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Redeeming the Doldrums

Sailors call a strip around the earth approximately five degrees north and south of the equator the doldrums. Because of all kinds of weather factors I don’t understand, this strip doesn’t get much wind. Sailors could be stuck weeks in the doldrums, with no wind to move them anywhere. 

Using that metaphor, a little over a month ago we set sail into the new adventure of the quarantined life. We didn’t choose this adventure, but we were thrust into it, and as we set sail, faced challenges, and struggled to adapt to the new life at sea, we felt optimistic that God was doing something great -- perhaps preparing us for a revival, perhaps teaching us a lesson, perhaps giving us needed time of rest and reflection. With the wind of these hopes in our faces, we embraced the journey, even with a measure of joy.

It’s now been over a month. From what I can tell, we’ve hit the doldrums. The winds of optimism have subsided. Progress has slowed to a discouraging pace. Some of us have had an adrenaline crash. No one seems to know what’s next, or how to proceed. Marriages are being tested. Parents are wondering if the kids are trying to stage a mutiny. We’re low on food. And what happens if the toilet paper runs out?

We’re in the doldrums. So what do we do when we’re in the doldrums? 

It’s a blessing to know that as unique as this season is, we ought to remember that our temptations are not entirely unique. Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). This season is highlighting the reality of common temptations - to irritability, impatience, anger, anxiety, fear, self-centeredness, lethargy - you name it. 

So when life feels mundane and we feel discouraged - by our circumstances and our sin - what do we do? 

I don’t think we should sit around and wait for things to get back to normal. Christians are redeemed to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Postponing our good works until after the quarantine will only increase our vulnerability to sin’s temptations. What should we do?

I think we get to work. We pull out the oars. We row -- we row in the strength that God supplies.

We were made to live with a purpose, with goals to accomplish. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:27). While life has been disrupted, Paul’s injunction to run to win has not been made null and void. You may not be able to leave the house, but you must run. 

The Christian who isn’t running not only limits his own effectiveness, he is also making himself vulnerable to a thousand other sins, like David who stayed home when he was supposed to go to battle (2 Sam. 11:1).

We can’t gather, take communion, meet in homes, share meals. Okay, we’ve got that. But how can we move forward?

Double down on your intake of God’s Word. Now is the time to dive headlong into a study of Scripture. Some ladies are memorizing Philippians - what an amazing use of time!

Commitment to regular, systematic prayer for your church. Are you praying for your church family? Can I recommend that you pray regularly and systematically through the membership directory? In addition to that, would you write down names of non Christian friends and pray for them as well? 

Text, make phone calls, send emails, write letters. If you aren’t doing all of this, now is the time. Who are you caring for? Who are you walking with? Who are you moving toward? Are you bearing anyone’s burdens?

As you regularly pray through the membership, check in with people. Hear their prayer requests. Follow up in a week. This stuff seems small - even insignificant - but it provides immense benefit to the church.

Lastly, stay focused on the mission. Now is not the time to drift. This is a unique moment with unique opportunities for the gospel and we want to be zealous to pursue them, innovating as necessary. We’ll be starting our virtual growth groups studying, strategizing, and praying for evangelism. I often reflect on the reality that I need the mission more than the mission needs me. In other words, in God’s great plan of redemption, I am highly insignificant. God does not need Eric Durso to accomplish his purposes.

However, God has invited me into his plan of redemption not because he needs me, but because he loves me. It is for my own good that God allows me to serve him. I am helped in helping, I am encouraged by encouraging, I am blessed by blessing. Proverbs puts it this way “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25). If you’ve felt discouraged, fearful, anxious, bored, depressed, or on edge, those are probably good indications that you need to pull out the oars and start rowing. 

Every moment of meaningful meditation on Scripture, every moment of prayer for others, every love-driven contact with a friend, every faith-filled move to advance the mission -- are pushing and pulling the oars, redeeming our days in the doldrums. 

Guard Your Quarantined, Self-Isolated, Sheltered-at-Home, Socially-Distanced Heart

2 Samuel 11 has to be one of the saddest chapters in the Bible. Especially given the previous ten chapters. 2 Samuel 1 – 10 reads like the plot of King David’s own Marvel movie. He consolidates his rule over the nation of Israel in the first six chapters. In Chapter 7, God makes an extraordinary covenant to David saying that his “throne shall be established forever.” Chapters 8 – 10 bring us stories of David winning in every facet of life – defeating his enemies, executing justice, demonstrating compassion, and for good measure, winning a few more battles. It’s time to cue “Eye of the Tiger,” roll the credits, and buy the King David action figure and matching family PJs!

But then, Chapter 11. “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle … David remained in Jerusalem.” And so, “It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch … that David saw … and David sent and inquired … So David sent messengers and took her … and he lay with her.” (11:1-4)  

Like a train wreck in slow motion, David then piles sin upon sin in an attempt to cover his guilt. Deception, murder, profound arrogance, and callous indifference to the suffering of others – David gave himself completely to his sinful desires.

What happened?

What went wrong? How could a man after God’s own heart fall so fast and so hard? How could he go from the pinnacle of success and blessing to making an absolute dumpster fire of his life and dragging so many others down with him?

  • A Change in the Routine – the text implies that David should have been with his army. Instead, for whatever reason, he wasn’t. As a result, his routine was changed, and he found himself with more free time on his hands with less structure and less accountability.
  • A Chance for His Heart – the external change in circumstances didn’t cause his failure, but simply provided context for his internal desires to act. Already in his heart, these desires now had the chance to fully express themselves. What desires were in David’s heart? The Bible doesn’t say specifically, but it’s likely that it was a toxic combination of arrogance (“I’m the man! I deserve better.”), discontentment (I’m not satisfied with what God has given me), and lethargy (I’m tired of the pressures of normal life and need pleasure).

Take Heed

Today, our quarantined hearts face an abrupt change of routine and more free time than usual. In this scenario, it’s likely you’ll face new or more intense temptations and opportunities to sin. Our enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8) and would love to use this time of self-isolation to gain and secure a foothold in our hearts. Where are you at risk?   

  • Lust
  • Laziness
  • Fear / anxiety
  • Lack of self-control
  • Anger / impatience
  • Unkindness
  • Selfishness
  • Gossip
  • Ungracious speech
  • Fill in the blank

None of us is beyond temptation or the ability to make shockingly foolish and sinful choices. In nearly every instance, major failures don’t happen all at once, but are the product of a slow fade comprised of subtle compromises. So let’s consider how we can remain faithful to God and guard our hearts while sheltering at home.

Practical Steps

One, look to Christ. When He is precious, sin’s allure diminishes. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!” He is our help and it’s in his strength that we fight against temptation. So cry out to our great High Priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He is able to give us “mercy and grace to help in time of need.”(Heb. 4:15-16) Pray that he would “deliver [you] from evil.” (Matt. 6:13) If you’ve chosen sin, confess it and forsake it. There is mercy for the most significant sin. (Read David’s testimony in Psalm 32 & 51) John also provides a glorious reminder that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath from us] for our sins.” (1 John 2:1-2) May his amazing love give you assurance in your guilt and motivation to hate sin and pursue righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Two, renew your mind. There is no substitute for regular, meaningful intake of God’s Word – reading, studying, meditating, memorizing – in our fight against sin and temptation. Battle the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Eph. 6:17) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16) that you may “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2)

Three, distrust your own heart. The Bible offers many clear warnings about the true nature of our hearts, including Jeremiah 17:9 which says, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” and 1 Corinthians 10:12 which instructs, “let anything who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” The old Rich Mullins song rings true, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” Distrust the strength of your sinful desires, the craftiness of your enemy, and your ability to withstand in your own strength. Simultaneously, rejoice in the power of God who is faithful and “with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

Four, guard against idleness. If you have more time on your hands than normal, praise the Lord. Put it to good use. Read your Bible, pray, exercise, write letters of encouragement, do online training, knock out past-due projects, invest in the people in your home, reconnect with a friend at church or in your community, plant a garden, etc. Don’t settle for non-redemptive activity simply to pass the time. Avoid binge-watching the never ending stream of entertainment, doubling down on gaming, or mindlessly scrolling through more social media. Let’s guard against legalism, but take seriously God’s command to make “the best use of the time because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:16)

Five, fight for community. Just because you can’t go to church, attend growth group, or have coffee meetings in person, doesn’t mean that you can’t do everything in your power to stay connected with your church family. Sin lies to you and will thrive in secrecy and isolation. Now, more than ever, we need to take seriously the command to “exhort one another every day … that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13) Pray for and with one another. Ask good and direct questions. Be honest about struggles and failings. Confess your sin to one another. Consider how you can spur one another to love and good deeds. (Heb. 10:24)

By the grace of God, let’s take steps during this global pandemic so that our “prone to wander” hearts don’t succumb to wickedness. Rather, for the glory of God, may we emerge stronger in faith, more fervent in love for God and neighbor, increasingly wise in how we spend our time, and more capable of identifying temptation and resisting sin.

Posted by Mark Severance with

Your Unbelieving Friend Just Heard the Gospel. Now What?

So you sent the Easter Sunday sermon link to your non-Christian friend, family member, or neighbor. They watched the singing, heard the Bible readings, and listened to the sermon. Now what?

The most effective evangelism and discipleship includes follow-up. In other words, we don’t grenade the gospel into people’s lives and then leave them alone to sort it all out. Christ actually calls us beyond evangelism into discipling. Discipling includes telling people the gospel, but also teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded us (Matt. 28:19). To do this effectively, we must be willing to share our lives -- not just our links -- with people

So let’s say your friends and family just heard Sunday’s message about Jesus' resurrection. They heard several reasons why it’s true that Jesus is alive. They heard that they could be reconciled to God, have their sins forgiven, and escape death if they trust him. What do they need now? How can you follow up?

First of all, pray. If you’re not already, start praying for those people every day. God loves to show his power in response to our petitions. 

Second of all, enlist a few other people to pray with you. Tell some others from church about who you're praying for, and ask if they would pray with you. 

Third, reach out again soon. I don’t want to be too specific here, because every relationship is different and we don’t want to promote cookie-cutter techniques. But what if you shot them a text asking whether they agreed with the sermon? Or asked if they’d be willing to come to church with you next time the doors are open? What if you shared next Sunday’s sermon or sent them a gospel tract?

My family put together an Easter basket with candy, a note, Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Gospel?, and, of course, some toilet paper! Today I followed up and was encouraged to hear that the couple said they’d start reading the book together - pray for fruit! Whatever you do, don’t leave them hanging. Make follow-up contact.

Fourth, think strategically about how to create an ongoing discussion around Christ. The idea is that you don’t want this to be an Easter-only thing. Again, everyone must seek the Lord’s wisdom as to how this works in the relationships you have. It’s worth considering. Perhaps you offer to read through the gospel of Mark. Maybe you ask how you can pray for them, and then plan to follow up with them in a few weeks or months. Would they be willing to attend a Bible study? Think through ways that might elongate this conversation about Christ.

Fifth, rest in God’s sovereignty. He is accomplishing his purposes. Though we desire to do all we can for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10), we also rest in the promise that those who are his “will listen to his voice” (Jn. 10:16). Let’s be faithful to continue bringing the gospel into all our relationships, praying for God’s mighty hand to save.

Posted by Eric Durso with