Sunday, July 30, 2017

Problems Solved

There are many things that are true of us all. Here’s just one. We all have problems. There are parts of life that just aren’t working the way that we’d like them to. Some of these problems are pretty minor. Mere inconveniences. But then, there are those problems that are actually pretty big. Every person alive has problems.

It makes sense to want these problems to go away. But there are obstacles to achieving that desire.

Some people actually know that they have problems and understand them fairly accurately. But they don’t do anything about them, and that’s because they don’t know what to do. These are clueless.

Then, there are those who just give up on the idea of solving life’s problems. They have tried and tried, but nothing works. These are hopeless.

And then, there are those who tell themselves that having problems is just the way life is. There’s nothing to be done except muddle along as well as you can. These have settled.

The Gospel speaks to this situation. It speaks to our problems. And its basic claim is that Jesus can deal with, can solve, our problems. All of them. And that’s what we’re going to look at this morning. To do that, we’re going to use something from Joel. Listen.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Joel 2.32

We’re going to look at this bit of Scripture in terms of its three key words: ‘call’, ‘name’, ‘saved’.

Let’s start with ‘saved’. I think that the first thing that I need to do is to rescue this word from its sorry association. Too often, ‘saved’ is a church word reserved for revival meetings and fundy street preachers. It shouldn’t be. The basic idea of the word is not complicated nor is it especially religious. It’s about safety: making safe and keeping safe.

There is also an assumption here that would be good to note. There is danger. Being saved means that the danger has been dealt with. That person is now safe. That’s what the verse is talking about.

But this may provoke some questions. Does this verse actually speak about our problems, our everyday problems? Are they actually dangerous, things that we need to be saved from? Isn’t that saying a bit much? Not really. Some of you are facing significant problems that really are a threat to your well-being. But even the little problems bring danger.

Let’s look more closely at this. First, don’t minimize your situation by comparing some relatively small problem that you face with a big one that someone else is dealing with, and then tell yourself, ‘Well, my situation isn’t that bad’. No, instead, compare your situation to what life was like in the Garden of Eden. When you do that you can see that even little problems rob us of life, life that God intended us to enjoy. Little problems are still problems that need to be solved. And, in addition, remember that nothing stays the same. When we fail to deal with little problems, they have this nasty tendency of growing into bigger problems. And when that happens they rob us of even more life.

When you see the problems that confront you, both the big ones and the little ones, as the dangers that they are, you can see how this promise in Joel helps. You can be saved from them. You can be made safe and be kept safe, and in this way gain more of life as it was intended.

Now, how does that happen? How can we be saved from life’s problems? On to the next key word: ‘name’.

Let me remind you of the notion of ‘name’ in the Bible. This has to do with something much more significant than simply a label to use when you want to call someone to dinner. A name had to do with some noteworthy characteristic in the person bearing that name. So, Abraham means ‘Father of a multitude’. Isaac means ‘She laughs’. Israel means ‘He strives with God’. Jesus means ‘Yahweh saves’. All those names were intended to reveal something about the person bearing the name.

Joel tells us to call on God’s name. What is that name? What has been revealed about the God of the Bible? Here’s a short list of names, revelations of God. He is Creator, Father, Savior, Comforter, Judge, Healer, Sovereign. And the list could go on for quite a while.

So, to call on the name of God is to appeal to Him in terms of some aspect of who He has revealed Himself to be. The suffering saint calls out to God, his comforter. The confused believer calls out to God most wise. The one who is sick calls out to the God who heals. And the oppressed call to the God of justice. God intends for us to use His names in this way. It’s why He has revealed Himself with those characteristics.

So, we are to connect our problems with the appropriate aspects of His person. Doing this can strengthen your hope.

And that leads us to that last key word: ‘call’. Based on what you know about your God, you call on Him. You pray about what’s going on. That’s what the verse is about. ‘Father, I have a problem. And I know that You are the God who saves from problems.’ And you go on from there.

As you grow in this skill, you will see the importance of praying specifically. Generic prayer like, ‘Dear God, Thank You for today. Please help me. Amen’ – what is that? It can so easily become an empty religious ritual. ‘Well, I prayed about it.’ Really? What exactly do you want Him to do? What is the problem that you want Him to save you from? What are you expecting from Him? What are you hoping for? Here’s a better prayer: ‘Father, I have a problem with anger. I don’t know why I get angry, but I do. Show me what’s going on in my heart, what causes this anger, so that I can repent of the sin behind the sin. I want to stop sinning like this and, instead, be very patient with others. Help me to put off the ugliness of this sin and to put on something that is beautiful and holy.’ That’s much better, isn’t it? And it’s much better because it’s specific. Your expectation of God is clear. You’ve told Him what you would like. And this promise in Joel tells us that as we pray like this, as we do call on the name of Yahweh to save us from our specific problems, that is exactly what He will do.

All right, we’ve looked at the key words. Now it’s time to ask this  question. How will He save? That is, what might He do? God can save us from our problems in a few different ways. He might completely remove the problem. It’s gone and replaced with something good. Here, think about the leprous man who came to Jesus. He called on Jesus to heal him. And that is exactly what Jesus did. The disease was completely gone. Health was restored. That’s one option.

Here’s another way God can save. Sometimes He has us accept our problem, at least for a time. Consider, again, Paul and his famous thorn in the flesh. Paul was calling out that it be removed. What happened? Was the problem removed? No. The thorn stayed. And Paul accepted the problem. But please note that the problem was actually transformed. Weakness became strength. In a way, the problem wasn’t a problem any more. There will be times when He will save us in this way.

In both of these cases, the sick man and Paul, a sense of safety was restored. In a way very different from the sick man, Paul was also saved from his problem.

There is another option for God to choose. And it starts with seeing something that we sometimes miss. Sometimes the problem isn’t what we think it is. There are those times when we think that the problem is over there somewhere, something coming from outside of us, when the problem actually is within us. When Joel first preached the words of our text, the problem he was referring to, the problem that the people could be saved from, was their own sin. Much of Joel’s prophecy was about how God was planning to completely destroy the people of Israel because of their refusal to repent of their sin. But as a last attempt at calling the people to repentance, Joel proclaims the promise of our text. It was an offer of safety, in this case, safety from the wrath of God. The problem wasn’t over there, outside the people. The problem was within.

So, you see, there are times when we don’t identify the problem correctly. The problem is actually our sin. The Spirit of God, acting in His character of being full of mercy, comes to us to point out where the real problem is. Sometimes He does that with a simple word that, if we are wise, we quickly respond to with repentance and faith. But, sadly, there are those who do not respond in that way. No, instead, they resist the Spirit. And so, the Spirit, again in mercy, gets a bit more aggressive. This is what happened to some of the saints in Corinth. Remember how Paul warned them about how they were behaving so poorly as a church.

That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Corinthians 11.30

The real problem for those saints wasn’t poor health. Coming to Jesus, like the leprous man, to ask for healing would not have worked. The problem wasn’t the sickness. The problem was their sin against the other saints, sin that wasn’t being dealt with. So, there are times when God works to save us from our problems by sending new ones our way. His goal is to get us to repent. If there is any doubt, the thing to do is to stop and pray, ‘Lord, am I missing something? Is there some sin that I am refusing to deal with? Please, tell me if there is.’ That’s a good prayer to offer up at times. And if there is something that you’re missing, if there is some sin that you are refusing to repent of, the Spirit will let you know so that you can repent of it.

It’s interesting to note that this verse in Joel is quoted twice in the New Testament. And it’s even more interesting to note that both times the verse is used in the context of evangelism, calling unbelievers to faith in Jesus. And that makes sense. Jesus is the God who saves from problems. But please bear in mind that the problem to be addressed with such people is not that they have been unloved and Jesus promises to love them, or anything self-centered like that. When it comes to evangelism, the root problem is always sinful rebellion. And unbelievers are facing danger. Remember, that’s the assumption of the text. There is danger. And what is this danger that confronts them? They are being confronted by a God whose name is ‘Holy’. This holy God is angry with them because of their sin. The sentence of eternal destruction looms. That’s the real problem, the root problem of all their problems. But they are invited to call upon Jesus whose name is ‘Savior’. All that is needed is for them to appeal to Him as the savior that He is so that He will deal with the problem of their sin and do that by the Gospel.

From time to time, I remind you that, if we do this being-a-Christian thing right, sooner or later, lost and wandering souls will come to us. That applies here. As you apply this promise from Joel to your own life, the people around you will see you doing well dealing with the problems of life, much better than they are. They will see, they will wonder and they will come. Now, when they do come, asking you how you do it, you can use this verse. You can talk to them about those three key words: ‘save’, ‘name’, ‘call’, and how you use them to deal with the danger of life’s problems.

That just might provide an opportunity to also apply those words to them. And what you want to do is talk about the danger that confronts them, the anger of the holy God because of their sin. If they are still listening, you can tell them that they can be made safe and be kept safe from that danger. And that can happen as they call upon the name of Jesus, the Savior.

Explain to them that

everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Now, I’m not giving you a script to read to them. I’ve given you ideas to put into your own words according to the situation. But be ready to use the verse as an evangelistic tool. Apply it to yourself so that you can apply it to others.

Last thought. Because of all of this, because of the promise of this verse made to us, we can be so very optimistic. Maybe I should use a different word here, a better word. We can be so very hopeful. And why not? Sure, we have problems. And we will have problems until the day that we are finally freed from this life. But we also have a promise. These are problems that are being dealt with. We are being saved from them and are increasingly enjoying safety. Jesus is our savior. We can be full of hope as we believe the Gospel promise that is revealed in this short sentence in Joel.

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