Friday, October 19, 2018

I Know How You Feel

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why is this happening to me?”  If you haven’t, go to the emergency room right now and make sure you have a pulse! Seriously, we all wonder from time to time why we have to suffer through various trials.  While there are a number of potential reasons why, today we are going to focus on one in particular, Empathy.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 

Things to think about:
·      This is one of my all-time favorite verses because it helps answer the question, “why is this happening to me?”
o   If for no other discernible reason, we can always get value from suffering because it puts us in the unique position to be empathetic with someone else going through something similar.
·      The dictionary definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  Here’s a little formula to help us remember the definition
o   Experience + Expression = Empathy
·      Once we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, God gets to work on conforming us in the image of His Son.  In His infinite wisdom, He knows that suffering makes us more like Jesus.
o   Isaiah 40:3 ... “a man of suffering and familiar with pain…”
o   1 Peter 4:12 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. “
·      Describe a time when have you gone through a particularly tough patch that didn’t (doesn’t) make a lot of sense?
·      Another key element of going through hard times is experiencing God’s comfort
o   “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort”
§  Can you talk about a time when you comforted one of your children?  How did it make them feel?  How did it make you feel?
o   One primary way God comforts us is through the Holy Spirit.  In the Greek, the word for the Comforter is paraclete which means “called to the side of”.
§  What a great word picture that is, He comes to our side to put His arm around us and give us comfort in the warm embrace of His love.  God is love.
§  When have you felt this God-hug?
·      Now that we have the scars, we are uniquely positioned to be of help to others going through a similar experience.
·      v.4 – “So that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
o   A very common complaint from those grieving is to have a well-intended friend say, “I know how you feel” but if they haven’t had a loss of the same sort, then they really don’t.  It sounds nice but it can actually make the other person angry.
·      One of the risks of being empathetic is that it may cause one to relive their own personal pain as they try to be a comfort to another. 
o   Have you ever held back on reaching out to someone because you didn’t want to "go there”?
·      Why is having shared the same experience such a powerful weapon in combating hurt and despair?
o   Have you ever been comforted by someone because they “got it”?
o   Have you ever had the chance to reach out to someone and made that special connection because you “got it”?

·      So our formula is Experience + Expression  = Empathy
·      Back to Isaiah 53, a major point of that chapter is that Jesus “gets it”.  He experienced great pain and suffering (physical pain, separation from His Father, abandonment by his friends, rejected by the very people He came to help).
·      He came to Earth to experience life as we experience it
o   Hebrews 4:15-16, “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
·      So when something painful has happened to you, it may just be that God has prepared you to be His hands and feet to come alongside that brother and to comfort him with the comfort you yourself have received.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Standing Strong

When we try to live according to God’s calling on our life we will inevitably encounter resistance.  It may come in the form of other people trying to distract us, discourage us, or even deceive us.  Given that arsenal of weapons, sounds like another Enemy we have too!  Let’s continue with our review of Nehemiah in the sixth chapter of the book bearing his name.  We will discover how he demonstrated great discernment, fortitude, and faith in the face of resistance and saw the job through to completion.  There’s a lot to learn and apply from his example.
Nehemiah 6:9
They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work and they will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Things to think about:
·      You’ll recall that Nehemiah was a Jewish layman, still living in Babylon after the captivity and working in the king’s court when he discovered that the wall in Jerusalem had fallen into total disrepair.  He felt a strong calling to return to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the wall and to make sure the city was safe.
·      The project was progressing nicely but some very important work was yet to be completed – the installation of the doors in the gates. 
·      Two of his enemies, Sanballat and Geshem, sent him an innocent enough note asking him to meet with them out of town.
o   Neh. 6:3-4 - But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”  Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
o   Here’s the first warning sign: they were enticing him to leave his work
§  Nehemiah immediately recognizes their intentions and discerns their desire to harm him
§  He is clear in his response – NO
§  His antagonists are persistent – four times they came back with the same offer
§  Four times he said NO. Sometimes we can resist once but repeated drips can wear down our convictions.
o   How can we recognize seemingly harmless distractions for what they really are?
§  Are they coming from a Godly source?
§  Are they related to the good work you are involved in?
§  Do they respect your refusal to cooperate?
o   What might some examples of modern day distractions be?
o   What is a proper response?
·      But evil doesn’t give up that easily so it ups the ante:
o   Neh. 6:5-7 - Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter  in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king  and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”
§  The Enemy is persistent so he moves in with a lie that the Jews are planning to revolt and Nehemiah is plotting to be the king.
§  It’s a small detail, but notice how the text says “an unsealed letter”?  A proper communication would have been sealed so as to remain private.  This is like misused social media today, meant to spread a false rumor and get Nehemiah to cower in fear.
§  Instead, he tells them in verse 8, “Nothing like what you’re saying is happening, you are just making it up out of your head!”  He saw what they were up to, “they were trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘their hands will get to weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’”
§  Here’s your key verse for the day – “But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
§  The spiritual battles we fight are not won by trying harder; they are won by praying harder.
§  How does this principle work in your life?
·      Is there an area today you could try less and pray more for the strength you need?
o   OK, so far so good for Nehemiah but the last attack comes from an unlikely place:
§  Neh. 6:10-13 - One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.”  But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!”  I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.  He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.
§  Wow, a “Christian friend” encourages him to go to church and hide out there to be safe from his enemies.
·      Nehemiah’s discernment knows no boundaries! He is so tuned into God’s spirit that again he figures out this guy was trying to distract him from his calling and actually lead him to sin through intimidation and deception.
·      His decisiveness is inspiring – “Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!”
o   “a man like me” -  What do you think he meant by this?
§  As strong of a man as he is, he prays again, this time asking for God to avenge his enemies.
·      Neh. 6:15 – So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.
o   It goes on to say that his enemies were afraid and lost their confidence because they realized God had made this happen.
o   Nehemiah accomplished his task and several thousands of years later we are still talking about him.
·      What are areas of your life where you are under attack for doing life God’s way?
o   How does Nehemiah’s example encourage you today to be more discerning, decisive, and devoted?