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Lessons from Habakkuk

Read this message transcript from the "Minor Prophets, Major Mission" message series

Todd Dunham: It was a totally unexpected attack that shocked the people for its violence and cruelty. Nothing like it had ever been experienced before; this was a new kind of threat and a power that surprised everyone by infiltrating the very culture it intended to conquer. The terrorists came from distant, Middle Eastern places, like wind from the desert. They mocked those in authority and slipped through the national defenses. Their attacks came like an eagle from the air, and they swooped down to pounce on their prey. The results were devastating; the nation mourned its victims while the experts looked for answers. Why did this violence happen? How could such evil exist in the world? Would justice be done? Many looked to God, some for comfort and others to ask questions like, “Where is God in all this?” And some spiritual leaders boldly proclaimed that God had caused the attack as a punishment for sin, while others said God had nothing to do with it.

If what I just read to you took you back to 9/11, that was my intent. But actually, it’s a paraphrase of the first chapter of Habakkuk that I took from a book entitled, What Ticks God Off. Today we’re going to continue our series, as Brian said, based on a collection of books in the Bible called the Minor Prophets. And, Habakkuk is one of those. You have a listening guide in your program if you’d like to follow along. Pull that out, and there are a few blanks you can fill out if you feel so inclined. 

Although Habakkuk lived over 7,000 miles away from where we sit this morning and over 25 centuries ago, there are a lot of similarities to what Habakkuk was facing in his day and what we’re still dealing with in our culture right now. It’s obvious that the people in Habakkuk’s time lived differently than us; their homes looked different. Their transportation, mode of transportation, looked different; we don’t ride donkeys places. They didn’t have cell phones or internet or satellites to track your friends and family, let alone the threat of an incoming, invading nation. Yet, there are issues in their culture that we can still relate to today because they originate in the hearts of people just like you and me. And, we know that out of the overflow of the heart our mouths speak, our hands find things to do, and our feet take us places. And, the ramifications of a sinful heart can impact a whole society. 

When Habakkuk wrote his book, injustice and evil were prevalent...ran wild in his home country of Judah. And, Judah had been chosen by God to show the whole world what he was like and who he was and that all people would come to him. But, they had rebelled, and they weren’t fulfilling God’s purpose for them. Our series this summer, Minor Prophets (on a) Major Mission. Well, Habakkuk’s mission was to warn his country about the impending judgment that God was going to bring on his countrymen through these people called the Chaldeans. 

Habakkuk had a unique approach to the way he brought this warning. He didn’t deliver a sermon; he didn’t stand on the corner with a big sign and a megaphone calling out the end of times. He actually carried out a dialogue with God; it’s kind of cool. We’re actually able to listen in and learn as he has this dialogue with God and read as Habakkuk wrote, “The Law is paralyzed…” This is what he’s coming to God with. He says, “The Law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. The wicked surround the righteous, and justice goes forth perverted…” Does that sound familiar? In an audience this size, I’m sure for the next several hours we could recount injustices that we have faced. Some of you may have been...faced an injustice financially where the law was paralyzed to help you out. And maybe, some of you had a much more personal injustice that you could recount where the perpetrator or perpetrators seemed to have gotten away with it. 

I was recently in Paris, and I went with a group of guys--10 countries in 10 days. I had one day in Paris, and this is how I spent it. I was a little bit confused and disoriented down in their train systems, and I’m looking at a map. I’m asking for directions, and I caught the attention of a team of pick-pocketers. So yeah, you guys know; so of the guys bends over to pick up the change he pretended to drop, which I thought was strange. But in the moment, you’re just doing things. I...he played on my courtesy; I stepped out of the way to avoid what he was doing and right into the snare. The other guy stole my wallet, and it wasn’t because I felt anything because these guys were good. But, the whole thing seemed so weird that I immediately started feeling my pockets and made eye contact with the guy going out because I didn’t even see the other guy. But, he’s going out the doors, and as the doors are closing, I jump out and start chasing them. Now, my better judgment got the better of me...or came to me...after about 10 steps. But, why did I chase them? Because it was a violation; it was injustice. Why did I stop? Better judgment and how that might play out...and the rest of my vacation and where I would spend it. 

So, I told the officers when I got to the law; I decided I’m going to go to the law. I told the officers all the details: “It just happened a few minutes ago.” I gave them a description; I told them the exact location. I said, “You guys have video cameras, right?” They said, “Oh, yeah.” Whole group of officers...well, you guys know how the story ends. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, I found out that the law was paralyzed, that this happens everyday, all day long in Paris. So if you go, watch your pockets. Ok?

So, I experienced in a very small way what Habakkuk is taking to a very small way. Among several other losses and injustice that I’ve faced in my life that are far more severe than the one I just described. My mother was killed by a drunk driver, and it was his fourth offense. He was back out on the streets in no time, and I had questions of God. I was frustrated; I was hurt. They told us, “Your dad has little chance of survival.” He did survive by the grace of God, but at that point, I was dealing with fear, as well. The question is: When life comes at us and all these injustices and troubles like Habakkuk is facing, what do we do? 

That’s the first lesson from Habakkuk. We do as Habakkuk did; we bring our questions, our frustrations, and our fears to God. Bring your questions, frustrations, and fears to God, and there’s a wonderful promise for us from God in the book of Jeremiah regarding all our questions. When I was first introduced to this verse, it became one of my favorites instantly. I’ve always referred to since then as “God’s phone number.” Jeremiah might want to memorize it. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” How cool is that? “Call to me, and I will answer you…” So, we know God is going to answer our questions, and above and beyond that, as we seek him, he’ll tell us great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jesus promised likewise: “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, to the one who seeks, finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.” So, we can go to God and ask our questions, and he will answer. 

Habakkuk takes his questions to God, and he says…you know, he’s frustrated for the people. And, he fears what’s to come, and he asks this question of God that’s been stewing in his heart. He says, “How long, O Lord, must I cry for help?” Clearly, he had been talking with God about the situation, and for him, it is a “how long O Lord” moment. “How long, O Lord, must I cry for help?”

“How long, O Lord?” is a common question that we ask, isn’t it? All throughout history, mankind has been asking God, “How long? How long, O Lord?” I wonder how many millions of times that question has reached God’s ear. The Psalmist, as you read your Bible and go through the book of’ll see it over and over again. The Psalmist cried, “How long, O Lord?” time and time again. Job asked it; Isaiah asked it. In Revelation 6, the martyrs of the faith--those who had given their very lives for Christ--cry out asking, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” And as I’ve wrestled with this over the last few weeks in preparation for this message, this kept coming up, and I couldn’t quite get my mind around it until a few days ago. This is my conclusion, and it’s kind of a brain-bender, so stay with me. I think it will land quickly with some, and others...with me, I was like, “How do I articulate this?” I’ll say it twice. The reason why we tend to get so impatient with God is because he’s so patient with us. I’ll say it again; the reason why we tend to get so impatient with God is because he’s so patient with us. 

If that seems counter-intuitive to you, let me explain further. When I say that we’re impatient with God because he’s so patient with us, I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about us collectively...all the people God has created. He is patient with all mankind; I’m very happy that he’s patient with me, personally. I’m thankful for his mercy, his forgiveness, his grace, that he never gives up on me. The problem that I’m really faced with is that he’s patient with everyone else...the injustices that they perpetrate and the heartaches that they cause...that he’s patient with all his creation. 

We want his patience personally, don’t we? But, we also want his justice for those who’ve done us wrong. So, we cry out, “How long, O Lord?” And I don’t know about you, but I have never cried out, “How long, O Lord, are you going to put up with me?” Right? “Just crush me already, and put a little stank on it!” No, we don’t do that, do we? We cry out, “Lord, forgive me just one more time.” 

You don’t have to raise your hand, but how many times have we prayed that prayer: “Lord, have mercy on me.” We’re called to love our enemies and pray that for them, as well. The second reason we ask, “How long?” is this; we tend to look at the world through our own eyes and evaluate life based on the schedule that we would use to get things done in days and weeks and maybe years. But, God is working not only in our own lives right here this morning, but also throughout all of history over decades and centuries and millennia. When we come to God with our questions, and he says, “Come to me, and I will tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know…” we also need to remember what he told Isaiah. This is very important. He says, “I’ll answer you, but you need to understand this thing that’s true.” He says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts…” The way I think about this thing is not the way you think about this thing. “‘...Neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Meaning...I might solve it differently than you think I might and a different timeline than I might. “...As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” So, God has thoughts and ways that are far beyond what we can even comprehend if he had not revealed it to us. 

You can go to your Bible and read all throughout your Bible about things he’s revealed to us that are mind-blowing. Today, like never before, we live in an instant world, don’t we? I’ve still not quite gotten over Amazon. Amazon is amazing to me; things that originate on the other side of the world, they put all over the country, so that when I think, “I really need that,” I can get it the same day. Isn’t that crazy? Some of you act like, pfftt, “That’s the way it’s always been.” Right, if you’re young? I remember being poor, and we straightened out nails with a hammer to reuse the nail. We live in a culture that’s just right on the spot to get things that we need or want. Groceries can be delivered right to our doorstep...all kinds of food, not just pizza that we’ve had for a couple of decades, but all kinds of food, right? We can get it delivered right to our door already prepared within the hour. 

We live in a world of Instagram updates, and I happen to really enjoy Instagram now. My grandson was just born, and I can tell my friends and family all over the United States. I didn’t have to write letters to all of them; I could just “boop!,” and they all know and celebrate with me...people on the other side of the world that are missionaries that are our friends. We, people of all generations, already think in the short term, even back in Habakkuk’s day. Now more so than ever, Habbakuk reminds us that crucial outcomes happen over a long period of time...not long by our definition, by God’s definition. Crucial outcomes happen over a long period of time. That’s our second takeaway from Habakkuk. 

Habakkuk was experiencing an imminent problem in his culture, but God had a plan that would affect the course of history for thousands of years. Habakkuk had to make an adjustment in the way he was viewing things. So, the Lord answers Habakkuk’s question with this; he says, “Habakkuk, come on over here. Take a look with me. Look amongst the nations and see and wonder, be astounded. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who marched to the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own…” And if you were there, you would’ve seen Habakkuk doing a “What? Are you kidding me? They’re even more evil than the people that I’m that I’m complaining to you about!” His ways, right, not our ways. But more importantly for today’s message, we see the scale of what God is doing over the course of decades and centuries.

The current world power is Assyria, and there’s a whole story of how Assyria came to be in that power and how before and after and during. And, God is raising up these Chaldeans to bring judgment on Judah and eventually Assyria...centuries. Because God knows the outcome and it’s crucial, it’s going to take a long time by God’s standards for that all to come to pass. Crucial outcomes don’t come cheap; they don’t come easy, and they certainly don’t come quickly. And, Habakkuk had to make an adjustment in his perspective. These things happen over time.

We can all relate to this at some level. When I was two years old, I began to wrestle competitively in tournaments. My parents tell the story over and over again growing up that as soon as I was old enough to speak I had two older brothers that I would watch go off to wrestling tournaments. So I would beg, “When can I wrestle? When can I wrestle?” So as soon as you could get...and at that point where I grew up you could get your first USA wrestling card when you were two years old...I was official. By the time I was five, I had stacks of medals and trophies; I took to it like a duck to water. And at about five or six years of age, I went to a tournament with my dad; he coached high school wrestling. It was the state tournament, and it was a coliseum that we went to that for a five or six year old, even for adults...there’s literally 20,000 that could fit into this. Thousands of people cheering the name of the contestants, and I was hooked. Man, I want some of that. And then at the finals, there’s a spot down on two people, and they’re chanting his name. It’s like, “That is so cool! And, I totally want that.” I was hooked. I wanted to be a state champion; now, every one of my friends wanted to be a state champion, as well, but not many of them were willing to put in the time that it took for that put in the sweat and the pain. 

Now, I’ve never shown these pictures before, and that’s me, when I was half the man. There’s some articles about how that played out; that I did finally become a state champion, and yeah, it was cool. All kinds of newspapers all around the country...that was when I was voted the outstanding wrestler in Colorado that year and written up in USA Today. That took 16 years for that outcome, and it wasn’t really all that crucial, but it took a lot of years. We can relate to that. Building a career takes decades, doesn’t it? The majority of our adult decades, all the way through our adulthood...30, 40, 50 years...the majority of our adult lives. about a crucial outcome! According to God, how I parent my children will have an impact for generation for generation for generation. Here’s a picture of me and my wife and our four sons and our addition of a daughter-in-law, and yes, she was pregnant in that. Here’s another picture of that next generation; I had a dad and a grandfather and a great-grandfather, and how they parented affected me and affected Christopher and Caledon. Contrary to the idea that parenting is an 18-year gig, it’s a life-long commitment. Now, the relationship changes over time, but I’ll always be a father of four sons. And in every season of their lives, I’ll continue to offer unconditional love, Biblical counsel, and support in any way I can and that makes sense and is helpful for our changing relationship. 

The things that God has planned for us today, guys, for you and me, whooo, they’re far, far grander. In fact, we know that God has a master plan, and he says that “eye has not seen nor ear has heard nor can the mind even comprehend the things he has prepared for us in heaven. For now, even though we experience many joys in this life, things are not quite perfect. We can enjoy our children and our grandchildren, right? We can work toward a successful career or pursue something that’s a personal goal, like being a state champion, and those bring us joy and satisfaction. But for now, as the apostle Paul writes in the New Testament, “All creation…” That’s the world and everything in it...every living being...the world and everything. “All creation waits in eager expectation…” 

What are they waiting for? What are we all waiting for? For things to be set right. “All creation waits in eager expectation and has been subjected to frustration and has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, right up to this present time.” Now, Paul wrote this 2,000 years ago, and it’s still true today because the time that sin entered the world...the Fall of Man as we call it...until now things have been off kilter. They’re not right yet; we have joys. We have things that we find joy in, but things are not quite right. And what’s more powerful than what Paul just states there that we understand that this thing has been all creation for all of time that we’ve known it is this conclusion he comes to on the matter. He says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be…” ...that is to be… That’s the perspective we’re supposed to gain. That’s the perspective that Habakkuk had to gain and eventually did gain. Something is happening on an epic scale that far surpasses our current hardships. The current injustices that Habakkuk saw amongst his people that God’s trying to get his...adjust his perspective on...that we face and we need to adjust our perspective on. One day it will all be set right; until then, we bring our questions, our frustrations, and our fears to God. We remember that crucial outcomes happen over a long period of time. 

Our third lesson from Habakkuk is that we continue to walk in faith. Now, many times we speak about faith in regards to the things not yet seen, like heaven. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is being certain of the things we do not yet see.” But what about the faith it takes in spite of everything you see, like Habakkuk saw, and still walking and trusting the Lord. What about that kind of faith? Let me just illustrate in some small way. I’ve asked Ben Beck to come on up and help me out to illustrate this. It’s important, as he’s walking up here; the only thing he knows is that I’ve asked him to help me out with an object lesson. So Ben, how long have we known each other? (Ben responds, “10, 12 since…”) 10, 12 years now, okay? So, you were in grade school, then middle school, then high school; now you’re a young adult. You know I was a science teacher, right? (Ben says, “Uh huh.”) For those of you who don’t know, I taught science for about 20 years, and I had all kinds of fun with my students, as well. And, I’m going to have some fun with you today. So, I want you to stand right up here, and face the audience.

Let me see, Ben. You do have faith in me? Yes? Okay, I’ll try not to fail you in that. Let’s see; I’ve got to get a few things ready, though, for this object lesson. Let’s make sure things... You can look; it’s not too bad. (laughter in background) Yeah, so… You’re a guy who likes to collect these things, don’t you? You have some knives don’t you? Probably...I’ve got to check this one out  Let’s see here; let me make sure… ok. This one tends to get stuck. Yep, see? I don’t want that to happen. (laughter in background) So, you feeling a little nervous? (Ben replies, “Maybe…”) See, I told you I didn’t tell him. The good news is that I’m not going to use any of this stuff. Alright? We’re just going to put it back in the box. Feel a little bit better? 

Alright, so here’s the deal. He’s liking that. Ben, what I am going to ask you to do is… This cup and this bottle of water... put that cup in that hand; put this bottle in this hand. Undo that lid, and pour about a half a cup of water, if you would. I’m going to have to get a stool to do this object lesson...put it behind you...because what I’m going to do, Ben, is...oh, yeah, let me get that off...I’ll do, I’m going to just tell you; I’m going to take the bottom of that cup. I’m going to  get up high enough, and I’m going to hold only the bottom of the cup, and I’m going to turn it upside down over your head. What does everything tell you that you see? What’s going to happen? (Ben says, “Might need another shirt…” as crowd laughs) Other side...come over this way. So, you’re going to get wet is what everything you see tells you? (Ben replies, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.) Alright, I’m going to try, Ben.

What you didn’t see, Ben...that’s that I did indeed turn this cup upside down. But, I had you covered. Just like God, many times, only tells us part of the much as we can handle. Then, we’ve got to trust him, and that’s what was happening over your head. That was pretty cool. Yeah. Let’s give him a hand. (audience applauds) I really do thank Ben for doing that, because we all got to experience something. We didn’t just see it; we experienced it, and it’s called faith in action. Our trust in action...and that’s really what faith is, isn’t it? It’s in spite of everything you see, trusting the Lord. 

Now, I didn’t tell him this; I thought about telling him this, but that’s never gone wrong before. I’m a little thirsty, so I’m going to take a drink, too. But, there’s a chance it could have. I’m not infallible like God. I had a backup illustration point if that went wrong. Until God sets everything right, we walk in faith, and we say as Habakkuk said, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the field yields no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herds in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

In an agricultural society where you literally eat the fruit of your labor, Habakkuk goes before God, and he says from his perspective regarding the people he sees no fruit. In fact, he can’t even find a blossom which is absolute prerequisite for there to be any chance of fruit. And to be thorough of his dismal assessment of what’s going on, he says there’s no livestock either, so no produce, no meat which is just about everything you need to survive in that culture. What he’s saying is that the situation with his people seemed utterly without hope. Therefore, he was without hope, but God helps Habakkuk shift his perspective and fix his eyes not on his present circumstances but on what was to be. Habakkuk chose faith, and he acted in faith and said, “I will rejoice in the Lord.” 

How did he do that? How do we do that when it’s not just a cup of water. When maybe it’s the loss of your job or the end of your career, and you’re disoriented. Maybe it was an unjust way the way you ended your career. Maybe you lost a loved one like I lost a loved one. When the world seems to be out of their right mind every time you watch the news on social issues...answer? We begin to see things the way God sees things. We get a perspective shift. How do we get that perspective shift? By doing what we are doing right now; we come together for worship. Tomorrow morning we read our Bibles, and we talk to God. And, we take our questions to God, and over the course of a lifetime, another crucial outcome is that we begin to get God’s angle on things. We get his perspective.

It’s a perspective that assures me I can ask questions, and he will answer me and tell me great and unsearchable things I do not know. And, it’s a perspective that reminds me that God is dealing with a timeline far beyond my own life, and a perspective that grants me great faith knowing that with absolute certainty God is both faithful and just in perfection. His justice is perfect for me, for you, for the guy who stole my wallet. It took me all of about two or three minutes to start praying for those guys. “God, have mercy on them. God, save them. How desperate of a life do you have to have to do that? Change the way they see the world. Bring somebody into their life that would do that.”

His faithfulness endures all things. As the band comes up, I want to point out a key part of Habakkuk’s final remarks. Habakkuk wrote, “I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” This salvation that Habakkuk speaks of is found in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. If you have questions about who Jesus is or how salvation works, you can take them to God. You can bring those questions to your Bible. If you want, I’d be glad to talk to you after the service, or you could go out to the New to Hope Pavilion out on Main Street, and they have people out there that would be glad to help you walk through some of your questions.

The Bible assures us that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Let’s pray. Thank you, Lord, that we can come to You and cast all our cares on You, all our questions, all our hurts, all our fears. Help us, Lord, to have a more eternal perspective; shift our perspective to Your angle on things, on this life that You’ve given us. And, strengthen us, Lord; increase our faith now, so that when we walk through the valleys in this life we will fear no evil but we’ll walk in faith. Amen.