Sept. 3rd, 2017 | Series: Stand Alone Sermons

Sermon Content

Great is His faithfulness, is it not?  Yet we live in a world that, at times, feels like it’s falling apart.  Like you, I’ve been watching the news over the last few weeks, tracking this Hurricane Harvey that has crashed into the Gulf Coast.  {It was named after one of our elders here, Harvey Shepherd.  I’m just joking.}  Over the last week, we’ve seen this storm drop 27 trillion gallons of water!  Can you imagine that?  It could fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times with water!  We’ve seen 72,000 people rescued.  Try to wrap your mind around that number.  72,000 people that have been rescued from harm’s way.  In Harris County, where Houston is located, they’ve seen 136,000 buildings flooded.  That is remarkable!  And not in a good way.  In a tragic way.  Yet, if you’re following along, you also see these beautiful stories of the human spirit that emerge out of the darkness.  Have you seen some of these?  We have a couple in our church that sent out an email to their small group saying, “My cousin is nine plus months pregnant, she’s going into labor, and they are in the flood zone.”  She went to bed on Saturday night.  There was a few inches of water.  It was starting to rain Sunday morning.  She woke up, was going into labor, and there was two to three feet of water in her front yard!  She went to one of her neighbor’s in the apartment complex.  They said, “Hey, since you’re on the first floor, if you need to give birth (up a floor) in my apartment, you can do that.”  Another neighbor had a father who worked for the fire department.  The fire department deployed a dump truck to come and pick up this family.  So, in the midst of a story where you see tragedy striking everywhere, you also see God at work in some pretty remarkable ways.  The dump truck took Greg and Andrea to the hospital and she had the baby there, safely.  It was the work of this community.  They actually linked arms to get her into the dump truck to take her to the hospital.

What a beautiful picture of God working something beautiful and something good out of tragedy.  In many ways it’s the picture of the lives that you and I live.  We can continue to work and we can continue to put effort into sending supplies down to Houston (and I think we should), but if the rain doesn’t stop, no amount of supplies is going to help.  It’s this tension that we live in, isn’t it?  We’re called to do our part, but we also know that God has to do His part.  God has to show up, and God has to move, and God has to work, otherwise, all the work that we do is pretty fruitless.

So we live in this tension as human beings, knowing that we’re called to step into the game and also knowing that God needs to show up too for our work to mean anything.  It’s the position that the Israelite community found themselves in 2 Kings 3:1-20.  The nation of Israel was in this precarious predicament.  They’d split in between the northern and southern kingdom.  The northern kingdom was in a transition of leadership.  Ahab was a terrible king, and he died and his son Jehoram took over.  He wasn’t any better.  It was at this transition that one of the people that they had defeated decided that they weren’t going to pay up on the tax that they owed him.  It’s the story as old as time—-one nation owes another nation 200,000 sheep and they don’t pay up. {Maybe not as old as time.}  They had a 100,000 sheep that they owed them, 100,000 skins of ram and they decided not to pay.  Jehoram decides he’s going to go to war with the nation of Moab.  He goes to the southern kingdom of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and he recruits the southern kingdom of Judah to come with him.  Jehoshaphat and Jehoram team up.  They decide together that they’re going to go drag Edom into this also.  On their way down to Moab they take a circuitous route and they pick up Edom on their way.  You have three nations going to war against Moab.  {It was sort of like if you were in high school and decided to swing by a friend’s house and then go to a movie.}  It cost them seven days, however.

They find themselves—-three nations, three armies—-in the middle of a desert, marching and marching and they run out of water.  That’s where they decide (you may relate to this), you know what we should do?   We should ask God what he thinks we should do.  Have you ever been in this place where you’ve made a number of decisions—some of them good, some of them bad—and you get to a certain point and go well, our backs are against the wall, so we might as well do the last thing on our list and let’s ask God what he thinks we should do. Let’s check in with God.  That’s what they do.  They reach out to one of the prophets, his name was Elisha. They ask Elisha what he thinks they should do.  2 Kings 3:13 — And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you?  Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.”  {Quick timeout.  Ahab had replaced Yahweh as God and he had put Baal in his place.  He had set up statues and idols to Baal and the entire nation’s worship was directed to Baal.  What Elisha says is, “You have a God.  Go ask him what he thinks you should do.”  You’re calling on me now that you’re in a tough spot.  I see how it is.}  But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” {Essentially he’s throwing himself a little pity party here.  We’re in this desert and we’re going to die.} And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.  {He goes, hey, luckily for you, you’re surrounded by good company.  Jehoshaphat is a fairly good king, so because you’re with him, I will answer your question.  I’ll answer your hope for hearing from God.}  But now bring me a musician.”  {I love this.  If I’m going to hear from God, I need some background music.  Can you imagine that?  He brings out somebody with a harp and he goes, “No, I was thinking more jazz.”   Maybe a pianist.}  And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him.  And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’  

If you have the ESV, that’s the way verse 16 reads.  If you have an old 1984 NIV, if you have it NASB, if you have a King James Version, it reads very differently.  In fact, let me show you the way it reads in some other versions.  (NASB) — And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Make this valley full of trenches.’    Like, start digging.  In the King James Version — And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches.  Actually, in the Hebrew, I think this is a better translation.  The idea that yeah, God’s going to move, but the nation of Israel is called to pick up a shovel.  They’re called to dig some holes.  They’re called to create some space that the blessing of God, the rain from God, would then come and fill.  It’s this picture of, in many ways, life as a follower of Jesus.  We’re in this tension, aren’t we?  We’re called to do our part, we’re called to step in, but every person in the room knows this, if God doesn’t show up, it’s fruitless, it’s useless.  Here’s what God wants to press on the nation of Israel.  He wants to press on them that preparation to receive His blessing will allow them to walk in His power.  God could bring all the rain in the world, but if there isn’t a pool to hold it, it’s not going to be useful, right?

It’s the same picture of the nation of Israel when they’re freed from slavery in Egypt.  They walk out and they cross through the Red Sea.  God parts that miraculously and says to them, “Now it’s time to go and walk into the Promise Land.”  I know that there’s giants there, and I know it’s going to be difficult, and I know it’s going to hard, but He challenges them, follow me, there’s blessing that awaits.  What do they say?  No!  It’s too much. They’re too big.  We can’t follow you there, God.  God was ready to pour out His blessing, but they weren’t prepared to receive it.  Here’s my question for you—Is your life ready?  Are you positioned, that if God should bless, you would be ready to receive?  Let me ask this—As a church, if God should bless, are we in a position, are we ready, to receive?   I shared this with our staff team last week, because I’ve just got this sense that we’re in a season of ditch digging.  That we’re in a season of getting ready for wherever God’s leading us next and whatever He has for us. We’re not exactly sure what that is, we just know that we’re digging some ditches.  You may be in your own life too.  You may be digging some ditches.  You may be getting ready, or prepared, to receive God’s blessing so that you can then walk in His power.

You know what this passage is going to do through a narrative, through a story?  It’s going to unearth for us what it looks like to prepare.  What it looks like to be ready.  In case God should bless….and this just in: He’s a really good God and He loves to bless his people.  What does the life prepared to receive God’s Spirit, God’s power, look like?  We’re going to spend the next few minutes talking about what it looks like.  Let me give you just a few things from this text.  Look back at 2 Kings 3:9 with me.  This is the way that this story (and ours, too) starts.  So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. {Remember, you have this triad of nations and armies together, marching towards Moab.}  And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them.  Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.”    Here’s where he’s at—he’s done!!  He’s in the desert with no water and his summation of what’s going on in their life is we have been brought out here to die.  They’re desperate.  Do you want to see God move mightily in your life?  Come to a place of desperation.  Come to a place of dependence.  That’s where the nation of Israel comes to.  They embrace this posture…of listen, God, unless you show up and unless you move, nothing is going to happen here except death.  That’s it!  That’s our lot.  Unless a miracle happens, unless a movement happens, unless You come and unless You shower us with water, we are going to die in this place.

Here’s the reality, friends…will you look up at me for just a second?  We all live in the exact same position with less drama.  We all live in the position…God, unless you show up and unless you move, nothing good happens here.  You can even write this down—If good comes out, it’s because God shows up.  You can look back and every blessing comes from the Lord.  But if God shows up, then good comes out; if good comes out then it’s because God showed up.  The apostle Paul understood this well.  He said this about being a minister of the new covenant and what it means to be a new covenant Christian —  But we have this treasure (gospel, grace, power) in jars of clay, {Why does God put the gospel, His power, in people like you and me?  Frail, broken, needy people.}   to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corin. 4:7)   God loves to display his power through broken vessels.

That’s exactly where the nation of Israel is.  The good news for you and for me, this morning, is that God does some of his best work when his people’s backs are against the wall.  When we’re at the place of ‘I have no idea how we’re going to pay this bill,’ ‘I have no idea what we’re going to do with this child,’ ‘I have no idea fill-in-the-blank’….   God’s going okay, you have no idea, but I’ve got a plan and I’ve got power and I do some of my best work when my people’s backs are against the wall.  The nation of Israel’s back was against the wall when they saw the Red Sea part.  Their back was against the wall when the Jordan River stopped flowing.  Their back was against the wall when they’re circling around Jericho.  Their back was against the wall when their supposed Messiah was in the ground….and he walked out.  God loves displaying His power through our dependence. That’s what he does.  That’s what he does in this situation.  But it’s not a dependence that is distant from the action.  It’s not a dependence that just sits back and hopes.  I say this with all due respect, it’s not even a dependence that just sits back and prays.  It’s a dependence that prays, and listens, and moves, and steps in. The next passage of Scripture says it well —  Thus says the Lord, ‘Make this valley full of ditches (trenches).’ (2 Kings 3:16)

If you’re going, well, Paulson, I don’t think it actually says that.  I think it’s saying the Lord is going to fill up the pools.  Fair enough.  Fair enough, but here’s the way the apostle Paul recounts his mission:  I planted, {I tilled the ground.  I threw seeds in.  And then Apollos came after me and….} Apollos watered, but {in this mysterious way, we did this work…} but God gave the growth. (1 Cor. 3:6)  God showed up and made something of our work.  See, we are called to work.  We’re called to participate with God, and His Spirit, in what He’s doing in our lives, in our community, in His world.  We are CALLED to link arms with one another, and we’re CALLED to dig ditches.  The problem is that sometimes it just feels like a hole, doesn’t it?  Sometimes you can work and it just feels like a hole.

I can remember one of the first sermons I ever gave—I was working with Young Life, in Ft. Collins.  We had done a lot of promotion on this high school campus where we were sharing the gospel with high school students.  We were having club one night and we decided we were going to do two things:  1) We were going to give a talk about sin and redemption.  We agreed we should do that and that it was a good idea. 2) We were going to pair it with the gallon challenge.  If you’re not familiar with the gallon challenge, here’s what it is.  You try to drink one whole gallon of milk in one hour.  We were going to give a prize to whoever could do it.  This just in—nobody can do it.  We do all this promotion; we’re going to give away prizes.  We’re so excited because students are going to hear the gospel and they’re going to get to meet Jesus.  We started our club and played all these fun games and a bunch of students showed up; there were 60-70 kids, which, for us, was huge at the time.  We started the talk and at the same time, we started the gallon challenge.  Here’s the thing with the gallon challenge—it feels right, and it feels good, and it feels like victory is within sight….for like the first half hour. So right when I get to this point about Jesus…, I’ve painted this picture about despair and sin and everybody’s like, oh man, this is terrible.  I about to invite them Jesus, students start vomiting!  Like it’s their job.  We thought it would be a good idea to have all the twenty students doing the challenge on this catwalk that went right above where everyone was sitting listening to the message.  I kid you not!  This seemed like a good idea.  This seemed like brilliance.  This seemed like the Spirit’s move, at some point.  Something moved…it was not the Spirit, I can assure you.  I’m like, guys, look up at me.  People were {vomiting} into these bags….   Sometimes it just feels like you’ve dug a hole.

So, it can be hard, I get it, when God says dig a ditch.  We can say hey, we tried that and it didn’t work.  He’s like, “I don’t think you sought me on that one.”  Or we can say, “Hey, this ground has been dry for years.  Are you sure?”  The invitation to the life that God fills with blessing, through preparation and releases to walk in His power, is not only defined by a posture of dependence, but by people who work with diligence.  You were given a small shovel when you walked in.  Will you get it out for me?  Here’s what I believe is God’s invitation to us today — to be a community full of ditch diggers.  To be people who say back to God, “God, we are going to participate with you in the work that you are doing in our families.”  We are going to participate with you in the work that you are doing in our community, this church.  We are going to participate with you in the work that you’re doing in your world.  I don’t know if you know it, but this is part of our calling as followers of Jesus.

Let me clarify for you real quick.  Here’s what the shovel does NOT represent—-some self-salvation effort that you get to put in.  The shovel does not represent that you’re in a deep hole and now you’ve got to dig stairs so that you can get yourself out.  The shovel does NOT represent you making a way on your own. The shovel does not represent salvation in any way, shape, or form.  Here’s the beauty of the gospel—- you WERE in a pit, you WERE in a hole, and instead of throwing you a shovel and saying start digging your way out, the King of kings and the Lord of lords stepped in and brought you out.  That’s the good news.  Here’s what the shovel is for—the shovel is represented in this story as creating space that the King of kings and the Lord of lords fills.  It’s creating space….we go God, we’re going to dig these trenches; God, we’re going to throw this community party; God, we’re going to create some new life groups; and we’re going to ask that you fill them up.  We don’t know what his plan is.  You might say, “Yeah, one of my ditches I’m digging right now is I’m feeling isolated and I know that I’ve bought the narrative lie of individualism and I’m going to join a Life Group.”  I would love to tell you that God will always fill that ditch up with water.  I don’t know that he will.  It might be miserable.  But I do know this, if you don’t dig the ditch, He can’t bring the blessing.  At least you can’t hold it if He brings it.  It’s a way to create space that God would fill.

Listen to the way the apostle Paul says this to the church at Corinth:  Therefore, my beloved brothers, {He’s just pleading with them.  He’s just talked about resurrection in the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 and here’s his conclusion.} be steadfast, {It’s this picture of not getting off course, in the Greek.  It’s knowing where you’re going and staying on target.}  immovable, {Literally, firmly grounded.}  always abounding {Above and beyond what you’re called to.  So, steadfast: determined, and knowing where you’re going.  Immovable: firm, and unshakable.   Abounding: more than is asked of you.  Then he tells you what he’s talking about.}  …in the work of the Lord… (1 Cor.15:58)    We’re dependent people, but it doesn’t mean we just sit on the sideline and go well, God’s got to show up for this to go anywhere, so we might as well just wait for Him to show up.  No, no, no, no.  If this is going anywhere, God’s gotta show up and He invites us to pick up a shovel and to dig a ditch, that when He does show up, we can have a way to catch His blessing. Always abounding.  Working hard. Because here’s the thing — God’s power is typically displayed through human obedience.  You look at the revivals that break out over the course of the history of the church, and what you’ll find is people being obedient to follow the way of God.  You’ll find people praying.  You’ll find people seeking the Lord.  You’ll find people selling their stuff.  You’ll find people digging ditches, because He loves to display His power through people who say, “You’re my God! I’m going to partner with You in what you’re doing.”

Digging a ditch is simply creating space that we ask God to fill.  If God would have brought the blessing and there weren’t any ditches, it would have just run eventually into the ditches.  God says no, no, no, no, I don’t want to just bring the blessing, I want you to catch the blessing.  I love the way that Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, said it: “‘Make this valley full of trenches’ is an order which is given to me this morning for the members of this church; {And I believe it is for us too.} make ready for the Holy Spirit’s power; be prepared to receive what he is about to give; each person in his place, make this entire church full of trenches for the reception of the divine waterfloods.”  Man, I don’t know about you, I hear that, I read that and I go, man, I want to dig a deeper trench.  I want to hope for more from our great God.  I want to expect that He’s going to show up, and I want to expect that He’s going to bless, and I want to expect that He’s on the move.

Here’s the question, if I were you, that I’d be asking—What does it look like to dig a trench?  Not metaphorically speaking, but in real life. What does it look like?  Here’s what it might look like personally—carving out some space and some time to meet with God.  It might look like reading the Scriptures.  It might look like praying. Those things in and of themselves are good, but they don’t have the power…..the power comes when God inhabits those things.  And He loves to inhabit those things.  You get up in the morning early and you spend time in the Scriptures, you spend time praying.  You decide to carve out some time for solitude and silence, just to listen to God.  You’re digging a ditch.  You’re asking that He would fill it.

We have ditches in our life relationally too.  Some of your marriages need a few ditches dug.  God could bring blessing on your marriage, but it’s so cold and it’s so stale that it would just run right off of it.  A ditch might be saying, listen, I’ve been harboring this bitterness for a long time.  You want to dig a ditch?  Here’s three words that will help you dig a ditch.  I. Forgive. You.  It’s a ditch.  God, I don’t know what you’re going to do with this, but I’m going to step out, and I’m going to be vulnerable, and I’m going to ask that you fill up this space.

You want to know what parenting is?  It’s digging ditches.  Anyone want to say amen?  Some of the ditches fill with water.  Some of them haven’t yet.  When we discipline, we’re digging a ditch.  When we love, we’re digging a ditch.  We’re creating space that we pray and beg that the Spirit of God fills.  That’s what we’re doing.

Corporately?  We’re digging some ditches.  We’re throwing a community party next weekend.  I hope you come. I hope you invite somebody to come with you.  That might be a ditch that you’re digging.   Signing up for a Life Group might be a ditch you’re digging.  Here’s what the Scriptures will say though — Whatever work that’s done in partnership with God, it’s not in vain.  Literally, it’s not empty.

The story continues (2 Kings 3:20) — The next morning, {They’ve heard from the prophet, they’ve obeyed, and, I might anecdotally add, they did so immediately, and they did so completely.  The valley is “full of trenches.”} about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water.   I love that, because sometimes we dig ditches and we don’t see God move and it makes us less apt to dig the next time around.  This passage reminds us that the calling is to listen to God, to dig the ditch, and to expect and anticipate that He’s going to show up.

As I was reading through the Scriptures and think about times where we’ve seen God show up, you don’t have to go any further than the book of Acts.  You can track right through.  Acts 2 — Spirit comes.  Peter starts opening his mouth and preaching the gospel and we see 3,000 people in one day, cut to the heart, come to Christ.  We see in Acts 13 where Paul’s preaching at Antioch in Pisidia, and he shares the gospel and so many people come to Christ in Acts 13 that it says that the gospel was spread throughout the entire region.  We see in Acts 14 where Paul is stoned and he’s taken and they think he’s dead.  He walks back into Derbe and preaches the gospel.  People are so amazed they respond immediately, and there’s this disciple movement that begins in Derbe.  In Acts 17, the apostles are preaching the gospel and they see so many people come to Christ that the economy of the city is crushed.  The economy was built around idolatry, around the worship of Artemis, and so many people trade in their idols for worship of Jesus that there’s a riot that breaks out because the economy is crumbling.

Look up at me for just a second.  I don’t know what happens in your life.  I know what happens in mine, though. My expectation of God moving gets dampened when I dig ditches that I feel are just sitting empty.  Anybody else with me?  Here’s the invitation this morning.  The invitation this morning is around anticipation, it’s around expectation, it’s around hope.  God, you are on the move.  Friends, we are not just playing church here.  We are meeting with the living God who says I will bring the rain.  Here’s the thing—we’ve seen Him do it.  This church has seen Him do it.  In 1979 when this church lost their building and they were nomadic, for the next however many-teen years, we saw God move in our history in miraculous ways.  Not only did He provide a place to meet, but He grew the church when it got kicked out of their building.  Anybody there for that?  We’ve seen God dig us out of financial crisis and bring us into a land of blessing.  We’ve seen that happen just recently. We’ve seen numbers of people meet Jesus.

Here’s what I’m inviting you to—Let’s pray and ask God to do it again.  I’m praying that people who are far from God find our Celebrate Recovery group and who are just bound in addiction find freedom in Jesus.  I’m praying that marriages that are broken are restored.  I’m praying that people who are on the brink of saying ‘life isn’t worth living’ run into one of you who love them well.  That’s what I’m praying for.  I’m praying for a church that would say we’re going to do the work to dig the ditches and we’re going expect and anticipate that God, You would move and You would fill them and You would do something great.

I gave you a shovel because I just want you to picture what your ditch is.  Where’s God inviting you to dig?  What space is He inviting you to create that He would then fill with the power of his Spirit?  That’s why I love singing that song “Do It Again.”  We look back….you’ve felled walls, you’ve provided for South Fellowship and we’re asking do it again, do it again, do it again.

2 Kings 3:17-18a.  They dig the ditches.  For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’  This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord.   I love that just sort of narrative sidenote—Come on, this is no big deal for God.  It’s just rain and He’s the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  Here’s the picture—It’s not just one of these nations, it’s all three of them, and it’s their animals, and it’s their armies, and it’s the people around who come and benefit from the fact that they were dependent on God, that they dug ditches, that they anticipated and that God was good on His word.  Here’s a picture of the people, corporately and individually, who can host God’s blessing—They’re dependent, they’re diligent.  They expect God’s power to be displayed and they do so expecting the delight, not of some, but of all.

Friends, this is the picture of what we want to be as the church. We want to be a church that digs ditches, that hosts the presence of God in a way that says to the community around us, that says to our family, that says to our friends, that says to people on the brink of losing it all, “Come! There is a God who’s good!  There is a God who’s loving!  There is a God who’s for you!  There’s a God who gave His life for you!  There is streams of living water here!  Come and dip your soul in this life!”  That’s the invitation.  That’s the picture.  It’s why the apostle Paul will write to the church at Rome, quoting from the prophet Isaiah — How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! (Rom. 10:15)   It’s why Jesus says about the church, in Matthew 5:14-16, that we, you, are like a city on a hill.  That we might do our good works, that we might follow our great God and in so doing the people would see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Will you get your shovel out for me as we close our time out together this morning?  I want to create a ditch for the next few minutes, some space, that we’d ask God to fill.  As Aaron and the team come up and lead us in a little bit of that song, “Do It Again,”  I want you to ask God, expecting that He’ll answer.  So let’s pray together.

Spirit of God, we ask, I ask, Lord, would you guide us and lead us?  What are the ditches that you’re inviting us to dig?  For some people in this room, maybe they’ve never encountered you in a significant, personal, real way. Maybe the invitation they’re sensing is just to carve out time and space to hear from you.  Father, I pray, would you press on them to dig that ditch?  For others, maybe they’ve grown distant from you, or they’ve grown cold. Maybe it’s just fifteen minutes in the morning that they’re saying yeah, I’m going to dig that ditch and I’m going to create that space.  God, we’re asking that you fill it up.  Lord, for the marriages in this room that have come to the place where even if you were to rain down your blessing on them, it would run just off.  Lord, would you press on them, on us, to dig ditches.  To be able to host your presence.  To host your power.  To know your goodness.  As a church, Lord, as we look towards this next season, this fall season, I pray that together we would be a church that says behind the scenes and relationally, we want to be a church that digs ditches because we expect that you are a God who’s bringing blessing.  So we ask that you lead us and guide us.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  What’s your ditch, friends?