We've been busy. Morning and evening goes by, then another. As if a blink, two-thousand and fifteen is headed for the history books.
About this time each year some become dispirited and depressed. Hope ebbs. They feel isolated and failed and alone. People gather with loved ones for the holidays but others have experienced collapsed relationships. Their season is very solitary. Gloom enshrouds them. Some experience seasonal affective disorder from lack of sunlight. Daylight is short, the night is long, and a string of failures seems to choke them. It may be gloriously white outside, but theirs is a dark Christmas.
Journey with me to a dank cell in Rome occupied by the apostle Paul. Follow beginning at 1 Timothy 4:9-22:
"Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you."
These are almost certainly the last New Testament words of Paul, written about AD 64. We see the great apostle at work here with ministers and missionaries deployed. But even Paul is feeling quite lonely. Demas has deserted him and returned to the big city. Crescens and Titus have been sent to serve congregations in other cities. And obviously, Timothy is not present, since Paul is writing to him. Only Luke has remained with him.
About now you may be asking how our survey of this sad scene is going to help any towards cheer. You'll see in a few minutes. But let me say that being a Christian is a real help in life. God is not a cosmic butler who gives you whatever you want, or a cosmic Santa Claus. He is a King. He has a kingdom. His kingdom has principles. Since He designed you, He knows what makes you tick. He knows what you need. He gave you freedom to choose His kingdom or choose your own finite perishable little cardboard plan. He is the source of life. Neither you nor I have in ourselves any source of life.
We all live in the midst of a spiritual war right now, and the human race has been impacted. Whether you are a Christian or not, you might suffer from any number of physical or mental ailments. Christians can experience depression too.
Secular sources suggest certain helps for depression, for example:
- Cultivate supportive relationships
- Take a walk or engage in light exercise that gets you moving.
- Challenge negative or unrealistic thinking in yourself
- Do some things you enjoy
- Eat a healthful diet
When I am experiencing discouragement, taking a walk is some of the best medicine.
But let's stay with our text. Paul felt alone and discouraged. He was not discouraged because it was nearing Christmas time and he could not go to the mall and join the consumer frenzy. But he was seeing some of the same things we see. People joining the kingdom and others leaving it behind. He had seen great success but the devil never sleeps; he is ever busy poisoning the minds of people, shrinking their perception. He wants them to see less, and to see God's kingdom as an anachronism in an advanced world, when our advanced world is actually nearing final destruction.
But let's spend these few minutes reviewing briefly four things that God did for Paul as he waited his trial. Paul was executed by the state not long after this. But here is a person who loved Jesus and has an immortal crown awaiting him.
The Lord stood with Paul and strengthened him in his difficult situation. You may not this moment be engaged in an epic life-and-death dialogue with the president of hte United States or the emperor of Rome, but you need not feel alone. God is ready to stand with you in your current situation and strengthen you. For all of us winter is coming. We all move inexorably toward a finish for our lives. Paul hoped to have his cloak for winter but much more he wanted to see Timothy and spend quality time with him before Paul's anticipated execution (see 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Most of us are likely to enjoy a bright holiday with several loved ones. But there might be some challenging situations. Some of relations seem indifferent to Jesus and Christianity, and it seems as though none of our Christian initiatives are having any impact. They seem to be as far away from Jesus as ever. Then we look back over the past year and a voice whispers to us that we are poor Christians, that we have made little advance.
When we experience these thoughts, we want to remember these inspired and encouraging words of Paul: "But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."
And so consider now these four things that God will do for you if you choose to belong to Him:
- The Lord will stand with you. If you know that Jesus died for you to give you who had no life life, then you can know that Jesus will stand with you. You will never be alone again. Yes, Paul was almost completely alone from the standpoint of human companionship, but he could trust that God was with him. God helped him stand when otherwise he would fall or was physically beaten and left for dead. God raised him up according to his own divine will. No one who serves Jesus is ever alone. Not only recording angels but guiding and protecting angels are sent to your aid. Think of all the believers through the Bible narratives who it seemed were alone in the desert: Abram on the lonely journey to Moriah, Moses in exile from Egypt, Jacob sleeping on the rock pillow, Hagar with her boy fleeing Sarai, Jeremiah cast into the sewer of Jerusalem, Jonah in the maw of the great fish, Jesus Himself alone in the wilderness and later in Gethsemene and later on the cross. But in every case God was present. The Christian is never alone.
- The Lord will strengthen you. Not only the divine presence encouraged Paul, but God gave actual strength to him. God will give you the strength you need when you need it. How many times have you prayed to God for strength? Probably you have lost count. Be thankful you have lost count! Not because you failed and needed divinely supplied strength, but because you have sought it enough that you cannot count how many times you havce asked and received. Hopefully by now this asking is an established practice and one you can turn to with even greater habit. We have to change our way of thinking. As a fallen human American, our basic approach would be, I will do it all myself and only maybe ask for help, just a very little help. We are a pull-ourselves-up-by-our-own-bootstraps kind of people. Asking someone else for help does not come naturally. Pride resists that. The Christian, however, understands that he cannot have victory over sinful impulses and temptations just by doing it himself. The Bible tells us Jesus' help is sufficient for us. It is old thinking to resist temptation in our own power. Resist temptation in Jesus' power! And, by the way, when you do that you are talking magnitudes of millions more strength than you have. His help is available, why not use it?
- God's work in your life is part of the full accomplishment of the proclamation. Your life matters. Every human life is capable of infinite value. God uses the Christian's life to showcase His love, His mercy, and His power. We are not thinking here only of God's turning you into a fortress of righteousness as a person, but we have in mind the way He would use you to help others. The Christian has a place in this world as one who lives out, who becomes an example, of Jesus' ways. You become one who helps others. You become part of the solution for planet earth instead of its problem. God is enlisting. Why wouldn't you become part of His kingdom? And speaking of kingdom, I like the fourth point:
- The Lord will rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. How many evil deeds will the Lord rescue you from? "From every evil deed." Notice, this does not mean you will not suffer or be damaged along the way. You might be cut down by someone else's evil deed; you might be killed. But God rescues us with eternity in His sights; He is not limited by physics as we understand them. If you serve Jesus then whatever happens to you God the Father regards as though it is being done to Jesus. When, after His crucifixion and burial your heavenly Father called Jesus out of the grave, Romans six says that those who were crucified with Him, that is, those who believed in Him, were also raised with Him. That is, Jesus' resurrection assures you of your own resurrection. Should you or I die before Jesus' Second Coming, no worries; we'll be raised up when Jesus descends from heaven and calls us home.
As a Christian, neither you nor I have immortality now this moment, but because we accept Jesus we have eternal life now, this moment, and no one can take it from us. It is ours because of Jesus. He gives us free will and so long as we choose Him, His gift of eternal life is ours. Eternal life is the life we live in Jesus and the promise of future immortality. Its very good to have.
There is also the latter part of that statement, that your Lord will bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. The challenges you faced this week were providentially permitted to be there. Why? Because God is growing you. He is not through with you. Did you take advantage of every case of providential trial this week? Likely not. I'm sure that I missed opportunities to respond to situations as the Christian optimally would. But I also know I took advantage of some. God help me to take advantage of more.
In a world that has forgotten God and replaced Jesus with materialism and fidelity in relationships with assertions of entitlement, time has revealed that trusting in acquiring stuff is empty, and that shallow relationships leave us feeling more alone than before. A look at Paul under arrest yet faithful to Jesus and awaiting his execution is jolting. It reminds us of some of the advantages of Christian belief. Paul was incarcerated but God gave him the help he needed. If you and I seek Jesus, if we enlist in God's program to restore the world to unselfishness, He will stand with us in our own trials, He will empower us as we seek His strength, He will even by means of our lives fully accomplish the proclamation of His people-changing gospel, and rescue us from every evil deed and bring us safely into His kingdom. These facts provide hope for the holidays, a hope that is found only in Jesus.
Chewelah WA SDA 2015-12-12