Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

Category: Devotional Thoughts (page 2 of 28)

When God Closes Doors

Locked_Door

I was lying awake in bed one night a few months ago.  Earlier that day I had received familiar news: I had been turned down for some kind of work/ministry position.  I don’t really remember the specific position or exactly how I was notified (email vs. “snail mail”).  This kind of thing has happened so many times that it has become a familiar and forgettable event.

But I do remember something different in my reaction: “You should thank God for closing that door,” I said to myself.

So I did.  Maybe I thanked God begrudgingly–the same way a child thanks a relative for a birthday gift he really didn’t want.   Gratitude can be difficult after months (or years) of hearing God say “no.”

But my heart did become more grateful as I pondered the ways God has used closed doors to guide me into His perfect plan.  I’m about a month away from an important anniversary: the day I left American soil for the first time to move to Manila (July 11th, 2002).  But I never would have made it to the Philippines if certain opportunities had opened up for me here in the States back in the late 90’s or early 2000’s (I’ve mentioned this before).   An incredible decade of ministry may have never even happened if God had given me what I asked for.

Lying beside me was my beautiful wife, an exquisite reminder of this truth.  She came to me after years of romantic frustrations and mishaps–some of which happened only months before I met her.  But it was all worth it, and now I’m grateful for every closed door that led me to her.  Here’s a line from my first love letter to her:  “I would take this path all over again as long as I knew it would lead me back to you.”  I meant every word.  I still do.

So I thanked God for closed doors that night.  Since then I have disciplined my soul to thank Him each time a promising opportunity turns into disappointment.  I know I can trust Him.

You can, too.

“What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
-Revelation 3:7

Photo courtesy of wiki commons.

The Ministry of Reminding

“I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. . .  “ -Romans 15:14-15

One of the greatest joys I had in the Philippines was teaching the Scriptures to students who had never really studied them before.  I’d hand out copies of the New Testament and tell them the page number where they could find the passage we would study.  It was the first time many of them had experienced a simple, verse-by-verse discussion of God’s word with someone willing to answer their questions.

The same goes for my preaching ministry: I had to be careful about assuming my listeners knew anything about the text I would be sharing.  This was particularly true in some of the evangelistic preaching opportunities God gave me.

There was something extremely refreshing about doing ministry in this kind of setting.  What an amazing privilege!

This is not to say that Filipinos are biblically illiterate–there are thousands of faithful believers there who diligently study the Bible.  But my ministry was focused more on those who were new to the faith.

My ministry took an ironic turn here in the States.  I’ve had the privilege of preaching (short-term) in three churches.  All three congregations were of an older demographic: the average attendee had probably been listening to sermons since before I was born.

“What can I share that they haven’t already heard many times before?”  I asked myself this question as I embarked on this new season of ministry.

God taught me something very important: I don’t have to teach/preach anything “new.”   I’m not saying God lead me to “recycle” old sermon outlines from C.H. Spurgeon.  Preaching, after all, is applying the timeless truths of Scripture to our modern context.  But I realized that preaching is a ministry of reminding for many of us who have had already learned the basics doctrines of the faith.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m always learning new things when I prepare for (or listen to) sermons.  But I’ve let go of the need to hear “I’ve never heard anything like that before” when I preach. I’m just as content to know I have reminded my listeners of things we need to hear over and over again.  Here are a few examples that quickly come to mind:KevinSRC

  • It’s not about us.
  • We can trust God.
  • Life is fleeting.
  • God expects obedience.
  • We are forgiven in Christ.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea.  We need to constantly hear the gospel preached because we are a forgetful people.  I’m thankful for the ministry of reminding–both as a preacher and hearer of God’s word.

Encouragement for the Tempted

A Way of Escape

A Way of Escape

I’ll be preaching on 1st Corinthians 10:1-13 in a couple of weeks (Sunday, November 3rd at North Valley Church).  Paul refers the Christians in Corinth to the Book of Exodus, encouraging them to learn from the mistakes made by the Israelites.

I find the final verse in the passage to be extremely helpful.  1st Corinthians 10:13 has three encouraging truths for those facing temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
-1st Corinthians 10:13

Truth #1: Your temptations are not unique.

I’ve read dozens of emails from people who are struggling with some kind of “secret” sin.  They often feel completely alone, which only adds to their sense of shame.  It’s agonizing to think you are the only person in your church who doesn’t have his/her act together.  The enemy would use this belief to shame you into silent suffering.

You may be struggling with lust, pornography, addiction, a sinful relationship or some other stubborn sin.  You are not alone!  Paul reminds us that all temptations are “common to mankind.” Take heart–we all struggle with sinful desires of one form or another.  Get some accountability in your life and break out of your self-imposed solitary confinement.

 Truth #2: God is in control.

The God who controls the universe is also sovereign over your particular situation.  You may feel like the allure of sin is just too strong, but God will never allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to make the right decision.

Parents do everything in their power to make sure their children are protected.  A loving father would never knowingly allow his child to walk across a busy highway–there’s no way the little boy/girl would safely make it across.  How much more will our heavenly Father watch over us and make sure we are not tempted beyond our ability to endure!

Truth #3:  There’s always a way out

A skilled architect will design building with several fire exits so residents can get out if there is some kind of emergency.  God has done the same thing as far as temptation goes–He always makes sure there is one or more ways to escape.  Sinning is never our only option!

But the fire exit only works if you are willing to take it at the first sign of danger.  This is especially true of sexual temptation–treat like a hand grenade and run!

 Remember these three truths the next time you are facing temptation. 

Look Back, Look Ahead

rear-view-mirror-image

“Never look back.”
“Forget about the past.”

You’ve probably heard statements like this from your Christian friends.

Such exhortations are consistent with the Scriptures. Jesus, for example, warned against looking back after you’ve put your proverbial “hand to the plow” (Luke 9:62). Paul told the Philippians he was “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:11). Dwelling on certain aspects of the past (sins, regrets, etc.) are counterproductive and can even be destructive to our souls.

But there is a place for looking back in our spiritual journey. Here’s what I mean: there are times when it is particularly helpful to remember God’s faithfulness in your life. Otherwise you may be guilty of “spiritual amnesia.”

The Scriptures are full of examples, but two scenes have come to mind as I’ve been thinking about this:

Scene #1: Exodus 14

The Lord had called Moses from exile and used him to bring the world’s most powerful empire to its knees. The stubborn Pharaoh finally yielded after losing his son in the tenth plague. The Israelites were marching to freedom, guided by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But the king of Egypt changed his mind and decided to pursue his former slaves. The Israelites were terrified when they saw their former oppressors in pursuit. This was their cry to Moses:

They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
–Exodus 14:11

Scene #2: Mark 8

Most are familiar with Jesus’ miracle of feeding over 5,000 people with a simple meal. But Mark and Matthew record a similar miracle some time later in the life of Christ. Jesus was moved with compassion for the hungry crowd following him—4,000 men (plus women and children). The Lord expressed His desire to see them fed since they had not eaten for three days. But the disciples’ were skeptical, even though they had seen Jesus feed a greater crowd. Here’s their response:

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
–Mark 8:4

We know how both stories end—God provided for His people through mighty demonstrations of supernatural power. But the reactions of both the Children of Israel and the disciples of Jesus intrigue me. They responded in fear and doubt, quickly forgetting all they had seen in recent days. Would God really go through all that trouble only to allow the Israelites to die in the desert? Would it be difficult for Jesus to feed a crowd of 4,000+ after doing the same for a group of over 5,000?

But I can’t point my finger at either group. It is easier, after all, to have faith when you already know how the story will end.

We’ve all had moments when we can’t understand what God is doing. You may find it especially helpful to look back on God’s faithfulness in your life during these trials (keeping a journal is especially helpful for this purpose). Remember the times God has shown Himself faithful and expect Him to do it again. Look back, then look ahead.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
–Psalm 103:2

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