Counseling One Another

Helping you grow in God's all-sufficient truth and grace

Counseling One Another

August 26, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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NUGGETS [8/27/16]

Here’s some articles that I found interesting this week.

The Pastor’s PTSD – “My wife, Judy, and I know what it is like to live through a season of church conflict and not be OK, even after the trouble subsides. And we have found the idea of PTSD to be a helpful analogy to understand what we have been through.”

Eight Traits of Church Bullies – “Church bullies are a problem in many churches. Here are eight ways to spot them in your church.”

Have Lots of Children. It’s Good for the Planet. – “The biggest spikes in population growth in our history coincide with the greatest growth in wealth and innovation for a good reason.”

J. Alec Motyer (1924-2016) – An author and Bible scholar who I’ve been blogging about for the past few months went home to be with the Lord this week.

Report Debunks “Transgender” Label for Kids – A stunning new report on sexuality and gender exposes the shaky science behind the LGBT “born that way” narrative and the push to label young kids as “transgender.”

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August 26, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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Flashback Friday – 37 Ways to Love One Another

Five years ago, this month, I published this article. Since then 44,000 people have read it. Therefore, I thought it may make a good Flashback Friday post. I trust it will encourage your growth in grace.

A local church is not built by one man, or even a few men, but by every believer being actively involved in ministry through evangelizing the lost people in their lives and serving their fellow Christians. A quick glance at the practice of the New Testament church reveals that they thought very little about programs and very much about relationships.

Consider the disciple-making that would naturally take place in the life of a local church if every believer would practice the loving, one-another ministry that the early churches first read about in the instructions they received from the apostles:

  1. Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10).
  2. Give preference to one another (Rom. 12:10).
  3. Be of the same mind toward one another (Rom. 12:16).
  4. Accept one another by withholding judgment (Rom. 14:1).
  5. Accept one another by showing deference (Rom. 14:1–5; 15:7).
  6. Esteem [highly regard] one another in love (Rom. 14:5; Phil. 2:3).
  7. Build up one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thes. 5:11).
  8. Counsel one another (Rom. 15:14).
  9. Serve one another by showing deference in matters of liberty (Gal. 5:13).
  10. Bear one another’s sin burdens (Gal. 6:2).
  11. Be gentle with one another (Eph. 4:2).
  12. Be kind to one another so as to preserve unity (Eph. 4:32).
  13. Speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:25; Col 3:9).
  14. Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).
  15. Show compassion to one another (Col. 3:12).
  16. Bear with the inherent sinfulness of one another (Col. 3:13).
  17. Forgive one another (Col. 3:13).
  18. Use Spirit-filled, Word-saturated music to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19).
  19. Comfort one another with the hope of Christ’s return (1 Thes. 4:18).
  20. Encourage one another (1 Thes. 5:11).
  21. Live in peace with one another (1 Thes. 5:13).
  22. Seek good for one another (1 Thes. 5:15).
  23. Encourage one another to forsake unbelief and hardness of heart (Heb. 3:13).
  24. Stimulate one another to spiritual growth (Heb. 10:24).
  25. Encourage one another by faithful participation in your local church (Heb. 10:25).
  26. Confess sins to one another (James 5:16).
  27. Pray for one another’s spiritual and physical healing (James 5:16).
  28. Be long-suffering and patient toward one another (1 Peter 4:8; Eph. 4:2).
  29. Be hospitable to one another without complaint (1 Peter 4:9).
  30. Serve one another (1 Peter 4:10; Gal. 5:13).
  31. Act in humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).
  32. Show holy affection to one another (1 Peter 5:14).
  33. Participate in the holy walk with one another (1 John 1:7).
  34. Refuse to become resentful toward one another (1 John 3:11–12).
  35. Give sacrificially to meet one another’s needs (1 John 3:16–17).
  36. Fight fear together by growing in love (1 John 4:18).
  37. Walk in truth together (1 John 3:18; 2 John 1:5).

The Christian life is all about relationships. It’s God’s design for our personal growth, which then translates into church growth—the real kind. Loving one another is a powerful evangelistic tool, as Jesus says: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

[The above list makes a great personal Bible study or the basis for small group discussion.]

Recommended Resource: Counseling One Another: A Theology of Inter-Personal Discipleship

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August 25, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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God All-Sufficient

[Yesterday morning, we read this in our staff meeting. It is a precious prayer demonstrating dependence upon the all-sufficient God. It is taken from Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.]

O LORD OF GRACE,

The world is before me this day,
and I am weak and fearful,
but I look to thee for strength;
If I venture forth alone I stumble and fall,
but on the Beloved’s arms I am firm
as the eternal hills;
If left to the treachery of my heart
I shall shame thy Name,
but if enlightened, guided, upheld by thy Spirit,
I shall bring thee glory.

Be thou my arm to support,
my strength to stand,
my light to see,
my feet to run,
my shield to protect,
my sword to repel,
my sun to warm.

To enrich me will not diminish thy fullness;
All thy lovingkindness is in thy Son,
I bring him to thee in the arms of faith,
I urge his saving Name as the One who died for me.
I plead his blood to pay my debts of wrong.

Accept his worthiness for my unworthiness,
his sinlessness for my transgressions,
his purity for my uncleanness,
his sincerity for my guile,
his truth for my deceits,
his meekness for my pride,
his constancy for my backslidings,
his love for my enmity,
his fullness for my emptiness,
his faithfulness for my treachery,
his obedience for my lawlessness,
his glory for my shame,
his devotedness for my waywardness,
his holy life for my unchaste ways,
his righteousness for my dead works,
his death for my life.

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August 23, 2016
by Paul Tautges
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The Effects of Hostility and Betrayal upon the Mind and Body

Last week, I spent several days in Psalms 3-7 as part of my study through Alec Motyer’s devotional translation of the Hebrew songbook we know as the book of Psalms. Whether or not all agree that Psalms 3-7 belong to the time of Absalom’s betrayal of King David and attempt at a hostile takeover, Motyer contends, “What cannot be denied is that they all arise from a time (or times) of hostility. The comparatively buoyant spirit of Psalms 3 and 4 becomes a much sharper sense of enmity in Psalm 5, with a clearer awareness of the wickedness which David was facing. Next comes the ‘terror’ [of Psalm 6]…and the solemn sense of divine judgment—and eternal judgment—which pre-occupies Psalm 7.”

Psalm 6, which Motyer entitles “Deep Danger, Great Deliverance,” is incredibly descriptive in its inspired portrayal of the effects of betrayal and hostility on the mind and body of David, as well as the blessings that this kind of suffering brought to his faith. As we counsel others—and even ourselves—in times of relational hostility, we may draw strength from this radically honest portion of God’s Word.

Results of Betrayal

Take note of what you see when looking through this window into David’s heart and soul and, in particular, how his trial affected his mind and body.

  • Lack of assurance/loss of confidence (6:1). “Yahweh, let it not be in your exasperation that you reprove me, and let it not be in your rage that you discipline me.” David is assured by God’s discipline (in the Hebrews 12 sense), but at the same time the shock and pain of the hostility against him tested the most foundational elements of his confidence.
  • Physical exhaustion and mental/emotional terror (6:2-3). “Grant me your grace, Yahweh, because I am withering away. Heal me, Yahweh, because my bones are terrified, and my soul itself is exceedingly terrified.” David is near the end of himself; he has every reason to believe this trial will take his life. Motyer comments on these verses: “The ‘bones’ stand for the physical ‘frame’ in its stability and resilience. The stress and pressure of David’s situation is such that he felt even his body could not take any more. ‘Soul’ brings us into the realm of feeling; David’s mind and emotions, his life itself are all under dire threat.” Relentless attacks resulted in a very real struggle with severe panic.
  • Mental and physical stress (6:4-5). “Oh do return, Yahweh! Oh do set my soul free! Save me, because of your committed love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who gives you thanks?” Motyer comments: “David feels that he cannot stand continuance of his present trouble. Life itself is at risk.” David truly believed that he would not survive the attacks.
  • Endless grief and weariness (6:6). “I am weary through my groaning; all night I flood my bed—my couch with my tears I dissolve.” Hostility and betrayal bring on a form of loss that is indescribable, and leads to a grief that is deeper than even death.
  • Loss of faith’s focus (6:7). “Through my vexation my eyesight fails—grows old through all my adversaries.” Betrayal has a way of attacking the eyes of our faith, blinding us from God’s help and deliverance and, thus, magnifying the presence and power of one’s enemies. Despair often follows.

However, God has a way of redeeming hostility and betrayal in order to change us on the inside, thus making us more dependent, effective servants of Him.

Blessings of Betrayal

Though the negative impact of betrayal upon one’s mind and body—and even one’s faith—should never be understated, there is a manner in which God brings about good through it all. Here are just two good fruits of betrayal:

  • Running to God in prayer (6:8-9). David is able to say with confidence: “Get away from me, all you trouble-makers, because Yahweh has heard the voice of my weeping. Yahweh as heard my plea for grace. Yahweh himself accepts my prayer.” When your friends swiftly become your enemies, when their loyalty is manifested as cheap, convenient, and false; you run to God as you have rarely done previously. As a result, a crucial discipline of the faith is further strengthened and established and you are forever changed.
  • Entrusting yourself to God who judges righteously (6:10). “All my enemies will reap shame and be terrified, turn back, reap shame—suddenly!” David was able to entrust himself to God and resist fighting back because he knew that God will get the last word, eventually. In doing so, his confidence was a picture of the Savior and King, the Lord Jesus Christ who, while being reviled, did not revile in return but entrusted Himself to him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). Entrusting himself to God as the ultimate Judge helped Jesus to resist the temptation to strike back at His attackers.

Sadly, hostility and betrayal are part of the human experience and even the Christian life. Hardly a week goes by that God does not have me minister to someone who is experiencing this kind of pain in some form. But I can say, for myself, that experiencing hostility and betrayal in the past has changed me. It has made me a different, more compassionate pastor (I hope); and more effective counselor (I think), as does the continued study of the most honest book in the Bible—the book of Psalms.

When was the last time you lived and breathed the Psalms? No matter what kind of suffering is on your current path to a stronger, purer faith, run to God. Listen to Him in the Psalms. And pour your heart out to Him in honest, seeking prayer. He will answer. He will comfort. He will feed your soul. He will cause you to hope in Him alone.

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August 19, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Flashback Friday – Waging a Long-Term War Against Anxiety

Flashback Friday – Waging a Long-Term War Against Anxiety

The past few days we have received instruction from the Lord as to how to battle against worry. The apostle Paul’s words to the Philippian believers have taught us to worry about nothing and pray about everything in order that the peace of God may stand as a century at the door of our hearts. These spiritual disciplines provide immediate relief.

However, as most of us who struggle with anxiety know, the nervous and fearful thoughts and emotions thrive on reoccurrence. So how do we reorient our emotions and lifelong thinking patterns in order to win the long-term war? Here are a few ways.

  1. Cultivate a habit of daily thanksgiving. Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It’s a wonderful day for Americans to remember important events in our nation’s history. It’s also a blessed time for believers in Christ to be reminded of what the Scriptures say about being thankful everyday, not merely one day per year. “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18) has no time boundaries. Daily, moment by moment, we must discipline our selves to thank God for specific ways in which He has blessed us and for His profound mercy toward us in Christ.
  2. Retrain your mind to “think on these things.” Philippians 4:6-7 is followed by verse 8. Paul’s exhortation to think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise is a continuation of his thoughts on the peace of God (the larger context is Phil 4:4-9). His argument begins with the command to rejoice (v. 4) and ends with the assurance of intervention from the God of peace (v. 9). I am grateful to my friend Bob Kellemen who brought the connection of verse 8 to the previous “anxiety verses” in his helpful booklet.
  3. Fill your mind with the Word of God. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” is immediately followed by an explanation as to how Christ rules our hearts. He does so by means of the Holy Spirit as we “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us] with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:15-16).
  4. Set aside time in your schedule for concentrated prayer. Prayer should the life-breath of the believer, a moment-by-moment attitude and atmosphere in which we live. However, this will never take the place of concentrated, uninterrupted times of prayer. The Lord Jesus—humanity as God intended it to be—was dependent upon the Father and demonstrated this through lengthy times of prayer. See Luke 6:12; Matthew 14:23).
  5. Remain in the love of God. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). No love is as perfect as God’s love for His children. We must regularly return to the Scriptures that assure us of His great love for us. As we bask in His love our fears are cast out. [Read previous post I Am Loved.]

By disciplining ourselves to apply this wartime strategy of for living we will go beyond winning the small skirmishes to advancing forward in the long-term war against unbelief and indwelling sin.

[Originally posted in November 2012]

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August 17, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on 3 Qualities of an Encourager

3 Qualities of an Encourager

Have you ever experienced the power of encouragement? I can remember many times over the years when God provided faithful believers who were “others-focused” enough to come alongside and strengthen my hands for His work. The Apostle Paul had such a man by his side, by the name of Onesiphorus. He is one of the “forgotten servants” in the biblical record. His name says it all. Onesiphorus means, “profit bringer,” and that is exactly what he was. As Paul sat in a Roman prison, considering the last words he would pen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the name of his faithful friend could not help but come to mind. Here we learn three qualities of a faithful encourager.

An encourager dispenses refreshing motivation in the midst of ministerial rejection.

“This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Timothy 1:15-16). As a preacher of the biblical gospel and the whole counsel of God, Paul was accustomed to abandonment. Like Jesus, he had many people who wanted to come along for the ride, but when commitment to the ways of God and the Word of God meant discomfort and even persecution, the crowd departed and he was left with a faithful few. Onesiphorus was one of those faithful servants who refreshed Paul. This is the only occurrence of the word refreshed in the New Testament. It paints a picture of one who provides a cool refreshing breeze for one about to faint. Our day is not much different than the one in which Paul lived. Many are looking for a free ride and will “follow” Jesus, until disappointment walks through their door or dying to self becomes a harsh reality. May God develop in each of us the perseverance required to be a faithful dispenser of encouragement to others over the long-haul.

An encourager devotes himself to the refreshment of others with great eagerness.

The next verse says, “but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me” (2 Tim. 1:17). Onesiphorus did not sit around waiting or even praying for opportunities to serve. As soon as he learned of a need he acted on it, even if it meant searching a Roman prison to find his brother. We must not allow our ministry mindset to be dictated by our “culture of convenience.” Being a faithful encourager requires that we be people of initiative who search out ways to refresh other believers, even if it means personal sacrifice or inconvenience.

An encourager displays loyalty in the face of adversity.

Adversity has a way of revealing who your true friends really are. In contrast to all who were in Asia that turned away from Paul, Onesiphorus was “not ashamed” of Paul’s imprisonment (1:16). He knew the meaning of Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times.” Later, Paul wrote, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me” (2 Timothy 4:16). Yet three verses later, he asked Timothy to greet Onesiphorus (4:19). His courageous spirit and devotion to Paul stood in stark contrast to the infidelity of so many others. Being a faithful encourager requires loyalty that endures through difficult times. The refreshing example of Onesiphorus is worthy of imitation. May God grant us grace to be “others-focused” so that fellow believers around us may truly experience the power of encouragement.

Today, who will you refresh?

[Excerpted from Delight in the Word: Spiritual food for hungry hearts]

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August 12, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Flashback Friday – A Poorly Dressed Beggar

Flashback Friday – A Poorly Dressed Beggar

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’” There is a great promise from the Lord here. We should ask God to do the “greater works” promised by Jesus (v. 12), empowered by the Spirit (v. 16), and witnessed in the book of Acts. Here Jesus calls us to pray in his name; that is, recognizing him as the only way to God and approaching his throne in full agreement with his Word so that the Father “may be glorified in the Son.” Praying in Jesus’ name means to come to God by the authority of Jesus, not our own. Outside of our union with Christ, we have no right to every approach the Father. Paul Miller illustrates this well when he writes in A Praying Life,

Deep down, we just don’t believe God is as generous as He keeps saying He is. That’s why Jesus added the fine print– ‘ask in My name.’ Let me explain what that means. Imagine that your prayer is a poorly dressed beggar reeking of alcohol and body odor, stumbling toward the palace of the great king. You have become your prayer. As you shuffle toward the barred gate, the guards stiffen.

Your smell has preceded you. You stammer out a message for the great king: ‘I want to see the king.’ Your words are barely intelligible, but you whisper one final word, ‘Jesus, I come in the name of Jesus.’ At the name of Jesus, as if by magic, the palace comes alive. The guards snap to attention, bowing low in front of you. Lights come on, and the door flies open. You are ushered into the palace and down a long hallway into the throne room of the great king, who comes running to you and wraps you in his arms.

The name of Jesus gives my prayers royal access. They get through. Jesus isn’t just the Savior of my soul. He’s also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus. ‘Asking in Jesus’ name’ isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. It is one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect.

When our heart bows to the authority of Jesus, resting not in any merit of our own, we agree with Jesus and are, therefore, praying in his name. As a result, he promises, “I will do it.”

[Today’s flashback was originally posted in August 2012.]

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August 11, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Free Counseling Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Free Counseling Training in Cleveland, Ohio

It’s a pleasure for me to make you aware of an opportunity for training in Biblical Counseling here in Cleveland, Ohio. Our church, Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, is a certified training center for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). As a ministry to the Christian community in the Cleveland area, we are offering free training in biblical counseling beginning September 13, 2016.

As we follow and serve our Lord Jesus Christ, we often face people who need hope, direction, and encouragement that only God and His Word can offer.  Most often, growth in the Christian life takes place in the context of a relationship—when one person is willing to move into another’s life to help him or her address a difficult and painful issue in the manner that God prescribes.

This practical training in biblical counseling is designed to equip believers to effectively, efficiently, and lovingly minister the Word of God to others with confidence and compassion.

Information and registration details can be found on the Cornerstone website.

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August 10, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on 6 Reasons to Delight in the Word (10th Anniversary)

6 Reasons to Delight in the Word (10th Anniversary)

DelightWord-cover2- SMALLMy goal in writing is simple. I want to increase Christian’s love for God by increasing their delight in His Word, the Bible. That’s why I wrote my first book, Delight in the Word, and have just released a 10th Anniversary eBook edition.

One of the burdens on my heart, and a goal for my ministry, is to convince believers that you cannot separate love for God from love for the Bible. No one can truly love God if they do not also love His Word. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21). By demonstrating how sufficient the Scripture is in addressing the needs of the human heart, I trust that the Holy Spirit will accelerate His counseling ministry in your life and thereby lead you into a deeper, more loving obedience to God (John 16:13). There are at least six reasons why it is spiritually profitable for us to mimic the psalmist’s resolution, “I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word” (Psalm 119:16).

Delighting in the Word leads to spiritual stability and fruitfulness. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1–3). Abundant fruitfulness and oak-like stability in the Christian life are experienced in direct proportion to the extent to which we delight in God’s Word. It was not merely what this man avoided (foolish and worldly counsel) that made him blessed, but what he embraced—biblical truth. Therefore, he who delights in the counsel of God will be blessed in all he does.

Delighting in the Word feeds a desire to do God’s will. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8). Delighting in the will of God is tied to a commitment to the Word of God cherished in the heart. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). When Jesus first taught this truth He was referring to the everyday choice of where we invest our wealth—in a temporal earth or an everlasting heaven. However, the principle also applies to other contexts. In other words, it is always true that our hearts follow our treasure. Therefore, the more we treasure God’s precepts by delighting in them “more than gold” (Psalm 19:10), the greater will be our desire to obey the will of God as revealed in that Word. 

Delighting in the Word is a cure for depression. Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors. My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word (Psalm 119:24, 25). When depression strikes (or creeps in unnoticed), we need help from God. In the middle of a thick fog of depression we desperately need the piercing light of divine truth to break through with clear objectivity. So we pray: “Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight” (Psalm 119:77).

Delighting in the Word fortifies obedience to God, even when others care not. Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it (Psalm 119:33–35). Those who truly delight in the Bible will, in turn, possess an intense desire to live in obedience to its precepts. Theirs will be a determined obedience, a steadfast adherence to truth, even in the face of opposition. The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart. Their heart is as fat as grease, but I delight in Your law (Psalm 119:69, 70).

Delighting in the Word nurtures a love for Scripture meditation. The delight of the blessed man “is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Charles Spurgeon described this man as one who “takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God.” The more we grow in our love for God’s Word, the more it will dominate our thinking about every area of our life. Then, and only then, will our minds be truly renewed, according to the promise of God (Romans 12:2). And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love. My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Your statutes (Psalm 119:47, 48).

Delighting in the Word sustains us in times of trial. Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delights (Psalm 119:143). When the trials of life seem to drain every ounce of spiritual, physical, and emotional energy from us, God’s Word will be our strength. It will minister to the deepest agony of our hearts and help us gain and keep an eternal perspective. Renewing our mind with such truths as, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), will compel us to agree with the Psalmist: “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction” (Psalm 119:92).

This is just a brief sampling of what the Word of God will do for us as we make it our delight and treasure.

[Adapted from the Introduction to Delight in the Word, 10th Anniversary Edition]

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August 9, 2016
by Paul Tautges
Comments Off on Affliction Does Not Hinder the Gospel

Affliction Does Not Hinder the Gospel

I’ve been thinking about last week’s post on three ways suffering makes us like Christ and remembered an illustration that I told in an earlier book. As servants of Christ suffer for His name, and for the sake of His righteousness, the message of the cross continues to be proclaimed. This was also true in Philippi, where God used Paul’s imprisonment to bring about “the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12), which specifically resulted in the message of Christ being made known to “the whole praetorian guard” (1:13). A more recent illustration is told by Alex Leonovich, Executive Secretary of Slavic Missionary Service.

After emigrating from Russia to the United States with his parents and younger brother in 1929, Alex received missionary training at Nyack College in New York. As a result, his heart became burdened to reach the Soviet Union with the gospel, which resulted in his direction of the Russian Gospel Broadcasts from HCJB in Quito, Ecuador. Later, the demise of the Soviet Union allowed him to revisit his homeland. After decades of faithful broadcasting, and unaware of who had been listening across the ocean, Alex arrived to be greeted by standing-room-only crowds of believers whose faith had been fed via his radio teaching. On one of his return visits, at the time of a historic prayer meeting in the Lubyanka (KGB headquarters), Alex met a believer named Basil Paley. Alex tells the story of their meeting: When we opened the door … who should stand there but a broad-shouldered man with disheveled hair all over his face, two missing front teeth and a look of bewilderment on his face. After looking at the whole group, he spotted me and, almost like a locomotive, came charging at me and kissed me eighteen times on my cheek, saying in a bullhorn voice, “Brother Alex, this is for every year that I spent in prison for my faith.” I looked at him in amazement. In shock, really. I had never seen him before. I knew nothing about him. I’d never met him. Then, through tears, he told me his story: “Yours was the last face that I saw; the last message that I heard before I was exiled to Siberia. In the 1960s, I was living in Ukraine where I was sought by the government for printing gospel literature on a little press I had made out of washing machine parts. I distributed 700,000 little leaflets and gospels house to house in different areas during the darkness of night so I wouldn’t be seen or heard. I had been in prison before and would have been arrested again if I had attended church, so I did my growing by listening to your radio broadcast. When I heard you were going to be in Kiev in 1965, I wanted to hear you in person so much that I decided to risk coming to hear you. As you know, every service was monitored by the KGB and everything was carefully scrutinized. Even though I was far from my home, the secret police recognized me, arrested me as I left the service and took me to prison. From there, I was exiled to Vorkuta where I spent eighteen years at hard labor. Yours was the last face I saw and yours was the last message I heard from the pulpit before I was sent to Siberia. You preached about Christ asking Peter the question, ‘Lovest thou Me?’ Every time it got so unbearably hard and difficult in prison that I felt almost forgotten not only by man but even by God, I would see your face and hear you speaking that question. It was as if Christ was asking Peter—and me—‘Lovest thou Me?’ Then I would lift my head toward heaven and say, ‘Lord, you know all things; You know that I love you.’ For a while, I couldn’t figure out why God would allow me to be punished for serving Him. Then, one morning, I saw that God had provided a new way to serve Him. Each day, we had to line up long before the sun came up. Prisoners had to be prompt, but guards did not. That meant that thousands of us stood outdoors with nothing to do. I decided to use those minutes to preach. I asked the guards for permission and they said I could if I would agree to do the filthiest job—clean the toilets.” Basil spoke with such force and animation that I grabbed his flailing arms several times as I pleaded with him to speak softer and slower so I could translate what he was saying into English. It was to no avail. He would lower his head and try to speak slower and more quietly, but within seconds, he would again be shouting like a machine gun. I soon learned why. “In the beginning, I became hoarse as I tried to be heard by all the thousands of prisoners standing in line. Then, gradually, my voice became stronger. I never knew if I would have even two minutes in which to preach, so I learned to speak at top speeds and loud volumes. Sometimes it took two weeks to complete one sermon. But I’ve been back, and there’s still a community of about 100 believers worshiping in that camp,” Basil told us, bathing us in the warmth of his enormous crooked smile.

God’s servants may be bound in locks and chains, and punished for their bold preaching, but the power of His gospel cannot be shackled. Men may be imprisoned; words cannot be.

[Excerpted from Counsel Your Flock: Fulfilling your role as a teaching shepherd.]

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