When Life Turns Upside Down – Part 1

We returned home from our five-week fall speaking trip on a Sunday evening. Settling back in after being gone several weeks requires the all-out effort of every family member. We busily began our unpacking routine, but by Monday evening we were faced with two major crises.

Late Monday afternoon, Melanie, our daughter-in-law, received word that her weekly blood tests, to monitor her pregnancy hormones, had recorded a drop indicating an impending miscarriage. Nathan and Melanie had struggled with infertility for five years. When the Lord finally opened Melanie’s womb, their little Susannah only lived three days. Then came the blessing of Abigail, now one and a half years old. Melanie had experienced a miscarriage in February of this year, and now it appeared that it was happening again.

After receiving the news from the doctor, Melanie called to ask for help with Abigail until Nathan was able to get home so she could sort through her emotions. Abigail ended up coming over to our house where her “aunties” played with her while I stayed with Melanie. We prayed, talked, read Scripture, and cried.

During this time, Steve felt the Lord putting it on his heart to go over to my parents’ house to talk with them. We all live within a block of each other, so these interactions are very convenient. My mom was having some serious health problems, which had begun just before our trip, for which we were all concerned. Her family practice doctor had sent her to a cardiologist who determined her heart was fine after several extensive tests. The cardiologist had sent her to a pulmonologist who had determined her lungs were fine after a few more tests. The pulmonologist suggested a neurologist.

Since we were to soon be home from our trip, the decision was made to wait for our return to decide what to do next. As Steve sat and talked with my mom that evening, he saw that her face was droopy and her speech was slurred. We already knew she was so weak she could hardly walk from one room to the next and that by the end of the day she couldn’t swallow her food. I joined them at the end of their conversation, and both Steve and I were quite alarmed by the extreme deterioration of my mom’s physical state.

We all face trials, struggles, and tribulations. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 provides us with a description of how Paul felt in the midst of the deep trials of life and the outcomes he experienced: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

I would have to say that Paul’s troubles were far more than any you or I will likely face. Here is a list of many of the trials Paul experienced. “Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:25-28).

Paul had physical persecution and also the emotional strain of spiritually caring for and leading the churches. Through these particular struggles, Paul felt the same emotions that we feel when we have problems. However, he wasn’t overcome and overwhelmed by those emotions. His goal in the midst of the difficulties was that Jesus would be glorified.

When all is going as we have planned, when we can handle it, when we have it all together, what need is there for the Lord Jesus? What glory does He receive? However, when it is beyond our strength and outside of our personal resources, and we choose to rely on the Lord Jesus, Who gets the praise? “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). In these verses, Paul says he despaired of life, but from 2 Corinthians 4:8, we know he was not in the depths of emotional despair. His situation was simply so desperate that he didn’t think he would live. In the midst of those kinds of circumstances, he had learned not to trust in himself but in God.

That kind of trusting comes about through the grace of the Lord. Again, Paul helps us with the practical life application. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, 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 am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It is amazing to me that Paul could say he would glory in the struggles he faced because they provided the opportunities for God’s grace and power to be seen. That is the attitude I want to have when there are crises that happen in my life or the lives of those I love. I desire that my focus would come off the problems and onto the One Who helps us through our difficulties.

There is much more I would like to share on this topic, so I will continue it next month. Plus I will be able to tell you the outcomes of the situations with my mom and Melanie. In the meantime, may I encourage you as you face trials in your life to realize that the excellency of the power is of God and not of you. Would you look on your problems as opportunities to see God’s grace and power in your life?

Worldly Friends – Part 3

This month we continue with the topic of how we teach our children to love others who choose a worldly path but not embrace what they are doing. The previous Dad’s Corners can be read here.

We instruct our children best by our example. Our “walk” prepares the way for them to receive what we teach. Therefore, we could ask ourselves how we, as parents, are demonstrating the love of Jesus toward the worldly “Christians” we encounter while not being influenced by the sin in their lives.

Paul said in Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” Paul was commanding us to note those who live a Christ-honoring life and follow them as examples. He also encouraged us to notice those who do not have a godly life and come alongside them for the purpose of restoring them. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

Paul is directing that we would do two things with the information we learn from observing people’s lives. We look to those whose walk is Christ-honoring as examples, but we work toward restoring those who have a sinful, worldly lifestyle being careful that we ourselves aren’t influenced by their sin. Therefore, we can learn from Paul’s godly example as to how he lovingly attempted to help believers who were making bad choices.

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:4 express his broken heart and concern for the Corinthian believers. “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Corinthians 2:4).

“And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). Paul demonstrated his love by ministering with a willingness to suffer. Even at the risk of the Corinthians rejecting his leadership, Paul rebuked their conduct and did not back down. He was saying in verse fifteen that the more he loved them by speaking the truth in love, the less he was loved by them. Usually, the more someone is loved, the more he loves in return.

People want to be accepted and loved, and Paul was no different as noted by the fact that he mentioned that the Corinthians were loving him less. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, didn’t come to the Corinthians to win their acceptance through funny pulpit stories and “I’m okay, you’re okay” talk. “When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?” (2 Corinthians 1:17). Paul told them the truth about their sinful, worldly conduct and God’s thoughts on it even though he knew it was costing him the feelings of love the Corinthians should have had for him. “But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay” (2 Corinthians 1:18).

A good doctor will tell the patient what his real condition is and what is necessary to restore him to health. Paul demonstrated in the Epistles that he was a good spiritual doctor because he was willing to directly address the bad news of their spiritual need. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” (Ephesians 4:15).

The Greek word for love in Ephesians 4:15 is agape and is well defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Paul’s love fits the criteria that is set forth in these verses. He was definitely kind and patient. He wasn’t proud as he exhorted them, but rather he was honest and direct.

In Ephesians we find another of the many examples in the New Testament of Paul speaking the truth in love to those in his flocks by exhorting them to stop living a worldly lifestyle. “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Paul has set forth the example for believers as to how we love worldly believers, and we are the example for our children. Do we speak the truth in love to those who are worldly and help them to see their condition before the Lord Jesus? We may not be in a position of spiritual authority over our Christian friends, but we are still able to admonish one another in love. “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14).

In the e-mails I receive, it often appears that people prefer to “wink” at the worldliness in others’ lives than to risk the possibility of losing their friendship or appearing to be “holier than thou.” This is generally stated in the context of a parent writing and expressing concern about the influences on his children from worldly families and friends. Rather than offend a brother by bringing up worldliness in his life or his family’s lives, the parent will allow his children to be in jeopardy of worldly influences.

Ignoring sin is more comfortable than admonishing. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). When two pieces of steel are used to sharpen each other, friction results. A true friend will welcome and receive an admonishment. However, “A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise” (Proverbs 15:12). Only when a scorner repents will he come to realize that the one rebuking him was acting out of love.

Could it be that church discipline is so rare today because few are willing to take a chance of offending any one, and therefore, sin is tolerated? If brother would admonish brother in an ongoing, casual way—as iron sharpeneth iron—I believe there would far less need for church discipline because worldly, sinful lifestyles would be dealt with before they became major sins.

Worldliness is rampant among believers today. Similarly to the way a cold bug spreads in the physical realm, one worldly family spends time with a godly family and spiritually infects that family with their worldliness. It takes the deep love of a godly family, and a willingness to be rejected, to try to help a worldly family by speaking the truth in love. An evidence of our love for others is when we are willing to suffer loss of fellowship as a result of their not appreciating an admonition. Are we more concerned about their spiritual health or our desire for friendship? In a time of political correctness and tolerance, may we choose to be courageous and love others enough to encourage them in a closer walk with the Lord Jesus.

In this process, it is important that we share with our children concerning these interactions that we are having with worldly brethren. We want them to know biblically why we are speaking the truth in love—what the sin is, what Scripture says about it, and what the outcomes will be for those who choose not to repent. We desire that our children would understand the consequences of sin, and then abhor sin and a worldly lifestyle. This is an important part of our children learning to love the sinner and hate the sin rather than embracing it.

As our children see that our hearts are broken with concern for others and that we are willing to speak the truth in love, they are learning to love those for whom Christ died. When we share with them the truth of the Scripture, they will understand the seriousness of not embracing the world. If speaking the truth in love causes a distancing of a friendship, our children will observe our example of choosing fellowship with the Lord Jesus as being more important than worldly friends who will compromise our walk with Jesus. We will continue this next month.