For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Don't Go Alone

One of the greatest lies that the enemy sows is that "Good Christians can handle anything." Like all lies, there is an element of truth that forms a tempting and attractive covering on what is really a deadly poison. We buy a motivational poster that reads, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and place it on our wall. That is a biblical truth (Philippians 4:13). We look at the poster as we put on our hat and head out to face the day. While some days are better than others, we survive each day and the truth is reaffirmed.

But it is a partial truth. Ironically, it is sown next to another truth: the promise of the fruit of the Spirit. Scripture promises that the outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We understand that fruit takes time and like a gardener in the springtime we eagerly await the germination and growing of these "Spirit-fruits." We set our minds on cultivating them in our lives. We work at being patient and loving. And on good days we are fairly successful. We are kind. We are gentle. We exercise self-control. It seems easy.

Then there are the hard days. Sometimes it is easy to define what makes them difficult. Our boss is unreasonable or we receive devastating news. But more often it is often the hard days are mysterious. Every comment bothers us. Our children are a nuisance. The service in the restaurant seems bad. The tram is too full. The list goes on with endless variety. What doesn't change is the expression on our face.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash
We want to cry, but we know Christians are supposed to be joyful so we plaster a smile on our face and tell everyone we are fine. We want to slam the door in someone's face, but we know that Christians are supposed to be kind so we open the door instead. We are supposed to be gentle so we refrain from punching someone while we inwardly seethe with anger. We pretend to be confident, but we are scared to death about the future. We become experts at pretending.

We try to fake the fruit of the Spirit while inside we are full of rage, bitterness, jealousy, depression, and envy. Satan is thrilled as he watches us wither on the vine. True joy has long disappeared from our lives. We are merely surviving rather than experiencing the abundant life Jesus came to give us. The partial truth has caused us to swallow a lie. We are sowing to flesh rather than the Spirit because we think we can handle it "with Jesus." We've bought the lie and its poison is killing us.

What is the lie?

Think about the sentence "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." How does Christ strengthen you? If you are like me, your quick response is "the Bible and the Holy Spirit." It is a good answer. It is a right answer. It is also incomplete. And the incompleteness makes it a deadly answer.

We think that if we are mature we can "stand on our own two feet" (with Jesus' help, of course). We easily accept the idea that maturity equals independence. This appeals to our pride. The missing piece of the answer is that Christ also strengthens us through other believers.

The sentence "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" needs to be read in context. In its larger context Paul is writing a thank-you letter to the Philippians. The Philippian church has sent a gift to him while he is in prison. He thanks them for their partnership in the gospel (Philippians 1:3-7). The struggles he was facing were well-known to them. They were not hidden. He thanks them for their practical gift. He assures them that because of Christ he is doing alright because he has learned to be content with little, but he is not saying that he does not need their partnership! He rejoices in it and is greatly encouraged by it. He is not alone.

In fact, Paul writes to the Corinthians about the struggles that he had faced in the Roman province of Asia. "We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself" (2 Corinthians 1:8). This trial caused Paul to depend more fully on God. Notice that he says, "He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You must also help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many." (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).

Paul knew that one of the keys to doing "all things through Christ who strengthens me" was the partnership and prayers of other believers. They were knit together by the Lord in the bond of fellowship. This fellowship was marked by prayer. Paul prayed earnestly for others. He asked them to pray for him. He would be firm in rebuking the idea that we were somehow to live the abundant life without the partnership and prayer of other believers.

Putting It Into Practice

Asking for Prayer
One of the biggest steps that many people could take in their walk with Jesus is simply asking someone to pray for them! Asking for prayer breaks down our pride and gives the opportunity for the Lord to act in response to our humility and the prayers of others.
This is one of the major reasons that we have developed the Prayer and Care ministry at TICOS. Every Sunday there are people in church who are facing difficulties. Some Sunday it will be you. You may be a struggling with sin. You may have a financial problem. You might have a health issue or emotional struggle. Perhaps you simply want more of Jesus in your life. Whatever it is, prayer is part of the answer. Our Prayer and Care ministry is there to pray with you. Do not be afraid (or too proud) to ask for prayer!

Developing Partnerships
We have fellowship with one another through the gospel (1 John 1:3). Deep relational fellowship must be intentionally cultivated over time. It doesn't just happen. I've always attended church regularly (even before I was paid to do so!). Sunday morning worship is an important time for the body of Christ. But I've found that it isn't enough. I have been involved in life groups my entire Christian life. These groups have met regularly (usually every week) to talk, study the Bible, and pray together. Over time, the people in these groups have gotten to know me and I have gotten to know them. They know the ups and downs of my life. They've taught me, encouraged me, and corrected me. They've imparted wisdom. They've made me laugh until my stomach hurts. They've hugged me when I've suffered loss. They are "partners" with me. We "do life" together. They have had a tremendous impact in my life. That's why I think life groups are so important.

So let me encourage you to ask the Prayer Team to pray for you.  Be a part of a life group. These are key ways Christ will give you strength to "do all things."

Don't try to do the Christian life by yourself. It doesn't work that way.