Breaking Through

More good questions from Brian Eshleman:

Then many came to Him and said, “John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.” And many believed in Him there.

REF: These people who now find their faith rooted in Christ had to uproot from their usual influences, leave the orbit of the Jewish leaders who are moving toward condemning Jesus, and go TOWARD Him on the other side of the Jordan.How has Christ preceded greater intimacy with and confidence in Him by challenging you to put distance between yourself and what or whom you previously trusted?ANSWER:I have many friends who are preachers, pastor, missionaries, and good and faithful Christian servants. And every single one of them is a fallible man or woman. At certain times, the Lord has brought me closer to certain ones for a season, and He has then brought me closer to others for a season. And this has truly been the pattern of my life — changing from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood, church to church, job to job, circle of friends to circle of friends. Change is a constant in my life — like a wanderer with no place to put his head for very long before moving on, I have found myself a traveler through this world.

And accusations will arise (whether only in my mind or even in the mouths of my accusers) that I cannot build relationships at anything deeper than surface level, that I do not remain amongst them because I was not of them, that I am a coward that runs away when the battle comes, that I am headstrong and unteachable, that I do not love whatever doesn’t agree with me or challenges me. And while I do not believe these lies against who Christ says that I am, I am not either wise enough or foolish enough to try and defend myself from such accusations that might have mountains of evidence gathered against me to prove the claims. If I am these things, it is my own fault — and if I am not these things, it is only by the grace of God.

I say this about myself to assure you that I am just as fallible as the next man. And at times, the Lord has drawn me close to others — close enough to have a good wrestle and sharpening that might have two warrior brothers wondering afterwards at the powerful struggle — whether the other intended to spar for skillful sharpening or was driven to wound or kill. Good training can look and feel so much like real warfare that we can become fully immersed and forget the true enemy is not flesh ands blood. Like someone suffering from PTSD, common stimuli can even trigger a reaction as if we were in a very real battle for our lives. And at times, wounded sparring partners who we once trusted to wield their sword against us for the equipping of the saints, may lash out at us — or we may do the same to them.

These are the situations that I have encountered most frequently requiring distance for a time between me and others who were once intimate and close.And in every case, it was profitable to put my trust fully in God and not in man — and trust that He has a plan and purpose even for the tides that pull the shells onto the beach (like gathering stones) and that also pull the shells away to scatter them across the ocean (like scattering stones). I’ve found, like the author of Ecclesiastes alludes to, that intellectually trying to put God’s ways into a box of human understanding and cataloguing and prediction is futile.So when distance is necessary, I tend to my wounds best by inspiring that I am praying for my brother or sister — not that God will “fix whatever I think is wrong with them” but to fix everything in my heart or my eyes towards them that isn’t aligned with how He sees them — washed by the Blood of the Lamb, cleansed of all righteousness, walking by the Holy Spirit, with their footsteps established firmly upon the rock of Christ alone or Cornerstone — ridding myself of any bitterness, strife, jealously, envy, unforgiveness, offense, accusations, etc. that I might have towards them. This is not always a one prayer or overnight process.

And even once cleansed of these things (to insure that the distance is God’s will and purpose in our individual callings and not just my own foolish pride creating distance) — there are seasons where the distance truly makes the heart grow fonder (whether that distance be only physical separation or even a withdrawing of the times of trust). We must allow people to go through challenging sessions. We must allow people to fall ands get back up. We must allow for the weaknesses in our brothers and sisters to not have us readying stones to throw at them because there is something we could rightly accuse them of — because Child of the Living God who has ears to hear me, WE ARE NOT THE ACCUSERS! If we find ourself an accuser, we must repent now while there is time.

After this I awoke and looked around, and my sleep was sweet to me.

Jeremiah 31:26, New King James Version

REF: Previously, Jeremiah has confessed/complained that it is wearying being God’s messenger, but everywhere he goes he seems to stir up contention with a complacent culture. Jeremiah 31:26, then, is a healthy celebration of the other side of that role. Carrying message and ministry for God can also be renewing and invigorating. We should remind ourselves, those around us, and those who follow us of this.Who have you known who did that in a particularly noticeable and memorable way? For whom has telling and living out God’s message to you been a delight rather than a source of drudgery, seems to recharge them rather than deplete them? Have you seen this same person persevere through times when it seemed the opposite was true?ANSWER:It is especially encouraging to the hard laboring, sword wielding warrior — who has either been zealously sparring to equip for battle, or literally charging into the active fray — to realize that stirring up contention may indeed “feel wearying” in the moment, but when carrying message and ministry for God’s glory (and not for self examination or condemnation of others) that renewal and restoration will come after the day’s “workout”. Like a good strength training coach would remind his team, “Nopain, no gain” could be a quite common reality cry for the active Christian life. So my mind is drawn to both the “noticeably joyful” pastors like Sal Barone at First Baptist Spartanburg, and the “persevering and celebrating” saints like the late Reid Bowyer, the late Justin Sage Williams, and more recently Dave Walton and Grace Pierce who I have seen face uncontrollable challenges and still praise the Lord in the middle of their storm.It is hard to single out just one example of a saint who is noticeable or memorable in their handling adversity, because I see Christ all around me in this way. Whether it is my mother, Jean Ballinger, who cares so steadfast and reliably for my grandmother each day and praises the Lord even when the day reveals the limits of her own strength. Or whether it is my father, Jim Ballinger, who loves ands cars for us all and who has weathered the loss of his mother this season while clinging to God and serving God faithfully without missing a step. Or whether it is Christy Pierce and Tom Pierce, seeing their daughter face what seems like such an unfair hand of cards dealt to her and to their family, and trusting that somehow God has a plan and a purpose. Or whether it is so many friends who have lost jobs, family members, friends in this pandemic, and who have drawn closer to God rather than just rail against Him for how it feels in the moment. Or even those who did break under the pressure and blame God and tail at Him, but who had the chance to let the tears and surrender come that drew them back to the only one strong enough to carry them through it all.Honestly, I’m not as amazed at the people as I am amazed and in awe and wonder at an amazing ands wonderful God who fulfills His promises to His people. Instead of just seeing heroes in each of these names, and pointing them out as “good people” — I’m going to tell you that if you look closer, you will see flawed, imperfect people carrying something quite different, quite noticeable, quite wonderful along with them through this journey — the Holy Spirit of the Living God. What seems like a ridiculous claim is actually true — Emmanuel, God is with us! Sleep well, my hard laboring warriors, He is with us, and the victory is already won! Amen.

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