Do Not Let the Dark Eclipse the Light

Recently I heard a sermon by a preacher named Bayless Conley titled “Life Lessons From the Man In Jail.”  It was about the trials and disappointments which Paul experienced.  Pastor Conley’s focus text was 2 Timothy 4:9-10.

“Come to see me as soon as you can.  Demas loves the things of this world so much that he left me and went to Thessalonica.  Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia.”  Almost as a postscript, verse 11a says, “Only Luke has stayed with me.”  (CEV)

After spending some time elaborating on other passages which describe Paul’s other painful experiences, he pointed out that, in all os his mistreatments and betrayals, Paul never lost heart but trusted in Jesus Christ and those on whom he could rely to be an encouragement to him.

Then he made his point.  Never let dark times eclipse the bright; never let unfaithful acquaintances dim your view of faithful friends on whom you can still count.

And he used the eclipse of the sun as an illustration to make his point.  The moon is such a small thing in comparison to the sun, yet it is able to blot out the sun’s light.  And he left his example there.

When he finished his sermon, I sat back and pondered that illustration.  The sun is almost 400 times the size of the moon, yet that relatively tiny ball is able to darken the sky.  But why?

Because the sun is so much farther away from the earth than the moon is.

Suddenly, I realized one of the major reasons why I find myself in despair when a trusted relative or friend has been allowed to level me with criticisms or attacks.  I hold them in closer regard and higher esteem than I do faithful kin and friends who are there to comfort, encourage and stand alongside me when I am in a crisis.

And rather than keeping my focus on the Lord and those faithful companions, I go inward and focus on me and the sad estate I perceive myself to be in.  There is no more lonely place to be than all wadded up inside myself and throwing a pity party for poor little old me.

Paul knew the key to emotional and spiritual survival, as evidenced in verses 11b and 13.

“Mark can be very helpful to me, so please find him and bring him with you. . . .When you come, bring the coat I left at Troas with Carpus.  Don’t forget to bring the scrolls, especially the ones made of leather.”  (CEV)

Paul was still relying on Luke.  He reached out to Timothy, whom he knew he could trust, and he asked for Mark, who had grown in his faith.  As for those who had hurt him and let him down, such as Alexander (verse 14), he said, “The Lord will pay him back for what he has done.”

There’s a saying which goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  That is terrible advice, if Paul’s example holds any truth at all.  And it does.

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Commitment to Die? Commitment to Live!

The story is told of a young man proclaiming his devotion to his sweetheart over the telephone: “For you I would climb the highest mountain; for you I would cross the burning desert; for you I would swim a wide, raging river; for you I would go up against the fiercest wild beasts.”

After a brief pause, she asked, “Then will you come to my home to meet my parents?”  To which he replied, “I would love to, as soon as it stops raining.”

We read Job 13:15 where he proclaimed, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

And we all say, “Amen!”

Then we go to Daniel chapter 3 and read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo, coming to verses 17 and 18, after their lives had been threatened.  We see them saying to Nebuchadnessar, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thy hand, O King.  But is not, be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy gods,  nor worship the golden image which thou has set up.”

And we all say, “Amen!”

So much for dying in the name of Jesus.  But how about living in sickness or adversity in His name?  And at this point, I stand self-convicted by my own words.  But by God’s mercy and grace, I am here to tell about it.

If you read my blog titled The Wilderness of Self Focus, you know what I am talking about.  I had allowed a couple of mental health issues to drag me down into what John Bunyon called a “slough of despond”  in his Pilgrim’s Progress.  I call it my wilderness of self-focus.

Like most everyone, I have mouthed an “Amen!” to the words of Job, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo.  Like most everyone, I have claimed that I was willing to die for Jesus.  But in my case, in recent months, I have been confronted by my own hypocrisy.

How can God trust me to die for Him if I am not willing to live for Him–accepting the thorns in my flesh as His disciplines rather than His unfairness?  I had missed the point of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says:

“There hath no temptation (or testing or trial) taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Sometimes God delivers us from illness and adversities.  Sometimes He delivers us in them.

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The Wilderness of Self Focus

After having written well over 100 blogs at christianblog.com, I suddenly fell silent for about five months. It was due to a relapse with two of my most relentless ailments. Post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. The problem was not so much the disorders themselves as it was the really sloppy ways I tried to handle them. Alone and in my failure-prone flesh.

On one hand, I was too proud to face the reality that God had not jumped through my hoops and delivered me from them at my beck and call. So, I tried to pretend that they did not exist. On the other hand, when I was faced with their reality, I became too ashamed to reach back to those who were reaching out to me-including some at christianblog.com and ptl2010 at Christian Blessings.

It has only been within the past three months that I took a stand against both my pride and my shame, and fully accepted the fact that I do have those mental illnesses. I’ve also become convinced that pride and shame are merely two sides of the same coin called self-focus. It was in reviewing what Paul said about his own flaws and his acceptance of them that I began to emerge from the wilderness in which I’d become trapped.

“There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of satan  to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart trom me. And He said, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: forMy strength is made perfect in weakness.'” “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infmnities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

 

Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (KJV)

As for the question: “Why me?” The answers are simple. And there are three.

First, it was another opportunity to appropriate 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 to my life, in large part by responding to brethren who were trying to encourage me. I had not done that, to my distress.

Second, it gave me a great reason to write this blog, and to confess my weaknesses and flaws to the body of Christ. In so doing, I am becoming stronger and more resistant to my illnesses.

Third, if I were a gambling man, I would bet a horse and buggy that there are others reading this who are also trapped in the wilderness of self-focus. Too proud, on one hand, to admit that you–like I–are a flawed human being. Too ashamed to appropriate God’s marvelous grace. And too busy flip-flopping between pride and shame to enjoy the life God has given you.  Have I struck a chord in someone? Amen?

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