order to accomplish these things, and to do them well in a way that your friends and neighbors would be a part of, we need to raise, $200,000. I had a conviction that in order to be the kind of church that we aimed to be, we needed to do it well. And we prayed, we had conversation after conversation. We sent out letters, we asked everyone we knew to support the launch of Hope City Church, and the finances started coming in. We praised God as we crossed the $25k mark, then the $50k mark, and we got all the way to $130K dollars. And then the ARC, the association of related churches gave us a $50k matching grant. We were at $180,000 dollars.
Where was the final $20,000 dollars? I wondered did I shoot too high, was I wrong? Where was God. Didn’t God want His church to succeed? I had so many questions in my head as to what next…
In my doubts, the temptation was to think that it didn’t matter to God, that I didn’t matter to God, and that Hope City was not important… But I didn’t really believe that. You maybe stuck because you haven’t yet seen what you believe God has promised you.
Your Difficult Days are not God’s Disapproval of You. You may be doubting that God cares for you, that God is even real, because of some pain in your life. Pastor Rick Warren has said, that we need to “Doubt our Doubts, and Believe our Beliefs.” Lazarus was loved by Jesus and He still died.
In fact, Jesus goes on and breaks this down even further for the disciples…
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Do you know why Jesus stayed 2 days longer where He was? There was a commonly held belief in the Jewish culture that the spirit of a person hung around the tomb for up to 3 days. When Jesus arrives on the scene on day 4, Lazarus isn’t mostly dead (for all of you Princess Bride Fans), he is DEAD DEAD. Jesus didn’t want there to be any confusion about what was going to happen next!
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
These three people step into the storyline, we’ve got Thomas, Mary & Martha. Each one of them react to the scene a little bit differently. Thomas is stuck in his DOUBTS (Building Slides three words) … WE SHOULD GO SO WE CAN DIE THERE TOO! It’s almost as if he is saying, Jesus if you were so good, why didn’t you stop it?
Then Mary figured, why bother going to see Jesus. She was overwhelmed by DISCOURAGEMENT. Her brother was dead.
Martha comes rushing out, wagging her finger at Jesus. IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE HE WOULDN’T HAVE DIED! All she can think about is the DELAY.
Each one of these people had a question that stemmed from pain. They were left with blanks. But without the blanks we would have all the answers.
We like all the blanks filled in though, don’t we? There are some of you here in this room who are neurotic about the blanks on the notes we print every week. If you don’t have every blank filled in you come running up to me afterwards and demand to know what was that blank… This week I thought about putting a bunch of blanks there just to mess with you… But I’ll be kind. 😉
Life doesn’t fill in all of the blanks. Our all-knowing God not only allows this, but he actually designed life to be this way. Without blank space, we would have NO ROOM for God to enter in and write His answers in our life. And so, for all you who like to fill in blanks, here’s the next one for you, (Pt. 2) GOD DOESN’T WANT TO BE EXPLAINED AWAY, BUT INVITED IN. If we had all of the blanks filled in, we would be able to explain away God’s part in our story.
The other day I was with a friend who was telling me about their mom who had a significant stroke. They rushed over to the hospital, and the doctors said this is not going to be good. You need to prepare yourself that this stroke has been significant and serious. There will be considerable damage. But God wasn’t done with this story.
Less than two weeks his mother was back to full health, with no side effects, no lasting issues and NO EXPLANATION. God doesn’t want to be explained away. If we can explain everything it leaves NO ROOM for His addition to our story.
Moments before Jesus was even born, the words NO ROOM were uttered to his mother Mary. There’s no room for you here. And because of those two simple words, NO ROOM, God turned an ordinary animal stable into a sanctuary for the messiah. NO ROOM became the place where Jesus traded heaven for humanity, He stepped into our questions, into our doubts, and into our disappointment with the delays. He did this for one reason – REDEMPTION.
What if the blank space in your life was an opportunity for God’s redemption to be put on display? God turns what you and I call BLANK SPACES into SACRED SPACES.
Remember how Tiffany and I launched this church in 2017? Well we didn’t set out to be church planters. It actually all started with a frustration in 2013. As a campus pastor I felt a burden to preach and teach more, and it was a calling that I felt God placing on my life. And I talked with our leadership team, I talked with my boss, I looked for every opportunity to preach, and the door was only cracked open if even that. It appeared that my role at Liquid Church was going to be a dead end. And I was asking… God what are you doing? Where are you? How long do I have to wait? And God was saying, “HOLD ON… I’ve got something planned for you. But I need to do some work IN you, before I work THROUGH you.”
I didn’t understand this at the time, but God had me at Liquid Church for a reason. During my time there, Liquid Church was one of the fastest growing churches in the country. I had the privilege to sit under one of the most gifted communicators on the planet and learn from him. I now consider it my second seminary degree, I graduated from Biblical Theological Seminary with my Master of Divinity, but I joke that I graduated from Liquid Church with my Master of Practical Ministry.
Don’t kid yourself though… There are times in our lives when it feels like the blank space is overwhelming. Let me encourage you, if that’s the way you feel this morning, Even if our circumstances aren’t good, God’s purpose always is. God doesn’t want to be explained away but invited in to the blank spaces in your life.
All of this leads up to one of the most powerful I AM statements that Jesus will make. Look back at what Jesus says,
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Martha is confident that Lazarus will be raised to new life on the last day. She was looking forward to a future resurrection but Jesus wanted her to focus on what He was going to do in the present. She had given up hope of seeing Lazarus alive. But Jesus wasn’t done. He was getting ready to reveal one of His most powerful statements…
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.[ii]
In the midst of the disappointment and the despair Jesus makes a profound statement. He says, I am the RESURRECTION and the LIFE. He doesn’t say, I am capable of resurrecting your brother. He says, I AM the RESURRECTION. Resurrection is not what HE DOES, but it is WHO HE IS.
Let me remind you today that (PT 3) DISAPPOINTMENT IS NOT YOUR FINAL DESTINATION! Just because you may be in a situation that is not where you want to be… you may be stuck somewhere in the doubt… Doubtful that God still loves you… That’s not your final destination. You may be stuck in the Discouragement. You aren’t staying there! You may be counting the moments and feel like the DELAY is forever… This may be your season, but it’s not your final destination.
God may answer your prayer exactly the way that you hoped He would, or He may answer it in a different way than you could have imagined. But Jesus is the RESURECTION…
Look what happens with Lazarus.
…He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 11:43-44
Death doesn’t win. Jesus does. I wonder, did Lazarus keep a piece of the grave cloth? Did he keep it in his pocket, as a reminder? I once was dead, but Jesus brought me back to life…
I want to show you something… We eventually did raise $200,000 dollars to launch Hope City Church. But let me show you these cards… These are our Launch Fund Cards. I keep these cards in the desk drawer of my office… because they remind me that just because you may be stuck in the waiting, GOD ISN’T THROUGH WITH YOU.
We may not have a building yet, but God isn’t done. We may not have a fully paid staff team yet… But God isn’t done yet!
These names (read names) believed in what God would do one day through Hope City Church. They gave to something that COULD be… it is the same thing when you Tithe here at Hope City… You are giving for what could be. We are only able to serve our church and our community through your generosity. In the months where finances are tight here at Church, I leaf through these cards and I’m reminded of how God’s timing is different than ours. We need reminders…
(Play Background Music)
Listen to me… RESURRECTION IS FOUND IN A PERSON NOT A MOMENT. Jesus can do more in your blank space than you could ever imagine.
You may be waiting for the moment when your divorce is healed.
You may be waiting for the moment when your cancer is cleared.
You may be waiting for the moment to hold your firstborn.
You may be waiting for the moment when your heartbreak will heal.
But we aren’t waiting for a moment. We look to a person, and that person is Jesus! Even death doesn’t have the final say. For those of you who have lost a loved one, we don’t grieve the way that others grieve, because we know that in Christ, we will see those we love again. This is why Jesus says,
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.[iii]
Keep your eyes on Jesus! God is in the RESURRECTION BUSINESS. He is in the business of creating something sacred out of the blank spaces in your life. Will you trust Him in your pain and disappointment? (Resurrection Icon)
Do you know why you feel disappointed? Disappointment is the feeling that things should be better than they are. There is something in your soul that says my marriage should be better. My private habits should be better. My finances should be better. They should have lived longer. When you feel that disappointment that is your soul craving what only the great I AM can give, THE RESURRECTION POWER OF JESUS.
Will you stop staring at the Blank Space and seeing all that isn’t there? In fact, this morning I want to challenge you to reorient your view… Look at what God could be writing through that space in your life.
Pain presents an opportunity for God to work in you and through you. You may not choose your pain, but you can choose your response to it. Choose to keep your eyes on Jesus.