RSS

Category Archives: Encouragement

Being a blessing…There is no plant in the ground but is full of his virtue. There is no form in the strand but is full of his blessing


“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.”

Solomon made it clear that not only were the blessings from God, but even the enjoyment of the blessings was God’s gift to us (v. 24). He considered it “evil” if a person had all the blessings of life from God but could not enjoy them (6:1-5).are-you-being-a-blessings

This is the first of six “conclusions” in Ecclesiastes, each of which emphasizes the importance of accepting life as God’s gift…enjoying it in God’s will. Solomon is not advocating “Eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die!” That is the philosophy of fatalism not faith. Rather, he is saying, “Thank God for what you do have, and enjoy it to the glory of God.”


Paul gave his approval to this attitude when he exhorted us to trust “in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17, nkjv).

It is easy to see why the Jewish people read Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles, for Tabernacles is their great time of thanksgiving and rejoicing for God’s abundant provision of their needs.

The important thing is that we seek to please the Lord (v. 26) and trust Him to meet every need. God wants to give us wisdom, knowledge, and joy; these three gifts enable us to appreciate God’s blessings and take pleasure in them.

It is not enough to possess “things”; we must also possess the kind of character that enables us to use “things” wisely and enjoy them properly.

It is related that during the Civil War a Confederate soldier who was placed far out in a lonely wood to watch suddenly felt a strange dread and fear come over him. The moon was shining dimly in the deeply wooded place. And while it seemed strange and unwise, he felt constrained to sing softly the old song, “Jesus, Lover of my soul let me to Thy bosom fly,” and the stanza, “Other refuge have I none.” This he did, and immediately felt relieved of his fear.

A few years later, when the war was over, he was at a meeting and sang the same song. After the song, a stranger came up to him and said, “I never saw you before, but I have heard that voice before.” Then he asked him if he sang that song one night during the war. Then he related to him how he and some of his men, who were Union soldiers, were hidden behind trees and had their guns turned on him and were ready to fire! “But,” said he, “as we heard that song, ‘Jesus, Lover of my soul,’ and, ‘Other refuge have I none,’ I said to my men, Don’t shoot that man,’ and we slipped away and left you. I shall never forget the voice I heard that night.”

There is only one refuge and that is Jesus, and we need Him at the end of the way.

Allen Redpath wrote that you never lighten the load unless you first have felt the pressure in your own soul. You are never used of God to bring blessing until God has opened your eyes and made you see things as they really are.

All that is required to make men unmindful of what they owe to God for any blessing is that they should receive that blessing often and regularly.

The story is told of an only survivor of a wreck who was thrown on an uninhabited island. After a while he managed to build himself a hut, in which he placed the little all that he had saved from the ship. He prayed to God for deliverance and anxiously scanned the horizon each day to hail any passing ship. One day on returning from a hunt for food, he was horrified to find his hut in flames. All he had was going up in smoke! The worst had happened, it appeared; but that which seemed to have happened for the worst was in reality for the best. To the man’s limited vision it was the worst. To God’s infinite wisdom it was the best, for which he had prayed. The next day a ship arrived. “We saw your smoke signal,” the captain said.

That hardship can actually be a blessing–or “a severe mercy,” to recall Sheldon Vanauken’s book of that title–is a profoundly Christian insight seldom heard these days, even from the clergy, who so often seem preoccupied with being “pastoral” or superficially popular.

I’ve seen numerous ‘pictures’ of the pilgrims at the first American Thanksgiving. While their circumstances were alluded to slightly, it is often not realized the depth of their supposed despair.
Do you know half of their number died the first year they were here? They had a hard time, and it was a cold winter. Dangers lurked everywhere, but those pilgrims didn’t think of the death of their loved ones and the dangers and the cold weather. They didn’t let that obscure the blessings of God. They went together, and they thanked the Lord for the blessings they had received. Sometimes we need to put down our assets alongside our losses. Everyone of us is more blessed than we are hurt.

I remember reading a story not long ago about the “elevated” in Chicago–a train that when it comes into the downtown, it’s on a high track. A young man was riding that train day after day as a commuter. And as the train slowed up for the station where he got off, he could look through an open curtain into a room of a building and see a woman lying in a bed.

She was there day after day, for a long time, obviously quite ill. He began to get interested in her since he saw her every day. Finally he determined to find out her name. He discovered her address, and he wrote her a card, assuring her that he was praying for her recovery. He signed it: “The young man on the elevated.”

A few weeks later, he pulled into the station, and he looked through that window and the bed was empty. Instead there was a great huge sign: GOD BLESS YOU, MY FRIEND ON THE ELEVATED!
It sounds rather trite to say it, but it is a fact that the everyday blessings of life are so basic that we often take them for granted.

The late Dr. Paul Rees tells the true story of a man whose job was to transport people who had been committed to a mental hospital. After delivering a patient one day, he was walking back to his car when he heard a voice call out, “Hey you!” It came from one of the upper floors. Looking up, the man called back, “Are you speaking to me?” “Yes, I am,” came the reply, “I want to ask you a question. Have you ever thanked God that you have a healthy mind?” To say the least, the driver was stunned. He said, “I suddenly realized that I had been bringing people to this facility for some fifteen years. Yet I had never once thanked God for a good mind!”

When spring came to England after the devastating bombing raids of 1941 by Nazi Germany, a strange thing occurred. It brought a beautiful, botanical resurrection. The explosions brought to the surface seeds of plants which were thought to be extinct. Some 95 different flowers and shrubs were found suddenly growing and blooming in the bomb-pocked landscape of England. Likewise, adversity, in life often turns up unexpected and undeveloped parts of our lives. The bombs of adversity and suffering often resurrect long-dormant flowers.

It doesn’t say enough , but what it does say is good. I’m referring to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reflection on success.

How do you measure success? To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a redeemed social condition, or a job well done;
To know even one other life has breathed because you lived, this is to have succeeded.

We had better bear our troubles bravely than try to escape them. Indeed, sometimes God will place certain obstacles in the life of a Christian to prevent sin or harm. However, if we try to remove these obstacles, we will ultimately come to regret it.

We must remember that no matter how difficult our tribulations may seem to us, there are always others who are in a worse situation than us!

A certified public accountant did something that maybe all of us should do. He decided to open a journal with God. He wanted to write everything that God gave him and everything that he gave to God. He started keeping a debit and credit book with God.

If someone did him a favor, he put it down as God’s gift to him. He credited God with the sun, his food, his health, his friends and relatives, and a thousand other benefits he received. On the other hand, he put down what he did for God. Finally he gave up saying, “It is impossible for me to balance the books. I find that God is indeed my creditor and what I have done for Him is next to nothing.”

Dr. James J. Walsh said, “Few people realize that their health actually varies due to this factor. Happy individuals recover from disease much more quickly than sad, complaining patients; and statistics show that those who laugh live longer.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 3, 2022 in Encouragement

 

God Loves To Give Gifts


God the Giver of All Good Gifts - Sabbath School Lesson - YouTube

Long before we took our first breath, our Creator showed Himself to be a great giver of everything a man or woman could ask for. Today, He still wants to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).

As the Father of heaven, He is behind “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).

When we say that “the best things in life are free,” it’s a way of acknowledging that when God gives life, and friendship, and laughter, He is showing that no one can give a better gift than He can. Yet His best offer is so priceless and so perfectly suited to our needs and happiness, many think it’s too good to be true.

It’s Described In The Bible

The most quoted of all books describes a wonderfully mysterious gift that goes far beyond anything we have ever received. When unwrapped, it includes peace of mind, acceptance, forgiveness, adoption into the family of heaven, and everlasting life. But does God offer to give us the desires of our heart as a reward for good living? Not according to the Bible. It refers to this spiritual package as salvation and calls it “the gift of God” (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9).

It Cannot Be Earned

In most areas of life we work hard to earn respect and the right to be trusted and promoted. But God’s perfect gift of salvation is different. It comes not by merit but by mercy, not by trying but by trusting, and not by working but by resting. In the words of the apostle Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In another of his New Testament letters, Paul added, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5).

God Paid For It Himself

Long before wise men brought gifts to a Bethlehem manger, our Creator gave us the gift of choice. Knowing that love must be voluntary to be meaningful, He gave us the freedom to accept or reject Him. From the beginning, however, our first parents chose to walk away from Him. Instead of leaving them in their rebellion, He revealed a plan of rescue whereby an innocent victim would die on behalf of the guilty. An elaborate system of symbolic Temple ritual anticipated what God Himself would do for us on the center page of human history. At the time of God’s own choosing and in a moment of infinite and eternal significance, He did what can only be explained by love—He sacrificed His Son to pay for our sin (John 1:29; Hebrews 10:5-10).

It Comes With A Proof Of Purchase

The receipt we hold for His payment is the record of history. Jewish prophets predicted a Messiah who would deliver His people from their sin (Isaiah 53; Daniel 9:26). When He arrived, the Gospel writers tell us that He healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave hope to the oppressed. Then He did what no one expected Him to do. Instead of riding to power on the shoulders of adoring crowds, He silently bore the slander of critics, and voluntarily died at the hands of Roman executioners. Three days later, He walked out of a guarded tomb (Luke 24:1-7). Eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ died at the hands of enemies rather than deny that they had seen Him alive.

It Was Wrapped With Care

God packaged His perfect gift in thousands of years of fulfilled predictions, widely observed miracles, and breathtaking rescues. Then after centuries of anticipation, the Lord of heaven visited a young Jewish woman named Mary and, in the greatest of all miracles, wrapped Himself in her womb. In the years that followed, He surrounded the gift in the irony of obscurity, the affection of unlikely followers, the envy of religious leaders, and the crushing disappointment of death. When all seemed lost, God wrapped His gift in the excited reports of witnesses who announced an unexpected resurrection from the dead. For a final touch, the Creator gave His gift of salvation a colorful bow of diversity—people from every nation on earth whose hearts and lives have been changed by His love (Revelation 5:9).

God Offers It By Grace

To those who had already accepted the offer of God’s mercy, the apostle Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul had once tried to earn his own way into God’s favor (Philippians 3:3-9). Now he wanted his readers to know what he himself had discovered—that it is only by the grace of God that the angels of heaven welcome fallen and broken rebels into the eternal family and presence of God. In another letter, Paul described the difference between Adam, who spread sin and death to all his descendants, and Christ, who brought grace and life to all who trust Him. So he wrote, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense [Adam’s sin] many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many” (Romans 5:15).

It Can Be Received Only Through Faith and Baptism (by immersion) for remission of sins (Acts 2:38)

Paul’s carefully chosen words to the Ephesians were, “By grace you have been saved through faith.” In this qualifying phrase, we are reminded that God comes only where He is invited. The One who wants us to share the happiness of His eternal family knocks gently at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to welcome Him into our lives (John 1:12). So the gospel says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The first Christians responded in Acts 2:38 with repentance and baptism for remission of sins, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It’s Available To Anyone Willing To Receive It

Most of Jesus’ best friends were fishermen, not scholars. One was a tax collector. One had been possessed by demons. One sold her body for a living. What they had in common was their willingness to accept the gift of God. Together they were the kind of men and women Jesus loved to bring to His Father. Even in His dying hour, while hanging on a cross between two dying criminals, Jesus gave the gift of eternal life. One of the two mocked Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” The other criminal rebuked the first and said, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Only because salvation is a gift of grace could Jesus say to him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).

It Inspires Gratitude

Those who avoid asking for help often take pride in being obligated to no one. But those who are willing to admit their spiritual need discover something more meaningful than self-sufficiency. They join those grateful people who know they owe their lives to someone else. Those who have been saved from a burning car or building by a courageous firefighter or bystander know what it means to live the rest of their lives with a deep sense of gratitude. In a similar way, those who know they have been rescued by God’s grace from the fires of judgment have reason to live the rest of their lives out of the overflow of their gratefulness to God (Ephesians 2:10). Nothing puts a smile on a face or love in a heart like the overwhelming awareness that all we could ever ask for has been given to us in the perfect gift of God

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 31, 2022 in Encouragement, God

 

Why Doesn’t God Give Up On Me? 2 Peter 3:9-10 


2 Peter 3:9 Inspirational Images

This is an extremely skeptical world. We live in extremely skeptical times. We are suspicious of everything. We tend to think that everything is guided by ulterior motives. We tend to believe that true openness and genuine honesty do not exist.

Our skepticism profoundly impacts the way we look at God. We do not place as much emphasis on what God said as on what God did not say. We are devoted to determining what God actually wants. We often attempt to determine God’s true desires by “reading between the lines.”

I sincerely doubt that any of us are capable of imagining the enormous frustration that we inflict on God.

Have you ever considered how easily God could have “given up” on humanity? Have you ever considered how easily God could have decided that one of the worst mistakes He ever made was creating humans with a free will?

If God were human, He would have cut His losses a long time ago. To me the greatest evidences that God is not human are seen in His patience, His forgiveness, and His mercy.

No human, not even the best of the best, can endure as much abuse, misrepresentation, and neglect as does God, and remain patient, forgiving, and merciful.

Important for us to relate more and more with the nature of God…important that we come to know Him as He really is. We begin with a strange text:

Abraham’s Bargain (Genesis 18:16-33)

Relate context with faith of Abraham and Sarah. When God’s intentions regarding Sodom and Gomorrah becomes clear, Abraham is concerned because he has family down there. He begins bartering with God…think of his audacity….50…45…40…30…20 …10.

This is the very nature of God! He longs to save! The primary character of this text is not Abraham but God.

The Constant Refrain

(Exodus 34:6) “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” 

God is a holy God and His nature is not to be taken for granted…but His nature is clearly revealed again…He wants to save!

Relate rebellious nature of the children of Israel and see the end result:

(Numbers 14:18) “‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.'”

The law is read before a large group of people and, after standing for hours, they repented of their sins…and remembered God in the past and related it to their present:

(Nehemiah 9:17) “They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them…”

Psalmist complains about the abuse he’s taken in life:

(Psalms 86:15) “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

(Psalms 103:8-14) “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. {9} He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; {10} he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. {11} For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; {12} as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. {13} As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; {14} for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

This statement is like John 3:16 to the Jewish people……it is given as a constant reminder for the Israelites…..(Psalms 145:8) “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”

(Joel 2:13) “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

(Jonah 4:2) “He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

(Nahum 1:3) “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.”

What Patience Is/Is Not

Patience is “slow to anger” and “steadfastness.”

Patience is not: apathy or tolerance. God is holy and He will reckon eventually with the unholiness of man and his willful decisions…of his ignoring the teachings of God. “Whatever” will not be tolerated by God when all is made right on His timetable.

Patience With a Purpose

God’s patience is for the purpose of giving an opportunity to repent (2 Pet. 3:9-10; Rom. 2:4).

(Romans 2:4) “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

(2 Peter 3:9-10) “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. {10} But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”

Why has Christ not yet returned to earth? Because God loves man; He does not want any person to perish, not a single person. God is not slack in fulfilling His promise nor is He powerless to return and judge the earth. He has not returned for one reason and one reason only. He wants more and more people to come to repentance.

God wants no person to perish. To perish is a terrible thing. It means to be utterly lost and destroyed. It means to lose eternal life and to be cut off from life forever and ever. It means to be spiritually destitute, completely empty of all good. Itmeans to suffer the judgment, condemnation, and punishment of separation from God forever and ever. It means to perish; to be in a state of suffering forever and ever apart from God.

The point is this: God does not want us perishing; He does not want us cut off and separated from Him. God wants us to spend eternity with Him not apart from Him.

There are in this passage three great truths on which to nourish the mind and rest the heart.

(i)  Time is not the same to God as it is to man.  As the Psalmist had it:  “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4).  When we think of the world’s hundreds of thousands of years of existence, it is easy to feel dwarfed into insignificance; when we think of the slowness of human progress, it is easy to become discouraged into pessimism.  There is comfort in the thought of a God who has all eternity to work in.  It is only against the background of eternity that things appear in their true proportions and assume their real value.

(ii)  We can also see from this passage that time is always to be regarded as an opportunity.  As Peter saw it, the years God gave the world were a further opportunity for men to repent and turn to him.  Every day which comes to us is a gift of mercy.  It is an opportunity to develop ourselves; to render some service to our fellow-men; to take one step nearer to God.

(iii)  Finally, there is another echo of a truth which so often lies in the background of New Testament thought.  God, says Peter, does not wish any to perish.  God, says Paul, has shut them all up together in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all (Romans 11:32).  Timothy in a tremendous phrase speaks of God who will have all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).  Ezekiel hears God ask:  “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should return from his way and live?”  (Ezekiel 18:23).

Ever and again there shines in Scripture the glint of the larger hope.  We are not forbidden to believe that somehow and some time the God who loves the world will bring the whole world to himself.

A Word Straight to You and Me

God hasn’t given up on you and me! It’s easy for us to think God acts toward us the way we act toward each other. We’ve all had people “give up on us” as a result of some disagreement or event. One of the great tragedies is when family “gives up on us.” The message today: God doesn’t give up on us.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 24, 2022 in Encouragement

 

Ministry to missing members: How to respond when people are in danger of ‘dropping out of church.’


Saint John Lutheran Church, Charter Oak, Iowa: We Miss YOU!

The Apathetic and Bored Church Member

John S. Savage wrote a doctoral dissertation several years ago on inactive members and the steps they go through to become ‘permanently’ inactive. I believe it will be advantageous for all of us to be aware of these steps and be ready to assist our brothers and sisters if a need arises.

1. The first step is an anxiety-provoking event.

An incident which produces some type of anxiety or uncomfortable feeling in the active member (1) Conflict with the minister; (2) Conflict with another family member; (3) Conflict with another church member.

We found 95 percent of the people had experienced what we now call an “anxiety-provoking event”-an ape. Subsequent research showed these events usually come in clusters, several apes compounding within six months to a year.

Anxiety is the emotional alarm system triggered by disequilibrium, hurt, or anticipated hurt. The inactive members we visited revealed high levels of anxiety, which drove them from church membership because they were never resolved. Their anxiety fell into four categories.

  • Reality anxiety. This anxiety is based on some real, historical event; you could have videotaped what caused it. Normally the event is a snub or an utter lack of church care when a member needed it.  A family from the church had their home burn to the ground, and their 2- and 4-year-old children died in the fire. How many people went to visit him and his wife? Maybe the minister, but probably not many parishioners. Most would confess, “I wouldn’t know what to say,” as if they had to say something.  That event causes reality anxiety. A family experiencing this kind of tragedy would have a hard time returning to a church they felt let them down when they needed them.
  • Moral anxiety. Moral anxiety arises when people experience in themselves or others behaviors they believe aren’t right.  Immoral sexual activity causes many people to eventually leave the church.
  • Neurotic anxiety. Neurotic anxiety is pain caused by the imagination. Someone may claim, “I don’t go to church because the minister doesn’t like me.” The feeling might be based on reality, but the chances are it’s neurotic. It’s only in the person’s head.  A man goes into the hospital, doesn’t let you know he’s there, but expects you to visit. Then he gets angry when you don’t. Months later when you do call, you may trace his problem to that hospital stay. The man is convinced you don’t care about him. That’s neurotic anxiety.  We can inadvertently foster neurotic anxiety. For example, a minister regularly calls on a couple who are potential members. He spends time with them and makes them feel important. All the time they’re thinking, Look at all the personal attention you get from the minister around here! Then they join the church, and the attention they receive drops almost to zero. They wonder what happened. The minister has accidentally encouraged unrealistic expectations, which give rise to neurotic anxiety.
  • Existential anxiety. Existential anxiety is the feeling brought about by the thought that some day you may not exist, or that even if you do, your life may be meaningless. We hear the refrains, “The church has lost its meaning for me,” “The sermons don’t mean anything anymore, Minister,” “My kids are bored stiff in Sunday school.”

Main conflict areas
All anxiety arises from some problem. The most common is intra-family conflict. Husband and wife square off on some issue; parents and kids squabble. This kind of conflict is the most consistent characteristic of people who have left the church.

Conflict with ministers is the second most common problem. When ministers avoid dealing with people’s anxiety, the people simply avoid the ministers and their churches.

Family against family, inter-family conflict, is the third arena. It’s the Hatfields against the McCoys; people don’t get along with one another.

Overwork, or at least the feeling of it, presents a fourth problem area. With volunteer church service, too much too soon or too long, with no reward, will drive people from the church.

Suppose you discover a family is having troubles at home, seems to be avoiding you, is feeling disappointed about the way other church members have treated them, and thinks they’re overworked and unrewarded. You will usually find they are experiencing reality, moral, neurotic, or existential anxiety-often simultaneously. Then you can predict the next stage: they cry for help.

2. The second step is the blinking red light.  The member is hurting inside and wants/needs to talk.

3. Anger is the third step. When anxiety reaches the stage of acute discomfort, the anxiety is transformed to anger.

The cry
If we learn to hear and respond to people’s cries for help, we can usually prevent their dropping out. Those still crying will respond to our efforts to reach them. But cries don’t last forever. Some cry longer than others, depending on their bond to the congregation, but when the cry goes unanswered, eventually members leave. Then the damage is much greater and more difficult to repair.

A verbal cry for help may sound like this: “I don’t know if I want to continue coming to this church. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hypocrites!”

Or it could be more subtle: “You know, all the men but me in our Sunday school class have had promotions at work.”

I worked with a woman in Christian education for two years and never once heard a complaint. Then one day in the midst of a long paragraph she let slip just one sentence: “I’m not sure I can do this job much longer.”

I didn’t say anything right then, but when I saw her the next Sunday morning in the hallway, I said, “Sally, I have a feeling you might be upset about some things in church, particularly in the Christian education area.”

“Can I talk with you this week?” she said.

She came in the following Thursday with all her teaching materials-and unmistakable body language. Even before she sat down, she said, “You’re not going to like what I’m about to tell you, but I’m going to resign.” I listened to her story for an hour and a half, and I heard from her the classic phrase of one who is thinking of leaving: “I don’t want to leave the church. I love the church, but I’m tired.” She was overworked-reality anxiety-so we renegotiated her workload, and she stayed. The key is hearing the story first.

Ministers can respond to cries in one of three ways:

First, they can listen and respond to the pain the cry represents. That can be amazingly beneficial.

Second, they can ignore the cry, not realizing how serious it is, until the cry moves into anger. The person gets more agitated and says, “Hey, what do I have to do to get you to hear me? Somebody help me. Can’t you see I’m about to leave the church?”

Third, they can shoot the person with the gospel gun: “What’s the matter with you? Are you losing your faith or something?” That’s a mistake of confusing the symptom for the disease, the behavior for the cause.

But surprisingly, even if we react to the immediate anger rather than the anxiety behind it, we’ll still recover about 80 percent of the people. Even hesitating steps in the right direction can help.

If we miss the verbal cries for help, we at least have a whole string of nonverbal cries to alert us to the problem. The cries for help become behavioral. The person either leaves or begins the process of leaving.

4. Behavioral change. The member either becomes more aggressive or withdrawn. If the problem is not resolved at this point, they move further away from active membership. They drop out of committees. They give up their Sunday or Wednesday classes, if teaching. Usually, at this point, they stop attending except on Sunday morning. They stop attending special meetings and their contributions are either cut down or cut out altogether.

The first behavior change is the leaving of worship.

Second, people leave major committees and boards. They either don’t show up or they begin to show up sporadically. Both of these indicators can be seen on an attendance graph. The one who was always there four Sundays a month drops to three to two to only rare appearances. Or the board member makes one or two meetings a year after nearly perfect attendance in past years.

Third, people begin to leave Sunday school. Most adults have their closest friends in their Sunday school classes. Backing away from friends is a major change.

Fourth, the kids are pulled out of Sunday school. The parents decide they don’t even want to bring them, let alone come themselves.

Fifth comes the letter of resignation, and finally, interestingly enough, the pledge is dropped. That’s the final gasp for help, the last commitment to be given up in most denominations.

The sad thing is, these dropouts are hurting. They’ve not only experienced a cluster of anxiety-provoking events, but also are grieving the loss of their church.

Skunks and turtles
In my experience, a third of the inactive people we called on had tears running down their cheeks once we dug out the original cluster of pain. Uncovering that hurt caused them to cry before perfect strangers.

But people respond to their pain in different ways. Some begin to blame something external – the church, the elders, the members, the minister. We’ve nicknamed them skunks. When you call on these people, you get sprayed on. It’s what happened to me when the woman slammed the paper into her lap and lashed out at me.

When these people drop out, they wait six to eight weeks and then psychologically seal off the pain and anxiety produced by the original cluster. They back away and by all appearances become apathetic. But the pain of the cluster remains and acts as the block to returning to church. In order to get the person to come back, we must deal with that pain.

After they seal off the pain, people reinvest their time, energy, and money in other pursuits. Half reinvest themselves in the family; they buy tents, trailers, and snowmobiles and go away on the weekend. You visit them and hear, “Our family is just as close to God fishing on the lake as we were back at church with that bunch of snobs.”

The other 50 percent reinvest themselves in other institutions: hospitals, PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Rotary. So if we call on them, they’ll point their finger at us and say, “I’ve gotten involved with that volunteer ambulance crew. I’m a dispatcher on Sunday mornings. You know, we really help people now.” That’s a skunk speaking.

Another set of dropouts experiences a different emotion: hopelessness. It’s the antithesis of helplessness. It’s the sense of being incapable of generating any inner motivation. As a result, these people withdraw and become inactive. We call them turtles.

Turtles have incredible power to hook other people’s guilt. A turtle’s cry for help might sound like this: “I’m sure you could get Mrs. Green to teach the class. She would do a much better job than I could.” The turtle drops out, waits six to eight weeks, and seals off the pain, much like the skunk. But turtles point the blame internally, toward themselves.

Whether it’s the skunks’ spray or the turtles’ timidity, the various cries for help can be addressed.

Pain – listening
So what do we do for these people? We need to teach ourselves and our lay people to hear the pain of inactive people. It helps, too, if we learn how to intervene in the stages leading to inactivity, before the people disappear.

When we call on an inactive family, or one heading that direction, chances are strong we’re going to have to deal with anger. The turtles’ anger will make us feel guilty, and the skunks’ anger will make us mad. Since calling on an inactive member is often painful, it’s easy to enter a cycle: People leave because they’re angry; I’m angry because they left; I punish them by letting them sit in their pain; they punish me by not coming back.

5. Holding Pattern.

This lasts from six to eight weeks. During this time, they are breaking emotional ties with the folks at the church. They are waiting to see if anyone from the church will call on them. If no one comes during the holding period, then they begin to reinvest their time and energy in other organizations and clubs. Camping, or other family outings, especially on weekends, seems to become a favorite pastime of the inactive member.

6. Out the back door.

The active member has now made the journey out of the church and no longer attends or takes interest in the congregation to which he/she once gave much time and effort.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 3, 2022 in Church, Encouragement

 

Anniversary of ‘Stepping out of the Boat”


On May 13, 1979, Terry and I ‘stepped out of the boat” and entered full-time ministry. I had been a sports writer since graduating from MTSU for over seven years, but took the opportunity to return to our alma-mater to be the campus minister at the Middle Tennessee Christian Center.

Even though there have been many ‘ups and downs,’ it is a decision I have never regretted, and I now enter my 42nd year.

Certainly the blessings of ministry far outweigh the realities below, yet ministry is definitely not easy. That is why ministry must be a calling and not simply a “job”. If you can’t reconcile with these 10 difficult realities and challenges concerning ministry, then perhaps you should avoid it all together.

My dad told me plenty of things as we discussed this crucial decision, but both he and Mom were full of encouragement, though Mom acknowledged after a few years that she felt I should have followed my dad’s example and kept my “full-time job” and been a part-time minister/teacher.

He did say one thing that I have always laughed about: “Gary, Sundays come around really fast when you are preparing two lessons and two Bible class studies per week.”

I find these timely reminders to be useful when one decides to enter ministry…wishing I had learned some of these sooner in my life:

  1. You will probably begin by ministering to a church that is barely growing (if at all), is opposed to change, doesn’t pay well, has seen ministers come and go, doesn’t respect the position as Biblically as they should, doesn’t understand what the Bible says a minister’s or a church’s jobs are, and will only follow you when they agree with you (thus, they’ll really only follow themselves).
  2. You will feel very lonely on a consistent basis, feeling like no one truly knows you or cares how you feel, because you do not want to burden your family, and trust-worthy peers are few and far between. Because of the ”super-Christian” myth accredited to ministers literally, you will find it extremely difficult to disclose your deep thoughts and feelings to others. Thus, you will struggle with loneliness.
  3. You will be persecuted for preaching the truth, mostly from your brothers and sisters in the pews. You shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of your own blood. You’re a Christian, after all (Matt. 16:24).
  4. You will think about quitting yearly or monthly, if not weekly or even daily.
  5. You will be criticized, rarely to your face, and frequently behind your back. This criticism will come from those that love you, those that obviously do not like you, and shepherds and Christians that barely know you.
  6. Not everyone will respond positively to your preaching, teaching, or leadership. You will bring people to tears with the same sermon: one in joy, another in anger (I have done this).
  7. You will fight legalism and liberalism, along with laziness, ignorance, tradition, and opposition. Yet, your greatest enemy will be your own heart (Jere. 17:9).
  8. You will feel like a failure often, and when you do appear to succeed, the fruit that is produced cannot be accredited to you. God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). Thus, there is little “sense of accomplishment in ministry” that you may be accustomed to in other vocations.
  9. You will make people angry regardless how godly you handle yourself; it comes with the position.
  10. Not everyone will like you.

I have discovered all of the 10 items to be absolutely correct.

Do not get me wrong. I find great joy in this life effort! My nature is to be an optimistic realist, thus the ability to see things as they are but to find joy and a sense of accomplishment. I have long said that I have the benefit of doing something I enjoy and can still be a big sports fan without the late nights and early hours…and stress to make a deadline.

I also find great satisfaction in mowing a yard…getting to start and finish something in a single moment of time.

I have learned much from some special people in my life, Lately, one of those dear friends asked me “why would you accept criticism from someone you would never go to for advise?” Amen!

And often people find it ‘convenient’ to agree with you only when you follow their advise, when, in actuality, they are accepting you only for what they see in you that duplicates/mirrors them. Impossible!

A most recent lesson? I try daily not to micro-manage someone else’s personality…wishing that others would follow that idea in regard to me.

I was both a preacher’s kid (PK) and an elder’s kid (EK), so I’ve felt ‘eyes on me’ throughout most of my life. I also was concerned that my three children must have ‘felt those eyes on them’ as well. It is a shame that has to be the case, and I understand some of the reasoning…but others should have no right to expect a higher standard for me or Terry and my children/grandchildren than the one they have for themselves. Jesus Christ puts a high standard on ALL of us.

On my desk are two statements: (1) To err is human; to blame it on the other guy is even more human. And, (2) thank you for not minding my business.

I am still negotiating this thing we call ‘ministry.’

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 13, 2020 in Article, Encouragement

 

Guidelines for parents in developing your child’s self-esteem


  1. low-self-esteem1. Try to improve your own mental health. In dealing with your children, you teach more by      what you are than by what you say. Ask yourself such questions: Since God  accepts me, why can’t I accept myself? Who am I to question God? Since I  forgive others, why can’t I forgive myself? Am I easy to be around? Perhaps there is something in me that is worthwhile.
  2. If you are married, establish a healthy marriage. Unhealthy marriages develop unhealthy patterns of interaction in your home which affect your children. If your family ‘health’ us not the very best, get some help in making it so. It isn’t a sign of weakness to see your own faults and to try to overcome them…rather, it’s a sign of maturity and strength! Weak people try to      avoid such reality.
  3. Provide for your family’s needs: physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual.
  4. Spend much time with your family. You as a parent are often not only busy but tired and need rest yourself. Your children must be a priority, especially while they are young. Eat as many meals as possible (that means sitting down together at one place and talking, sharing, caring). No distractions should normally be allowed.
  5. Teach them proper values. Children will pick up your values; if they see your emphasis for money and prestige, they will value those things, too. If they see you laying up treasures in heaven, they will usually value heaven (Matt. 6:19-21). God, Jesus Christ, church, family, responsibility, and Christian character: what could possibly rate above those things?!
  6. Let your children be children.
  7. Focus upon strengths rather than weaknesses. Be realistic, but recognize strengths. Morris      Rosenberg in Society and the Adolescent Self-Image found that high self-esteem children tend to have mothers who are satisfied with average or below average performance. This mayselfesteem appear to go against the grain, but pushing our children to hard is more harmful. The key: don’t create      unrealistic expectations for them. We should help them overcome setbacks and compete in honest ways. We should provide encouragement and support in all efforts they choose…but keep God, Jesus, and the church first in all things!
  8. Discipline your children with love. Set certain limits and enforce them but don’t over-do it. Be HIGH in love and standards (the model used toward us by God).
  9. Encourage achievement in school: motivate, help, maximize his/her potential, yet accept them for that they are and not for what you wish them to be.
  10. Try to avoid over-protection and dependence.
  11. Explain changes that will occur at puberty.
  12. Forgive them.
  13. Don’t be partial to one child over another. Realize they are different!
  14. Learn to show affection.
  15. Help them to belong.
  16. Help them to develop a strong faith in God, the source of our true value.

Adolescents need attention and they will find a way to get it. It IS easier to get negative attention than positive attention: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Teens often ask “why not” to get you as a parent to change your mind. They really are not wanting to know. They are just wanting you to acquience. You as a parent have a right to say “no” because you are “uncomfortable saying yes.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 16, 2020 in Encouragement, Family

 

Accepting authority…greatness does not consist in commanding others to do things for you, it consists in doing things for others…and the greater the service, the greater the honor!


Our world is fast becoming a madhouse, and the inmates are trying to run the asylum. It is a strange time when the patients are writing the prescriptions, the students are threatening to run the schools, the children to manage the homes, and church members—not the Holy Spirit—to direct the churches

The descriptive phrase has long caught my attention: Sons of Thunder. It is the signature title given to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, two of Jesus’ apostles.

They were in the fishing business so they knew what it meant to work long hours. They were able to stay up late, concentrate on a given task, and certainly usually had dirty hands.

But they longed for something more grandeur.

They were quick to follow our Lord when He called them. They were among the inner three (along with Peter), And they were faithful to their calling, dying for the cause of Christ after denying self and living for him in their life.

They revealed their ambition and were taught a valuable lesson following a request likely presented on their behalf by their loving and devoted mother (Matthew 20:17-28): “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

The incident recorded in this section happened while Jesus and His disciples were going up to Jerusalem for the last time, journeying via Jericho, from Ephraim in the wilderness.

The ambitious request for the chief places of honor in the kingdom was therefore made little more than a week before their Lord was crucified. How little must they have dreamed what was coming!

Jesus spoke about a cross, but they were interested in a crown. They wanted reserved seats on special thrones! There were several things wrong with their request. To begin with, it was born in ignorance. “Ye know not what ye ask,” Jesus replied. Little did Salome realize that the path to the throne is a difficult one. James was the first of the disciples to be martyred, and John had to endure hard days on the Isle of Patmos. These three believers wanted their will, not God’s will, and they wanted it their way.

Another factor was their lack of heavenly direction. They were thinking like the world: James and John wanted to “lord it over” the other disciples the way the unsaved Gentile rulers lorded it over their subjects. Their request was fleshly (sensual), because they were selfishly asking for glory for themselves, not for the Lord. No doubt they felt relieved that they had gotten to Jesus with this request before Peter did!

Finally, the request was not only of the world and the flesh, but it was of the devil. It was motivated by pride. Satan had sought a throne (Isa. 14:12-15) and had been cast down. Satan had offered Jesus a throne and had been refused (Matt. 4:8-11).

Satan magnifies the end (a throne) but not the means to that end. Jesus warned Salome and her sons that the special thrones were available to those who were worthy of them. There are no shortcuts in the kingdom of God.

The result of this request was “indignation” on the part of the other disciples—probably because they had not thought of it first! The wisdom from above always leads to peace; the wisdom of this world leads to war (James 3:13-4:3). Selfishness will only result in dissension and division.

This disagreement gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a practical lesson on leadership. In His kingdom, we must not follow the examples of the world. Our example is Jesus, not some corporation president or wealthy celebrity. Jesus came as a servant; therefore, we should serve one another. He came to give His life; therefore, we should give our lives in service to Him and others.[1]

William Barclay offers a three-fold observation. It sheds light in three directions. First, it sheds a light on the disciples. It tells us three things about them. It tells us of their ambition. They were still thinking in terms of personal reward and personal distinction; and they were thinking of personal success without personal sacrifice. They wanted Jesus with a royal command to ensure for them a princely life. Every man has to learn that true greatness lies, not in dominance, but in service; and that in every sphere the price of greatness must be paid.

That is on the debit side of the account of the disciples; but there is much on the credit side. There is no incident which so demonstrates their invincible faith in Jesus. Think of when this request was made. It was made after a series of announcements by Jesus that ahead of him lay an inescapable Cross; it was made at a moment when the air was heavy with the atmosphere of tragedy and the sense of foreboding. And yet in spite of that the disciples are thinking of a Kingdom.

It is of immense significance to see that, even in a world in which the dark was coming down, the disciples would not abandon the conviction that the victory belonged to Jesus. In Christianity there must always be this invincible optimism in the moment when things are conspiring to drive a man to despair.

Still further, here is demonstrated the unshakable loyalty of the disciples. Even when they were bluntly told that there lay ahead a bitter cup, it never struck them to turn back; they were determined to drink it. If to conquer with Christ meant to suffer with Christ, they were perfectly willing to face that suffering.

It is easy to condemn the disciples, but the faith and the loyalty which lay behind the ambition must never be forgotten.

Out in the world, said Jesus, it is quite true that the great man is the man who controls others; the man to whose word of command others must leap; the man who with a wave of his hand can have his slightest need supplied. Out in the world there was the Roman governor with his retinue and the eastern potentate with his slaves. The world counts them great. But among my followers service alone is the badge of greatness.

Greatness does not consist in commanding others to do things for you; it consists in doing things for others; and the greater the service, the greater the honor. Jesus uses a kind of gradation. “If you wish to be great,” he says, “be a servant; if you wish to be first of all be a slave.” Here is the Christian revolution; here is the complete reversal of all the world’s standards. A complete new set of values has been brought into life.

The strange thing is that instinctively the world itself has accepted these standards. The world knows quite well that a good man is a man who serves his fellow-men. The world will respect, and admire, and sometimes fear, the man of power; but it will love the man of love. The doctor who will come out at any time of the day or night to serve and save his patients; the parson who is always on the road amongst his people; the employer who takes an active interest in the lives and troubles of his employees; the person to whom we can go and never be made to feel a nuisance-these are the people whom all men love, and in whom instinctively they see Jesus Christ.

John Fletcher recounted a situation worthy of our consideration, teaching an obvious lesson: One day having offended his father who threatened to correct him, he did not dare to come into his presence but retired into the garden. When he saw him coming toward him, he ran away with all speed. But he was presently struck with deep remorse, and said to himself: “What! Do I run away from my father? Perhaps I shall live to have a son that will run away from me!” And it was several years before the impression which he then received was worn off.

You may have read about the Ohio college graduate who placed a contraceptive on his mortar board as he went forward to get his degree – and had a stuffed parrot on his shoulder.

Now I know a lot of people get a kick out of graduation. But the following Monday this graduate was to report to the Great American Insurance Company in Cincinnati for a $35,000-a-year job as an internal auditor. The following Monday he was summoned to the office and fired for showing “a total disrespect for authority.” Out of control. [2]

When Toyohiko Kagawa first came into contact with Christ-ianity, he felt its fascination, until one day the cry burst from him: “O God, make me like Christ.” To be like Christ he went to live in the slums, even though he himself was suffering from tuberculosis. It seemed the last place on earth to which a man in his condition should have gone.

Cecil Northcott in Famous Life Decisions tells of what Kagawa did. He went to live in a six foot by six hut in a Tokyo slum. “On his first night he was asked to share his bed with a man suffering from contagious itch. That was a test of his faith. Would he go back on his point of no return? No. He welcomed his bed-fellow. Then a beggar asked for his shirt and got it. Next day he was back for Kagawa’s coat and trousers, and got them too. Kagawa was left standing in a ragged old kimono. The slum dwellers of Tokyo laughed at him, but they came to respect him. He stood in the driving rain to preach, coughing all the time. ‘God is love,’ he shouted. ‘God is love. Where love is, there is God.’ He often fell down exhausted, and the rough men of the slums carried him gently back to his hut.”

Kagawa himself wrote: “God dwells among the lowliest of men. He sits on the dust heap among the prison convicts. He stands with the juvenile delinquents. He is there with the beggars. He is among the sick, he stands with the unemployed. Therefore let him who would meet God visit the prison cell before going to the temple. Before he goes to Church let him visit the hospital. Before he reads his Bible let him help the beggar.”

Therein is greatness. The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant. His assessment is quite simply-how many people has he helped? [3]

Colin Urquhart understood that if you accept the authority of Jesus in your life, then you accept the authority of his words.

Self-chosen authority is an impertinence. Jesus said that the great ones in this world exercise authority but that in his kingdom it is not so; no one exercises authority over another because in his kingdom the king is servant of all. If a saint tries to exercise authority, it is a proof that he is not rightly related to Jesus Christ. [4]

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Be Series…Matthew.

[2] Ben Haden, Changed Lives

[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew.

[4] Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 9, 2020 in Encouragement

 

Living Outside the Camp Hebrews 13:9-16


“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. {10} We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. {11} The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. {12} And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. {13} Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. {14} For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. {15} Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name. {16} And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:9-16

Keep these thoughts in mind when you talk to our young people, who are hearing that they should ‘never be in a position to feel uncomfortable.’

There are alarm­ing signs in our fellowship which raise questions about our ability to survive as a community of faith. Congrega­tions should be disturbed at the attrition rate of young people. We should also be concerned with the long-range effects of the diminishing influence of religion in our society on the survivial of the church. [1]

The seriousness of these problems became especially are apparent when we look at small churches in the nation’s largest cities. Many of the adult members were transplanted from smaller cities which were far less secularized than their new home. They were never really “at home” in the city, but the church was one place where they felt comfortable.

Their children, however, had quite a different experi­ence. They had few memories of life anywhere else. They had grown up in this very secular environment. And by the time they became teen­agers, they recognized that their religious life made them very different from their peers. They held beliefs that were largely unintelligible to their friends, and they were expected to main­tain a lifestyle and a set of moral standards that were radically different from others. This sense of being different—of belonging to this “strange sect”—threatened their Christian identity.

I do not recall seeing anyone give up the faith because intellectual problems became too un­bearable. They did not drop out because they had examined the evidence for Christianity and found it unbelievable. But I did see several young Christians struggling to hold a set of beliefs which “no one believes anymore.” Unfortunately, in too many instances it was a losing struggle.

I mention this not because it demonstrates the hopeless spiritual condition of some Ameri­can cities. I mention it because it describes a con­dition in which we may all find ourselves. Many of us recall when it was easier to keep the faith because religion was more popular than it is today. The people in our neighborhood went to church on Sunday morning as we did. Christian moral standards were understood and appreci­ated. References to the importance of religious faith were often made in school and by govern­ment officials. This popularity of religious com­mitment served as a prop to help us survive. Survival was never very difficult where religion was socially acceptable.

AN ASSAULT ON CHRISTIAN VALUES  — But most of these props have been removed, and secularization characterizes major Ameri­can cities. The media consistently undermine Christian values. We wonder whether the wave of bizarre sexual relationships portrayed in the movies is creating a new set of values or simply reflecting the prevailing standards of our soci­ety. At any rate, it portrays a style of life that is an assault on Christian values.

We may begin to believe that the lifestyle on the screen is normal behavior. When we see a standard of sexual behavior where fidelity is considered a thing of the past, we may begin to question our own beliefs. The effect of constant exposure to these assaults on Christian values leaves us vulner­able and wondering if we are out of step with the rest of the world.

Sociologists report that much of what we believe and know comes from society around us, not from our own investigation and analysis. From earliest childhood we come to believe cer­tain things about the world because “everyone knows it is that way.” We believe them because it seems silly to question what everyone knows is true. If you hold to a point of view that is largely unacceptable to the larger group, you begin to question any view that is contrary to “what everyone knows.”

One of the gravest threats to the survival of the church, I believe, is not that some new piece of scientific evidence will shatter our convic­tions. It is the experience of holding to a set of views that are unacceptable to the majority of the people. Like the psalmist, we may be asking, “How do you sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Do we have a strategy for survival?

We can learn from another minority group which faced these same problems centuries ago. The early church never enjoyed the props of respectability and social acceptability. The proc­lamation of a crucified Savior was “folly” to the majority of the people of that time. Early Chris­tianity took its shape at a time when the Chris­tians were not to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).

The readers of Hebrews never knew the props of respectability and acceptabil­ity. Their situation was more extreme than our own. They faced persecution and suffering (10:32). Apparently, this situation of being “out­side” public acceptability led some of the mem­bers to give up the faith because some had ceased to attend the worship. The author told the entire church that they needed endurance, and he gave them a strategy for survival.

JESUS DIED OUTSIDE THE CAMP  — In 13:12 the author reminds his people that Christianity did not begin with the protective arm of public acceptance. Jesus never received any medals as “Outstanding Young Man of the Year” in Jerusalem. There was no “eternal flame” for Jesus at the Jerusalem National Cemetery. There was no state funeral, nor any kind words from a chief of state. The author reminds his readers that Jesus died “outside the camp” at Jerusalem.

Jesus died at a place “near the city” (John 19:20) where criminals were executed. No expe­rience could have been further from public ac­ceptance. The author states that Jesus endured shame (12:2) in His crucifixion.

People trained in the Jewish tradition recall that the remains of the animals which had been sacrificed were burned outside the camp (Leviticus 16:27), and that those who burned them also became unclean. “Every­one knew” that Jesus had died a shameful death.

Early Christians were probably uneasy about declaring that their Savior had died on a cross because it was the ancient equivalent of the elec­tric chair. “Everyone knew” that good men did not die on crosses.

Paul said, “Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The story of a crucified Savior was “to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

George McDonald wrote in Only One Way Left: “I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmanship is about.”

 “LET US GO OUT TO HIM, BEARING HIS REPROACH”  — If Jesus died “outside the camp” of respect­ability, it would be absurd to imagine that the Christian would be spared the experience of sharing His fate. The life of faith has always involved bearing reproach (11:26) for the sake of Christ. Jesus said that each of us must “take up his cross” (Mark 8:34).

The readers of Hebrews had already suffered on account of the faith: (Hebrews 10:32-34)  Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. {33} Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. {34} You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

The striking thing about the advice in 13:13 is the reminder that our legitimate place is outside the camp. Christ is our pioneer who calls us to fol­low Him to the cross. When our lifestyle weds us too closely to prevailing standards, we have not accompanied our pioneer “outside the camp.”

There is no other strategy but to follow Jesus “outside the camp.” If we were to decide that the appropriate thing to do is reflect the values of our society, we would discover that the church would be offering nothing which could not be found elsewhere. A church that chose always to be “inside the camp” of public acceptance would not survive. It would have no word to offer.

We are not asked to be alone! We have a com­munity that nurtures and supports our Chris­tian values. When we worship and study to­gether, we encourage each other (3:13; 10:25) and provide the help that allows us to survive. It may be difficult to maintain our beliefs if we must maintain them alone. But we do not have to survive alone because we go “outside the camp” together.

“WE SEEK THE CITY WHICH IS TO COME”  — If all of our efforts to keep the faith were certain to come to nothing, we certainly would never survive. Nothing is more futile than a lost cause.

Viktor Frankl, a physician who spent years in a Nazi concentration camp, said, “We can bear almost any ‘how’ if only we have a ‘why.’” We need to know that something lies beyond our suffering. Frankl describes his own battle for survival in Man’s Search for Meaning. The hope that the concentration camp was not the end gave him the will to survive. The glimmer of hope that he might outlive the terror and con­tinue his research helped him survive. If a goal is at the end of our struggles, we can endure almost anything. If we are sacrificing for a lost cause, though, we will not endure long.

The world’s values might lead us to believe that the things of life are within our culture and the standards of the day. But we can go outside the camp of this culture because we know that the really “abiding city” is not here at all. The lost cause is the standard of our society that looks inviting. Thus Christians share the loneliness of Jesus because His cause is not lost.

We do have a strategy for survival. It does not include accepting the lifestyle and values that are constantly placed before our eyes. We will be able to survive by being “outside the camp.” And by going “outside the camp” to­gether we can support each other along the way.

[1] Appreciation is given to Dr. James Thompson for his writing on this issue.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Encouragement

 

Dealing With The Problem of a Low Self-Esteem


Don’t Give the Children’s Bread to Dogs:  The Gospels of Matthew and Mark (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) tell about a woman who came to Jesus seeking help for her afflicted daughter. On the surface it sounds similar to many other Gospel stories, for most of them record the pleas of people who were hurting-the sick, the blind, and the crippled. But there is something especially poignant about this story. You see, this woman was a Syrophoenician She was not born to the chosen people. This is the first recorded instance of a foreigner coming to Jesus for help.

 The Key to Self- Esteem

This story is a miniature of the whole gospel. It offers the only real remedy for low self-esteem. The first step in achieving a sense of self-esteem is to recognize, as this woman did, that we are unworthy. We become somebody precisely at the point where we recognize that God makes us somebody.

God does not love us because we are valuable; we are valuable because God loves us. We are valuable because he created us in his own image. We are valuable because he died for us. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

self-esteemThere is no “in” group arid “out” group. He sees past our misspent years and our failures. He sees us for what we were meant to be. We are valuable to him.

Near the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he makes this powerful and encouraging observation: “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (I Cor. 1:26). .

Paul was a good example of this. He was burdened with his past as a persecutor of Christians and he had a debilitating health problem. Tradition tells us his physical appearance was unimpressive. It’s interesting that when God wanted his work done, he did not choose a great Athenian orator or athlete. He chose one who had reason to feel inferior. But God could use Paul’s weakness to his glory. So Paul wrote, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . . for when I am weak, then 1 am strong” (II Cor. 12:9-10)..

Psychologists tell us unfulfilled desires for self-esteem lead to bitterness and frustration. Imagine the problems which are created in the child who constantly sits in front of a television set, absorbing the medium’s standards for being somebody. To the girl it means beauty; to the boy it means being athletically gifted. Accepting these standards leads to frustration, because most people are rather ordinary.

Definitions and Key Thoughts

Self-esteem refers to an inner sense of worthiness that gives a person resilience and resistance to discouragement or criticism. Generally speaking, each person has a concept about his self-worth (which may or may not be accurate), and self-esteem is how he feels about (or evaluates) that concept.

Having good self-esteem does not mean being proud or having an over-blown view of our own importance. Paul encourages us to “think soberly” when it comes to evaluating ourselves (Romans 12:3). This means to assess ourselves with honesty and fairness.

Low self-esteem can manifest itself in many ways:

  • feelings of self-hate, believing that we are unworthy or incompetent
  • refusal to get close to people, believing we don’t deserve strong or supportive relationships
  • refusal to trust others
  • inability to accept ourselves as special and unique
  • rejection of what God intended the person to be in Him
  • depression
  • a need for large amounts of attention
  • a competitive or argumentative spirit
  • poor decisions made that are based on fears and not reality

An individual’s self-esteem is in trouble when he allows others to determine his value or significance instead of the One who created him. Poor self-esteem is often the result of prolonged periods of negative feedback in a person’s life, resulting in deep wounds and pain. As a counselor, you need to apply active listening skills in order to determine how far back the negative influence has gone.

Society is constantly assessing our value. At work, we have performance evaluations, we are graded in schools, and we are evaluated for loans. Assessment of our value begins early in life and continues even after we die.

Often, another person’s value judgment of us is a means to an end. An example of this is the young lady who finds herself in the back seat of a car with a boy who says, in effect, “If you want me to value you, you will have sex with me.”

God has determined our value based on His love and purpose for creating us in the first place and on the price He has paid to redeem us for all eternity.

Most who struggle with low self-esteem believe lies about their significance to God. The goals of interacting should be to:

  • Correct false or erroneous beliefs about the individual’s worth and significance
  • Make an accurate, genuine assessment of that person’s strengths, gifts, significance, and potential
  • Bring a healing from deep relationship wounds
  • Help the person get over the distortions and be able to honestly admit his strengths as well as his weaknesses
  • Help the person on the journey to adopt God’s perspective of his worth.

WISE COUNSEL

Helping a person with low self-esteem does not mean telling him untruths. Instead, help the person develop a realistic assessment of his unique set of skills, abilities, and character traits. And, help this individual develop a strong sense of God’s love and forgiveness. Give the person hope. Encourage him to see that he is on a journey. Encourage patience and prayer along the way.

Remind the person of the story in John chapter 5 where Jesus healed the crippled man who had lived for 38 years with brokenness and pain. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed. Why would Jesus ask? It seems that a person can live for so long with brokenness that he may not want to do the work that it takes to receive healing. Is the person willing to do the work to receive healing?

1. Recognize Your Value

There is a difference between having an inflated ego and simply understanding your significance based on your God-given gifts and value to Him. Make a list of talents, character traits, physical traits, abilities, accomplishments, etc., that set you apart.

2. Stop Harmful Thought Patterns

Consider some of the thought patterns and other factors that are leading you to believe lies about your worth. Think back on things you’ve done-taught a Sunday school class, helped with Boy Scouts, gave a perfect gift to a relative, taught a child to shoot a basketball, took a bag of groceries to a food pantry, invited a new coworker to lunch. List all of those big and little things done for others. Then consider the impact they had on those people.

3. Begin New Thought Patterns

Each negative thought can be countered with God’s assessment of your value. For example: If you feel your self-worth fizzle when a coworker with less experience is promoted over you, stop the negative thoughts before they take hold of you. Ask yourself if there might be any good reason this person received the promotion over you. If not, remind yourself that life isn’t always fair.

4. Be Patient

It has taken years of bad habits to get to shape your self-esteem. Healing will not happen overnight and will require replacing the bad habits with good ones. It may take awhile until your reflex action is quick to respond in a proactive way to negative thinking.

5. Read God’s Word

Study what the Bible says about your worth to God. Explore what God says about His love for you and His purpose for your life. (Give him the verses from Biblical Insights.) Keep a journal to record significant breakthroughs.

But Moses said to God, “Who am 1 that 1 should go to Pharaoh, and that 1 should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” -Exodus 3:11 Moses was certain God was making a mistake by choosing him to lead the Israelites. His five excuses indicated a lack of confidence in his ability to get the job done. He had a crisis of identity (“who am” 3:11), a crisis of authority (“what is His name?” 3:13), a crisis of faith (“they will not believe me;’ 4:1), a crisis of ability (“I am not eloquent;’ 4:10), and a crisis of obedience (“send. . .whomever else;’ 4:13). But God was with him, and Moses led the nation to freedom. With God’s help and guidance, great things are possible.

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. -Matthew 10:29-30

Jesus described God’s loving concern for every person, explaining that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered:’ God cares even for small birds- “not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” -so imagine how much more He cares for His people. What a boost of encouragement! We are important to God-created in His image and loved. He loves us so much, in fact, that He “gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! -1 John 3:1

A healthy self-image is seeing yourself as God sees you—no more and no less. — Josh McDowell

He who is able to love himself is able to love others also; he who has learned to overcome self-contempt has overcome his contempt for others. — Paul Johannes Oskar Tillich (1886–1965)

I am as my Creator made me, and since he is satisfied, so am I. — Minnie Smith

Self-acceptance is basically a spiritual issue. What it boils down to is this: are we able to thank the Creator for the way he made us? If not, we are casting doubt on his wisdom. If we can thank him, we display our belief that he knows what is best for us. And that will help us accept ourselves—limitations, failures, and all. — Erwin W. Lutzer (1941– )

A person with good self-esteem has a sense of self-worth, yet recognizes his/her limitations. Such a person is not conceited but rather is glad to be himself. They accept themselves and others but are desirous of correcting their own shortcomings.

They are problem-centered, not self-centered: they appreciate the simple things of life, are ethical, able to discriminate between means and ends; they get along in their culture yet resist enculturation and have a genuine desire to help the human race.

Healthy self-esteem in MEN is thought to be derived to some extent from vocations, intelligence, wealth, achievements, education, positions of power, and competition.  FEMALE self-esteem results more from the achievement of goals, self and body image, education, money, everyday concerns, and family relationships. Both sexes are usually affected by their view of how they are evaluated by significant others in their lives.

 

 Adult self-esteem

1. Accept personal responsibility for your own low self-esteem.

Galatians 6:5: “…for each one should carry his own load.” Our past and the present influence you, but you are a creative factor in the formation of your own thoughts, actions, and feelings. If you do not take such responsibility, you will never change. You can choose to perceive the past differently!

2. Restructure your thinking.

Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. {9} Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

People who are down on themselves tend to make many thinking mistakes:

  1. They overgeneralize. From one mistake, they conclude that they can’t      do anything right.
  2. They eternalize. From one failure, they conclude that they will      never do anything right.
  3. They personalize. They are too absorbed with themselves. They      inappropriately apply comments and criticism from others to themselves:      “They are all talking about me.” They blame themselves too much:      “Others had nothing to do with it, circumstances had nothing to do      with it, I caused it all. I am completely to blame.”
  4. They catastrophize. What they do is the worst thing that has ever      been done: Íf you only knew what I did, you would not want me in your      church or to be your friend.”
  5. They filter. Many positive things may have happened to them, yet they do not      see them. They filter them out. Their whole world is thus negative.
  6. They neutralize. If they see positive things in their lives, they      negate them: “He doesn’t really like me. He just needed a date.”      “My husband doesn’t really like me, he just wants a woman. Any woman.”      We can make anyone look bad by filtering out his/her good points or by      concentrating on his/her bad points.
  7. They absolutize. Everything becomes a must. “People must like      me, life must be easy, and I must be competent. If not, I am      worthless and life is not worth living.” We must make a distinction      between desire and demand: It would be nice if everyone liked me,      but it is not necessary. Persons with low self-esteem often jump to      conclusions without adequate evidence.
  8. They dictomize. Everything is either black or white: there is no gray. Such      persons are often very perfectionistic. Their way is always the right      way about everything. Their opinions are always the truth.
  9. They self destruct. They set up negative self-fulfilling prophecies:      “No one likes me.” So when a person does like them, they are      suspicious and uncomfortable, which causes them to send out negative signals,      which causes the other person to “back off.” When they back off,      the person says to himself or herself: “I was right. No one likes      me.” It seems impossible for a person with low self-esteem to feel      loved.

Check Your Self-Esteem: Barksdale Self-Esteem Evaluation No. 69

This Self-Esteem Evaluation measures your current level of self-esteem, your Self-Esteem Index (SEI), and serves as a gauge of your progress in achieving sound self-esteem. It is important to clearly understand all statements and be completely honest in your scoring if you are to obtain a valid SEI. It is essential that you answer these statements according to how you actually feel or behave, instead of how you think you “should” feel or behave.

Score as follows (each score shows how true or the amount of time you believe that statement is true for you):

0 = not at all true for me
1 = somewhat true or true only part of the time
2 = fairly true or true about half the time
3 = mainly true or true most of the time
4 = true all the time

Score = 0 1 2 3 4
Not True …… True

Self-Esteem   Statements

0   1 2 3 4

1. I don’t feel anyone else is better than I am.

0   1 2 3 4

2. I am free of shame, blame, and guilt.

0   1 2 3 4

3. I am a happy, carefree person.

0   1 2 3 4

4. I have no need to prove I am as good as or better than others.

0   1 2 3 4

5. I do not have a strong need for people to pay attention to me or   like what I do.

0   1 2 3 4

6. Losing does not upset me or make me feel “less than”   others.

0   1 2 3 4

7. I feel warm and loving toward myself.

0   1 2 3 4

8. I do not feel others are better than I am because they can do things   better, have more money, or are more popular.

0   1 2 3 4

9. I am at ease with strangers and make friends easily.

0   1 2 3 4

10. I speak up for my own ideas, likes, and dislikes.

0   1 2 3 4

11. I am not hurt by others’ opinions or attitudes.

0   1 2 3 4

12. I do not need praise to feel good about myself.

0   1 2 3 4

13. I feel good about others’ good luck and winning.

0   1 2 3 4

14. I do not find fault with my family, friends, or others.

0   1 2 3 4

15. I do not feel I must always please others.

0   1 2 3 4

16. I am open and honest, and not afraid of letting people see my real   self.

0   1 2 3 4

17. I am friendly, thoughtful, and generous toward others.

0   1 2 3 4

18. I do not blame others for my problems and mistakes.

0   1 2 3 4

19. I enjoy being alone with myself.

0   1 2 3 4

20. I accept compliments and gifts without feeling uncomfortable or   needing to give something in return.

0   1 2 3 4

21. I admit my mistakes and defeats without feeling ashamed or   “less than.”

0   1 2 3 4

22. I feel no need to defend what I think, say, or do.

0   1 2 3 4

23. I do not need others to agree with me or tell me I’m right.

0   1 2 3 4

24. I do not brag about myself, what I have done, or what my family has   or does.

0   1 2 3 4

25. I do not feel “put down” when criticized by my friends or   others.

The possible range of your Self-Esteem Index is from 0 to 100. Sound self-esteem is indicated by an SEI of 95 or more. Good self-esteem is indicated by a score of 90 to 94. Experience shows that any score under 90 is a disadvantage, a score of 75 or less is a serious handicap, and an SEI of 50 or less indicates crippling lack of self-esteem.

Charlie Brown, of “Peanuts” comic strip fame, is known as the classic loser. He pitches for the baseball team that never wins. When he represents his school in the spelling competition everyone knows how it will turn out, because Charlie Brown is a loser. It is no better socially. Charlie Brown keeps trying to earn the admiration and respect of others, but every attempt to be an achiever ends in disaster.

Yet we like Charlie Brown. I suspect his popularity comes from the fact that we see a bit of ourselves in this perennial loser. From our earliest days we are conditioned to believe the only way to be happy is to excel.

Recognition is reserved for the achievers. So, like Charlie Brown, we fantasize about rising to the top. But most of us remain in the category labeled “average.” What happens to all the Charlie Browns who face defeat after defeat? They grow up suffering with feelings of inferiority and insignificance. What they feel about themselves is largely determined by what others feel about them. If others consider them losers they grow up believing they are worthless.

Psychologists tell us one of our deepest needs is the need for self-esteem. How do we gain self-esteem?

It Hurts to Be a “Nobody”

Children can be incredibly cruel to each other. Do you remember the playground days when we chose sides to play ball? There were always some children who were chosen first. They were winners. Having them on the team gave a decided edge. And there were others who were always chosen last. They weren’t wanted. They were a liability.

The same thing happened in the classroom. Some were winners; others were losers. And it continues all through life. There is the housewife who spends her days tending to important family needs and perhaps fantasizing about the glamorous roles of others. Ask her who she is, and she will likely tell you she is “just” a housewife. A society of distorted values has led her to believe she is “nobody.” There is the man who reaches middle age locked into a job that is going nowhere. To be “somebody” is to be climbing. But he stopped climbing long ago.

We measure people by their physical attractiveness, their athletic skills, their productivity, or their intelligence. Those who do not measure up are left to a life of frustration.

Guilt can also saddle us with feelings of inferiority. Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities has a character named Sydney Carton, whose life had been misspent. He’d had opportunities for achievement, but never had the self-discipline to do anything about them. He spent his life in London taverns, returning home each day in a drunken stupor.

The one thing which made Sydney Carton a man of destiny was his amazing resemblance to the hero of the story, Charles Damay. At the climax of the book Charles Damay was in prison in Paris awaiting execution. Sydney Carton arranged to visit Charles Damay-and took his place in the prison cell. Carton, realizing his life had been wasted, seized this opportunity to make his life count for something. On the way to execution he said, “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” In his final act he wanted to make his wasted life useful.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 12, 2020 in Encouragement

 

Recovering from guilt…the purpose of being guilty is to bring us to Jesus


Satan really gets around!

While he is not omnipresent, like God, his influence has a daily influence against us. And our desires allow an opportunity for nose-to-nose combat.

When we succeed, we’re relieved. When we fail, Satan enters into his favorite position of all. He loves to accuse us of our sin and cause us to feel the guilt.

And his work is greatly enhanced if he can cause you guilt even when God has granted forgiveness!

Satan wants you to feel guilty. He wants you to experience regret and remorse, but not repentance. He wants to keep accusing you so that you focus your attention on yourself and your sins.

guilt Paul had a situation like that in the church at Corinth. One of the members had fallen into sin and had refused to repent and make things right with God and the church.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul told the church to discipline that man; and apparently they did, for Paul wrote, Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.[1]

At first, when this sin was detected, the Corinthian believers were very complacent and refused to act. Paul’s letter shocked them into their senses; but then they went to the other extreme and made it so hard on the offender that they would not forgive him! So Paul had to counsel them, So that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him…in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his also schemes. [2]

Excessive guilt and sorrow can only lead to depression, despair, and  defeat. Sometimes it leads to destruction; even Christians have been known to attempt suicide in order to escape satanic accusation. What, then, is your defense against Satan’s accusations?

It is true that Satan stands at our right hand to resist us and accuse us. But it is also true that Jesus Christ stands at God’s right hand to intercede for us!

It’s not unusual that those of us who ‘ought to know better’ don’t often do better. We can even learn from the youngest among us.

A man went to steal corn from his neighbor’s field. He took his little boy with him to keep a lookout, so as to give warning in case anyone should come along. Before commencing he looked all around, first one way and then the other; and, not seeing any person, he was just about to fill his bag when his son cried out, “Father, there is one way you haven’t looked yet!” The father supposed that someone was coming and asked his son which way he meant. He answered, “You forgot to look up!” The father, conscience-stricken, took his boy by the hand and hurried home without the corn which he had designed to take.

I have heard often of the anonymous man who felt ‘guilty’ for some past tax returns. He wrote, “Gentlemen: Enclosed you will find a check for $150.  I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since.  If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest. Sincerely, A Tax Payer.”

To err is human, a little plaque on my office desk proclaims, but to blame it on the other guy is even more human!

It might be a way of life for some to believe that we have only one person to blame, and that’s each other.

It’s sad, but I’ve learned that often the greater a person’s sense of guilt, the greater his need to cast blame on others.

What’s the natural response when we’ve seen God? We’re convicted of sin. “Woe is me, for I am undone.” The closer I walk with God, the more quickly I feel my sin and realize how much I need God.

It’s like a huge mirror with a great big light over it. When we stand away from the mirror, things look pretty good: suit looks in order; tie looks straight; the hair, what’s left of it, is combed.

But as we begin to move towards the mirror, things begin to show up. The suit has a spot on it. The tie is a little bit wrinkled. The hair is out of place. The closer we get to the bright light, the more we realize our defects.

It’s the same way when we get close to God. When we get close to him, we realize how much we need him and how far we are from him. We’re convicted of our sin. [3]

Man does not like to admit that his sinfulness and rebellion are at the heart of the problems of society. He’s much more comfortable discussing imperfections, weaknesses, mistakes, and errors in judgment. These terms are socially acceptable, and almost everyone identifies with them. But an outright acknowledgment of guilt before a holy God, a 100-percent acceptance of responsibility for wrong-doing, runs against the grain. Yet this kind of honesty is the first step to the freedom from sin and guilt that God longs to give us and has provided in the death of Christ.

When the preacher says we need forgiveness, he’s not just fanning moonbeams with his hat — we need forgiveness!  Human nature in the raw is not nice at all.  When surveyors promised not to tell, 31 percent of the people questioned confessed infidelity, 91 percent regularly tell lies, 36 percent regularly tell dark lies — the kind that hurt people.  Half of all workers confess to calling in sick when they’re not, and only thirteen percent of all Americans believe in all ten commandments.[4]

When missionaries first came to Labrador, they found no word for forgiveness in the Eskimo language.  So they had to make one which meant, “not being able to think about it anymore.”

The Chinese consider Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness unmanly.  A Christian Chinese was once explaining forgiveness to a group of people gathered in the chapel by the mission hospital.  He said, “I will tell you how we obey this commandment.  When you are sick or hurt, you come to the hospital and we nurse you, dress your wounds, and care for you, but you go away and revile us and lie about us. Then, when you are sick once more, you come back and we nurse you, and care for you again and again.  That is forgiveness.

Some heed admonitions to gentleness and treat those about them with great kindness, but are unmercifully hard on themselves.  They exercise little understanding where their own faults are concerned.  True, we should, like Paul, feel we are least of all the saints, but one cannot let this feeling of unworthiness keep us from effective service for the Master.  Some have never forgiven themselves for past mistakes or great sins.  Their lives are lived in torment, and beneath the surface is a soul writhing in agony. 

C.S. Lewis had this to say about forgiveness:  “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves.  Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

If God were not willing to forgive sin, heaven would be empty.

Jesus never attacked the sinner. He simply said, “I am willing to forgive you.” Meanwhile, he attacked the self-righteous with a vengeance, because He knew that until they felt guilty, they couldn’t be forgiven.

Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you even with him; forgiving it sets you above him.

The heaviest load any man carries on his back is a pack of grudges.

I get a ‘kick’ out of the story of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, who visited a prison and talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. Finally the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent.  “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?”  “No, sir, I’m not,” replied the man. “I’m guilty and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden, the king said, “Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine innocent people in here!”

Christians aren’t perfect—just forgiven.

It is important that we learn to distinguish between Satan’s accusations and the Spirit’s conviction. A feeling of guilt and shame is a good thing if it comes from the Spirit of God. If we listen to the devil, it will only lead to regret and remorse and defeat.

Like a log tossed on a frozen lake, God’s word may appear to be rejected and ignored, but when the cold, hard heart thaws, the “log” of  truth sinks in and becomes a part of that life.

Guilt works like an inescapable video-tape machine that refuses to forget the mistakes we’ve made.

Guilt can be good, since it makes us aware of the need for a turn around. 

Many of the later-model cars are equipped with theft alarm systems. The more sensitive ones can be annoying to the general public. … But that obnoxious sensitivity is purposefully designed to be protection against unwanted entry.

God has built into each of us an alarm system to warn us of the unwanted entry of sin into our lives. The alarm system is called guilt. Guilt is our friend. Without it we would go on in sin until we were dominated and defeated by it.

In our pleasure-seeking, anything-goes, feel-good society, guilt is anathema. We run from it … but we can’t rid ourselves of it! … The only thing that can “wash away” our sin and guilt before God is the blood of Jesus Christ.[5]

Erwin Lutzer, in his book Managing Your Emotions, writes: “We all know that Alexander the Great conquered the world. But what few people know is that this mighty general could not conquer himself. Cletus, a dear friend of Alexander’s and a general in his army, became intoxicated and ridiculed the emperor in front of his men. Blinded by anger, quick as lightning, Alexander snatched a spear from the hand of a soldier and hurled it at Cletus. Though he had only intended to scare the drunken general, his aim was true and the spear took the life of his childhood friend. Deep remorse followed his anger. Overcome with guilt, Alexander tried to take his own life with the same spear, but was stopped by his men. For days he lay sick calling for his friend Cletus, chiding himself as a murderer.”

Lutzer concludes by saying, “Alexander the Great conquered many cities. He conquered many countries, but he failed miserably to conquer his own self.”

When the Spirit of God convicts you, he uses the Word of God in love and seeks to bring you back into fellowship with your Father.

When Satan accuses you, he uses your own sins in a hateful way, and he seeks to make you feel helpless and hopeless. Judas listened to the devil and went out and hanged himself. Peter looked at the face of Jesus and wept bitterly, but later came back into fellowship with Christ.

When you listen to the devil’s accusations (all of which may be true), you open yourself up to despair and spiritual paralysis. “My situation is hopeless!” I have heard more than one Christian exclaim, “I’m too far gone—the Lord could never take me back.” When you have that helpless, hopeless feeling, you can be sure Satan is accusing you.

      Charles Wesley has put all of this into a beautiful hymn:

Depth of mercy! Can there be Mercy still reserved for me!

Can my God His wrath forbear, Me, the chief of sinners spare!

I have long withstood His grace, Long provoked Him to His face,

Would not hearken to His calls. Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

Lord, incline me to repent; Let me now my sins lament;

Now my foul revolt deplore, Weep, believe, and sin no more.

Still for me the Savior stands, Holding forth His wounded hands;

God is love! I know, I feel, Jesus weeps and loves me still.

 

We need to depend on what God’s Word says, not on how we feel. Rest on the grace of God—he has chosen us, and he will not forsake us.

Guilt_ResponsesWhen Satan wanted to lead the first man and woman into sin, he started by attacking the woman’s mind. This is made clear in 2 Corinthians 11:3: But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

Why would Satan want to attack your mind? Because your mind is the part of the image of God where God communicates with you and reveals His will to you.

The doctor says, “You are what you eat.” The psychologist says, “You are what you think.” Satan knows the tremendous power of your mind, and he tries to capture it for himself. If Satan can get you to believe a lie, then he can begin to work in your life to lead you into sin.

A new product called “Disposable Guilt Bags” appeared in the marketplace. It consisted of a set of ten ordinary brown bags on which were printed the following instructions: “Place the bag securely over your mouth, take a deep breath and blow all your guilt out, then dispose of the bag immediately.” The wonder of this is that the Associated Press reported that 2,500 kits had been quickly sold at $2.50 per kit. Would that we could dispose of our guilt so easily.

There is nothing on this earth powerful enough in itself to dispose of our guilt. We cannot fix ourselves, which is what many of us are trying to do. That which makes it possible to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be healed, that which makes it possible for us to receive our life back again, fresh and clean and new, is the power of God’s Grace in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

True guilt is a valuable asset for living.  It helps us when we hurt others or betray our own standards and values.  God uses guilt to influence us to change our minds about what we are doing, leading us to repentance.  If we never felt guilt, we would not follow rules or standards, obey the law, or have good relationships with loved ones. [6]

Only the inspired Word of God can reveal and defeat the devil’s lies. You cannot reason with Satan, nor (as Eve discovered) can you even safely converse with him. Man’s wisdom is no match for Satan’s cunning. Our only defense is the inspired Word of God.

It was this weapon that our Lord used when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

One solid solution is deciding what we will allow ourselves to ponder: Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things( Philippians 4:8).

Our Lord went through some one-on-one temptations from Satan but did not use His divine power to defeat Satan. He used the same weapon that is available to us today: the Word of God. Jesus was led by the Spirit of God and filled with the Word of God.

The Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17); and the Holy Spirit can enable us to wield that sword effectively. If you and I are going to defeat Satan’s lies, we must depend on the Word of God. This fact lays several responsibilities upon us.

We must know God’s Word. There is no reason why any believer should be ignorant of his Bible. The Word of God is available to us in many translations. We have the Holy Spirit within us to teach us the truths of the Word (John 16:13-15).

There are a multitude of Bible study helps available. We can turn on the radio and listen to excellent preachers and Bible teachers expound God’s Word. In local churches, there are ministers and teachers who minister the Word; and in many areas, there are seminars and Bible study groups for further study. If an intelligent believer today does not know his Bible, it is his or her own fault!

This mean, of course, taking time to read and study the Bible. No one will master God’s Word in a lifetime of study, but we should learn all we can. We must make time, not “find time,” to read and study the Word of God.

Just as a machinist studies the shop manual, and the surgeon studies his medical texts, so the Christian must study the Word of God. Bible study is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

One more thought: I have known people in my life who “want to want to.” They want to do something for the betterment of mankind (or even a simple deed for their spouse) and will think about it and even talk about it with others. But they never seem to be ‘moved to action.’

Many people seem to have an ingrown appreciation for “Ziggy”, the lovable, roly-poly, albino cartoon character. He comes across as being “real.”

In one Ziggy episode, he spots water dripping from the ceiling and comments, “I should fix the roof.” Then he notices how dirty the floor is and adds, “I should give the floor a good scrub, too.”

On a tour of his house he also took note that he should fix the cracked plaster, should clean out the closet, and that he should use his time better. In the final frame of the comic strip, Ziggy is perched in his easy chair reprimanding himself. “I should stop ‘shoulding’ myself.”[7]

James 4:17 “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

Finally, leaving behind guilt and grasping forgiveness, we are then allowed the glory of moving forward and beginning again.

In 1986 Bob Brenley was playing third base for the San Francisco Giants. In the fourth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves, Brenley made an error on a routine ground ball. Four batters later he kicked away another grounder. And then while he was scrambling after the ball, he threw wildly past home plate trying to get the runner there. Two errors on the same play. A few minutes later he muffed yet another play to become the first player in the twentieth century to make four errors in one inning.      Now, those of us who have made very public errors in one situation or another can easily imagine how he felt during that long walk off the field at the end of that inning. But then in the bottom of the fifth, Brenley hit a home run. Then in the seventh, he hit a bases-loaded single, driving in two runs and tying the game.

Then in the bottom of the ninth, Brenley came up to bat again, with two outs. He ran the count to three and two and then hit a massive home run into the left field seats to win the game for the Giants. Brenley’s score card for that day came to three hits and five at bats, two home runs, four errors, four runs allowed, four runs driven in, including the game-winning run.

Certainly life is a lot like that–a mixture of hits and errors. And there is grace in that. [8]

Forgiven souls are humble.  They cannot forget that they owe all they have and hope for to free grace, and this keeps them lowly.  They are brands plucked from the fire–debtors who could not pay for themselves–captives who must have remained in prision for ever, but for undeserved mercy–wandering sheep who were ready to perish when the Shepherd found them; and what right then have they to be proud?  I do not deny that there are proud saints.  But this I do say–they are of all God’s creatures the most inconsistant, and of all God’s children the most likely to stumble and pierce themselves with many sorrows. [9]

   Ronald Reagan’s attitude after the 1982 attempt on his life made an impression on his daughter, Patti Davis: “The following day my father said he knew his physical healing was directly dependent on his ability to forgive John Hinckley. By showing me that forgiveness is the key to everything, including physical health and healing, he gave me an example of Christ-like thinking.”

Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies — nothing annoys them so much.”

[1]  2 Corinthians 2:6

[2] 2 Corinthians 2:7, 8, 11

[3] Rod Cooper, “Beholding the King,” Preaching Today, Tape No.  150

[4] Associated Press, 4-29-91

 [5] Anne Graham Lotz in The Glorious Dawn of God’s Story. Christianity Today, Vol. 43, no. 7.

[6] Brenda Poinsett in Understanding a Woman’s Depression. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 4.

 [7] Fritz Ridenour, How to Be a Christian Without Being Perfect, p. 167

[8] Nancy Becker, “A Theology of Baseball,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 115.

[9] J. C. Ryle in Foundations of Faith.  Christianity Today, Vol. 32,  no. 4

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 5, 2020 in Encouragement

 
 
%d bloggers like this: