II Corinthians 7:13b In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.
Paul’s phrase about Titus, “… His spirit has been refreshed” has become this part of my Advent journey. Long ago the Sovereign God first chose to create new life from dust and a rib…and here’s the key to remember: God was there with those new people, when their spirits were refreshed he shared that intimacy in his own Spirit. When that relationship was ruined he could justly have chosen to end the poison of sin right then and there, but for the second time he chose life for them.
They would live with the consequences of that poison – their own brokenness and separation from God, but they were not abandoned. The people he loved had been caught in an unnatural separation but God would continue to offer to refresh their spirits through the instruction and opportunity of the law and prophets until…“The Advent.”
Jesus Christ, Son of God was born! For a third, and final, time “The Advent” is God’s choice for new life. This time his choice is an eternal one for us; a relationship that will save, restore and refresh our spirit with his Spirit for the rest of time. Paul’s words describe the refreshed spirit of Titus but they read like God’s own words of encouragement for our choice this Advent journey. “And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.”
Psalm 59 – Written by David at the time King Saul set guards at his home to capture and kill him.
1 O my God, save me from my enemies. Protect me from these who have come to destroy me. 2 Preserve me from these criminals, these murderers. 3 They lurk in ambush for my life. Strong men are out there waiting. And not, O Lord, because I’ve done them wrong. 4 Yet they prepare to kill me. Lord, waken! See what is happening! Help me!
9 O God my Strength! I will sing your praises, for you are my place of safety. 10 My God is changeless in his love for me, and he will come and help me. He will let me see my wish come true upon my enemies.
11 Don’t kill them—for my people soon forget such lessons—but stagger them with your power and bring them to their knees. Bring them to the dust, O Lord our shield.
16 But as for me, I will sing each morning about your power and mercy. For you have been my high tower of refuge, a place of safety in the day of my distress. 17 O my Strength, to you I sing my praises; for you are my high tower of safety, my God of mercy.
David writes of his personal “power” struggle in these imprecatory Psalms. His is a struggle between real circumstances and real intimacy with God. You can see that in the verses above. Over and over his conflicted thoughts demand my thought because that’s my power struggle too. Circumstances do not operate independently of intimacy with God.
There’s no way to get around the fact our power struggle is just like David’s. Life was his connection between real circumstances and real intimacy with God. Maybe God is using David’s Psalms to make us look at life in a more realistic way. Life is not a sentence because of circumstances or a slam-dunk because of intimacy with God. Life is our power struggle in which we constantly have to choose whether we’ll give the power to circumstances or to our intimacy with God to effect our response.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
There’s a reassurance in being part of a church body and all the services that body offers. We share a focus, we share some like beliefs, we meet together and sometimes we even share our innermost thoughts. Church is a spot dedicated to “family” intimacy but learning obedience to our faith with that kind of intimacy is hard. It’s not purposely hidden but in my experience it doesn’t happen frequently either.
There are moments in life with God that may be so meaningful and intimate they are closely guarded because they’re soul-bearing revelations. That kind of intimacy strips away all our pretensions of adequacy and sophistication. It’s that intimacy of inadequacy that reveals the real and absolute naked truth of our need for God. God bless and multiply those moments when that kind of intimacy makes it plan for us to see it’s how the “righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read “not giving up meeting together” was Sunday School. I’m not talking about “school” where you sit and someone tells you what you’re supposed to know. I’m talking about a Sunday place where we actually have the opportunity to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” It’s easy for us to see the value of Sunday School for children but for many adult believers, Sunday school is not on their radar. That’s a missed opportunity.
The success story of a recent adult Sunday school class became these words of Jesus; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” What was it we were supposed to deny ourself of? Was taking up that cross only about personal sacrifice or did it include the burden of personal flaws as well? Was that cross meant to just be a discipline or was it something that connected us to Christ and each other?
One woman shared her personal experience of learning from Christ what it was like to take up her cross and follow him. She pleaded with him to take her cross and he did, because it was too big and heavy. She chose a much smaller cross instead and for a while that seemed good. After a time though, that cross started to feel too big and heavy too, just as the original one had. She went to Christ once more and he agreed to let her leave that heavy cross with him again and choose the smaller one again. That was when Jesus spoke this truth to her; the cross that seemed so small to her…now…was the original one she’d left with him before. Think about that.
That Sunday school discussion went beyond agreement to become a lesson in faith. Christ is ready to help us deal with our cross, over and over again. That’s “the full assurance that faith brings…for he who promised is faithful.”
That kind of Sunday school is where one person’s faith can add insight that encourages your own. That’s growth.
That kind of Sunday school is about the opportunity to give the depth of personal experience with Christ a face other than your own. That’s intimacy.
That kind of Sunday school is Making a Connection with Christ and other believers.
Oh, and there’s donuts and coffee too! Hope to see you there this Sunday.