The One I Forgot To Post

Written for my church family for October 1, 2020

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever.

2 Timothy 4:16-18

Devotion

Written by Heather Davis from the Station Hill Campus

The late Ravi Zacharias once wrote, “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”

Ravi has finished well. According to his daughter, “He turned every conversation to Jesus and what the Lord had done,” until he no longer had strength to speak. He reminds me of the apostle Paul. Paul also used his final days to point others to the goodness of the Lord, putting pen to parchment in order to encourage younger disciples to stay strong. His words still encourage us today.

But ministry wasn’t easy on Paul. In his many travels, he endured varied forms of beatings, hunger, thirst, and frequent danger, only to find himself deserted by friends at his defense following his final arrest in Rome. Yet rather than bitter brooding over this slight, his letters from prison urged others to stay the course—because although the race is hard, the end is worthwhile.

What compelled these two men to spend every possible moment sharing their hope in Christ and strengthening believers? I believe they felt the brevity of this life and the weight of eternity for those who did not yet know the Lord. To the end, they kept their eyes fixed on the Founder and Perfecter of their faith. The rest flowed naturally from His Spirit welling up within them.

I can’t speak for you, but I find it all too easy to fixate on self and circumstance. When I do, whether my days are filled with difficulties or comforts, the temporary things of this world loom large.

But when I set my mind on the goodness of my God and His offer of eternal life and joy in Christ, the jaw-dropping ceaselessness and permanence of eternity come into razor-keen focus. Suddenly my present entertainment or struggle seems trifling. Instead, my awe of God reminds me: people are dying without Jesus, and when they face the ultimate Judge, they will be truly alone. Others are drifting from the Truth and being led astray by false teaching, and they need discipling to keep them mindful of the Way.

With the King of kings as my focal point, I begin to view everything in terms of eternity. No matter what happens to my physical body, I have a hope beyond time.

But my friends—or even my enemies—may not. So I keep pressing on.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What occupies your thoughts more—your present circumstance or your eternal blessing in Christ?
  2. What are some small, daily habits you can form to make discipleship a natural part of your life?
  3. If you aren’t already passionate about discipling others in obedience to Christ, consider committing to prayer that the Lord will change your heart and focus to be in line with His command to make disciples.
  4. Memorize Deuteronomy 6:4-9 with your family or friends. Print or write it out and post it somewhere as a daily reminder for discipleship.

A Distinctive Voice

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
(Isaiah 40:3)

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(John 1:23)

Once again, I have been largely absent in the blogosphere. Many apologies to the fine writers I follow but whose posts I have not had time to read. Someday, my friends. Someday…

Until then, suffice to say I’m in a very lonely season, at least in my home. For now, I’ll keep the details sketchy, but for anyone who’s had three teenagers at once and a husband who works 70-80 hours on the average week, you may be able to imagine a bit.

However, I am honestly grateful.

Unlike a previous season about 17 years ago when God used my extreme isolation to bring my attention to Himself, this time I do have friends around.

But the biggest difference is this time I have Him. He is with me always, and I do not doubt it now while I was ignorant about it then.

As often happens with me, I lift up my concerns to the Almighty during these intervals of seeming solitude. We talk them over, my Father and I.

A few days ago when I lamented my inability to engage the people I love most in a discussion about the Lord, He reminded me of the above verses. I’ve been reflecting on them since.

It’s a nerdy little grammatical fact that there is some slight ambiguity in translating the  Hebrew of the time period to modern English. This is not due to ambiguity of the language so much as it is due to a lack of punctuation in the ancient tongue as well as a tremendously different syntax.

*** As an aside, none of these perceived ambiguities affect the tenets and doctrines of the Christian faith any more than the absent comma in the sentence, “Let’s eat Grandma,” refers to an actual act of cannibalism.  We see the same principles in written English when it is not meticulously worded and punctuated. The Hebrew of the day was often passed on orally for those not studying to be a rabbi, so voice tone and inflection were more useful than punctuation. 

I love how the ESV Bible reflects this ambiguity in the translation of Isaiah 40:3 and John the Baptist’s quote in every Gospel account. Is it a voice crying in the wilderness, or a voice crying out, “In the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord?”

What my Father has been reminding me lately is that it doesn’t matter. Even though at my worst moments, when a migraine or a migraine prodrome have me feeling horrid and my kids are taking offense at the mere mention of God’s Word, I am not allowed to throw my hands up in defeat.  (And for the record, I mean when I am talking about my own conviction, not beating them with Bibles).

Whether I am a voice crying in a wilderness of disinterest, or whether I am crying out for them to make a straight path for the Lord in the wilderness of their hearts doesn’t matter. I need to be that voice; to keep crying out whether anyone responds or not.

You see, the love of Christ compels me to speak. If I did not mention Him or speak His word, my very bones would burn with the fire of trying to contain it and I could not keep it in.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
(Jeremiah 20:9)

Walking with my Father the other day, it hit me.

This isn’t just my job. This is our job.

Church, it is our job to be the voice of Truth. It’s irrelevant whether we cry out in a wilderness of cultural apathy, strife, confusion, conflict, racism, injustice, persecution, mockery, anger, and immorality or whether we are crying out that a straight way for the Lord be made through this wilderness.

We cannot despair. Nor can we compromise the message of the Gospel to make it more palatable or speak an altered and sanitized “gospel” which only comforts and never confronts. The consequences are too dire.

This doesn’t mean casting off discretion and berating everyone without mercy. This simply means openness about what is and is not sin according to the Creator; honesty about where we have, ourselves, been set free from slavery to sin; and genuine in our acts of mercy, our pursuit of righteousness in all aspects of our lives, and devotion to the Kingdom and Righteousness of God.

And the darker our world becomes, the more disctinctive our voices will be.

If we truly love the people we serve, we need to love them enough to tell them the truth. The Gospel Truth. The best news there ever was or ever will be.

Not Alone, Really

*Note: I wrote this some time ago but have hesitated to publish it in part because it is so raw. There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in the following words (and there are not a few), but perhaps there is also hope, and maybe someone out there may benefit from the knowledge that there are greater goals than fitting in. 

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.   Isaiah 53:3

I have a fourteen-year-old son who is not like other boys his age. His room is nearly immaculate (though I confess a wish that he would apply the same cleanliness standard to parts of the house or van that are not properly “his”). He loves routine and order and does not handle surprises well. He is not into sports.

He struggles socially, sometimes uses an inappropriately loud voice, and seems to find it much easier to befriend boys younger than him than kids his own age. My son has developed a tic or two in recent years that becomes worse when he is tired or stressed. He is very particular about textures and noise levels.

Thus far, I have refrained from labeling him; instead, my husband and I have embraced him exactly how he is, differences and all. We have an experiential understanding of such differences and so aim for training him to cope with life, teaching him the hard lessons we have learned and coaching him in what few social skills we have managed to pick up through the years of our own social awkwardness.

As he has grown, many of his guy friends have moved away he is now in a somewhat lonely season of life; a time when the friends within a couple of years of his age can be counted on one hand with fingers left over and friends he sees more often than once a month are even fewer.  I hurt for him with each buddy that moves, but I prod him to keep on reaching out, to keep trying.

Complicating matters are past instances when adults have invited him to various events, causing him great excitement. Unfortunately, I have also had to watch his crushing disappointment when he found out later that the event happened without him.  Again, I would share his pain, assure him it was an oversight and not actual rejection, and encourage him to keep trying.

I have pressed him to reach out to kids whose company he enjoys, watched him steel himself against his native nervousness and make the calls, watched him try and try until the lack of reciprocity finally made him quit. Again, I have plastered on a smile and told him that people are busy, that it is no reflection on him, that he should not quit trying.

To his enormous credit, I have watched him eagerly and faithfully attend his youth group every week despite the fact that I have seen the photos and videos of him hanging out on the outskirts, have heard his own declaration that he just doesn’t fit in though he still likes being there. And again, his hurt has become my own.

I remember being his age, and I remember being alone. I carried labels like “freak” and “loser,” and I can see him turning those labels over in his mind, wondering if they apply to him.

I try to encourage my son to expand his interests (they are very narrow), to try to take an interest in what other kids do even if it is not his area of expertise. I try to impart to him such lessons as I have learned in my own social struggles,  but I think he feels inept and clumsy, and he certainly prefers to retreat into video games or technology.

In the times I weep for my son, for the pain of growing up and of not fitting in, my Lord reminds me that He, too, was rejected. He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He reminds me that I, too, was a misfit and yet He has used me.  And He never called any of us to fit in but only to follow Him.

I think that Jesus must have experienced lonesomeness, for who could be more unlike other men than the Son of God on earth?

We are definitely not sinless, but we are not like others, my son and I. It is one tiny way we can share in His suffering, one small thing we can know He understands.

And so I pray that in the midst of his loneliness and social awkwardness, my son will draw near to the Lord. I pray that he will not shut out the only One who can fully understand and actually help. I pray that he will find the peace that can only be found in the mind fixed steadfastly on the Lord.

I pray that video games will no longer be his hiding place, but that he will turn to Jesus alone to find refuge from the pain of life; that he will look to the Lord for the comfort and strength that no game can offer. I pray that the Holy Spirit will navigate him through the confusing teen years complicated by the social awkwardness he apparently inherited from his parents.

Most of all, I pray that in my son’s tight little cocoon of pain, God is working on him even though I cannot see it; changing his faith into something that will someday take flight, exquisite and wonderful to behold. I pray that he will emerge from these trying years and rise up on wings like eagles’, soaring with full confidence in his God.

And I pray that at the end of this invisible, inner struggle, God will use my son to reach those who are bound by the painful and invisible cords of the social misfit, the outcast, the uncool. I pray that he will powerfully share the truth of acceptance into a Kingdom that is so much more glorious than any peer group on earth.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28