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Category Archives: 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.

 
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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.

 
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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

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2020 in Encouragement

 

Affirmative Living


Joseph was called, derisively, the dreamer. Some of his dreams were prophetic. He saw himself as a leader of men. Joseph dreamed of using his considerable talents to do great things for God and his family. Joseph’s dreams enabled him to live affirmatively.

Affirmative living means recognizing the presence of God in your life. Whatever happened to Joseph never caused him to give up on God. In fact, everything that happened to him only drew him closer to God. Do you notice the presence of God in your life? Do you believe he has a plan for you? If not, you need to dare to dream again. 

Affirmative living means making the best of bad situations. Joseph was hated and sold into slavery. He was unjustly accused and placed in prison. Though forgotten, he never lost hope. We couldn’t have blamed him if he had. But, whatever happened to Joseph, he kept on making the best of it. He was sold into slavery only to become the head servant. Sent to prison, he took over the administration. Brought before the king, he became Pharaoh’s right hand man.

Affirmative living means maintaining your principles even when inconvenient. Joseph faced his biggest challenge when accosted by his master’s wife. He could have given all kinds of excuses to give in, but he was willing to do what was right, in spite of the consequences. Have you been mistreated? If so, you need to dare to dream again.

Affirmative living means recognizing God is in control. Joseph, when he was finally reunited with his brothers, said to them, “What you did to me you meant for bad, God used for good.” Joseph believed that ultimately God is in control, and that all things work together for good. Have you wondered if God has deserted you, or if your life has any purpose at all? If so, you need to dare to dream again.[1]

I sing with the hymn, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” but I can also say, “‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

I can testify to the fact that the Debater’s conclusion is apt: Life is fulfilled only when God is enthroned in the center of an individual’s life and that individual acts in obedience to his ruler. But the philosophy that begins and exists and ends in the dust, and then says that the dust is everything — that this is all life is intended to be, that vanity is everything — is utter folly.

The Debater’s conclusion is that everything is indeed vanity unless you put God in the center of life.

——————

[1] Sermon Outlines For Seekers by J. Michael Shannon. 

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2020 in Encouragement

 

Solving Our Money Problems


No test of a man’s true character is more conclusive than how he spends his time and his money. The following table might give us three perspectives which can be useful:

  POVERTY PROSPERITY STEWARDSHIP
View of prosperity Non-materialistic, disdain for possessions Prosperity is the reward of the righteous Possessions are atrust given in varying proportions
Possessions are: a curse a right a privilege
Scriptural reference Luke 18:18-22: sell, give to the poor (rich young ruler) Matt. 7:7-8 ask, seek, knock Matt. 25:14-30: parable of the talents
Mitigation Prov. 21:20 In house of wise are stores of choice food & oil, but a foolish man devours all he has Prov. 23:4-5 Don’t wear yourself out to get rich None
Needs met by “carefree attitude” don’t worry- seek kingdom 1st Matt. 6:25-34 “transaction”tithe for a blessingMal. 3:10 “faithful administration”1 Cor. 4:2;Matt. 25:21, 23
Concept Rejecter Owner Steward
Attitude toward poor We are We owe We care
Preoccupation Daily needs Money Wisdom
Attitude Carefree Prov. 3:5-6 Driven Prov. 10:17 Faithful Luke 16:10-11

Poverty Theology:  This theology is disgusted with worldliness, best symbolized by man’s obsession with money. He believes possessions are a curse and has rejected materialism in any and every form. A strong bias toward helping the poor exists, but he has few, if any, resources to actually help with the solution. A few guilty Christians with wealth may also fall into this category, especially if they inherited their money.

Prosperity Theology: This theology believes you have not because you ask not. They often have learned about tithing and have experienced the material blessings available by following the tithing principle. Because of their success with tithing, a preoccupation with money develops. They soon begin suggesting that the reason others are not experiencing God’s blessings financially as a lack of faith. No room is allowed for God to call some people to be poor. Many disciples of prosperity theology live consumptive lifestyles.

Stewardship Theology: Stewards believe God owns and controls everything. Possessions are a privilege and not a right; the steward gives up his rights. He reads Scripture to say possessions are a trust given in varying proportions, depending upon the innate, God-given abilities he has and his faithfulness and obedience to follow Biblical principles. The steward believes prosperity results from faithfully administering his talents, as given by God in His sole discretion.

Which one is correct? The steward!

Scriptures for discussion:

Proverbs 13:11: “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it.”

   1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Encouragement

 

Experiencing Joy… Happiness is a feeling. Joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place.


flowerIt says in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those words are the preamble to the American dream. But more than 225 years later, the innocent, hopeful intentions of our founding fathers have become blind and dangerous compulsions.
We all know we can’t buy happiness, and we are often surprised by what brings us happiness and frustrated by what we believe should make us happy.

It has been suggested that we are becoming a nation of men and women who, in the quest for happiness, all too often fall short of achieving any kind of inner peace. Instead of life’s journey being an exhilarating adventure into the unknown, for many of us it is a compulsive and tiring trek, an exhausting journey where the next stop for replenishment never seems to arrive.

George Santayana: “A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness rsides in an imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.”

“Many apparently successful people feel that their success is underserved and that one day people will unmark them for the frauds they are. For all the outward trappings of success, they feel hollow inside. They can never rest and enjoy their accomplishments. They need one new success after another. They need constant reassurance from the people around them to still the voice inside them that keeps saying, “If other people knew you the way I know you, they would know what a phony you are.”.

Happiness is not about having what we want…but wanting what we have! In many ways, happiness is within us waiting to be discovered.

Fewer than 10 percent of Americans are deeply committed Christians, says pollster George Gallup, who adds that these people “are far, far happier than the rest of the population.” Committed Christians, Gallup found, are more tolerant than the average American, more involved in charitable activities, and are “absolutely committed to prayer.” While many more Americans than this 10 percent profess to be Christians, adds Gallup, most actually know little or nothing of Christian beliefs, and act no differently than non-Christians. “Overall,” says Gallup, “The Sunday School and religious education system in this country is not working.”

They (we) need to discover the difference between happiness and joy! If our goal in life is to match our will to God’s in serving Him, then we will always have work to do. In that work we will be content. And in that contentment we will find joy.

The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a “happy Christian.” Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays “that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

I was told recently of a Russian view of happiness: An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian were discussing happiness. “Happiness,” said the Englishman, “Is when you return home tired after work and find your slippers warming by the fire.” “You English have no romance,” said the Frenchman.

“Happiness is having dinner with a beautiful woman at a fine restaurant.” “You are both wrong,” said the Russian. “True happiness is when you are at home in bed and at 4 a.m. hear a hammering at the door and there stand the secret police, who say to you, ‘Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest,’ and you say, ‘Sorry, Ivan Ivanovitch lives next door.'”

Statistics show that despite conflicts, married people are generally happier, live longer, and contribute more to society than those who remain single or leave a spouse.

People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain. … People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.

The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. … People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?

In the grand and deeply moving prophesy of the ancient prophet Isaiah, it was foretold that when Christ comes He would impart to His people “the oil of joy” for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). Joy has always been one of the most significant hallmarks of God’s people. Joy springs from the presence of God in a person’s life!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal experiences certainly proved correct the statement that “the cross of Christ destroyed the equation religion equals happiness.”

Millions of men and women across the centuries attest to a transformation in their lives. It is what is meant by Paul in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” God is here! He is alive! He is in charge!

Can this statement be said of you? Now that I know Christ, I’m happier when I’m sad than I was before when I was glad.”

I ask you, “Do you have that joy?” It’s obvious that many people don’t. And you’ve been around them, haven’t you? They’re grumps, they’re gripers, they’re very negative about virtually everything that happens in life, complaining almost all the time. As a result, they just aren’t much fun to be around.
One of my favorite stories about a person with a grumpy personality begins with a man going into the doctor’s office. As he walked in, he was met by the receptionist. He told her that he had a sore on his chin that he want-ed the doctor to examine.

She said to him, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said, “it’s just a sore on my chin. I don’t think all that is necessary.” She repeated, “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.” “But ma’am,” he said. “Down the hall, first door to the right, & take off your clothes.”

So he went down the hall, took the first door to the right, walked in & saw another man already sitting there in his boxer shorts, shivering. He said to him, “Boy, that receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a little sore on my chin & she told me to come down here, go through this door & take off my clothes.” The man in the boxer shorts said, “You think that’s bad? I’m the UPS delivery man.

There are some difficult people, aren’t there? “Some cause happiness whenever they go; some, whenever they go.” And what they need is a personality transplant.

There are only three kinds of persons; those who serve God, having found Him; others who are occupied in seeking Him, not having found Him; while the remainder live without seeking Him, and without having found Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy; those between are unhappy and reasonable.

Let me give you a definition of “joy.” “Joy is an evidence of the presence of God in your life.” If God is in your life, if you are filled with the Spirit of God, then this fruit of the Spirit will be obvious in your life. (Jesus Others You)

Now don’t mistake happiness for joy. It’s easy to do that. The Bible mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 330 times. But it only mentions “happiness” 26 times. Happiness depends upon what happens to you. So if all the circumstances are right, then you can be happy. But joy comes from inside.

Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament thirteen Hebrew roots, found in twenty-seven different words, are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship. Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy.

In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.

If you want to live longer and have a more effective witness for Christ, let his joy in your heart spill over into happy laughter. When you laugh, your diaphragm goes down, your lungs expand, and you take in two or three times more oxygen than usual. As a result, a surge of energy runs through your body.
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.”

C. S. Lewis in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, writes, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchanged it for all the pleasure in the world.”

Joy is really the underlying theme of Philippians – joy that isn’t fickle, needing a lot of “things” to keep it smiling . . . joy that is deep and consistent – the oil that reduces the friction of life.

If we can convince people that we are on to something that’s full of joy, they’ll stampede one another to follow us.

Clyde Reid says in his book, Celebrate the Temporary: “One of the most common obstacles to celebrating life fully is our avoidance of pain. We do everything to escape pain. Our culture reinforces our avoidance of pain by assuring us that we can live a painless life. Advertisements constantly encourage us to believe that life can be pain-free. But to live without pain is a myth. To live without pain is to live half a life, without fullness of life. This is an unmistakable, clear, unalterable fact. Many of us do not realize that pain and joy run together. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from joy as well.”

——————————————————–

Some needed comment
flowerThe picture of Brinson holding the dandelion flower at the beginning of this post has a special story, which is told in two emails sent to the family by their father, Eric: 

“One of Brinson and Aiden’s favorite things to do on a walk is pick dandelions (and drag large sticks around…I wonder where they got that). By the end of today’s walk Aiden has accumulated quite a collection of sticks, branches, rocks, and dandelions. He continuously would drop one at a time and have to reshuffle all his treasure in order to bend over and pick the dropped one back up without dropping the rest. Brinson was satisfied with just one large branch and a small stick.

“Aiden collected every dandelion that we passed but Brinson would not pick any because they weren’t big enough…he was holding out for a ‘really big one.’ We got back to our house and he still had not found a dandelion that met his specs. We decided that we would pray for God to make a really big dandelion for Brinson to find on our next walk.

“At dinner and at bed time Brinson prayed for it. God says that if we ask in faith he will answer and Brinson fully expects to find his flower from God on our next walk. I invite you to pray along with us. Somewhere in our neighborhood tonight God is bringing up a little seed just for Brinson. It will go unnoticed by everyone except for one little boy…the little boy that it was made for. God is good and faithful…and I know that he will thoroughly enjoy watching Brinson search for his gift.”

The next morning the following email and picture came from Eric: “This morning Brinson prayed for his flower for breakfast and as he, Aiden, and Wendy were walking into their school he looked down and saw a big, yellow dandelion by the door. Obviously, he was very excited and kept it with him all day long. If only we all had faith like a child.” (In Him, Eric).

 

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2019 in Encouragement

 

Words to ventilate our hope: it takes courage to believe, and in order to have that courage, we must believe


If there are two words that should be said in the same breath and said regularly to ventilate our hope, that should be flamed together, branded as a signature of our faith, they are the words “faith” and “courage.”  It takes courage to believe, and in order to have that courage, we must believe.

From time to time, lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow. They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned. If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison–and finally their casket.

The tricky part for the lobster is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed. During that terribly vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster. Currents gleefully cartwheel them from coral to kelp. Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of the food chain. For awhile at least, that old shell must look pretty good.

Joshua 1:9 (62 kb)We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells–a structure, a framework–we’ve depended on. Discipleship means being so committed to Christ that when he bids us to follow, we will change, risk, grow, and leave our “shells” behind. [1]

In A Pretty Good Person, Lewis Smedes writes: A federal judge had ordered New Orleans to open its public schools to African-American children, and the white parents decided that if they had to let black children in, they would keep their children out. They let it be known that any black children who came to school would be in for trouble. So the black children stayed home too.

“Except Ruby Bridges. Her parents sent her to school all by herself, six years old.

“Every morning she walked alone through a heckling crowd to an empty school. White people lined up on both sides of the way and shook their fists at her. They threatened to do terrible things to her if she kept coming to their school. But every morning at ten minutes to eight Ruby walked, head up, eyes ahead, straight through the mob; two U.S. marshals walked ahead of her and two walked behind her. Then she spent the day alone with her teachers inside that big silent school building.

“Harvard professor Robert Coles was curious about what went into the making of courageous children like Ruby Bridges. He talked to Ruby’s mother and, in his book The Moral Life of Children, tells what she said: “There’s a lot of people who talk about doing good, and a lot of people who argue about what’s good and what’s not good,” but there are other folks who “just put their lives on the line for what’s right.” [2]

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.

The only fight which is lost is that which we give up.

In June 1955, Winston Churchill, who was then near the end of his life, was asked to give a commencement address at a British University.  At this time he was physically infirm; he had to be helped to the podium.  Then he held on to the podium for what seemed an interminable amount of time.  He stood with his head down but then finally raised that great leonine head of his, and the voice that years before had called Britain back from the brink of destruction sounded publicly for the last time in history.

“Never give up.  Never give up.  Never give up.”  With that, Churchill turned and went back to his seat.  I’m told there was silence, and then, as if one person, the whole audience rose to applaud him, because he was a man whose life and words were together. Again and again throughout Churchill’s political career, he had known setbacks.  Three times, his career apparently was over, he was sent off to oblivion, and yet somehow he had a sense that there was still something left after the worst. [3]

Fear doesn’t want you to make the journey to the mountain. If he can rattle you enough, fear will persuade you to take your eyes off the peaks and settle for a dull existence in the flatlands. [4]

Henry Ward Beecher is credit as saying that “God planted fear in the soul as truly as he planted hope or courage. It is a kind of bell or gong which rings the mind into quick life on the approach of danger. It is the soul’s signal for rallying.“

Once you’ve faced the very thing you fear the most, it is no longer quite so fearful.

Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.

Being positive is part of being a hero–maybe the hardest part, because if you are a hero you’re smart enough to know all the reasons why you should be discouraged.

The best decision-makers are those who are willing to suffer the most over their decisions but still retain their ability to be decisive.

Maybe we need the confidence of Alexander McClaren, who courageously replied, “Only he who can say, “The Lord is the strength of my life,” can say, “Of whom shall I be afraid?”

During World War I, a British commander was preparing to lead his soldiers back to battle. They’d been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. It was a heavy time.

As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. Back in the church he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. At that moment, something happened to the commander. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph.

As the troops marched along, he shouted out, “Eyes right, march!” Every eye turned to the right, and as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ on the cross. Something happened to that company of men. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went. You see, anything worthwhile in life will be a risk that demands courage.

We certainly want to avoid the charge being leveled toward us that we were neutral at a crucial point of our life. Dante said in the 13th century that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. “

Today our culture is far less likely to raise up heroes than it is to exalt victims, individuals who are overcome by the sting of oppression, injustice, adversity, neglect or misfortune. … Success, as well as failure, is the result of one’s own talent, decisions and actions. Accepting personal responsibility for victory, as well as for defeat, is as liberating and empowering as it is unpopular today.

I have always appreciated the ‘dry bones’ message of Ezekiel 36-37, when God revealed His plans for the deliverance of Israel and the restoration of His name among the nations. His motives were clear: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone….’For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land….I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

“You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.  I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.”

(Ezekiel 37:1-14)  “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. {2} He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. {3} He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” {4} Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! {5} This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. {6} I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'” {7} So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. {8} I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. {9} Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'” {10} So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army. {11} Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ {12} Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. {13} Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. {14} I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'””

God revealed His power and might, and the reality that literally nothing is outside of His control; He can do what He wills when He wants! He needs us to realize this and be willing participants! He who loves God with all his heart dreads neither death, torment, judgment, nor hell, for perfect love opens a sure passage to God.

In the midst of a storm, a little bird was clinging to the limb of a tree, seemingly calm and unafraid. As the wind tore at the limbs of the tree, the bird continued to look the storm in the face, as if to say, “Shake me off; I still have wings.”

Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory. The only fight which is lost is that which we give up. We must be careful for nothing, prayerful for everything, thankful for anything.

We must have plenty of courage. God is stronger than the devil. We are on the winning side. Success is never final; failure is never fatal; it is courage that counts. The great need for anyone in authority is courage. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms:  it means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.

Courage is not limited to the battlefield or the Indianapolis 500 or bravely catching a thief in your house. The real tests of courage are much deeper and much quieter. They are the inner tests, like remaining faithful when nobody’s looking, like enduring pain when the room is empty, like standing alone when you’re misunderstood

A sailor was given liberty to go ashore when his ship docked at a large southwestern American city.  He visited a park famous for its trees and tropical flowers. As he walked across an open grassy sunlit area, he noticed bees flying all around him.  Suddenly, all the bees began to settle upon him. They were all over his clothes, his hands, and his face. Panic gripped him, and though he wanted to run in fear, he forced himself to stand stock still. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of bees all over him.  He hardly dared to breathe. “Look at that sailor,” he heard a woman’s voice say. After what seemed an eternity to the sailor, slowly the bees departed one by one until they were all gone.  His uniform was soaked with perspiration, but he had not been stung once. Sometimes it is better to stand stock still in the midst of danger than to run in panic and fear and possibly to bring about the very end one wishes to avoid. Scripture says,  “”Whoever flees from the terror will fall into a pit, whoever climbs out of the pit will be caught in a snare; for I will bring upon Moab the year of her punishment,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 48:44)


[1] Brent Mitchell in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker) from the editors of Leadership.

[2] Bob Campbell in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.

[3] John Claypool, Birmingham, Alabama, Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 2.

[4] Max Lucado, Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 3.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2019 in Encouragement

 
 
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