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Saturday, July 25, 2015

How to Stop Living with Fear and Start Living with Faith

How to Stop Living with Fear and Start Living with Faith

As long as I can remember I have worried about something.  I think about what could go wrong and then worry about it. Scripture says that fear and worry causes “torment”.  (1 John 4:18)  And that has been true for me, since through the years my worrying has brought torment along with it.  And your fears and worries will bring torment to you too.

God does not want us to live in fear or worry or torment.  He wants us to live joyful lives loving and trusting and following Him. Over and over throughout Scripture God calls his children not to worry or be afraid.  But how do we do that? What replaces fear or worry?  You guessed it, the answer is faith! Faith in God.  Holley Gerth in her book, You’re Going to be Okay writes “Worry is an attempt to control what we can never control.  That’s why it’s so hard to stop.” page. 179.   She adds: “Worriers place their faith in their ability to “control” the future.  Jesus asks us to place our faith firmly in Him instead.” page. 180.

Not worrying or being fearful doesn’t mean that we don’t work to make a better future or that we aren’t concerned about problems and try to solve them.  We should try to foresee future troubles and plan on ways to deal with them as best we can. Holly Gerth writes: “The difference is that being concerned ultimately releases people to look to God, while worry places the burden of their lives on their own shoulders.”  We do our best with what we can do and then trust God to do what we cannot do.

“Moving from fear to faith is a process.  We will need to break an old habit (fear) and learn a new habit (trusting God).  If you have been used to worrying like I have, it may take time to stop walking down that old familiar path called “fear” or its’ cousin “worry.”  Instead each time things go wrong, try walking down a new path called “faith”.  Faith in God.  Scripture says one way we can find that new pathway of faith is by hearing and believing the Bible, Gods’ Word.  “…Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word of God…”  (Romans 10:17)

One of the reasons I love studying the Bible is that I learn to trust God more and more as I hear or read the Word of God.  God’s Word is a powerful life-giving tonic. When you believe the amazing promises in the Bible and let them sink in, they will be like soothing medicine curing your fears and worries and giving you hope and faith in God.  You can “stand” on Gods’ Biblical promises when troubles come and fight fear with faith.   

Jesus says: “You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32)   Truth isn’t just dry knowledge.  Truth is a Person. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the Truth!  (John 14:6)  When Jesus invites us to know the Truth, He is inviting us to know Himself!  Jesus is asking us to trust Him and follow Him.  And one of the main things Jesus calls us to do is to love one another. In this world where there is so much prejudice and fear and hate, Jesus calls us to spread love.  Scripture says that: “Perfect love drives out all fear.”  (1 John 4:18)  

Let’s read a few of Gods’ many promises in the Bible.  Promises that are made to believers in Christ.  And promises that can push us off that dark pathway of fear and nudge us onto the bright pathway of faith. 

First: God promises to be with you all the time.  “Fear not for I am with you, be not afraid for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.”  (Isaiah 41:10)  And “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

Second: God is for you:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?   (Romans 8:31)   “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, nor things present nor in the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:38-39)  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6)

Third: God is in control:   “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  For You are with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.  And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “(Psalm 23) We are not the ruler of our own lives. Like sheep we are not capable of controlling our future.  We are in God’s control.  He is our Shepherd.

Fourth:  God makes you victorious:  “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:18)  “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37)   God does not promise that He will keep us from trouble and persecutions and sorrows.  We will have hard times in our lives and we will face loss.  But God has promised to bring us through all of our troubles and in the end we will be victorious through Christ.  We may not see this victory until we reach heaven.  But it is there. Hallelujah!
Fifth:  God provides for you:  “My God will meet all your needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19)   We are asked to pray for what we need and we will receive if it is in God’s will.  “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”   (Matthew 7:7)   “Cast all of your cares upon Him (Jesus) for He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7) 

Let these Biblical promises sink into your soul.  If you haven’t already, let the grass grow over any miserable path of fear in your life.  And instead start walking over the joyful path of faith in God.  And take love along on your faith journey and you will truly be living the good life.     

Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Holley Gerths’ book “You’re Going to Be Okay”  p. 167-178 Chapter “Your Future is Full of Hope” 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grace lavished upon us and Blessings poured out over us!

Grace lavished upon us and Blessings poured out over us

Our Scripture reading last Sunday in church was from Ephesians 1:3-14.  When this Bible passage was originally written it was all one very long sentence!  And that long sentence in Ephesians describes the great riches we have in Jesus Christ and tells of the many blessings that God has given us as believers in Christ.

It would seem that the writer, St. Paul, was so enthusiastic about the many blessings that God pours out over His children that he could not slow down long enough to write in sentences.  In his excitement his words all ran together and in his passion he never stopped long enough to punctuate the end of sentences with periods. Pauls’ one long sentence in Ephesians jubilantly broadcasts the many blessings that have been given to us from God our Father.  And it joyfully proclaims the many blessings that we receive through Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior.  And finally it eagerly tells of even more gifts and more graces that are ours through the Holy Spirit. 

Let’s read Pauls’ long sentence here:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, for He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight and in love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One he loves and in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He has lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding and He made known unto us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposes in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together  under one head, even Christ and in Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory and you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.”  (Ephesians 1:3-14)

It is hard for us to take in all the great riches and many spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ.  It’s all more than our little minds can begin to understand. God has chosen you in Christ.  Has loved you with an everlasting love.   Has predestined you to be His beloved child through Jesus Christ.  Has given you a spiritual union with Christ. Given you salvation when you heard the Word of Truth and believed.  Has forgiven your sins. Bestowed on you the gift of eternal life. Freely pours blessings over you.

 God lavishes on you the riches of His grace. Seals you with His Holy Spirit.  Guarantees your inheritance into the kingdom of heaven. Gives you redemption through His blood.  Makes known to you the mystery of His will.  Has created you for a purpose. Called you to follow Christ. Has made you an Overcomer through Jesus Christ.  Promises to be with you always.  Promises to give you His strength and help as you go through life.  Promises to answer your prayers.  Clothes you with His righteousness.  The blessings go on and on!

When you ask yourselves the question: “Who am I?” do you answer by standing on what the Word of God says about you - that you are the beloved child of God and you have been given all  these many spiritual blessings in Christ?  That you bring pleasure to God. Or do you soon forget who Scripture says you are and judge yourself by worldly standards? 

Forgetting Gods’ answer, you may ask the question: “Who am I?”  And you answer that question by answering that (1) you are what you do.  –I have value because of my job or position or my lack of a job or my missed opportunities.  You also may answer the question of: “Who am I?” by asking: (2) what do other people say about me?  You feel comfortable when people are saying good things about you and you feel shame and anger when people are putting you down.  And you may also answer the question: “Who am I?” by believing that: (3) I am what I have – or the lack of what I have.  Besides money this includes my relationships or my lack or loss of those relationships.  I am less when I lose money or an important relationship.  

So you may believe that who you are hangs on how you answer those three questions.  If you have money and a good job and good relationships you feel good about yourself.  But if you don’t have those things you are vulnerable.  If you forget what God says about you in Scripture, then your reputation is unreliable and can turn up or down in the wind with whatever is happening in your life.

 Who you are can zig zag back and forth, up and down, a good reputation one year, and a bad one the next. If you have a good job and buy an expensive car you know you are great, but if you lose your good job and drive a junk car then you feel like a loser.  In our competitive world you judge yourself by what others think of you.  And other people can be fickle.  If the “important” people like you and you are young and attractive you feel good about yourself.  But if you are old and disabled and your family members don’t have time for you then you feel like you aren’t worth much.

During this past year, two intelligent young men in our community have tragically committed suicide.  I attended one of the funerals and saw the tears running down the face of the wife and the look of stunned grief in the eyes of the deceased man’s children.  This desperate man had lost a job and couldn’t pay his bills. One relative mentioned that before he took his life he told someone that he felt his family would be better off without him. And the other young man uttered these last desperate words to his wife before hanging himself: “I never do anything right.”

Two distraught young men who just recently took their own lives perhaps because they may have judged themselves by worldly standards and believed that they did not measure up.  Their families would be better off without them they thought!  Anyway they never do anything right!  We all have moments of depression occasionally. Moments when a dark voice whispers in our ear that we never do anything right.  That no one needs us and our lives aren’t worth much.  We must turn our backs on those dark voices and listen to God’s Voice. 

We are fighting a spiritual battle in this world and we need to keep our guard up. Fight the good fight. Never give in. The sword we fight with is the Bible, the Word of God, and the shield we use for protection is Faith. (Ephesians 6:16-17)  We must stand on (believe) the Word of God and have faith to believe who God says we really are in Christ.  We don’t look at our faults but we look at Jesus Christ.  We are God’s beloved.  Destined for glory. Our citizenship is in heaven. We need to feel those words in our gut – in our hearts!  Look Gods’ powerful everlasting love for us dead in the eye and receive it!  Receive it and never let it go!

Many of the thoughts in this blog were taken from the sermon of Reverend Casey Orr that was given on July 12, 2015 at the First Methodist Church of Fort Worth.       

Saturday, July 11, 2015

On Care for our Common Home excerpts from Pope Francis' encyclical letter

On Care for our Common Home
More excerpts from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter

Pope Francis has written a seventy four paged open letter to Christians everywhere and to the Catholic Church and the world.  One of the main subjects of this letter is a plea to humans to care for the environment – God’s world, nature, each other and all living creatures.  I am not a Catholic but I was blessed by reading his encyclical letter.  In my last blog I went through the first half of the pope’s letter and shared some of what I thought were his main points.  And today I would like to share some of the high points in the last half of the letter.

Pope Francis reminds us that a fundamental belief of the Christian faith is that “the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ…”  (Page 26, paragraph 99)  He quotes the Bible: “All things have been created through Him (Jesus Christ) and for Him.”  (Colossians 1:16)  Gods’ Word says that you and I were brought into the world through Jesus and our lives are meant for Jesus.  The pope quotes another passage of Scripture: John 1:1-18, which also reveals Christ as the creator of everything and as the Light that lights each of us. (John 1:9) 

The pope explains that one of Jesus’ names is the “Word”.  And Jesus is called the “Word” or logos when He is creating.  The Bible says that the “Word” (Jesus) became “flesh” (John 1:14).  Pope Francis explains that when Scripture says that Jesus became “flesh” it means that “He entered into our world, throwing in his lot with the world, even to the cross.” (Pg.26 paragraph 99)

Pope Francis says that the Bible also shows Jesus, God’s Son, risen and glorious and one Person of the Trinity. The pope quotes Scripture: “For in Him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to live, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood by His cross.  (Colossians 1:19-20)  The pope writes: “This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son (Jesus) will come back in all of His glory and deliver all things to the Father, so that ‘God may be everything to everyone.’” (1 Cor. 15:28)   The pope writes that “Jesus (the Risen One) is holding us to Himself and directing us towards fullness as our end.”  In that glorious end we will be changed.  Mortality (death) will put on immortality (life).  And we will be saved through the Son (Jesus).

Pope Francis’ long letter covers many subjects.  He fusses that many of us have forgotten our Christian faith and how that effects the way we treat one another.  How humans, without objective truth (Christian truth), can place themselves at the center and see everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests.  He feels that our modern culture has discarded objective (Christian) truth and put in its place a culture of relativism.  Relativism drives people to take advantage of others and to treat other people as objects.  He also argues that forgetting our Christian values has left us open to the mentality of a “throw away” culture that encourages us to throw people away when they no longer serve our purposes.  When we have used them up. Parents abandon children and children abandon their elderly parents, wives throw away husbands, etc. In the absence of objective (Christian) truth, the pope wonders if any limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species. 

He rails that the culture of relativism (the belief that there is no ultimate Truth)  is the same disorder that drives one person to impose forced labor or enslave another person in order to pay their debt or to sexually exploit children for their own perverted pleasure.  He rails against the mindset of those who say: “Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.”  He believes that every person should be able to find work and that a caring society should strive to make that a priority.  Pope Francis is saying over and over again that we should all work together for the common good.  And he calls a culture that does not do this “corrupt “and calls us all to return to Christian values. 

Pope Francis is pleased that some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment and demand that some limits be put on certain research.  He writes that the Catholic doctrine demands that we not experiment or torture animals during medical research when the research is not to save or extend human lives. He speaks out against transgressing boundaries when experimentation is carried out on animals as well as on living human embryos.  He believes that all human life, including the life of the unborn is sacred, and that killing an unborn baby is a serious sin.  I agree with him unless the life of the mother is seriously at risk.

Pope Francis believes that everything is related and that the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life.  He writes: “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.” (Pg37 paragraph 142)  He fusses about the fact that what takes place in one area can have an influence on other areas.  He uses drug use as an example of this.  He says: “Drug use in affluent societies creates a continual and growing demand for products imported from poorer regions, where behavior is corrupted, lives are destroyed, and the environment continues to deteriorate.”

Pope Francis writes that the world (the environment, nature) is a gift from God which we have freely received and must share with others.  It is on loan to each generation and must then be handed on to the next.  Instead of viewing what we have in a purely utilitarian way we must have this broader vision.  The pope believes that our postmodern world is running the risk of rampant individualism and that many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centered culture of instant gratification.
 He writes:   “A constant flood of consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.”   The pope adds that a world where we are constantly buying things to satisfy ourselves is “a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”        
 Pope Francis calls us to a new way of living.  He writes: “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsessions with consumption.”  He proposes that “less is more”.  He believes that Christian spirituality is a return to simplicity and a capacity to be happy with little.  We are to avoid the mere accumulation of pleasures.

The pope also calls us to remember to give thanks to God at dinnertime for our meals and to accept each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. He suggests that we practice little ways of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship.  These practices were suggested by St. Therese of Lisieux.  The pope believes that simple daily gestures of love break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.

The pope proposes a life of moderation and of humility and of love.  “It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity.” He insists.  “On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full.”  (Pg. 57 paragraph 223)  Pope Francis closes his encyclical letter with these words.”  God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give Him our all, offer us the light and strength needed to continue on our way.  In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present.  He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united Himself definitively to our earth, and His love constantly impels us to find new ways forward.  Praise be to Him!”