Never Alone

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Heb. 13:5

We waited to hear from Mr. Yung. A serene man in his seventies, he had been confined to the cruelest of solitary confinement for two years for his faith in Jesus Christ. Locked in a tiny cell without light, with no contact with visitors or other inmates, Mr. Yung sat day after day, week after week, month after month for two years in total darkness (Except for brief and rare walks outside). Who wouldn’t want to hear what he learned about life, death, fear, faith and suffering as he languished in cramped darkness for two years?

Looking Up

When the moderator asked him what he had learned, Mr. Yung simply stated, “This is what I learned. I learned that Jesus is always with me.”

That’s it? Two years of inhumane treatment, both physically and psychologically, and what you learned was, “Jesus is always with me”?

The moderator rephrased the question, thinking he could coax a bit more from Mr. Yung.

He replied, “That Jesus is always with me is what I learned. He was with me when I was hungry. He was with me when I was cold. He was with me when I was hot and delirious. He was with me when I was afraid for my family. He was with me when I was sick. He was with me when I was beaten. He was with me when I was hopeless. He was with me when I was confused. Jesus was with me when I was sure I was dying. Jesus was always with me. Jesus IS always with me. That is what I learned.”

Christians rightfully focus on what the Lord has done for us. Yet Mr. Yung’s rather anticlimactic reply to the question was actually a most profound one. The knowledge that Jesus is always with us is equally necessary to walk whatever walk the Lord has prescribed for us. Jesus for us and Jesus in us. These are the two truths that help Christians put one foot in front of another, day by day, regardless of what our darkness consists of.

Do YOU believe this?

Ponder for a moment that Jesus who died on the cross for your sins is also present in your life, closer than a shadow and more intimate than a breath. He is with you right now, in your heart and soul. Your ever faithful friend, “Jesus is always with you”. Jesus is with you when you wonder if you have the strength to make it through work one more day. Jesus is with you when you fear the path your child has taken might ruin their lives. Jesus is with you when you drive to AND from your doctor’s appointment. Jesus is with you when you sit down in front of your computer. Jesus is with you when you think there is no other solution to your marriage than to end it. Jesus is with you when your boss says your position has been replaced by a teenager working in a call center in Malaysia. Jesus is with you when the doctor takes your child and says, “we will see you in five hours.” Jesus is with you when you review your life and wonder, “how did I wind up here?” Jesus is with you when your temptations attack you with the fierceness of the Orcs on Frodo. Jesus is with you when you feel the outcome of your life has been shaped by the choices of others. Jesus is with you when you have nothing but darkness surrounding you. JESUS IS ALWAYS WITH YOU.

There is great power and strength that comes from reflecting on what Jesus has done for us. AND, there is great power that comes from reflecting on Jesus in us. Moment by moment, his spirit in us, comforting, challenging, directing, warning, empowering, consoling and emboldening us.

He is with me, even to the end of the age.

He will never leave me nor forsake me.

United to a living Christ, living in and through me now. If you are a Christian, that is your testimony.

This instant, in the midst of your scrambled thinking, your fractured friendships, your uncertain future, Mr. Yung’s testimony is true of you. “Jesus is always with me.” The one who for hours was THE MOST alone person who ever trod this dusty orb says to you right now, I will never leave you. I am with you. I am in you. Moment by moment, event by event, trial by trial, temptation by temptation, step by step, you are not left to your own strength. You are not left to wield the sword alone. I am ALWAYS with you.

So, weak one. Remember, your weakness is to direct your attention to the strong one. Jesus, who is always with you, living in you by His Spirit. The next step? No one knows. Who will be with you when you take it? You do know, because if you have learned anything from Mr. Yung, it is this, “Jesus is always with me”

This post was written by Steve Shank. Steve has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and is the author of First Steps of Faith.

A Life Well Lived

“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)

I recently attended the funeral of a good friend of mine whose life was tragically taken from him by the cancer of leukemia. Only forty-eight years old, my friend Doug left behind a loving wife and six children. Nearly a thousand people gathered to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of my friend. It was the largest funeral I had ever attended, and I was so struck by the influence and affect this man had on so many.

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne McNeil Photography - suzannemcneilphotography.com

Photo Courtesy of Suzanne McNeil Photography – suzannemcneilphotography.com

Co-workers, neighbors, family, church members, children and parents of the sports teams he coached in the community, and long-time friends spanning over several decades all attended his memorial service. We cried together, we prayed together; we laughed together, we grieved together. We missed our friend Doug, together.

Doug was a godly man. I met him over twenty years before his passing, in the high school auditorium that housed our local church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Doug’s joy was infectious and his love for Jesus was evident to all who interacted with him. It wasn’t long before he was asked to lead a small group, and I was one of those privileged to attend his group and benefit from his love and care. Doug and his wife, Alison, spent countless evenings opening up their home — and their lives — to our little church (which eventually grew to be a large church due in no small part to their investment). We lived in a college town and Doug adopted the college student’s schedule in his hospitality. I can remember countless times staying late after our small group meetings to no bother from Doug and Alison. Around 11pm, Doug would announce that he was ordering pizza for everyone and we would linger late into the evening on a Friday night. This dear couple counseled my wife and I through the early stages of our relationship into engagement and the beginning of our marriage. We babysat their children back when they only had two kids before their family grew to include six children; their two oldest were the ring bearers in our wedding.

Doug lived a quiet life. He didn’t have a Twitter account. He didn’t have a presence on Facebook. You could barely find his profile on LinkedIn, and even there it didn’t include his picture or any remarks about his work or personal life. All it said was District Sales Representative at Wallace Hardware and Co., the establishment where he worked for over twenty years. In these days when people change job titles or move companies every two to three years, Doug was an anomaly. He worked at the same company and attended the same local church for over 20 years and led his small group for nearly 18 years until the cancer set in and chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants limited his ability to lead. I can remember Doug with his bald head, wearing a mask to prevent infections, coming to church with the same joy and smile he had always displayed previously. He continued to coach his sons’ soccer team with the mask in tact, as well. And when I interacted with him, he would always seek to encourage me and draw me out about what was going on in my world. Consistent and faithful, hardworking, content and cheerful, season after season of steady plodding – that was my friend, Doug. He was a great man, and I believe he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful…enter in to the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23).

As I’ve contemplated Doug’s life, I’ve sensed the Lord instructing me:

“Aspire to this.”

We live in a celebrity-crazed culture. It’s everywhere you turn, on the news, in the checkout lines of our local grocery stores and gas stations, in our Facebook and Instagram feeds, and even in the church. The American culture values the greatness of social influence. We measure our stature by the number of our followers and the prominence of the people we are connected to (many of whom follow us simply because we follow them). I wonder how influential we truly are, and how influential we think we are.

It’s so easy in our culture to be enamored by the trivial and to push aside side what is central, frankly because what is central so often feels so ordinary. We want extraordinary, but in our pursuit of extraordinary, in our ambition to live lives that count for something, we can so easily sacrifice what matters most. Doug gave many of us a wake-up call because when it comes to what is most important, he nailed it. He lived a short life, but it was a short life well lived. Just before he passed away, Doug and Alison celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. During those 25 years, he was faithful to his wife and she was faithful to him; he fulfilled his vow “till death do us part”. He trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins and for the gift of eternal life. He lived daily rejoicing in the joy of his salvation. He raised six children in the fear of the Lord, pointing them continually to Jesus. And he gave his life away in tireless service to his local church even as he joyfully fulfilled his responsibilities as a husband and father. He lived all-out for Jesus. What a life!

Over against the backdrop of our culture that is so impressed with social standings, God’s Word instructs us to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV). We often hear the call to aspire to greatness, but who hears the call to aspire to live quietly? To mind our own affairs?

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything at all wrong with building a large following on social media (especially if it’s utilized for noble purposes), but that is not the sign of true greatness.

Doug lived a life of true greatness. And, I for one, am instructed by his joyful life of quiet, yet profoundly influential, obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. I know that I need more of this type of aspiration in my own life. In Doug Sexton, we watched ordinary and radical living gloriously collide to form a life full of meaning, purpose, and eternal value: a life well lived.

Do we really believe that if we aspire to live quietly, to mind our own affairs, and to work hard with our hands that we will make a massive impact on others for the glory of God? Doug Sexton has made me a believer. I miss him, and I thank God for his profound impact on my life.

Let’s all learn from Doug to aspire to what truly matters in this life, that we too may be prepared for the next.