Saturday, September 10, 2016

Slow down and keep the lights on

Slow down and keep the lights on

“When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭2:12-13‬

The joy and passion of Paul's life was to preach to gospel, especially to those who did not have the hope of Christ. However, there were times when Paul would become restless in his spirit because of the burdens that he carried. In Troas, his restlessness was so intense that he was unable to remain there even though he was making an impact for Christ. It appears that he had no peace in his heart because of the problems and struggles of the Corinthians, to whom he also ministered the gospel. So although he had great opportunity to minister the gospel in Troas, he needed to find relief for his anxious spirit. He needed to hear how things were going among the Corinthians, how where they responding to his reproofs and instruction? Therefore he left Troas to find Titus, who could bring some perspective that could calm his anxious spirit.      

Ray Stedman writes, "I think he could see, as he was waiting there [Troas] in those weeks and months, that, perhaps, all his labors in Corinth were about to fall apart. He must have been gripped by the great sense of personal failure that, in the visits he had made to Corinth, in the letters he had written to them, there was no way, seemingly, to work out this terrible problem that was eating at the life of this church and threatening to destroy the work he had done. In the midst of that sense of failure and pressure and anxiety he was given this great opportunity, but he could not lay hold of it. He left Troas and went up into Macedonia instead, hoping to find Titus there and find some relief for his troubled mind.
Now I do not know if any of you have ever felt that way or not, but I have. I know what it means to be called on to preach and teach the Word of God at times when my heart was so filled with anxiety and distress that I did not know whether I could open my mouth or not. So I understand what Paul felt, and I feel many of you do too, as he so honestly shares this with us."

‬‬Sometimes as Pastors, we think that we can't let others see us sweat. We believe that we are to be a model of strength and invincibility. Nothing is suppose to get us down. And we our to display this unwavering stability while, among other things, bearing the burdens of others, counseling a couple on the verge of divorce, comforting a member fighting cancer, casting a vision for the new year, delivering fresh sermons week after week, receiving criticism with humility, dealing with the unexpected. We also must devote time for prayer, sermon preparation, not to mention our own families. And no matter what struggles and challenges a Pastor may have faced during the week, come Sunday morning, he must be ready to go.

But the truth is that although a Pastor derives much joy in fulfilling the call of God, we have are ups and downs. There are mountain top experiences and there are valleys. There are times when we have great clarity about what we need to do, and other times when our head seems to be in a fog.

Like Paul, we not only can become restless, but our restlessness is compounded when we do not take the steps necessary to find relief. We often don't take the steps because we think we are suppose to be strong for others. And sadly, Pastors often struggle for long periods of time without anyone knowing. They keep it all inside, until they reach a breaking point that could have been avoided. We fail to realize that great men that have been mightily used by God have had seasons where they've found themselves down in the dumps. And we know about it because, under the inspiration of the Spirit, they wrote about their struggles and how they cried out to God in their weaknesses. If this were not the case, we would not have the book of Psalms that have brought comfort to so many.

In the Psalms, we read about David, who wrote about times when he was in a horrible pit and waited on the Lord, who inclined unto him and heard his cry. We learn that God is not only the God of the mountain, but that he's still God in the valley. He's the God of the good times and the bad times. And though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don't have to fear, for God is with us. Through the raw transparency of the Psalmists, who turned to God for help in times of need, we learn how to do the same and are comforted by God.    

Now, as we have seen, Paul also shared that he had times when he was burdened and sought comfort. In 2 Cor. 2:12, he wrote that his spirit was not at rest and in 2 Cor. 7:5-7 he writes that his body had no rest. And it appears that this restlessness caused him to become downcast. He writes, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more" (‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭7:5-7).‬

In a message on overcoming depression, David Jeremiah said, "Our bodies and spirt are so close together that sometimes they catch each other's diseases." In other words, when our bodies are not well due to sleepless nights, sickness or some other malady, it can effect our mood. On the other hand, anxiousness and restlessness, brought on by stress, can effect you physically. In fact, being under too much stress, can so effect a person's spirit and body that it can lead to, among other things, heart disease and death. And as much as we may think so, Pastors are not exempt.

How did Paul find the comfort of God when he was restless? He found it through his friend Titus. In fact, we learn that he took a leave of absence (2 Cor. 2:12-13) to look for Titus to find relief for his troubled mind. Paul could find comfort by seeking God directly. But sometimes God's comfort comes through others.

“It is God who ultimately comforts the depressed, but sometimes He uses people to deliver His comfort. Find a Titus for yourself. This may be a professional counselor, a support group, or someone who is older than you (or at least older in the faith). It could be an elder in your church, a pastor, or a businessperson. Take the initiative to approach a potential Titus and say, “Can we have coffee together sometime? I need to talk about something I’m going through.” I’ve been honored to have several Tituses in my life. These are people who love Jesus and who love me—in that order. They’re around if you’ll keep your eyes open for them. In this season of life, don’t make the mistake of thinking you are self-sufficient. God made you a part of His “body, and each part needs the others to survive" (Cordeiro, Wayne. “Leading on Empty.” Baker Publishing Group, 2009).

My dear sister Pam recently shared with me that she was driving home from out of state when at night she encountered some fog. As much as she wanted to keep going at the same speed, she had to slow down. Knowing that I've been in a season of weariness and restlessness, she advised me, "You ran into some fog. God is still in control. Slow down and keep the lights on."

Are you restless and downcast because of the burdens of life and ministry? Find a trusted friend that you can be vulnerable with, who will listen, pray and speak God's truth into your life. Discouragement is often the temporary loss of perspective. A Titus can be the light you need to get you through the fog. And sometimes you may even need to take a detour or pull over to get the relief you need. This is not always easy for a Pastor to do. But trying to maintain the same speed when the fog rolls in will lead to a crash. God is still in charge even when the fog rolls in. Slow down and keep the lights on.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Greet one another (Solitude vs. Isolation)

Greet one another
1 Cor. 16:19-21

“The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭16:19-21‬

Sometime ago, a book I read on church growth, suggested that it wasn't a good idea to have a "meet and greet" time during a church service. According to somebodies research, apparently visitors may be turned off by this and not return. I also heard this topic being discussed on a Christian radio program where a few Christians called in to express how much they disdained the meet and greet time. Some suggested that it felt forced. One person expressed their disdain by saying that it may put them in an uncomfortable position of having to shake hands with someone that they were at odds with. To these two responses I would ask, why should it feel forced? If you're greeted by somebody you were not expecting to run into at a store, would you feel that you were being forced into exchanging pleasantries? And if you were at odds with someone in the church, should the Christian response be to avoid that person. Doesn't the bible say, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew‬ ‭5:23-24).

Why would a Christian view the meet and greet time as something that is being forced upon them, instead of an opportunity to express unity and love? Perhaps an unsaved person, who is anti-social may be uncomfortable with being welcomed and greeted by a stranger? However, the culture of the church, which should be welcoming to all, should not be hijacked by someone who doesn't like being around people. In fact, even businesses teach their employees to be courteous and welcoming to customers.

It is true that we live in a world, where people are self absorbed, rude, and standoffish. On my block, very few neighbors take the time and initiative to get to know each other. And if you never say hi to them, they wouldn't lose any sleep. I have a neighbor or two, that seem to avoid making eye contact so that they don't have to say hi. As a Christian, should I allow the culture to influence me, or do I seek to be a godly influence on the culture? As Christians, we should look for ways to get to know our neighbors and build relationships with them, not only because it's the right thing to do, but with the hope of sharing Christ with them. And often times, if we don't take the initiative, if we don't look for ways to break the ice, it's not going to happen.

A Pastor friend (Jon Hoekema) recently shared these honest thoughts on Facebook:

Sometimes God annoys me. Not in the way that traffic annoys me, where I just get frustrated, but in the way a child annoys a parent by asking the same question over and over and over again.

Over the last year, God has really been telling me to really get to know my neighbors. I know who they are, at least most of them. After all, we've been living on this street for 12 1/2 years. Our kids play with their kids. We know a bit about them, but don't really know them. So, God has been saying to me, "invite them over."

So, for the past 4 weeks, we've invited our neighbors over twice - for a fire in the fire pit on a summer Sunday evening, and a BBQ before our towns end of summer fireworks, and in a few weeks, we're going to invite them over for another fire in the fire pit, just to hang out.
After the first gathering, our neighbors all said, "Why haven't we done this before?" and "We need to do this again!"

After hearing stories and getting to know them, I'm beginning to call our street "the United Nations of Bluebird Drive" since we have immigrants from Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Poland, and Mexico.

It really has been fun to get to know them. Within 4 weeks, I have people on our street waving to me that would otherwise pass me by. People stop by and talk with one another that haven't talked with each other before.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. How could I love them if I didn't even know them? How could I be Jesus in the flesh without being in relationship with them?

I am looking forward to what Gods' annoying me over the last year will lead to!"

We all will have times for various reasons when we don't feel very sociable. We all have are moments, but this should not be the norm, and if it is, we need to check our hearts. In addition, a Christian should seek times of solitude. The Psalmist wrote, ““Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms‬ ‭46:10‬). But there's a difference between solitude and isolation. “Solitude is a chosen separation for refining your soul. Isolation is what you crave when you neglect the first...Solitude is a healthy and prescriptive discipline; isolation is a symptom of emotional depletion” (Wayne Cordeiro). We should be serving the Lord, not on empty, but from the overflow of are dynamic love relationship with Jesus.

So if your craving isolation, this may be a sign that something is not right within. Examine your heart. It can be unconfessed sin, shame, bitterness or, as Wayne suggested, it could be that you are depleted emotionally. Wherever you are, the first step to coming out of isolation is to be deeply rooted in Christ and the gospel. Jesus died so that we can find forgiveness, and acceptance in a loving relationship with the Father. You may also need to seek the help of a friend, Pastor or counsellor that can assist you with other factors for why you're isolating yourself, like being emotionally depleted. Resist your feelings and the lies of the enemy that you are alone in this world. God loves us and he ordained that we grow in Christ in community.

We are called to minister to others, but we also need to be ministered to. And we may need it the most when we don't feel like we do. We also need to keep in mind that often the person that you notice isolating themselves, that is avoiding others, is the one that may need your sincere greeting and caring attention the most.

On that same radio program I mentioned earlier, one professing Christian said that they intentionally go to church late in order to avoid the meet and greet time. I don't think that this is just a matter of preference, but an issue of the heart. If we do not welcome the opportunity to welcome and greet others in church, I wonder if we are looking for opportunities to welcome and greet unbelievers outside of the church. If we can't muster up enough energy to say hello to our neighbor, I doubt if we would ever be a strong witness for Christ. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans‬ ‭15:5-7‬).

Monday, August 29, 2016

Uncompromising Neglect

Uncompromising Neglect
Numbers 11:11-20

“Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” But he said to them, “The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭10:9-11‬

Moses had a call from God upon his life, namely to lead the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, which was ruled by Pharaoh. Pharaoh's refusal and Moses' obedience brought much confusion and chaos. And yet God would work through it all to show His power and glory, as He used Moses to bring the people out from under Egyptian rule unto the promise land. Moses stayed the course in the face of many pressures to compromise what God called him to do.

He obviously did not have the support of Pharaoh, but there were times when he did not have the support and cooperation of his own people. Although he stayed the course, he did have moments when he felt exasperated, overwhelmed, and even wanted to quit. He doubted if he was fit for the job in the first place. When the people complained about food, we read, “Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” Numbers‬ ‭11:11-15‬

It's important for Pastors to know that the demands of ministry and the expectations of others will always exceed our capacity. And like Moses, we will have moments where we will feel so inept that we want to give up and quit. Moses said, "I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me" (Num. 11:14). Moses felt that he couldn't handle it anymore. He was at the point of wanting God to take him out. This was partly due to not only feeling overwhelmed, but feeling that he was letting God down and his people. He was sick of seeing his own wretchedness (Num. 11:15).

When we feel weighed down by the pressures of life, work or ministry, we can end up making wrong decisions. We may feel like quitting or we may be tempted to compromise. While dealing with Pharaoh in Egypt, Moses was asked to compromise. At one point, Pharaoh tried to get Moses and the men to agree to leave Egypt without their families. He said, "Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking." (Exodus 10:11). Under pressure to get the job done, many men have neglected and even forsaken their families. We move forward thinking we are doing what God wants us to do, but in the process, we leave our families behind. And that is certainly something we can't afford to do.

In his book Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeiro wrote, “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you are keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same."

So how do we juggle it all? We need to first of all accept the fact that we may be juggling more than God intends. There's some balls that we may need to temporarily or even permanently drop to focus on certain priorities that we cannot afford to compromise. Some have called it, intentional neglect. I'm calling it, uncompromising neglect.

There are somethings that we can delegate, but there are others thing we must do ourselves. No one can rest for you. No one can exercise for you. No one can spend time at the feet of Jesus for you. And although a Pastor seems to always be in demand, there are others that can help. However, when it comes to the needs of the family, there's only one father and one husband.

What did Moses do when he felt like he was being crushed under the weight of it all? He cried out to God. He told God exactly how he felt. And God didn't fire him. Instead, God told him to gather seventy men to bear the burden of the people with him (Numbers 11:16). And that some of the anointing of the Spirit, the giftedness that he had, he was going to give to them. God said, “And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers‬ ‭11:17‬). In addition, God said, that he would provide more food for the people to eat (Numbers 11:19-20).

Interestingly, God didn't give more anointing to Moses so that he could work harder. He gave what Moses had, to others. As Pastors, we are not suppose to do ministry as if it all depends on us. We should be working ourselves out of a job, so to speak. We are suppose to be making disciples that make disciples and that know how to seek God's provision to feed themselves. Moses would eventually be succeeded by Joshua, who would be the one to lead the people into the promise land.

What makes us think even for a second that it all depends on us? Sometimes it's pride. We want to be in control. Sometimes it's the fear of man. It can also be that the pressures of ministry are leading us to feel like we're alone.  Moses said to God, "I am not able to carry all this people alone" (Number 11:14). But he wasn't alone. God was with him and he also had others around him that could help him and be used by God.

When we think it all depends on us, we fail to develop leaders and give others the opportunity to experience God working in their lives. We begin to neglect things that we can't afford to neglect, like our health and our families. And we will eventually hit a wall and feel like we just can't do it anymore.

I found myself there. I hit that wall. I started to think that I'm not able to bear the responsibility of being a Pastor anymore. But, I cried out to God. And he has reminded me once again that I'm not alone. And that it doesn't depend on me. He called me and anointed me for the task that he assigned to me, namely to present others mature in Christ. And he has not only anointed me, but he has anointed others to bear the burdens with me.

God has shown me that it's okay to drop the ball sometimes, or to give it to someone else, especially when other things of greater priority are at stake. To finish the race strong, we will need to go in for pit stops to rest and refuel. Staying the course and finishing strong requires uncompromising neglect.

Friday, August 26, 2016

When you're overwhelmed

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke‬ ‭11:13‬

Should a believer pray for the Holy Spirit? This is a hot topic in the evangelical world. Many Christians divide over how they answer this question. I don't want to get into all the controversies over the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But I do recognize that there are many that seem to overemphasize the work of the Spirit in ways that lead to abuses. And then there are those who seem to deemphasize the work of the Spirit, which I believe can lead to an absence of the work of the Spirit. Personally, I have increasingly sensed my need for the work of the Spirit in my life and have been a beneficiary of that work. I've experienced, among other things, the conviction, comfort, and controlling power of the Spirit in my life. I've known his enablement to perform specific task. Although I believe that it's vital for a Christian to sense their need for the Spirit's work in their lives, I have also discovered that we must be aware of certain limitations. The Holy Spirit Himself is unlimited in His abilities, but He does not give believers unlimited abilities to serve the kingdom of God anywhere and at anytime. The Holy Spirit is measured in how He operates in our lives. The bible teaches that believers are given a variety of gifts, for variety of service. Paul wrote:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭12:4-11.

So we do not all have the same gifts, or the same degree of empowerment or the same capacity to serve God. It all varies in each one and in every opportunity to serve. Now, if we fail to understand how the Spirit operates in our lives, we can become overwhelmed by the many needs in our world. God's grace is sufficient (unlimited) for every work, but He's not asking us to do every work, or meet every need. And if we attempt to do so, we will burnout. God gives us special grace in a measured way for the assignments that he ordains for our lives.

Now, Jesus indeed promised that He would not fail to give good things to those who persistently seek Him in prayer (Matthew 7:7). And in Luke 11:13, we learn that the good things/gifts come through the Holy Spirit that He gives to those who ask. But why should we ask for the Spirit, if the bible teaches that believers are already in dwelt by Him (Rom 8:9-11). Because although He resides in the believer, there are a variety of ways that He can empower believers and be manifested in their lives (1 Cor. 12: 6-7). So when we pray for the Holy Spirit, we are praying for Him to be manifested in our lives, not only for our good, but for the common good of others (1 Cor. 12:7; Philip 4:13;).

God is pleased to grant us the strength, abilities and endurance that we need to accomplish all that He ordains for our lives. But here's the danger. He has not ordained for us to do all things. Yes, Paul did say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philip 4:13). But this does not me that we are to do all things. Once again, it means that we can do all the things that He has ordained.

We live in a day where there are many needs. And because of the technologies available to us, like the internet, smart phones and social media, we are finger tips away from accessing an abundance of information. We can get up to the minute news about terrorism attacks, earthquake and tornadoes that are taking place thousands of miles away.  We also live in a time where people have the ability to reach us via cell phone anywhere at anytime and vice versa.  People assume today that when they text someone that they need to respond immediately. Therefore some people receiving text messages feel the need to respond immediately so as not to offend. This kind of instant access has added stress and pressures upon people's lives that did not exists 20 or 30 years ago. An article posted by the Stress management society on the Most common stressors of modern life, states the following:

"With the growing pressures of modern technology, few of us ever really ‘switch off’. Everywhere you look, someone is on a mobile device, some checking their work emails. The problem that we face is that we are constantly connected. Just because we physically leave the workplace this doesn’t mean we leave our workload, demand and pressure behind nor does it mean that we divert our mind from work.

Many people will get home and the first thing they do is go to check is their work emails, to see if anything urgent has come up. We don’t give ourselves time to disconnect from the real world, and this is making us feel stressed and overwhelmed...People are feeling more and more anxious when they are without their mobile phone as it takes away the sense of security they feel when they are accessible to other people. This in turn creates a distance between them and their loved ones and they can often feel a sense of loneliness or isolation.

Although people seemed to manage fine before the invention of mobile phones, people have now become psychologically attached to their phones and fear they may miss something of urgency without it. So much so it can now be seen as one of the causes of stress in modern day life."

When you consider  the needs of our world, coupled with the extraordinary means we have to be in the know, if we are not callous, we can easily become overwhelmed.

So how do we as Christians, who are called to care about the needs of the world, deal with this modern phenomenon?  On an ask Pastor John episode, a concern believer asked a similar question: “In our overly digital and connected age, I often feel so overwhelmed with how much global and local suffering I feel both a desire and a Christian obligation to stay informed on, pray for, and be involved in. Sex trafficking, Syrian refugees, homeless people in my city, the Black Lives and Blue Lives Matter movements, abortion activism, suffering members of my church, reaching the unreached, and on and on it goes. I want to pray, but I find it so overwhelming because the prayer list is so long, and I want to act but I am paralyzed by how much there is to do. I truly believe this stems from a lack of deep heart conviction of God’s sovereignty. Could you maybe share how you stay balanced and aware in praying and acting for the pain and suffering around the world? And specifically how does your belief in God’s sovereignty in the midst of this suffering effect the way you live and pray?”

You can find the entire transcript here:

In one of the points that John made to answer this critical question, he stated. "Trust God for the grace to do the good he expects you — not others — to do, and then do the good in your path, like the Good Samaritan did. Second Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound” — now, how you interpret this next phrase is the difference between despair and joyful hope — “you may abound in every good work.” Does that mean God gives you the grace and the sufficiency at all times in every way in every place to do the good work that a Christian in China is expected to do this afternoon? No. No. No. “Every good work” there means, every one appointed for you — which is a wonderfully liberating thing. You will never be asked to do a good work for which this verse is not true. Every grace will be there for you to do it. God doesn’t intend for you to look at thirty good works, know you can only do five today, and feel guilty about twenty-five. He absolutely does not want that to be the case. That is why this verse is in the Bible. And so, yes, there will be grace for every good work."

Only God can bare the burdens of the world on his shoulders. And although God graces us to bare the burdens of others, we are by God's decree limited in what we can do. In addition, we have spiritual and physical needs of our own that we must attend too and our own families to care for. There's also the principle of rest that God has decreed so that our bodies can be replenished in which the Spirit of God works.

So to keep from being overwhelmed by the insanity, we must regularly disconnect from this instant access world. We must trust that our Sovereign God rules in the affairs of men even when we are offline. We must give ourselves time to rest, spend time with God, and be present with our families. Our God, who neither slumbers or sleeps, (Psalm 121:4), has it all under control.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dark nights of the soul and rejoicing in the Holy Spirit

"Dark nights of the soul and rejoicing in the Holy Spirit" (Luke 10:17-21)

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Luke‬ ‭10:17-21‬

There are many things that people find joy in and rejoice over. But what one person rejoices over may not mean much to someone else. Also, what a person rejoices over today, may not bring joy to them tomorrow. Life has many twist and turns. Things change and people change. But there is a joy that comes through the Spirit of God, who reveals to us the truths found in God's unchanging word. Peter wrote, “for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter‬ ‭1:24-25).

When Jesus was born, the Angel of the Lord said to the shepherds abiding in the field, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:10-11‬). What is the good news of great joy? The good news is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners through His sacrifice on the cross. The good news is that He rose again from the dead, demonstrating His power over death and the grave. The good news is that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but receive the free gift of eternal life (1 Cor. 15:1-4; John 3:16).

In Luke 10:17, the disciple were rejoicing over the fact that they had authority over demons in the name of Jesus. However, Jesus pointed out that there was something much greater that they should be rejoicing over, namely that their names were written in Heaven. Jesus wasn't saying that it was a sin to rejoice over the authority they had over demons, any more than it would be wrong to rejoice over getting a promotion at work or buying a house. What Jesus is saying is that these things pale in comparison to the promise of Heaven. The blessings and sufferings of this life will fade away in the light of the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Therefore what Jesus was getting at was that He didn't want the ultimate source of their happiness to be in lesser things. Lesser things will eventually fail us and disappoint us. But when the well of our joy is in Christ and the hope that we have in Him, we will be able to rejoice in all circumstances.

In recent months, I have been battling with severe fatigue that seems to come in waves. Along with feelings of mental and physical exhaustion, which makes it hard to concentrate, I feel anxious and downcast. The normal pressures of life and work, which I could find joy in, now often overwhelm me. I have trouble sleeping through the night and when I wake up, a feeling of panic seems to come over me. I'm bombarded with thoughts that make mountains out of molehills. The saints of old would call experiences like these, Dark nights of the soul.

As I've examined my heart before the Lord, and I don't believe that God is disciplining me because of sin in my life, but I do believe that He is fashioning me and  purifying me. I believe he wants my roots to go deeper into Christ, the fountain of joy. He's wants to bring me to a place where my identity is clearly found in who I am in Christ, not in what I do for others in the name of Christ, or the approval of man.

I believe that much of what I'm going through is related to some physical deficiencies in my body that must be replenished. This is important because although our ultimate source of Joy is Christ, the condition of our bodies can affect our ability to grasp spiritual realities. How to treat the physical causes of what I'm going through is often debated in the church. Should I go the natural route or should take medication that is recommended by my doctor, are things that I'm seeking God's wisdom about. But understanding that what I going through is not necessarily a spiritual problem alone, is helping me to seek the right solutions in dependence upon God. I appreciate what John Piper had to say about these Dark nights of the soul:  

"What we should be clear about, though, is that the condition of our bodies makes a difference in the capacity of our minds to think clearly and of our souls to see the beauty of hope-giving truth. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great preacher at Westminster Chapel in London in the midtwentieth century, began his helpful book Spiritual Depression by waving the flag of warning that we not overlook the physical. It is significant that Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor before he was called to the ministry of preaching. Quoting MLJ Piper continues,

Does someone hold the view that as long as you are a Christian it does not matter what the condition of your “body is? Well, you will soon be disillusioned if you believe that. Physical conditions play their part in all this. . . . There are certain physical ailments which tend to promote depression. . . . [T]ake that great preacher who preached in London for nearly forty years in the last century—Charles Haddon Spurgeon—one of the truly great preachers of all time. That great man was subject to spiritual depression, and the main explanation in his case was undoubtedly the fact that he suffered from a gouty condition which finally killed him. He had to face this problem of spiritual depression often in a most acute form. A tendency to acute depression is an unfailing accompaniment of the gout which he inherited from his forebears. And there are many, I find, who come to talk to me about these matters, in whose case it seems quite clear to me that the cause of the trouble is mainly physical. Into this group, speaking generally, you can put tiredness, overstrain, illness, any form of illness. You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of “this in the scriptures” (Excerpt From: Piper, John. “When the Darkness Will not Lift.” Crossway Books).

Although I'm seeking to replenish my physical body, my aim is to gain more strength to fight for the joy of Jesus that comes through His Spirit. And I'm not waiting to feel better physically before seeking the Lord. It's the whispers of God, and the glimpses of His glory that I see in His word, as I struggle to set my mind on things above, that keep me going, that bring me hope. I'm not rejoicing right now in the blessings of serving in the ministry. That day I believe is coming again soon. But I can rejoice that my name is written in heaven. I rejoice in the Holy Spirit, knowing that when I'm having a hard time holding on to Jesus, He's still holding on to me. Blessed be His Holy name.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"When the Hurt in our Heart makes it Hard to Hear from Heaven"

“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” Exodus‬ ‭6:9‬

When Moses sought to bring the people of God out of Egypt, who were in bondage, things seem to go from bad to worse. The work load that he imposed on them was more than they could bare. Moses tried to assured them with the promises of God's word that things would get better, that God would soon deliver them, but his words fell on death ears. The bible says that the reason they didn't listen to Moses was because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. To have a broken spirit means to be so overwhelmed with sorrow that you feel like you can't go on. You have no joy, you have lost your will to keep going, your dejected and feel like there's no way out. What broke the spirit of the Hebrews? It was the physical stress that they were under, as a result of the brutal work load.

You may not be working like a literal Hebrew slave, but there may be other forms of extreme stress that can so break your spirit, that can cause you to feel so despondent that you find it hard to receive words of encouragement from God's word. However, as was the case with the children of Israel, God is patient with us and continues to work in our lives to restore our hope and joy in him. God didn't tell Moses to forsake the people because they, in their broken spirit, were not listening to him. Instead, he told Moses to continue to do what he was called to do, namely to lead His people out of Egypt, and to speak to them and their oppressor, whether they listened or not.

You may be in a position of trying to bring encouragement to someone with a broken spirit, but don't seem to be getting anywhere. Don't give up. God is working, whether you see it or not. It's important to know also that people may first need your presence, a shoulder to cry on, or a ride to the hospital, before your words of exhortation. Job's three friends were too quick to preach to Job in his season of brokenness, and as a result, did more harm then good. But even they wept with Job for seven days before speaking a word. Concerning Job's three friends the bible says, “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great" (Job‬ ‭2:13). ‬

God's word is the medicine that people need who are hurting. However, it's important that we understand that when people are hurting, they may be hard of hearing. Be patient, be present and pray for wisdom to speak truth in love and for their hearts to be open to receive.

If you are the person who is in a season of disillusionment or despondency, because of physical problems or external circumstances, you need more than ever to hear from God. The external stressors of life, and the toll that it takes on our mental, physical and emotional life, can effect our soul. "Our souls and our bodies live so close together that sometimes they catch each others diseases" (David Jeremiah). There may be times of deep hurt when it's hard to hear the voice of God, to receive words of assurance from his word. We may not feel like reading the bible. It may be hard to focus and concentrate. However we must not go by our feelings. We must turn to God and his word even when we don't feel like.  Read it out loud, if you have trouble concentrating. Use a journal and a pen to write out scriptures and thoughts about what God is saying in the text. You must do what you need to do even when you don't feel like it. As I heard Dr. David Jeremiah say, "Don't let the depression get between you and God. Allow it to drive you to Him.

There may be stressors in our lives, like a busy schedule, poor eating habits, unhealthy sleeping patterns and lack of exercise that can effect the body in such a way that leads to anxiety and depression. Our bodies and brains are made up of complex systems that can be depleted, and must be replenished. Remember, "Our souls and our bodies live so close together that sometimes they catch each others diseases." For example, a lack of sleep can effect the minds ability to concentrate. And the Holy Spirit works through our minds to enable us to understand the word of God. Therefore getting spiritually healthy may require for us to make some changes that will improve the health of our physical bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus purchased with His own blood.

Often Christian ask, "Is it sin for a Christian to take antidepressants to treat severe cases of depression and anxiety? I appreciate what John  Piper had to say when asked this question:

"God had something to teach Job—who didn't have Prozac—through his pain, and he might have something to teach us too...Therefore, I encourage slowness to use anti-depressants. God may have a way forward for someone before they start altering their mind with physical substances.

However, on the other side, it seems clear to me that the brain is a physical organ with electrical impulses and chemicals, and that mental illness is therefore not merely spiritual. No man could persuade me that all mental derangement is owing to a spiritual cause that has a purely spiritual solution.

One way medicine can be helpful is if it gets people to a point where they have enough stability to read the Bible. Then, through being able to read the Scriptures, people are able to be refreshed in the Lord and, in time, come off of the medicine. In that case medicine is a means to an end, and that seems perfectly natural to me." John Piper.

You may be in a season of hurt that makes it hard to hear from God. During these times, don't neglect the care of your physical body and mind. Eliminate stressors in your life, if you can. Rest. Learn to eat healthy and exercise. But most of all, do not neglect time in prayer and the word of God. In God's time, He will restore your soul.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Forged by Fire

Forged by Fire
Exodus 5:22-23

"Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” Exodus ‭5:22-23 ‬

On Moses first and subsequent attempts to tell Pharaoh to let God's people go, things didn't go well. Instead of letting the people go, Pharaoh made things much more difficult. And Moses gets blamed for it all. What did Moses do? He turned to the Lord and told Him exactly what was going on. In fact, he blamed God. And he questioned God for ever sending him in the first place. But of course none of this caught God by surprise. All that was taking place would be for the good of the people and the glory of God. Moses, who doubted his calling from the beginning, would become one of the greatest leaders in all of history. And the people of God would leave Egypt with great provisions and having witnessed the power of God.

Just because the things you are doing for God don't seem to be working out, does not mean God is not in it. Like a sword that is forged by fire, which shapes it and sharpens it, so too God forges His finest leaders. Obstacles can be like the tools of a blacksmith that he uses to bring about a desired end.

So if you know God called you, but it's hard right now, don't allow the enemy to make you think God is leaving you hanging out to dry. He's with you each step of the way. Like Moses, turn to God in prayer. Don't be afraid to tell Him your doubts and fears. He knows them already. He can handle it. And He is able, through prayer, through communion with Him, and through time in His word, to encourage and strengthen you.

In a very dark period in Job's life, he said, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold" (Job‬ ‭23:8-10‬). It's been said, "don't doubt in the dark what God has revealed to you in the light." Although that is a very good exhortation that we should apply, the truth is, sometimes we do doubt. But even in our doubts, the Lord is still at work, He still hears our cries, He understands, He sympathizes and He's been there. Jesus prayed, "Father, let this cup pass from me." But in the end, He trusted His Father's good will. What was His will? To save us, through His sacrifice on the cross, from our sin and give us eternal access to the Father. He knows where you are. He hasn't forsaken you.

Great leaders are forged in the fire where they learn to pray, love, sympathize, live and trust like Jesus. You didn't hear wrong. He did send you. He did call you and He will accomplish His good will in and through your life. You will come forth as gold.