Dr. Miranda: I am so thankful for you having called Steve into the ministry, for carrying him through these years of studying. Now, as he prepares to bring your word to us, we pray that your Holy Spirit will be send on him on a different way, empowering him and giving him the thoughts that you want him to share with us. Bless him first, Lord, as your word descends upon him and remains there and take charge, Lord, take control of his lips, of his thoughts and even of our minds as well as we interact with your word, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Steve Johnson: I love you. I love you and I’ll never leave you. That’s what she’s been told, that’s what she believed. See, Lisa, was dating this guy for a while, she thought he was the greatest. He’s good looking, very articulate, he had good jobs, he had a good amount of money, connections around town. He was fun too. He was really everything that she wanted and you know, he said that he loved her. That’s what she wanted. That’s what she wanted to hear. She needed to hear that, that he loved her. He would never leave her.
But, you know, he made that promise and he didn’t stick. See, first there was the sex, then the pregnancy and then the abortion. He was gone. You see, he promised to stay with her and all she was left with was guilt, shame.
I love you. I love you and I’ll never leave you. It’s a beautiful day for a wedding, December 15, 1987 and Tom made that promise to his wife. He said, ‘I love you and I’ll never leave you’. But, that was before the coke.
You see, the pressure of the job, the wide arguments with his wife, the kids at home, mortgage breathing at his neck. It was just too much for him. You know, it doesn’t really start with cocaine though. For him it started with alcohol, drinking too much, getting drunk on the weekends. That was just like his scholar’s days, there wasn’t any difference. It became too much and before long the alcohol just was not cutting it. He switched to cocaine and took over his life. He lost his job, his wife and his kids. He hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving and he sure wasn’t going to invite them over to that ratty hole that he called an apartment. You see, all he was left with was just guilt, shame and he was torn apart. He had no hope.
I love you. I love you and I’ll never leave you. Every single person in Israel made that promise to God. God said ‘if you love me and follow my ways you’ll have peace in the land, you’ll have prosperity. I’ll give everything you need and everything you want.’ And they made that promise to God and he gave them everything they needed, everything they wanted. They had everything.
But then they turned from God, they turned their back on God and said, ‘No, Lord, we’re not going to follow you any more’. And God stripped the land. He sent locusts in, his agents of destruction to just tear up everything: the vineyards, the granaries, the fields, wiped out; the wine vats, the rivers dried up. They had nothing left. They were hopeless.
Now, each of those stories is a true story. Now, the names have been changed subject to guilty and I do say guilty because every single story it’s a broken promise. It’s someone who turned their back on their promises and turned their back on the Lord and what he had planned for them.
And I wonder how many of us are in that position tonight? How many of us in some way have broken our promises? We feel hopeless, we feel shame, guilt, destruction in our lives. Are you there tonight? You may be thinking: I’m hopeless, what do I have?
But, you see, each of those stories is going to illustrate a magnificent truth about the Lord that we serve.
So that story of Israel actually comes from the Book of Joel, so if you have your Bible turn to Joel. Joel is the Book after Oseas and before Amos, it’s kind of hard to find so I’ll give you a second.
But Joel is a book it talks about the very story I was telling you. The nation of Israel is in covenant with God, they’ve made a bow before the Lord, that they would follow him and God promised to bless them. At the very beginning of this book we find that the people are not feeling very blessed so in Joel, chapter 1, I’m going to read verse 2 and I’m going to read through verse 5.
Joel says this to the people of Israel. “Hear this, you elders, listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this every happen in your days or the days of your fore fathers? Tell it to your children and let your children talk to their children and their children to the next generation. What the locusts swarm has left, the great locusts have eaten. What the great locusts have left, the young locusts have eaten. And what the young locusts have left, other locusts have eaten. Wake up, you drunkards and weep; wail all your drinkers of wine? Wail because of the new wine, for it’s been snatched from your lips.”
You see, in this point time Israel had turned its back from God. They rejected the promise that they’d made to him. And what they got was this destruction. Now, I wrote down a few little facts about locusts, because I just thought, you know, we read the locusts came and ate everything and that sounds really bad.
I don’t want to give you a picture of what that might look that. So, locusts are like this grass hoppers things that they’ve got wings, and they can fly and they move pretty quick. And what they do is that they swarm and I found that there have been locusts swarms that have been found on this earth often in Africa, different parts of the world, that are 12 hundred kilometers in size, square kilometers. Twelve square kilometers full of these grass hoppers things and there’s 40 to 80 million locusts per square kilometer.
Now, if you think about that, that’s about 96 million locusts. You know, they’re ok so there’s 96 grass hopper things and say they’re coming my way, so what do I do. I go inside, right? It’s not quite like that, especially if you’re livelihood depends on farming, because what they do is they eat their own body weight every day and so I read that there was this locust swarm that was in Africa, a number of years ago, and they were eating 423 million pounds of vegetation every day. There’s nothing left.
So, and the great thing about this is that they spell it out for us. This locust swarm comes through and eats up everything, all right? And then another locust swarm comes through and eats up what was left after that. And if there’s anything left from that, the other locust swarm comes in and eats that, and as if that weren’t enough another locust swarm comes through and just eats up everything it can. And what you find is that in this book of Joel, he talks about the sheep not having food.
Now, sheep are actually able to dig up the roots of the grass and of the grain and eat the roots, but even the roots were gone. So this is a serious business. This is total and utter destruction. There’s nothing left.
Now, it’s amidst you that when we turn from our Lord our lives are filled by destruction like this, our lives are filled with a total desolation.
And maybe you’re not feeling totally desperate tonight. Maybe you’re seeing parts of that. Maybe you’ve had the first locust swarm come through, maybe you had the second, or maybe you just see the locusts in the distance and you know they’re coming. Or maybe you know what it’s like to have had that fourth locust swarm come through and your life is totally gone. Maybe you’ve been there, maybe you’re there tonight.
I’m going to read a little more about this locust swarm. We’re going to start with verse 10 of chapter one, read through verse 12.
It says “The field are ruined, the ground is dried up, the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. Despair you, farmers. Wail you, vine growers. Grieve for the wheat and the barley because the harvest of the field is destroyed, the vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered. The pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree, all the trees of the field are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away.”
Now, again I say, I don’t think this is too different from our lives. You see, we often, through our sin, through our broken promises, we just invite the locusts into our lives. We invite things in that destroy us and tear us up. Think about the relationships that you had, think about the friend that you had but you betrayed them, or maybe they betrayed you. Sometimes it’s the sin of others. They broke a promise and there’s just a break in that relationship and that relationship is broken, is destroyed. It’s like the locusts have come in and eaten up the friendship.
If you’re married, you may know what is like to come home every night to a husband or a wife, that you don’t really talk to because it is too painful to talk. So, you just come in, you do your thing and you live your life but that relationship has been eaten up.
Or maybe you’re in a situation where you know, your relationship seemed pretty good, yet you just can’t find that perfect job. And when you go to the interview for your perfect job, they say, how come you never stayed at a job for more than two months? I don’t know if that’s anywhere in here, but just think about that. The choices we make affect our lives and it’s hard to get a good job when your employer, when the interviewer says ‘why have you left this job, and this job and this job every two months?
You see, you made choices that brink brokenness in your life. Maybe it’s drugs and alcohol, you know, it starts that ok but it just starts to eat away until your life is totally broken.
Let me give you another example that maybe isn’t so extreme. I’ve been married to Sonia, my lovely wife, who was ……. for ten months now? About ten months? And I’ve never realized how selfish I was till I got married. You see, I’ve been walking through life, you know, pretty good. I don’t feel the destruction. I don’t feel the pain. I don’t see how the locusts have eaten away at me. I think ‘hey, I’m a pretty good guy. People like me, I’ve got lots of friends. I’m doing well at school, I’m doing well at my job. This is great. Life’s good. And on the surface everything was pretty good and I get married and she says to me things like, you know, ‘why did you do that when you knew I wanted you to do this?’ my God , let’s see why did I do something I knew you didn’t want me to do? And if I really asked myself, I’d say ‘because I’m selfish and I’d rather do what I want to do than what you want me to do.’ Ok?
And it comes up again and again. And it’s like, man, I’m really selfish. Now, I don’t want you to leave tonight thinking that Stephen is the most selfish person on the face of the earth, but if you do it wouldn’t be the worst thing of all. But it’s just to point that we all have that and sometimes it’s not as obvious. Sometimes it’s not as clear in our lives that really the choices we make have consequences, and a lot of times when we make bad choices we bring destruction into our lives.
Now, what we do often is we look at our life and we see something bad and we think ‘that person did something to me and that’s why my life is bad.’
You know, we look to our past to see why it’s bad and we point to that other person. Or we say, ‘my life’s bad, I don’t know why, but I’m not willing to look at my past to find out why, I’m not willing to look at my choices’. Either way, what we do is we avoid the things that we do. So, there are times in our life we look at the brokenness and we fail to realize that it’s because of our own choices.
But sin brings brokenness. Rebellion brings brokenness. When we break our promises to the Lord or to others, it brings brokenness. That’s just a nature of sin and rebellion and broken promises, they bring destruction. They invite the locusts in your life to eat things up.
See, maybe you ask yourself, ‘ok, I get it, there is brokenness in my life. There’s a little bit of brokenness or there’s a lot. You know, it’s like the four swarms coming through that destroyed up everything, but what do I do, what do I do with that? Ok, I understand. What next?
Well if we look at Joel a little bit further, we see this really awesome thing and we find that when the people of Israel turned from God, what they were called to do was to repent. And actually the only proper response to sin on our lives is repentance. So, I’m going to read to you verses 13 through 14 of chapter 1.
Joel says: “Put on a sackcloth, oh priests and mourn, wail you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly, summon the elderly and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord, your God and cry out the Lord.”
You see, what Joel is saying is ‘oh, but God did bad things in our past and he’s brought this horrible consequence. We need to repent, we need to turn back to God. And what he’s talking about is something I like to call an active repentance, or an outward repentance, but an act of repentance. This is when we have something that we’ve been doing and we direly turn and do something else and a repentance act actually means to turn from, to turn from the sin, to turn towards God.
But we actually….. ok, we’re going to do the right thing now, we’re going to do what God calls us to do.
Like with my relation with Sonia, I’d say ‘ok, I’m sorry, I repent, I confess and say I’m sorry I’m not going to do that thing any more, because that hurts you.’ and sometimes it takes months, months of work. Sometimes it takes a long time, but you’re turning and it may be gradual but you’re turning away from the thing you’re doing to do a better thing, to do the thing that God wants you to do, to have a fulfillment of your bow, a fulfillment of your promise with the other person.
Or you stay at that job even though you hate it because you need to stay somewhere for someone to take you seriously. Or stop the alcohol, you stop the drug abuse, you turn from it and do it active, turning to the Lord.
But it doesn’t leave it there. It’s not just an active turning, there’s also something else I like to call a spiritual turning, an inward turning. If we look in chapter 2 of Joel, verse 12 and 13 we’ll see that.
So, chapter 2, verse 12, Joel says, this is the Lord speaking “Even now, replies the Lord, return to him with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments”
“Rend your hearts and not your garments”. You see, rend means to break, to tear and as a sign of mourning, as a sign of repentance, the people used to tear their clothing and often people didn’t have a lot of clothes, they had a cloak and they would tear it, it was a sign that they were turning from what they were doing, that they were mournful, that they felt deep sorrow for that.
But God says, don’t just tear your garment, tear your heart. Actually, after this act of repentance will you start doing the right thing? But, actually break your heart over your sin and turn to me and love.
You see, what happens often times is we turn from this thing that we’re doing that’s wrong and we say, ‘ok, now I’m good, now I’m clean, now I’m pure, ok bless me, Lord’. It’s kind of….. it seems like a good idea, right? I’m doing the right thing so bless me.
But, you see it can’t be a very prideful thing if you don’t have this breaking of the heart, this spiritual repentance. But, when you have spiritual repentance and active repentance coupled together, when they are united in purpose, then a beautiful thing happens, because you’re really turning to the Lord. And actually part of that breaking of your heart is saying ‘God I know I can change my ways, but I still can’t do anything about the stuff I’ve already done. I can’t get rid of that.’ And God says, ‘you know what? It’s not about you getting rid of, it’s about you being mournful and about repenting of that and trusting in me to take care of that’.
You see, God wants you to trust that he can take care of the stuff that it’s in your life. So here we read “rend your heart and not your garments, return to the Lord for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding to love”.
He relents from sending calamity. You see, God is saying ‘if you just break your heart in front of me, I’m not going to bring the locusts. I’m not going to bring the destruction. I’m going to relent because I’m compassionate, I’m gracious. You see, I want to do things in your life that you can’t do to yourself.’
And that’s what he’s talking about there. It’s a different type of thing. And again in 14 through 17, he says “who knows God he may turn and have pity and leave a blessing behind, bring offerings and drink offerings to the Lord, your God”,-remember they were gone before him.
Everything was gone, he restores it. It says, “blow the trumpets in Zion! Declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly”, verse 16 “…. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly, bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing in the breast, leave the bride room, let the bridegroom leave this room, and the bride her chamber. Let the priests who minister before the Lord weep before the temple porch in the altar. Let them say ‘Spare your people, Lord, do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should people say ‘where is their God?’.