Friday, June 04, 2010

Restore the Sparkle to My Eye

This is the transcript from Ken’s message on Sunday night, April 18, 2010.

Lord, Restore the Sparkle to My Eye or Let Me Die

Since I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I have deeply desired nothing less than a growing, abiding and sanctifying relationship with Him. I can truthfully say that some of my early mentors modeled this type of Christianity for me. It really is no different than any other lasting relationship in that in order for it to be enduring, encouraging and healthy it cannot remain static or still it must be growing and thriving if, indeed, there is life and love in that relationship. From the very moment I placed my faith in Christ at 27 years of age I have never doubted my salvation, not even a hint of doubt. And that remains so to this very moment. So you can imagine my inner struggle when certain un-Christlike actions and attitudes began to creep into my inner man and then began to surface. Outbursts of anger, irresolvable frustration, no patience with my family, indifference toward people that were spiritually wayward, cutting cynicism and condescending sarcasm that exposed a lack of faith, these were just a few of the negative outward manifestations.
There was also sleeplessness, mornings that I did not want to get out of bed, chest-aching anxiety when walking into the worship services, a desire to be totally alone, I read my Bible as a cold practice, prayers were few and superficial at best. My fellowship was with no challenges. Carrying out often repeated tasks such as planning for a retreat or Wed night bible study became such a monumental burden that I could not even consider it without wanting to run and hide. All of this was intermingled with overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, emptiness, loneliness and pessimism. I have never been a pessimistic person, a realist but not pessimistic. I am 46 years old. My children are growing up moving out and moving on. There are some things that I had planned to have accomplished by this time in my life and they remain untouched still. There are some things that I wish I would have done different but the unforgiving nature of time will not allow me to go back and give it another go. Also over my 13+ years here at Blaise, I have seen Blaise go through mind-bending transitions. I have grown close to people such as Dave Desnoyers, Charlie Angell, Jerry Patterson, David Blackburn and many others that have been promoted to heaven and then there are others such as Dean and Jerri Ann Sain, Alex and Lindsay Sain, the Ried family, Chris and Susan Varnier and Rod and Janice Petroff and many more that have moved through Blaise to serve the wonderful cause of Christ which certainly makes us happy but another sense there is a loss, a void that is difficult for our flesh to overcome even if all is for good reasons. ……..During the months leading up to my white-flag surrender on Feb. 14 I consoled myself occasionally with the thought that this will soon pass. I know many others that have had similar situations and they made it through. In November of last year, unbeknownst to my wife or anyone else I went to my doctor. When he asked what was wrong I simply stated, “I am mad. All the time….anxious and weary---I just want to run and hide.” He said this is not unusual for a male in his mid-40’s and yada yada yada and prescribed an anti-depressant, Wellbutrin. It did take the edge off after a while and my family says there was a difference. I really could not tell. All the other drugs I had experienced prior to my salvation evidenced their effect much quicker! But the inner burning rage was still there----though I was more able to contain it. However, when someone would tell me about Fred and Wilma have marital problems, or one of our youth compromising their testimony, my chest would hurt and the anger would rise and I would feel like saying, “I don’t care.” I felt as though people expected me to fix everything… marriages, children, schedules, pick up the trash, unlock the doors and provide the food for it as well. Now please understand, I am being brutally and uncomfortably honest with you, this is how it all seemed, it was not the way it really was, it is only how it seemed through my pride, insecurities and fearful disposition. All this time I am not really communicating with anyone. On Sunday Feb. 14 in the afternoon, I reached my limit. I could not stand what I believed to be the hypocrisy of it and the damage that I was doing to my wife, children and our church. I cannot help but wonder how much my pride has hindered the effectiveness of the ministry of Blaise Baptist over the past 18 months. So I called Jeremy and Pastor Timothy and told them what was happening. They along with the deacons understood and offered guidance and support that made it possible for me to Fairhaven, a retreat center that caters to vocational ministers. I really did not care if I got fired. All I knew is that I needed some help and I could not get it in this environment. I equated it to drowning. And a drowning man doesn’t ask for permission to breathe.

At Fairhaven, I found the conditions I needed to regain my balance and strength.

1. Quiet
2. Counseling
3. Rest

Now this pretty well sums it up. I used the quiet to pray, read, sing, exercise and imbibe God’s Word in a different manner than before. I used the counseling to help me see God’s perspective on my condition and to help me restore what I had damaged in my marriage and other relationships and the rest helped me regain my strength and stamina to stay in the good fight.

This is where I stayed for 5 weeks. With the support of my wife, children, co-laborers and friends I was able to just simply focus on my relationship with Jesus Christ. There were some painful moments, some restless nights, some doubts, some fears and some moments of sorrow but I feel as though I was able to get my spiritual feet back under me, though I must admit that I haven’t as of yet been able to find my stride since returning.

I still struggle with confidence------- a healthy confidence that comes from knowing that you are doing God’s will not the confidence that comes from not caring or arrogance. This is a most frustrating condition because in the past I have never lacked confidence. Once convinced of God’s will I could forge onward over any obstacle or opposition with little to know reservations. If I was convinced that I was doing God’s will in a matter whether planning an event or confronting a youth, if someone got offended or it did not seem to go as planned I just resigned it all to being God’s will. I still believe this to be a valid and necessary practical theology in order for the kingdom to advance. I am just struggling with confidence concerning my knowledge of God’s will for me specifically.

I still have bouts of anxiety. Not fearful anxiety but the kind that comes from feeling as though everything is out my control. God has shown me that pride is the source of my anxiety. I must be in control or at least feel as though the person in control thinks like I do. Because if I think that is the way it should be, it must be right, right?

And you will forgive me if I seem distant or detached for a season. I am still trying to make some serious decisions about how to best distribute my personal and internal resources. I cannot be all things to all people. I would love to be but I can’t so at present I am trying to learn to say “no” to things that are outside of my realm and “yes” to what is within my capabilities and what the church should expect of me based on my job description. What may seem clear to you is not so clear to me at times. On our staff we each handle many things outside of our expertise or reasonable expectation at times. I am not a multi-tasker. I have a one-track mind. I make a check list then start plowing through it in order, one thing at a time. That is who I am----when I keep trying to spin several plates at a time inevitably they all hit the ground. However, I do not consider this a weakness but a strength that must be cultivated and rightly understood. Most people can only do one thing very well and a couple of things well. I am not seeking to do less labor but more spiritually productive labor.

All the while my wife and daughters are by my side but shouldering a heavy load. I had become so emotionally detached that I could not sense there frustrations, hurts and needs. I had to get all these things headed in the right direction or resign from ministry.

During my time at Fairhaven, I dug into Scripture as well many other rich writings. The Practice of His Presence by Bro. Lawrence, The Rest of God by Mark Buchannon, Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the cross, Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray, and the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis from the early 1400’s are only a few of the extra-biblical writings that I gave good attention to while away.

But I mostly endeavored to memorize scripture, scripture that seemed to speak to my particular situation. I was struck by how many of the Psalms were written from or for a situation like unto mine. Psalm 4 and Psalm 13 particularly. So I committed them to memory and willed myself to meditate upon them day and night. I found a structure within them that helped me to make sense of my inner turmoil. Turn with me to the Psalm 13 and let me walk you through how God uses His Word to address our needs in such matters.

Psalm 13:1-2
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
I. Grief, sorrow and anxiety are a natural part of the human experience. V1-2
Jesus in the garden, Jeremiah in a well, Daniel in a lion’s den, Hebrew children in a furnace, David in the shadow of the valley of death, Moses’ 40 years in the wilderness, Elijah by the brook Cherith, and on and on the Bible is filled with accounts of those that found no solace here in this world. I am convinced that this stage of life depression is a God-given mechanism to deepen our love for Him by heightening our desire for Him. In our grief we learn to respond to God according to His promises and not according to our feelings. There were some days that I simply cried all day long, it was pitiful but I clung to His promise that He has a good purpose for my life and He will be glorified through it. David was missing the feeling that God was present with him. He longed for the fellowship of God that he had known through the years prior. He yearned earnestly for God’s favor to shine upon him. All his spiritual senses were heightened and anxious for God. We live in a world of pain, sorrow, grief, despair, violence and hostility. We are foolish to think that we can be happy all the day. But we try to make ourselves happy by fulfilling the lust of the flesh for things or money or sex or drugs or some escape that takes our mind temporarily off the problems. These negative situations will always exist in this world but it is OK. God has a plan. A good plan. Jesus stated in John 16:33, “That in this world we wil have trouble and tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” We need not dodge the heavy, burdensome and painful part of life but rather cast them upon One that is altogether sufficient to carry the load.
Psalm 13:3-4
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
II. Good theology is absolutely necessary to enduring and overcoming in the difficult times. V3-4
David states, “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God.” There is no indication that David looked in any other direction for help in his despair. “Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” David knew where life came from. And he knew where true, real and lasting joy came from. This became my prayer. “Lord, put the sparkle back in my eye or let me die.” David knew that if there is any life anywhere, whether in the cosmos or our universe or in me, it is because God had issued it. If we do not take time to know what God teaches about His nature, our condition, His presence, our hope, where He is and what He is doing and how we can attain to him by faith through the cross of Jesus Christ and 1000’s of other heart consoling truths we will never have anymore faith than our feelings will allow us to have. Which is why many so-called believers have turn to walk with Him no longer . (Jn 6:66) Our feelings say, watch TV and relax and forget about it for a while. Don’t talk about it and it will go away eventually. Feelings lead people into adultress relationships and other immoralities that offer no real solutions rather they complicate the spiritual drift. In other words David called out to God-----to whom or to what do you call out to, alcohol, drugs, movies or sex. Our modern media culture has hindered our minds in unfathomable ways; shortened attention spans, diminished grasp of language and vocabulary, ability to comprehend abstractions and blurring of the line between childhood and adulthood are the effect modern media has on our minds. As a result, no one reads anymore. As a result, no one can sit still long enough to really learn, Teachers and preachers are compelled to work harder at keeping peoples attention than communicating a truth in a clear fashion. You can only be an over-comer in spiritually dark and dismal periods if you are grounded in good practical theology. Jesus says be of good cheer I have overcome the world…………If you believe this then it means you learned it, if you learned it, it means you read or heard it. If you heard it or read it, this means that you gave attention to what God says about your human condition and you are willing to practice it in spite of your feelings to the contrary. This is moving from the milk of the word to the meat.
Psalm 13:5-6
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
III. Deeper gratitude and overwhelming grace can be the product of these dark nights of the soul.
I could not help but be overwhelmed with gratitude after I realized where God was this whole time. He was and is right here with me. I did not feel it so I became anxious. But he is growing me into a person that need not feel it, only believe it. I cannot sing a lick but God doesn’t know that…….He hears my feeble broken songs…….I am the product of His GRACE. I have done nothing worthy to merit any of God’s favor but I have trusted in Jesus for salvation and thereby am privy to all that is His as the Son of God.
Gratitude springs out of our faith. We can only be grateful when we know that we do not deserve our blessings and we did not create them. And to some degree, gratitude is a suspension of cynicism—a faith in the person doing the good deed. As gratitude relates to our relationship to the Lord, it is a faith that God is good—that He is in control—and what He is doing in our life is good.
How might God use this feeble, broken state to glorify His name? This story from Spurgeon’s treatise on grace may help us to understand.
A certain man placed a fountain by the wayside, and he hung up a cup near to it by a little chain. He was told some time after that a great art-critic had found much fault with its design. “But,” said he, “do many thirsty persons drink at it?” Then they told him that thousands of poor people, men, women, and children, slaked their thirst at this fountain; and he smiled and said, that he was little troubled by the critic’s observation, only he hoped that on some sultry summer’s day the critic himself might fill the cup, and he refreshed, and praise the name of the Lord.
Here is my fountain, here is my cup: find fault if you please; but do not deny yourself a drink of the water of life.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

You Gotta Serve Somebody

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
James 1:22

The pond was green and scummy. I tried to cast my bait into a part that looked clean, but when I reeled the bait in it had green slime all over it. I asked my dad, “Why does this pond have so much slimy, green scum and why does it stink so bad?” “Well,” dad replied, “When the water is not flowing through a pond it begins to grow all kinds of stuff that keep it from being clean, the water may be flowing in but it also has to flow out to keep the pond healthy.”
Spiritually speaking, I believe there are a few of us who have a scummy, green, slime growing on us. We may even have a little stench about us. Like the pond, we have a source but no outlet. The Bible, Sunday School, preaching, fellowship, convictions from the Holy Spirit, and years of church life are our source. Witnessing, service and ministry are our spiritual outlets. There are many outlets in our church. There are many places to minister in our community. When we receive but never give it leads to spiritual stagnation. This condition can be treated, not by good works alone, but works that are a fruit of our faith in Christ. If we are a hearer, James says that we should become a doer. (My spellcheck says that scummy is not a word but I believe you know what I mean.)

“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Merely A Whipser

“These are just the beginning of all the He does, merely a whisper of His power. Who then can comprehend the thunder of His power?” Job 26:14

I have been suffering quite a bit lately. Not the persecuted type of suffering but the oppressed type that is self-inflicted to a degree. I have grown complacent and run-of-the-mill concerning my faith and following of the Lord Jesus. When one finds themselves in such straits, Job is a great book to read. Misery loves company! But as John Piper points out in, “Let the Nations Be Glad,” Job is not about misery. He is acknowledging the absolute necessity of real worship of the One true God. When there is pain, struggles, suffering and strife in a person’s life these tend to consume the thoughts, motives and actions of that individual. True worship means that even these things must be subordinate to the exaltation of God in our lives. That does not mean that we ignore the pain and struggles, it simply means that we acknowledge a greater purpose for the events in our lives. Worship is doing everything for God’s glory, even suffering. When we see the painful, confusing and contentious events of our lives as God’s work in our lives then our response can be true worship, submitting of our life to God’s will so that He is glorified in it. He alone is worthy. This whole matter, the matter of life, the universe, existence, service and destiny is about God, not about us at all. God is working all things to the end that He is exalted and glorified. Our best course is to praise, honor and adore Him who alone is worthy even in the midst of sorrow, suffering and hurt. The alternative is become more self-centered than I already am and bitter of heart. Arrogantly, we begin to think that we deserve better or we have gone through quite enough. We can rest assured that we are going through nothing that has not been sifted through God’s good hand as it concerns His glory. And His glory is the one thing that is needful and beneficial for all. Just prior to Job 26:14, Job acknowledges God's sovereignty over His creation by pointing out a few of the things that God has done and is doing. “He hangs the earth on nothing, wraps the rain in His clouds and they float in the air though they are heavier than the air, set the boundary between day and night, the underworld stands naked before Him, the sea becomes still at His command, the dead tremble before Him, He has given wisdom to the ignorant, saved the weak in their distress, enforces peace in the heavens and ………….” “And these are only the beginning of all that He does, merely a whisper!” Job states. Job was getting a sense of perspective on His situation. Yes, he was in pain and sorrow. Yes, he could be bitter and obstinate toward God but he chose rather to acknowledge that God’s glory was greater than his pain and that put things right where they belong. It may not have changed the situation but it changed the person and that is what God is all about. Helping us regain our focus on Him because that is what is most important and most beneficial. Everything else is a means to that end.