June 23, 2010

Why Are You Downcast, O My Soul?

What are you worried about? What's bringing you grief?

List these things on a piece of paper. I'm not kidding.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

If you've read past the this first half of the Gettysburg Address without writing a list, do it now!

If you put your arms around me, could it change the way I feel? I guess I let myself believe that the outside might just bleed its way in; maybe stir the sleeping past, lying under glass, waiting for the kiss that breaks this awful spell. Pull me out... of this lonely cell.

If you haven't done it by now, after the first verse to Jars of Clay's Something Beautiful, there's not much I can do to convince you.

At the top of this list, write "Situations that God will bring victory through." Worry not, I did this myself a few minutes ago. And I have some of the same feelings you probably have; I want to let my negative feelings about these situations have priority in how I think about them. But there's a better way.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

James 1:2-6

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:11

Yes, these situations are tough and they hurt. We need to acknowledge that, talk to people about them, get help. Don't pretend the hurt isn't there.

The way we change our thinking about these situation and begin to focus on God and how he is doing great and positive things through them is by praying and talking to other Christians. Pray for wisdom to endure the trials, and know that God will give it to you. Pray that God will bring about a change in your attitude, that his peace will guard your heart. Talk to seasoned Christians about what you're going through, and they'll offer words of encouragement for you to dwell on.

I'm not just saying these things... this is very much what I'm learning right now. If you want to, get in touch with me and we can talk.

It's tough, no doubt; but it's an honor, and it brings glory to God's name to consider all these trials pure joy. He'll bring relief, in time. Read the Psalms... forty-two is a good place to start.

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

June 19, 2010

Common Ground

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

29"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well and with Nicodemus, Paul meets the Athenians where they are. He has a great way to start the speech, too: the altar labeled “To an unknown god,” and even quotes poetry that the Athenians are familiar with to help his point. He tells them that there is one true God (not their multiple gods) who does not live in human temples (like theirs) and is not made of gold or silver or stone (like the idols they worship). He also includes several, more universal points: God is the Creator, has determined all our steps, and is bringing a day of judgment. My favorite point, however, is this in verse 27: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far away from each one of us.”

Not that this speech is a template to use like a witnessing mad-lib, but we can take away some good practical points about talking to people about Jesus. Speak the language of the people, know their context; if you don’t know anything about who they are, you don’t know where they are spiritually. Relate to them.

Don’t take this too far and use it as an excuse not to witness, because it’s a lot easier than it sounds. Jesus and the woman were at a well and in Samaria, so he talked about water and the now arbitrary nature of being a Jew or a Samaritan. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, so Jesus talked about Jewish theology. The Athenians were highly intellectual, so Paul talked about their religion and quoted their poets. There’s common ground everywhere, whether it’s place, experience, or just our humanity. Find that common ground and plant some seeds in it.

June 18, 2010

The Jailer

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are thrown in prison in Phillipi. After they are beaten they’re thrown in prison, and around midnight an earthquake sent from God that opened the prison doors and loosed the chains from around their hand and feet. The jailer was woken up by this noise, and saw the prison doors opened; naturally, he assumed that Paul and Silas had escaped. The penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape on your watch was death (according to my NIV footnotes). The jailer was so distressed by this that he drew his sword to commit suicide… when jailers earlier in Acts were given the slip by Paul, they waited around to be executed. This guy (who has a family, we find out) was going to end it then and there. The funny thing, though, is that Paul and Silas didn’t leave when the chains came off but instead stayed and spared this man’s life.

The jailer knew they were Christians, because that’s why they were thrown in prison; besides that, they had been singing songs of praise the whole night. Seeing the connection between their faith and the act of love they had just shown him (and realizing more readily his own mortality, I’m sure) he throws himself at their feet and asks “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” they reply. The Jailer takes them to his house in the middle of the night, feeds them, and his entire family is saved and baptized. Then, Paul and Silas go back to the prison so that they are there in the morning and the guard’s life is spared.

After being beaten and thrown in prison, the Paul and Silas are still so focused on Christ that their first action when their path to freedom is open is not “Let’s get out of here,” but “Let’s witness to the jailer.” This imprisonment was all about the Jailer and his family, because it turns out that Paul and Silas were being wrongfully held anyways because there were Roman citizens, and thus should not have been beaten and should have been given a trial.

Physical freedom is in no way important to the Christian. When it is needed, it will be provided (Acts 12). When they were captured, thrown in jail, and then the doors were miraculously opened, it was all about the Jailer’s freedom from sin and becoming a Child of God, along with his family. All this to say: take advantage of negative situations. Face them with praise and a great attitude, pointing to Jesus in word and deed, because it will affect someone for Christ; I guarantee it. We might not get to see the effects immediately (or in this life… but what a blessing when we do!), but regardless, it not only affects others when we do but fulfills our purpose in life and brings us a deep joy and peace.

So get out there, sing some chains off, praise some doors open, and then talk to the first surprised person you see about Jesus.