“Fear Not”

God tells us “Fear not.” This is the most common commandment in the entire Bible, appearing roughly 150 times, because this is the most common problem for the Christian. Who are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? That fear will paralyze you. It will cause you not to live courageously and boldly. Jesus knows that there are reasons for you to be afraid. And yet he says, “Fear not.”

Nearly every time the Bible commands us to “fear not”, it also tells us why. Not because we will see things turn around soon, or even ever. Not because it’s going to be easy. And not because we will be vindicated in this life. Instead, when we are told, “Fear not,” in some fashion God is telling us, “I am with you.” Jesus, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, lives in us, works through us, goes with us, and will never leave us or forsake us, because he promised to be with us always, until the end of the age, as we limp toward home.

The Jesus who goes with you is a God who has experienced tribulation, poverty, slander, suffering, and death. He is always present to comfort you because he has walked the road that you are on and is waiting with nail-scarred hands to embrace you at its end. Since he has walked that road for you, his invitation to walk it with him is a great honor.

-Mark Driscoll, A Call to Resurgence

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Popular Passage, New Perspective

I’ll try to keep this brief and to the point. Philippians 4:13 is one of the most well known passages in all of scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It is said by athletes after victories, people dedicating themselves to diets or fasting, even people getting back to the gym or working on resolutions. While those are all fine and well I found myself looking at this passage (and it’s prior two verses) very differently.

As some of you may know I’ve been in a pretty difficult season for the last couple of months for various reasons (which are touched on in two posts prior to this one Trembling… and A Hope That Overwhelms Grief), and I believe that as I am coming out of this season (praise God!), I see these two spectrums more clearly than ever before. Let’s take a brief look:

“I have learned in whatever situation (that) I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:11b-13 (ESV)

I have come to realize (for myself, and perhaps for you as well), that it takes both ends of the spectrum–lowly and abounding, plenty and hunger, abundance and need–to see this sort of true contentment Paul talks about.

Experiencing both ends of the spectrum have made me realize that in this world there is constant change and fluctuation, and sometimes these changes can be indescribably difficult, but we can echo with Paul that in the midst of these changes there is a True Stability, and that Stability is something so necessary and so ever-present for us. This Stability is the means by which we are strengthened and the reason we can praise God, even in the midst of the most seemingly unbearable situations.

Paul is revealing a truth all of us must realize today: This true stability and abiding presence that we long for–that sustains us in all of these seasons whether good or bad–is Jesus Christ Himself.

In Him and Him alone will you find this contentment “in any and every circumstance” and a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Pain, Sorrow, Grieving, and the Gospel

“[We do not] grieve as others do who have no hope.”  ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Grief and sorrow are not wrong (see Acts 8:2 and John 11:35), but in our grief we must not exhibit hopelessness. There are plenty of Bible passages that point to the hope we have as Christians (cf. Job 11:18, 13:15; Psalm 33:22, 42:5; Prov. 23:18; Isaiah 8:17; Jeremiah 31:17; Lamentations 3:24; Romans 8:24; 1 Peter 1:3 just to name a few) and there’s something very real about this hope in our God (see Romans 5:5). It’s not just a concept to discuss but a reality to embrace.

But if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that can sometimes be a truth that feels so far off and distant that it doesn’t feel real to us, right?

I find that term to be extremely relevant to me right now… “brutally honest.”

Without bearing the troubles of my soul for the world to see at the click of a button, let me just say that there is significant pain in my life right now–pain that brings me to my knees and confronts me with deep sorrow and heartache; pain that make me think of Romans 8:26 (out of context or not) when it talks about “groanings too deep for words”. All of us either have or will experience this sort of pain–a deep rooted, can’t shake it sort of pain.

So what do we do with it? How is this hope helpful now?

When looking at those words again–brutally honest–I think of the Psalms. Have you looked at them recently? I used to think they were just happy prayers of rejoicing, disconnected from the very real essence of the emotions that I feel when I am struggling with things deeper than my words could express.

But look again.

In Psalm 22, David is crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (v.1-2)

We can relate to this, right? This sort of deep deep sorrow; a deep pain or impossible to describe struggle where we need God’s intervention; we need Him to step in. So what does David do about it? Does he call out for God to send down angels to take him out of his situation? Does he forsake God because He is seemingly absent in his pain and heartache? Let’s keep reading.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” (v.3-5)

David reminded Himself of the trustworthiness of God; that God is always true to His character (Hebrews 13:8) and that when man cries out to God, they are rescued.

Now I will make one brief mention that this “rescue” is not always what we had in mind. God is not a genie in a bottle granting us the wishes we ask of Him, but we can trust that if we are going through something.. God has a reason for it. Before you write this off as just another “look at the bright side” blog, know that I have not made it to that rescue yet, but then again neither did David in Psalm 22. He was still experiencing that pain, that sorrow, that deep sense of grieving when he confessed the trustworthiness of God.

That is the hope we can have, and that–I believe–is something that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (listed above) gets at. We grieve. We hurt. We have pain sometimes that just tears us apart, but even in that we have an abiding hope. We can look forward to a time that we are rescued, that it all will make sense. Sometimes this rescue and this hope doesn’t become a reality to some until death when they are united with Christ in Heaven, but please hear my plea:

Christian, there is hope.

I still don’t have all the answers. I still am angry with God for the pain I’m experiencing (I said we were being brutally honest, right?). I still don’t know why this is happening to me. I still wish I could do something to make this go away.

But even in the midst of all of this.. there is hope. And that is what I can cling to when everything else around me is shaking.

Take a second to read Hebrews 12:26-28; God sometimes shakes up things in our lives–relationships (ie friendships or a significant other), jobs, comforts, life plans–to establish unshakeable truths about Him in our lives; to make them real to us. To remind us that we look towards a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. That we strive, as Romans 8:19 says, with eager longing towards that day.

At the end of the day, we can have this (abiding) hope because Jesus Christ made a way for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus bore our shame, our guilt, and our suffering on the cross (1 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 12:2, Jeremiah 33:8). He is referred to as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus is not unfamiliar with our pain and suffering, but well acquainted with it, and because of that, we can draw near to Him (Hebrews 4:15-16).

There is hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

Tradecraft: Being “On Mission”

Why is it sometimes difficult for people on mission to relate to unbelievers? What are good ways to have meaningful conversations?

I think that those of us “on mission” have progressively more and more Christian friends and fewer and fewer non-christian friends. I know it’s easy for me to get into a “holy huddle” and tend to have the desire to reach the others, but don’t often branch out of that because I know it will be uncomfortable and unknown.

To be honest, I play it too safe and selfishly keep it to myself.

——

One way to relate and to have meaningful conversations is to:

1) LISTEN. Don’t just listen with the intent to reply, or to use their words against them to prove your apologetic. Listen out of genuine care for the person, and ask God to open your heart up to them.

2) BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. If you do not have a relationship with someone, little to no trust has been built, and the things you are saying will not hold as much weight. God uses our investment in peoples’ lives to cultivate Gospel Opportunities and chances to not only talk about the Gospel in meaningful ways, but to be living in step with the Christian faith and joyfully serving our brother/sister.

3) PRAY. There’s nothing we can do in our own power. I can modify someone’s behavior with fluent speech, but I cannot change a heart. We don’t need to be “made better,” we need to be “made alive,” and this is something only God can do. Being on mission forces us into a place of discomfort, vulnerability, and dependence on the Holy Spirit, but we can find great comfort in knowing that God has promised to be a firm foundation amidst a world in chaos and constant change (2 Tim 2:19), that in the midst of storms Jesus is our sovereign peace (Matt 8:23-27), and that the Word of God will NEVER return void (Isaiah 55:11).

I can take great comfort in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

May we trust that God is doing abundantly more than all we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21), and trust that it is not our eloquent speech or memorized facts that will draw people to Jesus, it’s the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ Himself.

What The Psalms Do

If you read the Psalms only for doctrine, you’re not reading them for what they are. They are psalms, songs, poetry. They’re musical, and the reason human beings express truth with music and poetry is to awaken and express emotions that fit the truth.

One of the reasons the Psalms are deeply loved by so many Christians is that they give expression to an amazing array of emotions. Listen to this list of emotions I pulled together:

  1. Loneliness: “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalms 25:16).
  2. Love: “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalms 18:1).
  3. Awe: “Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him” (Psalms 33:8).
  4. Sorrow: “My life is spent with sorrow” (Psalms 31:10).
  5. Regret: “I am sorry for my sin” (Psalms 38:18).
  6. Contrition: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalms 51:17).
  7. Discouragement and turmoil: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me” (Psalms 42:5)?
  8. Shame: “Shame has covered my face” (Psalms 44:15).
  9. Exultation: “In your salvation how greatly he exults” (Psalms 21:1).
  10. Marveling: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalms 118:23).
  11. Delight: “His delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalms 1:2).
  12. Joy: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalms 4:7).
  13. Gladness: “I will be glad and exult in you” (Psalms 9:2).
  14. Fear: “Serve the Lord with fear” (Psalms 2:11).
  15. Anger: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalms 4:4).
  16. Peace: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalms 4:8).
  17. Grief: “My eye wastes away because of grief” (Psalms 6:7).
  18. Desire: “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted” (Psalms 10:17).
  19. Hope: “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Psalms 33:22).
  20. Brokenheartedness: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18).
  21. Gratitude: “I will thank you in the great congregation” (Psalms 35:18).
  22. Zeal: “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (Psalms 69:9).
  23. Pain: “I am afflicted and in pain” (Psalms 69:29).
  24. Confidence: “Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident” (Psalms 27:3).

More explicitly than all the other books in the Bible, the Psalms are designed to awaken and shape our emotions in line with the instruction they give. What happens when you read and sing the Psalms the way they are intended to be read and sung is that your emotions and your mind are shaped by these psalms.

From Pastor John’s sermon, “Songs that Shape the Heart and Mind” (May 25, 2008)

An Anchor For Our Soul

As Christians we can subtly slip into trusting our accomplishments, success, health, bank account, respect that we have garnered, or the fact we have outpaced our competitors. We can feel better about life when things are going well. We can also despair when it’s not going so well.

Hebrews 6:19-20 says, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever.” In our lives it’s sometimes not a life-altering event that discourages and demoralizes us, but it’s adversity after little adversity, frustration after little frustration that can throw us to the ground.

The writer of Hebrews is telling us that the world is like water spiritually. It’s always moving, changing, and insecure, so we need an anchor for our soul. We can attempt to anchor our soul in the things of the world, such as human relationships, health, family, and career, but ultimately those are always changing, moving, and insecure. We need an anchor that goes through the water and provides the safety, security, and stability we need in the drifting and storms.

Thank God he sent Jesus to be the anchor we all need that provides what nothing else can. I don’t know what life will bring my way and I don’t know if the ringing in my ear will ever go away, but I do know I have an anchor for my soul, who is Jesus Christ, who is my trust, security, and hope.

(content adapted from a post found on The Resurgence blog here: http://ow.ly/bfV6f)

——

This has held very true in my life.

I find myself to naturally placing my worth, identity, and confidence in the shifting things of this world. Deep down I understand that these things will not, and were never meant to, satisfy, yet time and time again I put my hope in the fleeting things of this world that will ultimately pass away (1 John 2:17, 1 Corinthians 7:31).

In a world filled with variation, I soon felt the longing in my heart for consistency. A hope that will never fail me, and a desire that will never be extinguished. All the things on this earth have left me longing for more–nothing was ever truly satisfying.

Enter Jesus.

James 1:17 says that, in Christ, there is no “variation or shadow due to change.” He is unchanging.

Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is reliably the same.

Hebrews 12:18-29 paints the picture that God is removing the shakeable, inconsistent, and ungratifying things of this earth to establish His Kingdom, an unshakeable Kingdom, in which we can have eternal hope in.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not rejecting the things of this world. The Bible says, after all, that God created all things for the praise of His name and the glorifying of Himself (Colossians 1:16, Romans 11:33-36, 1 Corinthians 10:31). But our ultimate hope cannot lie in created things, where we worship created things over the Creator (Romans 1:21-25), but must be rightly positioned to God (Revelation 4:11).

May we not put our hope into things that will ultimately fail us, because they were never meant to truly satisfy us.

May we echo the longing written about in Psalm 42:1, “[a]s a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” and in Psalm 27:4, (“[o]ne thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord.”

May we reflect, daily, on the account in Ecclesiastes 3:11 which says that “eternity is written into man’s heart” and heed the words of C.S. Lewis when he says, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

May we build our house on the Rock that is Jesus Christ, and not the sand that is worldly things (see Matthew 7:24-27), which cannot and will not satisfy your deepest longings for joy, peace, approval, and acceptance.

We were made to glorify God, and to find our hope in Him–and Him alone. May we trust in Christ as an immovable, unchanging, reliable, trustworthy, sovereign, reigning, powerful, loving, and gracious anchor for our soul as Hebrews 6:19-20 states.

Finding the Ocean

Jonathan Edwards reminds us of the foolishness of seeking true and lasting happiness outside of the One who is truly excellent:

“Worldly men imagine, that there is true excellency and true happiness in those things which they are pursuing. They think that if they could but obtain them, they should be happy; and when they obtain them, and cannot find happiness, they look for happiness in something else, and are still upon the pursuit.

But Christ Jesus has true excellency, and so great excellency, that when they come to see it they look no further, but the mind rests there. It sees a transcendent glory and an ineffable sweetness in him; it sees that till now it has been pursuing shadows, but that now it has found the substance; that before it had been seeking happiness in the stream, but that now it has found the ocean”

(“Safety, Fullness, and Sweet Refreshment, to Be Found in Christ” Jonathan Edwards on Knowing Christ, 169-170).