We Worship a Personal God

Isaiah 43:3-13 The Message Bible

Matthew 14:22-32

Most people have been up close and personal with at least one famous person in their life.  I have shaken the hands of two U.S. Presidents, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.

I met Mohammed Ali and got his autograph.

The longtime manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers Tommy Lasorda once told me that I wrote some of the nicest words anybody ever wrote about him in an article published in “The Moultrie Observer.”  He was kind enough to autograph a copy for me.

Professional baseball player Jeff Francoeur was in a wedding that I was the officiant of in Moultrie, Georgia.

Just because I met these famous people and can tell you who they are when I see their pictures or images on television, doesn’t mean I know them personally.

To some people, God seems like a celebrity they have heard about, but they can’t say they actually know personally.  If you ask them if they think God knows them, you might get a wide range of responses.

What about you?

When you go to church, read the Bible or live each day, does God seems far away from what you are dealing with: the stress, the financial burdens, marital issues, blended family issues, teenage drama, boyfriend and girlfriend problems, health issues, identity struggles, family challenges, or lingering temptations?

Do you wonder – “How does God even know I exist among 7 billion people?”

If you ever feel like this, then the people that the writer of Second Isaiah wrote to were very much like you.   These people had been exiled from their home in Jerusalem for several generations.

They were carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon, perhaps as many as 15,000 of them.  They were stripped of their identity, language, customs, and religion.  Who could blame them but to think that God had forgotten them?

Then came words from this writer.  What he says to them is also important for us.

The writer wanted them to know that God is a personal God.

The writer of Isaiah told them that God knew them by name.  Unless someone knows your name, that person doesn’t really know you.

Your name gives you your identity.

“This is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) 

On America’s Got Talent Christmas Special, Howie Mandell, who is Jewish and doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, dressed as Santa and had some children come and see him.

These children had no idea that Santa was wearing a wire and that their parents were in another room secretly feeding Santa information about the details their lives, information that Santa could not have possibly known.

Not only did he know their names before they told him, but he knew the names of their pets, their best friends, and things they thought no one knew about them.

They left believing that Santa was personal in a way that they never imagined.

When they heard that song, “He sees you when your sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake,” you didn’t have to convince those children.  They were believers.

Through the prophet, God reminded these people that they were descendants of Jacob.  In doing so,  he reminded them that they came from a bent root.

One meaning of Jacob is “bent, or crooked.”  In other words, they came from an imperfect person.

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with God.  Israel means “He struggles with God.”

So God is reminding these people that they have a history.  They were once a bent and crooked people, but they struggled together with God and God did not give up on them.  God says that through their struggle, He redeemed them.

This is a message of hope for us.  Just as he redeemed them, God now says that when we pass through the waters and walk through the fire, he is not going to abandon us, but he is with us and will redeem us.

There are those who preach that if you follow God he will keep you out of the fire and away from the deep.  Yes, there are times that God does keep us away from trouble, but God doesn’t promise that we will not go through trials and tribulations.  Just look around you and you will find plenty of good people going through difficult times.

In fact, God promises that there are times that because we have done the right thing, we will meet opposition and even persecution.

That happened to Jesus.

But he tells us not to fear.

It is in our human nature, though, to lose faith and become afraid when we are walking through the waters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2noonMEnSFg

When we are struggling, hurting, grieving, we are tempted to doubt and to lose faith.

Once Jesus told the disciples to get into the boat and cross the Sea of Galilee without him.  Wouldn’t you know it, the one time Jesus wasn’t in the boat with them, a storm develops on the lake.  They were afraid.  It was the kind of storm that threatened the little boat.  Lots of boats were lost and people drowned in storms like that.  While they were crossing the lake in that storm, they were startled when they saw what appeared to be a ghost walking on the water.

Jesus told them not to be afraid because it was him, but Peter wasn’t sure.

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:28-30)

Even though Jesus chastised him for not have enough faith, Peter still had the right response when he started to sink, “Lord, save me.”

In Isaiah, God wants the Hebrew people to come to a place where they will know and trust him.  He wanted them to follow him Moses through the Red Sea with that same kind of trust.  He wants us to follow him with that kind of trust as well.

God reminds these people who are now exiled that He is a personal God. He cares about them.  He knows their problems.  He wants to help.

Notice how these words come.  They come as a reminder of the words spoken by God to Moses in verses ten and eleven: “Before me, no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no Savior.”

God is reminding them that he is the same “I AM,” Yahweh, that spoke to Moses in the desert and led the people from slavery under Pharoah.

Why did they need any reminder about their religious heritage?  Because all these years as captives in Babylon had caused them to feel like they were sinking beneath the waves of despair, much like Peter.

It caused them to doubt, to question.  Where is God?  Does God know my name?  Does God know my pain?  Does God know we are here? Why doesn’t God come to our rescue?  Why doesn’t God deliver us from our suffering?

Has that ever happened to you?  Has life ever become so overwhelming that you wondered if God had forgotten about you or knew who you were or even cared?

All throughout scripture, the answers to these questions are consistent.  God knows us, but God does not always deliver us from suffering as we desire.  

John the Baptist was beheaded.  Jesus was nailed to a cross.  Paul remained in prison in Rome.  John was exiled to the Island of Patmos.

Yet Jesus said that there was no prophet greater than John the Baptist.

Jesus’ death on the cross is the payment for our sins in the eyes of God for all who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Paul wrote some of the most important words of scripture from prison.

Jesus revealed to John “The Revelation” while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos.

While I may not speak any words of knowledge into your specific areas of darkness, difficulty, danger, or disaster, I can say with all authority of the word of God, that I know where God is.

God is in the same place God was when the Hebrew people were in the exile.  God is in the same place He was when Peter was sinking beneath the wave.  God is in the same place He was when Jesus was sweating and praying in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faced the cross. God is in the same place He was when John the Baptist and Paul were in those prison cells. God is in the same place when John was exiled on the Island of Patmos.

God is with you.  Not only is God with you, but God knows your name.  God knows your pain.  God knows your problems and your shame.  God knows your doubts and God knows your fears.  God knows your temptations and God knows which ones you are yielding to.  God knows the way out and God knows how to restore joy to your life.  God knows how to help you transcend whatever you are facing.

With all certainty this morning, I can tell you that God will not abandon you while you are going through the waters or the fire, even if some of it is our own making, or even if you did nothing to deserve your problems.

Sometimes, the smallest drip in our lives can cause great problems but with His pinky, God can plug tsunamis.

We are going to go through the waters. Life will bring all kinds of difficult and grievous things our way.

The question is not whether we will go through these times, but when we do, will we maintain our faith? 

Even if we doubt, will we still have enough courage and honesty to be like Peter and call on the Lord and say, “Lord, save me.”

A lot of people will not do it.  They turn to everything imaginable to save them, except the Lord.

What are you turning to?

If you know in your heart that you not turning to God as you pass through the water or the fire, because God is a personal God, this is what you do.

You pray to God and you say something like this:

“God, I need you in my life.  Thank you that you are always there with me, even if I fail to acknowledge your presence.

I’ve tried too many ways to move through these waters on my own.  I feel as if I’m sinking.  I don’t like to admit it because I am proud and I like to make my own way, but I need a Savior.

I am reaching out to you, even though I don’t understand You or pretend to know all there is to know about you, but I believe that you know me and that you love me.

Reach out to me, now.  Help me.  Heal me. Lead me out of the mess I am in. Show me a new life.  Help me to solve my problems.  Forgive me of my pride and selfishness.  Teach me how to love other people.

Give me your Spirit of peace and joy.


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