We have so, so much. It can blind us to people who have so, so little in places that are very different from here. That can be true of money, clothing, food, online shopping, two-day shipping, and on we could go. With such a vast array of resources at our fingertips, we might easily forget that it's not like this everywhere.
This is also true of spiritual resources like solid churches with faithful preaching, good Christian literature, and sound theological education. There are many countries in the world where such things are almost non-existent. Countries like Serbia. You can get McDonalds and KFC there, and there's a Starbucks coming soon, but the spiritual condition of this nation is dire. Genuine evangelical Christians make up a minuscule percentage of the population. Evangelical churches are for the most part weak and led by poorly trained or untrained pastors. Spiritual discernment is lacking. But over here, even if we know Serbia is a country and can find it on a map (which...can we?), we might not know or care about such realities. We have what we need, and so the spiritual plight of a little Balkan country thousands of miles away caries little concern for us.
So it was for me before my friend (and my high school Sunday school church history teacher), Dwayne Baldwin, and his family went to Serbia to begin slowly, bit by bit, changing the spiritual landscape of a barren country. Dwayne, in partnership with Training Leaders International (TLI: Sending teachers. Training leaders. Strengthening the church.), is doing the slow, painstaking work of revitalizing the Baptist Theological School in Novi Sad, Serbia. The goal of the school: A new generation of Christ-focused leaders in the Balkans.
I got to see all of this first hand earlier in the month on a trip with TLI to teach at BTS in Novi Sad. While we may be oblivious, surrounded by piles of excellent theological books and sound churches, thankfully others are more in tune to the deep needs in other places around the world and are doing good work to meet those needs.
As my stress level began to rise on a morning perusal of facebook, twitter, and the latest news with everyone overreacting to everything, it occurred to me that the answer for the Christian in troubled times is the same as the answer for the Christian in calmer times. It's both boring and brilliant at the same time.
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 "...But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." In the main, God has called his people to live ordinary lives, simply, diligently, consistently doing the work he has given them to do. What might that look like on an ordinary day?
How is that the antidote to the stressful times in which we live? It simply tells us what's next. We don't have to wonder. We don't have to worry about what's happening in Washington. Get up and do the next thing. How good of God to design us to work, to do, to be active, and to rest. He doesn't call us to days of emptiness and nothing to do except scroll through our devices and their never-ending stream of "urgent" news and notifications. He calls us to get up and do the work he's given us to do. The beautiful humdrum monotony of the very good day-to-day work God has called us to diverts our attention away from the things that tend to trouble us so. Pursue that with all of our hearts and we might just find we have more peace when turmoil rages all around.
(You didn't hear me say Christians should be uniformed about current events. You didn't hear me say Christian's shouldn't be praying about troubling things in troubling times. You didn't here me say Christians can't use facebook and twitter. You didn't hear me say Christians can't or shouldn't engage in the public square. What did you hear me say? It's above. Feel free to read it again!)
I have been preaching through the OT book of Proverbs at GBC. This week, I've been studying the tongue, the power of words, how we should speak, not speak, etc. And I am again reminded of just how current and relevant the Word of God is. Some would say the Bible is outdated and irrelevant. I contend just the opposite. Here's an example of why.
Try applying these Proverbs to social media and today's public discourse in general.
Outdated, irrelevant? Apparently not. We (including me) need this truth today!
I have read that the most frequent command issued in Scripture is some variation of do not be afraid/fear not/do not fear. Seems that fallen mankind has struggled with this since, well, the fall. Thankfully, the command not to fear (whether personally directed to an individual or more general) is often accompanied by a reason not to fear. "Do not be afraid, FOR..." and then comes a reason. (Though not all of the reasons are introduced by the word "for.")
What are some of those reasons? Read below. These are admittedly snatched out of their contexts, but I'm including the references if you'd like to dig further and see that others before you have had reasons for fear too. But as David Powlison notes, though we do have reasons for fear, we have greater reasons to not fear. Here are some of them.
Do not fear, for...
Lots of good comfort there and that's not all. Do some of your own digging and you may find more, find repeats of some of these, and don't forget to look for the places where the assurance precedes the command not to fear. May God give us grace to trust him and take him at his word.
At least I'm consistent.
I started writing this post about David Powlison's article, "Peace, Be Still: Psalm 131" from his book, Seeing with New Eyes. In it, he explains that short, 3-verse Psalm in a way that helps us come to grips with what might be keeping us from peace. I commend the article to you. You may not agree with everything, but I think it will stir you to think and God may well use it to help you move from a noisy soul to a more quiet soul.
I started to type out his translation of Psalm 131 alongside what he calls its "anti-psalm." It is a helpful way of considering the sources of noise and stress and anxiety in our lives and our need to rest quietly in God's faithful hands. But as I was typing it, I decided to do a search of the blog to see if I had done this before. Sure enough, I found this post from 2013. So click on over if you're trying to diagnose the noise and lack of peace in your life and maybe you'll find some help.
(I'm not the first to be helped by Powlison's work on Psalm 131. This is from Justin Taylor back in 2009.)
Welcome to the new GBC website! We've done a refresh on the site. Most of the content is the same as or similar to what was here before. But the design and the way some things are arranged are new. You'll find the menu in the upper right and it should stay visible as you scroll down the page. There's also a footer at the bottom of each page where you can navigate to different pages on the site.
Here are a few highlights:
So have a look around and see what you think. Not everything is complete, but we're working on it. If you have any comments, ideas, or suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments below.
A huge thanks to Ben Hueni who donated his time and expertise to help us update the site! May it be used for the glory of God and the good of the church!
Isaiah 26:3 "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
Philippians 4:8-9 " Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
Simple enough. Keep my mind fixed on him and think on what is good. So why am I not at perfect peace? Why does it too often seem like the God of peace is not with me? Turns out it's easier to keep my mind fixed on other things. Two hour movie - check. Baseball - check. Mindless social media scrolling - check. But you know what cuts through even sports and entertainment for me? I can focus laser-like on suffering and anxiety or the two combined. I can think about my suffering and misery and be afraid all through the day and wake up thinking about them at night. If I would fix my mind on Jesus like I do on my anxiety, I imagine I'd be a lot closer to the realities described in Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:8-9.
In talking about fear and anxiety I've said this before:
That's really good advice, and I stand by it, but turns out it's really hard (which I actually talk about in that post linked above; I apparently need another reminder). With the sin remaining in my heart, it is still a battle to incline my mind toward the things I know to be true; to keep my mind fixed on God. It is easier to let anxiety and fear wash over me. It's easier to meditate on my suffering and wallow in self-pity and despair.
So we find it's a battle to keep focus to pray. It's a war to read carefully God's Word. It's a struggle to meditate on the truth found in God's Word. It's hard to lay in bed and silently recite Scripture (not to mention memorizing it in the first place). The Bible talks about spiritual warfare for a reason. It's not just a neat metaphor for the Christian life. It is the reality of the Christian life.
I'm realizing more and more that knowing the right thing to do doesn't make it easy to do. Lacking peace and rest in God? Me too. Let's go to battle. (And let's do it together. We weren't designed to do it alone.)
I think most believers would generally agree that we have various roles and callings to fulfill in our lives, and those must be prioritized.
Some might combine 1 and 5 by working out at the local gym intentionally seeking to be a witness of Christ. They're stewarding their body; they're involved in the community and are following the command of Christ in the great commission. Another might focus in on 4 by leading a small group Bible study or discipling and mentoring younger believers, which also is part of category 1. Parents might serve at the school their kids attend in an effort to be good community members (5), to reach out to neglected children (1), and be a light for Christ (1). Someone else might give themselves to seeking freedom for women trapped in the sex trafficking industry (1,5). Some might use their extra time for volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center to help save unborn babies and give true support to moms facing painfully difficult decisions (1,5). A family might make the life-altering decision to enter the foster system and begin ministering to needy kids and their families (1,3,5). Or another family could pursue adoption of an orphan from another country or our own country (1,3,5). Still another person might advocate politically at the school board, local, state, or national level for policies and laws that will enable Christians to live peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified lives (1 Timothy 2:2) and against policies and laws that would work against that goal (1,3,5). And on we could go. (If I've left out your niche, sorry!)
Isn't God good to give us such a variety of desires and gifts to be used for his praise as we walk through this world! In some ways, it might be great if we could all go all-in on all of those things and more we haven't mentioned. But the reality is that you and I are gifted differently and have finite amounts of time, energy, and resources. That means we can't do all of those things, and we shouldn't feel guilty about that. If you don't go to another country and tell people about Jesus, it doesn't mean you've violated Matthew 28:19-20; there are other ways to have a role in fulfilling the great commission. If you don't lobby for pro-life legislation, it doesn't mean you've broken the 6th commandment. If you don't adopt a child it doesn't mean you've run afoul of James 1:27. If you don't throw a block party it doesn't mean you've failed to love your neighbor. Not everyone will be able to give the highest emphasis to each of these areas. But they can participate in other ways that fulfill God's calling on our lives to preserve life, spread the gospel, love the orphan and widow, etc. Some will be all-in on one area. Some will be in at a certain level on various areas. But we can't do it all to the max. And that's ok. Now, if you have no heart for the widow or orphan or missions or evangelism or the preservation of life at every stage, that's not ok. But there are different Biblical ways to express that heart.
Given those realities, here are a few suggestions on how we relate to and view one another in our various pursuits as we follow Christ.
For those of us that do battle with fear and anxiety, here are some quick helps to fight the fear that so easily rises in our hearts. The thing is, I know these things, but sometimes still fail to make use of them when fear strikes (or lurks or operates at a low grade). So I need a reminder and thought I'd share it with you. These are not meant to be detailed; just a quick list of strategies, possible places to turn, and things to think about. You can dig further into them by reading the resources/authors noted, and for some of them I've linked where I've written about them in more detail. But remember that just knowing them won't help much unless we put them to use by God's grace.
First a few helpful resources from which some of these thoughts are drawn. Men like Ed Welch, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, my dad, and others have been a great help to me in understand how God's Word applies to my fear.
What would you add? The next time fear strikes, may we be ready to fight it off and not give in.
I remember when my dad turned 40. There was a surprise party, some surreptitious doings to keep him from finding out, and (if I recall correctly) he was actually surprised. I don't remember if I thought then about my own eventual arrival at the age of 40. I kinda doubt it. I was 11. As they say, youth is wasted on the young, and I don't imagine I was far sighted enough at the time to contemplate the years intervening childhood and 40hood. I'm thinking about it some now though. Today is my 40th birthday. It's a bit surreal to remember a milestone like that and now to pass it myself.
But 40 is here, ready or not. And if the law of averages holds for me, I'm over half way done with life. Average life expectancy for a male in our country is 77.5 years (depending on where you look; that's CIA data for 2016). So anyone wanting to needle me for being over the hill, that ship has sailed. I went over the hill at 38.75 years, around May of 2016!
What have I done with those days since my dad turned 40 (or since I was born)? In some ways a lot. In other ways, not nearly enough. So here are 40 thoughts for turning 40. Just kidding. That would be way too much. How about a few pretty miscellaneous reflections looking back over the past 40 years (or however much of it I can remember)...
The bigger question, the one I can do something about is: What will I do with what's left?
My dad isn't 40 any more, but he is still faithful to his Savior and has left in his wake a crowd of people who are the better for having known him. Including me. And my sons. And if, when my sons turn 40, the same can be said of me, I'll be grateful.
Some miscellaneous musings from Pastor Aaron.
When I quote Scripture In this blog, unless otherwise indicated, the quotations are usually from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission.
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