A Sidetracked Life

 

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So Saul headed toward Damascus. As he came near the city, a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

Acts 9:3-4

I’m thinking that an awful lot of my life has been filled with these inconvenient interruptions. I like a certain order, and schedules and keeping appointments. I’m not a rigid person, but I can become mildly annoyed when my life becomes ruled by these unplanned intrusions.

However, at times an interruption can be quite productive. Often when my plans are set aside, I get the opportunity to see the Holy Spirit step in. He does things that are eternally true and special.

Scriptures are saturated with ‘inconvenient interruption.’ Mary, whose life was jolted by a visit by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-31). Paul, on the road to Damascus was overwhelmed suddenly and converted (Acts 9:1-9). The virgin Mary would have a son, and Paul would shake the world with his preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

There are many others who had their calm lives ‘turned upside down’ by our tumultuous God.

One could almost say that the Bible is a book of this ‘blessed interruption.’ I’m thinking right now of Moses, whom God shook and completely altered his life in just a few moments. And of course we read of Abraham, suddenly leaving everything to follow a promise.

I tell you, God has a flair for the dramatic. He often steps into the lives of His people. We might get irritated, frustrated, ‘owly’ and a little bit afraid.

The question is this– can the Spirit disrupt you?

Perhaps this is the next lesson in your discipleship. You will need to be a servant. The most profoundly Christian people I know are those whose lives can be side-tracked. I encourage you, look for God’s purposes behind your next interruption. Let Him arrange your schedule. 

 Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!”  

Luke 1:38

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Disproportionate Suffering

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Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ Exodus 3:2-3

The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”

All of us know a brother or sister who seem to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge. What can we say to these who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me. He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A key word in this verse is “rejoice.” It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance,

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out-of-place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap saying not a word.  

The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching;

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

 

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‘A Drowning Kind of Despair’

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“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that scares me.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a rather simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “sex, drugs, and rock-n-rollism.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we come to the interesting place where our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and after all, He is the Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic in some perverse way.

But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“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 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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Wolves at the Door

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Be very careful!

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” 

 Matthew  7:15, NIV

I use my channel changer and I flip through the enormous darkness that exists in the world.  Jesus clearly warns His flock of the cold, hard realities of deception and deceitfulness they face.  Trickery abounds and things simply are not what they seem to be.

Darkness has an dark grasp on so many. The devil’s cunning is his ability to adapt to each person’s weakness. Deception has worked well for him for thousands of years. But understand: Lucifer is alive and well and he is prowling planet Earth.

There should be an alertness for the reality of deception. Sometimes, some sheep will not really be sheep. Our senses are not always trained to look for counterfeit Christians.  We get confused by the outside (it looks like wool to me).  But it’s a lie.  The wolf has deliberately taken on the attire of a believer.

What better place for him to ‘minister’ his evil than through a cold and lazy institutional church?

Jesus alerts us to what is really taking place. (Oh, how He wants us to discern!)  I think every believer should have a holy skepticism of outward displays of faith.  This is not cynicism or negativity; but rather it is a cautious faith– one in which we can discern the realities of a world that routinely destroys people. The first generation Church understood the reality of evil and what it would do when it’s unleashed.

“The first step on the way to victory is to recognize the enemy.” 

Corrie Ten Boom

“…they are ferocious wolves,” (v. 15). 

Ferocious” in verse 15 is a sobering word.  When I read it, I think of my home in Alaska with its wilderness and its wolves and brown bears; or maybe the grasslands of the ‘Serengeti’ with its lions or leopards.   A dangerous carnivore is often hidden by its camouflage.  Ferocity is a ‘predator’ word, a word that intensifies the danger. Satan can patiently stalk for days, and maybe months, and then he springs his trap and ambushes its victims.

wolf-sheeps-clothingWe can become accustomed to an ideal of love and peace in our walks, we are often disturbed and perhaps pulled off-balance by this disturbing revelation of evil.  Jesus tells us that we must possess an understanding of two things: 1) Deception is quite possible for the real believer, that in 2000 years the darkness is still potent. 2) The world is still contested but Jesus is Victor! Living in close proximity to Jesus will protect us in the dark.

We shouldn’t be anxious but trust Him in the matter of the safety of our very souls.

“Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10:3, NLT

Do you know what wolves do to lambs? But yet Jesus still sends them. They might surround us, but we are His own.

“How comfortable it is to have One, day and night, before the throne to control the charge of our enemy, and the despondencies of our souls”

–Samuel Charnock

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