Comforts that come in the midst of affliction.
The comfort of a friend.
What’s it say? He comforted us by bringing a friend. By the coming of Titus. No circumstance changes. He can’t be anywhere other than where he is so he wishes maybe like the psalmist he could fly away and be somewhere else. He can’t fix everything in front of him. He’s gonna have to do a day with these fears and anxieties inside of him that aren’t gonna subside easily and the comfort of God comes, not by removing all that, but by coming in the midst of it like the one who sets a table to sup with us in the presence of our enemies, that one who comes, and He does that by bringing a friend. Oh, what a friendship. This is an unusual friendship. Paul is a Jewish man, he’s Saul of Tarsus. Titus is a Greek, he’s a Gentile. Oh I bet people were freaked out about that. There they are drinking coffee together in Starbucks, sharing stories. You see two different racial people acting like they are just the best of friends. Who does that? Jesus, Jesus does that. And, I’m just trying to say that number one, sometimes the rest comes by a pocket of friendship. It’s just a conversation. And sometimes that pocket of friendship and fellowship might come in a way you yourself would not have imagine or envisioned. Person might look like a Greek and smell like one too ’cause of the foods you see. I was told by some folks overseas that white Americans smell like milk. And I guess if you think about it, something about the amount of dairy that Americans consume. You know how you always think it’s just another race that has the smell of their foods and then you realize oh, you’re ethnic too.
The dual comfort of personal presence and story.
So there’s Titus and Paul and God comforts them and He brings it. And what is it that happens? It’s just personal presence, just befriending. Everything else is in turmoil. Everything inside of Paul is in turmoil but Titus comes. Personal presence in the midst of it, those guys would’ve done more than handshaking because of their cultural backgrounds, I’m confident of it, and maybe even a holy kiss, you know. The first time that someone in the Ukraine came to give me a holy kiss I’m ashamed to say it, it was a brother coming right for the lips and I flinched and turned, you know, and the kiss gave there. It took me a while to embrace what is going on there and the fellowship being offered, you know. Here’s Paul and Titus and there they are together having a Cobb salad at First Watch restaurant or whatever it is, and they’re talking, and in this relational presence, what kind of stories are they sharing? Testimonies. Titus is talking about things no one else in the world is. The Roman government’s not interested in these stories. The Essenes are not interested in the stories, they’re out away from the city. The Pharisees are not interested in these stories, they’re trying to stomp them out. The Sadducees, the elite who don’t believe in the eternal life don’t care about these stories. The Zealots don’t care about these stories, they’re stockpiling weapons to overthrow Rome. No one in the world cares about these stories except those who loved Christ, and stories about how God is doing some things in the lives of other people gives Paul comfort such that he says he has joy, joy in affliction. When their conversation has ended maybe it’s that funeral moment, you know. That moment where we’ve been crying and crying and crying and then suddenly someone starts to tell a story about how she loved stray cats and how she took stray cats into her home and how she would go to antique places on the weekends to find old dolls’ clothes and how she dressed every stray cat she had up in dolls’ clothes. And by then we’re all laughing about Pat ’cause we know that’s what Pat did, and we laugh and we laugh and we laugh and then there comes that moTment where pain. Pain’s still there. It’s still not fixed. Pat’s no longer with us and I miss her. Yeah? And then a little while longer we tell another story or someone tells a story.
The comfort of God.
This is an analogy to that. Paul and Titus are talking about the Lord’s still at work and Titus is bringing news from another congregation and he’s saying something like, “Do you remember Hannah? “Remember Hannah, what Hannah was going through “and we were praying for her? “She had an unbelieving husband “and trying to figure this out and he “works down the road for the folks in “Herod’s court and she’s trying to figure out “what it’s like and the Lord, “can I tell you Paul, “the Lord’s answering her prayer. “For the first time her husband is open, “just open, to hearing about the Savior.” And you see, there was a time in our life where that was remarkable news and it still is. And somehow a Jew and a Gentile are laughing over coffee because God loves Hannah and He’s hearing her prayer. And he brings news of other folks from the congregation and what God’s doing. You know what I’m saying? Sometimes the last thing in the world we wanna do when we’re pressured is go to church. Have you ever noticed that? We really need to take about a year and work this out. There’s something about congregational culture that does not welcome the grieving. We try to fix it. You know? And so sometimes it’s the last place we wanna go even if we dearly love our church. We just don’t wanna go there ’cause someone’s gonna try to fix us, someone’s gonna say something dumb about who knows what. You know, my sister Miriam died of cancer when she was a young teenager and she loved Tolkien and “The Lord of the Rings” and there was a moment, I’m sitting by her and I’m so much more aware of myself than I am of her. I’m the uncomfortable one and I’m trying to find something to say. Why was I trying to find something to say? Presence together was enough. Trying to find something to say, and I actually said this, “So, have you seen The Lord of the Rings movies?” I said that even though I have full knowledge of of course she has. Orlando Bloom called her on the phone to wish her well in her sickness and yet I said a dumb thing. Have you ever done that or experienced that from people? And yet, and yet, sometimes the last thing we wanna do is what we most need. We need a friend who will sit with us, share stories with us, cry with us, and in that, Paul says his cup is overflowing in verse four. There is comfort there in the midst. Sometimes the rest you need isn’t the rest you want. Sometimes the rest you want is physical but it’s not coming Sometimes the rest you want is emotional but it’s not immediate. Sometimes in the midst of a panic attack, if any of you have ever had those, I certainly have and can, they’re among the most miserable things you experience, because it’s a reaction in your body that seems to come from nowhere and it makes you feel like you’re either gonna die ’cause you think you’re having a heart attack, or you’re gonna faint, or you’re actually going crazy ’cause your body is in flight response as if there’s a trauma that it’s trying to get away from but there’s nothing happening in front of you and all you can do, because you aren’t gonna faint, you’re not having a heart attack, you’re not gonna die, all you can do is weather it. It’s like a headache: it has to run it’s course. And so I focus on something stationary like my ring, I say a one sentence pilgrim prayer over and over and over. “The Lord is my shepherd, “I shall not want. “You are my shepherd”. Because, you see, in moments like that a one sentence prayer is about all you can get out, and I sit with a friend, my wife Jessica, and we’ll talk about anything and everything. Or I’ll call an elder, a dear friend, Ty Schwieterman and say, “Ty, I’m having a panic attack. “I just need to talk for a while. “Can you just talk about something?” And we get through.