Morning Encouragement

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.

~Lamentations 3:19-29 (ESV)

God’s Gift of People

supportI was studying in 2 Timothy 4 this morning where in verse 9, Paul tells Timothy to “do your best to come to me soon.”  Clearly, as Paul goes on in that passage, some things have not gone well. He has been abandoned by everyone, even having one guy, Alexander the Coppersmith,  doing him “great harm.”  I don’t know if he is speaking of harm ministerially or personally, but having gone through similar circumstances, I can tell you that it’s likely both.  It’s hard to be harmed ministerially without feeling it personally and visa-versa.

What Paul says demonstrates something very important: even though Paul says a few verses later that God’s presence and deliverance was all he ultimately needed, he greatly desired the personal touch of someone who would support and encourage him.  That being his dear son in the faith, Timothy.

During my first shoulder surgery two years ago, I felt very alone.  It was a really difficult time in my life when Karen couldn’t get off work and I was at the hospital going through surgery completely alone.  I remember how difficult that was for me.  I desired for there to be someone to “come to me soon.”

This time was very different.  Karen was able to get off work and I had so many people calling and posting messages of support, telling me that they were praying for me right then or had just prayed for me (which gives comfort even more than a simple “I will pray for you”.  Not that that’s in any way bad and much appreciated, but we know how often we say that and then unintentionally forget to actually pray).

At the end of the day, like Paul recognized, God’s presence and provision is all that we really need.  However, so much of His provision is channeled through human beings.  I don’t ever want to forget that.  I want to make every effort to be fully present in the lives of those around me that I’ve been privileged to have in my life.

What about you?  Can you remember a time in your life where you felt abandoned and alone or where you felt so blessed to be surrounded by those who cared and delivered God’s provision to you?   What was that like and what did you learn from that experience?  If you’d be willing to share your wisdom, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

When It’s Good to be in a Gang

Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered.  I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it.  The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well).  Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility.  Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen.  Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).

Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not.  Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed.  In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1).  That’s what is troubling.  I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.

I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a)  It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy.  Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence.  Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah.  He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.

Wow, that’s it right there.  Momentary pleasure.  Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives.  This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it.  Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over.  Clean knock-out.  As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)

In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”.  Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort.  One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it.  In other words, we should never be standing still!  The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing?  Which one do I focus on more?  The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of.  Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness.  It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness.  I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise.  So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!

The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice.  It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”.  However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.

This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”.  It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation.  If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.

Call for the Question

      

OK, admittedly, this kind of post is dangerous and can be a set-up for a flop if nobody responds, but I’m gonna do it anyway (so I hope you don’t leave me hanging).

Backstory: I used to have a very active and time-consuming blog called Espresso Roast.  I still keep it actively online, though it’s in moth balls, because I put a lot of work into the articles and will reference stuff from there from time to time as I did here.  I enjoyed writing on it very much, later added a few friends to contribute along with me for a short time, and developed a pretty decent following.  It was much more “article-driven” primarily about worldview issues, since I was working on a ThM in that field at the time.  I really started to burn out, though, and the big blogging explosion that had begun early in the last decade started waning a bit.  After shutting down active blogging there, I scaled back considerably and wrote only the occasional post of things that interested me on a different, personal journal/blog.  

That brings me to today.  I’m being drawn back into more active writing mode and would really like for it to be something that is a real encouragement to you (since you’re here reading this now), where you are.  So, along with writing about things that I think are important and offering general pastoral encouragement and insights, I’d like to incorporate things that you might be specifically interested in.  From a biblical worldview perspective, I’d like to attempt to answer questions and tackle subjects you may have and at least begin a dialogue so that, together, we can come to a clearer sense of truth in our lives than perhaps we could on our own.  There are other pastors who come by occasionally, too, so maybe we’ll get some objective contributors to the issue from those sources, as well.

For those of you reading who are a part of The Gathering, admittedly we don’t spend a great deal of time looking at “topical” stuff, dealing instead with topics as they arise within the context of a book of the Bible we happen to be going through at the time (which is by far the best approach anyway, imho).  Maybe this is a forum in which we can pursue the topics/personal issues and questions more directly.  

So, I’m putting it out there and giving you an opportunity to give me an idea as to what you’d like to see addressed, questions that you struggle with finding the answers to, or just subjects that you think a conversation would be interesting to engage in.  No honest question is off-base and since some topics require more time to address, they may not pop up immediately, but I will somehow address them.

Well, there you have it.  If you have any input, please leave a comment below.  I get a lot of comments on FB, Google+, etc. on things I post here, but I’d appreciate having comments for this post, in particular, compiled here.

This invitation will remain open so that if there are no immediate topics or questions that come up, you can always ask later.  Thanks!

Signpost for the Wilderness:

“Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness, it is not all briars and barrenness.  I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock, light by day, fire by night, thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.  I am sometimes discouraged by the way, but though winding and trying, it is safe and short;”

excerpt from:

The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers and Devotion.

Real Community

I’ve been thinking about the real purpose of church and what we’re supposed to be about.  Ultimately, of course, it’s to glorify Christ by making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20), but how do we do that together…as a church; a family?

Hebrews 10:24-25 came to mind:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

This is all about purpose of meeting together.  Not just on Sundays, but every time we’re together, whether in person or via email or phone, or Facebook and Twitter.  In whatever context it might be, this should be the goal.

The reality is that we’re going to spur one another on.  The question remains to what?  Clearly, what honors Christ is to stir up/encourage/challenge/spur on each other to love and good works.  When we fail to do this with intentionality, we always sink to the lowest denominator–it’s in our nature.  So, let’s do it.  Let’s think up ways we can challenge each other to godliness and love and good works together and risk actually doing it, because time marches on and Jesus is coming back…and the world continues to die without Him.

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