My hope is built on nothing less

0278=278“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV).

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name” (Edward Mote).

In the dictionary’s definition of the word “hope,” it describes three aspects (I have put this into my own words):

  1. Its basis. That which makes up the foundation for our expectation that our great desire will be satisfied.
  2. Its nature. That which describes the quality and strength of our future longing and its affect on us in the present.
  3. Its object. That which is the focus of our expectation. This is the future something or someone that we focus our desire upon obtaining.

I think Edward Mote (1797-1874), the founding pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, West Sussex, England must have been contemplating these three aspects of hope when he penned the words to that great hymn, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” Published in 1837, this hymn became an instant classic.

Mote declared, “My hope is built” on Christ! Mote sees Christ’s work on the cross, his “blood and righteousness” as the foundation, the basis of our hope.  I agree. But I would further add that which the apostle Peter proclaimed, that our hope is built on Christ’s resurrection. In other words, the basis for Christian hope is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our hope is built on the historical reality of Christ’s work.

Mote says that this hope is not mere “trust” in a sweet “frame” of mind. No, it is based on the firm foundation of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This also speaks to its nature. Christian hope is a “living hope” as Peter described it. Its quality lies in its connection to the living Lord Jesus, who abides in those who believe on him. This hope is not merely an optimistic or positive “frame” of mind, but a strong conviction that all is well and that all will be well because of the living Christ. As Mote wrote in verse three of his hymn, “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.”

Christ’s resurrection is the basis of our hope. Christ’s abiding Spirit within us is the nature of our hope. And Christ’s return is the object of our hope. As Mote wrote in his final verse and chorus:

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Christ is our living hope!

Reading through Passion Week


The traditional burial slab of Jesus located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

“And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’” (Luke 22:15 ESV).

This coming Sunday begins what many Christians call Holy Week or Passion Week. It is called “Passion” week because of its connection to the Greek word πάσχω (pas’-kho) which is usually translated to “suffer” in the New Testament. This is the word that Jesus used to describe His crucifixion.

I’ve found that reading the Scriptures that describe the Lord’s final week leading up to the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection to be very moving and beneficial to my spiritual life. With this in mind, I offer this daily reading plan for Passion Week for your edification.

  • Palm Sunday – The Triumphal Entry. Read Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, or John 12:12-19.
  • Monday – Clearing the Temple. Read Matthew 21:10-17; Mark 11:15-18, or Luke 19:45-48.
  • Tuesday – Teaching in the Temple. Read Matthew 21:23-24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37, or Luke 20:1-21:36.
  • Wednesday – Anointed in Bethany. Read Mark 14:1-11.
  • Maundy Thursday – Last Supper & Garden of Gethsemane. Read Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-23, or John 13:1-30.
  • Good Friday – Crucifixion and Death. Matthew 27:1-56; Mark 15:1-41, Luke 22:66-23:50, or John 18:28-19:37.
  • Saturday – In the Tomb. Read Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, or John 19:38-42.
  • Easter Sunday – The Resurrection. Read Matthew 28:1-13; Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-49, or John 20:1-31.

There are two weeks in the Bible that the Lord inspired its writers to make daily diary entries. They are the seven days of creation and Passion Week. In the first week, He made the world and in the second, He began its redemption. God must have thought these two weeks important enough to keep a journal…

… And one worth reading and meditation.


Birds don’t worry

Red Headed Woodpecker

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 ESV).

I love watching birds. We have a bird feeder hanging just outside our breakfast nook window. And I’ve developed a habit of drinking my morning coffee at our breakfast table while reading the Bible, praying and bird watching.

We spend so much time worrying about what we will eat, drink or what we will wear. We’re bombarded with constant commercials for things we didn’t even know we needed, but now we’re sure that we do. So, we worry about how to get those things too. We place so much value on material things that we forget to enjoy what really matters.

IMG_1740Often my morning concerns are more for temporary material things, than for eternal spiritual ones. Yet, reading and meditating on God’s Word moves me to stop my worry and to turn that same internal self-talk into God-talk, into prayer. This morning, as I read and prayed, I noticed the great variety of birds appearing outside my window. And I thought of what Jesus said about the Heavenly Father feeding them.

Of course, one of the ways that God feeds them is through me. I buy the seed and keep the feeder full for the sheer joy of seeing the birds that God has created.

If God loves and values birds so much, just consider how much He loves and values us. I recommend a morning combination of Bible reading and bird watching. It really helps me remember how much God values me. And how much I can trust and value (worship) Him.

What’s in an honorific?

blackboard_honorifics“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10 ESV).

The Bible teaches us to honor God and to honor one another. This is an expression of the kind of love that God both commands and instills. We cannot keep the command to love and honor one another without God’s empowerment. When we receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, this empowerment is available to us. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is to model this kind of love and mutual honor.

The Greek word translated “honor” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is: τιμάω, timaó (tim-ah’-o), which means to fix the value, price, reverence, esteem, to honor. It means to pay people their due. We get the name “Timothy” from this Greek word (Τιμόθεος (Timotheos) meaning “honoring God”). The apostle Paul taught that we are to “outdo one another” in esteeming and honoring God and others.

One of the ways that the English speaking world has expressed mutual honor is through the use of polite language and appropriate “honorifics” when addressing others. However, in recent years this practice appears to be waning. What is an honorific? The dictionary defines it as:

hon•or•if•ic adj. 1. doing or conferring honor. 2. conveying honor, as a title or a grammatical form used in speaking to or about a superior, elder, etc. n. 3. (in certain languages, as Chinese and Japanese) a class of forms used to show respect, esp. in direct address. 4. a title or term of respect.

 Here is a list of English “honorifics” that we have traditionally used (You can probably think of others):

Common Titles:

    • Mr. (Mister) – for men, regardless of marital status.
    • Master – for young men and boys (I used to receive letters addressed “Master Gary Combs” when I was younger).
    • Ms. – for women, regardless of marital status.
    • Miss – for unmarried women.
    • Mrs. – for married women.

Formal Titles:

      • Sir – for men, a term of general respect.
      • Ma’am (Madam) – for women, a term of general respect.

Professional Titles:

      • Dr. (Doctor) – a person who has obtained an academic or professional degree.
      • Prof. (Professor) – a person teaching at the college level with a Ph.D. or equivalent.

Religious Titles:

    • Br. or Bro. (Brother) – for men generally in some churches (The Baptist church I grew up in used “Bro.” to address the pastor).
    • Sr. (Sister) – a Catholic nun; for women generally in some churches
    • Fr. (Father) for priests in Catholic and Eastern Christianity
    • Rev. (Reverend) used generally for members of the Christian clergy
    • Pr. (Pastor) used generally for Christian clergy, especially in Protestant denominations.
    • Preacher – used primarily in the South for Christian pastors.
    • Ev. (Evangelist) – used for a traveling revivalist preacher

People in the South seem to be among the last holdouts in the use of honorifics. They are especially well known for their use of “Yessir,”  “Yessum,” and “Ma’am” (Not to mention “Y’all,” “Hon,” “Shug,” and “Sweetie Pie.”). When I first moved to North Carolina I noticed that young people often called an older family friend by their first name, plus an appropriate honorific, as in “Mr. Bobby,” or Ms. Mary.” I loved this practice and we taught our kids to follow it.

I encourage the use of honorifics. I use them. I think it helps to put some of the honor back into our increasingly rough and disrespectful world. I appreciate being addressed as “Mr. Gary,” or “Mr. Combs” by a younger person. I feel respected when a church member calls me “Pastor Gary,” or “Preacher” (I don’t care much for the “Rev.” title, but that’s just me).

What do you think? Do you use honorifics? Do you teach your children to use them?

What’s in an honorific? Honor and respect, that’s what. And I think that’s a good thing.

The discipline of celebration

gary_with_dallas_willard_1102071“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

The apostle Paul instructed his young protégé Timothy to stand against the false teaching of asceticism that plagued first century Ephesus. Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals. In Ephesus, false teachers were leading believers to abstain from marriage and certain foods as a means of overcoming the flesh. This may have been an early form of gnosticism, the idea that all flesh is inherently evil. Yet, the Bible teaches that God’s creation is good.

Today, many Christians still struggle with a kind of ascetic legalism. It’s no wonder unbelievers see Christians as either angry or sad. We’ve lost the art of receiving God’s good things “with thanksgiving.” We’ve forgotten “the discipline of celebration.”

I first heard this phrase over dinner with Dallas Willard in 2007. Dr. Williard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He was best known in Christian circles as an author of books on discipleship. His groundbreaking books The Divine ConspiracyThe Spirit of the Disciplines have enriched the understanding of the Christian faith for thousands of believers. My personal favorite title by Willard was The Great Omission– Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings On Discipleship.

In 2007, I was part of a learning community for pastors called “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence.” Our meetings were sponsored and held at the Hollifield Leadership Center in Hickory, NC. On this particular January day, about 30 pastors got to spend the day hearing Dr. Willard speak on discipleship.

Dallas Willard was a joyful and vibrant man. His teaching method was less about the content and more about the questions he asked. He asked penetrating questions that caused us to think about the gospel we preach and the disciples that we are commissioned to make. Hearing him teach was like drinking from a fire hydrant. It was an intellectual joy and a spiritual challenge to hear him.

After the conference I had made plans to spend another night at Hickory so I could ponder over that day’s learnings and do some writing. Imagine my surprise when I was invited to join a couple of other leaders who were taking Dr. Willard to dinner. Sometimes lingering around afterwards is rewarding!

After a day of great learning, I got to have dinner with Dallas Willard. While my fellow leaders ordered from the menu with an eye for their diets. I heard Dr. Willard order a steak with a baked potato. So, I followed suit. Then, when the waiter asked us about dessert, I was amazed to hear Dr. Willard ask about the cheesecake.

“Hey Gary,” he asked. “Do you like cheesecake?”

“Boy, do I!” I answered.

While I sat across from Dr. Willard eating cheesecake, I felt like I was with my grandfather or one of my uncles. I asked him, “Dr. Willard..” And he interrupted me, reminding me to call him “Dallas.” So I continued, “Yes, ah Dallas, you taught all day about discipleship and the spiritual disciplines. Which discipline is this?” I asked lifting another bite of cheesecake to my mouth.

Dr. Willard, a twinkle in his eye, said, “Gary, have I told you about the discipline of celebration?”

“Sometimes,” he continued, “you have to learn to enjoy the good blessings of God!” He said smiling, while forking another big bite of double chocolate cheesecake.

I was sad to hear that Dallas Willard passed away last May 8, 2013. But I am looking forward to sitting across from him again some glorious day at the Lord’s Banquet Table.

I wonder, will they have cheesecake in heaven?

Why support the Church?

WCCGrandOpening“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-16 ESV).

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV).

Recently, Donald Miller, author of the book Blue Like Jazz, stirred up a kind of social media firestorm among Christians with his blog post entitled, “Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often.” This post was actually a follow up to another one entitled, “I Don’t Worship God by Singing.” In his first post, Miller wrote:

“I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all… It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him… So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn.”

It’s not my purpose in this blog to respond to all that Miller had to say. There are responses aplenty already out there. Besides, he offered a kind of apology in his second blog (Not taking back any of what he said, but asking forgiveness for any offense his readers may have felt. – A very postmodern apology, by the way. i.e. “I really don’t think I said anything wrong, but I’m sorry that you feel I did.”).

What I want to address is those who either say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church.” Or, as in Miller’s case, “I love following Jesus, but do I have to hang out and sing with His disciples?” (Notice the question mark. Postmoderns prefer questions over answers.).

In the case of those who say they love Jesus but not the church, they offer a critique of the church from the outside looking in. They are contrasting their view of Jesus with what they see in the modern church. I think we should take note of these criticisms and address them where appropriate. Some have validity. But we have a saying at our church, “If you don’t help row the boat, you don’t get to help steer the boat.” In other words, if you really want to influence the church, join it, support it from the inside. Be part of the solution by being part of the body of Christ.

In the case of those who want to follow Jesus, but don’t get anything out of spending time with His disciples, I don’t really hear a criticism of the church as much as I hear an excuse. Can you imagine the apostle Peter saying to Jesus, “I really want to follow you, but do I have to hang out with Judas over there? He’s so greedy and self-righteous. And that other Simon guy, he’s such a political zealot, always spouting off about overthrowing the government. Can’t I just follow You without traveling with them? I love listening to you Jesus, but I don’t get anything out of being with these 12 guys!”

Yet, the church is more than a place that meets an individual’s needs. It’s a people, a body of believers that exist to “stir up one another to love and good works,” and to be a worshiping, serving, giving, growing, and evangelizing community representing Christ on planet earth.

In truth, Miller’s blog rings of a kind of spiritual elitism. In his second blog he said, “…most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church.” Later, he described church as a kind of school that you graduate from. As if, he and other spiritual elites have grown too mature for the elementary things of the church.

Full disclosure: I’m a pastor. And I support the local church. Not because I have to or because I get paid to, but because I think it’s the most powerful, influential force in the world. Sure, it is sometimes messy and chaotic. I don’t always like the worship music or the sermons (And I’m the one preaching!). But I love the church. And I’m concerned about the believer who sees the church as a place they can “neglect” as is the “habit of some.”

I don’t go to a church service to be served. I go to serve. And in the process of my participation, as I let the grace of God flow through me to others, my own needs are met.

I support the church.

Why then the law?

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 12.34.30 PM“Why then the law?” (Galatians 3:19a ESV).

“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8 ESV).

Last week, we started a new sermon series through Paul’s first epistle to Timothy. We encountered a phrase in 1 Timothy 1:8 about the “lawful” use of the law. Apparently, the church in 1st century Ephesus had false teachers that were misunderstanding the right use of the law. And Paul instructed Timothy to put a stop to it! He charged Timothy to guard the gospel of grace, which proclaims that faith in Christ alone will save us. The law cannot save.

This begs the question, “Why then, do we need the law?” If the law cannot save, of what use is it? What is its “lawful” and “unlawful” use?

I suppose before we attempt to answer the question of the law’s usefulness, we should first define what we mean by “law.” When we speak of the law as it pertains to the Bible, we are generally speaking of the law as given by God to Moses, or the Mosaic Law. It might be helpful to further distinguish the law into three categories (These three categories are informed by John Calvin’s work The Institutes):

  1. Moral Law – Moral or perpetual duties towards God and our neighbor (i.e. The Great Commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself).
  2. Ceremonial Law – The rites about the sacred things to be observed under the Old Testament law, mainly concerning the sacrificial Temple system.
  3. Civil Law – The laws that set apart and made the Israelites a “peculiar” people.

Although the Bible doesn’t make this threefold distinction when discussing the law, we might infer these categories through the way the New Testament, especially Jesus, views specific laws. For the sake of brevity, allow me to say that the New Testament points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the ceremonial and civil laws, so that they are no longer in effect. Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, the blood of goats is no longer needed. The gospel is given to Jew and Gentile alike, so the civil “peculiar” laws are no longer binding. Only the moral law is left in effect, but not as a means of salvation (Not that it ever was).

With an awareness of these three categories of law, what would be an “unlawful” use of it? I can think of several “unlawful” or misuses of the law.

Unlawful Uses of the Law:

  • As a means of earning salvation – The idea that we can be good enough to earn salvation by keeping the law. The problem is that no one is good enough. We’re all sinners (Romans 3:23). “For what the law could not do” … Christ did (Romans 8:3).
  • Adding to salvation – In the 1st Century, the Judaizers attempted to add the burden of the ceremonial and civil laws to the newly baptized Gentile Christians. They insisted that laws concerning such things as: circumcision, the Sabbath, holy days, dietary laws, etc. were in full effect and necessary for salvation. But Paul taught that this would negate the gospel of grace (For understanding read the whole book of Galatians). 
  • Legalism – Similar to the above, but not so much saying it is necessary for salvation as making it the mark of the Christian community. So, that the church is known for keeping the law rather than sharing the gospel of love and grace.
  • Antinomianism – The opposite extreme from legalism. To say that the law has no use and to live immorally thinking that one can always ask forgiveness later. Paul addresses this error in Romans 6.
  • As a measuring stick - Jesus taught us not to compare ourselves to others thinking we are better according to our law keeping, this is hypocrisy (Matthew 7:1-5).

As we study the Scriptures, we may identify many more “unlawful” uses of the law than these. But now that we have discussed what we mean by law, and its misuses, the question still remains, “Why then the law?” Most theologians would agree that there are three “lawful” uses of the law. I like to remember these as the three “R”s of the right use of the law.

The Three Right Uses of the Law (3 “R”s):

  1. Restraining our sinful behavior (Like a guard rail). The law is given to keep us from completely “running off the road.” It is like a warning sign, saying “Sharp turn ahead.” It exists to warn us of the consequences of sin (Galatians 3:23).
  2. Reflecting our guilt (Like a mirror). The right use of the moral law is to “show” us that we are guilty of sin (Galatians 3:19, James 1:23).
  3. Revealing God’s righteous way (Like a tutor or guardian). The law was given to show the impossibility of keeping it in the weakness of our flesh, so that we might cry out in need for One to save us. It is like a teacher pointing us to Jesus (Galatians 3:24-25).

The law is good when it is used lawfully. Let us not be a church that uses it “unlawfully,” and in so doing, hindering the gospel ministry with which we have been entrusted.

What informs our sermon planning?

Genesis“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” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV).

Have you ever wondered what informs our sermon planning? For instance, we’re beginning an eight-week sermon series through the book of 1 Timothy this Sunday. This is a verse-by-verse exposition of one book of the Bible. You might ask how we decide to follow a somewhat topical series, like our recent “Shaped for Significance” series, with a purely expositional one. Well, there is a certain logic to our approach. We’re trying to fulfill what Paul told Timothy about usage of the Word for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” in our preaching. 

With this in mind, we have developed a philosophy of sermon planning that we follow as we lead our teaching team at WCC. Here are some highlights of that philosophy of sermon planning:

SERMON PLANNING THESIS: According to George Barna’s research, there is on average, a 2-year turnover in most churches. With this in mind, a 2-year teaching curriculum might be the best way to address the mobility of our members while at the same time taking seriously the call to disciple them in the Christian faith. Therefore, we will plan to offer certain topics on a 2-year rotation. These will include teaching on “core competencies” for a mature disciple, expository preaching through books of the Bible, casting vision for the three WCC “iCommitments,”  teaching the five purposes of the church, addressing contemporary topics and needs when deemed appropriate (especially money, marriage, and parenting), and attention to holidays and special events.

I. Teach the Core Competencies of a Mature Disciple

There are at least four categories of “core competencies” (borrowed phrase from Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church) that we want to see in our discipling process at WCC. These may be described as the Four “B”s, which are: Believe, Behave, Belong, Become. These four competency categories should be preached in a series and/or offered in a class every two years:

  • Believe (Creed) – Teach the 10 Essentials or doctrines.
  • Behave (Conduct) – Teach the 7 habits of growing Christians.
  • Belong (Connect) – Teach the 4 devotions of connecting to God’s people in a CG.
  • Become (Character) – Teach the 9 elements of the “fruit of the Spirit.”

II. Expository Preaching Through Books of the Bible

Each calendar year should contain at least one or two sermon series that are aimed at preaching through a book of the Bible verse by verse. We will keep a record of all books that we have preached through, with a desire to preach through them all over time. Certain books that help form the Christian worldview will be shown preference, such as: Genesis, John, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, James, and 1 John.

III. Vision Casting for WCC’s Three “iCommitments”

Teaching WCC members about the three commitments and challenging them to make them should be part of every year’s preaching/teaching schedule. These three commitments are:

  • I commit to Celebrate God’s Son
  • I commit to Connect to God’s People
  • I commit to Contribute to God’s Kingdom

IV. Teaching the Five Purposes of the Church

Topical sermon series will be offered to teach the five purposes of the church as discovered in a careful study of the Bible, especially the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). These five purposes are:

  • Fellowship (Membership-Connect)
  • Discipleship (Maturity-Grow)
  • Service (Ministry-Serve)
  • Evangelism (Mission-Go)
  • Worship (Magnification-Praise)

V. Addressing Contemporary Topics and Remedial Needs

Topical sermon series will be offered to address felt needs as well as contemporary issues. The contemporary issues that most often run contrary to God’s Word today and therefore may need our attention include:

  • Human sexuality
  • Gender issues
  • Abortion
  • Racism issues
  • Science vs. Faith issues
  • Fatherless and orphan issues (both at home and international)
  • Poverty- hunger/homelessness issues (both at home and international)

We recognize that there are at least three ongoing remedial needs in our culture. These remedial needs are:

  • Parenting issues
  • Marriage and family issues
  • Money issues

VI. Holidays and Special Events

When planning our annual preaching calendar, we will give attention to at least the following holidays:

  • New Years Day
  • Valentines Day
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Palm Sunday
  • Easter Sunday
  • Mother’s Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Father’s Day
  • Independence Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas

We may also include certain special events days (i.e. “Orphan Sunday, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday,” etc.) as needed.

We hope this helps in answering the question of what informs our sermon planning. The WCC teaching team takes the responsibility of preaching very seriously and enters into it with much prayer and planning.

Experiencing God’s encouragement

comfort“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT).

“Don’t waste your pain, let God heal it, recycle it, utilize it and use it to bless other people” (Pastor Rick Warren).

When we have a bad or painful experience we often don’t know what to do with it. Sometimes we try to forget, acting as if it never happened, stuffing it in the past, only to have it leak out on us at unexpected times and in surprising ways. Other times we get stuck in our past experiences. We can’t seem to move on. Every experience in the present is seen through the lens of that painful past event. Neither of these approaches is healthy. What should we do with difficult experiences? How can we experience God’s comfort and encouragement in times of trouble?

The apostle Paul experienced many severe trials. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he listed some of his sufferings: “imprisonments, countless beatings, five times received 40 lashes less one, three times beaten with rods, once stoned and left for dead, three times shipwrecked, two days adrift at sea, in danger from floods, robbers, danger from my own people, Gentiles, wilderness, in the city, toil, hardship, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, in cold and exposure… Who is weak and I am not weak?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Yet, he knew how to get comfort from God not only to endure hardship but to have an overflow of comfort to offer others who were in pain.

Paul taught the Corinthians how to face suffering and experience God’s comfort. The Scripture teaches us that we can experience God’s encouraging comfort in at least three ways:

  1. By allowing other Christians to offer God’s comfort to us.
  2. By ministering to others even in the midst of our own suffering.
  3. By witnessing the testimonies of how God has brought others through trials.

“Don’t waste the pain.” Let God’s comfort flow to heal your painful experience and then allow it to overflow in a surplus of comfort to others. God wants to use your experiences to be an encouragement to others that are struggling and hurting in the same place(s) that you once did.

Personality, toothpaste and unmade beds

tpaste“Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30 NKJV).

When Robin and I were first married there was a difference in our bathroom and bedroom behaviors that immediately caused some consternation. One, was the way she squeezed toothpaste. In every area, my wife is the most clean and organized person. Yet, when it comes to toothpaste she just squeezes it by whatever part of the tube she grabs first (usually the middle). After applying the paste to her toothbrush she lets part of it drip from the tube while screwing the lid back on half-way, leaving residue running down the side. When Robin uses the toothpaste, she leaves behind a tortured and twisted sight.

I, on the other hand, am a tidy tube user. I roll it up from the bottom, making sure not to waste, and carefully replace the cap on the opening after making sure all the paste is on my toothbrush. My tube is left in a nearly pristine and ready-to-use again fashion.

These different approaches to toothpaste tubes may seem trivial, and if it had been up to my easy going wife, they would have been. But there is something about my personality that made this morning ritual in the bathroom a daily problem for me. And because I am me, it became a problem for both of us.

“Why can’t you squeeze the tube from the bottom?” I would grump, when discovering what she’d done to the tube again.

“What does it matter?” She’d mutter, with a frustrated look. “Here, let me fix it.” She’d add, trying to appease.

“No, never mind. I’ll do it. Besides, you’ll just get up in the morning and mess it up again.” I’d say, with a look of aggravation.

These were not pleasant conversations to begin the day.

unmadeBedThen there was the problem with the unmade bed. The first couple of years of our marriage, Robin made the bed every day without complaint. At least she didn’t vocalize any complaint that I noticed.. until a certain Saturday morning.

On this particular day I was in the den wrestling with the kids and watching cartoons. I was being what I thought was a good father, keeping them out from under mom’s feet. That’s when I started hearing the slamming of the kitchen cabinets and banging of pots and clatter of dishes.

Finally, I went to the kitchen and asked, “What’s going on in here? It sounds like a construction site.”

“Nothing.” She huffed, without making eye contact.

“Well, it certainly sounds like something.” I answered. “Are you mad at me about something?” I added, completely oblivious to any wrong doing.

After a long period of asking and her denying, she finally looked at me with tears welling up in her eyes, and said, “You know what’s wrong. You don’t care about me. You never make the bed. I make it day after to day. And even on Saturdays, when you are off work and get to sleep late, you still just get up and go play with the kids, leaving me to make the bed. I feel like your slave.”

I was dumbfounded. At first, I thought to argue with her over the “you never make the bed” statement, thinking of a time when I, in fact, did make it. Fortunately, I thought better of it that day and apologized.

Robin’s personality tends to cause her to avoid conflict. She doesn’t like to complain or rock the boat. With my personality I tend to confront problems caring more about the facts than people’s feelings. In most ways, our personalities are opposites. And as we all know, opposites attract. But they also rub together and sometimes cause sparks to fly!

I’ve learned that it’s important to know and take into account our personality differences. Our tendency is to let the sin of selfishness cause us to judge others or to have expectations of others based on our own personality preferences.

personality_test_Lion-Beaver_Otter_-Golden_Retriever-31There are a lot of psychological theories about personality. From Hippocrates and his four “humors” (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy) to the Carl Jung based Myers-Briggs approach that has 16 types (E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P) to Gary Smalley’s four animal types (lion, beaver, otter, golden retriever), there is much human study and observation about personality. It’s not an exact science and its methods and conclusions are often questionable, but much of it can be helpful when viewed through a biblical lens.

I believe that God created us in His own image. He is personal, therefore we have personality. But because of man’s sin the image of God in us is fallen and our personalities are marred. This means that our personalities are like an impure mixture of good and bad traits. Unlike some psychological theorists, I don’t believe that our personalities are fixed and unchangeable. Neither do I believe that we should view our personality preferences as an excuse for selfish and immoral behavior. I believe that God wants to redeem our personalities. He wants us to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior and to be conformed to His Image, restoring us to oneness with Him.

God is One, yet in His oneness, He is three distinct persons. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father, Son and the Spirit are three persons, yet they live in perfect harmony and oneness. This is a mystery, yet it is the mystery to which Christ invites us. Regardless of whether your personality is more about the heart or the mind, the soul or strength, Jesus says to love God with it all. He invites us to bring our fragmented personalities and find wholeness and unity in Him. And out of that reconciliation to Him, we are also to be reconciled to one another, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

After nearly 35 years of marriage, Robin and I have learned much about how to love one another better in spite of our different personalities. Our oneness in Christ has resulted in oneness in our marriage.

So, today I make the bed nearly every day. Robin keeps two tubes of toothpaste, one for her and one for me. And we are at one. That’s what happens when love overrules personality.