Doubt: Just As I Am – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Just As I Am – Introduction

Today we’re going to talk about something rarely talked about in church – Doubt. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, the truth is, we all experience times of doubt from time to time. And because it’s not something usually talked about in church, we may wonder if it’s sinful or wrong to doubt. We may even ask ourselves, does God really accept me Just As I Am?

Spiritual Quote

“Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”
~Miguel de Unamuno

Thoughts

Many of us experience doubts at various times, but we rarely talk about them. It’s as if, somewhere deep inside, we feel guilty about doubting. Perhaps our doubt even causes us to doubt the depth or sincerity of our faith. And, if truth be told, I have to admit that, like everyone else, I’ve had my share of doubts. Every day I face questions for which I don’t have an answer. In fact, I found a wonderful quote from Pastor Ray Pritchard at Keep Believing Ministries. On his blog he says, “I don’t know how a person can be a Christian and not have doubts from time to time. Faith requires doubt in order to be faith. If you ever arrive at a place where all your doubts are gone and all your questions are answered, take a deep breath and relax because you’ve arrived in heaven.”*

It’s important to realize the doubt is not sinful or wrong. Quite often, it can be the catalyst we need to launch us further on our journey into spiritual growth. And, quite often, our doubt is expressed through questions. In reading Pastor Pritchard’s thoughts, I find I agree with him. There are three categories of doubts – Intellectual, Spiritual, and Circumstantial.

Intellectual doubts are the ones generally raised by those who are not Christian. Sometimes, even those of us with faith may ask the same questions as we journey toward truth. Questions like: Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Spiritual doubts are within us. We may ask ourselves: Am I “really” Christian? Do I truly believe? Why is it hard for me to pray? Why do I feel guilty? Why don’t I “feel” close to God? Does God really love me? Do I really love God?

Circumstantial doubts are centered around our physical lives – and they come from all of the “whys” we ask ourselves. Why did my granddaughter die? Why did my marriage break up. Why was my child injured? Why did I lose my job? Why can’t I find a husband/wife? Why didn’t God stop the abuse? And on and on.

For me personally, I sometimes struggle with questions like, “Was opening the church the right decision and Am I effective in my role as Pastor?”

These are the questions that meet at the crossroads of our spiritual faith and the pain that can occur as part of living in this physical world. A lot of the time, these are the hardest doubts. They often stem from deep hurt, and we tend to sweep them under the rug because we feel ashamed or guilty over having them. We may judge ourselves, or feel that others will judge us. We may even ask ourselves, “what will they think if I confess my doubts…will they think less of me?” And because of our fear of judgment, we may not deal with the issues raised by circumstantial doubts. When that happens, the circumstantial doubts become spiritual doubts, and eventually become intellectual doubts. That’s the point when we walk away from our faith altogether.

I. The Nature of Doubt

As we examine the topic of doubt, there are some things to keep in mind:

“1) Many people think doubt is the opposite of faith, but it isn’t. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Unbelief refers to a willful refusal to believe, while doubt refers to inner uncertainty.

2) Many people think doubt is unforgivable, but it isn’t. God doesn’t condemn us when we question him. Both Job and David repeatedly questioned God, but they were not condemned. God is big enough to handle all our doubts and all our questions.

3) Many people think struggling with God means we lack faith, but that’s not true. Struggling with God is a sure sign that we truly have faith. If we never struggle, our faith will never grow.”*

On his blog, Pastor Pritchard* posted some comments from his readers. Let me share some of them – maybe some of them sound like you:

A pastor shared this experience:

There came a trial for me and my wife when we knew that the Lord was using difficult circumstances to mold us, but we felt as if He had abandoned us. I’ll never forget that moment, standing in our kitchen weeping and feeling so very guilty for even thinking that the Lord had abandoned us.

Since then, the Lord has brought us through many smaller moments of faith stretching, each time using a brother or sister in Christ to remind us of His promises and to help us lift our eyes of faith once again. It is so important to come along side of a struggling Christian and share your faith with them when they have little of their own.

Another pastor said this:

As I write this, it is Sunday morning 11:30 AM. I’m supposed to be in church…preaching. I’m not there today. Yes, sometimes it is hard to keep believing.

And someone else wrote these words:

Frankly, it is a relief to me to read these entries…sometimes I think we (my husband and me) are the only ones who are struggling in this way.

Then there was this thoughtful response:

I am one of those people who have always found it hard to “keep believing”. I envy those for whom belief in and love of God seem to come so easily and so passionately. For a long, long time, I struggled with feelings that something was wrong with me, that I was somehow spiritually inferior… until I read: “When they (his disciples) asked him (Jesus),‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:28-29 NIV.

If I am rightly dividing my Greek dictionary, that word “work” means: toil, labor, work. Work is hard, and Jesus said that it is work to believe. Finding it hard to keep believing does not mean that I don’t believe. It means that believing is hardly ever an easy, enjoyable, rather passive activity for me. In the moments of my life, I find that I am constantly having to come against doubts, the world’s lies and the devil’s accusations; I often have to let go of my illusions (and delusions) about God, evaluate and refuse incorrect feelings, etc., etc., etc. Sometimes it is a sheer teeth-clenched act of will for me to keep holding on and moving forward in faith, obedience, and the power of Christ.

Sometimes, for long times, I find myself just shutting down until I’m ready (humbled enough) to do business with God again and seek His face and counsel. On top of all that, every victory seems to be followed up with a more challenging set of circumstances. For me, it never ends. I get weary and I have to fight discouragement all the time.

And I’m okay with that now – because I think that, messy as it often is, Scripture affirms that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I am doing, what is for me, personally, the hard work of believing. I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling.

Unfortunately, many times it becomes cyclical. We experience doubt, then we feel guilty. Out of our guilt, our doubt grows, which only serves to deepen our guilt. The truth is, we all have different experiences. And we don’t have to feel bad if our experience doesn’t match someone else’s. And we shouldn’t feel guilty, either. In fact, it’s good, and it’s healthy, to talk about our struggles; and support each other without judgment. We are not all the same, we will each experience different questions and doubts, and we all experience our faith differently – and that’s as it should be.

II. The Doubt of John the Baptist

Think about the story of John the Baptist. Remember, Herod threw John in jail. I’m sure John was frustrated, and maybe even a little confused by his incarceration. While in prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus, asking a very important question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” (Aramaic, Matthew 11:2-3). Remember, John 1:29-30 tells us when John saw Jesus approaching he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one of whom I said, ‘The man who comes after me is yet ahead of me, because He was before me.'” In verse 34, John continues, ” And I saw and testifies that this is the Son of God.” Obviously John knew who Jesus was. So, how could a man who was so certain of who Jesus was also experience doubt? Because he was human – just like you and me. Is it really any wonder that, as he sat in prison, not knowing whether he would ever be released, he would experience questions and doubt?

I’m sure we would, too. But, at least when he sent his disciples to Jesus, he instructed them to ask the right question – Are you the One or should we expect someone else?

It’s comforting to me to know that even someone as sure of his faith as John could experience doubt. Maybe I’m not so bad after all. But, even more important is how Jesus responds. He says, “…Go and describe to John the things which you see and hear. The blind see and the lame walk and lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead rise up and the poor are given hope. And blessed is he who does not stumble on account of Me.” (Aramaic, Matthew 11:4-6) Notice that Jesus doesn’t put John down, try to shame him or mock him, or chastise him in any way. Jesus’ words are reassuring and provides John with what he needs in order to renew and strengthen his faith. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Tell John that I am the Christ,” “Tell John that I am the fulfillment of the messianic prophey,” “Tell John I can walk on water,” or “Tell John that my teaching puts the Pharisees and Sadducees to shame.” All of this would have been true, but He didn’t say that. He simply says to go back, tell John what you have seen, and that in His name, those who hurt are being totally transformed.

We would all do well to remember Jesus’ example when one of our brothers and sisters in faith, or even we ourselves, are experiencing doubt. We should respond to questions of doubt with love and support, and without judgment or guilt.

III. Doubters Welcome

Jesus goes even further – though John may doubt Him, He doesn’t doubt John. As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus speaks to the crowd. He says, “…Jesus began to speak to the people concerning John, ‘What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed which is shaken by the wind? if not so, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Behold, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ houses. And if not so, what then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face to prepare the way before you.’ Truly I say to you that among those who are born of women there has never risen one greater than John the Baptist…'” (Aramaic, Matthew 11:7-11)

As John’s disciples are leaving to carry Jesus’ message back to John, Jesus praised their master/teacher. I’m sure along with Jesus’ message they told John of Jesus’ praise. Even though he’s still in prison, Jesus doesn’t doubt him. Even though he struggles with uncertainty, Jesus is certain of him. And even though he may be unsure of Jesus, Jesus is sure of him. Close your eyes and picture the scene and you can almost hear Jesus saying, “Tell John that he may have doubts about Me, but I don’t doubt him. He’s still my guy, he’s still a member of the team, and I still believe in him.” Jesus knew John, and He knew that underneath those doubts there was genuine faith. And it’s the same message for us – despite our doubts and fears, we’re still on Jesus’ team and He still loves us.

Our signs and advertising say, “Where everyone is welcome.” Everyone includes those who may have doubts – even us! I agree with Pastor Pritchard when he says:

“Above the front door of every church in the world, we should erect a two-word sign: DOUBTERS WELCOME. That should be the church’s message.

If you have doubts, come inside.

If you have questions, come inside.

If you are uncertain, come inside.

If you are a skeptic, come inside.

If you are searching for truth, come inside.”

IV. Five Ways to Move from Doubt to Faith (Quoting Pastor Pritchard because I like how he expressed his thoughts)

“Doubt is not sinful but it can be dangerous. It can also be a spur to enormous spiritual growth. It’s what you do with your doubt that matters. Here are five suggestions about how to handle your doubt.

A. Admit Your Doubts and Ask for Help.

That’s what John the Baptist did. God is not fragile. He can handle your doubts, your fears, your worries, and all your unanswered questions. He’s a big God. He runs the universe without any help. Your doubts won’t upset him. Tell him your doubts, cry out and ask for his help. And don’t fight the battle alone.

Go to a Christian friend, a pastor, an elder, a deacon, anyone with a strong faith and godly insight. Ask them to walk with you as you face your doubts honestly.

B. Don’t be Afraid to “Borrow” Some Faith.

Several years ago woman came up to greet me after the morning worship service. “You probably won’t remember this,” she said, and proceeded to tell me a story that, in fact, I did not recall. Some months earlier she happened to see [me] while she was going through a very painful divorce. She briefly told me the story and said that she felt like she was losing her faith. On the spur of the moment, I replied, “That’s fine. I’ve got plenty. You can borrow some of mine.” I said it and then forgot about it. But when the woman recounted the story, she told me how much that had helped her. She had indeed “borrowed” some of my faith to get her through the hard time. Not only did I not recall the conversation, I must have had plenty of faith right then because I didn’t miss it when she borrowed some of mine.

I’ve told this story several times and each time heads nod. If “borrowing” someone’s faith doesn’t make sense to you, then just skip this point. But if it does, then keep it in mind. When you find yourself filled with doubts, go find someone filled with faith and “borrow” some of theirs. It works.

C. Act on Your Faith, Not Your Doubts.

That’s what Noah did when he built the ark. That’s what Abraham did when he left Ur of the Chaldees. That’s what Abraham did when he offered Isaac. That’s what Moses did when he marched through the Red Sea on dry ground. That’s what David did when he faced Goliath. That’s what Joshua did when he marched around Jericho. That’s what Daniel did when he was thrown into the lion’s den. That’s what Nehemiah did when he built the wall.

Don’t you think that all these great heroes of the faith had their doubts? Of course they did. They didn’t know in advance how everything was going to come out. But they took a deep breath, decided to trust God, and they acted on their faith and not on their doubts. Do the same thing and your faith will continually grow stronger.

D. Doubt Your Doubts, Not Your Faith.

This simply means that you should not cast away your faith simply because you are in the deep valley of darkness. All of us walk into that valley from time to time. Some of us spend a great deal of time there. But when you find yourself in that valley where all is uncertain and you are sorely tempted to give in to your doubts, fears and worries, remember these two words. Keep walking. Just keep walking. Nothing is gained by camping out in the valley of darkness. The only way out is to keep on walking. Every step forward is a way to “doubt your doubts.” Soon enough the light will shine again.

E. Keep Going Back to What You Know to Be True.

This, for me, is the most important point. After considering the sufferings of this life, and the perils and tribulations of following Christ, Paul concludes Romans 8 triumphantly by declaring, “For I am persuaded.” And he declares that nothing in all the universe can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In 2 Timothy 1:12 he says, “I know whom I have believed.”

Some things you think.

Some things you hope.

Some things you know.

In times of trouble, keep going back to what you know to be true. When I hit my 50th birthday five years ago**, I realized that I believe less now than I did 30 years ago. Back then I thought I had everything totally figured out. Life has a way of knocking us down a few pegs. That’s certainly happened to me. So on one level, I don’t have total certainty about all the details of theology. In a sense, my knowledge is both greater and smaller than it was three decades ago. But what I know, I really know. I have a handful of convictions that cannot be shaken. I would include in that short list these truths: God is good, Jesus is Lord, the Bible is true, life is short, every day is a gift, people matter more than things, fame is fleeting, this world is not my home, and even hard times are meant for my benefit. And at the core of my faith is an unshakable belief in the sovereignty of God.

He’s God and I’m not. He is sovereign over all the details of my life, and I can trust him completely even when those details seem to be spinning out of control.”

Closing Thoughts – Just As I Am

Doubt is normal – it is not wrong, it is not sinful. Even some of the greatest believers, like John the Baptist, had doubts. But God loves us anyway. The closing line in our hymn today proclaims God’s promise – and it’s the same promise God makes to us. John 6:37 assures us, “Everyone whom My Father has given Me shall come to Me; and he who comes to Me I will not cast out.” (Aramaic) God doesn’t turn us away. Just as our hymn today reminds us, we can come to Him just as we are. So, I invite each of us to come to Him – come to Him with our doubts, our fears, and our questions – and guess what…He’ll love us just the same. And so it is…Amen.

Scripture

  • John 6:28-29
  • Matthew 11:2-11
  • John 1:29-30
  • John 1:34
  • Romans 8:38-39
  • 2 Timothy 1:12
  • John 6:37

Acknowledgements

*I’d like to acknowledge and thank Pastor Pritchard and KeepBelievingMinistries for his outline and thoughts on today’s topic.

**I personally hit my 50th birthday two years ago and couldn’t agree more with how Pastor Pritchard describes his feelings.

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Divine Power – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Divine Power – Introduction

We’ve all heard the saying, “knowledge is power.” Today, we’ll examine God’s Divine Power and, from a Biblical standpoint, we’ll see just how true that statement is.

Spiritual Quote

“Man’s ultimate destiny is to become one with the Divine Power which governs and sustains the creation and its creatures.”
~Alfred A. Montapert

Thoughts

The basis of our discussion of Divine Power is found in 2 Peter 1:1-4. First, listen to the entire passage:

“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ have been made equal with us in the precious faith: Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us all things that pertain to the power of God, for life and worship of God, through the knowledge of Him who has called us by His glory and excellence, whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

First, we must recognize that there is disagreement between theological scholars as to the actual authorship of this letter. Some feel the Apostle Peter actually wrote the letter and some feel that, while he didn’t actually put the words to the scroll, he authorized the writing. One school of thought is that Jude, Jesus’ brother, since his vocabulary and style more closely match 2 Peter than the content of 1 Peter, actually penned the letter. If this is the case, it’s still likely that he wrote under the authority of Peter.

Peter’s Opening

Let’s begin our examination of the text with Peter’s opening – he introduces himself as a “servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word for servant in this text is doúlos, a bond-slave. In this context, according to Strong’s Concordance, it is used with a high amount of dignity – one who willingly lives under Christ’s authority as His devoted follower. The Greek word for apostle is apostolos, and it means messenger. In ancient writing, the order of words was important. Those words used first were of higher importance than those that followed. So here, while his role as apostle allows him to speak with authority, Peter is giving more weight to his role as a servant of Christ than to his role as one of Christ’s messengers. By describing himself in this way, he demonstrates that he does not hold himself higher than his audience – he doesn’t wish to lord his authority over them.

This is in alignment with Jesus’ statement in Luke 22:24-26, “There was also a dispute among them as to who was the greatest among them. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles are also their lords, and those who rule over them are called benefactors; but not so with you; let him who is great among you be the least, and he who is a leader be like one who serves.””

In his opening, though a man of great authority, Peter remains humble. He continues a humble attitude with “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours…” This statement puts his audience on equal footing – he’s telling them they’re on the same spiritual level. Again, this is a lesson learned from Jesus. In Luke 10:19-20, Jesus taught, “Behold, I give you power…but do not rejoice in this…but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” No matter how much power authority, or power, Christ has given us, our greatest joy should be that we are saved by our faith. It is by that faith in Jesus that we are made equal. And it is His righteousness that we rely on, not our own.

So, in Peter’s opening, he shows us that, even if speaking or acting with authority, we should remain humble. No matter what position we find ourselves in, we must remember not to lord our position over others, or make ourselves out to be “better than”; but to treat others as equals, with an eagerness to serve.

Peter’s Greeting

Continuing our examination of the text, I’d like to share some thoughts of John Piper of the Desiring God Foundation:

In verse 2 Peter greets his readers with a benediction: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” This is not a mere introductory formula. It is a statement of what Peter really wants to see happen because of his letter. We can tell that this verse is no empty form because the letter ends on the same note (3:18): “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He pictures grace and peace (in verse 2) as something that comes to us from God. They are not ours by nature or by right. They come to us from outside ourselves, and Peter desires that they might come in great measure.

Peter’s great longing then, and mine now, is that we all might abound in grace—that God might “multiply” it to us and we might “grow” in it, and that there might be great peace (within and without).

But probably the most important thing to notice in verse 2 is that God’s grace and peace are multiplied in or through the knowledge of God. Peter cannot get past his second sentence without exposing one of his deepest convictions: namely, that knowing God is the means by which his grace and peace become large and powerful in our lives. If you want to enjoy God’s peace and be the aroma of his grace in the world, your knowledge of him has to grow. Grace is not a mere deposit. It is a power that leads to godliness and eternal life. And where knowledge of the glory and excellence of God languishes, grace does not flow. The channel from God’s infinite reservoir of grace into and through our lives is knowledge of God. We do not study the Scripture for its own sake, but because through it comes the knowledge of God, and through that grace and peace are multiplied in your heart in the church and in the world. In the next two verses of our text Peter builds on this connection now between knowledge of God and the power of grace.”

Knowledge is Power

Moving on to verse 3: “Who has given us all things that pertain to the power of God, for life and worship of God, through the knowledge of Him who has called us by His glory and excellence”.

Peter is clearly stating that Jesus has given us everything that pertains to the power of God in order to live godly lives and worship God. How? Through our knowledge of Him. It is our knowledge of Christ, of His teachings, that we experience the power of God at work in our lives. Peter is clearly stating that Knowledge is Power – and that power comes from Christ. And this is an important point. Our Christian faith is not simply a set of rules or doctrines that must be followed. It’s a Power that is experienced.It’s not about what we believe about Jesus, it’s about how our lives are changed, how we literally experience life in whole new ways as a result of God’s power at work in our lives – when we let His power guide and direct us.

Romans 8:14 says, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” The power of God flows in our life, and by His Spirit we are led to be godly; and to be godly means that we walk in the ways of God. Peter says that God’s Divine Power is granted to us – those who, through the righteousness of Jesus, share in the faith. Again, quoting Mr. Piper:

“Power is given to those who rely on Christ’s righteousness. But how is this power experienced? How does it become active in our lives? That is the third part of verse 3: “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” As in verse 2 grace is multiplied in the knowledge of God, so in verse 3 Divine Power is granted through the knowledge of God. This gives us a good definition of grace. God’s grace is a free power that works in us for our good. And the way it becomes active in our day-to-day life is through our knowledge of God, and one fact about God in particular: that “He called us to his glory and excellence.” But this is not a mere fact about God if you know it as applying to yourself. It is power…The knowledge that leads to life and godliness is said to be the knowledge of God’s precious and very great promises. And so we learn that the only knowledge of God that carries saving power is promising knowledge. The knowledge of the glory and excellence of God (in verse 3) gives power for godliness only if it communicates to us the happy promise that we are called and included. If after a week of rain a gloomy child wakes up on Saturday morning and sees the glorious sunshine calling him to play outdoors, new power flows into his spirit; but only if he really can go outside. If he were sick and couldn’t play, the beauty of the day and the fun of his friends outside might make him miserable. The knowledge of the glory of God must be promising if it is to carry power. We must know it and believe that we are included—that the promises are ours, that the call is to us.”

And how do we know we’re included? Ephesians 2:17-19 tell us: “So that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, And so that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of his calling and what are the glorious riches of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power in us as a result of the things we believe, according to the skill of His mighty power.”

Finally, in verse 4, Peter reminds us that experiencing God at work in our lives, through our faith in Jesus, frees us from sin. In letting go of the things of the world, and focusing on the things of the Spirit, we strive to live more godly lives. As we experience the Divine Power of God working in our lives, we deepen our relationship with Him, and our desire for those things that would move us away from Him diminishes.

Closing Thoughts

The old saying is true – knowledge is power. When we are one with God, we are one with Divine Power. We become one with God by His grace and peace. And God’s grace and peace come to us through faith and through knowledge. We deepen our faith and increase our knowledge through the study of Scripture, through prayer and meditation, and through spending time with Him. Much like a line used in many wedding ceremonies, it’s a commitment that requires and deserves daily attention. So I encourage you, make the commitment to study Scripture daily, to spend time in prayer and meditation every day, and as a result, experience His Divine Power at work in your lives. And so it is…Amen.

Scripture

  • 2 Peter 1:1-4
  • Luke 22:24-26
  • Luke 10:19-20
  • Romans 8:14
  • Ephesians 2:17-19

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank and acknowledge Mr. John Piper of Desiring God Foundation for his outline and thoughts. Read his full sermon here.

Join the Discussion

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Divine Guidance – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Divine Guidance – Introduction

Throughout our lives we are faced with choices. Some are yes or no – “should I do X?” Some are choosing between two or more options – “should I do A or B?” These questions aren’t always the choice between right and wrong – we already know the answer to those questions, we just have to have the courage to choose wisely. More often, though, we’re faced with choosing between two rights. In those times, we can feel overwhelmed. We may even say, “there a pluses and minuses to both – I don’t know which way to go.” As a result we may feel as if our future is uncertain. However, we don’t have to go it alone. The choices that are presented to us are much easier made when we trust in God, and when, as a result of that trust, we allow Him to provide Divine Guidance.

Spiritual Quote

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
~Corrie ten Boom

Thoughts

What do you do when you are faced with choices? What if you needed someone to talk to about your deepest secrets or fears? What if you’re trying to figure out whether to buy this car or that car? What if you’re faced with the question, “should I sell my home now, or should I wait?” What if you are faced with the choice of staying in a job or position that is, for the most part, secure, but which leaves you longing for more, or stepping out and taking a chance on a new path which is more in alignment with your desires, but which offers less security? Who do you turn to for advice, who do you trust for guidance?

We’re all faced with choices and, as humans, we have an inherent desire to trust. We grow up trusting our parents, our teachers, our friends and our families. We want to trust our pastors, police, military, and government officials. We want to trust what they have to say, and to trust that they will make decisions that will help rather than harm us. And, when we feel like we have no one to turn to, no one we can “trust,” quite often we’re left trusting in ourselves and feeling like we just have to go it alone. Through the course of our lives we may even have said, “there’s no one I can trust.” We may have forgotten that, no matter what’s going on, there is someone we can trust, and to whom we can turn for guidance.

Scripture assures us that, if we trust in Him, God will guide us:

  • Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and rely not on your own wisdom. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Aramaic)
  • Psalms 9:10 “…And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee; for Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee, O Lord.” (Aramaic)
  • Psalms 62:7-8 “…God is my strength, my refuge, and my hope. Trust in Him at all times; you people, pour out your hearts before Him.” (Aramaic)
  • Psalms 25:9 “He will guide the meek in judgement, and He will teach the poor His way.” (Aramaic)
  • Psalms 48:14 “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide until death.” (Aramaic)
  • Isaiah 58:11 “And the Lord shall guide you continually…” (Aramaic)

So, we know that when we trust in Him, He will guide us. But how? Tying back to our discussion last week, He guides us through the power of the Holy Spirit – the Comfortor. In John 16:13 Jesus said, “But when the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak from Himself, but what He hears He will speak; and He will make known to you things which are to come in the future.”  (Aramaic) And we gain access to the Divine Guidance of the Holy Spirit by spending time in prayer and meditation, and turning everything over to Him. When we’re faced with choices, and we don’t know what to do, the best thing we can do is to turn it over to God. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Do not worry over things, but always by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.” (Aramaic)

And how do we tap into the Holy Spirit’s Divine Guidance? Honestly, it’d be much easier if God would just send us a little note, telling us what to do. You’ve heard me say, half jokingly, “Lord, send me a memo. I have 7 email addresses, two cell phones with text messaging…just send me a memo…” The truth is, in prayer, He does just that. Through prayer and meditation, God will make the right choice clear. There’s even a process we can use through which the Holy Spirit will “send us the memo.” The process involves what’s known as “Imaginative Prayer.” Developed and taught by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order of Catholic priests, Imaginative Prayer is used to gain a deeper understanding of Scripture verses. It is also used in what’s become known as The Loyola Discernment Principle or The Loyola Rules for Discernment.

I first learned of the Loyola Discernment Principle over 12 years ago, and have used it ever since.

Admittedly, I haven’t used it as often as I should, and after contemplating, praying over, and writing today’s message, I’ll be using it on a much more regular, if not daily, basis.

You can Google Loyola, Jesuit, and Rules for Discernment and find a ton of information. In researching for today, I found there are as many variations as to how the information is expressed as there are websites; but the basic rules, or principles, remain consistent.

Loyola Discernment Principle

  1. Pray…In the stillness and quietness of prayer and meditation, remember that God is with you. With time and regular practice, you will sense and feel God’s presence. Ask God, through the love and the light of His Holy Spirit, to guide your thoughts, remaining open to His influence and direction.
  2. Identify the Issue…Identify the decision or issue you are facing. Take a look at the underlying values and characteristics of the issue – is it physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. Look at all sides and list out the pros and cons.
  3. Imagine…In the quiet stillness, imagine in your mind’s eye that you have chosen option A. Let God guide your heart and your mind. Imagine what it “looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like, and, most importantly, feels like. What are the advantages and disadvantages? How does this choice make you feel – does it make you happy? Does your decision make you more loving, increase your confidence, enhance your sense of joy, or strengthen relationships? Are you filled with a sense of peace, hope, and excitement? Next, do the same thing with option B. Examine every aspect and let God guide your heart. In your prayerful imagination, also consider questions, as appropriate. Questions such as: How will your family react? What would your closest friend think of your decision? Is your decision in alignment with following the Christian path?

Once you have examined the options and all sides – decide. You may still have some fear or anxiety, and there may be some variables or outside influences beyond your control. Trust that God’s power is at work in your life. In that trust, be assured that, even if things don’t unfold exactly how you imagined them to be, the decision is the right and perfect decision.

Note – sometimes it might be necessary to obtain more information. If so, move to step 4.

  1. Research…Depending on the scope of the decision you are making, you may realize you don’t have enough information to make the best decision. If this is the case, do more research. Ask trusted individuals for input. When you’ve gathered sufficient information, repeat Step 3.

I’ll never forget the first opportunity I had to share this principle. It was an amazing experience; and it truly worked!

My son had made the decision to enlist in the Air Force. He had met with advisors, and with the recruiters. He knew he wanted to serve in the military, he knew the Air Force was the right branch, and he was confident in his choice of career field. He had put together a plan, his path was clear, and he thought he had it all figured out. Then, he met someone, whom he trusted, who offered a different path. Both paths, ultimately, would lead him to the same destination. But, there were significant pluses and minuses to each path. Confused, he came to me for advice. Of course, I couldn’t make the decision for him, but I reminded him that he could turn to God for Divine Guidance. I offered to walk him through the Loyola Discernment Principle and he agreed to give it a try.

During a Reiki session I walked him through the steps. In the quiet stillness he opened his mind and his heart to the flow of the Holy Spirit. When he was ready, I had him identify the issue. When he was clear about the guidance he was seeking, I had him imagine that he had chosen Option A. When he had fully explored that option, what it looked like, sounded like, tasted like, smelled like, and felt like, he withdrew. Then, we repeated the process with Option B. When he was satisfied he had looked at all aspects of the option, he withdrew. Remaining still and quiet, I let him gather his thoughts and come back into himself. I asked him to slowly open his eyes, and, with no further thought, decide. He opened his eyes and immediately said his choice. He was filled with such peace, and he knew, to the very core of his being, that the choice he had made was the right and perfect choice. And, he knew that, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as he had envisioned it, he would never look back and say, “what if I had chosen B?”

Of course, not everything turned out like he had envisioned. But, he had a successful and fulfilling career and, even though it was cut short and he recently retired, he has never once looked back and said, “what if?”

That was my first real experience utilizing Loyola’s Rules for Discernment. Ever since, each and every time I have followed the principle, God, through His Holy Spirit, has led me to the right and perfect decisions.

Closing Thoughts

Our money in the U.S. says, “In God We Trust”…do we really? The Ladies Home Journal (Sept, 1981) asked, “In whom do you trust?” What were the responses? …Walter Cronkite 40%, Pope John Paul 26%, Billy Graham 6%, God 3%!* Now, granted, this is over 30 years ago, but the results are quite telling. We hear people tout “we’re a Christian nation,” or “we’re a God-fearing nation.” Yet, only 3% of the survey respondents trust God! How about us? How would we respond to the question, “In whom do you trust?” Do we trust God with our unknown futures?

We all face choices each and every day; and each choice we make takes us down a path to the next choice. When the right or best choice isn’t immediately clear, we don’t have to go it alone. By our faith we are assured of God’s Divine Guidance. And, if we turn to Him in prayer and meditation, using a method of prayer such as the Loyola Discernment Principle, the right and perfect choice will be revealed to us – God will send us the memo!

I’d like to close with a perfectly timed passage from this month’s edition of The Daily Word titled: God Guides My Way In Every Situation:

“A guide is one who shows the way, who leads and directs. Sherpa mountaineers guide climbers on their mountain trek, quietly leading the way, providing support and direction to ensure that climbers safely reach the top. God is my guide along life’s path. God leads me in right ways, directs my thoughts and actions, and inspires me when I need energy and confidence. I need never feel lost or alone when meeting a challenge, for I have a loving guide with me at all times to lead me through the twists and turns of life. Knowing this, I relax, let go, and enjoy the journey. I trust God, my Guide, to lead me to my good.” And so it is…Amen.

Let us pray…

Scripture

  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Psalms 9:10
  • Psalms 62:7-8
  • Psalms 25:9
  • Psalms 48:14
  • Isaiah 58:11
  • John 16:13
  • Philippians 4:6-7

*Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge and thank Pastor Glenn Robinson for his thoughts on today’s topic.

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Divine Comfort – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Divine Comfort – Introduction

Living this human experience we all know both good times and tough times. The ups and downs of life are inescapable. During the good times, all is right with our world. During the tough times we may feel unloved – abandoned, alone. For those of faith, however, it’s important to remember we are never truly alone. We know from Scripture that God will never abandon us, He is always with us. No matter what we are experiencing, through our relationship with Him, we always have access to Divine Comfort.

Spiritual Quote

“I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”
~Mother Teresa

Thoughts

We all go through experiences that challenge us – experiences that challenge our resolve, our strength to endure, even our faith. I remember having many conversations with God over the years wherein I said, “Lord, I know you won’t give me any more than my shoulders can bare…but they’re getting mighty tired and hunched over. Can you lighten the load a little, please?”

Of course, with time and prayer, I’ve come through each experience. And, I’ve noticed over the years that, looking back, each experience that I thought was “bad” at the time, moved me further on my journey, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I experienced a closer and deeper relationship with God, and with Jesus.

Discomfort, turmoil, and tough times propel us forward into a deeper relationship with God through our relationship with Jesus via the Holy Spirit.

This message was given to me loud and clear a few weeks ago during a time of deep spiritual connectedness. In my meditation I had a vision of a sail boat. The water was perfectly calm, flat and smooth as glass. In the stillness, the boat sat, perfectly still, motionless. I next saw an image like an old chartoon – a bellows being compressed and the swirls of air being forced out the nozzel. As the bellows forced air out, the water began to move and turn choppy – and the sailboat began to move. The faster the water moved, the faster the boat moved. It became so clear to me that we are that sailboat. When everything in our lives is perfectly calm and going smoothly, we become stagnant and still. We become complacent, and we don’t move forward. It’s the tough times, the times of turmoil, that we are propelled forward into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God, and with Jesus. And it is in that relationship that we find comfort through the Holy Spirit.

In John 14:16 – Jesus said, “And I will ask of my Father, and He will give you another Comforter, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it has not seen Him and does not know Him; but you know Him because He abides with you and is in you.”

And in John 14:26, Jesus specifically calls the Holy Spirit our Comforter when he said, “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom my Father will send in My name…”

One of the areas in which this is spelled out for us is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Let’s take a look at what he has to say in Chapter 1, verses 2-7:

“Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we also may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, by the very comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds in Christ. Even though we are oppressed, it is for the sake of your consolation and for the sake of your salvation that we are oppressed; and if we are comforted, it is so that you might be comforted also, to be strength in you that you may be able to bear these sufferings, the same which we suffer. And our hope concerning you is steadfast, for we know that if you are partakers of the sufferings, you are also partakers of the consolation.”

God is the Creator of all there ever was, is, or shall be. Our Lord, Jesus, is His Son. Since God abides in Jesus, and Jesus abides in us, we are also God’s children.

God is the Father of mercy. Scripture often refers to God’s mercy as: manifold (Nehemiah 9:19, “rab” meaning abundant); tender (Psalm 25:6); and great (Numbers 14:19, “godel” meaning magnitude).

And He is the God of all comfort. The Greek words used are “parakaleo,” which means to call near, invite, or be of good comfort; and “parakletos,” and “paraklesis” – which mean consoler, advocate, and comforter. One of the gifts we receive through our faith, belief, and following of Jesus is God sending us His Holy Spirit to comfort us.

Not only does His Holy Spirit comfort us directly, but through each other. Notice the words “so that we may also be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.” God’s Holy Spirit is a source of comfort, and by the Spirit working in and through us, we are able to comfort each other. We share in suffering through tough times, just as Jesus did; we share in His strength and His comfort; and we share the strength and comfort we receive with others, and they with us. God’s love and comfort are, quite literally, channeled through us to one another via His Holy Spirit.

An example of this is given to us in 2 Corinthians 7:6-7:

Nevertheless God, who comforts the meek, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you…”

Whatever we may be going through, we don’t have to go through it alone. God’s Divine Comfort is always available to us – both directly through our relationship and communion with Him, and indirectly through our relationships with each other.

In order to experience His comfort directly, we must spend time with Him. By taking time the still and quiet calm of prayer and meditation, we connect with Him on a spiritual level. And as that relationship is deepened and strengthened, we can, quite literally, see, feel, and hear Him guide us. We can experience His loving arms wrapping around us and comforting us. But this can’t happen in the hustle bustle of our everyday lives. We must take time, each and every day, to nurture and develop that relationship. When we do, we can have some of the most intense and meaningful experiences with Him.

I was blessed to have had one of those experiences recently. In the course of a Reiki session, I connected with the Holy Spirit in an incredibly deep, spiritual way. Spiritually, I left the physical plane and was joined by Archangel Michael, Archangel Gabriel, and Jesus. The four of us sat under an olive tree and talked, bathed in white radiance unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Their presence was so intensely warm and radiant it’s impossible for words to describe. Literally, there are no words adequate to the experience.

And I have no conscious memory of what we talked about. But I can still feel the warmth and the depth of the love that I felt – to very core of my being.

I’m not alone or unique in my experience. Many, many people throughout the ages have had a profound, deeply moving experience with God. Let me share a friend’s story. After coming out, my friend was experiencing incredible turmoil. Much of his family, most of his friends, and the members of the church in which he was raised turned their backs on him. He was shunned, told repeatedly how horrible he was, that God didn’t love him, and he was no longer welcome in their lives or in their church. He was an emotional wreck, which also impacted his physical health. Through it all, he never lost his faith – but he questioned. Were his family and friends right? Was he so terrible that God could no longer love him? And, if God no longer loved him, was he destined to “go it alone,” forever cut off from, not only family and friends, but from God and Jesus, too?

During his struggle, he decided to stop by our church and use one of our prayer rooms. It was here, in our little church, that he had one of the most amazing experiences of his life. When he came out of the room, with tears streaming down his face, he couldn’t yet articulate his experience so he just hugged me and we cried together. Later, he emailed me to give me a glimpse of his experience:

“…This afternoon, while I was trying to quiet my constantly racing mind, I heard God tell me that He loves me. Ever since coming out, I have accepted the fact that God must love me, but I had yet to actually acknowledge it. To my surprise, I felt Him wrap his loving arms around me, like a protective shield, and [He] whispered in my ear, “I love you.” It was one of the most incredible and intimate moments that I have experienced in my relationship with the Lord since I became a Christian. Thank you for allowing this to occur by developing a safe and quiet place. I don’t know of any other time when I have felt such a connection with my Lord…”

We can all experience God’s love, Jesus’ peace, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. All it takes is a deep and intimate relationship borne of faith and belief, and nurtured by time spent in the stillness and quietness of prayer and meditation.

Closing Thoughts

We all experience tough times – whether physical, emotional, mental, financial, or spiritual. And, like Mother Teresa, sometimes we really wish God didn’t trust us quite so much. Still, no matter what we’re experiencing, God will always be there. Whether experienced directly or channeled through others, His Holy Spirit is always with us, and is our source of Divine Comfort. And so it is…Amen.

Scripture

  • John 14:16
  • John 14:26
  • 2 Corinthians 1:2-7
  • 2 Corinthians 7:6-7

Acknowledgements

I like to thank and acknowledge Pastor Byron Hand for his thoughts on today’s subject.

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Courage – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Courage – Introduction

Who hasn’t faced moments of fear at some point or other? The truth is, we, as a society, tend to operate from a standpoint of fear. We lock our cars out of fear of theft. We lock our homes out of fear of theft and fear for our safety. Many of us live in fear of losing our jobs, fear of losing a relationship, fear of illness, etc. We buy insurance to minimize and assuage our fear of losing our homes or property to theft, fire, or accident. We even buy life insurance out of fear of leaving our loved ones in a state of financial ruin in the event of our death. We hear reports of horrifying events around the globe, and we fear violence, disease, the collapse of the world’s monetary systems.

The question before us is, do we live our lives and look to our futures with a sense of dread, or with a sense of wonder, excitement, and hope? Do we let our fears control us, or do we step out and experience life with courage?

Spiritual Quote

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
~Ambrose Redmoon

Thoughts

Much of what we fear never actually comes to pass. And, many of our fears are easily laid to rest with a little planning, like buying insurance. We don’t stay up at night in worry – we realize a potential risk, we take steps to minimize the risk, and we go about our lives. But, sometimes, our fears become debilitating and paralyzing. Maybe we’ve been so severely hurt in the past that we fear ever being hurt to that extent again, and so we close ourselves off. We build walls around ourselves so high and so strong that we isolate ourselves to the extent we merely exist – never truly living life.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a certain amount of fear is a good thing. It can guide us to make decisions that are ultimately in our best interest. For example, most of us didn’t have reason to truly fear our parents. But, we had a healthy fear of the consequence should we misbehave. As adults, a certain level of fear can keep us from taking unnecessary risks, putting ourselves or others in danger.

In order to have a discussion about fear and courage, we should understand what the two words mean.

Fear is defined as: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; something that causes feelings of dread or apprehension; anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur.

Courage is defined as: the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to deal with or face danger, fear, or pain.

Notice that fear is based in emotion – distressing emotion, feelings of dread, apprehension, anticipation. Courage, on the other hand, is more spiritual in nature – state of mind, quality of spirit. Having courage doesn’t mean there is an absence of fear, it means that, in spite of dangers, fears, or pain, we press on and experience life in ways we could not if paralyzed by fear. Courage is what allows us to move forward and to grow. It is that next step, that growth, that we determine to be more important than the fear. If we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear, we get stuck, we don’t move forward, we don’t grow – we simply exist.

While some of our fears may be justified, God wants more for us than simply existing. So, how do we break out of the bonds of fear and face the challenges of life with courage? For those who don’t have a relationship with God, it can be difficult. They are largely on their own. They must turn inward and try to find ways within themselves; or they must look outward, to someone or something that will inspire them. On the other hand, since courage is largely spiritual in nature, people of faith, who have a relationship with God, can turn to Him.

Scripture instructs us to have courage because we have the assurance that God is always with us.

  • Joshua 1:9 – “Behold, I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage; fear not, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Aramaic)
  • Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor tremble before them; for it is the Lord you God who goes with you; He will not fail you, nor forsake you.” (Aramaic)
  • Psalm 31:24 “Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart, all you that trust in the Lord.” (Aramaic)
  • Isaiah 41:10 – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I have strengthened you, and have also helped you, yea, I will also uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.” (Aramaic)

We can all think of times in our past when we were fearful, and God was with us. When we’re fearful, we must remind ourselves that God has seen us through in the past, and He will again. He will strengthen us and He will guide us. Turning to Him in prayer and meditation and, in the stillness of our hearts, He will let us know how to proceed, whether to move forward or wait, which decisions to make, or what actions to take. Scripture assures us that God is always with us and will not fail us, but we must remember to turn to Him and ask for the guidance we seek. He will give us the strength to forge ahead, despite the challenges we may face.

For those without faith, or if we of faith forget to turn to Him, we may feel like we have to face our fears alone. But God doesn’t expect us to be strong without Him. With a relationship with Jesus, however, we don’t have to face our fears alone.

  • Mark 5:36 – “But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”” (ESV)
  • Hebrews 13:5-6 – “…for the Lord Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear…” (Aramaic)

It is by our faith (trust) and our belief (knowing) we are assured that the Lord will help us along the way. However, we must remember to turn to Him and give our fears over to Him. How do we know? If we turn to Scripture the answer is set before us.

  • 1 John 4:8 – “…God is love.” (Aramaic)
  • 1 John 4:18 states, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear is tormenting…” (Aramaic)

Fear and love cannot co-exist. The key to courage, then, is love. The more one moves into love, the more fear is pushed out. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more we experience His love, and the more we express His love to those around us. The more we express His love to others, the deeper our relationship with Him grows.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “…If you abide by My word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and that very truth will make you free.” (Aramaic) What’s the truth? John 14:6 gives the answer – “…I am the way and the truth and the life…”(Aramaic) Basically, Jesus is telling us He wants us to get to know Him, to have a relationship with Him. And, when we do, when we think as He wants us to think, behave as He wants us to behave, live as He wants us to live, and love as He wants us to love, the deeper our relationship with Him will be. The deeper our relationship with Him grows, the more we are set free – set free from sin (thoughts, words, and actions that move us away from God), free from fear.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve all known fear – whether real or imagined. It doesn’t take a lack of fear to live fully and experience all that life has to offer; it takes courage to face those fears and move past them. Courage is borne of love, and love is borne of God. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said, “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to it, love your neighbor as yourself.” (Aramaic) If we truly love God with all of our hearts and minds, body and soul, what happens? We experience His love. Since His love is perfect, and perfect love casts out fear, through a deep and abiding relationship with Him, as is made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ, we will find the courage to face any challenge that might come our way.

Let us Pray…

Scripture

  • Joshua 1:9
  • Deuteronomy 31:6
  • Psalm 31:24
  • Isaiah 41:10
  • Mark 5:36
  • Hebrews 13:5-6
  • 1 John 4:8
  • 1 John 4:18
  • John 8:31-32
  • John 14:6
  • Matthew 22:37-39

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Contentment – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Contentment – Introduction

In our gotta have bigger, gotta have better, gotta have more society, we tend to look outward for happiness. We generally believe we’ll be happy if could just get “X”…whatever “X” is. We live our lives in search of that illusive “X” that will, when obtained, bring us happiness. Unfortunately, all to often, even when “X” is obtained, the happiness derived from external sources is short-lived – there’s always another new “X” that we believe will bring us happiness. Worse, if we lose “X,” or “X” is taken away, our happiness goes right along with it. Contentment, on the other hand, is inward, and deeply spiritual. And, because contentment spiritual in nature, it’s a choice, a state of being that can never be lost or taken away.

Spiritual Quote

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
~ Socrates

Thoughts

We tend to use many words interchangeably. Often, though, the words that we interchange with others have very different meanings. For instance, happiness and contentment are often interchanged. But they have very different meanings.

Happiness means: the state of being delighted, pleased, or glad.

Contentment means: the state of being satisfied with what one is or has.

Proverbs 15:16 tells us, “Better is a little with reverence for the Lord than the great treasures of the wicked.” (Aramaic) In Hebrews 13:5, Paul advises, “Do not be carried away by the love of money; but be content with what you have…” (Aramaic)

In our search for happiness, we tend to always look for what is coming next. We want a job, or a better job, or a better boss, or more money. We want better relationships, a new relationship, a new car, or a better car. We work during the week looking to the next weekend, the next vacation, the next thing we can buy, or the next experience. In short, in our quest for happiness, we’re never truly satisfied, and we’re often envious of what others have and we do not. Even when we do get what we’ve wanted, the happiness soon fades, and is replaced by a new want – some “thing” that, if we could just obtain it, would make us happy. Things, by their very nature, come and go – nothing lasts forever. When our focus is some elusive state of happiness, our journey is a cyclic, endless ride of highs and lows.

Contentment, however, being spiritual in nature, is achieved through faith. Unlike happiness, contentment is not tied to the accumulation or acquisition of “things.” Once a state of contentment is achieved, it remains constant. It is always a choice – we can choose contentment or we can choose discontentment; but it can never be purchased or supplied by another, nor can it be lost or taken away by another.

Contentment Stems From Faith

In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (New King James)

Remember, when he wrote his letter, Paul was a Roman prisoner. Remember, there was no cable TV, no air conditioning, no comfy bed, no indoor plumbing. It wasn’t “three hots and a cot.” I’m sure Paul wasn’t deliriously happy about being chained to a wall in what was probably a cold, damp cell with a brick or dirt floor. So, how could he make such a bold statement about being content? Because he knew that contentment is a deeply spiritual state of being brought about by faith.

Pastor Rick Ezell puts it this way*:

“When I come into a relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ, I understand whose I am and what I have. A lack of contentment causes me to look horizontally – at what others have so I am never satisfied. Contentment invites me to look vertically – at God. When I look in his direction, regardless of my possessions or lack of or status or lack of, I know that he is enough.

A man once went to a minister for counseling. He was in the midst of a financial collapse. “I’ve lost everything,” he bemoaned.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.’

“No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith.”

“Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character.”

“I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character.”

“I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation.”

“That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation.”

“You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”

We haven’t either. You and I could pray like the Puritan. He sat down to a meal of bread and water. He bowed his head and declared, “All this and Jesus too?”

John Stott wrote, “Contentment is the secret of inward peace. It remembers the stark truth that we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. Life, in fact, is a pilgrimage from one moment of nakedness to another. So we should travel light and live simply. Our enemy is not possessions, but excess. Our battle cry is not ‘Nothing!’ but ‘Enough!’ We’ve got enough. Simplicity says, if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.””

As Christians, our contentment comes from knowing that if we have Jesus, we have enough.

How Can We Be Content?

We attain a state of contentment when we, like Paul, can say, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

Contentment cannot be purchased, acquired, or given. We’re not born with it. Contentment is learned. And we learn contentment through our faith in Jesus.

Let me share an example (also from Pastor Ezell*):

“Doug McKnight could say those (Paul’s) words. At the age of thirty-two he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next sixteen years it would cost him his career, his mobility, and eventually his life. Because of MS, he couldn’t feed himself or walk; he battled depression and fear. But through it all, Doug never lost his sense of gratitude. Evidence of this was seen in his prayer list. Friends in his congregation asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him. His response included eighteen blessings for which to be grateful and six concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings outweighed his needs by three times. Doug McKnight had learned to be content.”

Contentment Resides In The Heart

It’s not wrong to want or desire something more than what we have. Contentment isn’t about denying those feelings. Instead, contentment is a spiritual state of being that frees us from being controlled by those feelings. It’s not about pretending things are wonderful when they’re not, or pretending to be happy when we’re not. Contentment is about living in a state of inner peace that comes from having a deep relationship with God without being contingent on external circumstances or situations. Contentment resides in the heart.

“The majority of people in our society is like thermometers and suffers from pseudo happiness – a counterfeit high that quickly evaporates. They hope the next superficial satisfaction will last, but external happiness is like cotton candy. It’s sweet for a moment and dissolves an instant later. A person who is happy because she is vacationing on Maui is a person who has only a few days to be happy. But a person who has learned to cultivate deep-down contentment will be a consistently joyful person wherever they are.

Most people thirst for what the apostle Paul had: enduring contentment, a deep-down, soul-satisfying contentment. That kind of contentment can only come from within. Contentment is always an inside job. It has everything to do with what is going on inside you, not what is going on outside. It has only one source. That source is found in a soul satisfying relationship with our Heavenly Father that cares for us and promises to meet us where we are.”*

What’s The Secret?

Contentment is not something attained through money, relationships, or status. Contentment is a deep, heartfelt state of being born of our faith. There are, however, things we can do, as Paul put it, to be content in all things.

1. Stay Close To God

God will always provide for our needs. Spending time with Him every day, letting Jesus’ teaching guide us, and the Holy Spirit inspire us deepens and strengthens our relationship with Him. The stronger our relationship with Him, the more we realize that the spiritual is eternal, and the material/physical is temporary.

We then focus more on what’s really important, and we focus less on what is transitory. In Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus put it this way, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

2. Appreciate What We Have

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we should appreciate what we do have. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul advises, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying that, in all circumstances, there are things to appreciate. He’s not saying that God’s will is that we have tough times. He’s saying that God’s will is that we live our lives with an attitude of appreciation.

My dad was a living example of appreciation. When times are tough, I think of him, and the example he set. When he was diagnosed with cancer, and throughout his treatment, Dad certainly wasn’t thankful for the cancer, or the horrible effects of the radiation. Now, he could have sat around feeling sorry for himself, and he could have played the “why me” game. Instead, he remained, and focused on, what he did have – he was married to the woman he had loved all his life, he had had a fulfilling career, he had children and grandchildren who filled his life with joy, and he had the opportunity to live where he had always wanted to live – here, in Grants Pass, in the midst of the forest and the mountains and the trees.

3. Let Go Of The Past

“Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). We’ll never attain a state of contentment by focusing on mistakes, decisions, or events of the past – ours or someone else’s. We must learn to forgive the past, and let it go. We can’t change it anyway.

We can’t move forward by always looking in the rear view mirror of our lives. Dredging up the past only keeps us tied to the past. And all that does is stir up our heart in ways that prevent us from attaining contentment. And that discontentment can lead us down a pretty dark path of greed and covetousness.

I have a relative who has had many disappointments in the past, many of her own making. Rather than acknowledging her mistakes, and the mistakes made by others, forgiving them, and moving forward, she constantly dwells on and talks about all of the awful and mean-spirited things of her past. She’s lost so many material possessions that she is deathly afraid someone will get something that she feels entitled to – not because she has any particular right to it, but simply because she wants it. When going through my Dad’s things, I came across some items that were very important to one of my brothers, and my dad had wanted him to have. This particular relative decided she wanted them, and she stole them. She was the only one there at the time, and the only one who could have taken them. And, of course, she denies even seeing the items, much less taking them. She’s so afraid someone might get something she wants, and feels entitled to, she resorts to theft and dishonesty. Until she let’s go of her past and what she’s lost, and develops a sense of appreciation for what she has, she will never be content.

4. Day By Day

Psalm 37:7 reminds us, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” And Paul, in Philippians 4:19 tells us, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” We must spend devoted time each day in fellowship with God. And we must remember that all things happen at exactly the right time. We may want certain things about our life to be different, but sometimes something else in our lives needs to change before what we want can be actualized. We must be patient, taking things one day at a time. If we focus on our spiritual needs, the physical needs will come; and in the meantime, we will live contentedly.

5. Find Sufficiency In Jesus Christ

In Philippians 4:13, Paul tells us, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Through the powerful presence of Jesus dwelling in our hearts we experience His peace. It is through that peace that we gain unlimited strength. He gives us the strength to make it through the tough times like job loss, health issues, financial difficulties, and relationship problems. In order for that to happen, though, we must go back to living Day by Day and spending time with Him. Philippians 4:7 tells us, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Through communion with Him, we experience His peace; and it is His peace that brings contentment.

Closing Thoughts

Contentment is a state of being – it resides in the heart. It is a choice – we can choose, like Paul, to be content in all things. In closing, I’d like to share a personal example of true contentment that has served to inspire me.

My father had a very deep faith. He never really spoke of it. Instead, he lived it.

When he was diagnosed with cancer…

When he was undergoing radiation…

When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his memory began to fade…

No matter what was going on, even in the darkest of times, whenever someone asked, “how are you today?”, his response was “I’m wonderful.” And he was.

Like Paul sitting in a Roman prison, Dad wasn’t thrilled with having cancer. The radiation left him internally scarred for the rest of his life, causing extreme pain and discomfort. The Alzheimer’s slowly took away every memory of his entire life. But his contentment was so much a part of him that, even when he couldn’t remember that I was his son, he couldn’t write his name, and he had no idea who his wife was…when asked how he was, he would respond with, “I’m wonderful.” For him, it was a state of mind so powerful that it was his state of being. Regardless of what he was experiencing externally, his response never changed. Even when Alzheimer’s took every memory he had, it couldn’t take away to core of his being – He was wonderful.

Happiness is largely gained or lost through external things, situations, or circumstances. As a result, happiness is fleeting. Contentment, on the other hand, is available to us regardless of external circumstances, through our faith in Christ. Through our faith in Him, we learn that He is enough. In knowing Jesus, we know that God hears us, loves us, and is always with us. He is our anchor, our compass, and our light. With Him, we have everything we need.

Let us Pray…

Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge Pastor Rick Ezell for his thoughts and basic outline for today’s message.

Scripture

  • Proverbs 15:16
  • Philippians 4:11-13
  • Matthew 6:31-34
  • Philippians 3:13
  • Philippians 4:19
  • Psalm 37:7
  • Philippians 4:13
  • Philippians 4:7
  • Hebrews 13:5

Join the Discussion

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The Process of Change – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

The Process of Change – Introduction

Last week we spoke about following the Christian path – Seeing how Jesus Saw, Speaking as Jesus Spoke, Loving as Jesus Loved, and Serving as Jesus Served. We also discussed how, for many, truly living up these ideals may require a change in our behavior. We also discovered that many of our actions and behaviors are basically habits and, in order to truly live as Christ lived, we may need to change some of those habits. The question then became, How?

Spiritual Quote

“We are what we repeatedly do.”
~Aristotle

Thoughts

Before we can discuss changing behaviors and developing new habits, particular, we must understand what a habit is. Habit is defined as: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: for example, the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street. This is a great example. When we’re young, and first learning to venture out into the world, we had to consciously think about our parent’s instructions – look both ways before you cross the street. Over time, however, that act became a habit – it’s so ingrained that now we simply do it without giving it any thought at all. It’s become a part of us.

Our spiritual walk with God, and with Jesus, must also become a habit. At first, we may have to give it a lot of thought – specifically scheduling a time for prayer and meditation every day, setting a time to read Scripture, etc. We may even need to actually write it on our calendars or “to do” lists.

The same is true for behaviors we wish to change. At first, we may need to give it a lot of thought. But, over time, if done consistently, we can replace unwanted behaviors with behaviors that align us with the Spirit of God. Like looking both ways before crossing the street, practicing the things of the Spirit will eventually become automatic. They will simply become part of who we are.

Habits And The Brain

To quote a science website called HowStuffWorks:

“Anyone who’s ever tried to start an exercise routine, quit smoking, or change a sleep pattern knows how powerful a habit can be. Habits seem to be more than behaviors — they seem to be part of who we are.

And in a way, habits are just that — part of us. Habits are essentially patterns of behavior that become “worn in” to our brains. Someone who wakes up every morning, pours a cup of coffee and lights a cigarette, in that order, every morning, has that pattern built in to his or her brain, in the form of well-used synaptic pathways.

Everything we do (and think, for that matter) is governed by impulses firing across synapses, or spaces between certain cells that guide communication in the brain. When any behavior or pattern is repeated enough, the synaptic pathways associated with that pattern get used to being accessed. As a result, it becomes easier for impulses to travel along those pathways, and the behavior seems “natural.” In other words, to the brain, wake-coffee-cigarette, in that order, is practically instinctive. One action triggers the next.”

How Long Does It Take?

So, how long does it take for something to become a habit? Over the years, we’ve all heard various amounts of time – 7, 10, 14, 21, or 30 days are the most common. In doing research I came across some very interesting information. Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London, studied how long it actually takes to form a habit. Her findings were published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. When I post the blog of today’s message, I’ll include the links so you can read the full articles. For our purposes today, the important thing to know is that her research showed that, on average, it takes 66 days of repeated behavior in order for that behavior to become a habit. And, although 66 days was the average, depending on the person, the behavior in question, and the circumstances, the amount of time can vary from 18 days to 254 days!

Why is this important? It’s important because it helps us to set realistic expectations. If we hold to the old notion that it takes 7 or 10 or even 21 days to form a new habit, and the desired habit isn’t formed in that amount of time, we will get discouraged and give up. Anything worth while takes time. Think about it. If we have a habit of using vulgar language, we didn’t begin speaking that way the moment we began forming words and sentences. The words and phrases we use took time to develop. If we smoke cigarettes, we didn’t turn into pack-a-day smokers in the first week. The pack-a-day habit is one that developed over a long period of time.

The same holds true for replacing those “bad” or “negative” habits with healthier or more “positive” ones. When we begin the Process of Change, we must set realistic expectations for ourselves so that we don’t get discouraged and give up.

Finding Inspiration

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the inspiration to make the change, especially given the time it may take. According to one article I read, there are three reasons why this research can inspire rather than dishearten us.

First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn’t become a habit. It’s supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can’t master a behavior in 21 short days.

Second, you don’t have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. This is why you should treat failure like a scientist, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.

And third, embracing longer timelines can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. All of the “21 Days” hype can make it really easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just do this and it’ll be done.” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit to the system.

Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small, incremental improvements — rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once.

Ties To Our Faith

As people of faith, we can also turn to Scripture for inspiration and support. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” This is in complete alignment with Henry Ford’s quote, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Our thoughts become actualized in our reality. If we want to change our behavior, we must first give it thought. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 advises us to, “Pray without ceasing.” These two Scriptures go very well together.

Our thoughts are silent prayers. Personally, I use constant affirmations as prayers to bring about the life I wish to live. Many of the affirmations I use have now become simply part of who I am. For instance, throughout the day, I say, “Lord, I desire joy and beauty in my life.” And you know what? I’ve done it long enough that it’s simply part of who I am – and my life is filled with His peace and joy.

As we go through the Process of Change, will we be tempted to backslide? You bet. And sometimes we will. And when we do, we can forgive ourselves and begin again. Through the process, there is another Scripture we can turn to: 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Ensuring Success

In addition to turning to Scripture for support, there are some things we can do to help ensure our success. Again, from the How Stuff Works website:

  • Take small steps. Don’t try to do everything at once. (So, instead of “I’m going to exercise every day,” start with “I’m going to exercise twice a week.”)
  • Only try to change one habit at a time. (Instead of “I’m going to quit eating junk food, start exercising, and go to sleep at 10 p.m. instead of 2 a.m.,” start with “I’m going to quit eating junk food.”)
  • Write down the habit you want to change, and write down specific plans for achieving that goal. (Rather than writing “I will exercise,” write, “I will start walking 30 minutes twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, and I will wake up at 7 a.m., so I can walk before work on those days.”)
  • Repeat the behavior you’re aiming for as often as you can. The more a behavior is repeated, the more likely it is that it will become “instinctive.”

Another thing I’ve learned, which has helped me immensely, is to change the thought from what I don’t want to what I do want. Using prayerful affirmations, I reinforce what I want in order to eliminate what I don’t want.

A Practical Example

Let me give you an example. Most of you know that I have struggled with giving up smoking. I’ve been sober for 14 years, never had an issue with drugs, got my diet under control, lost almost 100 pounds. I don’t use vulgar language, I’ve virtually eliminated feelings of road rage, and, though I sometimes fall short, I truly strive to live and love as Jesus did. But, smoking has been the bain of my existence for years. I’ve tried everything – patches, lozenges, quitting cold turkey, even Chantex. This week, after researching today’s topic, I made a commitment to myself to give it another go. I began by setting a realistic first goal – to stop smoking throughout the day – only smoking at home (in the backyard, of course). When I felt like having a cigarette, and periodically throughout the day, I have been focusing on Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” And, I add an affirmation. I realized, however, that when my affirmation was focused on what I don’t want, i.e., I don’t want to smoke, all it did was make me want to smoke all the more. So, I changed the affirmation to focus on what I do want – Lord, I pray that you replace the desire for cigarettes with a healthier option. As a beginning “healthier” option, I began using an eCigarette.

I began this exercise Monday. It’s now Sunday. For the last four days I have only smoked in the morning before leaving the house, and in the evening when I return. I have cut down from 20-30 cigarettes a day to less than 10. Soon, I’ll move to the next goal, either replacing the morning or the evening cigarettes. From there, I’ll replace the remaining time and, shortly thereafter, I will truly be a former smoker. Holding to prayer and focusing on what I want rather than what I don’t want has been the key.

Closing Thoughts

In order to fully live our lives as Jesus lived, we may need to make some changes – changes in our thoughts, in our behaviors and actions, and in the words we choose to use. It won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it. Will we make mistakes, will be backslide? Probably. And that’s okay. What’s important is that we recognize it, forgive ourselves, and begin again.

And, if we get discouraged, remember, there is one Scripture in particular we can turn to, and hold on to for dear life: Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

And now, I’d like you to have an opportunity to share. If you’re willing, briefly tell what behavior you’d like to change, and what ideas you have of things you can do to help you go through the Process of Change. And, together, lets try to come up with a prayerful affirmation to use in the process.

Acknowledgements

Huffington Post – Forming New Habits

Brain Pickings – How Long It Takes To Form A New Habit

How Stuff Woks – Form A Habit

Scripture

  • Proverbs 23:7
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:17
  • Philippians 4:13

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

Support Our Ministry

We are a very small church doing wonderful things within our community. In order to continue doing the work God has put before us, we need your help. Please consider making a donation, or sign up as a monthly pledge donor. All gifts large and small are greatly appreciated. Simply click the Donate link in the upper menu. Thank you, and may God bless your generosity.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

 

Transforming Power of Christ’s Love – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Transforming Power of Christ’s Love – Introduction

Must we change before God will love us? Or, is it His love that inspires us to change? As Christians, Scripture is our guide – and Scripture is clear. God loves us – period. And when we choose to truly follow Jesus, we experience the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love.

Spiritual Quote

“Legalism says God will love us if we change. The gospel says God will change us because He loves us.”
~Tullian Tchividjian

Thoughts

Many professed Christians hold to their faith very deeply, and they truly desire everyone would come to know Jesus. Unfortunately, their words and their actions don’t match their professed faith. They take a legalistic view of Christianity. They seem to say, “unless you change, you’re not worthy of God’s love. And, since you’re not worthy of God’s love, you’re certainly not worthy of mine.”

My view is that this legalistic approach is the antithesis of Christ’s teaching. And, it does very little to inspire others to come into a relationship with Him. However, if we truly strive to model Christ in our lives, if we live as He lived and love as He loved, not only will we be happier, healthier, and more at peace – we may just inspire others to seek and develop a relationship with Him. My hope is that others will look at how we live our lives, and how we treat others, and say, “wow, that’s what being Christian is about? I can do that – sign me up!”

Are we all “there” yet? No…but with time and conscious effort, His love WILL transform us, if we continuously strive to live and love as He did. And what would that look like? There are four ways we can demonstrate the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love in our lives: Speak as He Spoke, See as He Saw, Love as He Loved, and Serve as He Served.

Speak as Jesus Spoke

In the hours before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus was with His disciples. The disciples were scared, and He knew it. He knew that when the time came, they would leave Him, and even claim never to have known Him. Did He deride them, put them down, or call them names? No. His words were words of peace and love. They were words that were meant to calm, and to heal. In John 14:27 He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

When we’re confronted with those we consider to be adversaries, ideas or viewpoints that are different than our own, or behaviors we might not approve of, do our words express peace and love; do they calm and heal? Or, are our words mean, nasty, vulgar – full of hate and venom?

Think of all of Jesus’ interactions we’ve read about. What’s just about the worst thing Jesus ever said about anyone? He called the Pharisees and the Sadducees hypocrites – because they understood the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law. Contrast that with what we see and read today, words spoken and written by people who profess to be Christian. Here’s a list of some of the words associated with social media comments attached to just one article I read yesterday made people who proudly and loudly proclaim their Christian faith: Stupid Libtards, F’ing Democrats, Bullsh*t, A**holes, Dipshi*t, F*ing Loser, F*ing Faggots. Do these words uplift? Do they express peace and love? No. But when this is the message that professed Christians put out, is it any wonder that non-Christians describe Christians has haters and hypocrites?

To me, if we’re going to profess to be Christian, and if we’re going to inspire others to follow the Christian path, we should strive to live by Christ’s example. What did Jesus think about our speech? Matthew 15:10-11 tells us,  “And He called the people to Him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” And consider Paul’s advice in several of his letters:

  • Colossians 3:8 – “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
  • Colossians 4:6 – “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
  • Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
  • Ephesians 5:4 – “Let there be no filthiness (vulgarity) nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place…”

Do our words live up to our proclaimed faith? Do they inspire and uplift others? Are they words of His peace and love? We don’t have to change the way we speak, or the words we use when we write, in order for God to love us. God loves us – period. But, when we choose to follow the path of Christ, we should desire and strive to let the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love change us so that we speak as He spoke.

See as Jesus Saw

How do we, as Christians, see others – especially those who are different? Do we label and place judgments? Do we look at the homeless, the addicted, or those who don’t live up to our standards as “less than”? Or, do we view them as brothers and sisters? Do we treat them with scorn and ridicule, or do we treat them with dignity and respect, regardless of their situation? Do we tell them they must change in order to earn our love? Or, do we show them love; and pray that they, too, will come to know the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love?

Let me give you an example. We provide a place of spiritual respite, food, clothing, and shelter to those who, for whatever reason, find themselves homeless. Are some suffering from addiction? Yes. Are some trying to improve their lives? Yes. Regardless, we view everyone as one of God’s children, and we try to extend love and support to those in need. When a friend of mine asked a friend of hers if he would donate to help us in our efforts, he said that he would only donate if everyone we served submitted first to a urinalysis. In other words, he was demanding a change before he would extend help and support. His expression of God’s love was dependent upon change occurring first. Contrast this with how Jesus saw others:

Jesus expressed compassion to those deemed “less than” by the religious culture of His time. Matthew 9:36 tells us, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:13-17 & Matthew 9:10). He looked beyond the exterior and saw the spiritual in those seen as unclean and worthy of love: a prostitute (Luke 7:36-50), a leper (Matthew 8:2-3), a Samartin woman (John 4), and an adulteress (John 8:11). Jesus didn’t demand they change their ways or become clean before He extended love, kindness, and compassion. He simply loved them, and it was through the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love that their lives were changed.

Love as Jesus Loved

When we speak as Jesus spoke, and we see others as Jesus saw, we are well on our way to Loving as Jesus Loved. How did He love? He loved completely, unselfishly. John 15:12-13 tells us, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” And 1 John 3:16 reminds us, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” In our day to day lives, this need not be a literal sacrificing of our lives. In a spiritual sense, it can also be doing things for and showing love to, others – even when it costs us. Not out of a sense of duty or sacrifice, but because we want to uplift them. And, not because it makes us feel good, because that’s not real love. Real love is about giving, not receiving.

Remember, in Acts 20:35, Luke tells us that Jesus said, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Many pastors use this to entice and encourage people to make financial contributions. And, certainly, that has its place. But, to me, this has a much deeper spiritual meaning. It is more blessed to give of ourselves, our time, our talents, our compassion, our forgiveness – our Love. Through the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love, may we Love as He Loved.

Serve as Jesus Served

Finally, our speaking, seeing, and loving culminate in living our lives in service to others. Each of the four Gospels tell of Jesus serving others:

  • Matthew 20:28 & Mark 10:45 – “…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”
  • Luke 22:27 – “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
  • John 13:14-15 – “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

Notice in the last passage above, Jesus didn’t say that because He had washed their feet they must now wash His feet. That would be self-serving. No, Jesus’ point was giving service – I washed yours, now you go wash theirs, and they will go and wash.

When we speak as Jesus spoke, see as Jesus saw, and love as Jesus loved, the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love will fill our hearts and minds with a desire to serve others as He served. Again, not out of a sense of duty or sacrifice, but out of a desire to live and love as He loved. And not because we want the recognition or accolades, but because it has become part of our very nature.

Closing Thoughts

Scripture tells us that when we accept Christ we are made new. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells the church at Corinth, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” And in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul advises, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) When we choose to follow the path of Christ, we should strive to allow those changes in us to occur.

1 John 2:6 tells us, “…whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” To walk as He walked means we ought to speak as He spoke, see as He saw, love as He loved, and serve as He served. As we travel this wonderful and exciting journey, we experience the Transforming Power of Christ’s Love. Not only are our lives transformed, but those who see us are inspired to transform as well. It is through this transformation that, as our prayer states, we become examples to each other and to others of Jesus’ love, hope, and promise.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge Pastor David Parks for his outline on today’s subject.

Scripture

  • John 14:27
  • Matthew 15:10-11
  • Colossians 3:8
  • Colossians 4:6
  • Ephesians 4:29
  • Ephesians 5:4
  • Matthew 9:36
  • Mark 2:13-17
  • Matthew 9:10
  • Luke 7:36-50
  • Matthew 8:2-3
  • John 8:11
  • John 15:12-13
  • 1 John 3:16
  • Acts 20:35
  • Matthew 20:28 & Mark 10:45
  • Luke 22:27
  • John 13:14-15
  • 1 John 2:6
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Romans 12:2

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Backsliding – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Backsliding – Introduction

We all go through times when we don’t quite live up to our desired relationship with God. When we do, we slide back into “old ways” and we may even feel disconnected from Him. There are things we can do, and signs we can watch for, to keep our relationship with Him strong; and to keep us from backsliding.

Spiritual Quote

“Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”
~Augustine of Hippo

Thoughts

Scripture uses several phrases for backsliding – turning back, turning aside, falling, sliding. In fact, the term in Hebrew as used in Proverbs is cuwg (soog), which means to go back, to turn away or turn back. Spiritually, it means to turn away from God, to go back to thoughts, words, and behaviors we might have had prior to developing a relationship with Him.

What can cause us to backslide?

  • Spending too much time with people that don’t uplift us and instead, draw us back into doing things and speaking in a manner not consistent with our beliefs. We do, in fact, need to be cautious of the company we keep. If we surround ourselves with people who are materialistic, who don’t approach situations and people from a standpoint of love, forgiveness, kindness, and respect, we soon find ourselves falling into their habits.
  • Proverbs 22:24-25 cautions us to, “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.”
  • Proverbs 13:20 warns, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”

We are influenced by the company we keep. If we desire a strong relationship with God, if we want to be the kind, loving, forgiving people Christ calls us to be, then we must make sure to build strong relationships with others with the same desire. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s good to associate with those who don’t have that kind of relationship with God. If we pay attention, and stay strong in our relationship, we can be an example to them, and perhaps inspire them to seek a relationship with Him, too.

  • Not being careful and selective in our choice of TV, movies, music, etc. The world of entertainment today is full of examples that glorify violence, anger, revenge, and hate.
  • Lamentations 3:51 reminds us, “Mine eye affecteth mine heart…”
  • Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes…”

Watching to too many shows or movies, or listening to too much music, filled with wonton promiscuity, anger, hate, and violence can dull our senses. And, if we’re not careful, we can become so desensitized that we even view these behaviors as good, acceptable, and “normal.” Better we would listen to music and watch movies that reinforce our spiritual connection and our desire to be living, loving examples of God working in and through us.

  • Developing or allowing passions for “wordly” things get in the way of our passion for God. It’s okay to have passions. Some people have a passion for football or baseball. Some have a passion for working in their yard or garden. Some have a passion for outdoor activities such as rafting or hiking. All of these can be good. However, when we allow them to interfere with our spiritual growth – when we skip worship services or don’t take time to read Scripture, when we don’t spend time with Him every day – our relationship with God cools.

Revelation 2:4 says, “Nevertheless I hae this against you, that you have left your first love.”

God, and His Son Jesus, want to have a strong, meaningful relationship with us. That relationship is hampered when we let our non-spiritual passions move us away from, or even overtake, or spiritual passions.

What the path of backsliding look like?

  • As with anything, backsliding starts with the heart and the mind. Since our thoughts become our reality, when we start to make excuses and rationalize behaviors that move us away from God, the easier it is to act in ways and do things that replace our time spent with Him.

Psalm 78 provides a history of the Hebrew people, of backsliding, and its consequences. Verse 37 sums up why the people were separated from God – “For their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant.”

The first steps in our journey into a relationship with God begin within the heart and the mind, so does a journey of backsliding.

When we allow thoughts and behaviors of the non-spiritual to overtake thoughts and behaviors of the spiritual, we begin our backward spiritual journey.

  • The path of backsliding gets worse and worse. The more we allow it to happen, the easier it becomes, and the more it continues to happen.

Psalm 1:1-2 tells us a lot – “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.”

Think about it…haven’t we all seen and heard people who proclaim themselves to be Christian and yet, by their actions and behaviors we think, “yeah, right”? If we allow our thoughts and our behaviors of the things of the world, of the non-spiritual, to persist, we move progressively more and more away from God. If we backslide long enough, others will look at us and, when we proclaim ourselves to be Christian, say to themselves, “yeah, right”. The choice is, of course, ours to make. The question then becomes, “What kind of example do we want to be?”

What are some of the consequences of backsliding?

  • Following our non-spiritual passions may feel right at the time, and we can make all kinds of excuses as to why whatever it is we’re doing or saying isn’t so bad. However, the fact is, backsliding hurts us terribly. It detracts from our relationship with God, and with His Son and, if we’re not careful, our words and actions can cause harm to others.

Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

Remember, death in ancient Scripture often refers to spiritual death. Proverbs is warning us that giving in to the ways of the world, speaking and acting in ways that are incongruent with our faith, can lead us down a path toward spiritual death.

With time, we’ll stop spending time in prayer, we’ll stop attending worship services, we’ll stop reading Scripture, and, eventually, there won’t be any time left in our lives for God.

Backsliding also gets in the way of being a living, loving testimony to others. When we allow backsliding to become our “norm,” when our spirituality and our relationship to God take a backseat to our own physical pleasures and desires, that’s exactly the example we set to others. And by our example, we may even be enticing them away from a relationship with God instead of inspiring them into a relationship with Him.

Closing Thoughts

If we want a relationship with God, and with Jesus, and we’re passionate about that relationship, we must choose thoughts, actions, and behaviors that are congruent with that passion. We must spend time developing the relationship, even if it means sacrificing some of the other, more worldly passions we might have.

Do we focus on, and satisfy ourselves with, the things of the world? Or, do we focus on and derive satisfaction from the things of Spirit? Proverbs 14:14 clearly reminds us where our attention should be focused – “The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above.”

Things of the world are generally empty and hollow. Backsliding can, quite often, cause us to have restless hearts – longing for more. As we move forward, developing and deepening our relationship with God, and with His Son, and with the Holy Spirit, like St. Augustine says, our hearts will no longer be restless, but will rest in Him. The good news is, as our hymn today expressed, He loves us even if we forget Him, or wander away, no matter where we might stray; and in that love, we can always return to Him.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge Pastor Andrew Stringer for his outline on this subject.

Scripture

  • Proverbs 22:24-25
  • Proverbs 13:20
  • Lamentations 3:51
  • Psalm 101:3
  • Revelation 2:4
  • Psalm 78
  • Psalm 1:1-2
  • Proverbs 14:12
  • Proverbs 14:14

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Answered Prayer – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Answered Prayer – Introduction

Everything in our lives is a result of prayer because God, through His Holy Spirit, always answers. Whether we perceive our situation as “good” or as “bad,” our thoughts, our prayer, becomes our reality. Every thought, every action, is a form of prayer – and what we experience is always, whether we realize it or not, Answered Prayer.

Spiritual Quote

“Spending time with God is the key to our strength and success in all areas of life. Be sure that you never try to work God into your schedule, but always work your schedule around Him.”
~Joyce Meyer

Thoughts

I’m not going to give a long, pre-planned message today. Instead, I’d like to give you a few of my thoughts, share some Scripture, and share our experiences in order to give each other strength and support each other in our faith.

Our thoughts, our prayers, become our reality. I know I’ve used this Scripture several times, but it’s one that we must never, ever forget.  The Law of Attraction, which we’ll be discussing in more detail at a later date, says whether we’re focused on lack or plenty, health or sickness, happiness or sadness, good or evil, etc., that on which we give our attention we attract into our lives. And in reading the Law of Attraction series, which I highly recommend, I’ve noticed more and more correlation to Scripture. If we wish something to be different, we must recognize those thoughts that limit God’s abundance from flowing into our lives, and refocus them onto things that we truly desire. The only way we can effect change in our lives is to spend quality time in prayer – focusing our thoughts on what we desire, and imagining that it has already actualized in our lives.

The first thing we must know is that God always answers:

  • Proverbs 23:7 – “for as he thinks within himself, so he is.”
  • Jeremiah 33:3 – “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
  • Pslam 91:15 – “He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”

Our thoughts are a form of prayer to God, and our thoughts become our reality, it follows that God answers all prayers – He gives us exactly what we focus our thoughts upon.

The next thing we must remember is that the timing may not always be immediate. We have years of built up thoughts focusing on what we don’t want that actualizing what we do want sometimes takes time. The problem is, we want every request to answered in our timing and, when it doesn’t, we give up. We think, “I’ve tried, I haven’t seen results, God must be ignoring me.” To me, though, there are three ways God answers:

  1. Immediately. Sometimes we experience an immediate response, which is awesome.
  2. Sometimes, the answer is “wait.” There may be something else that needs to occur first. We may have to change our thoughts or our behaviors so that they are in alignment so that we can co-create the actualization of our desires. For instance, we may desire physical healing, but emotional or spiritual healing may need to occur first. Or, we might desire emotional healing, but the emotional trauma we’re experiencing is born of physical issues. In that case, the physical may need to be healed so that the emotional healing can then occur. This is why we focus on all aspects of healing – body, mind, spirit, and emotion…they are all intertwined and interconnected.
  3. Sometimes, the answer is “not this, I have something even better for you.” We might think we want something – like a relationship with someone. We pray and pray, but it doesn’t come about. Then we meet the “right one” and we’re happier than we ever could have imagined. Or, as in the case related to me recently, a young lady applied for a job, and didn’t get it. She was momentarily disappointed. But, she held onto her faith, and trusted that something better was on its way. Sure enough, two days later she was offered a job with better hours, better benefits, and much better pay. It’s like the line in Garth Brooks’ song – “sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”

All prayers are answered – even if it’s not in the timing we might think. Unfortunately, all too often we allow ourselves to get discouraged because we’re not getting what we want at the time we want it. As a friend of mine shared with me yesterday, we approach God as a kind of Spiritual Burger King – we want what we want, and we want it now! And, quite simply, it doesn’t work that way. God is not a vending machine, nor a Spiritual Burger King.

It comes back to belief and faith. We must believe that what we desire is possible, and we must have faith (trust) that God will answer.

Matthew 7:712 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Luke 11:9-13 puts it this way, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Our thoughts and our actions become our reality. What we ask for, we receive. In our asking, we must seek alignment with the Holy Spirit. This is even true in how we think of and act toward others. If we focus on nasty, negative, hurtful, ugly, negative thoughts and actions toward others, that’s exactly what we will bring about in our own reality. Through our prayers – our thoughts and actions – we co-create our reality with the Holy Spirit. As Scripture says, it’s the Law.

Closing Thoughts

Our thoughts and our actions are forms of prayer. And, we should be consciously praying all day, every day. But, we should also set aside focused time to spend with God so that we can truly focus our thoughts and desires in communion with Him. As our quote says, we shouldn’t fit God into our schedule. We must schedule our lives around God. Our lives have become so busy and, the truth is, unless we set aside time each day, there will always be something to occupy our time and attention – the dog, the cat, the spouse, the kids, the laundry, the dishes, cooking, cleaning, homework, the telephone, friends on facebook, and on and on.

We must remember to set time aside to spend time with God in focused prayer and meditation. When we do, whatever we desire can be ours. Matthew 21:22 tells us, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Mark 11:24 tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Matthew assures us that we must receive whatever we ask for. Mark goes a step further. Notice he says “believe that you have received it.” This indicates that we are to view our prayers as already answered. This corresponds to the principle of thinking and acting as if we’ve already received what we desire as discussed in the Law of Attraction. Our thoughts, that on which we focus our attention, become our reality. In that reality, what we attract into our lives literally becomes our Answered Prayer.

Illustration: Share my own experience this week in regards to finance and a job application; as well as some miraculous changes in the lives of several of the houseless folks we have had the opportunity to serve.

Scripture

  • Proverbs 23:7
  • Jeremiah 33:3
  • Psalm 91:15
  • Matthew 7:7-12
  • Luke 11:9-13
  • Matthew 21:22
  • Mark 11:24

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Anger Management – Teaching

Note – due to technical issues, there was no quote post this week.

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Anger Management – Introduction

Anger is an honest emotion and, when we find ourselves angry, we should acknowledge the emotion rather than trying to bury it and pretend it doesn’t exist. Anger, in and of itself, is not bad. It’s how we respond to those feelings that make the difference. No matter who we are, rich, poor, young, old, black, yellow, green, or purple – we could all benefit from Anger Management.

Spiritual Quote

“Anger is poison. You must purge it from your mind or else it will corrupt your better nature.”
~Christopher Paolini, Brisingr

Thoughts

JOKE: There was an elderly woman preparing to park her expensive Cadillac when a young high school student cut her off and stole her parking place.

The young man jumped out of his car and shouted ” OH, TO BE YOUNG AND FAST “. The older lady backed her car up, then floored it and started using it for a battering ram to demolish the young man’s car. She then rolled down her window and shouted, ” OH, TO BE OLD AND RICH.”

Let’s face it…at times, we all struggle with anger. And, if not controlled, anger leads behavior with devastating results. In the United States, the Department of Justice statistics show that:

Over 2 million women are assaulted by men each year*

Between 1 and 4 million people are physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend*

  • 21% of women assaulted knew the perpetrator as either a husband or intimate partner*
  • 2% of violent crime experienced by men is commited by a wife or intimate partner*
  • 31% of women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives*
  • More than 6 million children are abused every year**
  • 4 women die each day as a result of abuse*
  • 4-7 children die each day as a result of abuse and neglect**

The people who commit these assaults and abuse are not bad people. They simply have never learned how to control their anger. Now, admittedly, most of us don’t let our anger get so out of control that our behavior reaches these levels. But, our behavior as a result of anger still has negative consequences – both to the subject of our anger, and to ourselves.

According to the Better Health Channel***:

Some of the short and long-term health problems that have been linked to unmanaged anger include:

  • headache
  • digestion problems, such as abdominal pain
  • insomnia
  • increased anxiety
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • skin problems, such as eczema
  • heart attack
  • stroke

We don’t truly wish to harm others, and we don’t want to harm ourselves, so obviously it’s in everyone’s best interest to exercise Anger Management.

There is a time and a place to get angry however, we must learn how and when to control it. We know, of course, that Jesus instructs us to love God and to love others. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that getting angry is wrong. Let’s take a look at one of the best known verses – 1 Corinthians 13. Verse 5 tells love is “…not easily angered…” Notice Paul doesn’t say “love does not get angry.” He says love is not easily angered. We can’t always avoid anger, or pretend that it doesn’t exist, but we can learn how to manage and control it.

Let’s take a look at 6 ways we can exercise Anger Management:

I. COMMIT TO CONTROLLING IT

Scripture warns us that uncontrolled anger produces negative results. Proverbs 29:22 says: “A hot-tempered man starts fights and gets into all kinds of trouble.”

I was having a conversation with someone who made the statement, “she made me so angry.” Think about this for a moment. Can I make you love me? No…it’s an emotional response within you. So is anger. No one can make you angry. Situations or events occur, and your body responds with anger. But, you have the choice in how you respond to that emotion.

One of the ways we can begin to control our temper is to make a commitment to control it. Many people who have problems with their anger make excuses. They say, “I just can’t control myself.” However, that’s simply not true. We can control our anger, but we must make a commitment to doing it. What we think determines how we act. Remember, Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our thoughts become our reality. If we’re serious about controlling our anger, we can start by not making excuses. Instead of saying, “I can’t control it” or “I can’t help myself,” start thinking and affirming, “I can control my anger.”

When we allow the actions, words, or behaviors of others to “make us angry,” and we lay the blame for our anger on them, we also give them control and power over us. Let’s begin by making a commitment to ourselves that, when we begin to have feelings of anger, we will stop, take a moment, and purposely choose our response. This way, we control the anger – it doesn’t control us.

II. COUNT THE COST

All of our actions, good or bad, have consequences – a price tag. When we let our anger get the best of us, it can have disastrous consequences, and carry a very high price.

Scripture reminds us that there’s always a price to our anger:

  • Proverbs 11:29 – “He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind.”
  • Proverbs 14:17 – “A quick-tempered man does foolish things.”
  • Proverbs 14:29 – “A quick-tempered man displays folly.”
  • Proverbs 15:18 – “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension.”
  • Proverbs 29:22 – “A hot-tempered man commits many sins.”

And it’s that high price that can motivate us to change. If we continue to allow our temper to control us, we wreak havoc on those around us, we destroy relationships, we cause harm to others, and we cause harm to ourselves. So, before responding to a situation from a point of anger, we should stop and count the cost. Notice, the word “danger” is “anger” with a “d” in front of it.

Anger can be very dangerous – to others, and to ourselves. If uncontrolled, we could hurt others, lose the ones we love, lose our jobs, lose our freedom, and lose our health – all by losing our temper.

III. THINK RATHER THAN THROW MY TANTRUM

Ever notice a child in a store who doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it? What does he do? He throws a tantrum. Lacking the ability to think things through, he acts impulsively. We, however, are not children. We have the ability to think rather than throw a tantrum. In other words, don’t respond impulsively.

Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger (shouts in anger), but a wise man keeps himself under control (holds his temper in and cools it.”

Basically, a wise man knows how to chill out. How do we keep ourselves under control? By taking a moment to stop and think. Just as we might do with a child acting on impulse, we can give ourselves a time-out. Acting on impulse almost always ends badly. President Thomas Jefferson who said, “When you get angry, count to ten. When you are really angry, count to a hundred.” He pretty much said, “take a time out.”

When we take that moment, we exercise patience. Proverbs 19:11, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience.” The writer is telling us to try to understand our anger.

When anger comes into our lives, before responding, we should ask ourselves:

  1. why am I angry? And if I express that anger, number two,
  2. what will happen?
  3. will the expression of my anger really resolve the issue?

Why am I angry? Anger is never the root problem. It is merely a symptom of something else going on. There is obviously something wrong. Anger is a symptom telling us that one of three things is happening in your life – hurt, fear or frustration. When we’re angry, we need to ask ourselves which of these three things is causing me to be angry.

IV. COMMUNICATE MY ANGER CORRECTLY

I said before that anger, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. It’s how we allow that anger to be expressed that can become an issue. Ephesians 4:26 tells us, “In your anger do not sin.” This verse implies that there is a way to become angry and not sin. There are right, or appropriate, ways to get angry and there are wrong, or inappropriate, ways. In addition to studying Scripture, prayer, and meditation, there are many books available to help with Anger Management. One is The Language of Love by Gary Smaley. Another is Make Anger Your Ally by Neil Warren. Both of these books deal with expressing anger in positive ways.

Yelling, screaming obscenities, and violence are completely inappropriate ways of communicating our anger. They rarely bring resolution, and more often create more problems.

A friend of mine told a story of a fight she was having with her husband. As tensions flared, things got loud, and pretty mean. All of a sudden he simply stopped and, when she took a breath, he asked her, “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” she said. He asked, “What is more important to you…being right, or our relationship?” She thought for a moment and realized, of course, that her relationship with her husband was more important than anything else – she was simply not getting what she wanted and she was throwing a tantrum. When she calmed down, they were able to discuss the issue and bring it to a mutually agreeable resolution. In essence, he reminded her to take a moment and count the cost. When she did, she realized the cost of her anger, of her getting her way, at the risk of jeopardizing her relationship with her husband, was simply too high. She realized she was, in reality, throwing a tantrum; and she wasn’t communicating her feelings in an appropriate way.

V. RETRAIN MY MIND

Getting back to “as a man thinks, so is he,” Romans 12:2 reminds us to, “. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” When we decide to follow the Christian path, we must allow the Holy Spirit to transform us. We can promise not lose our temper all day long and it won’t make a difference unless we make a conscious effort to change how we think and how we behave.

This ties very closely to making that commitment. How we act is determined by how feel, and how we feel is determined by how we think. If we want to change the way you act, then we must change the way you feel. If we want to change the way we feel, then you must change the way you think. Changing our thoughts changes how we feel which, in turn, changes the way we act. But it must be a conscious decision – we must first retrain our minds.

In his book, “Make Anger Your Ally,” Neil Warren encourages people to sit down and write a letter to themselves. In that letter they should write down a word picture that is an ideal response to anger. He says, “Think of the thing or things that make you angry. And then write out how you would really like to respond.” He then asks you to ask yourself, “Do I enjoy getting angry?” “Does it produce the intended results when I get angry?” “Could I get the intended results in a more effective way?” “What could I do differently?” Ask yourself these questions. What would I like to do as an ideal response to that situation?

He then suggests that you read it aloud to yourself once a week for six months. You may even want to insert some of the Scripture passages from today into your letter. Let your words and the words of Scripture change and transform your mind.

VI. ASSOCIATE WITH PEOPLE WHO MANAGE THEIR ANGER WELL

Question: Is anger contagious? Of course it is. Love is contagious, laughter is contagious, and so is anger. Can you become infected by someone else’s anger? Absolutely! Think of what’s called the “mob mentality.” One person gets loud and angry, then two, then four, and so on until the entire mob is out of control. The writer of Proverbs reminds us to choose our friends wisely.

Proverbs 22:24 tells us, “…Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.”

If we are serious about changing a habit of inappropriate anger, then we need to start “fellowshipping” with friends who know how to manage their anger.

That can be one of the benefits of the church. When we spend time with others who manage their anger well, we will also learn the skills to manage ours.

There’s a beautiful song by Barbra Streisand called “Children will Listen.” It reminds us, “careful what you say, children will listen; careful what you do, children will see.” Whatever we say or do, we are teaching our children – and others around us.

All anger, or more appropriately, all actions and behaviors driven by anger, are learned. But they can also be unlearned. We’re surrounded by images and examples of inappropriate responses to anger – just watch TV or the news. And those images shape our thoughts and our understanding. Choosing to surround ourselves with others who manage their anger will help to balance out those images of inappropriate responses.

Closing Thoughts

We all get angry. It’s a normal emotional response. And anger is not necessarily bad. But, left uncontrolled, anger, as our quote says, becomes poison. It can infect not only us, but those around us. But no one else can make us angry. Events or situations occur, our bodies and minds respond with the emotion of anger. But it remains our choice as to how we allow that anger to manifest. Rather than blame others, we must accept responsibility for our behaviors and our actions. We may not be able to control the thoughts, words, or actions of others; but we are 100% in control of how we choose to respond to them. And we don’t have to go it alone. The power of Jesus can help us to transform, if we take the steps necessary and if we lean on Him.

Let us Pray…

Scripture

  • Proverbs 11:29
  • Proverbs 14:17
  • Proverbs 14:29
  • Proverbs 15:18
  • Proverbs 29:22
  • Proverbs 29:11
  • Proverbs 19:11
  • Ephesians 4:26
  • Romans 12:2
  • Proverbs 22:24

Acknowledgements

I like to acknowledge and thank Pastor Jim Mooney for his sermon on Christian Love on Sermon Central for his thoughts, many of which are referenced above. Click the link below to read his sermon.****

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Our Moral Compass – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Our Moral Compass – Introduction

Over the last four weeks we’ve examined points raised in the movie, “God’s Not Dead.” Today, I’d like to take a look at one subject that wasn’t addressed in the sermon series that accompanied the movie license – Our Moral Compass.

Spiritual Quote

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
~John Wesley

Thoughts

Is God a necessary component of morality? Can we be moral without God? Many would argue that it is quite possible for a non-believer to be a good, moral person. And, to some extent, they’re right. But, what reason do they have?

I’d like to share some thoughts written by Jason on a blog called Bible Discussions:

Note – I shared some of Jason’s thoughts, and interjected my own as well. Read Jason’s blog postings to get an idea of our discussion.

Bible Discussions Link 1

Bible Discussions Link 2

Closing Thoughts

The Christian path is, for me, the best and right path. Jesus’ teachings move us from a strict, fit in the box set of laws and into a way of life that brings us into a oneness with God. Instead of just behaving “right,” the Christian path moves us from outward behavior to inward change. Through that inward change, having His love and teachings written on our hearts, the outward behavior becomes, or should become, automatic.

Jesus also taught about the dangers of moral absolutes dictated by rigid adherence to the law without regard for the spiritual. This is evidenced in Matthew 12:1-8 (Jesus tells of David feeding the hungry with the showbread that was reserved for the priests, which was unlawful), and Matthew 12:9-13 (Jesus healing a man with a withered limb). In these passages, He defended breaking the Sabbath Law, when necessary, to help others in need (i.e., feeding the hungry and healing the sick).

Basically, He was teaching that, rather than being concerned with the letter of the law, be more concerned with doing good – loving God and loving others.

The way Josh put it in God’s Not Dead is, “For Christians, the fixed point of morality, what constitutes right and wrong, is a straight line that leads directly back to God. Is a moral atheist an impossibility? No. But with no God, there’s no real reason to be moral. There’s not even a standard of what moral behavior is. For Christians, lying, stealing, cheating…are forbidden. If God does not exist, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously pointed out, “If God does not exist, then everything is permissible”…not only permissible, but pointless; and all of our struggle, all of our debate…is meaningless. Our lives, and ultimately our deaths, are of no more consequence than that of a goldfish…It all comes down to choice – believe or don’t believe.”

We all have that choice. We can choose to believe or we can choose not to believe. No one has the right, or the authority, to force one or the other. Ultimately, the choice is ours to make. And it is that choice that will determine Our Moral Compass.

Planned Scripture

  • Exodus 20
  • Deuteronomy 10:17-19
  • Matthew 5:16
  • Romans 2:14-16
  • Jeremiah 31:33
  • Matthew 5:21
  • Matthew 5:27
  • Matthew 5:38-39
  • Matthew 5:44-45
  • John 15:12-13
  • Matthew 22:36
  • Matthew 12:1-13

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If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

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Take a Stand – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Take A Stand

God’s Not Dead: Take A Stand – Introduction

Today, we conclude our series based on the movie, God’s Not Dead. So far, we’ve examined “Where is God when everything goes wrong?”, “Is our faith blind?”, and “How do we respond to critics?” In the movie, through all of the challenges thrown at him, Josh never turned away from his best friend, Jesus. He chose not to give in to the pressures of those around him – his professor, his girlfriend, etc. – and he chose, instead, to take a stand – to take a stand for Jesus. Like Josh, we are often faced with challenges to our faith. In the midst of those challenges we, too, have a choice. So today, we’ll take a look at what it might mean for us to Take A Stand For Jesus.

Spiritual Quote

“Friendship should, like a well-stocked cellar, be continually renewed.
~Samuel Johnson

Thoughts

Josh refers to Jesus as his friend. Our hymn today reminds us that Jesus is our friend. But, what does that mean? What is a friend, and what is friendship?

The dictionary defines a friend as one attached to another by affection or esteem, a favored companion; a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection. Synonyms include companion and confidant. An acquaintance, on the other hand, is someone known to us without the intimate quality of friendship. Friendship is the quality or condition of being friends.

So, a true friend is someone with whom we have a deep, intimate bond and relationship.  True friendship is unconditional acceptance no matter what happens – “No matter what happened yesterday, I’m still your friend now.” Basically, a true friend loves us “warts and all.”

How many of you have ever heard of Joseph Medlicott Scriven? If you have, it’s a name you’re not likely to forget. Joseph…Medlicott…Scriven. I’m sure there aren’t many of us who remember ever hearing of him.

Let me tell you a little about him. He was an Irish immigrant, a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, who at 25 had fallen in love and was to be married; but on the day before his wedding everything changed in an instant.

While crossing a bridge to visit Joseph, his fiancée fell off of her horse, and drowned in the River Bann in Ireland…the very day before their wedding! What a horrendous accident. As we might imagine, Joseph was crushed. So, he sailed to Canada to forget his broken heart, and to try to start a new life. And he pretty much did–eventually falling in love again, and even getting engaged for a second time. All seemed right with the world once more for Joseph Scriven.

But, before they could wed, his fiancée got very sick, and four months later she died of pneumonia. What are the odds?  How would one recover from that horrible shock…all over again?

If it were you, sitting there at your second funeral, would you blame God, turn away from Him, despair of all His supposed goodness?

You’ve probably heard folks say or post on Facebook, “I married my best friend.”

For Joseph Scriven, he couldn’t say that. He had to bury his potential best friend…twice.  And, as if wasn’t enough, while recovering from these dual tragedies, his mother in Ireland became extremely ill, and he couldn’t sail home to be with her.

Heartbroken and helpless. It was beyond adding “insult to injury,” almost a cruel cosmic hoax to see how much he could bear. How many of us have felt those same feelings of despair and hopelessness. How many times have we wondered, “just how much am I supposed to endure?”

In response to his feelings, Joseph did the only thing he could do. In 1860, he wrote to his mother, and sent her a poem that he hoped might give her some comfort in his absence.

Why do I mention Joseph Scriven’s sad story? To depress you? No…to encourage you!

Despite his circumstances, horrible circumstances to be sure, almost soap opera-like tragedies, he never lost faith in his best friend…and that simple poem to his mother became a famous hymn about that same friend, Jesus Christ. Yes, you guessed it…in the midst of his deep despair, Mr. Scriven penned the poem that would one day be set to music – our hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Let’s take a closer look at a few lines that we sang earlier:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
oh, what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!

Joseph considered Jesus to be his best friend, and despite his loss, his trust in his friend never wavered, and he stood with Him in a life of ministry to the poor in Port Hope, Ontario until his death in 1886.

In the film God’s Not Dead we see a similar friendship with Jesus despite some heavy losses by our protagonist.

In the film, Josh Wheaton, takes a stand for his Christian belief in God with his college philosophy class, trusting in his Friend to see him through as well, no matter what the cost. And, as the movie shows, it costs him plenty.

We’ve seen the movie trailer before. Let’s watch it again, only this time, let’s pay attention to how Josh responds to his professor’s challenge to renounce his best Friend:

Movie Clip*: God’s Not Dead Trailer

How would we respond to a public challenge like this, one that impugns our friend? It may be a co-worker, a neighbor, or someone in your church. It could even be a member of your family or the love of your life.

How far would you go to defend your friend and not disappoint them when they need you most? Think about it for a moment. How often have we come to the defense of a friend, or said something like, “Wait a minute, you can’t talk to a friend of mine that way.”? Would we come to Jesus’ defense the same way we defend our other friends? We take a stand for our friends and family all the time. Do we consider Him to such a friend that we would Take a Stand for Jesus?

Taking a stand can be a hard thing to do sometimes. Josh sets the bar pretty high for all of us in the film, willing to sacrifice everything to stand with his best Friend.

First Peter 3:15 says, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Let’s look at Josh’s motivation and his “Taking A Stand” for his Friend, Jesus Christ, and, in the process, maybe we’ll discover what exactly makes a person a true friend? 

What Makes A Friend?

First of all, let’s take a look at some of the things the Bible says about friendship.

  • A real friend is consistent in their affection.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

What does that mean in our world today? It means that no matter what happens, they are there for us, 24-7, especially when our world falls apart. When it is the worst, even at 4 A.M., we can call them because we know they’ll come and help.

  • A true friend is brutally honest.

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)

If we have a problem, they care enough to not sugarcoat it. They tell you the truth. If there’s broccoli in your teeth, or that color isn’t the most flattering…they’ll tell us. They care too much to let us be a fool, get hurt, or be embarrassed.

  • A genuine friend is closer than family, even to the point of death.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother(Proverbs 18:24).”

Someone who is closer than a brother is someone who will sacrifice even their own life for us, and we for them. They are more than family. They are our go-to-guy in any situation because we know that they have your back. When it’s life or death, they will step in for us no matter what.

Who can be with you 24-7, tells you the truth all the time, and would even die for you as a brother?

I think the answer becomes clear when we consider Mr. Scriven’s best Friend, the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ, because He didn’t just say it, He “…demonstrates His own love toward us…” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus is that “friend who sticks closer than a brother,”. He is always there, always honest, and as a brother He even died for us. Josh knows this and acts accordingly in his philosophy class.

Scripture tells us:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:16)
and
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

Think about this for a moment. Do you know anyone who cares so much for you that they would actually die for you? Would you die for another? Jesus laid down His life for us. Would we lay down ours for Him?

Take A Stand

This is the litmus test. A real true friend will stand with us when our reputation is in question, when we’re at the very bottom, when we are completely broken, and have nothing.

The whole premise of God’s Not Dead is summed up beautifully in the scene at the library where Josh reveals his motivation to Martin Yip, a student from Communist China, who doesn’t quite get it. His motivation is very simple…pure friendship that does not want to let his Friend down.

Josh lays out all his “difficulties,” – “Everyone thinks I’m crazy…Girlfriend, ex-girlfriend…My parents don’t want me to risk it…I’ll have to work like a dog to catch up in all my other classes.” But, ultimately, he has no real qualms about defending his friend to his atheist professor, despite all the risk and difficulty. It’s a no brainer. Why? Because he thinks Jesus is alive. What a powerful statement of faith.  He thinks that Jesus of Nazareth is really and truly still alive…today, right now! Do we? Is our faith so strong that we believe that too? Do we believe it enough to take a stand for Him?

Do we proclaim Jesus to be our friend? Would we stand up for him in public like Josh? It is a remarkable love that we can also see elsewhere in the Bible. Let’s take a look at the Old Testament story of another true friendship.

Jonathan and David

After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” (1 Samuel 18:1-3)

Setting aside any other possible interpretations of the story of Jonathan and David, of all the stories of friendship in the Bible, this is perhaps the greatest. And what do we see modeled here between Jonathan and David? We see the Golden Rule that Jesus established for us and recorded in Matthew 22:34-40…treat others as you would like to be treated…which means love them as you love yourself. And that’s exactly what Jonathan did, “…he loved David as himself.”

Jonathan even defended David and protected him from his father, King Saul.

“Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.” Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.”” (1 Kings 19:6)

Now that’s standing up for your friend – standing up to your own father, the King no less, when it’s literally life and death. And I’m sure Jonathan knew David was a “threat” to his right to Saul’s throne one day. Talk about risking it all!

And how did David respond to him? Again, not delving into any other interpretations or possible implications, he loved him in return. Their hearts were knit together, and when David learned of his death he mourned him and said, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women (2 Samuel 1:26).”

He loved him more than the love itself!

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

That is what we see Jonathan initiated with David, and also what we see Josh reciprocating to Jesus’ love for him in coming to His defense in his philosophy class.  Josh doesn’t want to let him down. “I think of Jesus as my friend. I don’t want to disappoint Him.”

Let’s Get Practical – Dale Carnegie

One of the foremost experts on friendship was Dale Carnegie. For more than 100 years, and in almost as many countries, his methods and courses have been changing the way people view each other for the better.

Carnegie grew up a very poor farm boy in Missouri, but he soon discovered biblical truths about friendship that he put into secular terms in a book that sold over 5 million copies in his lifetime called, How To Win Friends and Influence People. It’s a gem of a book, and if you struggle with relationships, I highly recommend it. In fact, I should go back and re-read it! Mr. Carnegie’s life motto was one that should resonate with all believers: “Forget yourself; do things for others.”  –Dale Carnegie

Pretty simple, right? It’s a bit longer, but Paul wrote much the same thing in his letter to the Church at Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

One of our tasks as we study Scripture is to give thought to how whatever lesson we happen to be reading can be applied in our lives today. So, let’s get practical and have something to apply regarding friendship.

There are the six basic truths that Carnegie lived by. They’re tried and true and, if we want to have friends, all we have to do is apply these proverbs to our own lives and watch what happens.

  1. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the most important word in the world. Use it often.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Ask questions.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. Avoid “I.”
  6. Make the other person feel sincerely important.

That’s it…that’s all we have to do. In short, love others as we would like to be loved.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

Never Too Late

What if we haven’t been the best of friends to Jesus? Is it too late?

Time and distance don’t collapse true friendships. For example, I have a very, very dear friend, Billy. While I was living in California, Billy and I enjoyed a very close, very true friendship. If I ever needed a friend, he was there – no questions asked. And I offered him the same in return. As happens, our lives took different paths and I ended up moving to Oregon. It had probably been seven years since Billy and I had seen each other, or even had contact. We had connected though Facebook, but even that was cursory. Then, a couple of months ago I was surprised, and thrilled, to learn that Billy was moving – to Grants Pass! When he got here, he made contact, we connected, and our friendship, our relationship, picked up right where we had left it. It was as if the last seven years of absence simply didn’t exist.

Our friendship, our relationship, with Jesus is the same way. Remember, Jesus promised He would always be with us. In Matthew 28:20 we read, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Notice He doesn’t put any qualifiers on it – just like a true friend, just like my friend Billy, no matter how much time has elapsed, or how much distance we have allowed to creep in between us, He will never, ever leave us. If we haven’t been the best of friends to Him, it’s never too late.

And what would being a friend to Him look like? Unlike Peter, we don’t deny Him. Like Josh, even when everyone around us thinks we’re crazy, we hold true to our faith and to our friend – we Take a Stand for Jesus.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve seen what a real friend is in the example of Jesus Christ, and Josh’s Jonathan/David response to His love when he stood up for Him.

True faith is action – just like Josh standing up in his philosophy class. It requires works…not for salvation, but as evidence of it. Real faith means taking a step, an action, it means standing up. That’s what we call baptism. After we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we take an action, a step of faith, to show our belief. And it doesn’t matter if, up until now, we haven’t been the kind of friend we should have been…it doesn’t matter if we’ve let time or distance temporarily separate us – it’s never too late.

As a side note, Joseph Scriven never married. His action was a life devoted to ministering to the poor for the sake of his best Friend. Let’s look at the rest of his poem, today’s hymn. I’d like to think his mom found great comfort in it, and in her son’s remarkable faith.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged –
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge –
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
thou wilt find a solace there.
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
may we ever, Lord, be bringing
all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
there will be no need for prayer –
rapture, praise, and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.

With that sort of a friend, why wouldn’t we take a stand for Him and give our all no matter the risk…especially when we know He stands right there alongside us? What a friend we have in Jesus, a friend who stood up for us, and who “sticks closer than a brother!”

In closing, let me share this poem by William Blake, 1757 – 1827:

I looked for my soul,
but my soul I could not see.
I looked for my God,
but my God eluded me.
I looked for a friend,
and then I found all three.

Scripture

  • Peter 3:15
  • Proverbs 17:17
  • Proverbs 27:5-6
  • Proverbs 18:24
  • Romans 5:8
  • John 15:16
  • 1 John 3:16
  • 1 Samuel 18:1-3
  • Matthew 22:34-40
  • 1 Kings 19:6
  • 2 Samuel 1:26
  • Philippians 2:3-4
  • Matthew 28:20

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

Support Our Ministry

We are a very small church doing wonderful things within our community. In order to continue doing the work God has put before us, we need your help. Please consider making a donation, or sign up as a monthly pledge donor. All gifts large and small are greatly appreciated. Simply click the Donate link in the upper menu. Thank you, and may God bless your generosity.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Responding to Skeptics – Teaching

Due to technical difficulties the Quote post was not made this week.

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

God’s Not Dead: Responding to Skeptics – Introduction

Today we continue our four-part series based on the movie God’s Not Dead.  As we’ve already discussed, the movie hits on some very important aspects of our faith, confronting some difficult questions that most of us have faced, or will face, at one time or another. In part one of our series we discussed the question, “Where is God when everything falls apart.” Part two examined the question, “Is our faith blind.” Today we’ll be discussing the question, “How to respond to skeptics?”

Spiritual Quote

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
~Philip K. Dick

Thoughts

1 Peter 3:15 tells us, ”but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

This Scripture reminds us that we should always be ready to defend our faith when we respond to skeptics. There are generally two kinds of skeptics–religious skeptics and non-religious skeptics.

Sometimes it can be very frustrating explaining something to the former when they may be extremely self-righteous, like modern day Pharisees. It’s almost like trying to communicate to a fish what it means to be thirsty. They are so absorbed with their “water” that they miss the point of it.

And non-religious skeptics can be so enamored with science that it’s become a religion to them, prizing intellectual arguments above an objective search for truth, making our task very difficult trying to match argument for argument.

Should we even try to do that? Maybe there’s more to it than arguments.

The movie provides some wonderful lessons about how to “give an account” to skeptics. When talking about our faith with skeptics, there are 5 Goals to keep in mind.

Goal 1:  Our Attitude

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

What are the three things that we’re warned we should never discuss in public?

Politics, Sex, and Religion, right?

Well, that’s true to some extent. However, the Bible makes it clear that God wants us to discuss our faith as much as possible. We just need to be wise in how we do that. It comes down to this: it’s not what we say so much as how we say it. We want to represent Christ properly as equals in a humble search for the big answers to life.

But there is some truth between the lines in the adage about politics, sex, and religion…discussing sensitive topics can lead to an ugly argument if we’re not careful.  As believers, our goal should be to love the person, not just winning an argument with clever points and information.

The goal of our instruction is love. We see an example of this in the father’s reaction in the parable of the Prodigal son in Luke 15:20: “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

If we don’t have that same desperate compassion, scanning that road every day as the father did, longing for his son’s return, we don’t really get what Jesus was conveying here about God’s love for the lost. It’s critical that we be loving, compassionate, gentle, and filled with the Holy Spirit, manifesting His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, etc. when discussing our faith.

No one likes a know-it-all, and it’s critical that we are gracious in sharing the gospel…especially when we may have to tactfully point out biblical differences or misconceptions about God to a skeptic.

If our goal is to be right, to win the debate, and show how much we know, then we’ve already lost the person. We don’t want to win the battle over a minor point regarding Evolution or Creation, and lose the war for bringing them into a relationship with God. So remember…

•  The goal of our instruction is love.

In the film, one of the loudest critics is Professor Radisson. He vehemently opposes Josh, but Josh does a good job of restraining his emotions and stays pretty even-keeled. We discover later on that the professor has some deep pain that’s driving his anti-God crusade. And that can be a pretty typical scenario when discussing our faith with others – especially skeptics. A lot of people have some pretty intense toxic waste from their past that is bubbling near the surface.

We need to be sensitive to their unseen hurts, and compassionate like the Prodigal’s father.

Like the hidden pain in Professor Radisson’s past, there may be an alcoholic parent in their past, a tragic death, or some other personal injury or abuse, maybe even from a church. If we knew their pain, we’d probably be more compassionate with how they arrived at this stage in their spiritual journey.

Darwin himself is thought to have turned away from belief in God because of the death of his 10-year old daughter. It’s so important to remember it’s not an “Us vs. Them” situation. We are all on the same side, mutual captives, trying to help others see His love and grace.

When answering questions Paul advises us in 2 Timothy 2:25 to answer, “with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” So remember…

•  Sometimes the more antagonism, means more buried pain, and more compassion on our part.

Let’s look at a scene from God’s Not Dead where Willie and his wife, from Duck Dynasty, graciously take some pretty snide remarks, and still manage to love Amy.

Movie Clip*: God’s Not Dead 3

Did you notice that there was no condescension toward Amy? No superiority in their answers? No self-righteous indignation at her remarks? This is a good example of how to interact with someone who doesn’t understand, without returning evil for evil.

Goal 2:  Share the truth, not clever arguments

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

This is precisely the advice that Reverend Dave texts to Josh when he accepts Professor Radisson’s challenge to defend God’s existence. We don’t have to know every answer or analogy, but we do need to know the truth…the gospel.

It’s not about being clever with facts, dates, and figures. It’s okay to know some answers to hard topical questions, but our goal should be to love them…and the most loving thing we can do is to share the gospel. Remember, like Reverend Dave reminded Josh, we may be the first real exposure some have ever had with the Gospel of Christ. As Paul says in Romans, this is God’s power for salvation. When discussing our faith, our interaction may be the first step on their journey into a deep relationship with Him.

Hebrews 4:12  tells us, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

It makes no real difference if someone doesn’t believe in the Bible. It’s still a sharp weapon and, like a scalpel, it can cut down to their innermost being.

Think of it this way. You point a loaded gun at someone and they say, “I don’t believe it’s loaded.”  What they believe about the gun makes no difference. It can still affect them. Share the Gospel with them, in a calm, loving way, without condescension or snide remarks. God’s Word is powerful.

So remember…

•  This is a spiritual battle, not a battle of wits.

Goal 3:  Be Humble

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”(1 Peter 5:5)

“…knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

We are each just one beggar sharing a piece of bread with another beggar…we have nothing to boast about because our lives have been changed, we have been made new, through God’s grace. Remember what Paul told the Corinthians, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

It’s okay to admit that we don’t know an answer to a question too. We’re human and we don’t have to be a renowned scholars and theologians to lovingly help others understand His love for them. In fact, many people will respect our humility to say that we don’t know everything. When Professor Radisson challenges Josh with new information about Stephen Hawking’s theories, Josh says, “I don’t know…but that doesn’t change my faith in God.”

That’s brilliant! We don’t have to know everything to share the gospel, or defend what we believe. Just because we don’t have all the answers, doesn’t mean we don’t have enough answers to plot a course, to make a choice. We can also use those opportunities of not knowing to research and learn, and to share what we discover with them later on.

So remember…

•  It’s okay not to know every answer – just answer with what we know.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t have some answers, because they do exist. There are lots of apologetic books and websites out there to help us with these questions. (Apologetics means “verbal defense.” Christian Apologetics is the verbal defense of Christianity to critics and skeptics.) So we should study and research, and have an idea of what we believe, and why we believe it.

For instance, many famous scientists were also believers (Newton, Kepler, Pascal, Bacon, Pasteur, Kelvin, Marconi, Maxwell, Carver, Fleming, Hertz, and Von Braun, to name a few). Having a tidbit like that in our back pocket can turn a few science-heads who think science and faith are incompatible. A person can be both a brilliant scientist and still recognize Intelligent Design when they see it. These scientists did, and they were geniuses.

And sometimes “the answer” isn’t what’s needed anyway. Sometimes what’s needed is empathy. Real life has real hardships that just require real compassion and honesty. When we don’t “know” the answer it’s best to be honest and keep it simple. For instance, “I don’t know why your grandparents were killed in that car crash last year, or where they are today, but I know that God loved them, and gave Himself up for them.”

We see this very clearly in God’s Not Dead when Amy meets The Newsboys backstage. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the move, but trust me…sometimes folks just need to know that we care.

And finally, pray for wisdom as we’re interacting with someone. Ask God to open the eyes of our hearts to see what the real need is in their life so we can demonstrate genuine concern.

So remember…

•  We should have some answers…a defense for the hope that is in us.

Goal 4:  Be Winsome (Pleasing, Appealing)

“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’” (Matthew 9:37)

“And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” (Revelation 14:15)

Sometimes people new to the faith, or even we ourselves, get so excited about our experience and relationship with God that we lose all sense of tact and want to tell everyone how wonderful it is, shoving it down their throats, as it were. And having things shoved down our throats is rarely pleasing or appealing.

While zeal for the Lord is refreshing, it must be accompanied with the knowledge that not everyone is ready to hear or to believe, so we shouldn’t tug on “green” fruit. We should look for opportunities to talk about our faith, but know when to move on when someone isn’t open to our enthusiasm. Remember the old saying…”Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”

The movie depicts several examples of the different stages of a person’s spiritual journey in the various characters, and it’s important for us to recognize them.

  • Ayisha’s father–some people are not interested in the gospel at all, and are even violently opposed to it.
  • Professor Radisson–some just want to argue, to contest truth no matter what proofs are presented.
  • Amy–some are content with their life, as she seemed to be when dismissing Willie’s invitation to church, “No thanks.  I’m good.”
  • Martin Yip–and some are honestly searching for the truth about God, even someone from a communist country who knows nothing of Jesus Christ.

We need to have discernment and respect for each person’s place in their spiritual journey, combined with a genuine love for them no matter what.

Goal 5:  Intercede For Them

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

When someone first hears the gospel there are a number of things that can happen. Initially, their heart may be tender, like a bruise that is responsive to the slightest touch, but over time if nothing is done about it, the heart can become callous and hardened.

Once we have shared the gospel with someone, we should also remember to pray that the seed would take root and grow in their heart. This is another way to show God’s love to them, by praying for them.

We can ask ourselves if there is anyone else praying for them. If not us, then who?

Specifically we can pray:

  • That the Holy Spirit would move their hearts to recognize their need for a relationship with God.
  • That they would be reminded of the truth of the gospel in little ways.
  • That we could develop a friendship with them and ask for divine appointments.
  • That other Christians would come into their lives and show them God’s love too.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, let’s consider this quote by C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit– immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

So let’s remember that Jesus Christ loves the whole world and “…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

We are all in need…like Dean Cain’s character, we have all been, and some still are, prisoners of the trappings of this world. It’s just that some captives have escaped and are now trying to help show their fellow prisoners the way out.

And winning an argument is not as important as winning a soul. So, let’s always be in the Spirit as we discuss our faith and answer hard questions about the gospel with humility and gentleness, seeking to win them, not just a debate. Our reality is our relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. Even if we were to stop “believing” they won’t go away because they are reality. And we have a strong desire to share that reality with others. In the process, however, we must remember, the goal of our instruction, of our sharing, is, and must always be, love.

*Depending on your browser, the movie clip may play or download, or you may be asked whether you wish to play or download it.

Scripture

  • 1 Peter 3:15
  • 1 Timothy 1:5
  • Luke 15:20
  • 2 Timothy 2:25
  • Romans 1:16
  • Hebrews 4:12
  • 1 Peter 5:5
  • 1 Corinthians 8:1
  • Matthew 9:37
  • Revelation 14:15
  • 1 Timothy 2:4

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

Support Our Ministry

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Is Our Faith Blind? – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

God’s Not Dead: Is Our Faith Blind? – Introduction

Today we’ll continue our series based on the movie God’s Not Dead. If you haven’t seen he movie, it deals with a scenario which plays itself out on college campuses all over our country – the debate about God, His relevance in our lives, and whether or not He actually exists. In the movie, Josh, is forced to defend God’s existence in his philosophy class at the insistence of his professor, who considers Josh’s faith nothing more than blind superstition.

Last week, we took a look at the question, “Where is God when everything falls apart.” Today, we’ll examine a second question with which Josh was faced – Is Our Faith Blind?

Spiritual Quote

“A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

To begin, let’s view the movie trailer.

God’s Not Dead – Movie Trailer

Thoughts

This movie raises some very good questions for all of us as Josh begins to defend his faith publicly, something many of us might be reticent to do if faced with the same challenge. Hopefully, after this morning you’ll feel emboldened to imitate him.

So let’s dive in. Our second question in our series today is this, Is our faith blind?

Or…are there truly rational supports for believing in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh? Honestly, I think there are a lot of reasons to be confident in His reality, but let’s examine just 5 of them.

1.  The Bible

This is by far the most important support for our faith because it is all based on this revelation, so we’ll spend a majority of our time this morning on the Bible.

A frequent argument against the Bible, and our faith being based upon it, is that it can’t possibly be historically accurate. It’s been told and re-told, copied and copied too many times. Now, it’s true that there is still debate over interpretations, literal vs. metaphoric (Jewish Midrash), etc. For now, though, we’ll examine the Bible’s historical accuracy.

First, let’s examine the New, and investigate its viability as a reliable historical document; and later on, if it really is supernaturally inspired…God’s living Word.

A Reliable Historical Document

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

There are tremendous reasons to be assured about the authenticity of the New Testament. If we use the same criteria as “pure scientists” and scholars, it’s easy to make a sound, reasoned conclusion that the Bible is historically accurate. As a matter of fact, using the criteria, the Bible is more accurate than any other ancient manuscript; but to fully appreciate this we first need to understand the two primary questions that guide linguistic scholar’s textual criticisms:

•  How many copies are there to examine and compare?

•  How close in time are the oldest copies to the originals?

The reasoning is, the more copies that exist, and the closer in time the copies are to the original, the more accurate the results. So how many do we have to work with?

1.  There are over 5,664 Greek manuscripts and over 19,000 other copies in various other languages besides Greek for a total manuscript base of over 24,600! *

To get an inkling of how significant this number is, we need to see how other ancient manuscripts add up in comparison; works like Josephus or Thucydides, that are rarely questioned as being authentic in authorship or content.

The next closest document in significant copies would be Homer’s Iliad with 643. That’s it. The New Testament trounces that by over 24,000 copies! This is very significant. All the other major works of note from ancient history such as Plato, Caesar, Pliny, Euripides, Tacitus, and Herodotus are 20 copies or less each, and usually much less! Only two have more than 20: Sophocles (193) and Aristotle (49).

2.  The entire New Testament was written within 70-100 years of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

In other words, there were a lot of people still alive when New Testament documents were being penned…witnesses who could have easily contested their authenticity and accuracy, but never did.

The significance of this can be seen when we compare the next best ancient manuscript copies and its original, Homer’s Iliad, as being within 500 years. Conversely, one New Testament piece of John 18 is dated to within 25 years after the original was written! Ironically, none of these other manuscripts are ever seriously contested, despite most of them having an 800-2000 year gap from originals to copies.

So when someone challenges the historical veracity of the New Testament, they probably have never actually investigated their charge.

Sir Frederic Kenyon, former director of the British Museum, said:

“In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.”

3.  These New Testament copies have a whopping 99.5% accuracy rate!***

New Testament specialist Daniel Wallace notes that although there are about 300,000 individual variations of the text of the New Testament, this number is very misleading. Most of the differences are completely inconsequential–spelling errors, inverted phrases and the like. A side-by-side comparison between the two main text families (the Majority Text and the modern critical text) shows agreement a full 98% of the time.

Of the remaining differences, virtually all yield to vigorous textual criticism. This means that our New Testament is 99.5% textually pure. Homer’s Iliad contains 15,600 lines, 400 of which are in doubt. The New Testament, however, contains 20,000 lines, only 40 lines of which are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant doctrine.

Greek scholar D.A. Carson sums it up this way: “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”

Given the New Testament stands up to the scrutiny of science and scholars, the “thinker’s” argument simply doesn’t hold up.

A good follow up question to ask is: if God did author the Bible, and He meant it to be His primary communication device to us, do you think He would, as the all-powerful Creator of life, supernaturally protect its contents?

As John Adams once famously said, “Facts are stubborn things.”

A Supernatural Document

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

1. Prophecy

“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

The main distinction between the Bible and other religious writings is in its ability to predict the future accurately, which only makes sense if the author is truly the Creator and wanted to prove its veracity. Therefore, fulfilled prophecy makes the Bible completely unique.

According to The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy there are 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 in the New Testament; for a total of 1,817 future predictions.

But this claim of divine inspiration is no idle boast. We see in Deuteronomy that anyone claiming to speak for God, if not 100% accurate, would be put to death. Now, so we don’t go too far down a rabbit hole, given many prophecies came true long after the prophet’s natural death, remember this could also mean spiritual death.

“’But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

Knowing the severity for a fake prophet not only eliminated charlatans, it also made God’s prophets uniquely qualified as His anointed messengers. Let’s look at just one prophecy from Ezekiel, and remember there are over 1,800 other ones!

The city of Tyre 590 B.C. **

“Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations’.

For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, chariots, cavalry and a great army. Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water. I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken,’ declares the Lord God.

‘Then all the princes of the sea will go down from their thrones, remove their robes and strip off their embroidered garments. They will clothe themselves with trembling; they will sit on the ground, tremble every moment and be appalled at you’.” (Ezekiel 26:3-5, 7, 12, 14, 16)

Ezekiel prophesies Tyre’s destruction with these specifics:

1. Nebuchadnezzar will conquer Tyre

2. Other nations will take part in its destruction

3. Tyre will be flat like the top of a rock

4. Tyre will become a place to spread nets

5. Tyre’s stones and timber will be laid in the sea

6. Other cities will fear because of Tyre’s destruction

7. Tyre won’t be rebuilt

It all came to pass when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege in 586 B.C., and then Alexander the Great finished it off 241 years later.

According to Dr Peter W. Stoner in Science Speaks:

“Tyre was a city on the northern coast of Palestine inhabited by the Phoenicians, a strong maritime people, greatly feared by their enemies. (The king of Tyre supplied timbers of Solomon in the building of the temple.) In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, laid siege to the city of Tyre. The siege lasted for thirteen years; and when Nebuchadnezzar took the city in 573 B.C., he found that the Phoenicians had moved everything of value to an island about one-half mile off the coast. Though the city was taken, Nebuchadnezzar profited nothing, and the Phoenicians were not conquered. Nebuchadnezzar could not pursue them to their island position, so he returned to Babylon. Thus the first item of the prophecy was fulfilled: (1) Nebuchadnezzar shall take the city of Tyre.For 241 years the mainland city of Tyre remained very much as Nebuchadnezzar left it.  Later, Alexander the Great started his great conquest. His field of campaign lay to the east, but he feared that the fleet of Tyre might be used against his homeland, so he moved south to take the city of Tyre. In 332 B.C., Alexander reached Tyre, but he was unable to take the city at once. So he captured other coastal cities and took over their fleets, but with these combined fleets he was still unable to take Tyre. Alexander finally built a causeway from the mainland to the island. In building the causeway he used all the building materials of old Tyre, and that was not enough. He scraped up all of the soil in and around the old city and with it completed the causeway.After seven months, by a combined attack of land forces marching in over the causeway, and the fleets of conquered cities, he took Tyre. Thus items 2,3, and 5 of the prophecy were fulfilled: (2) Other nations are to participate in the fulfillment of the prophecy, (3) The city is to be made flat like the top of a rock, and, (5) Its stones and timber are to be laid in the sea.Other neighboring cities were so frightened by the conquest of Tyre that they opened their gates to Alexander without opposition and fulfilled another item: (6) Other cities are to fear greatly at the fall of Tyre.Today, visitors at the old city of Tyre find it is a very popular place for fisherman; they are spreading their nets on this very spot. Thus prediction 4 has been completely fulfilled: (4) It is to become a place for spreading of nets.The great freshwater springs of Raselain are at the site of the mainland city of Tyre, and no doubt supplied the city with an abundance of fresh water. These springs are still there and still flow, but their water runs into the sea. The flow of these springs was measured by an engineer, and found to be about 10,000,000 gallons daily. It is still an excellent site for a city and would have free water enough for a large modern city, yet it has never been rebuilt. Thus item 7 of the prophecy has stood true for more than 2,500 years: (7) The old city of Tyre shall never be rebuilt.”

The odds of this happening are 75 million to one!

2.  Our Experience

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As Christians, our own testimony is proof that God is alive because He has changed our life, our values, our habits, and our destiny.

Of all the evidences of our faith being real, our experience of having the Holy Spirit literally inside our own bodies is the most powerful proof of all. When we allow the Holy Spirit to change us, to make of us a new creature, our very lives become a living testimony to the power of God, and of His Son, Jesus, living through us.

Our conscience is alive, God speaks to us in the depths of our hearts, and we have a peace that we never knew before because we have a clear conscience that comes with the assurance of Heaven.

The effect that Scripture has upon a willing heart is evidence in and of itself, but despite over two millennia of changed hearts as possibly subjective evidence, let’s ask ourselves one other question – would the original disciples and Apostles, who were eyewitnesses to the events around Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection give up their lives as martyrs if they knew it was all a lie? A man may give his life for what he believes, but no man would die for what he knew to be false. Nevertheless, there is more objective evidence than changed lives to prove this book to be the very words of God.

3.  Answered Prayer

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:12)

This is something that is equally powerful to the previous point about our personal experience because God has graciously granted our prayer requests. And as in God’s Not Dead, we know that He does not always say yes right away. Sometimes the answer is to wait. Sometimes it is denied altogether, but we all have examples in our life where God came through for us…sometimes miraculously!

4.  Creation

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

According to Paul, everyone knows that God exists because of the amazing things we see all around us every day–the wings of a dragonfly, a baby’s birth, a snowflake, a rose, the cedar tree outside our front door, or the Milky Way on a clear night.

We all know that these intricate designs in creation imply that there is a Designer. Everything that ever was, is, or will be had, has, or will have a creator. Did your house build itself? Did your car appear in your garage out of thin air? Or did your iPhone just appear in your pocket overnight? Of course not – nothing appears from nothing. It’s not so hard, then, to believe that our entire universe and everything in it must also have had a Creator.

5.  The Church

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Despite the Roman’s persecution in the First Century, and surviving over 2,000 years of global persecutions thereafter, the Church continues to exist…even in deadly Communist and Islamic countries right up to today.

In other words, not only have our lives been changed, but millions of others also testify to this same transformation by God’s Spirit. The permanence of the body of Christ is a strong testimony to the divine protection Jesus promised to Peter.

In closing, let’s look at a scene from God’s Not Dead where a son evaluates his mother’s faith, and concludes after comparing it to his life, that it’s been a wasted and misplaced venture…a blind faith.

Movie Clip*: God’s Not Dead 2

Closing Thoughts

Every one of us have had those who doubt come across our paths. There are those who doubt God, which we discussed last week. There are those who, even if they believe in a god, they don’t believe the Bible. If we listen to them long enough, we hear the echoes of our original question in the back of our minds – Is Our Faith Blind?

As we’ve seen today, our answer is a resounding NO! The evidence backs up our claim. That said, it is not our responsibility to get into shouting matches over who’s right and who’s wrong. Our job is not to beat people over the head with the Bible. Our job is, quite simply, to state our case objectively – with passion tempered with humility. Our job is to truly live our faith, and through our example, pray that we lead others into the deep, incredibly beautiful relationship with God; living by Christ’s example, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

*Depending on your browser, the movie clip may play or download, or you may be asked whether you wish to play or download it.

Scripture

  • Matthew 5:18
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • Isaiah 46:9-10
  • Deuteronomy 18:20-22
  • Ezekiel 26:3-5
  • Ezekiel 26:7
  • Ezekiel 26:12
  • Ezekiel 26:14
  • Ezekiel 26:16
  • Acts 4:13
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • Hebrews 4:12
  • Romans 1:20
  • Matthew 16:18

Resources

Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry

C. S. Lewis Apologetics

Science Speaks

Stand to Reason

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

Support Our Ministry

We are a very small church doing wonderful things within our community. In order to continue doing the work God has put before us, we need your help. Please consider making a donation, or sign up as a monthly pledge donor. All gifts large and small are greatly appreciated. Simply click the Donate link in the upper menu. Thank you, and may God bless your generosity.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Where is God? – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Due to technical difficulties, no Quote post was made last week.

Where is God? – Introduction

God’s Not Dead: Where is God When Life Falls Apart?

As people of faith, many of us find ourselves in situations in which we must either deny or defend our faith. In the movie God’s Not Dead, college student Josh Wheaton finds himself in this exact position. Today, we’ll begin a four-part series based on the movie God’s Not Dead; and we’ll take a look at some of the questions Josh must consider when defending his faith. One such question is: Where is God when life falls apart?

Spiritual Quote

“Evil is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.”
~C. S. Lewis

Thoughts

For those who missed our movie on Friday, God’s Not Dead is the story of a college student, Josh Wheaton, who has his faith challenged by his philosophy professor; and he has to defend God’s very existence to the entire class.

Though the movie is fiction, in reality the story isn’t that far-fetched; and it’s extremely relevant. Like Josh, many of us find, at various times, that we must defend our faith. And many college students today find themselves in the position of defending their faith to friends, family, and fellow students.

This movie has some powerful moments and lessons, and asks some tough questions that may seem troublesome for Christians. This morning we’ll tackle the first question posed in the introduction…Where is God when life falls apart? Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally), this topic and question falls right in line with our message last week titled Adversity and Affliction.

The Question

How many times have we heard someone say, “A God who allows horrible tragedies to happen to innocent people is not a god I want to worship.”  Or, “How can a loving God allow innocent people to be hurt so badly?”

These are fair questions that can leave even the strongest believer scratching their head.

Let’s face it, we all want life to be easy and fair, and we want there to be no such thing as pain, loss, tragedy, and grief. Regarding such pain, in the film Josh offers our quote for today – “Evil is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.”

How do we explain evil happenings that cause tragedies like the Columbine school shootings, the tsunami in Japan, the typhoon in the Philippines, constant famines in Africa, young men and women killed in senseless wars, terrorist bombings that cripple and maim, fatal car accidents, infant deaths, the Holocaust, and, closer to home…a loved one with cancer or worse?

If a loving God is really in control, shouldn’t everything be nice and easy?

As we discussed last week, the answer is “No”…Jesus made it clear that in this life we will have tribulation. And then He said we should take courage because He has overcome the world. In John 16:33 we read, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus made it clear that in this blip on the timeline that we call our life we would have sorrows and tribulations. Through free-will, God has permitted a broken world to affect us; but it is only through Him that we can have peace in the midst of troubles. Evil is obviously real, so why does He allow it?

For a start, let’s take a look at one pivotal scene from God’s Not Dead.

Movie Clip*: God’s Not Dead 1

Why does God allow evil in our world? If we are honest, the only truthful answer we can give is one of ignorance. Quite simply, we don’t know God’s mind. It’s okay to say to someone’s challenge on why something horrible happened, “I don’t know. I don’t know the mind of God.” It may not satisfy, but like Jesus’ answer it is honest. We simply don’t know everything. And that’s okay.

Scripture validates this truth – in this life, we simply don’t know everything. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul wrote, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

God has graciously given us some things that are certain though, truths to steer us toward a better understanding of Him and His ways. These overarching truths are headlights on the dark road of life that the Scriptures reveal about Him and our world, to help us trust Him when tribulation arrives. My sister puts it this way, “I may not see the light at the end of the tunnel – but I’ve found the light switch.”

These help us move forward in faith, but answers to “why” questions must remain “puzzling reflections” until we can ask Him in person.

Nevertheless, our Bible does give us a foundation of 7 Pillars of truths that help us with 7 Suppositions regarding our question, “Where is God when life falls apart?”

The Seven Pillars

Pillar 1. God’s character and nature is loving, good, and righteous.

  • “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • “Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:24)
  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

God’s nature is, indeed, loving, good, and righteous. The movie puts it this way…“God is good…all the time.”

Pillar 2. God has given us freedom to choose to love Him, or reject Him.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! That you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

We’re not robots or automatons, and God doesn’t expect us to be. Forced love isn’t love – it’s coercion at best, slavery at worst. God wants us to love Him, but true love must be a choice.

Pillar 3. This freedom means we live in a world with evil, sin, and real dangers.

  • “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
  • “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

Throughout Genesis 1 we read the statement “God saw that it was good.” God’s original creation was good…perfect. As a result of man’s selfish desires, instead of a world of love and perfection, our world became, and remains, broken.

Pillar 4. God intensely desires restored fellowship with us.

  • “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
  • “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:23)

God’s desire is to be gracious to us, and to be reunited in fellowship.

Pillar 5. His love is so great that His Son died so that we could live.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

God doesn’t just say He loves us; He showed it by giving up His very best.

Pillar 6. Sin, that which separates us from God, remains in our fleshly body – we have not yet reached perfection; but, the things of the physical world are temporary.

  • “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12)
  • “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Galatians 5:17)
  • “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

The effects of man’s “sin” – ego and selfish desires – remain; but it has now lost its power and permanence.

Pillar 7. We can trust His finished work because He defeated death (sin) by resurrection.

 “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

The empty tomb proves His triumph over sin and death, and our own empty graves.

Now with this foundation, let’s think about Josh’s answer about free will like this:

If you had a boyfriend (or girlfriend) who was forced to love you, who had to be with you, had to do whatever you wanted – basically, a robot relationship – would that satisfy you? Would forcing him (or her) to love you and care about you be true love? Absolutely not. In the movie, we see this in Josh’s relationship with his domineering girlfriend.

God knows this, so He allows us to choose to love Him…or not to love Him. That potential rejection consequence means our world could fall into separation from Him, and we would suffer as a result…temporarily. But His ultimate goal would be to solve this problem by uniting with us in perfection.

One day, this world of brokenness and selfish desires will be done away with, and will be exchanged for actual new bodies and a new world. As C.S. Lewis put it, Narnia was a cursed world “always winter, but never Christmas.” The Good News is that God promises Christmas is coming!

“God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” (Revelation 21:4)

Knowing these 7 Pillars, let’s now look at 7 Suppositions; reasons to believe something is true even though we don’t have “proof.”

The Seven Suppositions

Supposition 1: Evil is real and people are blinded by their sin

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)

This shouldn’t require much corroboration if you’ve ever driven in rush hour, or even just picked up a newspaper. People are selfish, mean, and spiritually dead. Doubt it? Why do we all have locks on our cars and homes? Police carry guns. Metal detectors are everywhere. Murder, crimes against children, crimes of hate, violence, corruption, and more are reported every day on the news. Evil is real, sin is real, and a lot of mankind is infected with a self-centered nature.

If you have any doubt about evil, just check out some of the comments on the God’s Not Dead trailer on YouTube. Or read the comments section of just about any Facebook post or blog that happens to be controversial. In fact, many people who profess to be “Christian” are just as mean, nasty, and hateful.

Supposition 2: His ways are higher than our ways

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

As ironic as it seems, indignation, confusion, and questioning of God’s intent, motives, and ultimate purpose for our lives demonstrates a rebellious nature. Many question His goodness and so prove separation from Him in doubting His goodness.

He has a purpose and a plan as Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, `plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

Supposition 3: There is no innocence; we are all guilty

“as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23)

In our language today, we use an old adage that sums it up beautifully – “Nobody’s perfect”. And because we have not yet reached perfection, in our world we experience troubles. Trials and troubles are part of the human experience. Unfortunately, many of our troubles are of our own creation – violence, war, hunger, poverty, etc. Going back to another movie, To Save a Life, when the pastor speaks of people asking why God doesn’t stop such horrible things, he offers a different view – I wonder if God doesn’t ask himself the same about us. We have the power to end much of the trials, troubles, and suffering of our world. But our own selfishness, greed, lusts, and envy get in our way.

Supposition 4: Suffering can lead to repentance

  • “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

I don’t believe God purposely sets out to cause sorrow and heartache. But I do believe that sometimes it is through our sorrow, our broken hearts, and our pain, that we come to see our need for God. Suffering can result in salvation – which is His ultimate goal for us.

Suffering alerts us to our need for help, a cure for our illness when it becomes so acute that it motivates us to go to the doctor. Pain leads us into His arms for solace, answers, and help. Sometimes, when we’re flat on our back, our last resort can result in finally looking up to Him.

Supposition 5: Suffering can lead to a deeper dependence on God

  • “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
  • ”who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

As Christians, times of trouble can bring us closer to God. And they can bring non-Christians into a relationship with Him for the very first time.

Supposition 6: Let’s put the blame where it belongs

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, `You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

God allowed for our free choice to love Him voluntarily. Part of that free will choice means some will choose to rebel, they choose evil. God doesn’t force us to love Him. It must be so to have true love.

Human beings choose evil, and others get hurt in the processes. It’s not God’s fault. God doesn’t send disasters and acts of great cruelty – they are part of the human existence. But through the disasters, He is always with us – if we choose for Him to be.

Supposition 7: Consider God’s past dealings

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

In the Bible there are several tragedies that the people of that time must have wondered our same question, “Where is God when life falls apart?”

Think about Noah and the flood, the Egyptian enslavement of Israel, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, Joseph being sold into slavery, the murder of babies by Herod, and even the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. These were horrendous events that God turned around and used for the ultimate good of mankind.

When we consider past tragedies in the Bible, and how God used our bad choices, we get a glimpse of how His purposes can result for our good. We get a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, and see the Wizard at work.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, we cannot answer a “why” question about suffering because God has not revealed all of His purposes. The answer, “I don’t know, I’m not God,” is a valid one. We can only see dimly now, like a foggy reflection, but we can see enough of His ways through the revelation of Scripture to trust Him – to trust that He knows what is best for us, despite the broken world we live in.

And ultimately, what He wants more than anything else is for us to turn away from our selfish, greedy lusts in order to have a restored friendship with us. Like the Prodigal Son, He wants us to give up, and come home. Suffering can bring us to that point of acknowledging that we need His salvation, that we can’t do it alone.

We know all suffering is only temporary, and we can take heart that He has overcome the world here, looking forward to the world to come. Finally, remember that our faith-reaction to suffering may even lead observant friends and family to Him as well.

Scripture

  • John 16:33 1
  • Corinthians 13:12
  • 1 John 4:8
  • Ephesians 4:24
  • James 1:17
  • Deuteronomy 30:19-20
  • Romans 3:23
  • Romans 5:12
  • Isaiah 1:18
  • James 2:23
  • Romans 5:8
  • Philippians 3:12
  • Galatians 5:17
  • 2 Corinthians 4:18
  • 1 Corinthians 15:56-57
  • Revelation 21:4
  • Ephesians 2:1
  • Isaiah 55:8-9
  • Jeremiah 29:11
  • Romans 3:10
  • Romans 3:23
  • 2 Corinthians 7:10
  • Romans 2:4
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18
  • 2 Corinthians 1:4
  • Genesis 3:1

*Depending on your browser, the movie clip may play or download, or you may be asked whether you wish to play or download it.

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Adversity and Affliction – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceAdversity and Affliction – Introduction

One thing in life is certain – we will all face adversity and affliction. It’s not the events in and of themselves that define us, it’s how we choose to respond. Do we let the trials and tribulations of life move us away from God? Or, do we allow adversity and affliction to move us closer to God; taking comfort in His love, and in His guidance – knowing that we will come out of whatever situation we find ourselves in stronger – perhaps more loving, a little kinder, or a little more forgiving?

Spiritual Quote

“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thoughts

Adversity:

  • Hebrew – grief, pain, sorrow, calamity
  • Greek – suffer torment

Affliction:

  • Hebrew, several words – grief, sorry, pain, bruise, destruction, hurt
  • Greek – hardship, suffering pain

On the face of it, Adversity and Affliction seem to be interchangeable. However, they do have slightly different meanings. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Adversity as, “a difficult situation or condition, misfortune or tragedy; a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune. Affliction is defined as, “something, such as disease, that causes pain or suffering; the state of being affected by something that causes suffering.”

Think of Job and all he went through. He lost all his property and wealth, and all of his children…Adversity. He also suffered boils from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head – Affliction.

We all face affliction and adversity at some time or another. Sometimes, it seems like they just keep piling up, one on top of the other. Job loss or reduced hours, financial difficulties, car repairs, damaged or broken relationships, medical issues, the death of a loved one – the list is endless. Living a mortal, human life, we can’t escape affliction and adversity. In John 16:33, Jesus reminds us of this fact when He said, “…In this world you will have trouble…” And Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…”

The question isn’t whether bad things will happen. The question is, will we allow the bad things to move us away from God, or closer to Him? How will we choose to respond?

Illustration:

I have a dear friend who is living with terminal cancer. I say living with instead of dealing with on purpose. He could sit and wallow in self pity. He could complain about how unfair it all is. Like Job, he’s led a good life; he’s an honest man who has dedicated his life to his family and to helping others. He could easily sit and ask, “why is God doing this (or allowing this)?” Instead, he thanks God for the wonderful life he has experienced. Though he’s had this horrible diagnosis and prognosis, he has chosen to live. He wakes every morning thankful that he has another day to spend with his wife, children, and grandchildren. As his health allows, he still attends meetings and events with a local service organization devoted to helping children in our community. His faith has made it possible to face what we all must eventually face – our own mortality. Rather than allowing his affliction to move him away from God, it has moved him closer – and he’s living his life fully.

Illustration:

Conversely, my former mother-in-law, my first husband’s mother, remains mired in grief. She professes to be a devout Christian; and I have no doubt that she is a believer. But her faith brings her no comfort. She cries and mourns the losses of her husband and her son every day. Rather than going through the grief process, being thankful for the time they shared, and moving on and living life, she merely exists. She finds no joy in living. It’s been over 20 years since her husband passed away, and 19 years since her son, my husband, passed, she lives her life mired in the pain and grief of loss.

There’s a passage in Romans that, when taken in the right context, can bring us comfort in times of adversity and affliction. Unfortunately, it can also be overused and can become simply a cliche. Romans 8:28 tells us, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good…” This doesn’t for one moment mean that tragedies are good. It simply means that with God, if we stay close to Him through whatever situation we might be facing or experiencing, something good can come as a result. If we face and overcome addiction – perhaps we’re more compassionate to, or we find ways to help, those still struggling. If we’ve experienced homelessness, perhaps we find ways to help the homeless. Maybe we’ve experienced the loss of someone dear whose life was touched by hospice, and that experience instills a desire in us to volunteer with hospice. Or, like my friend living with cancer, significant health issues create the desire to live our lives as fully and as completely as we possibly can, despite the challenges.

Illustration*:

Many years ago a little girl was totally blind. She was blinded as an infant as the result of an accident. She lived to be over 90 years old. She became well-known in the American church. She wrote many popular Christian songs and choruses. Her name was Fanny Crosby. When she was only eight years old, she wrote:

Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see.
I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind–I cannot and I won’t.

Illustration*:

When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. At 37, on his third try he was elected to Congress, but two years later, he failed to be reelected. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. At 47, he failed as the vice-presidential candidate. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader the country ever had. Some people get all the breaks.

What’s the point? We will all experience adversity and affliction. Life isn’t necessarily fair. Yet, we always have a choice. We can wallow in self pity, looking back at what we’ve lost; or we can look forward, with faith, and anticipate God blessing us in new and wonderful ways.

A wonderful example of this type of faith is found in Genesis 26:12-28. In this set of passages, we read about Issac – a man of God who was promised the blessings of God. Verse 1 tells us there was a famine in the land, the land of Gerar, which is located outside of the Promised Land. Yet, despite the famine, in verses 12-14 we read that God blessed Isaac with a bountiful harvest, possessions, flocks, herds, and a great number of servants. Of course, the Philistines were extremely envious.  In their jealousy, they stopped up all the wells and filled them with dirt; and the king, Abimelech, told Isaac to go away because he was mightier than they (vs 15-16).

Now, Isaac could have gone off in any direction. He could have wallowed in the misery of having his wells destroyed and having to move. He could have allowed the situation to move him away from God. Who could blame him? They didn’t have air conditioned moving vans. They didn’t have well-drilling equipment and machinery. Isaac certainly wouldn’t look forward to having to move and having to dig new wells with nothing but primitive shovels. But, go he must – the king had commanded it.

And where does Isaac go? Verses 17-23 tell us he went a ways, settled and dug a well. But the herdsman claimed the well. Isaac went further, dug another well, and again, a quarrel ensued, and he was forced to move on once again. Finally, he settled and dug a well, and no quarrel arose. He goes from there to Beersheba which, coincidentally, is located in the Promised Land. It is here that God appears to him and promises to bless him in fulfillment of His promise to Isaac’s father, Abraham (vs. 24). Metaphorically, the Promised Land represents the place where God’s chosen would live in a close relationship with Him. So, figuratively speaking, through the adversity, Isaac into a closer relationship with God. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy, but Isaac maintained his faith, knowing that God had blessed him once, and would do so again. And his faith, and his blessings, were clearly seen by others. Verses 25-28 tell of Isaac pitching his tent (settling down) and digging another well in Beersheba. Abimelech, along with one of his friends, Ahuzzath, and the commander of his army, Phichol, came to Isaac asking for a truce because they had certainly seen that the Lord was with him.

The same hold true for us. If we hold on to our faith and persevere through adversity and affliction, we will be a living example to others of God working in and through our lives. In that process, not only will we move closer in relationship with God, we might just inspire others to deepen their own relationship with Him as well.

Closing Thoughts

In this human, mortal life we will certainly be confronted with adversity and affliction. The choice will always be ours as to how we respond. Will we respond like my former mother-in-law – wallowing in the mire of grief over what’s been lost? Or, like Isaac and my dear friend living with cancer, will we allow our faith to move us into a closer relationship with God? Will we choose to live our lives to their fullest, seeking opportunities to learn and to grow, and to experience all of the wonderful blessings God has in store for us? Will we allow the adversity and affliction to weaken us, turning us into sad, depressed, hopeless, broken people – existing but not really living? Or, like Nietzsche says, will we allow the adversity and affliction to strengthen us?

One of the comforts we find through the Christian faith, and having a deep relationship with Jesus, is the fact that we don’t have to face our adversity and affliction alone. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus assures us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” When adversity and affliction occur, instead of cursing God, as Job’s wife advised, we should turn to Him in prayer. Not simply asking for whatever the situation is to magically disappear. Rather, asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to show us the way – to guide us in our thoughts, words, and actions. Let Jesus and the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the possibilites and the opportunities that lay before us, and give us the strength to persevere.

Acknowledgements

Pastor Larry Sarver Sermon

Scripture

  • John 16:33
  • Ecclesiastes 3
  • Romans 8:28
  • Genesis 26:12-28
  • Matthew 28:20
  • Philippians 4:13

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Attractive Christians – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceAttractive Christians – Introduction

Due to Rev. Alan’s absence to celebrate the birth of his granddaughter, Michael (Mikey) Harris will serve as guest speaker. His topic this week: Are we Attractive Christians?

Spiritual Quote

“Gestures, in love, are incomparably more attractive, effective, and valuable than words.”
~Francois Rabelais

Discussion

In Rev. Alan’s absence, Mikey led a discussion around the following questions:

  1. How would you define Christianity and/or the Person of Christ?
  2. What do you find least attractive about Christianity and/or the Person of Christ?
  3. What do you find most attractive about Christianity and/or the Person of Christ?
  4. How can we apply what we’ve discussed in our lives – how can we become Attractive Christians?

Scripture References

  • Matthew 5:9
  • John 13:34-35

Join the Discussion

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Support Our Ministry

We are a very small church doing wonderful things within our community. In order to continue doing the work God has put before us, we need your help. Please consider making a donation, or sign up as a monthly pledge donor. All gifts large and small are greatly appreciated. Simply click the Donate link in the upper menu. Thank you, and may God bless your generosity.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Abide in Christ – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace
Abide in Christ – Introduction

Christians often talk about abiding in Christ. And Scripture uses the term “abide” numerous times. What does it really mean to “abide in Christ?”

Spiritual Quote

“As fragrance abides in the flower
As reflection is within the mirror,
So does your Lord abide within you,
Why search for him without?”
~Guru Nanak

Thoughts

Many times we seem to be in a perpetual search for Jesus. We look all around us to see evidence of Him working in our lives. In reality, though – He’s not “out there” – He’s right here, within each of us, if we allow Him to be. It reminds me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she says, “…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” The truth is, we don’t have to look for Him, we simply have to look within ourselves.

Two weeks ago we spoke about getting back to basics. Last week, we spoke about deciding whether we are “Fans” or “Followers” of Christ. One of the basics of our faith, and one of the ways we become “Followers” of Christ, is to abide in Him. In John 15:4-5, Jesus tells us, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” 1 John 2:28 tells us “And now, little children, abide in Him…” Today, I’d like to examine what it means to Abide in Christ.

First, we need to understand the meaning of abide. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, abide means:

  • Endure without yielding
  • To bear patiently
  • To accept without objection
  • To remain stable or fixed in a state
  • To continue in a place
  • And, when we the word “by,” as in “abide by,” it means to conform or adhere to (abide by the rules)

The Greek word used in Scripture is Meno. According to Strong’s Concordance (#3306), Meno means to stay in a given place, state, relation or expectancy. Words that are interchangeable are: to continue, to dwell, to endure, and to be present.

From these definitions, we see that to abide in Christ means that we endure, we bear things patiently, we accept Him without objection, we remain stable and continue in our faith and our relationship with Him, and we adhere to His teachings.

One With God

We know that Jesus is one with God. John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus’ desire was that our relationship with Him would be of such oneness that we would share His oneness with God.

In His prayer as related to us in John 17:21, He prayed, “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Jesus knew He was one with God. And one of His strongest desires was that we would be one with Him and, through Him, we would be one with God.

And how do we know that we’re one with Him? First, because from the moment we accepted Christ as our Savior and became Christian, His Spirit was poured out on us. Scripture assures us of this in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” And 1 John 4:13 tells us, “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”

Second, we know that we’re one with Him when every aspect of our lives is driven by His teaching. 2 John 9 tells us, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” And what was Christ’s greatest teaching? Love one another as He loves us. (John 13:34)

When we recognize the Gospel as truth, and we strive to live the teaching of the Gospel, we abide with God, and God abides with us. 1 John 2:24 assures us that keeping His teachings is key to abiding in Christ: “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”

Abide in Love

Remember the Greek meaning of abide? Stay in a given state. Stay in a given relation. Continue. Remain.

To abide in love means, literally, to live our lives in a state of love – love toward God, love toward Jesus, and love toward one another. It means to continue in love, remain in love, endure in love, be patient in love. This is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 13 – love is patient…love protects, trusts, hopes, and endures. Regardless of where we are, what we’re doing, what’s going on around us – no matter the circumstance – love must be the driving force of all we think, say, and do.

Scripture reminds us of this over and over again. 1 John alone stresses the point three times:

  • 4:7-8 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
  • 4:12 – “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
  • 4:16 – “…God is love, and whoever remains (abides) in love remains (abides) in God and God (abides) in him.”

Closing Thoughts

Back to our original question – What does it mean to Abide in Christ? It means we have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior, and from that moment His Spirit is poured out on us. It means that through His Spirit being poured out on us, we are one with Him; and through Him, one with God. To Abide in Christ means we study and follow (abide by) the Gospel teachings. By so doing, it means that, since God is love, we are to be examples of that love in every aspect of our lives – every thought, every interaction, every conversation, every relationship. When we are that truly One with God, when we truly Abide in Christ, He is so much a part of our very being that we don’t need to look for Him elsewhere. Like Dorothy, we simply need to look within our own hearts to find Him.

Scripture

  • John 15:5
  • 1 John 2:28
  • John 10:30
  • John 17:21
  • 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
  • 1 John 4:13
  • John 13:34
  • 2 John 9
  • 1 John 2:24
  • 1 John 4:7-8
  • 1 John 4:12
  • 1 John 4:16

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Back to Basics – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceBack to Basics – Introduction

Everyone has struggles, challenges, and issues. Sometimes, our challenges and issues cause us to feel alone…lost. What do we do when something or someone is lost? We seek. We seek answers…we seek hope…we seek comfort. In those times, we must remember to Get Back to Basics.

Spiritual Quote

“You can’t find what is lost by standing still.”
~Carole Johnson

Thoughts

This week, I’ve been feeling sort of stuck…lost. Perhaps some of you have, too. Struggles such as depression, grief, sadness, and worry can be paralyzing. Challenges seem to come at us from all sides…financial concerns, health issues, troubled relationships…the list is endless. There never seems to be a shortage of troubles and strife.

This week, while stuck in some challenges of my own, and feeling pretty lost, two things popped into my head…Get Back to Basics and “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)

I pondered those thoughts for a while, and then I thought…ok, Lord, what does it mean to seek the kingdom of God first? It comes down to one thing…putting God first. His commandments, what He desires from and for us, His love must be the priority in our lives. If we put Him first, everything else will eventually fall into place.

But we can’t do that by standing still. We must be active in our faith – we must actively seek Him. We must spend time with Him. It’s easy to say, “I’m busy” or “I have to (fill in the blank).” How often do we push aside our prayer and meditation time telling ourselves we’ll get to it later? Instead of putting Him first, we fit Him in when it’s convenient. And then, little by little, the busy-ness of life takes over, we never really do get around to seeking Him and spending time with Him, and we feel stuck…lost.

Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart…” When we’re troubled, when we’re seeking answers, when we’re feeling lost, we need to trust in Him. There is great truth in the lyric from Amazing Grace…I was lost but now am found. When we trust in Him, when we actively seek Him, He finds us, and we find love, comfort, peace, healing, joy, forgiveness, and grace – through Him.

Seeking Him, and His Kingdom first also means changing our focus. Most of the time, when we go into “prayer mode,” we spend so much of our time listing the things we want Him to do for us, of give to us.

To truly seek Him, and to get the answers we seek, we need to change the focus away from “I want” to “It’s all about you, Lord…what do you want me to do?” And perhaps the hardest part of all, we have to let go…we have to give up control.

God wants us to have everything we need, to shower us with His blessings. The only way that can happen, though, is for us to give up control and actively seek Him. We must make Him the priority in our lives. When we do, the second part of Matthew 6:33 comes into play: “…and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Closing Thoughts

Paul assures us we can make it through any struggle, any challenge, any issue, with Jesus at our side in his letter to the Philippians, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (4:13)” And Jesus Himself gave us assurance when He said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)”

No matter our struggles, challenges, and issues, let’s get back to basics. No longer standing still, let’s get actively involved in our faith; making Jesus and a relationship with God our top priority – actively seeking Him through devoted prayer and meditation, reading Scripture, following His commands, and putting them to work in our lives. With Christ at the forefront of our thoughts and our lives, giving up control and letting Him guide us, everything will fall into place.

Scripture

  • Matthew 6:33
  • Proverbs 3:5
  • Philippians 4:13
  • Matthew 7:7

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Honoring Our Fathers – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceHonoring Our Fathers – Introduction

To those who are fathers, or who fill the role of a father, Happy Father’s Day. Exodus 20:12 tells us to “honor thy father and mother.” This, of course, is something we should always do. Of course, we should honor our fathers and mothers always. But today is the day we set aside each year specifically for honoring our fathers.

Spiritual Quote

“Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, singers of songs.”
~Pam Brown

A Little History

Father’s Day was inaugurated to complement Mother’s Day as a way of Honoring our Fathers. Following the success of establishing Mother’s Day as a national holiday in 1908, Sonora Dodd is credited with being the driving force behind establishing a day for honoring our fathers. She and others tried numerous times, yet each attempt was met with cynicism, even jokes and sarcasm. Even several attempts were made for congressional action, each bill failed due to fears of commercialization. Mother’s Day was established in 1908. It wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers on the third Sunday of June. And it wasn’t until six years later in 1972 when President Richard Nixon established Father’s Day as a permanent holiday by signing it into law.

And so, today, June 15, in honor of fathers everywhere, we celebrate Father’s Day.

Thoughts

Like Mother’s Day, writing a message for Father’s Day can get a little tricky. We want to honor fathers, but we also must be sensitive to those who have not had a great relationship with their dads; and to those, like me, whose dads are no longer with us. A lot of us have, or had, great dads. Some of us are dads, and we’ve tried, or are trying, to be great dads. Others may not have had such a great dad; and some of us may be struggling with our own role as a father.

If we have, or had, great dads, we remember fondly all that they did for us and all that they taught us. If they’re still with us, we can spend time with them, either in person or on the phone if they’re far away, and we can let them know just how much we appreciate them. If our dads have passed, as mine has, we can spend some quiet time today and reflect on our memories of them, and we can be thankful for the time that we had with them. Even if our dads aren’t or weren’t the greatest, we can at least be thankful for the fact that they gave us life; we can honor them for that, and we can spend time with, or remember, those who filled the role of a father in our lives.

And, if we’re dads ourselves, hopefully our children are thinking of and honoring us today, too.

A Good Father

Scripture has a lot to say about being a great father. I’d also like to acknowledge Pastor Lynn Floyd for his thoughts on this subject.

As we review some of the verses, I invite you to reflect on the great father figures in your lives. And, for those of us who are fathers, we can also reflect on these verses to see how they might apply in our lives:

  • A father loves his children.

Psalm 103:13 says, “As a father has compassion on his children…”

The Hebrew word translated as compassion means love, tender-hearted, merciful. This means a father puts the needs of his children before his own. It means striving to do what’s right for the sake of the child. That may look different from family to family, but the concept remains the same – fathers are to love their children.

  • A father treats his children fairly and with kindness.

Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath…”

This ties back to loving – being loving and merciful. Fathers are to treat their children fairly, with kindness and gentleness. One Bible translation uses the word exasperate; which means create hostility, or to cause irritation or anger. This doesn’t mean that children are allowed to do whatever they want to do, that fathers aren’t supposed to punish errant behavior. But it means that any such punishment must be given fairly and lovingly.

  • A father provides discipline.

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24

The original word in the KJV, translated in modern versions as diligent, is betimes; which means early or occasionally, at times. Children need boundaries, and they need to learn consequences. At times, this means discipline for errant behavior. This instruction must be tied back to treating children fairly. When punishment is necessary, it must be administered with love and with a sense of fairness, and never out of anger. Of course, the child won’t necessarily like it at the time.

No child likes being put on time out, is thrilled by getting grounded, or enjoys getting a spanking. Paul speaks to this in Hebrews 12:11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

  • A father takes the time to train and instruct his children.

The second part of Ephesians 6:4 says, “Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord.” Instruction the Lord would approve of is moral and spiritual – giving our children a sense of right and wrong, good and evil. The best way for a father to do this is by example. Fathers must live the lives they wish their children to emulate.

  • Fathers provide for their families.

1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This verse makes it clear that fathers have a responsibility to provide for their families. This doesn’t just mean necessities like food and shelter. Fathers should provide stability and security, and provide an environment in which children can flourish and grow into responsible, successful, loving, adults.

Personally, I’m grateful I had a father who lived up to each and every one of the above Scriptures. He provided for our family. Though we weren’t rich, we never lacked for anything. He worked hard to provide the material necessities, he provided stability and security, and he created an environment in which we could flourish. He spent time with us, took an interest in our interests, gave us a sense of right and wrong – and he taught by example. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of some lesson he gave me, whether by word or example. When necessary, he had no qualms living up to Proverbs. True to Paul’s words, I didn’t like it at the time. But, looking back, though they were painful at times, I’m thankful my dad cared enough to discipline me when needed; and I can honestly say I deserved, and learned from, every whippin’ I ever got.  (Well, except for one I got when I was put in the position of making one of two choices – both of which would have earned a spanking. Dad and I talked about that incident years later and he agreed that I really didn’t deserve that one. On the other hand, there were many, many that I did deserve that I didn’t get, so we just called it even.) He was always fair, never abusive, and never treated one of us differently than another. And, even when he had to punish us, it was done fairly and lovingly.

Most of all, he genuinely loved us – he put our needs above his own, and his greatest joy was to see us grow into honest, loving, responsible, and happy adults. Like our quote, I had the privilege of having a dad who was a story-teller, an adventurer, a singer of songs, and a hero.

I hope that you, too, have had that type of father. If not, I hope you had a father-figure in your lives. If you have, and if you are able, take a moment today to reach out to that special person. Let him know how much he is loved, and how much you appreciate all he has done to help shape you into who you are today. And, if like me, your father or father figure has already passed, or you are otherwise unable to reach out personally, take a moment today to spend some quiet time reflecting and remembering him.

If you’re a father, or if you are filling that role for someone, I invite you to reflect on these Scriptures and let them guide you into being the best father you can be. And, due to circumstances, are not be able to be an active part of your children’s lives, start with simply loving them. Set aside any selfish desires you may have and make decisions for them that are in their best interest. And pray that they have a father-figure who will provide for them that which you are not currently able to provide.

Closing Thoughts

I invite you to keep one other thing in mind. There is one other Father whom we should be honoring today. Regardless of the type of dad we had, or the type of dad we are, we all have a Heavenly Father who loves us. Ephesians 4:6 reminds us, “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Our Heavenly Father will never leave us. Even if our earthly father is absent, we always have God. Psalm 27:10 tells us, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.” And Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us, “…He will never leave you nor forsake you.” God loves us as much as He loves His own Son, Jesus. In John 17:23, Jesus’ prayer states this plainly when He says, “…Then the world will know that you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me.”

John 8:43 tells us, “Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here.”” Regardless of whether or not we have, or had, what we might consider a great dad, through our faith in and love for Jesus, we have a Father who remains constant in our lives. God, our creator, is our Heavenly Father. And so, today, when honoring our earthly fathers, let’s also remember to honor God, the Father of all.

I’d like to close today by sharing a poem by Claris Dye:

A LETTER TO DAD

There are so many things I’d like
To tell you face to face;
I either lack the words or fail
To find the time and place.

But in this special letter, Dad,
You’ll find, at least in part,
The feelings that the passing years
Have left within my heart.

The memories of childhood days
And all that you have done,
To make our home a happy place
And growing up such fun!

I still recall the walks we took,
The games we often played;
Those confidential chats we had
While resting in the shade.

This letter comes to thank you, and,
For needed words of praise;
The counsel and the guidance, too,
That shaped my grown-up days.

No words of mine can tell you, Dad,
The things I really feel;
But you must know my love for you
Is lasting, warm and real.

You made my world a better place,
And through the coming years;
I’ll keep these memories of you
As cherished souvenirs.

Scripture

  • Exodus 20:12
  • Psalm 103:13
  • Ephesians 6:4
  • Proverbs 13:24
  • Hebrews 12:11
  • Ephesians 6:4
  • 1 Timothy 5:8
  • Ephesians 4:6
  • Psalm 27:10
  • Deuteronomy 31:6
  • John 8:43

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Reaching Out – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceReaching Out – Introduction

Lots of churches, like most businesses, have a tagline. Ours is “We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth and Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!” The question isn’t whether a business or church has a tagline. If they do, the question becomes, “do we live up to it?”

Spiritual Quote

“Reaching out to others makes you reachable.”
~Carole Johnson

Thoughts

Events this week have given me the opportunity to reflect on our tagline; and the question, “do we live up to it?”

A tagline is defined as: a memorable phrase or sentence that is closely associated with a particular person, product, movie, etc.

So, I thought about our tagline – We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth and Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome. I thought about what it means, and whether we live up to what we say.

In breaking it down, there are four components that make up our tagline: Community, Spiritual Growth, Healing, and Welcome.

Community is defined as: A unified body of individuals as an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location.

Scripture speaks to the importance of community numerous times:

  • “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalms 133:1
  • “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10
  • “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11
  • “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:4-5
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

Spiritual Growth is: To integrate a higher and higher degree of spirituality into our lives each day, deepening our relationship with God, and allowing Jesus to lead us into living lives of godliness.

Scripture actually provides us with a detailed description of what Spiritual Growth should look like:

  • “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:3–8

And Galatians provides us a list of those things that we must work to eliminate in order to achieve Spiritual Growth; as well as a list of the benefits of such growth:

  • “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…” Galatians 5:19-21
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23

Healing is defined as: the act or process of regaining health.

When discussing healing, it’s important to remember that healing includes body, mind, spirit, and emotion. We tend to want to compartmentalize each of these aspects into their own separate boxes. However, all four aspects of our selves are intertwined. When one aspect is in dis-ease, other aspects of our selves also suffer. Health problems can cause emotional issues, spiritual and mental issues or problems can manifest physically, etc.

There are many, many verses dealing with healing; just a couple of which are:

  • In describing various gifts given to various members of the body, Paul includes, “to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit…” 1 Corinthians 12:9
  • And one of my favorites: “…then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” Matthew 9:6-8

And finally we have Welcome, which is defined as: To greet the arrival of (a person, guests, etc.) with pleasure or kindly courtesy; gladly received, as one whose arrival gives pleasure.

Again, Scripture tells us many, many times how important it is to welcome others without prejudice:

  • “For God shows no partiality.” Romans 2:11
  • “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7
  • “Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers. . .” 1 Peter 2:17

We may currently be small in numbers, but we are great in faith, and in how we live that faith. Do we live up to our tagline? I would have to say, most emphatically, Yes! We, as a group, are a unified body that has come together in order to worship our Lord, and to spread His message of Peace and Love to those around us.

We offer community events in order to provide support and to create opportunities to enrich the lives of individuals and families.

Through use of our prayer rooms, people stopping by for spiritual guidance, Reiki treatment and classes, and, of course, our worship services, we provide individuals with a host of opportunities to experience Spiritual Growth.

Worship, prayer, Reiki, and the host of healing workshops offered provide opportunities to heal all aspects of ourselves – Body, Mind, Spirit, and Emotion.

And, we truly welcome all who enter. We strive to live up to Scripture, showing no partiality; treating others with dignity and respect, we welcome everyone just as Christ has welcomed us.

Closing Thoughts

So, yes, we live up to our tagline; which leads us back to our quote. We genuinely reach out to others, providing fellowship and community, spiritual growth, and healing to all. It is in that reaching out that we become reachable. And so it is, I thank God every day for the opportunity He has provided us to serve, as Christ also served. And, I pray that our service brings glory to God; and that our reaching out inspires others to pursue and develop a relationship with Him through His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

Scripture

  • Psalms 133:1
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10
  • 1 John 4:11
  • Romans 12:4-5
  • Ephesians 4:3
  • 2 Peter 1:3–8
  • Galatians 5:19-21
  • Galatians 5:22-23
  • 1 Corinthians 12:9
  • Matthew 9:6-8
  • Romans 2:11
  • Romans 15:7
  • 1 Peter 2:17

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

Support Our Ministry

We are a very small church doing wonderful things within our community. In order to continue doing the work God has put before us, we need your help. Please consider making a donation, or sign up as a monthly pledge donor. All gifts large and small are greatly appreciated. Simply click the Donate link in the upper menu. Thank you, and may God bless your generosity.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Seeds of Opportunity – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceSeeds of Opportunity – Introduction

We all face challenges as we travel along the journey of our lives. As the seasons of our lives change and unfold, do we view those difficulties as obstacles, or do we view them as seeds of opportunity?

Spiritual Quote

“Every adversity contains, at the same time, a seed of equivalent opportunity!”
~Napoleon Hill

Thoughts

As you know, I had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina this week to spend time with my son, Gary. After spending 11 years in the United States Air Force, the time had come for him to retire. Over the course of 11 years he been deployed four times. His last deployment damaged his back, shoulders, and knees so badly that he is now permanently, partially disabled. As a result, the time has come for him to leave the military with a medical retirement. Even though his career was relatively short, far shorter than the normal retirement of 20 years of service, his command felt that his record had earned him a full retirement ceremony. I flew back to North Carolina to be a part of that special celebration.

At Gary’s request, I had the honor of giving the Invocation. Part of the Invocation was, “…we look forward with hope, anticipation, and joy to the unfolding of the next phase of his life’s journey.”

Visiting with Gary and participating in his retirement ceremony started me thinking about life, the plans we make, changes that occur, challenges that arise, and the choices we make. And, the more I spoke with Gary about his feelings, the more I realized just how much of an inspiration he is – to me, and to others facing challenges.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:”

Gary’s career began while he was still in high school. While a member of Junior ROTC, he made the decision to serve in the Air Force. He was so sure of his decision that he signed a commitment through DEP – Delayed Entry Program – a year before he even graduated. Having made the decision to “go career” and serve at least 20 years, upon graduation he immediately enlisted for six years. Never wavering from his goal, at the end of that six-year enlistment, he re-enlisted for another six years. Every decision he made, from buying a home to planning his wedding, was based on his plan to have a 20-year career in the Air Force. He had a plan, and his path was certain.

During his time in service, Gary was blessed with fairly rapid promotion, achieving the rank of Technical Sergeant in only 10 years; he had earned the respect of his subordinates, peers, and superiors; and was totally committed to, and passionate about, the Air Force – especially Security Forces. That all changed with the disability. His dreams were shattered, and the blueprint he had drawn for his life was completely and totally changed forever. His life’s journey, that was once filled with a fair amount of certainty, had now become one of incertitude. He would no longer be able to continue in the career he loved, until he finds another position he’ll be unemployed, the disability will limit his career options, his income has been drastically reduced, etc. Yet, through it all, he has remained confident and positive. And, although he mourns the loss, rather than dwelling on what has been lost, he looks to the future with excitement for, and anticipation of, the new opportunities his journey will now present.

Gary could easily sit and stew over how unfair it all is, focus on “why me,” and complain about all that he’s losing. Instead, he acknowledges the sadness and the loss, and makes the choice to focus on the possibilities that now await his discovery. He remains cheerful. And, he remains thankful for the wonderful career and opportunities he’s had, as well as the blessings he has in his life – his home, his friends, his family, and his beautiful fiancé, Sarah.

All of us can relate. We’ve all been faced with life-changing circumstances and events. The question is not whether or not we’ll face them, it’s how will we face them when they occur?

As I said, Gary is an inspiration to me. After spending time with him this week, watching as his life literally changes before my eyes, and seeing how he is facing the challenges, I began to think about all of us and how we face our challenges. Do we face them with fear and doubt? Or do we face them with a sense of anticipation and hope?

The passage in Ecclesiastes reminds us that everything in our lives, indeed, our very lives, have seasons. God’s plan for creation includes four seasons – what we call Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Those seasons are based on the earth’s rotation as it revolves around the sun. The seasons change, but the sun is constant. Our lives have seasons, too; and God has given us a constant as well – His Son, Jesus Christ. We are assured of Christ’s constancy through Paul’s words in Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

And, in Matthew 28:20, Jesus assures us he will always be with us when He says, “”…And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.”

Throughout Scripture we are advised to turn to God and to our Lord, Jesus when challenges arise:

  • Psalm 46:1-2 – “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”
  • Psalm 55:22 – “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…”
  • 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”
  • John 14:1 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.”
  • Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Like Gary, we’re all facing challenges or changes of some sort or another. Perhaps we’re looking for a job for the first time in a long time. Maybe we’re faced with a move we’d rather not be making. Or we might be plagued by financial worries, health concerns, or troubled relationships. Regardless – the question remains the same…do we let our sadness, fear, or doubt paralyze and trap us; or do we see our challenges as Seeds of Opportunity to experience life in new and exciting ways?

Closing Thoughts

Every challenge we face provides us with the opportunity to turn to God; and to allow Him to guide us, encourage us, and fill us with strength. How? Through prayer. By taking time to be still, to be one with Him. In that stillness, He will guide us, comfort us, strengthen us, and fill us with His peace.

Our prayer doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. We can simply pray, “Lord, remove my fear and doubt, guide me to make the right decisions, and fill me with your strength.” Slowly but surely, our path will be made clear, and we will proceed with boldness and confidence.

Challenges, relationships, material things, careers, health, etc. come and go. The question is not whether change will occur, but how we will face it when it does. When we’re faced with our challenges, are we filled with doubt and fear. Or, do we see those challenges as seeds for change from which new and exciting experiences will grow? Do we get let ourselves get mired in looking back at what we’ve lost, trapped in fear, dread, doubt, and sadness? Or do we look forward to the unfolding of the next phase of our lives felled with a sense of anticipation, joy, and hope?

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to share such a momentous occasion with Gary. And, I am thankful that I have been blessed with a son who, besides being an awesome young man, is such an incredible inspiration, not only to me, but to those who know him. when I’m faced with my own changing seasons, I hope and pray that, with God’s help, I face them with the same courage, strength, dignity, and grace he has shown.I’d like to close today by sharing these thoughts from The Daily Word (May 8, 2014):

I meet every challenge with strength.

Strength enables me to persevere when I am challenged; yet I don’t need to endure it alone. The presence of God strengthens me whenever I need energy to meet any adversity.

Just as I nourish my body at mealtimes to remain physically strong, I nourish my spiritual strength through prayer and meditation. Prayer reminds me that God and I are one, that everything I need is already available to me. i connect with God’s mighty presence by affirming: My resilience comes from Spirit within. My strength is the energy of God.

As I partner with God in prayer, I become stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally. I meet any challenge through the presence of God that strengthens me.

Scripture for the day: The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation. (Exodus 15:2)

No matter what challenges you might be facing today or in the future, I invite you to turn to God; and let Him fill you with courage and strength. Spend time with Him each and every day, turn your cares over to Him, and let your adversities become Seeds of Opportunities from which a beautiful, wonderful, and exciting life will emerge. And, as our hymn reminds us, in those times, let Jesus be your rock and your anchor. And so it is. Amen.

Scripture

  • Ecclesiastes 3:1
  • Hebrews 13:8
  • Matthew 28:20
  • Psalm 46:1-2
  • Psalm 55:22
  • 1 Peter 5:7
  • John 14:1
  • Philippians 4:13
  • Exodus 15:2

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Way of Life 2 – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceWay of Life – Introduction

What if everything we do and say was a prayer? Would that change our thoughts, words, and actions?

In essence – it is. Everything we say or do is either a blessing or a curse.

Spiritual Quote

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
~Winston Churchill

Thoughts

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

As we strive to live Christ-filled and Christ-guided lives, more and more, it becomes our way of life. And, the more it becomes our Way of Life, the more peaceful and joy-filled our life becomes; and the more beautiful the world around us becomes. As we discussed last week, our faith, our “Christianity,” must be more than simply a faith or belief. We must allow it to permeate every aspect of our lives. Our faith, indeed, this Way of Life, literally changes us. It transforms our thoughts, our words, our actions. It also changes our perceptions of, and how we respond to, the world around us.

When we embark on the Christian journey, we will, at times, struggle and stumble. That’s okay. We’re not expected to be perfect. But, adopting this Way of Life should create in us the desire to change. And we should be passionate about that change. The more passionate we become, the more living our faith becomes a Way of Life. Oftentimes, we don’t even have to think about it – we just automatically think, act, and behave in ways that demonstrate our deep, abiding faith in Him, and our relationship with Him.

Last week we talked about being mindful of our thoughts, words, and actions in regards to anger, jealousy, greed, rudeness, unkindness, unforgiveness, etc. And, we spoke of the importance of being kind, generous, loving, forgiving, etc. There’s something else we can do to let our faith change us so that it becomes our Way of Life. That something is Pray.

Praying for specific things, or for changes we’d like to see take place in the world around us is important. But, I’m talking today about a different type of prayer. I’m talking about living our lives as if absolutely everything we think, say, or do is a prayer. The more we focus on that which is loving, good, and beautiful, the more love, goodness, and beauty we’ll experience. And, the more we put this Way of Life into practice, the more it becomes a habit.

The more habitual it becomes, the more our life is transformed. And the more our life is transformed, the closer to God, our ultimate destiny, we become.

Prayer Through Affirmations

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul said, “pray without ceasing.”

More and more frequently, people say to me, “You’re always so [calm, happy, at peace, etc.]…how do you do it?”

Now, the Lord knows, I still have my moments. I struggle, as some of you can attest. I have to say, though, that I’m glad that others see the transformation that Christ has made in my life. How? By making a conscious choice to let Him transform me, to change my outlook and my choices.

One of the ways is by constantly affirming good. This is a lesson I started to learn from my father. While I was growing up, when Dad was asked, “How are you,” he would respond with something like, “Well…not as good as some, but better than most.” As he, and I, got older, his answer changed to a simple, “I’m wonderful!” He would proclaim it emphatically – regardless of what was going on in his life. Even while he was undergoing cancer treatment, if I asked, “How are you doing, Pop?,” he would answer, “I’m Wonderful!”

I’ve learned to respond the same way. I generally respond with Wonderful, Fabulous, Fantastic, Joyful, or Blessed. I don’t have just one set answer, I mix it up. But, with that affirmation, I am claiming, and proclaiming, my good. I am affirming God at work in my life. It changes my perception of outside circumstances, and allows me the opportunity to offer a blessing to others instead of cursing them. As a result, I am more relaxed, more at peace, and more in tune with my connection to God.

Simply adopting the mindset that you’re wonderful, joyful, etc. changes your outlook. It changes the way you feel, it changes the way you respond to people and challenges around you, other people notice the change, and they, in turn, are changed. Their day becomes just a little brighter, and the next person they interact with is similarly blessed. It’s a kind of pay-it-forward.

There are so many ways we can state our intentions and affirmations as prayers. Simply add, “Lord, I want…” or “Lord, I pray…” in front of the affirmation.

  • Want more joy and beauty in your life? Simply state, “Lord, I want joy and beauty in my life.”
  • Want to drive more peacefully? “Lord, I want to drive safely and peaceful, I want others around me to do the same, and I want to arrive relaxed and calm.”
  • Want to have positive interactions? “Lord, I want to attract only those who bless and uplift me; and I want to be a blessing to them in return.”
  • Faced with a less-than-desirable interaction? “Lord, no matter what happens, I want to respond and act with love and kindness.”

You get the idea. Just like developing the habit of answering, “How are you?” with, “I’m Wonderful,” let your affirmations become habit. The more you say them, the more you’ll attract what it is you desire. And, before long, all you see around you is that which you attract.

I’ve been practicing using these affirmations for several months now. It’s been amazing to witness and experience the changes in my own life. Like I said last week, I freely admit that I’m not all the way there yet. But I can honestly say my life is much more calm, and – truly beautiful. Do things still happen? Sure. Are people around me still rude or mean or unkind? Sure. The difference is how I choose to respond. When these “negative” people or events happen, they simply don’t affect me the way they used to. And, I find I’m more forgiving and loving. I can bless them on their way, instead of curse them. I no longer wish them ill or harm, or desire vengeance. As a result – Life is Good!

Prayer in Action

Just speaking our intentions, affirmations, or prayers isn’t all we can do. We can fully embrace and live a Christ-filled life by also letting our actions speak for us. In that way, or actions also become prayers. Simply put, our prayers and are actions are in sync.

We’ve all heard things like, “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” or “You have to give in order to receive.” When it comes to prayer, this is also true. Our actions are living manifestations of our prayers. And, what we put out, we get back.

Want to develop financial stability? Actions could include making a budget, spending wisely, avoiding going into debt, identifying wants versus needs, and being sure to include giving in your budget.

Want better health? Actions might include eating healthier foods, exercising more and, yes, giving up unhealthy habits (this would help with financial stability, too!). And yes, I know, this is one of those areas that I, personally, need to work on.

Want better relationships? Be kind, generous, loving, and forgiving to everyone with whom you come in contact.

Want to improve your career or work environment? Regardless of what’s going on, be enthusiastic; be the best employee you can be; demonstrate joy and gratitude for the work and the income it provides.

Want a better relationship with God? Spend time with Him; let His Spirit live in and through you by helping others and being a constant source of peace, joy, and love in the world around you.

When our actions are in sync with our prayers, our desires, we are, in effect, saying, “Lord, this is what I have, this is what I’m thankful for, and, Lord, I’d like more of it.”

What we put out, in thought, word, or deed, becomes our reality. Remember, Scripture tells us:

  • Proverbs 23:7 – “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
  • Luke 6:45 – “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart…”
  • Proverbs 27:19 – “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

Closing Thoughts

We can truly change our lives, and the lives of those around us, through prayer. Prayer of intention, and prayer in the form of action. Changes may not seem noticeable at first, and we may be tempted to give up. But, don’t give up…just keep praying – keep stating your prayers of intention, and let your actions speak, too. Like our quote says, we don’t have to be the most intelligent or the strongest – we just have to continually make the effort. It will, because it can’t not, unlock our potential of being so much more than we were. Our thoughts, words, and actions shape us, and the world around us – and they become our reality. And when that reality is truly living in the Spirit of Christ, not only are we transformed, our faith is transformed. It becomes more than religion, belief, or faith – it, quite simply, becomes our Way of Life.

I’d like to close with these words from Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Scripture

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16
  • Proverbs 23:7
  • Luke 6:45
  • Proverbs 27:19

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Through Earth’s Loveliness – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough Earth’s Loveliness – Introduction

To those of you who are moms, or fill the role of a mom in someone’s life, Happy Mother’s Day.

For some, Mother’s Day is a special time filled with happiness and love. For others, the day is more difficult. Perhaps we didn’t have a loving, caring mother. Perhaps our mom has passed on, and the day is bittersweet – filled with memories, but also a touch of sadness. Because of the various emotions invoked, it gets a little tricky writing a Mother’s Day message.

Scripture is full of stories of wonderful mothers. But today, I’d like to talk about a different mother – a universal mother to us all; one that offers us unlimited beauty, one nourishes us throughout our lives, and one through whose beauty we can see and commune with God. She is known by many names – Mother Earth, Earth Mother and, more encompassing, Mother Nature, just to name a few.

Spiritual Quote

“My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth’s loveliness.”
~Michelangelo

Thoughts

In Genesis, God created the earth. Mankind was formed of the earth, and God breathed the spirit of life into man. “God is Spirit…,” says John 4:24. 1 Corinthians 8:6 tells us, “…there is one God, the Father…,” and Ephesians 4:6 says, “One God and Father of all…” Genesis 3:19 tells us, “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” Thus, in a sense, we have the two elements necessary to create life – male and female. God is our Father and, in a sense, Earth is our Mother.

God is defined as Spirit. The earth, indeed all of nature, is a physical world – the environment in which we live. Not only is it the earth, but that plants, animals, birds, fish, sky, clouds, trees, flowers, deserts, mountains, streams, lakes, and oceans. To our human minds, since God is our Father, and we refer to Him as He, it makes sense that we would refer to the earth, or nature, as she. Ancient cultures, focusing on nature as providing life, worshiped the earth and nature as goddesses.

The ancient Greek goddess Gaia, meaning earth, was considered to be the mother of all and was referred to as Mother Gaia – hence the term we use today, Mother Earth.

Now, let’s be clear. Although we may refer to our physical environment as Mother Earth or Mother Nature, it’s important to understand that, from the Christian perspective, the earth, or nature, is not a being, is not a god or goddess, and is not to be worshiped. We all appreciate and even love nature. And we should. It’s part of God’s creation. It is through nature that God provides for our physical needs – lumber for housing, food and water to nourish our bodies, etc. Even the sun itself provides us with Vitamin D. And it is through nature that we can worship and enter into a deep communion with God.

Unfortunately, we, as a society, tend to spend entirely too much time indoors. Jobs have become sedentary; we spend our entire day indoors behind a desk, at a computer, stocking shelves, behind a cash register, etc. Even our children spend most, if not all, of their time outside of school in front of a T.V., computer, or video game consul.

My own grandchildren are a wonderful case in point. My daughter and her husband recently moved their family from an apartment into a house. They now have a beautiful, safe, secure yard in which to run, jump, dig, roll around, and play. What do they want to do? They want to Watch TV, watch a movie, or play a video game. My daughter constantly encourages them to play outside, sometimes actually forcing the issue. She simply turns off all of the electronics and sends them outside.

How do they respond? They stand, and pout. They’ve gotten so used to being inside, and so accustomed to the technology, they’d rather stand and pout than play!

Many adults are the same. We get up, go to work, and stay indoors all day. Then we go home, too exhausted to do much of anything, and we flip on the TV, or we plop ourselves down in front of the computer. With the invention of remote controls, we don’t even have to get out of our chair to change the channels.

When we do venture outside, it’s not to spend any quality time appreciating nature all around us, it’s out of a sense of duty – we have to mow the lawn, trip the bushes, pull the weeds.

Now, some of us do find yard work to be a source of enjoyment. But, a lot of us do it not because we genuinely enjoy it, but because it’s something that needs to be done.

And, some of us do spend a lot of time outdoors. Most of us, however do not. Personally, I believe we would all do well to spend more time outside – me included. How many times have we heard, or told someone else, “take time to smell the roses”? We should take time to admire and appreciate what we call Mother Nature. Not from the standpoint of worshiping Mother Nature as some sort of goddess, but with the desire to appreciate and admire what God has created and provided for us. There is great beauty all around us, if we would just slow down long enough to enjoy it.

Not only is spending time outdoors good for us physically and emotionally, it’s good for us spiritually, too. Spending time out in God’s creation can be a very prayerful time. Our quote for today points to this truth. The basis of meditative prayer is silence and stillness. When we’re out in nature, we can find those “sacred spaces” – that quiet spot next to the river, under the shade of a beautiful tree, or surrounded by fragrant flowers. When we quiet our minds and breathe in the beauty of God’s creation – what we call Mother Nature – the stillness enfolds us. Our thoughts begin to slow, our minds become less cluttered, and we come to a place of peace within. It is in this quiet, still peace that we hear God’s voice.

This way of worshiping God, being still and communicating with Him, surrounded by the beauty of the Nature He created, has a basis in Scripture, too.

With but a few exceptions, where did Jesus go to pray? He consistently went into Nature to spend time with His Father.

  • Luke 3:21 says, “When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened.” Now, we know from Matthew and Mark that heaven opened immediately, while Jesus was still in the river. So, it stands to reason that here, in Luke, that Jesus was praying immediately after being baptized, while he was still in the river.
  • If we look at Mark 1:35, we see that Jesus went out into Nature to find solitude and stillness in order to commune with God, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.”
  • Later on in Mark, 6:46, we read about Jesus’ reaction to John the Baptists murder. After preaching to and feeding the crowd that had gathered, He sent His disciples away in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Then, “…when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.” He didn’t walk back to town to go to the synagogue. He went out into the splendor of God’s creation in order to find solitude and stillness, and to spend time with God.
  • Luke 5:16 tells us, “…He himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”
  • John 18:1 tells us that Jesus went to a garden to pray.
  • And in Matthew 26:36, Jesus told His disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”

Time and time again, Scripture shows us that one way to be silent, to be still, and to be at one with God is by spending time out in what we today call Mother Nature.

I like the way Pastor John Hickman says it:

“God’s Creation fills us with a sense of wonder and worship for the Creator. Psalm 111:2 says, “The works of the LORD are great, Studied by all who have pleasure in them.”

We take great pleasure in God’s Creation when we are outdoors looking at mountains and trees and take great pleasure when we are walking on the beach with the warm waves washing over our feet.

It is in God’s Creation that we sense and see the presence of the Creator. Have you ever seen such a glorious sunrise or sunset that your eyes were filled with tears at the beauty of God’s work? As if God was doing sky painting in His Creation?

People who admire the beauty of Nature appreciate the beautiful sunrise and marvel at how the rays of the sun light up the water vapor and impurities in the atmosphere. But when the morning sky turns to brilliant shades of red and orange, those who know God see Him showing off His Creation. We look at the heavens and God reminds us of His presence in all things. Psalm 19:1-4 [tells us] “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.”

When we meet God in His Creation, we are recharged and renewed in His presence. We need to be refreshed. Just our day-to-day life takes something from us. Going to school, working, caring for our family or for another person takes effort and energy that needs to be replaced. We soon find ourselves running on empty if we are not coming into God’s presence to be refreshed and recharged…

The Yosemite Naturalist, John Muir wrote “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir was a devout Christian. He was in love with his Creator and Creation and John Muir understood “nature” to be God’s creation. With that understanding, lets paraphrase that quote. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where God can use His Creation to heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

Without God, it’s just nature. It is ONLY when our worship is directed toward God that we can really see and appreciate His Creation. It is in His Creation, we come into His presence and it is there that we can find healing and wholeness. In His Creation we find the silence, solitude and stillness. It’s in His Creation that we meet the Creator.”

Closing Thoughts

We here in Southern Oregon are blessed. We have mountains, rivers, trees, lakes, and streams. We have parks. Just a few hours west we have the ocean. And just a few hours northeast we have the high desert. We have the beauty of God’s Creation all around us. All we have to do is walk out the door!

In closing, I’d like to honor and bless all Mothers. I thank God for mothers everywhere who not only chose to give life, but who nurture us and fill our lives with love. I also thank God for His most wonderful Creation – Mother Nature. And I invite you to walk out the door, spend more time enjoying her, and, like Jesus and Michelangelo, climb the staircase to heaven that is found Through Earth’s Loveliness.

Scripture

  • John 4:24
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6
  • Ephesians 4:6
  • Genesis 3:19
  • Luke 3:21
  • Mark 1:35
  • Mark 6:46
  • Luke 5:16
  • John 18:1
  • Matthew 26:36
  • Psalm 111:2

Join the Discussion

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to respectfully comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please fee free to share it.

Support Our Ministry

We are a very small church doing wonderful things within our community. In order to continue doing the work God has put before us, we need your help. Please consider making a donation, or sign up as a monthly pledge donor. All gifts large and small are greatly appreciated. Simply click the Donate link in the upper menu. Thank you, and may God bless your generosity.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!