The Refining Love of God

  |   Dec 6, 2015

Well, how are we? Doing well? Excellent. If you have your Bibles, grab those. If you don't have a Bible, there should be a hardback black one somewhere around you. We're going to be in the book of Malachi, so I want to give you some time to find that one real quickly. If you have a church background, this is not a sermon on tithing, so you can just breathe out. You're like, "Malachi 3. Wait, is he going to pass the plate?" Just breathe out. It's not a sermon on tithing.

Go ahead and turn there to Malachi 3. If you're not a Christian, you're a guest with us, a hardback Bible is somewhere around you. If you don't really know how to navigate it, we have the page number on there. The big number is the chapter; the little number is the verse. We would love for you to read along with us. We're going to do that here momentarily. As we get started, this is… I don't know that I've ever done this before, but Darrin, happy birthday, brother.

Darrin Payne is 16 today, and he wanted a wetsuit for his birthday. I'm praying that in for you, brother, believing by faith that you're going to be in a wetsuit, and your parents are going to send me a picture of that. I love you, brother. You are my favorite member of The Village Church, bar none. I love you. I've never done that before. Please don't email me going, "It's my kid's birthday." That probably won't happen again.

There is a show on the Discovery Channel called Gold Rush. I don't know if you've seen this. It's like seven seasons in. Does anybody watch this show? Wow, that's surprising. I was unaware that really many people actually watch the show. I guess I should have since it's seven seasons in. I'm drawn to the show for a couple of reasons. The first is that the men and women there are really kind of roughneck, blue collar people, right? They look dirty when they're clean. Are you tracking with that?

There's something about that that reminds me of my dad. I love my daddy. Don't hear me dogging out my dad. My dad is a man's man. When you shake his hand, you know that brother has worked for a living. He has just rough, gnarled hands. He was a military man and then retired early to long haul truck drive. He's just a roughneck kind of brother.

In fact, we just celebrated his seventieth birthday, and he is as roughneck-ish as he has ever been at 70. He's like one of those dudes that you wonder, "Will he ever die? Will life be able to finally kill him?" Don't email me. I know he's going to. I'm just saying there is something about those men that remind me of my father, so I like it.

The other reason I like it (this will seem really random to you) is when they find gold, it's just not all that impressive. They do the music, and then there is just like a dirty rock. Everybody is freaking out. "We've made it! We're rich!" It just looks like something (if I'm honest) that I could get my shovel and go find in my backyard. I could just dig deep enough and pull something up out of the ground and go, "We've done it!"

What's happening in the show Gold Rush is they see some things that are there but are going to need to be drawn out. They're going to need to be refined. They're going to need to be cleaned up. They see the beauty of what's there where I just see a dirty rock. Right? They see the real value of the gold that is embedded in the rest of those impurities.

Now, the reason I'm using that as an illustration is because at least 12 times in the Bible, God is referred to as the refining fire, right? Our God and his relationship with us is one of refinement. As we think about the coming of Jesus Christ, as we think about really the initiating love of God toward us who are sinners, God reaching in to save us, what we see in this initiating love is a God who is not just interested in saving, but in his saving, in transforming us and pulling out of us those beauties that oftentimes we have a hard times even seeing in ourselves.

The Bible is clear that God sees us as incredibly valuable, which is why I plead with you so often to not treat yourselves cheaply. God does not see you as cheap. The very blood of his Son is shed. God puts on flesh and dwells among us. The Christmas season, Emmanuel, Advent is about God initiating not only your ransom and rescue but purifying our lives and making us more like Christ for our joy and for his glory. God is ruthlessly about your joy.

We see in the book of Malachi God pleading with his people for more, forecasting the coming of Jesus, and explaining what happens when he comes. Let's look at this, Malachi 3, starting in verse 1. Will you stand with me just as we honor the very words of God spoken over us as a community of faith? Malachi 3, starting in verse 1.

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me." That's a reference to John the Baptist. "And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts." I'll just stop there for a second. That's all Christmas story right there, right?

In Malachi, that's all Christmas story, that John the Baptist is going to prepare the way, and then the servant of God, the keeper of the covenant, the one who is going to make the Abrahamic, Davidic covenant… If you have no church background or are not a Christian, don't worry about that right now. It has just been long promised that Christ is going to come, and he's going to show up in whom they delight.

The people of Israel are looking for a Savior. They're looking. They have been oppressed. They have been put into exile. They've come out of exile. The walls have been rebuilt. The temple has been reestablished. They're longing, yearning for their enemies to be pushed to the fringes and for God to establish a kingdom among them.

That's what they were looking for. That's where their hopes were. He says, "It's coming." Then it takes a… It's not a strange turn, but it's one we're going to spend some time talking about today. Verse 2: "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" That just took an ominous turn, didn't it?

"The object of your delight is on his way. The covenant is going to be fulfilled. Your enemies will be vanquished. The kingdom will be established, but who can stand at his coming? Who can endure when he arrives?" It sounds ominous, and you'll see why. "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem…"

By the way, that's just a reference. Whenever you see in the Scriptures "Judah and Jerusalem," most often, he's just referencing the people of God. If you get lost in that language of, "I'm actually an American," you need to kind of divorce that and think the people of God, Judah and Jerusalem, the people of God.

"Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner [immigrant], and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts."

Verse 6 is huge. If you write in your Bible, I would encourage you to highlight verse 6 when you sit down. "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed." May God bless the reading of his Word. Why don't you go ahead and have a seat.

Just one point in our time today. That's it. Just one point, not three. There are no poems, just one point. If you think that's going to make this shorter, that's not necessarily true, but I really just do have one point. Here's my point. We're going to work hard at unpacking this point because I don't think it's the default lenses by which we pay attention to the life we're living.

Here's my one point. Are you ready? God is at work in the mess. That's it. That's my point. God is at work in the mess. You say it. "God is at work in the mess." Okay. I don't know how that went in other campuses. It was a little bit jumbled here. We'll work on it. Let me show you what I mean here. Look in the second part of verse 2 again.

"For he [the coming Christ] is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi [their priests] and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem [the people of God] will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years."

The people of God in that time of history in the book of Malachi have now been freed from Babylonian captivity, right? They've been freed from slavery. They've been set free from slavery. Jerusalem has been reestablished. The temple has been built, and sacrifices to God have resumed, but the people of God have grown complacent and cold toward the Lord. It is the rhythm of the people of God to cry out in desperation and then to grow lax and nonchalant toward the rescuing and redeeming power of God as they move into sweeter seasons, if we can say it that way.

Malachi, and really God through the prophet Malachi, is rebuking the people of God for being halfhearted. The way he rebukes them is really interesting. He's rebuking them by appealing to them about the love of God. This might not sound like the love of God. When we talk about the love of God, in our minds and our culture, talking about love, we like to drift toward kind of the delightful things and not the kinds of things that delight drives.

We like to think of how God loves us and forgives us and is for us, not against us, and he sings over us, like the prophet Zephaniah says, and he rejoices in us, and he applauds in us. All of those things are true, yet is it not true that deep and abiding love moves toward action? Malachi's appeal here is, "Don't be halfhearted because God is going to refine. He is jealous for you. He loves you. As a loving Father, he won't allow harm to come to his children per their nonchalant hardheartedness."

Malachi reminds the people of God, "Our God is a refining fire. He will burn away impurities. He will wash away uncleanliness." Let me show you this in a couple of other places in the Bible. This is really a beautiful idea, although I will admit it's a hard one. One of my favorite quotes really by anybody is a man by the name of J. I. Packer. Here's what he says about God's relationship to us and him seeking the fellowship with us, to be intimate and walk with us.

He says, "Still he seeks the fellowship of his people and will send them as gifts both joy and sorrow to detach their hands from the things of this world and to attach those things to himself." Packer's argument is that God so loves you, so longs to be with you, so longs to have a right relationship with you where you are wholeheartedly his in pursuit. We're going to stumble until the day we die, correct? In our pursuit of him, we would be single-hearted in our pursuit of him.

He sends us joy (yes, please) and sorrow. He sends us both so that our hands might loosen on the things of this world because if we're honest, I love some of the stuff in this world, not all of it (amen?), but I like some of it. I like some of it a lot. I'm tempted to worship some of it. I'm tempted to make some of it my god. I'm tempted to give myself to some of it.

In God's deep and abiding love for me, he's like, "No, no, no. I'll send you joy, but from time to time, I'm going to walk you out into the desert. From time to time, I'm going to remind you of how desperate you are for me and that what you really need is me. From time to time, in my great and abiding love for you, I want to show you how little control you actually have.

From time to time, I'm going to show you, because I love you, how powerless you actually are and how powerful I actually am. From time to time, I will show you that I am enough regardless…to pull you away from your idols, to pull you away from those things you like and are prone to worship, to remind you that you are not in control, and that's a good thing. I am in control, and I can be trusted."

The Bible is going to agree with Packer. Maybe I should say Packer agrees with the Bible. James 1, starting in verse 2. These are crazy verses. It says, "Count it all joy…" I love the word all there. It's just such an inclusive word, right? "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…" Again, I say this every time. I love this word various here because it's kind of like the junk drawer in your kitchen. I know you have it.

What goes in that drawer? You don't know. It's called the junk drawer, right? There's a screwdriver in there, a notepad, a pen, some paper clips. You're Texan, so probably another handgun just in case. Right? It's just a drawer with various things. If a kid goes, "Where do I put this?" "In the junk drawer. In the various drawer." We put that in there.

He's saying, "Consider it all joy when you face trials of various kinds." Would that be sickness? That's various. Would that be financial? That would be various. Would that be relational? It's going to fit in the various drawer. You name it. It fits in the various. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…" Why? "…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

I love this idea of testing of our faith. Let's watch this. God knows where our faith is, so the testing of our faith is not so God might know where we stand but so that we might know where we stand. Are you tracking with me? God isn't going, "Man, I hope he makes it." That's not what's happening here. God is strengthening us. He is deepening our roots. He is thickening up our trunk that we might stand all the more boldly and all the more brightly for our joy and his glory.

We consider it all joy when we face trials of various kinds because we know that God is at work in these various trials. We know we have not been abandoned. We're not necessarily being punished. It's not the Devil trying to get us. God is at work. If you limp in here, the lenses I'm trying to put on, the thing I feel like nobody ever says to us… I think we get this Spirit sprinkle, one-inch-deep version of the Christian faith where we give our lives to Christ and then just hop and skip for all eternity, and that's not our experience.

Then we begin to doubt, "Oh, am I really saved? Is this real? Christ isn't working for me." There is still mess to be worked out. There are still impurities to be burned off. There are still things that need to be cleaned off of us, and that will be true until the day we die. The heavy chiseling is early unless we lie. What do I mean by that?

If you buy in… Dear Lord, brother and sister. If you buy in to this Bible Belt silliness that says, "I'm great. Praise his name," while all underneath your life, you're on that list that he mentions later… There's adultery and false witness and deceit and robbing the poor and being cruel to the immigrant. If all of that is underneath, but at church, you're like, "Sing that song. Yeah, I love this song," then the heavy chiseling is going to come later.

Brothers and sisters, honesty before God and in community is essential for the refining fire of God's love to burn off the draws from us so that what would be left is that beautiful gold of the Imago Dei in us that God has sealed in us from our mothers' wombs. He goes further in Romans 5, starting in verse 3. If you're here, I know the other campuses didn't come out of this text, but Patterson came out of Romans 5:3-5., and here's what the text said last week. "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…"

That's a whole other level. It's not, "Consider it all joy when you face trials of various kinds." No, he's going farther, and he's saying, "No, no, no. Rejoice in your sufferings." That one is hard for me. I can consider it all joy. I know God is at work in the mess, but this is like, "Rejoice. Be glad in your sufferings." We're going to need the Holy Spirit of God on that one, correct? Yeah.

We'll talk some a little bit later on how we can, by the grace of God, rejoice in our sufferings. Here's why, once again. "…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Once again, you want hope to grow. You feel hopeless. You feel weighted down. You feel in the desert. You feel dry. You feel sick. You feel abandoned. God is at work in the mess. He's saying here that God is developing your endurance, and in your endurance, hope will be more established. I love and hate the month of January. One of the things that happens in January is the gym I like to work out in gets slammed.

There is a lot of what is called DOMS going on the first couple of weeks of January. That's delayed onset muscle soreness. It's what happens to you not the day after you work out but two days after you have worked out. What you'll see happening in January is people going, "Oh, gosh. Don't touch me." Right? They get back into the gym, and they have this, "I'm going to get in shape. I'm going to say goodbye to how I've been. I'm going to get back to what I once was."

They put a picture of themselves up in their mirror in high school like Rocky did in Rocky III. "I'm going to get back." Right? Then they really fade. Lauren and I often joke that you can't waste your soreness, but it's the breaking down of muscle. It is the running until your lungs burn that creates endurance. The apostle Paul to the saints says, "Rejoice when your lungs burn. Rejoice when your muscles are sore. Rejoice when you need water so badly you can barely stand it, for God is at work in the mess."

Now, this is so important, these two texts. I think they're so important because what tends to happen to us, I think partly because we've been taught poorly and partly because we, just by default of being sinful, think wrongly, is we tend to think of all suffering or desert seasons or difficulty in three categories that may or may not be true.

The first one is kind of a hyper-spiritualized, "The Devil is trying to get me." Now, let me be real honest here. I won't mock or be in jest at all because we have a real Enemy who seeks to devour us. Spiritual principalities, the demonic. Those are very real things. Spiritual strongholds, chains. Anyone who would mock and belittle those things is a fool. They are ignorant of an Enemy that is under the surface, wreaking havoc.

I would like to just lay before us that what we find in the Bible on repeat is that those things are more like dogs on a leash than they have been released to just destroy us at will. Some examples I always like to give… If you read the first couple of chapters of Job, what you find is the Accuser (who most theologians are going to agree is more than likely Satan), has to ask permission to sift Job. When God does give him permission, he gives him parameters upon what he can do.

I love the interaction between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus tells Peter, "Satan has asked permission to sift you like wheat, but don't worry. I have prayed for you." I have always kind of smiled when I read that text because I think I would say back, "Can you call him back and just say no? Thank you for the prayers. I appreciate it. I feel like I'm going to be really strengthened by that, but how about you just tell him no?"

My point is what we see here… Even in the apostle Paul's life, who writes nearly 70 percent of the New Testament, greatest missionary of the Christian faith, he says to us (and this is crazy), "There was given to me by God an evil spirit to torment me that I might not boast in my exceedingly great revelation." God, in his deep and abiding love for the apostle Paul, gives to him a thorn in the flesh.

Do we want to take votes on that being the worst gift ever? Yet, it's the best gift ever. It's one that keeps Paul humble. It keeps him low. It keeps him dependent upon Christ. So many of us want lives where dependence upon Christ is not necessary. The reason you want that is because you think you or the things you want are going to be a better God to you than he will.

It's blasphemy. It leads to bondage and ultimate destruction. You don't necessarily want a life of ease as badly as you want a life of ease. It is a good gift to be desperate and hungry and needy. "Blessed are the poor in spirit…" is what Jesus teaches. The first sermon out of the gate, "They're the ones who will see God. Blessed are the brokenhearted. Blessed are those who mourn." Have you read the Beatitudes? That's the life we're after.

Here's what's crazy about a Genesis 3 world. You don't have to seek that out. It will find you. God is at work in the mess. He's refining. He's moving. It's not necessarily the Enemy. Even if it is the Enemy… I would encourage you to rebuke the Enemy and pray against the Enemy and ask for God to overcome spiritual strongholds and do all of those things. Those are good and right.

But as we cry out for that, as we plead with God… That didn't stop the apostle Paul from crying out and asking release from that thorn in the flesh. In fact, three times, he pled with the Lord until the Lord said, "No, no, no. I love you. This is staying. My grace will be sufficient for you in this weakness." That's the first mistake. "Oh, it's demons on me."

The second mistake is we feel like we've been abandoned by God. Sometimes difficulty comes. There are trials. There are tribulations. We're in the desert. God feels far from us. Our senses are off. We feel discombobulated. Then we feel abandoned. We get sick. "Where are you, God?" Right? Relationships start to break down.

"I can't believe this, God. I've been so good to you. I can't believe you would do this to me. You would just abandon me in this moment of need, in this moment of trial. I can't believe you would do this." We feel like we've been abandoned by God. One of the things again that we see in the Scripture is oftentimes, the desert is used by God to increase our intimacy with him, to grow our faith in him. I think kind of the landmark case for this in the Bible is the prophet Hosea.

In the very first chapter of Hosea, God tells the prophet Hosea, "I'm going to take you into the desert, and there in the desert, you will stop calling me Master, and you will start calling me Husband. I'm going to take you into the dry lands where you're going to be parched, and the sun is going to be hot, and you're going to feel dehydrated and weak and abandoned. It's in that place that you will know me more intimately, that you will love me more deeply, and your life will be far more conformed to what I have for you." We have a tendency to mistakenly think we were abandoned.

The third one is we oftentimes feel like we're being punished when difficulty arises, when we get sick, when there is relational strife, when finances collapse, when a business or a dream dies. We feel like we're being punished. Let's just, so we can get honest enough here to let the Lord work… How many of you are aware of some things in your life now that you would think the Lord would probably want to punish? Go ahead. You can do it. We already know. We know human nature enough to know, and we all know ourselves enough to go, "Yeah, God is probably a little disappointed in me in that."

The default any time something bad happens is to go, "I knew it! Chandler! That grace nonsense. 'Loves me, delights in me, sings over me.' How about now? I'm getting beaten to death here! God just wadded up my dreams in front of me. I knew it was coming. I knew I should have tried harder. I knew I should have worked more.

I knew I should have been more serious about my quiet time, should have been more serious about my devotional life. I knew I shouldn't have been talking like that. I knew I passed that guy on the freeway who just wanted some money for food, and I just ignored him. I just looked the other way, acted like I was on my phone when I wasn't. I knew the Lord was going to get me for that."

No, no, no. Okay, let's be straight. The Lord disciplines all he loves, but the discipline of the Lord is never meant to consume or destroy his children, but rather to woo them, reconcile them, and reset them. In fact, it's even in this text. Look at verse 6. It's why I told you that verse 6 is huge for us. Verse 6 of Malachi 3 says, "For I the Lord do not change…" Let me tell you why that's such a huge deal before we read the really, really good part. This is just the really good part.

Because the Lord does not change…look right at me…it means he does not change his mind concerning you. This is a game I like to play with you often. The Bible is very clear that you were saved at your worst. Right? It was not you at your best that God saved. It was, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." It wasn't like you cleaned yourself all up, and then God said, "All right, now that you're clean, I can kind of see there is some gold in there. I kind of like what you've done with the place, so I'll take you. You're in now."

No, no, no. Confused, battered, bruised, enslaved, spiritually sick. The Bible says we were in the muck and the mire. We did not evolve and crawl out of the muck and the mire. The God of the Bible stuck his hands in, put his holy, pure hands into the muck and the mire and pulled us out, and he put a new song in our mouths. Ever since then, he's been wiping the muck and the mire off of us, and he has not changed his mind about you.

He has not grown weary. He has not lost patience. He is not wanting a mulligan because you cannot figure it out. Do you not know that the infinite, all-knowing, always-has-been, always-will-be God is intimately acquainted with all of your days before you've lived them? The God who is outside of time is well aware of how you're going to blow it next year, how you're going to just train wreck that mug in two years. Do you know that God knows that?

Listen. Christian, your judgment day has already happened. That has happened. Now, you're going to stand in front of God again, and you're going to give an account, but that account… When your file is opened and pulled out, it's just going to be dripping with the blood of Christ, and the reference for your judgment day is going to be the cross of Christ, and you will be deemed spotless and holy in his sight, not because of what you have done but because of what has been done for you.

Yes and amen. Some of what you're experiencing might be the discipline of God, but please do not mistake that discipline as being heavy-handed or harsh. Look at me. Isn't that what immature children do? If you have children… I have three of them. Sometimes, when you say no to a child, they feel like you just ruined their entire lives. It happened to me this Tuesday. "Oh, I'll do anything. I'll give everything. I'll give you my soul." "Well, your soul is not yours to give to me, but it's not happening, no."

Now, I love my kids. I mean, I love them. They consume my prayers. I'm earnest to see them formed and shaped by the gospel of Jesus, and I say no. I say no because I love them so much. I send them to their room to think about that for a while because I love them so much. From time to time, if they ask me to, I'll whip their bottoms because I love them so much. I take no delight in it. I try to get around it any way possible.

Yet because of my deep and abiding love, I will engage them. I will say no. I will take things out of their hands. I will send them to their room. To them, the perspective can be, "This isn't fair. I can't believe this. This is all I really wanted. Without this, my whole life is going to fall apart." As grown-ups, there are a couple of things. One, it's kind of hard not to smile sometimes. Can we just say that? "This is so ridiculous, it's hard not to smile, but I can't smile because I love you too, and it's just going to make you angry and feel contempt. You're already struggling, so let me try to listen."

Then try to reason. At least, I try to reason. Just because something has been taken out of your hands, just because you've been sent to your room, just because there has been some loss of something you perceived to be yours does not make God, in his discipline, cruel. By the way, discipline from God isn't always because you have done something wrong but rather because God is leading you into what is right. Are you tracking with me?

You don't control the discipline of God by checking all of the boxes. Gosh. A lot of what is going on is running underneath. It's a script that is running underneath that we're completely unaware of, and those who have suffered have seen that script running underneath the rhythms of their lives, and they were unaware of it until God did give them the gift of the thorn in the flesh, right? The struggle, the life not of ease, but the life of trial and tribulation, where we long for the Spirit of God to work and move in us.

Now what does all of this accomplish? Well, all of this accomplishes, according to the text, right offerings restored. Again, I said this isn't a sermon on tithing, so you can relax. "Right offerings restored. Hand out those plates." We're not doing that, so everyone can just breathe out. That's not… I think what's happening here is not just about financial money, although we will see that later in this chapter, where God says, "Test me. Bring the offerings into the storehouse and see if I won't bless you. Test me that I'm better than your money."

I think also what is going on here is the people in Malachi are halfhearted people. They are halfhearted people like many of us in their faith. Here are some of the things they begin to do. When they would come to the temple where God commanded their offerings would be an unblemished ram or an unblemished oxen or an unblemished dove, they would bring deformed animals or animals they couldn't make any other money off of, and they would offer those animals as a sacrifice to God.

They were halfhearted in their offering. What Malachi is arguing here is one of the things that the refining fire of God creates is wholehearted, integrated people whose minds, hearts, and lives are in pursuit of Jesus Christ. Let me show you this in Romans 12:1-2, and then I'll tell you what we do while we wait.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

What you see in this text is complete integration. If you begin to look at the key words of this text, you have our bodies are laid down. You have my body. You have my life. I'm going to treat my body like I belong to you. I'm going to do with my body the things you would call me to do with my body. My spirit is yours. My heart is yours. My emotions are yours.

Then, my mind is yours. I am all in as best I know how, by the grace of God, presenting myself as an offering to God because that's what he's after. Your money and the call of God to give unto God's work is just a reminder that all of you is his, and all you have is his. God doesn't need money. He's not broke.

"Oh, I would really like to save some people, but what does the checking account say, Jesus?"

"Oh, the Spirit is holding it this week."

"Spirit, what do we have?"

"We're in the negative."

"All right. I'm going to need you guys to give so we can push back darkness."

That's not how this works. The call of God on your life to open up the hands around your finances is all about you seeing what you're enslaved to. I already told you we're not taking an offering, so you can just kind of breathe out. The refining fire of God's love creates holistic, integrated worshippers, where the offering of our entire being is laid before him, where we cry out, "I am yours. Whatever you ask, my yes is laid down."

Since he is a refining fire, how are we to think about or navigate those spaces where we're walking in the middle of this right now? We're all being refined, but some of us are hyper-aware of that refining work right now because it's hurting, because we find ourselves in the desert, because we're sick, or somebody we love is sick, or we've been wrestling with something for a long time, or we feel like God is far from us, or we're struggling with anxiety and fear. We're just a mess.

We can feel these things I'm talking about in a way that maybe if we're not really dialed in to what God is doing in our lives, we're just unaware of right now. What do we do in this space? Let me give you four quick things. I really mean that. They're quick things. The first is that we wait on the Lord. Confession: I'm a doer. I hate waiting. I just want God to tell me what to do so I can do it.

In fact, there are times when I'm reading that I'm just trying to finish reading through it so I can get to what I'm supposed to do about it. As soon as I have the concept, I have it. This is how my brain works. I have to fight against it. I'm like, "Okay, I get what you're saying. Theologically, I understand. What am I supposed to do? Just tell me what to do."

Yet, it's in that space that we wait on the Lord that God does so much of his work. A friend of mine wrote a song, and she said in that song that God accomplishes more in our waiting than in all of our doing. We wait on the Lord. We're earnest for God to do this good work in us. The second thing is we are honest in community. The reality is the refining fire sits on all of us who are sons and daughters of God. He is doing his good work in all of us.

We want to be honest in community. I say it like I say it all the time. If you're wrestling with doubt, somebody needs to know that. It's not uncommon for believers to wrestle with doubt. Luther even called faith a wrestle with doubt. You just have to be honest about it. If you're sick, you need to be honest about that. If you're weary, you need to be honest about that. If your marriage is a train wreck, you need to be honest about that and stop this nonsense where you pretend to be better than you are.

Difficulty is not uncommon among the people of God. Don't feel ashamed that you're walking in some sort of difficulty. Be honest about it. That's what the people of God are meant to do, to flank you, support you, uphold you, be the tangible presence of God in your life. We walk honestly in community.

We acknowledge our need. There is something about the American narrative in particular. I've been, by the grace of God, able to travel quite a bit, and there is something about the American narrative that being in need is viewed as weak and kind of pathetic, like an un-masculine, sad thing. "Bless your heart. You need help."

Yet, we're so fragile. There is something beautiful that happens when we acknowledge our need. "I'm out of gas. I can't do this anymore. I don't know what to do next. I'm confused." Even if we want to go more simply… One of the things that surprises me in church settings is just this. "I don't know how to read the Bible and understand it. I need someone to help me with that." You feel like you can't say that in your group because everybody is using big words you don't know.

You learn to kind of, "Oh, justification, yeah. What about sanctification? That's one, right?" Acknowledging need can be… "Gosh, I would just like to say this, home group. I don't really know how to pray. I want to know how to pray, I just don't know what to say. I'm just literally like, 'God, amen.'" Right? These are just simple acknowledgments of need. "I need help. I need to be discipled. I need to grow in these areas." Acknowledgement of need is important.

Finally, surrender to the process. If God is a refining fire, you holding tight and not letting go of the things God asks of you is not wise. I'll say something. I don't think you'll disagree with it. God is smarter than you, and he is smarter than me. Because God is for us and not against us, God will break the hand that refuses to let go of what will harm it. Are you tracking with me?

God's love for you is so deep, so rich that he will break your hand. One of the patterns I'm trying to establish in my own life is if he goes, "Chandler, I would like this," to just go, "Okay," because I don't want him to pry open my hands, but I know he loves me so much that he will. In the face of the refining fire of God, I want to lay my yes down regardless.

Sometimes, some of what he asks I feel like is silly. Am I allowed to say that? I know I'm a pastor. I think that area of my life is so… "That matters? Why does that matter? Look at all of this. Look at all of this I'm doing. This is cool. A lot of other people aren't even doing this. You don't like this?" "No, no. I love that, but I want all of you, and I want you to drop this little thing here." We surrender to the process.

I'll end with a quote and an appeal. This is a great quote from Charles Spurgeon. Charles wrestled with depression, clinical depression. He was out of his pulpit for months on end because he was unable to get out of bed. His wife struggled with all sorts of maladies where she couldn't handle the cold in London. She was constantly sick.

At every turn, Spurgeon, one of the first megachurch pastors in history, the large church in London, Metropolitan Tabernacle, still a tourist attraction there in London, was preaching to 10,000 plus on weekends before amplification systems. In his pastor's college, they would measure your chest because if you didn't have a big enough chest, they didn't think you could project, and they wouldn't let you into their college. I wouldn't be a pastor without amplification.

Let me read this quote to you. It's so good. "God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace his hand, I can always trust his heart." Hey, look right at me. Don't lose heart. God is at work in the mess. If you've come in here weary, my hope is that you would leave very encouraged. You came on this day on this subject? You don't think God is dialed in to your difficulty? Then what are you doing here today, if you're like a once-a-monther? I know.

You come. This is your church. You're not really a member. You just go to church once a month, and this is the day you got up and came, in the middle of difficulty, in the middle of doubt, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of weariness, in the middle of suffering, in the middle of sickness. You don't think God is trying to give you some sort of divine hug today, trying to minister to your heart, trying to woo you in more deeply to his love for you?

Gosh, you being here is an objective evidence of the grace of God on your life. You being here today is evidence that God is for you and not against you, that God loves you, forgives you, and delights in you. Your suffering and difficulty is not an example of God's abandonment, demonic authority, or God's punishment. In fact, the writer of Hebrews would say it this way. "God disciplines all of his children, and anyone who is not disciplined by the Lord is not a legitimate child." Congratulations. You have a loving Father who loves you enough not to give you everything you think you need. Let's pray.

Father, I thank you for our time together today. I thank you that you are for us and not against us. Even in our difficulties and our struggles, even in our weariness and our desert places, you woo and call and love us. Even as we prepare our hearts to sing and rejoice and move into Communion and celebrating the Lord's Table, I pray, Father, that our hearts might be encouraged, that our weariness might be lightened, that our fear might be assuaged, and we might find our hearts glad in you.

I pray that you would give us the lenses of you being at work in the mess. Where we feel betrayed, I pray we would be quick to confess it. Where we have given too much credit to the Enemy, I pray we would repent of that. Father, where we believe we have been wrongly disciplined by you, would you give us the image in our heads, in our hearts of a pouty, spoiled child who does not know the riches and beauty of a life in maturity? You are wooing us into that maturity. Our legs are sore. Our lungs are burning. Help us, Holy Spirit. It's for your beautiful name I pray, amen.

Scripture Malachi 3:1-6