Rev. Ronald Eugene Braxton, Senior Pastor
Metropolitan AME Church
January 13, 2013 7:45 AM
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7 The Message Bible Translation
When You’re Between a Rock and a Hard Place. 43: 1-4 But now, God’s Message,the God who made you in the first place, Jacob, the One who got you started, Israel: “Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you mean to me!That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. 5-7 “So don’t be afraid: I’m with you. I’ll round up all your scattered children, pull them in from east and west. I’ll send orders north and south: ‘Send them back. Return my sons from distant lands, my daughters from faraway places. I want them back, every last one who bears my name, every man, woman, and child Whom I created for my glory, yes, personally formed and made each one.’”
The prophetic writing in the scripture came at a critical moment in the life of the people of God. In the text, Israel found herself in a situation – exiled under the domination of Babylonian rule. To many, who were going through some challenges, their future as a nation seemed doubtful and hopeless. For some, it was as if God had abandoned them. For most, a deep fear had set in that they were on the verge of extinction.
Many of the people who lived during the days of this text found themselves suffering and were clear that their suffering stemmed from the curse of a previous generation that would not listen, would not obey, and would not submit to God. So, here they are in a hard, and what looked like a bleak, dismal and hopeless situation.
The prophet in the text came with a word of creation, with a word of new beginnings. “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel…” I got kind of stuck on the phrase, “But now…;” it is as if God has a different plan and a new intention for those who are left: “they will see a new day; they will experience a new beginning and a new tomorrow.” At the present moment they suffer because of their forbears, but their present adversity will not result in their demise.
1. Whatever you are facing or going through, you and God can turn adversity into stepping stones for greater opportunities in your life.
Here is a salient point: (1) Whatever you are facing, whatever you are going through, you and God can turn adversity into stepping stones for greater opportunities in your life. You and God together can turn adversity into stepping stones.
If you hold on long enough, I’ll stake my life on it, there is a “But now, says the Lord” moment on the way. One of the things that I have come to learn, know and trust is that whether natural or personal, when adversity comes, adversity opens up for us new channels, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things and new possibilities for God to move and shape us to live greater and stronger lives. You and God together can turn it into a stepping stone.
Most of us would not be where we are today had we not had some adversities along the way. I am convinced of this: God moves through our adversities and we become that much the better, that much the wiser, that much the stronger. The lion’s den was but a stepping stone for Daniel; the fiery furnace was but a stepping stone for the three Hebrew boys. The cross was but a stepping stone of Jesus. You and God together, you and God working on the same page can turn adversity into stepping stones. When you and God get on the same page, stuff happens, and whatever is standing in the way, you and God together can work it out.
In the text, these people are in the bleakest of times and God is saying to them: “You are mine. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are precious in my sight. I love you. I am with you.” I looked at this and thought: This is strange talk when you are down and have counted yourself out.
Valerie Davis puts forth this inquiry; she says: “For a people in exile, these words must have been hard to hear. If God is with us, they must have wondered, ‘how did we end up in Babylon.’” Some would think that to be open and available to God’s move in our lives ought to be a life that is fire, flood, hill, mountain, and river-free. Again, Valerie Davis questions, “If God is with us, why are we so besieged by crime, war, poverty, and hunger…” Well, some of us might ask, if God has called me by my name, if God says He loves me; if God is with me…why is it that the harder I try sometimes, the harder it seems to get? Why – if God is with me – why this sickness in my body; why this turmoil in my household, why me Lord…can’t you make it a little easier for me God? Why is it so hard to keep my mortgage payment up? Why did I lose my job? Why can’t I get along with the folks on my job?
2. Being open and available to God will not free you from the raging tempests of life.
The life of Jesus ought to help us here. Every step Jesus took towards resurrection was a challenge. (2) Because you are open and available to God, it will not free you from the raging tempests of life. Some pain, some struggle, some heartaches, will accompany new life, new birth, new beginnings. Some rocky roads, some mountains, some deep rivers will accompany new beginnings.
I got news for you: anybody who thinks it’s easy being with God, know that it costs something to be open and available to God’s move. Moving with God will exact something from you. Moving with God will make some major demands on your life—the way you live and the witness that comes out of your mouth. When God moves on you life, you can’t live the way you used to live. And the witness that comes out of your life will be different. Whenever God does a new thing in your life, it is going to take some old stuff out of you before the new stuff is put in you. And be real clear about this, God does not step in and alter…God does not use some kind of holy wand to prevent bad stuff…God will allow nature to run its course…God will not take the gun out of the gunman’s hand or make the government feed, house, clothe and provide jobs for all the people. God does not promise us flowery beds of ease. But, what he does promise is, if we are willing to fight, when the waters rise, when the flames are burning, we will not be overwhelmed or consumed. He will be with us and, when the waters rise, we will walk through.
What God told the Apostle Paul is applicable for us today, “My Grace [no matter what you are going through] is Sufficient.” You can’t ask for much more than that. I will be with you…I will walk with you…I may not be free from the raging tempests of life, but with God I can bear whatever cross I must bear…I may not be free from the nails, the persecutions, the thorns, and the lashes, but with God I can do all things. With God, His grace is sufficient.
3. Everyday on the journey, affirm and claim God as the source and the strength of your life!
When you become available and open to the move of God in your life, you don’t and won’t know what is down the road until you get there; you don’t and won’t know what is around the corner until you turn the corner. As God has claimed you, “Called you by name…redeemed you…claimed his presence and love for you, here is the (3rd) and final thought, Everyday on the journey, affirm and claim God as the source and the strength of your life. Whatever comes, whatever happens, affirm and claim God as the strength and the source of your life.
It wasn’t long before the disciples and those around Jesus understood that Jesus was not operating on his own. He wasn’t relying on who he was. Even Jesus was clear “not me, but the father that is in me” working in, with and through him. When you open yourself up to God and make yourself available to God, eyes have not seen and ears have not heard what lies down the road. But with God, every hour of the day, when you wake up in the morning, when you come home, you’ve got to affirm God and claim God as the strength and the source of your life. Without God you can’t get through, you can’t get around; but with God in your life, with God holding your hand, with God ordering your steps, there are new opportunities, new venues, new blessings out there. I got news for you: you know the only thing holding you back? YOU.
Stop talking about: “I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I got so much on my plate. I’m so tied up. I got so many agendas, I don’t know how I’m going to make it.” You ought to stop that stuff, because if God is on your side, if God has promised to walk with you, to keep you, to hold you by your hand, I know how you’re going to make it. He is the source, he is the strength.
The Songwriter writes these words, Precious Lord, take my hand, let me stand, when the way gets dark, take my hand. Every now and then you ought to be able to reach back in the depth of your soul and cry, Precious Lord, take my hand, because that’s the only way you can get through.
Are you looking for something new in your life? You’ve got to open up to God. Say to God, and be careful when you say it: “God, I’m available.” But be careful when you say it, because when he moves in your life, doors will open; mountains will move; windows will open; dreams will become realities; impossibilities will become possible; old things will become new.