Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

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The Next Step

Gravel tumbled down the face of the cliff. He heard more slip from beneath his feet and go over the edge as he clutched the fragile roots that came from the earthen wall next to him. The narrow ledge beneath his feet held him from the chasm that opened below, providing scenic vistas of the depths of the canyon that from a safe vantage point would have been awe inspiring. But now, here, he couldn’t bear to take in the scene. All he could do was press into the rooted wall and close his eyes.

“I can’t,” he heard himself say, panic packed around every syllable.

“You must,” came the answer.

“But I can’t!” he managed to say in even more desperate tones.

“There is no way back from here. Forward is the only possibility.”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I think this is a great place. Maybe we could just stay here.”

“Nonsense! You can’t even sit down. You’ll tired shortly and then what?”

“All I know is I can’t do this!”

“You don’t have to do this. All you have to do is take one step, the next step. Then we’ll worry about the step after that. One step. That you can do. Now lift your foot and move.”

********

Do you know that feeling?

I do. Right now.

Doing the will of God can be scary. Stepping out to follow God’s commands is more than a little frightening at the moment.

But back is not an option; forward is the only way.

Forward is the challenge that confronts me right now. One step. Just one. Together with Him.

Ready?

No, I don’t think so.

But here we go …

Hope is Hard to Find (but it’s in there somewhere)

If it feels to you like the world has gone mad, you’re not alone.

You could opine about the madness, as could I (and often we do). Let me instead offer here a word of hope.

Where can one find hope in this maddening world? Hear the words of the Apostle Paul to those living in a world every bit as crazy as ours.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Hope, the good Apostle tells us, is found for the follower of Jesus Christ in three great assurances of what is still going on, even in a world gone mad. So much has changed in the last six months, but these have not. These stand behind the testimony: “we do not lose heart.”

Assurance #1 – There is still an endless renewal in the midst of daily decay.

“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (16)

It’s true, my body (“outer self”) and the world in which it exists is “wasting away.” Is there anything more demonstrably obvious than this?

Yet, if I will seek it, there is endless renewal in the midst of decline and death. It happens not on the level of the world, but in “our inner self.” As I purposely and intently bring my “inner self” into the presence of God, I am, mysteriously, “renewed.” And this “day by day”!

The renewal is life support. And I am hooked up “day by day” for there isn’t a moment I don’t need His life in my “inner self.”

Assurance #2 – There is still an eventual reward from the midst of a daily suffering.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” (17)

The weight of this world is not what it seems to be. It is but a “light and momentary affliction.”

While its weight is not what it seems to be, its purpose far exceeds anything we can imagine, for it “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.” The difference between what the present “affliction” feels like and what it actually achieves is “beyond comparison.” Exponentially disproportionate to the present pain are “the things that are unseen.”

That’s something to cling to even when the “affliction” won’t obey our orders.

Assurance #3 – There is still an eternal reality in the midst of daily routine.

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (18)

Things are not as they appear: what appears BIG is small and what seems small (or even non-existent) is BIG. The BIG things appear that way because they are up in our faces. Just as a hand held an inch from your nose blots out the sky, so small, present “things” block out bigger, “eternal” things.

Don’t let that happen.

Where is a body to find hope in these days? In an endless renewal pursued regularly and relentlessly. In an eventual reward that will be more than worth the wait and the weight of this present mess. In a present, but not-so-easy-to-see eternal reality, that is there, even if the present mess tries to blind us to it.

We’ve got to live here; but we can do so with the confidence of these hopeful assurances.

Book Review — Philippians for Pastors

I am grateful for this new review of Philippians for Pastors, by Dr. David Norman at Caffeinated Theology. Visit his sight for an opportunity to win a copy.

In 2019, I had the opportunity to teach a seminary course in conjunction with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Text-Driven Preaching Workshop. When developing the textbook list for the course, I included a commentary that I had found particularly helpful when preaching through Colossians—John Kitchen’s Colossians for Pastors. In it, the author engages with the more critical, exegetical commentaries in a helpful manner and brings the insights offered therein to a commentary that is equal parts scholarship and practical application.

It should not be of surprise that I found it helpful, considering my recommendation to my students. What increased my bullishness about this commentary and this author was that almost every student made the same observations I had made—Kitchen begins with the Greek, engages the major critical commentaries, and brings their insights together to form a brilliant, pastoral commentary—and one that, were the reader not familiar with the original Greek, instructs the reader in such a way as to benefit from the author’s analysis. His addition of “ministry maxims” throughout the commentary extend the influence of his work, establishing it as more than a sermon help, but a means of mentoring pastors.

So, when given the opportunity to review Kitchen’s latest offering, Philippians for Pastors, I was excited to put it to the test. Would it meet the standard I had found in his previous volumes on Colossians and Philemon and the Pastoral Epistles?

In short: yes.

Kitchen’s treatment serves as a trusted mentor coaching the reader through the interpretation and proclamation of Paul’s letter to Philippi verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase. Once again, he includes his ministry maxims such as “True unity comes from looking at Christ, not at one another,” in reference to Philippians 2:2 and “There is no apologetic for the gospel more effective than unity among those who claim to believe it,” in reference to Philippians 1:27.

Following each pericope (unit of thought), Kitchen offers questions for his reader. While they may be intended to help the expositor think through the application of the text, very often they serve as a devotional prompts. And that is, in my opinion, one of the tests of what makes a good commentary: does it help the reader understand the text AND does it lead the reader to walk more intimately with Christ?

Far too many commentaries fill the mind, but fail the heart. Kitchen’s offering, however, strikes both targets.

Offense

I can’t breathe without offending someone.

Literally.

And neither can you.

I breathe in the wrong direction. I breathe at the wrong time. I breathe from the wrong distance. I breathe with my face covered. I breathe with my face uncovered.

I can’t breathe without offending someone.

I can’t live if I don’t breathe.

I can’t live without offending someone.

Welcome to the process of reopening from the coronavirus lock-down.

Face it: we’re all going to offend someone, multiple someones, multiple times, every day. The fantasy of living with others in non-offense is gone.

If I’m masked-up, I automatically eliminate and exclude some who have trouble hearing. My voice is muffled by my mask; they cannot see my lips. My mask says to them, “You don’t matter. I care more about myself or other things or other people than you and your participation.”

If I’m unmasked, I automatically eliminate and exclude some who are in a high-risk group for one reason or another, or are fearful. My unmasked face says to them, “You don’t matter. I care more about other things and other people than you, your health, and/or your feelings.”

So I have to breathe. I have to breathe out my offense at being tagged as offensive, my defensiveness, my frustration, my explanations, my exhortations, my demands, my opinions, my view of “the facts.” I must breathe out my offense at being offensive. I have to breathe in the Holy Spirit’s presence; His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I have to breathe not just air, but humility, because I am going to offend someone. I don’t want to, but I won’t be able not to offend someone. My breathing offends; so my being offends.

How can we ever navigate these treacherous waters of re-opening?

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Only a God-filled people will find a way to be together, overcoming inevitable offenses with inexhaustible grace. Only a God-filled people will find a way to live together in love, service, unselfishness, and other-centeredness … while still finding a way to breathe.

This is our moment. Now is the time. Either we prove able to be the church or we will show what we really are.

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