Thanks to Cornel Ilioi who first noted Pastor Livinston’s sermons and thus recommended him to us. Loran Livingston is Pastor of Central Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina. Link to Loran Livingston podcast here.
Pastor Loran Livingstone, These are Sermon notes from the April 1,2012 Sunday morning message. You can view it here or listen to audio, or you can click here if that page no longer displays this sermon.
Text: James 5:10-11
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
„The end intended by the Lord”. You see, in your life right now the Lord has an intended, planned end. As you read the Book of Job, you see that what God had in store for Job at the end was more than a man could express or comprehend. So, here we stand today, blessed by the reading of the oldest book in the Bible, Job and God decided with the very first book to deal with persecution, loss, sickness, discouragement. That’s the first thing God said to us, pen on paper in Scripture: That you will suffer, but, God has an intended end and that end is better than you can imagine.
I would imagine that if you have never read the entire Book of Job you have heard about it. You’ve heard about the patience of Job. You’ve heard about his losses. I guess what I cannot really grasp, this righteous man, and the Bible says he was. He’s even mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah with Noah and Daniel as 3 of God’s choices of righteous, obedient servants. So, here’s a righteous man; there’s none like him in the entire world, the Bible said, God even said that, who is losing everything he had. Amazingly, he survives- without a Bible, without spiritual friends to pray with, without a church to attend, without christian music playing in the background. He had nothing. But, the grace of God brought him through it.
The thoughtfulness, the mercy, the grace of God intended for a man to come out of an indescribable tragedy or series of tragedies with a thankful heart and a stronger faith. Now, of course you know how people are. These 3 companions of Job said, „Job, the bottom line is we think we understand God and we know that God doesn’t punish people for nothing. There must be some sin in your life.
May I say to you that if you ever go through something, there will be those who will say, „They’re getting payback because God is a just God.” You better hope that He is a long suffering and just God. „God would not afflict the sinless,” they said, because they had a limited understanding of God Himself. Now, one of the Scriptures that I use so often is this, „His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.” You cannot figure God out. I don’t care how much of the Word you have memorized, you cannot comprehend, nor will you ever be able to figure God’s ways. And so, it behooves all of us to be careful when we pass a judgement on somebody that is going through something, because our time is coming. Right?
Let me say that in a different way. We would do well to leave the reasons for one’s suffering up to God and not to think that because we are Scripture-holics that we can go to a certain category of suffering and say, „That’s why they’re going through this… payback has come!” Even Jesus said one day, Son of God… raised the dead… and this is what He said in John 5:30 „I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent Me„. He said, „As I hear, I judge”. Hear what? There is a voice from heaven. There’s God’s voice, the Father’s voice. He wasn’t saying, „As I hear people…give their opinion, I make a judgement”. No, no. This voice that He heard, came from above. And He said: When I listen to that voice, my judgement is righteous. You can’t just look at circumstances in a person’s life and conclude why things are happening. That is why we are taught to pray without ceasing and to seek the face of the Lord because the Holy Spirit speaks to us. I believe He impresses us with things.
If God’s people, instead of coming up to someone whose heart is broken, whose life is all to pieces and telling them, „Is there any sin in your life?….” Now, I have to be honest with you. That would truly aggravate me. And you can call it… well we gotta cover all the bases… Well, are you kidding me? „Well, is there any sin in your life?” „Of course there is, you … person!” „No, no, no Pastor, I mean known sin”. Well, how can you not know a sin? How can you be doing something that violates God and not know it? The Holy Spirit is the one that tells you what to do and what not to do. „Is there any sin in your life?” „Brother, you better be careful, you’re moving into some territory of authority that you are not capable of handling.” „Is there any sin? God does not judge people who are sinless.”
I have to be very honest with you. I have grown in the Lord over the years and I have changed some of the things that I used to thing were right. You know, we’re still very guilty in the church of not knowing how to handle somebody else’s problems, so we try to make it a spiritual thing and be done with it. Somebody says, „I went to the doctor today and I found out that I have a spot on my lung. Since we don’t know what to do with that, or what to say, we say, „Oh that’s the devil and I rebuke the…, just grab my hand and we go into a tirade and we rebuke the devil and cast him out. And he will not have authority in this situation and you will live and not die!” And of course, that’s just a way of saying, „Ooh, I don’t know how to handle this, so I’ll throw it over in the spiritual camp and I will divest myself of any personal responsibility and just give it to Jesus”.
And, a lot of times we speak against and tirade against something that God Himself has allowed. Ooh, now I know exactly where to go with this. You know, you need to be very careful (in) how you handle those kinds of things. Please remember, the devil can do nothing without God’s permission. „Well, the devil has attacked my family. You all pray that God will make him stop.” He (the devil) couldn’t have attacked your family if God had not given him permission to do so. Now, I didn’t expect to get a rousing response to all of that because we still want to live in that place of denial where God wouldn’t allow us to suffer. Suffering only comes from the enemy. Well, it doesn’t, ladies and gentlemen.
So all of these super spiritual faith-word, faith filled tirades against a circumstance in someone’s life do not serve for the better at all. What we should be saying is, „Let’s pray about this together. Let me hold you up in prayer. I don’t know the source of this. I don’t know the end of this, neither do you. But, if we stay before God and let God bring it to the intended end, you will see that the Lord is very gracious and merciful in your life. Instead of trying to erase pain and remove discomfort, we ought to be diving in the middle of it and saying: God is sovereign. God is doing a work. This is the work of the Lord. We will not speak against it . We will receive it by faith and we will do what God has called us to do and that is- worship, praise and pray. I lift up holy hands to a God I cannot understand, but trust and I will say: You are Lord, You are God and You are sovereign and I will serve You no matter what comes my way! „. Don’t make quick judgements about someone’s suffering, not even yours.
I think that enough time has passed, that the Lord will allow me to deal with this again. Every time we have a problem come our way, we immediately think of what we did in the past and now it has come to bite us in our life. Every time discomfort or tragedy, or pain or bad reports come our way, our immediate action is to say, „I knew it. Here it comes. It was 39 years ago, but I knew that sooner or later I have to pay for it. And, the Bible teaches us, our Lord taught us: You can’t even judge your own condition or the problem you’re going through, you don’t even comprehend. This is the Lord’s work. So, not only are we warned not to judge why someone else is suffering, but we’re told not to judge our own suffering because God is in control of our lives.
If He’s in control of my life, it means that the point where He forgave me cleansed me. I am no longer held accountable for what I did, when the bloof of Jesus covered it and I was forgiven of it. I don’t care if you had 30 abortions, I don’t care if you killed a dozen people, I just don’t care. If the blood of Jesus has been applied to your life, if you’ve asked for forgiveness, if by faith you’ve received Him, it’s all erased. It’s all forgotten. It’s all thrown into the sea of God’s forgetfulness and don’t let the devil… much more than that, don’t let yourself always be dredging up what God forgave and trying to figure out why you’re suffering now.
You are suffering now because God loves you. You are suffering because God has an intended end for your life. You are suffering because where you are now is just not good enough for where God wants you to be. You are suffering because you are going to see the mercy of the Lord. You will suffer so you will see the faithfulness of God. You are suffering so when everybody else has been shooed into a corner and doesn’t have anything else to say, the Lord will have the last word and He will say: „I bought you and I keep you and I’m taking you all the way to heaven.
Word of faith theological crisis
At some point in your life, you’re gonna have a theological crisis. Oh, my Lord, the roads are strewn with Word of Faith people who said: This won’t happen and we won’t receive that and I will live and that won’t… Well, there’s just a whole pile of them laying back there and they’re all stunned saying, „What happened? We thought we knew. We used our authority”. But they had a theological crisis. What they thought about the Bible did not measure up with the sovereignty of the Lord.
Abraham’s theological crisis
There was Abraham. God says to Him, not through Scriptures now, there was no Bible. He speaks to him. „Was it audibly pastor?” „I really don’t know. I know He spoke to him. That’s all that needs to be said”. And He told him, „Kill your son”. And, immediately Abraham had a theological crisis because God said to Noah, many, many years before that, when they came off the ark, „Whoever kills, must be killed”. That’s capital punishment. „Whoever takes the life of a man, his life must be taken, also.” Now, here’s God telling this man of faith, „Kill your son”. I call that a theological crisis. I call that a conflict of what you’ve heard and known with what you are now hearing from God. How would you resolve that? You have to cause it’s in the Bible. What would you do with that? There’s nothing you can do except say,” Abraham trusted what God said and knew that at some point the theological crisis would work itself out and God never contradicts Himself, but He does things in a process that makes Him look like He contradicts Himself. And if you dwell on that you will confuse yourself and get defeated. But, if you will let God be God and finish what He starts, you will glory in the Lord”.
Joseph’s theological crisis
How about Joseph? Now, you talk about a theological crisis? His great grandfather was Abraham. Now, after Abraham saw the goodness of the Lord and went through his and got it all worked out, he taught his grandson and his great grandson these kinds of things: If you honor and obey God, God will honor and bless you. So, here’s Joseph (thinking): I already know how God works.I’ve been taught well. My ancestors, my forefather, my great granddaddy… if anybody should know, great granddaddy Abraham should know, about great faith and trust in God… If you honor and obey God, God will bless you. And He did, and Joseph went to prison. What are you going to say about that? He honored God, he obeyed God, he ran from sin, he ran from adultery, he ran from everything that was displeasing to God and ended up in prison. Now, brother, when you’re lying in a jail cell after you’ve done the right thing and you’ve done all the good things and you are in a jail cell, separated from your family and nobody knows where you are and you don’t know if you’re gonna live till the sun comes up, I call that a theological crisis.
But, the Lord had an intended end. The Lord was in jail with him. The Lord sat with him, with His arm around him when he was confused, trying to figure it out. The Lord was there listening when Joseph said, „I did the right thing! I did everything I was supposed to do! How did I end up here?!” And the Lord sat there and listened to him and the Lord showed him later that if you’ll just wait patiently, if you’ll have faith in God, you’ll end up in a bigger, better place than you thought you would.
It doesn’t stop there. You talk about a theological crisis? Some of you are going through it right now, cause you had it all fixed, biblically. Didn’t you? You were taught well by very unscriptural people. You were taught well by people who knew the religion, who knew the dogma. You know I hate … Should I say this Lord? You know, it’s just between me and God.
I spoke recently at a place and when I left someone grabbed my hand and said, „Wow! You sound like a Reformed Pastor today!” Well, of course that means that you sound like a calvinist. I wanted to say, „That’s what you heard? You heard something that verifies your dogma and doctrine? You didn’t hear me talking about Jesus? Shame on you if you are that way; if when you hear a Gospel message you think, „Uha, I know that doctrine, that’s Calvin. Oh, I know that doctrine, that’s arminianism.” You need help! Because the whole point of the Holy Spirit working in us is to get us out of that denominational junk and get us into a walk by faith Jesus.
The theological crisis of the 12 disciples
You talk about a crisis. Here are these 12 disciples. Jesus says to the people, „Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you don’t belong to me.” The Bible says, many of His disciples went away. Then He turned to His and said, „Are you going too?” Well, now here’s the theological crisis: Drink blood? From the earliest days of the Old Testament, Jews were taught- Don’t drink it. Even in the New Testament they were taught- Don’t drink blood and above everything- Don’t eat human flesh. That’s cannibalism. So, they had this instilled in them that you don’t touch, you don’t drink blood, you don’t eat anything that’s strangled and Jesus turns around and messes everything up and says, „If you’re gonna follow me, you’re gonna have to drink my blood. You gotta eat my flesh.
Theological crisis. Peter says, „Are you kidding us, Lord? People are leaving. The whole ministry’s just died. Jesus said, „What about you? Are you leaving too?” and Peter spoke up and said, „Where would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life?” Notice what he didn’t say, ” Where would we go cause You can walk on water? Where would we go, You raise the dead. Where would we go, you’re a miracle worker. Where would we go, you’re the man.” But he said, „Where would we go, because you are the only one that can give us words. Speak to us! Give us a voice and lead us into eternal life and that’s how we ought to be living today.”
With the knowledge of the Holy Scripture, we ought to be walking by faith and listening to the Holy Spirit even when our faith seems to be coming apart and our lives seem to contradict what we’ve learned. We have to be able to live on the words of eternal life cause God’s not finished yet. The intended end has not arrived, as yet.
Here’s another theological crisis. Job was so conscientious. Do you know that the Bible says he didn’t lust, he didn’t lie, he didn’t steal, he treated his servants right, he did not worship false gods, he didn’t commit adultery, he didn’t do anything wrong and every day he got up and offered a sacrifice unto God on behalf of his children and then one day a tornado came and blew the house down and killed all his children. Theological crisis. I did everything I was supposed to do and then this happens? Yeah, because God’s intended end was not yet. I just wanna tell you that if you are in that dilemma, if you’ll just hang on, it will all work out and you will find out God was telling the truth all the time.
Here’s what I learned in my own life and my theology has changed. If you would have seen me 30 years ago, when I had thicker, darker, longer hair, man I looked like a Pentecostal evangelist of God. And I had preached sermons on joy: The reason you don’t have it is because you don’t claim it. And the reason you don’t have it is because you just decided not to have it. WOW it’s joy, you can live every day with joy! Joy, joy, joy unspeakable and full of glory. I feel joy up in here. Joy, joy, joy. People can have joy if they want it!
Nope, there have been lots of time when I have not had joy. LOTS OF TIMES. I could not find a trace of spirituality or joy in my life. And you gotta live long enough, and thank God He lets us live long enough, cause there’s nothing more dangerous than a young preacher who’s never been through a crisis, who’s never had to bury a family member, who’s never had to go through cancer, who hasn’t seen babies die… But, you get to a point in your life where you say honestly, before God that you don’t have joy. I ain’t having fun. And what about those bold statements like, „God doesn’t want you to be sick?” I now believe, today, that God uses physical infirmity to mature me. I’ve known too many sick saints who won more people to Jesus on a hospital bed. Sick saints, broke saints, discouraged saints, heartbroken saints that won more people to Jesus and encouraged more brothers and sisters than many of us who haven’t been through it. Oh, I believe it now! Because God is sovereign and God will take whatever He desires and sees necessary and do it in your life, not only to work out the self confidence, but the arrogance of your faith, but to be able to build up the brotherhood and edify the church.
Oh, I used to say, „And nothing, shall by any means harm you. You can take up serpents and you can drink any deadly thing and I shall speak with new tongues, but I especially like that one „and nothing shall by any means hurt you”. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been hurt a lot. God’s people hurt. Do you understand me? There’s pain in the body of Christ. There’s pain in the saintliest of homes. There’s pain and agony where every member of the house is filled with the Holy Spirit and living by faith. There’s pain. When Shannon was giving prayer request and that brother from our church who lost 5 family members, do you think he’s having fun? Do you think he has joy? Do you think he’s not hurt?
Ladies and gentlemen, there comes a time when you have to take your theology and drop it the way Moses dropped the tablets of the law and realize that’s not just for you to carry around and give pat answers about everything that happens in life. No, you are to hear form God. The Spirit of the Lord can speak to you and when He does, He will coincide and affirm this written word, and when God finishes, you will see that the intended end He designed was the most marvelous thing. And you had to go through the loss and through the pain to get there. That’s why God taught us to praise Him for everything. In everything give thanks because God is taking us to an intended end.
James 5:11 1 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
When you get to the end and you thought you couldn’t make it, you find out that it was God’s compassion and God’s mercy that kept you, that will keep you. That’s the intended end of the Lord.
I want to end with this: When you’re in that… well, there sits Tony right there, Hazel had her first chemo treatment on Thursday. Now that’s a praying woman. Kind, compassionate… she’s laying in the house… surgery, chemo, may lose her hair. Tell me: Why? What’s going on? Why wouldn’t God have done that when she was 28, so she could live a long time and tell about it? Because only God knows His ways and He has an intended end for Hazel and for you and for you sir. I see you, Ron. I pray for you every night before I go to bed. I know you’re fighting this cancer thing, but I want you to know. I want you to hear it today and I want you to hear it in the house of God: God has an intended end. This is not punishment, this is a blessing from the Lord, so you can find out how merciful and compassionate God really is.
I want to close with this because we have instructions about what we should do while we are going through this. 1 Peter 4:19 „Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator„. Did you hear me? It’s the will of God… meaning, „I don’t care what I’m going through Lord, I am yours and you’re mine. I don’t have an answer, I don’t have any strength, I don’t know what to do next, but I’m yours and you’re mine. I commit my soul to You. You have me, you got me, take all of me. I’m not gonna back up, I’m not gonna quit. I’m not gonna second guess myself. I’m committed to letting you keep me „. And I’m gonna do it by „doing good” (1 Peter 4:19) I may feel bad, but, I’m gonna do good. I’m just gonna do the right thing. I’m gonna do good things. I’m gonna bless people. I’m gonna serve people. I’m gonna serve the Lord. I’m gonna keep it up. I will not quit. As to a faithful Creator. Creator? Yup, he-s the one that put you together, designed you, numbered your days, gives you life and breath. He created me! I’m the workmanship of His hands. So what He created, He’s not gonna destroy. I’m a new creation in Christ Jesus and He is faithful. Faithful Creator. What does that mean? If He loved me enough to create me, in Christ Jesus, He will be faithful enough to finish what He started. He’ll take me to the intended end.