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Monday, September 9, 2019

God is Faithful, part two

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

God is faithful. That fundamental truth is the very root of our faith. If God is not faithful, then we are no more than walking shadows, and life is meaningless. 

Part one of my message to the 55+ community I visit each week looked at God’s faithfulness to His promise of salvation. Click this link to find part one.

Now we look at His faithfulness to His promise to never leave us, and to always forgive the penitent sinner.

Not only is God faithful to His promise of salvation, He is also faithful to walk with us, even through – especially through – the valley of the shadow of death. 

Those who have walked with the Lord for several decades have an advantage over youth. We know what it’s like to wait and wait – and wait – for God’s answer. We know what it is like to be lonely and scared. We know what it’s like to think we are on our own. 

Our advantage over those much younger – both in age and in faith – is we have life-experiences with God that enable us to look back over our years and thereby recognize how faithful God has been to us – even in our darkest hours. He’s never failed us. He has proven faithful to walk with us, and even when necessary to carry us on His shoulders when we hardly had strength any longer to even breathe. 

Hear God’s word to us through Isaiah: "Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you." (Isaiah 46:4) 

Even when we didn’t like His answers to some of our most desperate prayers, we can now in retrospect recognize His caress, His embrace, His kiss on our cheek, in and through those darkest hours. And also in retrospect, we know God did what was right when He said, ‘No’ to our prayers. 

This is so important a truth that we dare not gloss it. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). And because He loves us so very much, it ought to be unthinkable that He would ever leave us alone. That’s why I shudder and grit my teeth every year during Lent when congregations across the country sing that terrible song: You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley all by yourself. What terrible, faith-destroying, unbiblical prattle those lyrics spew. 

To say we walk alone through a lonesome valley is to call God a liar. We might FEEL alone, but we older Christians know we should never trust our FEELINGS. When our emotions or our health are at their lowest ebb, you can expect Satan to slip into our minds and use our emotions or poor health to confuse us, to trick us into believing God has left us. 

Talk about life-experiences, I experienced that demonic assault in January and February of this year. Please bear with me, those of you who have read of my story before, but that experience changed me. And I can't help but refer to it again in hopes that the Holy Spirit might use my experience to assure everyone of not only His constant watch-care over our lives, but also of His great mercy – that even when WE are faithless, HE remains faithful. 

After emergency surgery to stop the bleeding aneurysm from killing her, Nancy spent the next three weeks in the intensive care unit at the Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida. We’d traveled there to visit my mom’s grave. We never made it to the cemetery. 

After the ICU stay, Nancy spent another ten days in an acute rehabilitation hospital. We returned to Georgia after five weeks of nightmare.

I did not do that nightmare well. What was – and remains – most distressing for me is the disheartening recognition that during that time, what I have taught for 46 years about God’s faithfulness – I found myself losing trust in God. I half-expected God to pull the rug completely out from under me. I was in absolute turmoil. I’d never experienced anything like that in my entire 46 years of Christian life. I discovered I am not at all the mature Christian I thought I was. 

My faltering faith shocked and embarrassed me. 

Like Peter, who lived with the Lord for three years and who believed with all his being that he would never deny His Lord, I had lived with the Lord to that point for more than four decades and never would have believed I could be so weak, so faithless in my faith. 

So, what is my point? The fears and the doubts roiling in my heart about God’s faithfulness should have merited me His anger, His resentment, His dismissal of my soul from His presence.  How dare I, after 46 years of life-experience with Him, and with such a wealth of Bible knowledge as I have, how dare I succumb to the fears inspired by the devil himself?  How dare I not turn my heart toward God and say to Him, “Not my will, but Thine be done?” 

Yes, I was faithless. But our loving and merciful God is far more loving and merciful than I’d ever given Him credit for. Though I was faithless, God did not dismiss me. He did not resent me. He was not angry with me. He did not give me what I deserved. 

Christian, listen to me, please! This message is not about me. It’s about YOU, and what YOU can expect from our faithful Father – faithfulness in His love for you, even when you are without faith and hope and trust for Him. 

And to my final point about God’s faithfulness, let’s now look at God’s faithfulness to forgive the penitent sinner. 

The key word in that last statement is, of course, ‘penitent.’ That shouldn’t surprise any mature Christian. It only makes a mockery of God’s holiness and His justice when we tell Him we are sorry for our sins while we have no intention of even trying to change. St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:4-6) 

True repentance is born in the deepest recesses of the heart and always results in the sinner being mortified, embarrassed, and ashamed for having done what was done, or having neglected to do what should have been done. If we are NOT ashamed of our sin, then our repentance is insipid at best.

Yes, and yes again, God is faithful to His immutable promise to forgive the penitent sinner. How often will He forgive the truly penitent? I hope you know the answer to that question. Every time. 

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10) 

God is faithful to forgive the penitent sinner. I cannot overemphasize that glorious truth. Nevertheless, so many Christians live defeated lives because they cannot believe God is so faithful to forgive their sin. Most often, they either think they’ve committed the sin too many times for God to forgive them, or they think their sin was so egregious that God could never forgive them. 

I’ve quoted C. S. Lewis before about this subject, and it is good to do it again here: “I think that if God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal [a higher court] than Him.”

Let me say it kindly, but also unmistakably: How dare we sit in the corner nursing our guilty conscience when the faithful God has said to the penitent: I forgive you? 

As I close this second of my two-part message, I want to rehearse once more my points about God’s faithfulness. 

First: God is faithful about His promise of salvation to all who trust the Savior as their atonement for sins, and who live according to His commandments. (See the link to part one at the beginning of this essay). 

Next: God is faithful about His promise to always, always walk with us – yes, even to carry us on His shoulders day by day – and especially through the valley of the shadow of death. 

And finally (as if there could ever be a final word about God), He is faithful to forgive every and any sin brought to Him in honest and humble repentance. 

Christian, what are you struggling through? You can trust Him to be faithful.

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