How Can I Trust God?

How can I trust God_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

The front of a woman’s red station wagon was crushed when an elephant at a circus sat on it.  The owners of the animal apologized, explaining that the animal, for some reason, simply liked to sit on red cars.

In spite of the damage, the woman’s car could still be driven.  On the way to the garage she was stopped short by an accident involving two other cars just ahead of her. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the attendants took one look at her car, then ran over to assist her. “Oh, I wasn’t involved in this accident,” she explained. “An elephant sat on my car.”

The ambulance attendants quickly bundled her off to the hospital for possible shock and head injuries, despite the lady’s vehement protests.

(Bits and Pieces, October, 1991, retrieved from https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/6805/elephant-sat-on-my-car/)

Sometimes you don’t know who to believe!  Or whom to trust.  Good news – our God is trustworthy!

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

  1. We need faith to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

CONTEXT: Proverbs three is a chapter that extols the benefits and value of wisdom.  There is a pattern in 3:1-12: the odd-numbered verses express the obligations of the person seeking wisdom and the even-numbered verses promise a reward for keeping those obligations.  We will focus on verses five and six explain the role of TRUST in our search for wisdom.

COMMENTS:

The word TRUST meant to rely on someone for security.  It is a confidence based on who God is, not on who you are.  TRUST IN THE LORD requires three things of the faithful wisdom-seeker.

First, TRUST…WITH ALL YOUR HEART (5).  The key word here is ALL.  Trust is not indicated in partial commitments, withholding some for self.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING (5).  There is certainly a practical side to wisdom, but that is not an aspect of the spiritual.  Truly wise people are not limited to the things they know because of training and experience, they know other things because God has revealed them.  God reveals wisdom in His word and by the Holy Spirit, working outside “common sense.”  If there is ever a conflict between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom, we must choose God’s wisdom.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM (6).  Biblically, the word “way” can be equivalent to our word “lifestyle.”  It is the direction our choices take us.  The words WAYS and PATHS in this verse both refer to the character our decisions have created within us.  We encounter the word ALL again in v. 6.  We need to acknowledge God’s ownership of our bank accounts, home, family – everything.  If Jesus is not Lord over all, He’s not Lord at all.

The benefit of trusting God promised here in Proverbs 3:5+6 is HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT.  As anyone who’s driven down a long straight prairie highway can tell you, it’s easier to stay on the road.  The promise of a “straight path” is a promise of a life that’s easier to live.  By way of contrast, Proverbs 2:15 + 9:18 uses the image of a crooked path as a sinful way through life.  These verses warn that crooked paths lead to death.

  1. We deepen our trust as we experience reliance on Him (Malachi 3:9-12).

CONTEXT: Malachi 3 warns that the Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well for the Israelites because they have stolen from God by being unfaithful in their tithes and offerings.

COMMENTS:

Verse nine states the WHOLE NATION is UNDER A CURSE because they dared to rob God.  The Hebrew word used here for NATION typically referred to the pagan nations, not Israel.  This is a clue how upset God is with His people at this point.  Their failure to be obedient in the command to tithe is cast in the worst possible light: it is robbery, stealing from God! The penalty for robbing God is being CURSED by God.

Verses ten to twelve move away from the threat of curses to the promise of blessings if they would only obey God.  These verses emphasize the value of personal experience as a means of deepening our trust in God.  “TEST ME IN THIS” the LORD declared.

God called upon His people to do the right thing; to bring in THE WHOLE TITHE.  Upon the condition of their obedience  He promised to THROW OPEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN AND POUR OUT SO MUCH  BLESSING THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM ENOUGH FOR IT.  He promised to prevent negative things like loss of crops.  He promised positive things like respect and success. The promise is that many blessings – material and personal – will be poured out from heaven to the degree that even the pagan NATIONS have to acknowledge Israel was BLESSED.

The word DELIGHTFUL makes a great promise sweeter still.  In Isaiah 62:4 God called Israel “Hepzibah,” which meant “my delight is in her.”

These verses affirm the reality that only those who take faith-based risks will ever know how trustworthy God truly is.  To put it another way, “If all you ever do is what you can do by yourself, you will never know how trustworthy God is.”

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

          A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied an elderly woman sitting on the sand. He asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you read your Bible every day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you pray often?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”

What do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus.

(Author unknown, retrieved from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/202753/)

Let’s stop for a moment.  If you ask a room full of church people “Do you trust God?” 99.9% of them are going to answer in the affirmative.  If you ask them, “With what do you trust God?” be wary of the one who too quickly answers “Everything.”

The truth is likely to be something less than everything.  Trust in God is a matter of sacrifice.  To trust God means we sacrifice things most dear to us, putting them entirely under His control.  To trust God requires us to love God more than self, people, possessions, and church COMBINED!  People who trust in God may buy insurance, but they don’t rely on it to “take care of them.”  People who trust in God may set money aside as a sound financial strategy but they don’t believe that savings will prevent calamity nor will it console them when trials come.  People who trust in God will not manipulate others or wield legalisms because no one can stand in for you on Judgment Day.  People who trust in God have their eyes set on heaven: not just as a place they’ll end up “someday,” but also as a reality we are trying to recreate in our daily experience.

 

RESOURCES:

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Message #772

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

#5 – Proverbs – Allen P. Ross

#7 – Malachi – Robert L. Alden

 

 

Defined by Faith and Fear

phobia

Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer.  They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear.  As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.

“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working.  It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear.  Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!

“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind.  People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.

You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong.  It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.

“Linonophobia” is a fear of string.  There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.

“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing.  Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.

“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions.  Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this?  The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!

These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing.  However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life.  In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears.  God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom.  While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions.  In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear.  One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary.  We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.

CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.  It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.

What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

  1. Three things we must not fear.

In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.”  Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary.  In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment.  No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.

In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  His reason?  God has not forgotten you.  He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you.  Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.

Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith.  Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them.  He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense.  His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.

  1. Three things we must fear.

Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1).  This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation.  We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered.  Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES.  This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve.  He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY.  In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.  Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory.  The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later.  This is human nature.  How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.

Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf.  That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light.  Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire.  Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy.  Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.

Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.”  While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him.  To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.

Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.  The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY.  They are not worthy of fear.  What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”

Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God.  First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them.  Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head.  That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.

Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount.  Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.

Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God.  Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers.  Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.”  Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity.  We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith.  It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time.  If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.

Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers.  Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR.  Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved.  To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief.  Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.

Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith.  A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials.  The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable.  DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day.  Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.

Verse ten has confused a lot of people.  Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context.  Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.”  As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved.  It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus.  It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death.  When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned.  Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness.  Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity.  Will we fear God or the masses?  Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?”  People-pleasers are fearful folk.  We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.

On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation.  In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”

On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation.  We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness.  In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”

The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes.  We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies.  We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.

This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it.  We direct our efforts at individuals to save them.  Culture and government are not our tools.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.  We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win.  Only what is of Him survives.  That is our only concern.

 

RESOURCES:

The Body, Charles Colson

The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock

Ten Completely Bizarre And Completely Weird Phobias

 

Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

A Full Time Heritage

Timothy Family PicturePlease read 2 Timothy 1:1-7.

CONTEXT = 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter.  It was written during his second imprisonment in Rome, a brutal ending to Paul’s life.  His cell had only one hole in the ceiling to admit light and air.  Worse, as 1:15-16 tells us, some of Paul’s associates had deserted him.

These circumstances would be enough to discourage anyone and you could understand if Paul struggled to accept the horrible things he was facing.  In his loneliness, God turned his thoughts to Timothy, a young man – a Greek – who had been his mentor in ministry.  Paul wanted to make certain Timothy received the full measure of instruction and support, everything Paul could put in a letter to this pastor whom he’d trained.

It is our blessing that these words have been preserved in Scripture for they provide a touching example of how essential it is that our faith be grounded in a heritage of sincere service.  Normally we speak of “heritage” as something from our past.  This passage obviously confirms that understanding of the word.  However, I want to challenge your thinking to recognize that a heritage starts as something we receive from previous generations; it is part of our past.  It is also something we are working on in each present moment.  It is of immediate importance because it guides how we live each day.  Finally, a heritage is something we’re creating for those who follow behind us.  A faithful heritage is something found in all three time periods; past, present, and future. We see all three of these eras of heritage in Paul’s greeting at the beginning of this letter.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

  1. The Apostle Paul’s heritage.

Paul held the status and ministry of an apostle (1).  He was AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS.  The word “apostle” means “one with a message.”  It is similar to “angel.”  A modern equivalent might be “missionary.”

It gets a little confusing because the first Apostles were the thirteen men whom Jesus chose to be His closest disciples.  Later, the title would be used for preachers going into new areas of the world and leaders of the Church.  I keep it straight by reserving capital “A” Apostles as designating the thirteen men whom Jesus chose directly.  Everyone else – persons with this gift – gets a small letter “a.”

BY THE WILL OF GOD: Paul’s apostleship was unique; in Acts 9:15 the Lord told Ananias about Paul: “HE IS MY CHOSEN INSTRUMENT TO CARRY MY NAME BEFORE THE GENTILES AND THEIR KINGS AND BEFORE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.”

Or, to put it another way, Paul’s apostleship came about ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE OF LIFE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.  THE PROMISE OF LIFE is the Good News Paul would carry into the Gentile world.  It is an exclusive message: the PROMISE OF LIFE is only kept IN CHRIST JESUS.

Paul exemplified the blessing of Christ-like character (2).  This kind of character is not natural; it comes FROM GOD THE FATHER AND CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  He offered three aspects of that kind of character.

GRACE = supernatural help to cover sins and other shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

MERCY = kindness above and beyond what might be considered “deserved.”

PEACE = inward tranquility that comes from trusting God will take care of you.

Paul referred to his family’s intergenerational service to God (3).  I THANK GOD, WHOM I SERVE, AS MY FOREFATHERS DID.  The word FOREFATHERS is quite general; it could refer to immediate generations or Paul’s ancestors all the way back to Abraham.  In Romans 11:1 Paul proudly referred to himself as an ISRAELITE, A DESCENDANT OF ABRAHAM, FROM THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN.  (He wrote more details in Philippians 3:4-6, where the Apostle established himself as a faithful Jew: a “Jew’s Jew.”)

He executed his service WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE: CLEAR meaning “pure;” not compromised with sin.  This was important to Paul; he mentioned it two other times in 1 Timothy (1:5; 3:9) and once in a sermon in Acts (23:1).  On the other hand, he went into some detail to show he was the WORST of SINNERS in 1 Timothy 1:12-16.  This may sound contradictory, but Paul in these passages, the Apostle Paul contrasted his sin with his salvation.  He wanted Timothy to understand how God had done so much to save him.

Service through prayer is indicated in the phrases I THANK GOD and I CONSTANTLY REMEMBER YOU IN MY PRAYERS.  Prayer is the means of service by which things happen.

  1. Pastor Timothy’s heritage.

An important part of Timothy’s heritage was his heart-felt relationship with Paul.  Verse two identifies Timothy as Paul’s SON in the faith.  MY DEAR SON (agape teknon) is obviously an affectionate way to speak about Timothy.  Relationships between believers are supposed to be characterized by love, but Timothy clearly had a special place in the Apostle Paul’s heart.  Paul may have first met Timothy in the city of Lystra, in Asia Minor, on his First Missionary Journey (Acts 14:8-21).  Paul took Timothy along on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:2-3).

Verse four speaks to a close relationship in two different phrases.  RECALLING YOUR TEARS probably refers to the time they parted company last.  Acts 20:37-38 reports the tears as Paul left the city of Ephesus (where Timothy pastored) for the last time.  I LONG TO SEE YOU SO I MAY BE FILLED WITH JOY.  How many relationships do you have where seeing that person fills you with JOY?  I pray you have many.  Indeed, the number of such relationships may be a mirror to your own character and the depth of Christ’s love in you.

Like Paul Timothy benefited from an inter-generational faith in God.  In his prayers, Paul had been reminded of Timothy’s SINCERE FAITH.  Timothy’s faith was received (his faith FIRST LIVED IN YOUR GRANDMOTHER LOIS AND IN [his] MOTHER EUNICE), but was also personal (I AM PERSUADED NOW LIVES IN YOU ALSO).  Postmodern culture assumes that reality is however you define it and faith is something you need to make up for yourself.  These are utterly false and harmful assumptions.

Instead, faith begins with a foundation on the past, on the teachings and traditions of the Church that have – ideally – been passed on by our own family members.  Like Timothy, faith starts familial and becomes personal as we grow in maturity and understanding.

Paul was a caretaker of Timothy’s faith (6).  The phrase FOR THIS REASON refers to Paul’s knowledge of Timothy’s faith as sincere and Paul’s encouraging Timothy to live in it fully.  I REMIND YOU TO FAN INTO FLAME (“continue rekindling”) THE GIFT OF GOD.  Paul does not explain this figure of speech, so we are allowed to speculate.  We might relate it to the word TIMIDITY in verse seven.  In which case, Paul is urging Timothy to use his gifts and exercise his office courageously.  Based on the fact Paul thought this admonition necessary we might guess that Timothy had not been developing his gifts or not using them for leadership.

WHICH IS IN YOU BY THE LAYING ON OF MY HANDS = Paul may be accused of being a “proud spiritual papa” here, but I believe the emphasis is on Paul’s knowing for certain Timothy’s faith was SINCERE because Paul saw it for himself.  Paul laid his own hands on Timothy in acknowledgement of his faith.  The New Testament posits a number of different uses/meanings of the practice of laying on hands.

– In Acts 6:6, the Apostles laid hands on the first deacons, to commission them for service.

– In Acts 8:17, Peter and John placed their hands on believers in Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit.  (cf 19:6)

– In Acts 9:12-17, Ananias put his hands on Paul and his blindness was healed.

– In Acts 13:3 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to be missionaries to the Gentiles by the laying on of hands.

– In Acts 28:8, Paul placed his hands on a man to heal his illness.

Whether Paul is referring to Timothy being healed, ordained, or receiving the Holy Spirit, it was a personal connection.

The phrase SINCERE FAITH is almost redundant.  Anything called “faith” that isn’t sincere isn’t faith at all.  This phrasing indicates Paul recognizing Timothy’s faith as real.

  1. Every believer’s heritage.

In the final verse, Paul developed two aspects of the spiritual heritage every believer enjoys.  First, expressed negatively, GOD DID NOT GIVE US A SPIRIT OF TIMIDITY (7).  TIMIDITY = “fearfulness.”  “Timothy” and “timidity” have similar sounds.  There is evidence that confidence may have been something Timothy lacked.  In 1 Corinthians 16:10 Paul urged the Corinthians to do nothing to make Timothy fearful.  In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul urged Timothy to not allow anyone to look down on him on account of his youth.  The  choice of “timidity” as a translation is unfortunate, because the Greek word has stronger emotion than that.  “Cowardice” would be a better choice.  In Revelation 21:8, the COWARDLY are named among the kinds of persons excluded from the New Jerusalem.

Of more immediate consequence, TIMIDITY saps our strength.  It urges us to give up on God and each other, cutting off the source of true strength.  The result is that we quit thinking about our heritage and focus on our shortage.  This is a deception of the devil that isolates us and makes us easy pickings.

Expressed positively, we all have a heritage of power.  God has given us A SPIRIT OF POWER, OF LOVE, AND OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.  One might say these three qualities are essential for leadership in the church.

POWER = energy, the capacity for getting things DONE!  The Greek word is dunamis; the basis for our English words “dynamite, dynamo, and dynamic,” three powerful words!  Having POWER inspires confidence; timidity often occurs in the absence of POWER.

LOVE = agape; the kind of love that is supernatural in origin.  Of the six words for love in the Greek language, agape is the most unselfish one.  In 1 John 4:18 we are promised that agape love casts out all fear.

SELF-DISCIPLINE is the God-given ability to control our passions instead of being controlled by them. Four times in his three letters to young pastors Timothy and Titus, Paul urges them to possess SELF-DISCIPLINE.  Especially in leadership positions, rash words and thoughtless actions can cause big problems.  Self-discipline is a virtue that helps one avoid these problems.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

Four times in verses three through six, Paul used words related to memory; REMEMBER, RECALLING, REMINDING, and REMIND.  We can picture him alone in his cell in a frame of mind and with nothing better to do than to relive memories of his past.  We can understand Paul being nostalgic, even grieving the fact that he will add nothing more to those memories.

I believe God used that understandable frame of mind to motivate Paul to record these final thoughts.  The entire letter demonstrates what we have noted in these first seven verses: the need to be mindful of our heritage.

We need to review and memorialize the heritage we have received.  The past is the time period over which we have no control – what is done cannot be done over.  Yet it is still important because it is the foundational part of our heritage.  It is the things we have received and created that define us in the present.

We need to be guided by our heritage, not by the fits of passion that enflame us in the present.  When we’re too much in the moment, we are prey to peer pressure, passion, and fashion, making poor decisions.  Choices create consequences and that is the stuff of life.

We need to be mindful of the future we’re creating; the heritage that is in the works; the life we will pass on to generations that follow us. We can’t just model it and hope they “catch on,” it must be taught to be caught.

 

RESOURCES:

Journey to a Faithful Finish, Tommy C. Higle

NIV Study Bible

Word Bible Commentary, William D. Mounce

Message #256

Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/10716/christian-disciplines-by-paul-fritz?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

RESOURCES:

Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Big Problem, Bigger God

david v goliath

With God, NO PROBLEM is insurmountable.

Please read 1 Samuel 15-17 as set-up to this message.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks, but it’s not required.

          Some of you will remember Art Linkletter’s TV show, “Kids say the Darndest Things.”  (The rest of you will Google it.)  On one of these shows, Linkletter asked what lesson we can learn from the story of David and Goliath.

From one of the kids, Linkletter received a one-word reply: “Duck!”

https://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/kids/what-is-the-lesson-of-david-and-goliath.html

Here’s a set of kid jokes based on David versus Goliath.

Q: Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
A: David – he rocked Goliath to sleep.
Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot?
A: The thought had never entered his head before.
Q: If Goliath is resurrected, would you like to tell him that joke?
A: No, he already fell for it once.

http://www.bible-study-online.juliantrubin.com/biblejokes/davidgoliathjokes.html

In my personal devotions earlier this week I discovered that when you read the whole account in one sitting, you get a different perspective on the account of David squaring off against Goliath.  I later discovered that in all my years of ministry I have NEVER preached on this passage.  With all that background, let me start by setting the fighters in their corners & we’ll see what God develops.

  1. In this corner, at nine feet, nine inches, 668 pounds, the Philistine champion, the “Gath Giant,” GOLIATH!

What do we know about Goliath?

The text tells us he was from Gath (4), a city we are unable to precisely locate.  The phrase OUT OF THE PHILISTINE CAMP (4) leaves open the possibility that Goliath was no Philistine, only employed by their army.  The Bible talks about three different races of giants.  Goliath may have been one of these peoples who were among the original settlers of Canaan (see Joshua 11:22).

He was a great deal taller than average (anywhere from 6’1” to 9’9”, depending on a couple variables).  Average height of the time being a mere 5’ to 5’3”, that leaves a lot of room on the upper scale. Goliath’s size and his armaments were meant to be intimidating.  Verses three to seven tell us how big and shiny his battle dress was.

What hope did the Israelites have of defeating him?  No military hope.

The challenge Goliath issued was perfectly in order with the customs of the time.  It may sound crazy to have armies staring across a valley at each other at all, let alone for 40 days (that may’ve been an above-average wait time).  Obviously, with a giant like Goliath as their champion, the offer to avoid all-out war by means of a challenge looked like a safe bet for the Philistines to win.

If intimidation was the Philistines’ tactic (I think it was), it worked: the Israelites were thoroughly intimidated.  Over the course of FORTY DAYS none of the Israelite soldiers took up his challenge (16).  They may have seethed under his insults, but none of them dared to step into the valley.  Worse, the text says the soldiers were all DISMAYED AND TERRIFIED (11).  The Philistines must’ve been grinning from ear to ear when young David was finally set forth as the Israelite champion (37 + 41).

  1. In the other corner, at four feet, eleven and a quarter inches, 92 pounds, the “Slingin’ Shepherd,” DAVID!

What do we know about David?

Most importantly, we know David had already been crowned as king over Israel.  At the end of 1 Samuel 15, God announced to His man Samuel that he was GRIEVED that He’d made Saul king of Israel.  In chapter sixteen, after a lengthy selection process, God revealed to Samuel that David would be the next king of Israel.  Samuel anointed David with oil, but told no one else about it and did nothing more.

The important bit is in 16:13: After Samuel anointed David, FROM THAT DAY ON THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME UPON DAVID IN POWER.

Contrast that with 16:14: NOW THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HAD DEPARTED FROM SAUL, AND AN EVIL SPIRIT FROM THE LORD TORMENTED HIM.  The last half of 1 Samuel is the painful story of how God replaced Saul with David as king of Israel.  Our passage is one of the steps in that process.

David was the youngest son in Jesse’s family, a good-looking kid (33+42) who tended sheep in the field (16:12-13; 34-37).  God started with a young man of humble beginnings and raised him to the highest place of that time.

In this passage, David demonstrated some of his emerging character.  In verses 17-22, he shows his obedience. Because of his age and/or other reasons, Jesse kept David out of the conflict.  Here Jesse gives the future king a “grunt” job to do: deliver some food to his brothers & bring back a report; David obeyed.

Look at verses 23-26 where David is outraged that this pagan – no matter how big he was – should be allowed to blaspheme the name of God and slander the people of Israel.  This demonstrates righteous anger, a state – if genuine – is difficult to achieve.

In verses 34-37 David showed confidence before King Saul, describing how he’d survived lion and bear attacks.  This also demonstrates humility, as his point was that the LORD had delivered him (37) then and David was confident the LORD would deliver him from this mouthy pagan giant too.  Rebuking Goliath’s taunts (45-47), David again expressed this confidence in God.

How was he the solution to the problem of Goliath’s challenge?

One explanation is to look at Goliath’s disadvantages. Bill Murphy Jr. wrote an article for INC. magazine entitled “Three Things People get Wrong about David vs. Goliath.”

Disadvantage #1 = Goliath can’t see.  Scientists have speculated that Goliath might have had a disorder called acromegaly. This condition causes a person to grow extremely tall, but can lead to double-vision and severe nearsightedness.   This may be implied by the text.  In verse 41, Goliath and his shield bearer KEPT MOVING CLOSER TO DAVID.  It’s true that Goliath’s motive might’ve been to close range and attack with his sword, he didn’t need to: He could’ve thrown his spear to make an attack at range or thrust it at David at medium range.  However, when you consider the possibility of near-sightedness, he may have been edging closer to see David better.  In verse 45, Goliath taunted David, saying, “COME HERE.” Was that because he couldn’t see David?

Murphy concludes, “Big competitors’ perceived advantages can often mask their even bigger disadvantages.”

Disadvantage #2 = Goliath is powerless.  Psychologically, Goliath was designed to intimidate.  Every detail in his description is the epitome of someone you don’t want to mess with.  I think the Philistines were pulling a fast one – they wanted to intimidate them into giving up without a fight.  Look at verse one – who started this fight?  the Philistines.  It was a put-on from the first moment.

Tactically, David has the advantage of mobility.  The text makes a big deal of Goliath’s armor and David’s lack of armor.  We think this is meant to emphasize David’s disadvantage, but it actually explains how he won: he moved more swiftly and attacked first.

A second explanation is to look at David’s tactical assets.  This is Murphy’s third point: David was deadly.  The Bible never says David went into battle with “only a sling.” We might think of a sling as a child’s toy, but it was actually an effective weapon.  In skilled hands, it was on a par with a bow.  Armies of the time had division of slingers.

I’ve read a rock from a sling has the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun.  David pressed his advantages of mobility and deadliness: he used his deadly ranged weapon and attacked Goliath before he could get close enough to swing his sword.

  1. The outcome of the fight: a TKO (Totally Killed Off).

One outcome was peace for Israel.  Verse 51 tells us WHEN THE PHILISTINES SAW THAT THEIR HERO WAD DEAD, THEY TURNED AND RAN.  The Israelites pursued their retreating foes all the way to their home cities, leaving behind a trail of death and plunder.

The plunder here is important.  I read that there were no blacksmiths in Israel.  The Philistines kept the Israelites in a vassal-like state by withholding metalworking technology from them.  Therefore, the Israelites increased their stock of technologically superior weapons as the picked up what the Philistines dropped.

Another outcome is David taking another step toward kingship. As we’ve seen, David had already been anointed as the next king, so God empowered Him to win the fight and take a step toward establishing his kingship by making him popular and well-known.  For example, in 18:7, the people exalt David over King Saul as a greater soldier.

The Philistines offered a rigged fight, but it was not rigged in the way they expected.  Instead, God determined the outcome of the fight to advance His plan.

Bill Murphy Jr. concluded his article with the following observation: “The lesson isn’t simply that when a powerful competitor takes on a smaller one, the smaller one might nevertheless win. Instead, great leaders understand that the real keys to battle are sometimes obscured by our misconceptions. Perceiving them correctly can amount to a Goliath-sized advantage.”

You may not care about finding lessons for leadership in this passage, but here’s something we can all take to heart: With God, NO PROBLEM is insurmountable.

Rather than be intimidated by what appears to be a mountain, we need to rethink the situation. First, trust in God as David did.  He had faith and joined the battle.  Second, take another look at the obstacles in front of you.  There are bound to be things that seem like disadvantages that can, with a little forethought, be turned into advantages.

David did not win his battle with Goliath.  God won the battle.  In fact, it was won before it was fought, and that was reflected in David’s confidence.  We must trust God will do the same for us.

 

Resources:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982.

https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/3-things-people-get-wrong-about-david-vs-goliath.html

Jesus Wept

Jesus Wept

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JESUS WEPT: WHEN FAITH AND DEPRESSION MEET

by

Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

(Brett Best, 2018)

The BOTTOM LINE

            Jesus Wept combines personal experiences (the author’s and others’) with thoughtful analysis and extraordinary wordsmithing to create a volume that gives expression to feelings associated with depression.

How did She do It?

Prologue

            The preface begins precisely where it ought to begin; attempting to define the set of experiences typically understood/diagnosed as “depression.”  I appreciated Crafton’s approach; she explored meanings while insisting that the experience is so different from person to person that it must be understood in manifold ways.  To help the reader, I’ve kept a list of symptoms, definitions, or descriptions below.

Chapter 1 – Jesus Wept

            As I am also a pastor who has suffered from depression, this chapter had extra force.  For example, her line, “I never would have killed myself, but I would have seen to it that the church killed me” (p. 12) may not be immediately understandable to a lay reader, but my heart knew it instantly.

Service occupations (pastors, social workers, counselors) can give pretext for burying depression but serving others will not solve the problem.  Crafton explores the seductive lies of depression, telling the sufferer that covering up their true self, attempting to hide the cloying struggle is safer than transparency.  One’s own body, however, is not deceived and ill health will betray an ill spirit.  External manipulations and trivia won’t address spiritual problems and/or chemical imbalances.

How’s this for an opening salvo? “At first, I didn’t know I was depressed.  I thought I was just religious.” (p. 1)

Chapter Two – A Learning Experience

            Finding meaning in suffering is a subject where a person’s theological convictions tend to rise to the surface rather quickly.  To illustrate, let’s consider a couple extremities of focus.  If your focus is extremely God-centered, your first reflections on experiences will be, “What is God doing here?  What’s His message to me?”  If your focus is extremely human-centered, your reflections will tend toward, “What’s going on here?  What caused this?  What can I learn from this?”

Crafton tends to the latter.  She tends to suspect God-centered answers to personal experiences as signs of self-centeredness.  Yet she does not want to discount Providence.  This is what she calls “a more nuanced view of God.” (p. 17)  In my experience, “nuanced” is especially a virtue among those who have theological views on the left – a more human-centered position.  This means that depression is not necessarily an exercise of Providence, it can occur as a result of randomness, an impersonal force that is indifferent to will and has meaning only when it is interpreted in hindsight.

As a theologian, it is a horror to me to say that God’s will and randomness occur side-by-side as causational events.  There’s nothing biblical in that thought, nor is there anything comforting.  If stuff “just happens” then there is no point to a search for meaning; all is merely subjective interpretation.  Admittedly, a problem with pain as a God-given teaching device arises in situations where pain is chronic or cyclical.  Who needs to learn that much or can learn that much?  We can see several different divine purposes in pain and suffering but one needs a more God-centered predisposition (aka “faith”) to see them.

This chapter is a hash of things Crafton has learned or surmised by use of hindsight.  There are some gems here, but her thoughts are not presented systematically or with any other organization other than “stream of consciousness.”  Ironically, in her search to avoid anthropomorphism, she becomes more anthrocentric.

Chapter Three – I Just Don’t Feel Anything

            As a body goes into shock or even into a coma as a response to some kind of physical trauma, it may be that a psychic/spiritual numbness occurs as a response to trauma to the soul.  If there is a correlation, just as shock and coma can be ultimately good for the body, depression may help preserve the soul.

That feels like a stretch, but it may be an insight that helps put depression in a therapeutic light; it is the soul’s response to turn inward and marshal inner resources to come back from trauma.  Would this be a different experience than the kind of depression that has no discernable cause?  Who would be qualified to make such a distinction?  The therapist stands too far away to have adequate knowledge and the client too close to permit objective knowledge.

A personal observation about depression is that I have felt more sensitive and aware while depressed.  It’s easy to think about my happier self as being blissful because of my ignorance.  That’s one aspect of the lack of objectivity a person can have while amidst of a depression.  While depressed, I have no reason to revel in my heightened awareness and intelligence, but I may believe I do.  To this notion, Crafton wrote, “The fear that easing the pain of depression will somehow deprive us of a necessary important spiritual season in our lives is not particularly well-founded.” (p. 34)

I wonder how much of a role personality plays in depression.  Are some personalities so maudlin that it would be difficult to draw a line between normal function and depression?  Is personality ever mistaken for depression?  Is it possible people are treated for depression when their affect is normal for them?  Are certain personality types more likely to suffer depression?

“What if some depression has a healing, consolidating mission in the life of the one to whom it comes?” (p. 32, emphasis hers)

“Maybe the numbness of clinical depression is a splint, sometimes.  Maybe it does keep us still for a time, when stillness is exactly what we need.  But only for a season.  Nobody needs a lifetime of catatonia.” (p. 35, emphasis hers)

Chapter Four – Trouble in Paradise

            This chapter merely introduces a topic that would be a deep well from which much discussion could be made: how religion helps and/or hinders recovery from depression.  (Not coincidentally, one’s answer would also reveal a lot about one’s base theological convictions.)  I don’t care for Crafton’s use of the word “mythology” as a synonym for “theology” or “faith.”  This is a failing common to those on the left (the human-centered theologians) and it may sound rational to those sets of ears, but to mine it’s calling truth “falsehood.”  Also, false guilt is not a part of our faith (read 2 Corinthians 7:10 for the definitive word on guilt).

“Many people resist turning to their communities of faith with the truth about themselves, for fear that understanding and support will not be forthcoming.  Such self-censorship where depression is concerned arises from the fear of rejection by the church, as much as from the fact of it: some people are already so convinced that their condition is shameful that they don’t even apply.” (p. 40)  To be fair, no one can help a person who will either refuse to acknowledge a problem or refused to acknowledge a solution.  Still, Crafton’s critique is generally true.  As usual, the Church struggles to keep pace with the culture’s level of information and nuanced response.

“But healing each case of depression is small and slow, the delicate work of the soul’s healing, partnering with the mystery of brain chemistry and the nourishing experience of being heard and understood.” (p. 45, emphasis hers)

Chapter Five – Charged with The Care of Souls

            As you might guess from the title, this chapter was written for members of the clergy.  Others will be left to appropriate meaning by example.   After all, there are “workaholics” in all professions.  One difference between clergy and laity is that clergypersons don’t have co-workers/peers/accomplices in the workplace. Another difference is that clergypersons are convinced that role-playing is vital to success or at least contributes to job security.

“We know that those charged with the care of souls can do a lot of damage, that if we don’t take care of ourselves in the right way, we’ll take care of ourselves in the wrong way.” (p. 52)

Chapter Six – The Defendant as Prosecutor

            Crafton’s point in this chapter is that pride creates shame and shame keeps us from getting the help we need to emerge from depression.  Pride might be an over-inflated ego, shame an under-inflated one.  In both cases, it can be argued, they are contributing causes to making depression last longer than need be.

This is one of the more personal chapters in the book where the author details injury, depression, and ways her spiritual life attempted to define her experiences.  It references the fact that the client is too close to have objectivity in making decisions about treatment, particularly medications.  Crafton is unflinchingly candid here: “I habitually entertain a scathing attitude toward my own sins and sorrows that I would never hold toward anyone else’s.” (p. 66)

Chapter Seven – This is My Last Hope

            This chapter details the benefits of Electro-convulsive Therapy (ECT), how depression finds its azimuth in Holy Week, and her belief that depression can be cyclical.  (In the case of cyclical depression, the strategy is to cease striving for a cure and simply wait the cycle out.)  Obviously, covering this range of subjects in a single chapter requires a singular focus or resorts to jumping around.  Crafton has done the latter.  The thoughts here follow a stream of consciousness, not a path of crafted reasoning.  In a way, this is expressive of post-modernism, where narrative trumps analysis and knowing anything for certain is an illusion caused by a desire to generalize personal preferences.  This chapter is among the least helpful.

Chapter Eight – Sorrowful Mysteries

            We like to think that for the joy set before us, we could endure even the slums of Calcutta.  Jesus endured the cross on that very basis.  This chapter deals with the shocking truth that Mother Theresa endured the slums of Calcutta without joy of any kind as a motive.  This truth – from her own journals – challenges our paradigm of what motivates service.

Crafton suggests Mother Theresa was unaware of depression as a biochemical condition.  As this cause of depression and its treatment was in its infancy in her lifetime, she may have been unaware of its potential to elevate her gloomy affect and the science may have been inadequate to the task.  Apparently no one suggested it to her and she may have rejected it as a way of paying too much heed to herself.

In any event, maybe the joylessness of her psyche helped her to endure ministry to those most brutally oppressed by poverty.  It may have been a coping mechanism.  How often do we see people who accomplish historic things having done so by means of great sacrifice, singular focus, and a commitment that shuts out all other light?  We ordinary folk divide ourselves among manifold lesser things.  Perhaps we lack the focus and the single-mindedness that Mother Theresa displayed.

As I stated earlier, the line between the disease and personality is not clear to me.  How does one’s character figure into the onset of depression?

Reflecting on this chapter theologically, who’s to say Mother Theresa did not live her life exactly as God intended?  Where are we promised happiness in this life?  Don’t the achievements vindicate her attitude?  Are we troubled by Mother Theresa’s depression because we want to make a virtue of happiness and a vice of sorrow?  Scripture confirms God is present in both.

It’s likely that the most disquieting thing about these post-mortem revelations about Mother Theresa is how thoroughly she fooled us.  The smile on her face feels like a lie.  I wonder if she had chosen to be more transparent that well-intended folk might have got in her way.  Might she have avoided talking about it for that reason?

Chapter Nine – The Dark Night

            Here Crafton compares the Christian mystic concept of “the Dark Night of the Soul,” with our modern paradigm of depression and universal experience of sorrow.  She finds inadequate difference to merit a distinction between the terms, except that depression might respond to pharmaceuticals where a spiritual experience might not.

“If sorrow is about loss, and depression is about bitter despair, the Dark Night is about mystery – its obscurity cloaks all meaning, so that none of it is clearly visible.  You can’t find your familiar landmarks.” (p. 102)

“It might not be too much to say that a depressed person of faith almost always experiences a dark night of the soul as well, whatever means of healing he or she eventually finds: that the hopelessness is the illness, and the mystery whose shape gradually emerges as dawn breaks is the dark night, the eventual blessing of meaning’s return.” (p. 104)

Chapter Ten – Words Fail Me

            This chapter is both the most organized and the most off-putting chapter in the book.  Based on a synchretistic/universalistic theology (the downfall of the “New Age”), Crafton offers “centering prayer” as an alternative to traditional prayer.  For the folks who have no words, she offers a way to pray that is not prayer and requires no words.  It does matter which God people believe in; a vaguely-defined “spirituality” is not going to help anyone.  Additionally, spirituality is a means, not an end.  Spirituality is a means to knowing God and maturing.

To call this practice prayer violates the definition of the word.  Her “centering prayer” calls for no communication with God, no reflection on God or self.  It is an emptying exercise designed to achieve – relaxation?

Her tone is more of an instructor, less of the guide that she has been in the previous chapters.  Its almost as if this is the one thing for which she argues dogmatically.  If she wants people to meditate, she should say so and she should call it meditation instead of mislabeling it as prayer.  I believe prayer not anchored in Scripture and good theology is not a spiritual exercise or a maturing experience.  It is not prayer, it is something else, something less.

Chapter Ten – Wanting to Die

            While she expresses herself artfully in this chapter, there is very little in the way of new information.  A book on depression would be incomplete without some mention of suicide, but Crafton’s treatment of the subject is neither novel or particularly helpful.  I don’t recall her expressing suicidal thoughts elsewhere in the book, nor does she use the idiom of depression as a disease much outside of this chapter.  That said, the chapter is adequate to the author’s purpose.  More clinical and more complete information is easily available elsewhere.

“Religious people who consider suicide encounter an immediate obstacle: centuries of church teaching which have held that suicide is a mortal sin.  It combines murder with despair, a perfect storm.” (p. 130)

“It is counterintuitive to those who are not suicidal, but death feels to the sufferer like a measure of freedom in an otherwise imprisoned life, a light at the end of an interminable tunnel.” (p. 133)

Chapter Twelve – The Family Disease

            This final chapter is written to help families deal with their depressed members.  It became a foray into philosophy and social commentary on family life.  I don’t have an opinion on the depth of insight or accuracy of Crafton’s words her, but I admire the way she put them together.  As her discourse became more general, it became less helpful.  As an ending to a chapter, Crafton’s final words fell flat.  As an ending to an entire book, it’s a sad contrast to the craftsmanship that preceded it.  I’d suggest writing an epilogue.

“Living with someone with any mental illness can be hard work, and I can’t think of any reason other than misplaced politeness to pretend that it is not.” (p. 143)

“The family is the crucible of all things human.  We pour every need and longing we have into the leaky vessels with whom we live.  They can’t hold it all of course: people are insufficient as objects of utter dependence, however much they may want to oblige.” (pp. 144-145)

“This is the key: the fact of our being is sufficient cause for God’s celebration.  We need look no further for validation.” (p. 155)

An Exhaustive Definition of Depression

Depression is…

…different from sadness or sorrow, temporary conditions that everyone experiences.  Depression feels similarly but has different quality (depth) and quantity (duration).

…not merely circumstantial, though events can trigger it.

…not something everyone experiences.

…a sapping of spiritual strength and joy.

…living in grayscale, not color.

…an inability to honor one’s successes or claim one’s blessings.

…a profound mistrust of self.

…loneliness.

…out of step with the world’s way of living.

…shame.

…a self-inflicted or at least self-aggravated wound.

…exhausting.

…inadequacy.

…more involved with anxiety and worry than with serenity and delight.

…an individual experience.

…not knowing things can be any different than they are.

…a result of prolonged, unresolved stress.

…unrequited longings.

…a distrust of hope, reduced hope, a lack of hope.

…a desire to be dead (whether suicide is attempted).  Many persons think a lot about the afterlife, regardless of their religiosity.  Others are less heedful, seeking a more immediate fix: an experience of resolution and the silence it brings.

…a loss of the experiences of beauty and wonder.

…reliance on duty to motivate one’s self rather than devotion.

…misery.

…anger.  (Benignly, this can be impatience with typical or trivial inconveniences.  More malignancy seems less common as it takes passion and energy to be angry in that way.)

…occasionally over-performing in public things (like work) while routinely under-performing in private things (especially self-care).

…uncertainty over one’s motives and perceptions with the result of a delay in getting care and/or going public with one’s state of being.

…meaninglessness.

…a lack of vision.

…progressive (as depression episodes recur, they can come back with greater intensity).

…numbness.

…a perverse preference for stasis.

…an inability to feel pleasure or pain to the usual degree.

…a soul quietly starving.

…”hard to hold in your hand, hard to describe, and hard to delineate.” (p. 83)

At the End of it All

            This book is useful as a primer on depression from a Christian point of view.  It handily puts into good words the feelings that have been so hard for so many of us to describe.  It is not technical reading; just the opposite.  It is some preliminary thoughts that have been wrung from difficult experience.

As for a cure to depression, Crafton offers two simple things:

“1. From others, a quiet and respectful presence, a willingness to be beside the one who suffers.

“2. From you, a gentle, abiding tenderness toward your own battered self while it gropes its way toward healing and the restoration of meaning and love.” (p. 106)