Remembering Him in the Midst of Life’s Storms

storm at seaPsalm 42:6-10
6My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,

“Where is your God?”

The Psalmist isn’t where he wants to be.  He is on Mount Mizar… (a peak in the Mount Hermon range… miles north of what eventually would be called Galilee)  He is extreme North.  Where he wants to be is on Mount Zion (43:3)  Mizar means “littleness.”  The author of this Psalm feels small due to the storm in front of him.

Deep calls to deep… the water is surging… he is being swept away.

Physically, perhaps.  But most certainly psychologically.

He is going under.

Have you forgotten me, Lord?

I heard of a pastor in the midst of a period of church conflict who went into his backyard one day and waved a handkerchief toward the sky and said:
“Did you forget where you put me?”

Ever feel like that?

The lesson in the storm is:  Remember Him…. Even When You Feel Forgotten

 (New Living Translation7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.

1)   Remember that God is still in control.  Nothing has happened outside his notice.  They are His waves and His tides that sweep over you.

2)   Remember back when His love poured into your life.  When you went to bed singing.  When prayer was a second language.  Remember and be thankful.

Author Don Everts once wrote:  “I am a slave to my own personal weather systems.  If it’s been a good week, I have an easier time feeling good about what Jesus has done for me on the cross.  But if I am a little depressed or frustrated, my soul is anything but thankful.”  –  Don Everts  (God in the Flesh, p. 121.)

But thanksgiving may be the very thing you need to lift your depression or frustration.

“Devastated by a series of personal crises, Sean Coxe spent his last $300 to visit his father in Florida.  Feeling helpless and alone, he wanted nothing more than to be with the man who had so often been able to put life’s disasters in perspective when he was a child.  Perhaps he could now.  On the last evening of his visit, the two men stood at the end of a jetty and watched the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.  Coxe was seething with bitterness.  He said, ‘You know, Dad, if we could take all the great moments we experience in our lifetimes and put them back-to-back, they wouldn’t last twenty minutes.’  Keeping his eyes fixed on the setting sun, his dad responded simply, ‘Yup.’  Stunned, Coxe turned to him.  His father then looked steadily into his eyes and added softly, with the wisdom of Job, ‘Precious, aren’t they?’”  –Ben Patterson (Waiting, pp.21, 22.)

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Lord, Remember Me For Good

FuneralPsalm 25:7

     It is an old joke, but one worth retelling.  A certain minister was met with an odd proposal.  The brother of a rather notorious sinner came into his office one day and offered the minister a sizable gift to the church’s building program.  It seems his brother had just died, and he was willing to give the money to the church in his memory, but only if… during the funeral… the minister was willing to call him a saint.  After some thought, the minister finally agreed.

The day of the funeral arrived and the minister began his sermon.  “This man that just died, we all know his reputation… he was a womanizer, a drunkard, a con artist and a thief.”

He paused for a moment, then continued:  “But compared to his brother he was a saint!”

We laugh at that joke because we have all been in funerals of those with a dubious reputation… and have listened with embarrassment as family members and friends spoke of their character as though they were little Billy Grahams.

But truth be told, there is a lot of truth that we would like not to be told at our own funerals.  We want to be remembered for our good.

While reading Psalm 25, I got to thinking:  What if God were to speak a eulogy at my funeral… what would HE say about me?

In Psalm 25: 7, David asks of the Lord: “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

This is a bold request, but one–that in Christ— He has granted.  This is seen in how some OT characters are spoken of in the NT – of Moses: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant… Hebrews 3:5; of Job – “You have heard of the endurance of Job…” (James 5:11); of Lot (!) – “and if He rescued righteous Lot…” (2 Peter 2:7).  Did you hear that right?  Moses, Job and Lot.  Yes, Moses.  The one who not only didn’t want to be the deliverer, but wanted God to sent Aaron instead.  Yes, that Moses, was called faithful.  Yes, Job.  The one who complained insistently that he was being treated unfairly and wanted to take God to court.  Yes, that Job, was called patient in the NT.  And Lot… LOT!  The one who steadily moved toward sin, until he reached the point of having to flee from falling fire and brimstone.  Yes, that Lot was called righteous in the NT.  How can this be?

And what will be spoken of you in that final day?  You might think that your list of failures and sin will be an albatross to be worn by you throughout eternity.  But the Scriptures teach, that when you are remembered, it will be for good.  Because Jesus died for you… redeemed you… and paid the penalty of your sin for you… Because of Jesus… God will remember you for good!

After listing a litany of sins, Paul writes this in his first letter to Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)   [notice the highlighted verbs are in past tense].

There are days that I am like David… I am reflecting on my past and the things that I have done and I get this sense of dread.  I think:  “What must God (who sees and knows everything – including my thoughts and intentions)– what must He be thinking of me?  Through the blood of Christ… I know that when He thinks of me… He thinks of me for good.  Hallelujah!  Thank you Jesus!

“No Matter What, I’ll Be There For You.”

earthquake

Psalm 12:1 – “Help Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.”

2 Timothy 2:13 – “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”

Paul says that “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 3:3)  One of the names for Jesus is “the faithful.” (Revelation 3:14).  It is amazing that God remains so faithful to us… when the quality of our faithfulness is often so lacking.

Case in point, the rubble we sometime find our lives in.  We know things run smoother when we stay in the Word, pray and have fellowship with other believers… but we don’t always stick to the plan.  And in the aftermath of selfish choices, the ground beneath us starts to quake.  And we are buried by an avalanche of consequences and yet… still.. God seeks us out and desires to put us on solid ground. (Psalm 40:1-3)

It was the faithfulness of God that caused Him to search for us in the first place.  He the shepherd faithfully searched for the missing lamb, the woman faithfully seeking the missing coin… and gracious Father joyfully welcoming the lost son home.  (Luke 15)

Randy Alcorn, in his book If God is Good, shared this story of a faithful father:

“In 1988, an Armenian earthquake killed forty-five thousand.  In the chaos one man made his way to his son’s school, only to find nothing but rubble.  Other parents stumbled around dazed and weeping, calling out their children’s names.  But this father ran to the back corner of the building where his son’s classroom once was, and began digging.

To everyone else, it seemed hopeless.  How could his son have survived?  But this father had promised he would always be there for his boy, so he heaved rocks and dug, calling for his son by name:  “Armand!”

Well-meaning parents and bystanders tried to pull him out of the rubble.  “It’s too late!”  “They’re dead!”  “There’s nothing you can do!”  The fire chief tried to pull him away saying, “Fires and explosions are happening everywhere.  You’re in danger.  Go home!”  Finally, the police came and said, “You’re in shock.  You’re endangering others.  Go home.  We’ll handle it!”

But the man continued to dig, hour after hour—eight hours, then twelve, twenty-four, thirty six hours.  Finally, in the thirty-eighth hour of digging—a day and a half after everyone told him to give up hope—he called his son’s name again, pulled back a big rock, and heard his son’s voice.

“Armand!” the father screamed.

From under the rocks came the words, “Dad?  I told them!  I told the other kids that if you were still alive, you’d save me!”

The father helped his son and thirteen other children climb out of the rubble.  When the building had collapsed, the children survived in a tentlike pocket.  The father lovingly carried his son home to his mother.  When the townspeople praised Armand’s father for saving the children, he simply explained, “I promised my son, ‘No matter what, I’ll be there for you!”  (If God is Good, pp. 89-90.)

God is more faithful than even this very human father.  We often bring the house down upon ourselves… but even then He seeks to clear the rubble.

Praise Him that he never gives up on you.  He has a plan for you and is faithful to carry it out in your life.  Seek to model His faithfulness…  Say to your spouse, kids and to your neighbor… “No matter what, I’ll be there for you!”  Bring this quality back to the human race!

Discouraged in Sin City

vegasActs 18:1-22

This blog will complete our trip with Paul and Silas on what has been called “The Second Missionary Journey.”

Paul begins Mission Corinth… discouraged.  His second journey had netted little by way of results.  He was fatigued… having just walked 53 miles from Athens to Corinth.  He has yet to stay in one city that long.  Converts were scarce in three of the four venues thus far.  And he is alone when he wanders into Corinth.

If there is anything harder than reaching Athenians with their intellectual pursuits it is reaching Corinthians with their lustful ones.

For Paul has just entered the red light district of the ancient world.  Central to their pagan worship was worship of the love goddess, Aphrodite.  Illicit sex was rampant with worship including state run prostitution. If you’ve ever walked through a wild alcoholic party, you’ve walked down main street Corinth.

This was challenging for Paul.  It is one thing to argue for the defense of the Gospel in a debate club and quite another to attempt it at a drunken gala.

And for the first time, I see in the Scriptures, Paul was a little scared:  In First Corinthians 2, he is honest: “When I came to you, … I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling;” {1 Cor 2:1a, 2:3 RSV}. Paul was tired, stressed and a little frightened as he rolled into Corinth.  He could use a little encouragement.

Heard the story of a band that had what they thought was one die hard fan.   They were performing in a park before an audience that had gradually dwindled down to one lone man.  After pounding out more songs, one of the tired musicians finally suggested to the music lover that if he left they could all go home.

“Do whatever you want,” said the man.  “I’m just waiting around so I can put away the chairs.” (“All in a Day’s Work,” Reader’s Digest, August 2007, p. 54.)

Do you ever get the feeling that no one is listening to your music?  If only someone could lend you a little encouragement.  But where do you go to find encouragement?     Where is the reassuring voice that everything is going to be alright… that despite the trying times that God is with you and will see you through?

Paul found encouragement the same way we can.

1.  Encouragement through ministry friends.

Verses 2 & 3 of Acts 18 say:

2There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Fellow Christians with the same ministry goals and the same secular vocation!  What a find for Paul!  Or perhaps the Lord knew what he needed in just the right time.

You will have a lot of friendships in your lifetime, not all of them will be, or should be, with just believers.  But friendships with Jesus as your focus will be among the most encouraging.

2.  Encouragement through Small Victories

Corinth was tough… but not impenetrable.  Verses 7 & 8 say:

7Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

After initial rejection… there is some response.  Paul couldn’t convince the majority of the synagogue, but he did convert the head guy.  Crispus and his whole family came to know the Lord.  The ruler of the synagogue!  Small victories like that keep you going.  What small victories are you overlooking in your life?

3.  Encouragement through Prayer.

Sometimes when you friends and small victories can’t help, you need to run to the Father.  He knows what to say to get you back on your feet.

God speaks to Paul during this trying time:  “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”  (v.9b-10)

Simple direct words for the discouraged:  “Don’t be afraid.”  “Keep going.”  “I am with you.”  “I am not finished with My work that I want to get done through you.”

Paul kept at it.  His band of missionaries played on in the midst of a hostile environment.  And guess what?  For all of Paul’s fear and trembling… He spends more time in Corinth than any other place on the second journey! (1 year and six months)  He settles in and does significant work for the Kingdom.  The scariest city ends up being one of the most fruitful.

Where does God have you right now?  Frightened?  Hang in there… God still has many people in this city.  Keep going.  He’s not finished with you yet.