JOY & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Rejoicing in God Fuels Greeting with Love

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I married a hugger.

Jan loves to greet folks she knows with a warm embrace. She’s just about the best example I know of someone who takes seriously the Bible’s command to greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12). She’s turned me into more of a hugger!

In my last post I wrote about the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14) as a gospel grace for guarding unity in the church. The gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

The way I see Paul’s flow in the argument makes me think we most likely will embrace his command in 12, or some modern-day, culturally appropriate version thereof, IF we take seriously and obey all five of his rapid-fire, staccato, summary-of-the-book imperatives in 2 Cor. 13:11.

 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

I call them five virtues which must be operative in a gospel-shaped community if it’s going to show genuine, holy intimacy in relationships: rejoicing in the Lord, aiming at the perfect, submitting to the leadership, agreeing on the truth, and striving for the peace.

The first is rejoicing in the Lord. Finally, brothers, rejoice. Some translations have farewell. And it can mean that. The Greek word became a familiar form of greeting and parting in the New Testament world.

But the word literally is, as rendered by the ESV, the word for rejoice. Paul ends the same way in Phil 3:1 – Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord and Phil. 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Paul made it very clear in the opening of the letter, 2 Cor. 1:24, of his priority agenda in this regard – we work with you for your joy.

This way of saying hello and/or goodbye doesn’t differ all that much from the Jewish salutation shalom. Peace be to you. It conveys a certain sentiment, blessing, and hope for the party given the greeting.

It is decidedly vertical in its trajectory, for the object of rejoicing isn’t in one’s circumstances which vary substantially, but in God who always remains the same and always works all things together for a believer (Rom. 8:28).

People grounded in the bedrock theology of God’s sovereignty that contributes a deep running current of joy in His control of everything best fight against anxiety and more often than not bear the fruit of the Spirit that is joy (Gal. 5:22-23).

And because they keep their eyes on Jesus on the throne and the certainty of His love in the gospel, they possess a power to rejoice even in suffering and touch others with tangible, holy forms of intimacy rather than drown in a sea of self-pity that ignores the needs of others.

What greater need do we have than to be loved by others?

Consider giving more attention to your greeting ways in the church fueled by your rejoicing ways in God.

DIFFERENT DAYS & ASSIGNMENTS

How Ecclesiastes 7:14 Informs Choices in Plenty & Want

In recent years I have returned to this text time and again:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Adversity has characterized the better part of my last three years. Great loss, grief, physical sufferings and more have visited my household.

assignment

The wisdom writer calls for different responses for different days. Adversity necessitates reflection.  Consider is the assignment. God brings both plenty and want into our lives. He is sovereign over all. We ponder this truth that we may not find out anything that will be after us.

Puritan commentator Matthew Henry observed:

Day and night, summer and winter, are set the one over against the other, that in prosperity we may rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and in adversity may weep as though we wept not, for we may plainly see the one from the other and quickly exchange the one for the other; and it is to the end that man may find nothing after him, that he may not be at any certainty concerning future events or the continuance of the present scene, but may live in a dependence upon Providence and be ready for whatever happens. Or that man may find nothing in the work of God which he can pretend to amend.

I have done my fair share of considering of late. That has been true even most recently as well. It explains in part the absence of blog posts for more than a month.

I developed a post-op infection in my hip following my November 2016 jaw reconstruction surgery. A draining wound has plagued me ever since. Doctors finally determined the need to debride the hip on March 10. They feared the presence of bone infection that would necessitate continuous IV antibiotics for six to eight weeks.

This past Tuesday proved an occasion for rejoicing. Frankly, I prefer this assignment. Who doesn’t? My Miami surgeon gave me a good report about the incision. He removed the stitches. He does not think I have any lingering infection. I should be fine. Talk about a day of prosperity!

That, in conjunction with my marriage last Saturday to Lady Jan, has brought me into a season of great joy. I’ve not been this happy for a long time. Thanks be to God.

Still, I remain mindful that I don’t know what providence will bring in the future. Different days will require different responses.

May God give grace to rejoice or consider as assigned.

SWEET REASONABLENESS (2)

How To Cultivate This Relational Virtue

In my last post, I wrote about the Philippians 4:5 challenge of being well known for a sweet reasonableness–a perfect courtesy, if you will, in dealing with others.

Here in part two is the first of three ways from the context of that passage for developing this otherwise unnatural disposition, especially when we are wronged.

Negatives Positives Computer Keys Showing Plus And Minus Alternatives Analysis And Decisions

 

We don’t often associate the rather familiar verses of Phil. 4:4-8 with negotiating conflict and preserving oneness in our dealings with others. But the context in vv. 2-3 makes this connection very plain.

Paul calls out publically two godly women struggling to get along. He even enlists the aid of a mediator–“true companion”–to help resolve whatever dispute left the ladies at odds.

Let this hit you right between the eyes. That real church-life struggle sets the stage for the exhortations which follow.

Here is step one from these familiar verses for cultivating a sweet reasonableness known to everyone–especially in your church when conflict threatens to disrupt unity.

One, pursue your joy in God (v. 4). Rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t want us to miss the point, so he repeats himself. Again, I will say rejoice. The apostle likes this theme. He hit them with it once before in Phil. 3:1.

I’m not sure we can hear this often enough. Our contentment ought not depend on how well relationships work out. No matter how hard we try, things can get dicey with others. When it does, the way to sweet reasonableness lies in a Godward orientation.

Ken Sande puts this so well in The Peacemaker:

Salvation through the gospel, the motivation and power to change, sound guidance through God’s Word and Spirit, the resources of the body of Christ, opportunities that come through a sovereign God–all these blessings are available when you are “in the Lord.” But remember, Satan does not want you to think like this; he wants to keep you worried about your conflict, wrapped up in yourself, and looking everywhere except at God. Resist him! Go to the Lord repeatedly in prayer and worship, and delight in his goodness to you. You will be surprised at the freedom and power that such rejoicing brings (85).

This is precisely why our church offers once a year a class on the subject of spiritual disciplines. Joy in God grows as the fruit of our gospel-driven pursuit of God through the means of grace with which He has blessed us.

How’s your joy in God quotient?

There’s little hope of sweet reasonableness known to all without it.

Stay tuned for part three!

Dear Josh

Josh and Me (2)

Hey, bud.

Two years ago today. Goes by fast. Your damaged heart gave out. Cut down in your prime. I’ll never forget the moment I walked through the door that Saturday afternoon. Your mom trembled the horrific news of our loss. I suspect that scene will never dim in my mind’s eye.

Grief gets easier and it doesn’t. Losing you still ranks first among the hardest things I’ve ever endured. Difficult to imagine anything worse. I’ve said it so many times. No one should have to bury their child.

Honestly, son, things haven’t gotten a whole lot easier since that traumatic day. Oh don’t get me wrong. The Lord has blessed us beyond what we deserve in 2014 and 15. Two of His best gifts are named Blaise and Olivia! How about these cuties?!

But December of 2014 hit hard. Mom got diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Since surgery that month she’s worked hard via natural methods to beat the remaining rogue cells in her body. Just today she went to a new doc in Lakeland for the fourth or fifth time. He wants her to have a PET scan ASAP to determine just where we stand. We hope to nail down an appointment for that sometime later this week. Lots of prayers by tons of people going heavenward for Ma. So grateful for all the support.

I’m not without my own issues. Long story, but the gist of things is this. I’ve got a busted jaw. I know the irony of that doesn’t escape you. Preacher’s got a bum mandible! It’s a result of the radiation treatment for my head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgeons plan to replace the dead bone with a titanium plate on February 15. I wrote all about that here. I’m thinking of changing my new Twitter address to @robojaw. What do you think?

For the time being I’m on total medical leave from my duties at the church AGAIN. I’ve seen this movie before back in 2005. I work at my writing mostly, when pain and fatigue allow. But preaching, talking, counseling to any degree? Completely out of the question.

As you can imagine one does a lot of thinking/reflecting when largely confined to the house awaiting a jaw replacement. I keep coming back to the things I miss so much.

Like kissing your mom. Don’t give me that look. You know how crazy I am about her. Do you have any idea how much the jaw comes into play for even the slightest peck on the lips? It’s so frustrating. I do not like in the least this hindrance to our closeness.

Then how about eating? Let me tell you about feasting or the lack thereof. I cannot chew a blessed thing. Nary a bite. I dream about chomping on a blue corn chip, dining on a medium rare ribeye, or even gumming a Five Guys french fry. Can’t do it. The menu these days consists strictly of slush and mush. Nice weight loss plan but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

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By the way, I wanted to keep up the tradition I started last year by dining at Emeril’s today. Dear Michelle even posted on my Facebook wall a gracious invitation to lunch. It hurt to decline, though I did ask for a rain check. I went to see finally the new Star Wars movie instead. I’m glad I waited until this anniversary day to check it out . You loved the saga so much. I think mostly you would have enjoyed episode 7. It was a comfort to me, but not at all like having Fabian serve me one of those mouthwatering duck tacos and reminiscing with him and the other terrific staff at the restaurant.

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the issue of my preaching. I had to stop cold in the middle of my series on Gen. 14. It just hurt too much to speak for any length of time. I’m on the bench, riding the pines, while others occupy MY pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out. Not fair!

Josh, I thought, I hoped, I dared believe maybe I learned in ’05 some of these lessons related to good things that I so readily turn into god things so that they become bad things. Perhaps not as much as Jesus thinks necessary for me. I just have to keep learning and relearning the main thing . . .

Jesus is enough.

My joy, contentment, satisfaction can’t depend on the presence or absence of God’s good gifts. I need to grow more in saying with Paul in Phil. 4:11-13 that I have learned the secret of being content. I need to sing with the poet more earnestly these words in Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Lips out of commission? Jesus is enough.

Feasting off the table? Jesus is enough.

Preaching out of the question? Jesus is enough.

Maybe I’ll get it through my thick head and slow heart this time, dude. One can only hope.

By the way, this father misses you terribly, but, and I think you won’t take this the wrong way . . .

Jesus is still enough.

He is gloriously, powerfully, graciously, abundantly, and savingly enough.

 

Gracious Uncertainty

Gracious-Uncertainty

As I pass the one year anniversary of loss, I return today to the duties that lie nearest. Study, sermon writing, board meeting prep, pastoral care, etc.

Before me lies the uncertainty of Nancy, my bride’s, health and what the rest of 2015 will bring on that front, not to say numerous others.

This good word from Oswald Chambers expresses my desires in moving forward:

Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. utmostforhighestThis is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said, “Except ye become as little children.” Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. “Believe also in Me,” said Jesus, not – “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. Remain loyal to Him.

To quote Forrest Gump and perhaps balance things a bit, “I think it’s both.” The virtue of gracious uncertainty which embraces God in the future includes shouts of joy AND sighs of sadness.

Grateful that Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 is in the Book.

An Advent Strategy for Your Joy

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In this season of preparation for the Christmas holiday, we can so easily get overwhelmed by the demands it brings into our lives. Using each of the letters of the word ADVENT, I offer this approach to the holidays as one more likely to promote our joy in God than not.

A – Ask the Lord often to keep you mindful that Jesus is the reason for the season.

D – Deepen your insight into the wonder of the incarnation by regularly reading the gospel nativity accounts at the beginning of Matthew and Luke as well as John’s prologue in chapter 1.

V – Venture to share your faith with someone by giving your testimony, walking them through the gospel, and/or inviting them to a Christmas Eve service.

E – Encourage someone struggling at this time of year through a note of appreciation, spending some time with them, or an act of kindness they don’t expect.

N – Nurture your worship quotient by listening to some sacred music of the season like Handel’s Messiah.

T – (and most importantly) Take to heart more than ever the gospel, the good news of great joy, that though you are more sinful than you could ever imagine that still you are more loved by God in Jesus then you could ever dare dream.

A Holiday Reflection

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I woke up early this morning with First Thessalonians 5:16-18 on my mind. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I got up and did some digging in the text. Here are some thoughts that may help shape this holiday in a Godward fashion. Bottom line?  Simple. Be joyful, be prayerful, and be thankful.

These staccato exhortations by the apostle come embedded in a series of final instructions to the church at Thessalonica.  Everything therein focuses on obligations for the church in community as a whole. Even the three verbs in v. 16-18 all have second person plural “we” subjects. So while I don’t think it wrong to apply commands (imperatives all) like rejoice, pray, and give thanks to the individual, personal life of the believer, Paul stresses in the text the necessity of the church gathered putting on these gospel graces. He’s adamant about this. It is the will of God for those of us who are connected to Christ Jesus by grace through faith. Corporate worship should consistently look like a joyful, prayerful, thankful affair. Do I hear an “Amen!” from the Hebrew poet (Psalm 95:1-2)? Absolutely.

The emphasis Paul puts on the need for consistency in these practices stands out big time in the Greek text. The present tense of the verbs conveys continuous, keep-on-doing-these-things, kind of action. As if that were not enough, Paul uses adverbs like “always” and “unceasingly” and the prepositional phrase “in all things.” And he places all three modifiers before each verb to punctuate the emphasis. ALWAYS rejoice, WITHOUT CEASING pray, IN EVERYTHING give thanks.  He virtually dares us to miss the point. A gospel-shaped people gathered to worship King Jesus for who He is and all He has done should relentlessly manifest a joyful, prayerful, and thankful DNA from start to finish.

What embracing each of these graces looks like will have to wait for later posts. But one final consideration. The three intersect and overlap. Charles Spurgeon said it well:

When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude. When we joy in God for what we have, and believingly Spurgeonpray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have, and in the prospect of what is yet to come. Those three texts are three companion pictures, representing the life of a true Christian, the central sketch is the connecting link between those on either side. These three precepts are an ornament of grace to every believer’s neck, wear them every one of you, for glory and for beauty; “Rejoice evermore;” “Pray without ceasing;” “in everything give thanks.”

When you get dressed today for your Thanksgiving celebration with whomever and wherever, make sure you put on your ornaments of grace. Wear them for glory and for beauty. And please don’t forget to do the same when Sunday rolls around and you head off to church for your Lord’s Day worship.

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Several years ago we had Gary Witherall of Operation Mobilization come to OGC and share his testimony of loss in the martyrdom of his wife in Beirut, Lebanon back in 2002. I received this from him earlier last week as a testimony of how the Lord may grace us to be sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). I offer it as an encouragement to those whose Thanksgiving weekend knows that paradoxical blend of gratitude and grief.

I am sitting at a Starbucks on Hamra Street in West Beirut. A famous little road full of little shops, honking cars, and people making business, sitting, watching, sipping coffee and checking cell phones. It’s a little unknown area of the world. It’s a wonderful place, yet only the bad stuff makes the news, bombing, killing, rocket attacks, or some militant group showing force. It was on this piece of land that I first came in January 2001, and my life would never be the same again. On November 21st 2002 in Sidon, Bonnie’s life was brutally taken by an unknown gunman.

A few weeks ago I went with Bonnie’s parents to the grave. The first time I have returned to a place that has caused me torment. I stood there with her mother and father, quietly, in the cold looking at the ground where her body was laid. I thought for the first time, ‘ok Lord, I’m ok with this.’

When I think about you now reading this, in the deepest place of my soul, I can say, ‘Thou art worthy.’

Is it safe to follow Jesus. The answer is no. Denying self, carrying a cross, laying down your life. No, it’s not safe, that is the daily reality for many who carry the name of Christian. But we have been called to go, to declare the hope of salvation in Jesus. And I stand confident in this. So I ask believers everywhere to join me in prayer, to give and perhaps even go to these nations that are grieving from conflict, suffering and hatred. And may His Kingdom come.

Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Thank you for investing in us, and for His Kingdom, Gary Witherall

Beirut, Lebanon
November 19th 2012

The VOM Voice Gone Silent

The letter came today.

Voice of the Martyrs (Nancy and I receive their monthly newsletter and give as led to their ministry from time to time), fiercely devoted to serving the persecuted church across the globe since 1967, confirmed what I had already heard via the internet.

Executive Director, Tom White, took his own life last month. This husband, father, grandfather, and articulate voice for the persecuted (I know, I’ve read many an editorial by the man), himself once imprisoned for his faith in Cuba, did what to many, especially Christians, can only be described as the unthinkable. He committed suicide.

Not much is known about the circumstances. But, to VOM’s credit, they revealed that the day before his fatal choice, “allegations were made to authorities that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl.” Here’s what the writer of the letter speaking on behalf of VOM gave as his settled-upon explanation: “I personally believe that rather than face those allegations and the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry, Tom chose to end his life.”

What are we to make of this? How are we to respond?

I say let there be compassion. Only days ago I read in 1 Kings 19:4 of the great prophet Elijah’s plea, gripped with fear, for God to take his life as he fled into the wilderness to escape the threats of the evil Jezebel. God’s servants can and do know cavernous depths of depression. William Cowper, poet and hymn writer (he gave us, among others, God Moves in Mysterious Ways His Wonders to Perform) made multiple attempts on his angst-filled life. Believers do not escape the slough of despair.

I say let there be perspective. By that I mean providence perspective. I have no earthly idea if Tom White did anything untoward the girl in question. Of course that is possible. I admit, it doesn’t look good. But what if he didn’t? What if he was entirely innocent? What if the truth lies somewhere in between? Only eternity will tell.

But one thing is for sure. In interpreting the hard providence of dreadfully incriminating accusation, Tom White, who, from what I can tell, no one believes was a false professor of Christianity but rather a true believer, failed to count Romans 8:31 ultimately true for him – If God is for us, who can be against us?

Who knows how God was plotting for the man’s good through a Romans 8:28 kind of working out of things? And this cancer survivor and pastor of four churches over time does not say such a thing flippantly.

Naomi made the same mistake, an incomplete and inadequate interpreting of providence in her crushing circumstances in the book of Ruth. That is the subject of my Mother’s Day message this Sunday. I wish I didn’t have such a pertinent and recent illustration with which to work. But the truth is I do.

I trust the Lord will use it, the text, and my words somewhat to serve us all on the journey from bitter to blessed that will keep us from such a fate and oh so much more – deep, abiding, exquisite, even-in-the-hard-providences joy in Him.

All Is Precious

Today’s message from John 14:25-31 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Jesus rebukes His own for their failure to enter into His joy of heading back to the Father in glory. They are far to self-absorbed with their own grief to see the bigger picture. He loves them even in the sting of rebuke. If you loved me, you would have rejoiced.

Do we consider everything from Christ’s hand, including His rebukes, as precious?

Octavius Winslow encourages us to do just that:

Receive as precious everything that flows from the government of Jesus. A precious Christ can give you nothing but what is precious. Welcome the rebuke – it may be humiliating; welcome the trial – it may be painful; welcome the lesson – it may be difficult; welcome the cup – it may be bitter; welcome everything that comes from Christ in your individual history. Everything is costly, salutary, and precious that Jesus sends. The rude tones of Joseph’s voice, when he spake to his brethren, were as much the echoes of his concealed affection, as the softest, gentlest accents that breathed from his lips. The most severe disciplinary dispensations in the government of Christ are as much the fruit of His eternal, redeeming love, as was the tenderest and most touching expression of that love uttered from the cross.

May we find everything that Jesus sends precious, even His rebukes of our beyond-what-is-necessary, self-absorbed grieving of loss.