Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hot Air Balloon Festival!

On Preaching To Yourself

We all have certain songs, movies or books, which elicit in us some specific and consistent emotional response each time we return to those familiar melodies, scenes or pages. For instance, the Smashing Pumpkins album, Siamese Dream just gets me fired up. When I hear those songs, I’m ready to sprint or drive fast or just strap on the football pads and hit something! But when I hear the sacred songs of Sandra McCracken, songs like Shelter, Guardian and Jesus the Lord my Savior Is, my heart aches and breaks with the purest devotion and love for the Lord that I can muster. As my little girls say, “It makes me cry happy tears.” Here’s my question for you: Do you ever listen to those songs, watch those movies or read those books on purpose because you want to feel those feelings? Do you ever find yourself using those works as a mode of transport to take you to that certain emotional country that you so love to visit?

This morning I did just that. I opened up the Scriptures to 2 Timothy with a mind to read the whole book. Whenever I approach this letter, I think of an old man who can barely see, writing his final instructions and farewells to his beloved friend while feeling abandoned and alone. It’s a sad little book. In every chapter, Paul names people who should have walked with God and didn’t. Paul knows he is going to die soon. In fact, in chapter 4 he says, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He tells Timothy to hurry and get there before winter and to make sure and bring Paul’s cloak and his books. This last letter of the Apostle Paul always stirs in me a potent mixture of sadness, longing and exultant joy. Today I read it on purpose because I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel those things! And guess what… I did feel them! In fact, I felt them more than ever because I saw something in Paul’s words that I’ve never seen before.

Paul talks a lot about death and life and he talks a lot about people who loved and served the Lord who have already died. The letter begins like this: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul says that he serves God as his forefathers did. Then he starts to talk about Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois who loved the Lord and have gone on. In the very next paragraph, Paul says that Christ Jesus has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” So, why all this talk about folks who have died and gone on to be with the Lord? Why this focus on ‘the promise of life’ and destroying death and the idea of immortality? Was Paul, who knew he was about to die, afraid of dying?

I admit this is speculative, but consider it. What if Paul found himself a bit worried about dying now that he came to it? What if the slightest pang of doubt or fear touched his heart now that he was staring an almost certain execution in the eyes? Maybe he wasn’t afraid at all, but supposing he was, there’s nothing better a fearing person can do than what Paul did here. He preached the truth to himself! In writing this letter to Timothy, he reminded himself that Jesus has promised life! He reminded himself that there was a crown of righteousness in store for him when he saw the Lord! He reminded himself that there were faithful men and women who were already with the Lord and would receive him with love and everlasting joy! He reminded himself that Jesus, by His resurrection from the dead has destroyed death completely! That word ‘destroyed’ really means ‘to take away the power of.’ In other words, there is still death, but it has no power and we don’t need to fear it. Maybe Paul wasn’t afraid, but I’m afraid sometimes… and when you’re afraid, there’s only one thing to do: Get some truth, grab hold of yourself and preach! Tell yourself the cure for your own fears! D. Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “The essence of the matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled.”

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