Devotional

Withdraw to Desolate Places (Caring For Your Heart, Soul, Mind & Body in Difficult Times)

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Please open up to Luke 5:16. We’re going to concentrate our efforts on one verse today and use it as a jumping-off point for something that I believe is important for us during this difficult time.

Luke 5:16, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

The NIV translates that “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” The New American Standard Bible says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

The question I want to answer today is “Why did Jesus do that?”

The Humanity of Christ

It’s astonishing when you stop to think about it, what Jesus gave up in the incarnation. Jesus, the Son of God, existed before time began, equal to and in perfect relation with the Father. He lived in perfect love, perfect holiness, perfect strength. Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent. Worshipped by angels, able to create the universe with a thought.

And then, in an act of divine grace and mercy, as John 1:14 puts it, the Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Literally, the Son of God, “pitched his tent” or “tabernacled” among us. The fullness of God within the confines of a human man. Not to get too technical, but Theologians call this the Hypostatic Union. Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, possessing all of the Creators attributes, but also the son of Mary (Gal 4:4-5). He had a human nature that had everything that makes us human, including a human mind, soul, and body.[1] These two natures were perfectly united, without any confusion or division.

He did this to save us because humanity couldn’t save itself. We needed a human representative to stand before the Father, but that representative couldn’t be under the curse of sin. Only a perfect being can stand before God. And so God sent His one and only Son to live a perfect life, and then offer Himself to the Father as the final sacrificial blood offering that the Mosaic Law required. God accepts the death of His Son in exchange for anyone who would believe in Him. And, since Jesus hadn’t sinned, death could not hold him, the grave could not keep him, and He was raised from the dead. As we just read in Acts 2:24, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

It’s really important that we understand the implications of that Hypostatic Union – the perfect divinity and perfect humanity of Jesus. Philippians 2:5–8 says it this way, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

In His “emptying”, Jesus didn’t lose or subtract His divinity, but added humanity to His nature. Jesus chose to be born, to live as a servant, to be in the likeness of men, in human form, obedient to all that meant, obedient to the Father, as limited and frail as any human being.[2]

The Bible records the limitations of his human body many times. He was born (Luke 2:7). He grew up (Luke 2:40, 52). He got tired (John 4:6) and thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). At times we see him become physically weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26).

Jesus also had human emotions. “When Jesus heard the centurion’s words of faith, ‘he marveled’ (Matthew 8:10). Matthew 26:38 says that his ‘soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’ In John 11:33–35, Jesus is “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” and even weeps. In John 12:27 Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled,” and in John 13:21, he is “troubled in his spirit.” The author to the Hebrews writes that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).” [3]

Jesus had a human mind. In Luke 2:52 it tells us that as Jesus grew up into adulthood he, “increased in wisdom and in stature”. At times we see Jesus’ showing a limitation in what he knows, but other times demonstrates supernatural knowledge – but that connected to His spirit rather than his mind.

One way that we see Jesus’ incarnation in action is that when He performs a miracle or does something supernatural, we often read that He did it “by the Spirit of God” (Matt 12:28, Mk 2:8, Luke 4:1 ). This means that part of the limitation Jesus put on Himself would be that He wouldn’t manifest His own power by Himself, but that, like any other human, would be utterly dependant on the Spirit of God, and a connection to His Father. As our perfect example, Jesus knew that He needed to demonstrate how humanity, His followers, was meant to function. And that meant that His power didn’t come from Himself, but from His connection to the Father through the Spirit of God.

This is why, at the beginning of His ministry Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor; He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” (Luke 4:18) This is why we read in Acts 10:38 that…  “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” This isn’t a statement saying that Jesus was some regular, sinful guy that God gave special powers to… it is a declaration that, while Jesus was fully divine, He chose to require that which humans require – the anointing and blessing of God for the power to do good, face evil, share the gospel, and walk with God.

Our Weakness

Now, why am I tell you all this? Because it’s critical that you see that Jesus was fully human before we get to our passage today. Why? Because you’re human too.

There’s a passage I think a lot about these days. It’s from Mark 12:28–32, and you can turn there if you like.

It says, “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” …”

The description of holistic spirituality is captured in this very short verse, which is a quote from God in Deuteronomy 6:5. The first and most important law for humanity, the only way we can experience eternal life, is to love God with everything we are and to show that love to others. I would argue – and I think most pastors, theologians, and counselors would agree with me – that one comes before the other. We must love the Lord and experience His love before we will be able to love our neighbour.

But look at how it’s divided: Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. I think those divisions are so critical for us to meditate on. Humans aren’t merely bodies. I don’t care how atheistic or naturalistic you are, you cannot deny that humanity is merely a mechanized concoction of chemicals and matter. You know, inherently, that humans are more than just meat creatures.

In the beginning, when God created humanity, He made us special. He made us in His image. He created our physical bodies, but that’s not all. In order to be God’s image in this world, to be His people, able to be intimately, relationally connected to Him, we needed to be more than merely physical. We needed to be a union of body, intellect, emotion, and spirit.

And so God imbued this physical body with a heart, or emotions, desires, affections. He gave us a soul, or psyche, or consciousness, our being, what makes us unique individuals. And He gave us a mind, or intellect, intelligence. It is the fusion of these four things – heart, soul, mind, and strength that makes a person.

We just covered how these divisions were represented in Christ. And it is in turning all of these areas of our lives over to God that we will experience what it means to be truly human, to know real love, to be able to do good, face evil, share the gospel, and walk with God.

Our Need

With all this as our background, I want to turn back to our verse today, Luke 5:16. Let’s read it in context starting in verse 12, “While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but ‘go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’ But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

This was a bit of a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. We read in 4:40 that Jesus would sometimes already stay up all night teaching and healing people, and that He was already growing in popularity as he went from synagogue to synagogue, but after this event, His popularity skyrocketed.

He commanded the leper not to tell anyone because He wanted to avoid crowds of people who would come for physical healing but wouldn’t care about listening to the Gospel message about all that healing symbolized. Throngs of sick and demon-possessed that would come just for a miracle – and then walk away without turning to Jesus as Lord – would lose out on the reason Jesus came in the first place. He didn’t come to merely heal bodies, but to make a way for us to get back into a right relationship with God.

So Jesus tells this man to do what Moses commands but to keep it quiet. The man disobeys – maybe wanting to help Jesus by spreading the news – and all it does is make things more complicated for Jesus and His disciples. Now, instead of Jesus having the freedom to come into towns and preach in synagogues, verse 15 says that the news about Jesus’ power spread like wildfire and huge crowds would gather every time they heard Jesus was around. This is why we read about Jesus, running away, escaping, and taking off on boats and stuff.

What I want to zoom in on right now is Jesus’ response to this newfound stress and opportunity.

Let’s consider ourselves in that position, which shouldn’t be much of a stretch. You’ve got a life going. You’re doing pretty well. Things are going along pretty steadily, with only an occasional blip of frustration or difficulty, but you’re generally able to do what you need to do every day.

Then something happens. Whether it’s a great success or a great failure, a new opportunity or a huge catastrophe, something changes. Maybe it’s a new job, maybe it’s the loss of one. Maybe you come into some money, maybe you or someone you love gets cancer. Maybe it’s becoming part of a new social group, or maybe it’s a global pandemic. Whatever the case, something lobs a grenade into your life and things change.

New stress, new decisions, new fears and worries, new challenges, new relationships, new costs – all growing beyond your capacity to understand and navigate.

Heart, soul, mind, and strength are all getting tapped. Your emotions are becoming frayed, out of control anger, deep valleys of depression, anxiety starting to drive your decisions.

Your mind is running out of resources. There’s too much data to process, too many opinions and ideas to sift through. You have to remember too many things all at once. Now you’re starting to forget things, to push away new ideas, overusing entertainment because you just don’t want to think anymore.

Your body is getting tired. Stress hormones are causing you to have headaches, your joints are sore, your stomach hurts, you can’t sleep and can’t wake up. Starving yourself has made you weaker, and your comfort foods are making you lethargic.

And your spirit is wearing thin. You’re wracked with self-doubt, regrets from the past, fear of the future. You’re having an identity crisis as you try to figure out who you are in all this. All your bad habits have started to show and you feel guilt and shame. You are stretched beyond your giftings and are starting to drop the ball on important stuff. You don’t show kindness like you used to. You don’t want to be generous anymore because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t feel peace like you used to because so many things have been dropped in your lap.

What do you do? What do people usually do?

In truth, they usually blow up their lives. How many people do you know, personally, who went through a time of stress – loss of a loved one, financial crisis, personal sickness, a sudden move, a new career – who seemed like they were doing ok for a while, but then a huge part of their life exploded?

Out of nowhere, they cheat on their spouse.

Out of nowhere, they get caught doing something illegal.

Out of nowhere, they crash their car while drunk driving or end up overdosing and in drug-rehab.

Out of nowhere, they get divorced.

Out of nowhere, you find them covered in scars from self-harm.

Out of nowhere, they lose our gain a huge amount of weight.

Out of nowhere, they drop out of all of their hobbies, interests, teams, stop answering their phone, and go dark online.

Out of nowhere, you find that they’re suddenly interested in weird conspiracy stuff, cults, extremist groups.

That wasn’t “out of nowhere”. This is a person who was stretched beyond the capacity of their heart, soul, mind, and strength – and was stretched so far that something snapped. Maybe you’ve felt it. Maybe you’ve had something snap in you – or someone you know snapped.

It’s all too common and I know more than a few stories. I’m sure you do too. This huge thing didn’t come “out of nowhere” – it was something that built and built and built, and then that sudden change became the catalyst for their life blowing up.

I don’t want that for you. “Oh, it can’t happen to me!” I hear you say. I can introduce you to at least half-a-dozen people who thought the same thing. 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Ephesians 4: 27 says, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (NIV)

The devil, your adversary, is prowling around waiting for you to get tired, weak, to do something stupid. Like an expert climber, he’s looking for that little foothold, that little crack, that opportunity, to grab hold of part of your life… because once he gets into that little crack he can start to wedge in deeper and deeper.

How do we keep from that? How did Jesus keep from that? He had the same weaknesses we do but never sinned, never gave the devil the foothold, never succumbed. The Bible says He was tempted in every way possible (Heb 4:15), that Satan literally got in Jesus’ face on multiple occasions. But He stood firm. How?

Jesus Withdrew

Look back at today’s verse, Luke 5:16, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” That’s how. Over and over in the gospels, we see Jesus run away, retreat, sneak away, to make time to pray. He prayed when he was baptized (3:21), prayed when things got busy (5:16), prayed when he was confronted (Mt 11:25-26), prayed before choosing the disciples (6:12), prayed before he walked on water (Mt 14:23), prayed when he was transfigured (9:29), and prayed on the cross (23:46).

The answer to the question, “How did the fully human man, Jesus Christ, not utterly crumble under the weight of His mission, the disappointment of his followers, the ignorance of the crowds, the brutality of his enemies, and the scope of the plan that would become the pinnacle and fulcrum of history and eternity?” is “he would withdraw to desolate places and pray”. The verb tense in this sentence emphasizes that this was Jesus’ regular practice – which is why some translations put the word “often” in there. Jesus would “often withdraw” to pray.

So I ask you today this simple, yet critical question: “Do you think you are stronger than Jesus?” I know, that’s a brutal, heavy-handed question, but just sit in it for a second.

“If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt in power and perfection – absolutely needed to get away and pray – then don’t you think you do to?” The answer is of course, “Yes, you do.” You are nowhere near as spiritually, emotionally, and mentally strong as Jesus Christ – and yet, even in the middle of work, in the morning, at night, before and after big and small events – took off to pray. Shouldn’t you?

Let me read Mark 1:35-37. After a long night of healing, casting out demons, preaching, folks finally start to go home. What does Jesus do? He gets a little sleep and then takes off. Mark 1:35–37: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’”

I wonder how many times that scene played out during Jesus’ earthly ministry. How many times did the disciples turn around and Jesus just wasn’t there? How many times did they wake up in the morning and have to go find Jesus? How many times were throngs of expectant crowds disappointed because Jesus had completely taken off on them? How many people, expecting to be healed, came to where Jesus was, but He had already snuck away and was now miles from where they were? I bet it was often.

Let’s break this sentence down a bit and really dig into it because I think it’s critical we see what Jesus did.

I think the three most important words are “withdraw”, “desolate” and “pray”. That’s our formula. How do we keep our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, focused on God? How do we ensure that the Holy Spirit has full reign in our hearts, that God has full reign over our souls, that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), and give proper, God-given Sabbath rest to our bodies?

We need to “often withdraw”. The word there can also be translated “slip away”. Escape. It means that we leave work on the table. It means we leave people hanging. It means we let the calls go to voicemail. It means we leave the chores undone. It means we don’t watch the show with everyone. It means we won’t be able to accomplish everything on our lists because we have run away to occupy our time with greater things.

This goes against a lot of people’s natural instincts. Most of us feel like we’re letting God down if we aren’t always available to people, or if we don’t finish our daily list. It’s not true. What “lets God down” is when we make ourselves available to people, get our daily list done, but at no point in that day spent any time with Him. It’s not that we’re really “letting God down” though… He doesn’t need us… but He desires us.

He doesn’t want your list of things to do. He doesn’t want your religious activity. He doesn’t want you for your job, your hobby, your social platform, your skills, your abilities, talents, your ideas. He wants you.

He’s a good father that wants to spend time with His kids. Think of it this way: How do you know someone is your friend? Is it when they give you something? No. That’s charity. Is it when they do some work for you? Not really. Is it when they talk about you when you’re not there? Is it when they sit down and read your biography? No.

How do you know they’re your friend? Because they want to spend time with you and do it as often as they can. That’s what God wants. And more than that, it’s what humans need. We are not designed to do anything for a long time. God built physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual limitations in us so we might realize our need for Him.

That’s the first one – you need to “withdraw” – and the second is that you need to go to “desolate places”. The word there is for wilderness, deserts, open pastures, secluded spots. Remember how Jesus taught us to pray, right? Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

How do you know someone is your friend? Because they want to spend time with you. How do you know that they are a close friend, a best friend, or even closer? Because you want to spend more and more time with them alone. If you want an intimate relationship with God, a deep relationship with Jesus, a strong connection to the Holy Spirit – it happens when you are alone and free from distractions.

I don’t need to tell you how to get alone. You know your own life. What I’m trying to say is that if you neglect withdrawing to be alone with God, you are doing harm to your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You are setting yourself up for failure. You are lighting the fuse, however long it is, that leads to you blowing up your life – and hurting yourself and others. You need God’s voice, God’s presence, and God isn’t loud – it’s quiet, soft, and can best be heard when you are alone, quiet, and open.

Conclusion

Let me close with this: You need God. Just as Jesus needed a consistent connection to the Father, so do you. But it won’t just happen. You will never find the time. You must make the time. You must run away from things, escape from things, say no to things, drop out of things, disappoint people, delete the app, unplug the tv or computer, let go of your need for accomplishment, and stop finding your value in how much work you can do.

That is the only way you are going to be able to connect to God. And it’s urgent. It’s a huge deal. The devil is prowling and you are not equipped to resist Him if you are not connected to God. The devil has a foothold in your life and you are not wise enough to see it if you aren’t hearing the voice of God. The enemy wants to cripple your heart, soul, mind, and strength – and he will succeed if you do not “withdraw to desolate places and pray”.

[1] https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-omnipresent-son-of-god/

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-incarnation/

[3] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-is-fully-human

Stay in the Word (God Speaks to You Personally Through the Bible)

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A Living and Active Word

Most of you know the passages I read at the beginning of service – the Call to Worship and the weekly Scripture Reading – are chosen long before I read them on Sunday mornings. Around the beginning of December each year I usually take a day to sit down with what’s called a “Lectionary of Daily Readings” – which itself was written a long time ago and is based on a Liturgical calendar from centuries ago – and I go through and read and choose each of the Sunday passages for the year.

I do this from a Lectionary mostly because it is designed to give an overview of Christian theology and important passages throughout the year – and there’s no way I would be able to come up with something better than they would. The difficult part is that each Sunday actually has 4 readings – one from the Psalms, one from the New Testament Letters, one from the Gospels, and another passage chosen based on what day of the Liturgical calendar it is.

For example, today is the “Sixth Sunday of Easter”, of “Year A” in the 3-year rotation, and the readings are from Acts 17, Psalm 66, 1 Peter 3, and John 14. But since the tradition at our church is to have only two scripture readings, I try to rotate between the bunch so our church gets a balanced diet of Old, New, Psalm, and Letters.

But what amazes me almost every week is that even though these passages are chosen long ago, and based on calendars from even longer ago – they are so often exactly what our church needs to hear that day.

God, in His wisdom and grace, has given us a book where the words don’t just stay on the page, but is (as Hebrews 4:12 says) “the word of God… living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

The Bible isn’t merely a book. It is the main and usual means by which God speaks to us today, by His Holy Spirit making the words of the Bible come alive to us, speaking exactly what we need to hear, like God was writing specifically to us. All we need to do us submit ourselves to reading it, humbling ourselves before it, and being open to what God wants to say – and then listen to what God says when He does speak!

Sometimes He speaks messages of encouragement, other times conviction – but His Word and His Spirit work together in a humble heart to tell us exactly what we need to hear.

When Suffering Comes

Turn with me to 2 Timothy 3:10 and listen to the words of Paul to his protégé Timothy. These are the words of an older servant of God who is in prison, facing his final days on earth, preparing to be sentenced to death at any moment for the sake of the gospel. And listen to what He says to Timothy:

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.”

Young Timothy’s job was to try to combat the false teachers who had taken over some of the churches that he and Paul had been planting. But Timothy was a very different person than Paul. Timothy was younger, meeker, more tender-hearted. Paul was a rock – Timothy was more easily bruised. Not that Timothy wasn’t courageous and wise – he was just younger. But he’s been following Paul’s example – obeying Jesus, stepping up to speak and serve as a pastor to the church in Ephesus – and then suffering just like Paul did, just like Jesus did. And Paul says, “You’ve been following in my footsteps – and those footsteps often lead to suffering.”

And he continues in verse 12,

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

“This is the usual way of things, Timothy.” Jesus promised that everyone who tries to live like Him will face what He faced – difficult times, persecution, evil people, fake people, and liars. Obedient Christianity is not an easy road. Paul knew this. Timothy knew this.

But now, Timothy was all alone. Paul was locked up in a Roman prison hundreds of miles away. Timothy couldn’t just hide behind Paul whenever he had a problem. He couldn’t ask Paul whenever there was a tough question. When the fake people, the deceivers were spreading rumours and lies about him, and Paul, and Jesus, and God, and how salvation worked, and were successfully convincing good Christians to do wrong things, He couldn’t just get Paul to refute them. Timothy was alone.

And so Paul, who himself was very lonely in his prison cell, wrote to tell Timothy what to do.

And I think that’s where a parallel comes in for us today, right? A lot of you who are listening to me right now are alone. Either you are alone because there’s no one around you – or you are alone in your faith because you’re the only believer in your family – or you’re alone because God has called you to do something difficult that people don’t really understand – or you’re alone because your work has forced you to live behind walls, barriers, masks, and gloves – or maybe you are surrounded by family, but you feel alone because there is tension in the house, arguing and hurt feelings, and you find yourself sitting by yourself a lot.

Loneliness is a huge issue right now. Despite the bit of good news recently about reopening a few places, we’re still under “social isolation” rules and many people are feeling a “wave of loneliness”[1] hitting them as COVID-19 continues to be a present reality. I don’t need to recount all the things that have been going on because you know them – but I’m sure it won’t surprise you that the mental health crisis we were already having has only gotten worse. Depression, anxiety, addiction, abuse, panic attacks, suicides, are on the rise. Things weren’t great before and they’re worse now.

In our church, I’m amazed at how well folks are holding up. If my numbers are correct, about half of our church has lost their jobs, and most are negatively financially impacted by what’s going on – and yet, when we talk, even though there are concerns and some discouragement, I mostly hear stories full of positivity, hope, and faith.

But we’re not immune to the effects of this pandemic, are we? We’re not immune to loneliness, isolation, stress, and fear. I don’t want to speak for you, but I wonder if a lot of us feel like Timothy might have. We have faith. We know God has the big-picture under control. We’re not worried about our souls because Jesus is our gracious Saviour. But moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, we are presented with questions we don’t have answers to, people that frustrate us, fears that we can’t shake, and moments of discouragement.

Maybe it’s right after we watch the news or see some article go by on social media. Maybe it’s after a conversation with someone that didn’t go the way you thought it would. Maybe it’s when you’re standing in the grocery store surrounded by people in masks and visors and surgical gloves, where you’re thinking about every single little thing you’re touching and reminding yourself not to touch your face – and the anxiety rises. Maybe it’s when you get to the till and you wonder if there’s enough money in the bank, or for how long the money will last. Maybe it’s the quiet moments, right after you turn off the tv or the tablet, right before you go to sleep, that things start to sink in, the worries creep in, the guilt, the bitterness, the anger…

Christians aren’t immune. Timothy was a wonderful man of God, trained by the greatest missionary ever, given charge over what was, at the time, the most important missionary church in the world – but Timothy wasn’t immune to the fears, stresses, and the emotional toll.

Keep in mind that the emperor at the time was Nero, one of the most terrible people in history! We might complain that the government is being unfair to churches now, but Nero was literally feeding Christians to the lions, and lighting Christians on fire, for entertainment. That’s the environment Timothy was in.

Stay In The Word

So what does Paul say to Timothy? Paul is writing what he thinks could be the last letter he will ever write, to someone he deeply loves. What does the greatest missionary of all time, the author of the letters of the New Testament, the man who had unparalleled revelations from God, who perhaps suffered more for the gospel than any other person ever – what does Paul write in the final paragraphs of his final letter to this stressed out young man who feels the weight of the world on his shoulders?

Look at verse 14:

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

What does Paul say? Stay in the Word of God. Root yourself in the Bible. Eat, sleep and breathe the scriptures.

Timothy was raised by a Christian mother and grandmother and grew up in the faith. He’s been hearing bible stories and reading the prophets since he was little. Today, we would say that Timothy went to Sunday School, went to Youth Group, went to AWANA, took catechism, grew up in church, had active Christian role-models. The Bible, which we would call the Old Testament, was a huge part of Timothy’s Christian upbringing.

And then, when God told Paul to mentor Timothy and take him on his journeys, his family and his church laid hands on him, prayed over him, and commissioned him for ministry. Then, as the Apostles wrote more scriptures, and they were being copied and sent around, Timothy would have been part of collecting them and keeping them. He would likely have copies of the gospel of Luke and Acts, the book of James, and Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Corinthians, and even Romans – and of course the two personal letters to himself.

When Timothy got stressed out, confused, overwhelmed, tired, sick, afraid, and attacked – what did Paul say to do? Turn to the scriptures. Read. Pray. Listen to God’s Spirit speak to you directly through the words of the Proverbs, Psalms, Prophets, the Law, and the Apostles. He told Timothy – when the difficulties come – remember what you already know, what you’ve already learned, the parts you’ve memorized and studied, all of the scriptures you’ve hidden in your heart, all the stories your grandma told you, all the songs your mother sang to you, all the stories about Jesus you’ve heard and read – bring them all to mind, Timothy!

Timothy, your faith in Jesus Christ is fed and fueled by your attention to and humility before the Word of God. They’ll connect you to Jesus Christ, increase your faith, remind you of your hope and salvation, and make you wise.

Do you need to connect to the Spirit of God? The scriptures were breathed out by Him. They have the power and presence of God in them.

Do you feel inadequate to interpret these times, confused by the slick false-teachers and need some instruction? Do you feel confused about the big questions of life, meaning, eternity… the scriptures are a spring of knowledge that will never run dry.

Do you sense that you are being lied to or that you believe lies? Do you feel like the darkness is starting to seep into your soul? The scriptures only tell the truth and are valuable for reproof, or rebuking, bringing light and clarity to and light in the darkness of this world.

Do you wonder if you’re going the right way? Wonder what needs to change in your life? Do you see someone in sin and not know what to do? The Scriptures are the best way you can correct yourself or someone else. They present the straight and narrow path, show you the walls on either side, and is the compass that will guide you to true north.

You don’t need to have the right words to say when you see someone in trouble – the Bible has them. You don’t need to wonder about your life plan – the scripture will tell you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – 95% of what humans spend so much time trying to figure out, the most important things every human wants to know, has already been answered in the Bible! The Word of God will train you up, show you the right way, help you grow in maturity, and give you the equipment you need to do good in this world.

One of my commentaries says it this way,

“If Timothy would nurture his spiritual life in the Scriptures that he would use in his ministry, he would be fully qualified and prepared to undertake whatever tasks God put before him. What a tragedy for any Christian to be labelled as spiritually unprepared for a task when the means of instruction and preparation are readily at hand!”[2]

Sunday School

I’ve always felt a sense of kinship with Timothy. I also grew up in the church. I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I have more bible stories, hymns, songs, and sermons in my brain than almost anything else. I’ve served in some form of ministry since I was asked to be a puppeteer in the Sunday School at age 13.

When I was called into ministry, I really connected with Timothy. He was a young pastor, stretched way beyond his comfort zone, taken far from his home and comforts, and dropped into a difficult church with no idea what to do. That was me in my first and second churches!

People stopped telling me how “young I am for being a pastor” about 5 years ago, but it hasn’t been that long since I felt like I was living a very Timothy-esque life. That often meant not knowing what to do, what to say, or how to help. It meant many hours of loneliness, heartache, fear, and confusion as people within the church lied to, betrayed, and hurt me and my family. There were some wonderful, beautiful times, and some amazing people too – but it also meant shedding a lot of tears.

And when I did, I would read Paul’s letters to Timothy and know that they were also God’s letters to me. Jesus spoke to me through them. When I turned to scripture, Jesus would comfort me, teach me, correct me, train me, and equip me for what I needed to do. Often hymns and scripture songs would come to my mind that I sung during church, Sunday School, or one of the Bible programs or VBS’s I went to. And they would be like a healing balm to my soul. A personal message from God, like He was singing to me personally.

I’m so glad I grew up in church and I know that some of you have had the same experiences. I’m so thankful for the Sunday School teachers I had, the AWANA leaders, the people that ran the Vacation Bible Schools, the pastors and song leaders that put the time in day after day, week after week, trying to get some little bit of light, some nugget of truth, some bit of Godly wisdom, drilling bible verses into my thick, distracted, little skull. Because those little bits of light were what God used to bring me out of some very dark times.

Sometimes, even as a pastor, I didn’t feel like reading my Bible. I got down, felt hurt, felt like God tricked me into taking a job that only made my life miserable. And I didn’t want to talk to God. I didn’t want to read something else about perseverance, or patience, or because I wanted to quit.

And in those moments, so very often, a bible song would come to my mind, an old hymn that was rich in scripture. And it wouldn’t be convicting or challenging or harsh. God didn’t send a criticism or some spur to kick me into gear. He sent me light, comfort, joy.

♫“For I am convinced, that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers. Nor life, nor death, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ♫

That’s Romans 8:38-30.

Or

♫ “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. The mountains are His, the valleys are His, the stars are his handiwork too. My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” ♫

That’s basically Psalm 8, 66, 147, and Isaiah 40 all wrapped up into one verse.

 

Conclusion

My message today has one point – stay in God’s word. Keep reading in 2 Timothy and you’ll see why I preach how I do.

But the Bible isn’t just for preachers. It’s not just for missionaries, teachers, and youth workers. The Bible was written in a common language, for common people, to bring everyone to God. It is not merely for studying and arguing about.

I can’t tell you how special it was when I went from studying God’s word, memorizing it, learning about it like a textbook – to reading it like it is God’s personal letter to me. When I finally realized that the “living and active” word of God wasn’t just big ideas and grandiose concepts meant to guide our lives – but that if I listened, if I asked, if I prayed, that God would actually talk to me, individually, through His Holy Spirit making the word come alive and speak to me about exactly what I’m going through, showing me something about God or myself or the world that I needed to see that day.

And that’s true for everyone. God still speaks through His Spirit and His Word today, to anyone who is willing to humble themselves and listen.

Now of course, I have to give the warning that not everything you think is correct, right? Like, that old joke where the man was desperate to know the will of God so he decided he would open up the bible to a random page and whatever it said he would do. So he opened up to Matthew 27:5 and it said, “Judas hanged himself.” Startled, the man quickly closed the bible and reopened it with his finger landing on Luke 10:37, “Go and do likewise”. Now, a lot more worried, the man tried one more time, with his finger landing on John 13:27, “What you are about to do, do quickly!”

You know that’s not how it works, right? You know you need context, study, meditation, to tell others what you think God is saying, and to get guidance from Christian friends, elders and pastors.

So what am I saying? I’m saying that during a time like we are having now. When loneliness, anxiety, worry, and stress, are starting max out, take over, become their own epidemic – that it’s critical that you commit yourself to reading the Bible, singing the Bible, sharing the Bible, posting the Bible on your fridge and phone and computer.

But most of all, when you get alone with God, when you’ve made the time to read His Word – to read with anticipation that God is present and willing to speak! To read knowing and trusting that if you have given your life to God, if you are saved by Jesus Christ, if you are a Christian, that God’s Holy Spirit will speak to you through His Word.

To come to His Word the way you come for your first meal of the day – hungry and expecting it to feed your soul, fill you up, energize you for the day, and keep you alive – knowing that if you don’t get it in you, if you starve yourself, you are going to be weak and unable to function. Come to God’s Word anticipating, expecting, longing for it to feed your soul for the day.

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/radio/frontburner/covid-19-unlocks-wave-of-loneliness-1.5568625

[2] Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (1992). 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (Vol. 34, pp. 237–238). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

5 Reminders for Students (Carnivore Theology – Ep. 73)

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Whether you’re going into High School, College, University or Post-Grad, Pastor Al gives some important reminders to students returning to school this semester.

1. Guard your reputation.
2. Remember why you’re there.
3. Find a good church.
4. Keep your devos going.
5. Try to find balance.

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Subscribe and rate us on  iTunes and watch us on YouTube!! (If you don’t have iTunes use FeedBurner)

3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!)

4. Send a question or comment through Facebook Twitter, or E-mail!

5. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store! (And check out our friend Kim’s amazing art while you’re there!)

6. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com and our Media Kit with your friends and church. Sharing is caring!

A Carnivore Christmas Devo with Steve (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 58)

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Advent 2 - STEVE

We’re continuing our annual advent tradition by taking some time to give some personal, devotional reflections on the season. Steve, Chad and I thank you for listening this year and hope you have a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

A Carnivore Christmas Devo with Pastor Al (Carnivore Theology Ep. 57)

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Advent 3 - AL

We’re continuing our annual advent tradition by taking some time to give some personal, devotional reflections on the season. Steve, Chad and I thank you for listening this year and hope you have a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

A Carnivore Christmas with Pastor Chad (Carnivore Theology Ep. 56)

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Advent 1 - CHAD.PNG

We’re continuing our annual advent tradition by taking some time to give some personal, devotional reflections on the season. Steve, Chad and I thank you for listening this year and hope you have a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Ask us a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page!

2. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

3. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

4. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

Support Art of the Christian Ninja’s Kickstarter!

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If you’ve been following the blog/podcasts for any time now, then you know about my passion for good, inspiring, Christian discipleship tools — and you likely know about my long-term writing project. Well, it’s finally ready to go, but I need your help!

Why a Kickstarter?

Book Cover OnlyI know there are lots of great devotional books and discipleship guides out there, but I think The Art of the Christian Ninja is different. My vision for this book was always that it would be more than just something to pick up and read, but by a visual journey, an engaging meditation, a personal conversation, a meaningful training ground to help young believers, and older ones who are looking for inspiration, connect their faith and life in a new way.

For this project to get into people’s hands I need your help! I’m a full time pastor and family man, so when it comes to publishing books, I’m as independent as it gets. The book is all done, but I need your pledge to help pay for the design, printing and distribution costs, so I can get it off of my computer and into the real world.

How You Can Help

It would mean a lot to me if you’d be willing to check out and pass along the link to Kickstarter Page — and maybe even consider supporting the project! If you can’t support financially, then please do support me in prayer and sharing the link.

All the information you need is in the video and on the Kickstarter Page.

Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/410904799/art-of-the-christian-ninja-devotional-book

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!

Why Should I Love My Enemies?

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I gave a talk to a group of AWANA kids this week. It was “Heart Night” (celebrating Valentine’s Day) and I spoke on Love. I used some animated gifs in the powerpoint, which is where all the giggling at the beginning comes from. I linked to a few if you want a giggle too.

Here’s the audio (12 minutes):

AWANA Love Your Enemy - BANNER

How many of you are good at opposites? Let’s start off with a quick quiz.

What is the opposite of: UP – DOWN, AWAKE – ASLEEP, ANGRY – HAPPY, FRIENDSENEMIES, LOVE – HATE.

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day I want to talk about some of those opposite words.

Jesus taught a lot of things that seem opposite to us. He said things like: Help people without telling anyone (Matthew 6:3), lend things generously but don’t ask for them back (Luke 6:35), if someone hits you, let them hit you again (Matthew 5:39), if someone steals your shirt, you should give him your jacket too (Matthew 5:40), and He even said to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27).

That’s a little confusing isn’t it? It’s not what we hear from most people. It’s easy to love our friends, but how can we love our enemies? The whole problem with an enemy is that they are someone who is trying to harm us! They trip us when we walk down the hallway, take our things, break our stuff, pull our hair, blame us for things we didn’t do. How can we love them?

The Fox and the Scorpion

Beautiful art, but I can't find the artist. Please let me know so I can give credit.
Beautiful art, but I can’t find the artist. Please let me know so I can give credit.

Let me tell you a story about someone who trusted their enemy. It’s the story of the Fox and the Scorpion.

Once, long ago, in the vast lands of the desert, there was a great river that had to be crossed for so the animals could get food and water. One day, Fox came to the river and was looking for a place where it was safest to cross. As he searched, Fox’s lifelong enemy Scorpion crawled up on a rock near him and began to speak.

“Fox, I’ve been walking along this river bank, looking for food, and I noticed a very easy place to cross the river – where the water is not so deep and not so swift. I would like to cross over myself, but I am so small it would be impossible! Would you be willing to take me across if I show you the place?” asked Scorpion,

Fox replied, “Why would I take you across!? How could I trust you not to sting me since we are lifelong enemies?”

“Why would I sting you? For if I stung you it would mean that we would both drown!” said Scorpion.

Fox thought it over, keeping a distrustful eye on Scorpion, but eventually said, “Show me where this place is, and I will take you across.”

When they got to the place, Fox bent down to allow Scorpion to climb on his back. And as Fox was swimming across, when he reached the middle of the river, he felt a sharp STING on his back! As the poison filled his veins Fox cried out, “How could you sting me? Now we will both drown!”

Scorpion replied, “It is better that we both should perish, than that my lifelong enemy should live!”

The Problem

That’s the problem isn’t it? Many people would hear this story and think, “Yeah, once I have an enemy. If I don’t like someone, or they prove that they don’t like me, then I shouldn’t ever be nice to them. I should stay away from them. If they are in trouble, I should walk away.” They make us mad! We want to hurt them back. We want to cry. We want to punish them.

But Jesus says that we need to love our enemies! Why? Why would He say that? Does Jesus want us to keep getting beat up? Does Jesus want us to be wimps? Does Jesus want us to be cowards? Doesn’t Jesus want the best for us? Of course He does! And He knows people a lot better than we do.

The Solution

So, may I share with you three reasons why I think Jesus wants us to love our enemies?

1. Love Conquers Hate (Romans 12:17-21)

The first reason is that love conquers hate. Have you ever heard someone say, “You have to fight fire with fire”? What that means is that when someone does something bad, you should do something bad to them. But what happens when you fight fire with fire? You only get more fire! Everything gets burned up.

 What should you fight a fire with? A fire extinguisher! Put out the fire! Hating and hurting our enemies won’t defeat our enemies. It will just create more, and stronger, enemies. When we love our enemies, it’s like pouring water on a fire, or blasting it with a fire extinguisher. We put out the hatered.

Romans 12:20-21 says, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Can you imagine what would happen to your enemy if you helped feed them when they were hungry? If you shared your lunch with them when they didn’t have one? If you gave them your juice-box when they were thirsty? What would happen then? They might become your friend! At the very least they would change how they think about you. You don’t overcome evil with more evil… you overcome evil with good!

2. Love Changes People (Luke 6:27-28)

Here’s another reason to love our enemies instead of hating them. We can’t change them – only God can. And the way that God changes people by us loving them and by His Spirit working inside of them.

If we do good to people who hate us, God can use our love to change their hearts. And if we pray for them, then God promises to answer prayers and change the world for us. He promises that when we pray, He will answer. Maybe He will make that person kinder. Maybe He will give you more patience when talking to them. Maybe He will help you know what to say next time they do something, or help you be strong and kind when they do something mean again. God does amazing things when we love people and pray for them.

That’s why Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

3. Hate Is Like Poison

Here’s another reason Jesus taught us to love our enemies instead of hating them.

Have you ever felt angry with someone, and you wanted to hurt them and get back at them – and you had hate in your heart – and you felt so upset that you ended up treating people that you love badly? They didn’t do anything and now you’re mad at them too!

Maybe you have a bad day at school, or fight with your brother or sister, or someone said something mean to you – and instead of forgiving, you decide to stay upset and let hate into your heart. What happens when later? You yell at your mom. You’re grumpy with your friends. You are angry with yourself and stomp around. Hate has become like a poison in your heart.

The Bible says in Hebrew 12:15 to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (NLT) If someone hurts us, and we choose not to forgive them, not to pray for them, not to do good to them, not to love them… the hate inside of us acts like a poison – and that poison gets bigger, and can hurt many people.

Love Comes from Jesus

So, how can we do this? Loving our enemies is really hard, isn’t it? Here are two things to remember that I use to help me love my enemies, and I think they will help you too.

First, pray about it. Remember when Daniel was in the lion’s den, surrounded by hungry lions? What did he do? He prayed! So what should we do when we are surrounded by enemies? Pray! You’ve probably memorized lots of Bible verses about asking God for help. You are learning these because they are true! If you are having a hard time forgiving and loving, ask Jesus for help and He will help you.

And second, remember that love comes from Jesus. This is what Jesus did for us. The Bible, in Romans 5:8-11, says that even though we are sinners and enemies of God, that God sent Jesus to come and die for us! Jesus traded his life for ours because He loved us, even when we were his enemies. And then 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us!” So, since Jesus loved us, even when we were His enemies, and once we become His friends by believing in Him, He will teach us and give us the strength to love our enemies too.