Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Disappointment, it hits everyone whenever our circumstances don't match our expectations. Disappointment can turn to bitterness.
The children of Israel found bitter waters at Merah. Only a miracle from God made them sweet, and only God can make our bitterness sweet. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, if we never had to taste bitter waters, perhaps none of us would appreciate the times when the waters are sweet.
Well, Dave, of course what you are saying is absolutely true. It is during those times of deep heartache, sorrow, bitterness. It is then that we cherish every moment of sweetness, every opportunity that brings us some hope and some happiness.
But at the same time, I can't help but think that I am speaking to people who find that day after day after day there is bitterness, and they don't see their way out. I believe that this message that I'm preaching today is going to be a great blessing to them and help them to see that in the midst of it all, God is there testing us, and there are possibilities to make bitter waters sweet. By the way, this series of messages can be yours so that you can listen to it again and again. Here's what you do. Go to rtwoffer.com.
rtwoffer.com. For a gift of any amount, these messages can be yours, or if you prefer, call us at 1-888-218-9337. Now let us go to the pulpit of Moody Church and think through how God brought sweetness out of a very bitter situation. Don't ever estimate God's ability to take the bitter experiences and make them a blessing. God's in the business of doing that all the time. He's taking people like all the rest of us, with all of our sins and failures, and He's using us and He's blessing us in spite of ourselves. That's the grace of God. There's a third experience that the Israelites had, and that was, of course, the lessons, the unforgettable lessons, the unforgettable lessons that God intended.
And I've already hinted at the major lesson. It is God's intention that these experiences not make us bitter but make us better. Through it all, God leads us, God directs us, God guides us, and in the end, we come out being especially blessed and better. One day, a man by the name of Job had a terrible, terrible experience. Some news came from different parts of the land, and all of the news was bad. He lost his cattle, he lost 10 children in a windstorm. And his wife, God bless Mrs. Job, let's not be critical of her, but she did say, curse God and die, she said to her husband. Maybe she said that to him because she couldn't, she couldn't endure his bitterness.
Just imagine 10 fresh graves on a hillside all in one day. And so he's going through this and he's crying up to God and he's wrestling with it, but Job didn't turn out bitter. It was a bitter experience, but he turned out better. And he said, the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. And you read the rest of the book of Job with all of those speeches that are going on and all of the trouble that Job was experiencing and his friends who didn't encourage him but condemned him.
But you read the end of the book and Job was blessed. Don't ever accept bitterness just as bitterness. I didn't intend to tell this story, so I'm going to do it from memory and see if it comes out right. All right, that's the agreement. If it comes out wrong, you'll know I shouldn't have started to tell it, but it's coming to mind.
You know, the neurons don't fire quite as quickly as they used to. There was a Chinese man who owned a horse and a son. And one day the boy was riding the horse and the horse threw the boy off and the boy broke his leg. So all of the man's friends gathered together and they said, we want to comfort you regarding the evil that has befallen you. And the man said, how do you know that this is evil? And then later on some soldiers came through the countryside and they were looking for young men to go to war.
And they looked at his son and realized that he wasn't fit for battle and so they allowed him to stay at home. All of the men's friends gathered and they said, we want to comfort you regarding the good that has happened to you. And he said, how do you know that this is good?
Well, the story goes on and on like that. The point is this, that we as Christians don't evaluate things simply on the basis of the immediate because we believe in a God who works all things together for good to those who love him. Even the bitter experiences can be used for blessing and to make us better.
Job learned that and we have to learn it as well. God always remains sweet. In thy presence there is fullness of joy.
At thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore. And Jesus invites us to the living water that sustains us as we go through the difficult experiences of life. Here's a second lesson and that is that God uses trees. God uses trees.
I know that this was a miracle. As I've already mentioned, there was no specific connection between the log and the miracle of the water. But there are two very important trees in the Bible. And from these two trees you have two different results and you and I are caught in the middle of the impact of those two trees. The first is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve were not to eat from. But you'll recall that they did eat of the fruit of that tree. And as a result, bitterness and contamination and sin permeated the whole human race. And all of us have been infected by the disease of sin that came from eating that tree. Friday evening my wife and I were out with some friends and they were talking about some relatives who were decidedly difficult to get along with.
Do you have any of those or was this just an anomaly? You know, any relatives that might not always be as pleasant and as loving as you'd like relatives to be. And I said to this man, I said, isn't it interesting that when man fell as a result of Adam's sin, some people appear to have fallen further than others.
Do you have someone in your radar who has fallen further than you wish he had? I'll tell you, this tree, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it has permeated all of society, it has permeated culture because our own hearts now have within them the seeds of evil. That's why Solzhenitsyn says that the human race cannot be divided between good people and bad people.
If so, we'd put all the good people on one side and the bad people on the other and then we could survive if we were in the good camp. But he says the line goes right through every individual human heart, the impact of that tree. But then there's another tree, and that is the tree of the cross. When Jesus Christ died on that cross, you have two logs that were nailed together to form the cross. And when Jesus was dying there, when he got to Golgotha, he was invited, you remember, to drink some myrrh.
The word myrrh comes from myra, some wine mingled with myrrh. He was given two opportunities to do that. The second time it was some cheap wine that really never had any value. But the first time when he arrived at the cross, they gave him this because they wanted to make sure that he had a sedative. It was actually a drink that was given to him in mercy and in compassion. But he refused it. The Bible says he took it to his lips and he would not drink.
Why? Because he wanted to bear the full weight of our sin. He wanted to bear in his own body the impact that was created as a result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve and all of our disobedience throughout the centuries as nations and as individuals. And so Jesus becomes sin for us. The Bible says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is everyone who hung upon a tree.
Jesus was crucified there and was cursed so that you and I could be blessed. And from that cross now forgiveness comes. Our past is reconciled. Our relationship with God is rectified.
All that is wrong with us in terms of our past is forgiven. The consequences may still continue, of course, but our relationship with God is restored. Fellowship now becomes a possibility and a blessed reality because of the work of the cross of Jesus Christ. And then what he begins to do, he begins to heal our souls. The Scripture says in the Old Testament that the Lord counts the number of the stars and he heals our souls, puts those two things together.
Isn't it wonderful to think that the same Lord who created the whole universe is the Lord who comes, not just with a band-aid for a hurting soul, but thanks to Jesus he comes to live within our hearts and to connect us to the Father so that there might be a healing that actually takes place within us so that the bitter experiences of life can be made sweet. But there are some of you here who will not experience that sweetness for two separate reasons. First of all, because you've never trusted Christ as your Savior to have your sins forgiven and to have the blessed Holy Spirit of God to indwell you. That's one category.
There's another category, though. You know Christ as Savior and you have retained the bitterness in your soul. It is staying in your soul like Velcro.
What you must be willing to do is to just take it and look at it one more time. And then like a pitcher of water, pour it out at the foot of the cross, receive God's forgiveness, receive his cleansing, and there be broken and say, oh God, whatever it is that you have put me through, whatever my mera, oh God, I give it to you. And out of that experience, God will begin to produce sweetness and disappointment will be his appointment to change you, to bless you, and to begin all over again in your soul. The bitter waters today, the bitter waters can be sweet.
I want you to notice what happens afterwards. The text says in verse 27, then they came to Elam where there were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees, actually date palm trees where they could eat dates and they encamped there by the water. When you're at mera, you look at a map. When you're at mera, you cannot see Elam.
Elam is too far away. When you're going through the bitter stage, the mera stage, you can't see around the corners. You can't see that God may have special blessing for you. All that you can see at that moment is the bitterness and this bitterness overwhelms you and you forget that if you keep following God and with obedience comes blessing that the Elam, Elam is just on up ahead. When I first came to Chicago many years ago, 34 or 35 years ago, I read a book that had just been published by a young Christian woman who came to Chicago to work and she was working with various Christian organizations here and she was raped. And she'd been raped perhaps two or three years before this book was written. But now she was telling the story of the healing and the grace of God and the fears and the anxieties and the bitterness and the anger and the resentment, all of which she experienced in the most horrid way imaginable.
I forget the details but I do remember something she said at the end of the book. She said, when I was going through those dark nights when I couldn't sleep, when I was going through the deep bitterness of fear and anger and hatred, why didn't somebody tell me that someday the sun would shine again? Why didn't somebody tell me that there would come a day when I could continue to hope and to believe and to trust? Why didn't somebody tell me that someday I would be healed?
What she was saying is, when I was at Marah, why didn't somebody tell me that Elam was up ahead? God delights to take the bitter waters and make them sweet and then what he does is he throws in Elam, which for some of you may be just around the corner. Let's pray. Our Father, we thank you today for this experience that Israel had. Thank you, Father, that they proved again your faithfulness, that bitterness need not overwhelm us. For those, Father, struggling today with bitterness against others or even against you, may they indeed spill it out at the foot of the cross.
May they leave it where Jesus Christ died and say, I give you my bitterness. I release it, Father, to you so that in the vacuum you can pour in blessing and that you can fill hearts with sweetness where there's been bitterness. And for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, we pray that today they may look to Jesus, that they may look to the second cross, the second tree, look to Jesus to be forgiven, to be cleansed, and to receive his mercy and grace and drink from the living water that he has made sweet. Now, if God has talked to you, I want you to talk to God right now because he knows your thoughts, he knows your heart. At this moment, at this moment, you tell God whatever you need to.
You've never received Christ as Savior. Say, Jesus, today I receive you as mine to forgive me, to cleanse me, to heal me. Those of you who know him, you give him your mara so that he can make it sweet. Lord, whatever it takes, we pray that we may be drawn close to you. We're willing to exchange sunshine for rain, comfort for pain. Help us to not love bitterness.
Help us to release it to you that you might pour blessing into our hearts, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen. Amen. You know, if I recall correctly, many years ago, I looked at a map and discovered that when you are at mara, you can't see Elam. Elam isn't that far away, but you can't see it. And isn't that true during our times of bitterness? We don't see the springs of water, the date palms.
We don't see the refreshment. But my friend today, perhaps just ahead, God is going to surprise you with his blessing. And he will bring hope and healing and encouragement in the midst of your bitterness. You know, the Ministry of Running to Win exists to help you run the race of life successfully. It exists so that we can get the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. But we make resources available to help you. And one of those resources are the messages that you have just been listening to. These messages can be yours in permanent form so that you can listen to them again and again, share them with your friends. Whenever you need encouragement and help, you can go to the series entitled Getting Closer to God. For a gift of any amount, these messages can be yours.
Here's what you do. Go to RTWOffer.com. RTWOffer, by the way, that's all one word.
RTWOffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. We consider this ministry not to belong to us or a church or an organization. This ministry is really God's ministry supported by God's people. What that means is this ministry is your ministry. Well, for a gift of any amount, we want to be able to help you with these messages.
Go to RTWOffer.com. Or if you prefer, call us at 1-888-218-9337. Ask for Getting Closer to God, Lessons from the Life of Moses. It's time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life.
It's a question asked by millions of Jews during the Holocaust, and it's still being asked today. An anonymous listener says this, In ministering to women in abusive situations or having had childhood abuse, a question I am asked is, Where was God? Pastor, how do you respond to that in counseling someone?
My dear friend, you've asked a very difficult question that I have thought about a great deal, and I'm not sure that I can shed any great light on it. But I remember here at the Moody Church after I preached on abuse, a woman came forward and said to me, Where was God when I was abused as a child? Since he wasn't there when I needed him, why should I turn to him now?
What I said is, Dear sister, I want you to know something. What if God said, I want to show that there are some people who will believe me and trust me, even though there's really no evidence for it in their own life and in their own experience. God wants you to trust him. Was he there? Yes, he was there when you were abused. He was there when his own son, the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross. But the fact that he was there did not mean that Jesus Christ suffering was somehow lessened.
In fact, his suffering became very great when he bore our sin on the cross. And if God was there when Jesus was crucified, God was there when you were abused as a child. The other thing that I think is very important is that we have to show to the abused that there is such a thing as love, that what they experienced, the evil that they experienced is not the only kind of response that there is in life. There is actually love, a love that accepts, a love that is patient, that is kind, a love that gives them hope that they don't have to wallow in their past, but that they can look forward to something much better in the future. Of course, there are verses of scripture, but sometimes those verses sound hollow to the child who weeps and to the adult who weeps because they believe that God was not there for them as a child.
No easy answers, no quick answers. Love them, show them, trust them, and may they come to God through Christ where they have complete acceptance and joy as valued members of the body of Jesus Christ. I pray that you'll be able to give them that kind of hope. Some compassionate counsel from Dr. Erwin Lutzer. Thank you, Dr. Lutzer. If you'd like to hear your question answered, go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer or call us at 1-888-218-9337.
That's 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. Today, Erwin Lutzer concluded Winning Over Disappointment, the seventh in a series of 12 messages about the life and times of Moses, a man getting closer to God. Next time, we'll learn with Moses how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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