Friday, February 26, 2010

Bad Worry, Good Worry? Part 2

In my post yesterday, I presented a couple of examples of the Apostle Paul's perspective on worry. Was he inconsistent? Was his concern (anxiety) for the churches that he planted sinful?

I believe that his "do not be anxious about anything" in Philippians 4:6 describes a different kind of worry than his concern in 2 Corinthians 11:28 (and his fear in 1 Thesalonians 3:4-5). Three key factors lead me to this conclusion.

First, because the Bible is true and trustworthy, I do not believe that we are looking at any kind of inconsistency or sin in Paul. This is not because Paul was perfect, but if he was in the wrong in these instances, the Holy Spirit would have let us in on his sin. His concern was a matter of his human weakness, not a result of a failure on his part to trust God. He couldn't see what was happening in the churches and he wanted assurance that all was well with their faith.

Next, I think the context in Philippians 4 indicates that Paul's prohibition on worry relates to individual joy and contentment in the Lord. Paul learned not to worry about himself and he instructed his readers to pray and not worry about themselves. On the other hand, his concern for others indicates deep love, a pastoral burden that really convicts me in regard to my care for the people in my church.

The last consideration is that the worry of Philippians 4 is probably a non-productive worry, a worry that you can't do anything about (I don't have any good reason for this, it's a hunch based on what I read regarding the other kind of anxiety). This kind of worry is always useless.

Paul's pastoral concern is a kind of anxiety that was justified. The churches that he planted were in danger - danger from false teachers, danger from temptation to sin, danger from overt persecution. These were not imagined problems, they were very present dangers for these churches and they sat heavily on Paul's mind and heart.

More than that, Paul could - and did - do something about these concerns. He prayed, he sent associates like Timothy to places like Thessalonica, he visited these churches himself when he could and, of course, he wrote letters.

So what's the application to us?

When you're anxious, pray. But, when you're anxious, ask the Lord if He is prompting you to do something about that anxiety. If you find that the circumstances that cause you anxiety are beyond your control, pray for contentment. Trust God in the situation. If, however, there is something you can do about someone you are worried about, then do it. It may be a phone call, a visit, a letter, a gift of a useful book, practical help or whatever you come up with.

It could be that that nagging worry is a prompt from God for you, a call to show his love to someone who needs your help and prayer.

Not all absence of worry is a cause for self-congratulation. If I do not have anxiety about other people - good worry, you might say - I may be guilty of not caring enough about people and their circumstances. The Apostle Paul's pastoral care extended to having a measure of productive, prayerful anxiety.

Don't worry: pray, love and serve.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bad Worry, Good Worry?

I have been thinking about worry lately. We have seen some examples of anxiety from the Apostle Paul in our Wednesday Bible study recently and I'm trying to reconcile his instruction in one place with his personal confessions in other places. At one level, these passages seem contradictory.

The first passage, the instruction regarding worry, is very well known:

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Compare 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5

(W)hen we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.

In the first passage, the apostle urges us to find God’s deep peace by trading our anxiety with joyful, thankful prayer. In the second passage, it almost seems that Paul has been a nervous wreck regarding the Thessalonian Christians.

See also 2 Corinthians 11:28 where Paul says that he has to bear the pressure of anxiety for the churches daily (concern / anxiety is the same word as the anxiety in Philippians 4:6).

So what gives? Is worry always bad, or does Paul set the pattern for good worry?

I’ll give my take on how to reconcile these passages tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Don't Fall Away

On Sunday, I preached one of the most difficult messages that I have ever delivered. The text is Hebrews 6:1-12. Here is the really pointed bit, 6:4-6:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

I do not believe that these verses describe a Christian losing their salvation, but this warning should cause all of us to tremble.

I have posted the message on our church website. I couldn't get it to upload - every once in a while I run into this problem - but I did an end-run around that by splitting it into two parts (part 1, part 2). We're working on a solution to uploading big files -- that is, long sermons.

I welcome your feedback on this controversial message. I've heard from a few people locally already! I'm still not convinced of my handling of all the details, but in the big picture, I'm satisfied that I understand the warning and its application.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Book Recommendation for Easter

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross is a book that we bought last year. It is an excellent devotional preparation for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Follow the link to Justin Taylor's blog to read more and find links. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conference Update

Just a quick note to follow up my "Conference Hopping" post from a couple weeks ago. We did indeed attend the "Goodness of the Gospel" conference in Calgary. It was excellent. A big thank-you to Clint and Company at Calvary Grace Baptist Church for planning and hosting the conference.

We had 10 people from Edson make the trip to Calgary and another 5 "Edson connection" people come to the conference. It was certainly worth our while!

I also went to the Desiring God Pastors Conference in Minneapolis. It was different going off on my own after having a crew at the Calgary conference, but it was good. The messages were great, and I met some folks that I hope to meet again! It was a rich time of fellowship.

I'm back home for a while now. Juanita and I are planning to attend the ReFocus Conference in Burnaby in April, however.

Bible Study Blessings

Do you just read the Bible? Granted, reading the Bible is better than nothing, but I would encourage you to study the Bible.

Just this morning, I got to work on my Bible study for tonight. After a quick read of the passage, I thought, "There's not much here." I've thought that before after a superficial look at other passages, but when I have taken the time to really study the text, I've had to repent - quite happily, I might add. There is always a treasure in God's Word. You'd think I'd learn!

We're looking at 1 Thessalonians 3, which deals mostly with news of a visit that Timothy paid to the church. Paul and his companions had to get out of town quickly after they first preached the gospel there, and Paul longed to get back there. He had to settle for a report from Timothy, and the report contained good news - the church was well, it had thrived in the midst of adversity.

What really gripped me as I looked more closely at these verses was Paul's love for these saints - a love that delighted in the growing faith of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica. Paul was facing his own adversity - opposition and affliction on every front, in fact. However, what he lived for was the joy that came through seeing others grow in faith and love (compare Philippians 1:21-26).

In these verses, we see how faith works in the power of the gospel. Faith results in love, joy, holiness and contentment in the face of suffering. Joy is the engine that makes this thing fly.

I think I am better at seeing how faith relates to personal holiness (and that's important), but I was really convicted by the picture of deep Christian love and exuberant joy that is modeled in this chapter.

I have some work to do as I seek to "supply what is lacking in (my) faith" together with the saints here. I need a bigger vision of the love and joy of my Saviour in the transformation of sinners.

So then, I encourage you to study your Bible on a regular basis. Ask questions of the text. Slow down, compare translations, look for connecting words and pray for God's help in seeing what's in the passage and applying it to your life. You will be surprised and blessed at the riches and depth of God's Word.