Something Shared, Something Gained

Step foot into any church nursery or onto any daycare playground and you’ll almost certainly find a child who is reluctant to share.  One of the reasons this is the case is because children typically understand sharing to mean less for themselves – less time with a specific toy, less turns with the basketball, or less crackers during lunch.

When Paul mentions a kind of sharing in the book of Philemon, though, the result is an increase, not a reduction.  In verse 6 he writes, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” 

“The sharing of your faith” in this context means more than telling nonbelievers about Jesus, although it’s important to share that message with those who haven’t heard it.  Here Paul is addressing relationships between believers, and the word for sharing carries the connotation of partnership and fellowship.  His point is that as you and I participate in the life of faith by talking about what God has done for us, investing in the spiritual lives of others, serving the Church, and joining in His mission, our understanding of all that Christ has done for us increases.

By talking about what God has done for us, we experience a heightened awareness of who He is and the blessings He offers.

By investing in the spiritual lives of others, we gain a deeper appreciation of God’s resolve to complete the good work He began (Philippians 1:6).

By serving the Church, we develop a fuller realization of God’s grace as He works in, through, and among such broken people.

By joining in God’s mission, we acquire an enlarged view of His glory and cultivate an eternal perspective.

This is not an exhaustive list of all that sharing our faith entails, but these are a few components that came to mind immediately.  As these observations demonstrate, sharing our faith is one of the primary means God uses to grow and refine our knowledge of Him. 

When a child understands sharing as meaning less for himself, he fails to see how sharing actually paves the way for more – more people can enjoy a specific toy, a basketball, or crackers.  In the same way, sharing our faith means more, not just for others, but also for ourselves.  As we expose our hearts, spur on others to love and obey God, contribute to the wellbeing of the Church, and make disciples of all nations, our knowledge and enjoyment of all that Christ purchased for us will grow.

As we approach Easter – the day upon which our entire faith rests (1 Corinthians 15:12-19) – why not dive headfirst into gospel-inspired partnership and fellowship?  By pouring out for the good of others and the glory of God, you’ll end up with more, not less.

What’s the Verdict?

I’ve been obsessed with Lauren Daigle’s song “How Can It Be” since I first heard it two months ago.  The whole song is powerful, but I find a section of the chorus particularly moving:

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome

Not too long ago, the words I’d been listening to appeared before my eyes on the pages of Scripture.  “Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God, who pleads the cause of his people…” (Isaiah 51:22).

A quick survey of a concordance showed that this expression occurs many times throughout the Old Testament.  The Hebrew phrase can be translated several ways, such as “contend” or “defend,” but the connotation is often forensic.  In these instances, the idea is that God makes our case for us.  But what case?  And to whom does God plead?

Sometimes God pleads the cause of the fatherless and poor, pledging protection and provision (Proverbs 22:23, 23:11).  Sometimes God pleads the cause of His people against their enemies, taking vengeance on those who harm them (1 Samuel 24:15; Jeremiah 50:34, 51:36; Micah 7:9).

These truths point to a greater reality, namely that God offers His people eternal protection from condemnation and ultimate provision for sin because of the efficacious sacrifice of His Son.  For example, the rest of Isaiah 51:22 says that God will no longer make His people drink from the cup of His wrath.  In its immediate context, this verse speaks to the judgment Jerusalem endured because of sin.  Although the people experienced God’s wrath, He eventually removed the dreadful “cup of staggering.”

This event in Jewish history foreshadows another biblical mention of the cup of God’s wrath, when, instead of being removed, it’s received.  Knowing the time of His arrest and subsequent crucifixion was near, Jesus begged His Father to let the cup pass from Him.  Excruciatingly aware of the implications, Jesus went on to say, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Not long after His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and tried.  When he stood before Pilate – the Roman governor who had the authority to condemn Him to death – Jesus was surprisingly quiet.  “When he was accused by the chief priest and elders, he gave no answer.  Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’  But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed” (Matthew 27:12-14).

Soon after this, Jesus was sentenced to death.  As He hung on the cross, the physical pain was surpassed by the anguish of being forsaken by His Father as He drank the cup of wrath.  Because of Jesus, we who were “by nature children of wrath” become recipients of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us” (Ephesians 2:3,7).

This is better news than I know how to articulate, and it sheds light on our understanding of God’s promise to plead the cause of His people.

Every person is guilty of violating God’s law and is deserving of judgment.  When those of us who are in Christ by faith face the Almighty God – the One who has the authority to condemn us to hell – Jesus is anything but silent.  His silence at His own trial makes it possible for Him to be the Advocate at ours.  By refusing to respond to a single charge against Him, He is able to negate every accusation against us.

In a sermon on Lamentations 3:58, Charles Spurgeon imagined the scene in “the court of divine law” where we have been charged with failing to do what God commands and choosing to do what He forbids.  After the charges are read, the time comes for us to enter a plea.  Of this moment Spurgeon said:

We are asked if we have anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced upon us.  We are silent.  Well may we hold down our heads, for what reason is there why we should not be punished for the sins which we have committed?  There was a time when we would have pleaded, “Not guilty,” but we know better now.  We know our guilt; it stares us in the face.  We cannot plead the force of temptation, for we know that often we have tempted ourselves, and have, without any incentive beyond our own hearts, run greedily after sin.  The law sits upon its throne of judgment, and since we cannot plead, it makes proclamation, “Is there anyone in court who will act as advocate for this rebel, whose silence and shame witness to his guilt?  If there is none to show cause to the contrary, I will open the Great Book and read his sentence; I will put on the black cap, and he shall be taken to doom.”  Up stands the bleeding Savior, the great Advocate for sinners!  What does Jesus plead?  “O Justice,” He says, “I plead not that these men have not sinned – I do confess on their behalf that they have grievously sinned; but I plead for them that their sin has been punished – punished in Me.  All the curse of their sin was laid on Me.  I loved them from before the foundations of the world; and having loved them I took their sin upon Myself, and therefore, it is not on them.  I suffered in their place, and therefore, Justice, you cannot punish two for one offense – having struck Me for them – you cannot now strike them!  I plead My blood – these wounds of Mine, once opened by the cruel nails – this side of Mine, once torn with the spear – I plead these – My groans, My tears, My agony, My death – for these I suffered on their account.  Their sin was punished in Me – let them go free!”

And we’re free indeed.  In this way, God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).  Since God’s charges against us were borne by Christ, we can live today as those for whom there is “now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1).  As for anyone else who would dare accuse us – be it our own consciences, other people, or Satan himself?  The charges don’t stand because the only One with power to condemn has chosen to plead our cause instead (Romans 8:-33-34).

To borrow words from Lauren Daigle, “How can it be?”

What Are You Waiting For?

Empty ShopOur culture is obsessed with instant gratification.  We are consumers bent on getting what we want when we want it, hence the proliferation of fast food restaurants, instant streaming services, and vending machines.  Although these inventions add convenience to our lives, they don’t necessarily benefit our health.  Contrary to how we act at times, fast isn’t always synonymous with best.  Sometimes it’s worth skipping the drive-thru and opting for a home-cooked meal instead.

But what about when waiting means more than holding off for more nutritious food?  What about when our circumstances reveal our staggering lack of control?  What about when we don’t have what we think we need, and there’s nothing we can do about it?  As people who are used to getting our way with a dollar and the push of a button, we become disoriented and overwhelmed when we don’t immediately have what we want.

When there’s no magic button to press to change our circumstances, we have to wait.  Times like these are often spent wishing away today and hoping for a different tomorrow.  When life is obviously beyond our control, our tendency can be to focus on seeing a change as quickly as possible.  As I read Scripture, though, I notice a different focus.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” –Psalm 62:1

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” –Psalm 130:5

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” –Isaiah 64:4

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” –Lamentations 3:25

The writers of these verses were waiting for God.  He was their focus.  With the difficulties of life comes the constant temptation to focus primarily on our situations instead of on our Savior.  When this happens, we are often guilty of idolizing comfort, assuming our ways are best, and even resenting God’s plans.

Waiting for God means living with settled confidence that He will do the right thing at the right time.  When we wait with confidence in His character and ways, our desire for His will to be done begins to overshadow our desire for our circumstances to be changed. 

Even as His will becomes our priority, we don’t have to ignore our feelings or deny our frustration.  We don’t have to stop asking Him to intervene with the healing, provision, and relief we crave.  Because of who He is, we can bring our requests to Him with boldness while accepting His responses with humility.

Our prayers start to include not only affirmation of His power, but also acceptance of His plans, a combination illustrated by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said both, “Our God…is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace,” and in the next breath, “But even if he does not…” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Our God is able to change our circumstances, but even if He doesn’t, we still worship Him.  We still love Him.  We still trust Him.  We still follow Him.   He proved His goodness at the cross in decisive fashion, and He will confirm it again on the Day when our tears are wiped away forever as the seemingly disconnected puzzles of our lives are pieced together in seamless clarity.

And until that Day, we wait, not for a different set of circumstances, but for Him.

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

On Sunday, David preached a powerful sermon from Mark 5 about two different people whose dire circumstances caused them to come to Jesus in desperation.  Jairus was a prominent religious leader whose young daughter was near death.  He was likely wealthy and was respected by his peers, most of whom were suspicious of Jesus’ ministry, at best.  The second individual was a woman, unnamed by Mark, who had spent all of her money seeking a cure for twelve straight years of illness.  Rendered ceremonially unclean because of her medical condition, she wasn’t allowed to worship in the temple and was ostracized in the community.

In spite of their many differences, Jairus and the woman had at least one thing in common: desperation.  Totally powerless to change their situations, both of them came to Jesus in faith that He could do something.  Dignified Jairus hit his knees and begged Jesus to heal his daughter.  The outcast pushed her way through a large crowd to touch Jesus’ clothes, believing that would be enough to bring the relief doctors hadn’t provided.

We may not be able to empathize with Jairus or the woman, but I’d assume most of us have experienced a sense of helplessness at one time or another.  It can be tempting to despise our difficulties, but Mark 5 teaches us to do otherwise.  The desperation we feel when life becomes more than we can bear is the very thing that compels us to run with abandon to the One who “daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19).  Desperation can be a life-sustaining call to action like the hunger that tells us to eat or the thirst that tells us to drink.  Had their circumstances not been so difficult, Jairus and the woman likely wouldn’t have approached Jesus with such determination.  Perhaps they wouldn’t have even come at all.

If comfort and happiness are the most important things to us, we’ll end up resenting the gift desperation so often delivers.  When life becomes more about avoiding pain than knowing Jesus, our efforts to sidestep suffering will prevent us from heeding the invitation to come to Him and find rest for our souls.  We’ll miss out on the opportunity to “taste and see” His goodness firsthand (Psalm 34:8).

In Mark 5, Jesus’ intervention took an unexpected turn in both circumstances.  The stories are woven together, and the unnamed woman’s encounter with Jesus interrupted Jairus’ mission to get Jesus to his daughter as quickly as possible.  Because of the delay, his daughter died.  Meanwhile, the woman – who undoubtedly would’ve wanted to avoid attention – was singled out by Jesus, publically validated, physically healed, and spiritually cleansed by grace through faith.  When the story shifts back to Jairus, Jesus raises his daughter to life.

Although both individuals eventually got what they wanted, Jesus demonstrated that He works in His way and in His time.  Jairus’ expectations of the Great Physician were exceeded by an encounter with the One who raises the dead.  The woman came to know Jesus not just as Healer, but as Savior.  When our desperation causes us to run to Jesus, we often discover He’s so much greater than we imagined.

God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the ways we expect, but we can trust Him to work for His eternal glory and our ultimate good in every situation.  Through this lens, our challenges look less like obstacles keeping us from Jesus and more like invitations to draw near.

It’s All Part of the Plan

I love making plans.  Whether it’s planning a getaway, organizing an event, or coordinating a hangout, I enjoy the process of thinking through the details.  Making plans is fun for me, but I’m not fond of changing or canceling them.  I’ll do it when I need to, but my preference is almost always for things to go as originally scheduled.

As beneficial as this quality can be, there are also times when it proves to be a great weakness, like when a situation calls for flexibility or when unforeseen circumstances necessitate a change or, most notably, when God’s plans conflict with mine.

You’ve probably heard the well-meaning expression “God has a plan”, but maybe sometimes you feel like that plan of His has been wrecked.  If so, you’re in good company.  Think of the disciples – the men who dropped everything to follow Jesus.  At His invitation, they walked away from careers and loved ones in faith that following Him would prove worthwhile.  Can you imagine how it must have felt when their beloved friend and teacher became the target of a capital investigation?  Although the charges against Him were fabricated and the trial was devoid of justice, Jesus was quickly condemned to death, and all but one of the disciples scattered.

I don’t know exactly what was going through their minds when the early morning conviction gave way to Jesus’ afternoon death.  My guess is that they were scared, overwhelmed, and massively confused.  I would’ve been suspicious of God’s plan, and perhaps would’ve questioned whether or not He actually one.  If there was ever an event that appeared to undermine God’s sovereignty, this was it.  What in the world is happening, the disciples must’ve wondered.

The disciple Peter lived through the nightmare of Good Friday, but less than two months after the horrifying events of Jesus’ death, he preached boldly about God’s mysterious ways, which had been clarified at the resurrection and ascension.  “This Jesus,” explained Peter, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

What once appeared to be a total derailment of God’s purposes Peter said was part of the plan all along.  Don’t be fooled by the less-than-honorable circumstances surrounding Jesus’ conviction and crucifixion.  Jesus’ death was God’s idea.  The sovereignty of God knows no accidents or surprises because everything God does, He does on purpose.

Like the disciples, we are prone to doubt God’s methods and means.  As Peter realized, though, God has a plan, and His plans are never thwarted.  Because we know God’s character, we can trust that His unbreakable plans are also for our ultimate good.

A wise woman recently prayed for me, and I took note of her words.  She compared life on earth to a tapestry, and we have a front row seat facing the back of it.  All we see are the tangled threads, seemingly disorganized and overwhelmingly unimpressive.  Eventually we’ll see the other side of it, and suddenly everything will make sense.  Like our Savior’s death-defeating resurrection, what appeared to be a conglomeration of random threads will be seen instead as strategically-placed pieces in a grand work of art.

We can’t lose faith in God’s ways just because we don’t see the full picture.  The tangled threads we so often loathe are themselves the very proof of His working.  When He finally finishes the tapestry, you and I will be amazed at what He was able to accomplish for His glory and our good.  When that Day comes, we’ll realize that everything that once felt so meaningless and disconnected was woven together in beauty, one strand at a time, “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”.