Sunday, February 27, 2011

Discouraged? Put the Physical Before the Mental

Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.
Mark 6:30-32 NKJV

Ever been discouraged? Have you ever arrived in a point in your life where you thought you were physically and mentally out of gas? I think it's fair to say that at one time or another we have all experienced these feelings of helplessness and discouragement, and with what we see happening all around us today it is entirely possible some of you are at that point right now. One of the benefits of being a Christian, however, is the knowledge that whatever situation we might be facing it is sure to be addressed somewhere in scripture.

The Bible is full of stories of people just like us facing discouragement based on the circumstances they found themselves in. Yet if you read some of those stories you find that there seems to be a common, practical answer to dealing with those situations which we find in the passage above. I will call it God's three step answer to discouragement; rest, repast, and remind.

In chapter 6 of the book of Mark we find the story of Jesus sending the disciples out to share the Gospel and call the people to repentance. While they were doing this, we see that King Herod has John the Baptist beheaded. So the picture we are presented with here is this. The disciples were excited to be commissioned to go and spread the call to repentance, so they took off to many cities all over the country and got busy doing the work they were commissioned to do. Yet while doing so they hear that John the Baptist, who was arrested for doing the same thing, gets his head cut off. So all of them return from whatever part of the country they had been in and take the body of John and bury it. Then they go and find Jesus to tell Him all that had occurred.

Now I don't know about you but I can easily imagine just what might have been going through the disciples minds right about now. It was probably something like “am I going to be the next guy to lose his head over this Gospel thing?" Is it a stretch to think that is exactly what Satan was trying to accomplish by arranging this scenario? Do you think the disciples might have been just a little tired and discouraged right about now? What sort of questions do you think they had for Jesus when they met with Him? I have no doubt they were extremely troubled and concerned with what was to come, yet it is the response of Jesus to them that I find interesting, if not a little surprising. It is how He choses to deal with their discouragement that I want to look at this morning to see what we can learn from it and apply to the situations many of us find ourselves in today.

Rest. The first thing Jesus chooses to address is not their mental anxieties, but their physical needs. Jesus recognizes that in order to deal with the problem of discouragement the priority was addressing their need for rest. Now I don't know about you, but with me, when I get physically tired I notice my brain tends to shut down and go to the old hibernate mode. I mean if I try to do things that require my mind to be sharp when I'm tired, the results are less than acceptable. I think all of us understand that, and it would appear that Jesus does as well. Jesus says simply “you need to get away and rest”. So He takes them away to a place where they can be alone and gives them an opportunity to recover.

Repast. Now I know I could have just said eat, but I figured if they all started with “R” it would be easier to remember. So the next thing we are told is that Jesus is concerned that the disciples had not had the opportunity to eat. Again He is focusing His attention and ours on a physical need before He addresses the mental needs. I'm sure all of us are aware of the necessity to eat considering that food is the fuel that makes our bodies run, yet how often when we get discouraged or depressed do we fail to eat because we “just aren't hungry”? Our bodies are in a way just like our cars. It doesn't matter if our car “feels good” or not, it still needs gas at regular intervals in order to keep performing. In the same way our bodies need to receive the nourishment necessary in order for it to function efficiently. Here Jesus is concerned about the disciples need for food, so He also takes them away from their duties in order to allow them the time to eat.

Remind. As we continue to read in this passage, we find that after the physical needs of the disciples have been met, Jesus not only addresses, but orchestrates two opportunities to remind the disciples of His power and authority. The first is the feeding of the five thousand, and the second was by walking on the water. Why two?

For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
Mark 6:52 NKJV

It seems beyond me that the disciples could witness five loaves of bread and two fishes feed over five thousand people and not understand they were witnessing a miracle, but such was the case. Why? The word for “hardened” in the Greek is pōroō which means “to grow hard, callous, become dull, lose the power of understanding”. I like the phrase to “become dull”, simply because I believe that word by itself describes what happens to us all mentally when we ignore our physical needs. Apparently the disciples were so tired and hungry that they still had not recovered sufficiently to recognize the power of God when they saw it!

Yes the disciples were discouraged because of the events they had witnessed, but how much of that discouragement was a result of ignoring their physical needs? We all have the tendency to want to fix our mental state first because it appears to be our greatest need. However in this passage I think Jesus made it clear that in order to fix the mental, you can't forget the physical. As someone who has spent a great deal of time and effort over the years to take care of his physical body, I can assure you I have read of numerous studies that support the fact that the physical can affect the mental. Isn't it curious to find that Jesus knew this long before our “clinical” studies took place?

Are you suffering from discouragement in your life right now? Are the circumstances we find ourselves in as believers approaching the end of the age beginning to affect your mental state? Jesus says He won't, and we should not, forget our physical needs. At the same time we can be assured He will address our mental needs by providing the circumstances to remind us of His omnipotence in a world that seems to be falling apart.

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Finding Happiness

BLESSED is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Psalm 1:1-6 NKJV

Years ago it would be called a diary, but now most people call it a “journal”. Whatever name it goes by, what it really does is serve as a written account of a persons deepest feelings or emotions as they struggle through life and everything the world may throw at them. Now most people also have something in common when it comes to their written feelings; they are considered extremely private and not to be shared with anyone.

How interesting then is it to discover that in the case of David, his journal is written for all of mankind to read! This is, of course, exactly what we find the Psalms to be as we read and study them. They are without question windows into the heart of a man that in Gods' own words is considered to be a man after Gods' own heart. Now I can't help but think that if we look closely at the heart of a man God describes this way, are we really looking into the heart of God? With this in mind I thought we could spend a little time looking at the first chapter of Psalms and see if we can discover some truths about Gods' feelings about us.

A journal or diary usually always reveals an individuals mental or emotional state rather than a physical one. So how interesting is it to see that the very first verse in Psalms does exactly that. The Hebrew word for blessed is 'esher, which is also translated as happiness. So the subject of the first chapter of Psalms, and what God through David wants to share with us, is finding happiness in our lives as we struggle to survive in this world and the situations we often find ourselves in. Considering the subject matter we have been discussing for a few weeks, it would appear that most of us could use a little more happiness right about now. God chooses to instruct us by comparing, or contrasting two types of individuals; godly and ungodly.

The difference between the godly man and the ungodly is fairly simple to understand. The godly man sees God as the center of his life, and the ungodly man has no time for God, and rarely if ever even thinks about Him. So lets look at what God tells us about the three differences between these two types of people, and how believers can find true happiness.

BLESSED is the man Who:

walks not in the counsel of the ungodly
...the Hebrew word for counsel here means simply that the Godly man doesn't consider the advice of the world, or ungodly, but rather looks to God for the answers to life's problems. If you want an illustration of what the world has to offer just go to a bookstore and find the section titled “self-help” and you will see what God means here. The world seems to have all the answers to all of our problems, but the one mistake they make is to ignore God's advice and rather come up with their own answers. The happy believer is one who goes to God's word to find the answers they need.

Nor stands in the path of sinners...the word “to stand” means simply to be identified with, or associated with the path or things that sinners usually do. What God is telling us in here is that as believers we are expected to be different in that we choose to live differently than the world. I don't know how many times through the years of my ministry with youth that I would get the same questions over and over again. They always went like this; “is it okay for a Christian to do (-------)?” Now I was always happy to get this question because obviously kids were thinking it was something they wanted an answer to, and they wanted to do the right thing. Yet it also shows how important the first advice we got in this passage is, because if we look to God for the answers, we will obviously choose to walk a different path than the unbelievers in this world.

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful...the word for ”scornful” describes not only an action, but an attitude as well. The scornful person has an attitude of arrogance which stems from the belief that everybody else is wrong and he is right, and is always more than happy to tell everyone how right he is, and how wrong you are. The believer is expected to have the opposite attitude, which from looking at the life of our Lord is easily seen to be that of humility. I don't know about you, but my experience has always been that the louder someone talks, the less I want to listen. By telling us to be humble and avoid the attitude described here, God is telling believers that happiness comes from being humble, avoiding arguments, and most of all acknowledging we are not perfect and prone to making mistakes.

So how do we do this? God says it's a matter of focus; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. Something I have always tried to get across to the kids I taught was the importance of not only spending time every day in the Word, but then taking what you read with you all day and think about it and try to figure out how you can apply it in your actions. Obviously since this is what God wants from us, it follows that Satan is going to try and throw every distraction he can in your path to try and change your focus. God says that the happy believer meditates on His word all day and all night. If we choose to follow God's advice, He goes on to describe the result.

He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper...Now everyone can probably figure this illustration out. Ever see the difference between a tree growing in the middle of nowhere, and one that is by water? Obviously the one with an unlimited supply of water is much larger, stronger, and most of all, much more fruitful. I grew up in southern California at a time where there were more fruit trees than houses. Yes I know, hard to believe, but there actually was a time like that. My uncle was an orchardist and I would go with him sometimes as he moved the sprinklers they used to water the orchards by hand. It was very obvious even to a little boy like me that you could tell the difference between a tree that got a lot of water, and one that didn't get as much.

If you are not as happy as you would like to be, I think what God is telling us here is that you should check your roots! Are your feet planted in His Word? Are you meditating on it everyday? Are you looking to God for answers and standing apart from the world? There is a saying in real estate that I'm sure most of us are familiar with; location, location, location. If we as believers are not enjoying a happy, fruitful life, maybe we should look closer at our “location”, and see just where we have planted ourselves. The unbelievers of this world are described as “chaff” which has no roots and will suffer the fate of being blown away, while we as believers will stand before God to be judged and receive our reward for choosing to serve Him.

David knew the secret to happiness. His life, like all of ours, had it's share of trouble. But I believe he is sharing with us here, in his very first Psalm, that he has figured out the secret to happiness and it's by planting ourselves as close to God as we can.

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sheep Thoughts

A Psalm of David. THE LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Yea, 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 shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
Psalms 23 NKJV

Have you ever really stopped to think of how nice a life sheep have? It may seem strange to consider, but since the Bible is full of verses telling us we are like sheep, are compared to sheep, should be like sheep, and best of all God is our shepherd, don't you think we should spend a little effort examining sheep? If I were to write a book called something like “your best life now”, it would be pretty short because after all, according to the Bible all we have to do is be like sheep!

As I shared last week, many, many of us are starting to feel as if we are being persecuted and are beginning to experience things that up to this point in our lives, we seem to have been spared from. Invariably when believers begin to experience trials in their lives, they also begin to question the reasons for them with the attitude that as believers we should somehow be immune to troubles. As we talked about last week, trials are to be expected yet we need to also understand that even though God will allow these events to occur we also have His promise to deliver us.

David is just one of the figures in the Bible who, like us, experienced trials in his life. Yet he also had a habit of writing Psalms about what he was feeling when going through hardships much like many of us keep a diary. The book of Psalms is a window to David's feelings about God during different times in his life, and it is from one of his most famous Psalms that we find all we need to know about being comforted during trials. Even though most people, both believers and non-believers, are familiar with the 23rd Psalm I think many have never really looked at it point by point and really thought about what David is telling us. So let me try to share just a few of my thoughts about this passage for you to consider, and you too spend this week thinking and praying about what God might want you to learn from His words.

THE LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. So we get the best one first; God will provide all our needs. Since I'm sure most of us spend a considerable amount of our daily lives worrying about tomorrow, God has already promised to take care of our needs. If so, why do we worry? Is it because we don't believe God, or is it because what we think we need is somewhat different than what God thinks we need?

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
Ever lie down in a pasture and just stare up at the clouds? It may sound funny but I did that a lot as a kid, and let me tell you from experience that there is nothing so peaceful as that. The word for restore in the Hebrew means to return or go back, and I often find myself looking up at the clouds today and thinking back to those times when I had not a care in this world. Why still waters? Did you know sheep won't drink from a running stream? They need still waters in order to drink. God says He will lead us to green pastures and still waters but the real question is do we follow where He leads or do we insist in going our own way?

He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me. The Hebrew word for paths is “ruts” or a very well worn path. If you have ever driven on a dirt road with ruts you know what it is like to try and turn out of them. It's pretty difficult and takes some effort to get the wheels to turn and then get enough grip to ride up and out of them. On the other hand, if they are well worn and deep you can actually take your hands off of the wheel and just let the car go and the wheels will stay straight and follow wherever the road takes you. Here we are told that the paths of righteousness are like that. It should be easy for us to do what is right, and hard to turn towards evil. Even though we might be tempted to turn because we see ourselves being led towards what appears to be the “valley of the shadow of death”, remember two things. One, we are being led by God and two, it is just the “shadow” and not the real thing. If we keep our eyes on God He promises us we will walk “through”, which means we come out the other side!

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Now here is the part we are all interested in. In times of trouble we all have one thing in common, and that is looking for something to comfort us. Here we are told by David that in these situations we can be comforted by God's rod and staff. If you look closely into the life of a shepherd, you will find that he normally carries two things with him at all times when leading his flock, a rod and staff. The staff of course, is the long branch with the hook on the end which the shepherd uses to direct those sheep who tend to want to wander, in the direction he wishes to take them. The rod, on the other hand, is used to defend the sheep from anything that might seek to do them harm.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. God wants our enemies to see how He chooses to take care of us, so He blesses us in such a way as for others to see that He is providing for us. The Hebrew phrase to anoint literally means to grow fat or prosper, so the picture here is that God goes out of His way to make sure that those who might wish us harm see that He is providing us with all that we need. So much so that He uses the picture of a cup running over to illustrate His generosity.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life. I have often heard mercy defined as not getting what we deserve, so when I read this part of the Psalm I get the feeling that we are being told that getting what we don't deserve, goodness, and not getting what we do deserve, mercy, follows us all our lives if we but choose to allow God to direct our path. I think the reason this verse says “follow” is that these two benefits are a result of making the right choice, and not trying to go our own way and pursue things that God already says He will provide us.

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. Are you familiar with the song that says better is one day in Your house than thousands elsewhere? Our promise is that we will spend eternity with God in His house, and that promise is one that should give us all the comfort we need when the going gets tough. Eternity with God is the very best gift we could ever receive, and it is available to anyone who chooses to allow God to come into their lives.

As I said, these are but just a few of my thoughts on this Psalm, and my hope is that you spend your week considering these verses and enjoy the comfort God promises us when we follow after Him, the Great Shepherd. Be like sheep, it's a great life.

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rejoicing In Suffering

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:1-4 NKJV

How many of us can truly say we rejoice in suffering? I expect the answer is not too many, which is certainly understandable from a human point of view. Nobody likes to suffer hardships, difficulties, temptations, or times of testing, yet if we look closely at the scriptures they make it perfectly clear that not only are we going to experience them, they should be expected. Now to many that might seem to be just the opposite from what we should expect since our God is a God of love, and it seems reasonable to presume that He should reward us for our faith by removing trials from our lives.

Yet not only do we find ourselves experiencing hardships, from the communications I have been receiving lately from many believers, it seems that more and more of us are finding ourselves in some extremely troubling situations, myself included. Why? Well I believe it might not come as a surprise to you to find out I think it is because our time is rapidly running out!

From all accounts it would appear that even the most skeptical believers are now wondering just what in the world is going on in our world. Even unbelievers are questioning events by using Biblical terms such as tribulation, apocalyptic, and even judgment. If we accept the premise that the end is near, does it not make sense for us to believe that we will experience more opportunities to exhibit our faith? After all, if we believe the signs are pointing to the end of the age, don't you think Satan has that figured out as well? If so, just what would you expect his reaction to be? It seems reasonable to expect he would go on the offensive with a vengeance!

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. James 1:13 NKJV

Although trials do not come from God, He certainly allows them to occur in our lives, so the question we must ask is "Why"? I may be wrong, but from my study I have come to the conclusion from my own life that God allows us to go through trials and suffering for at least three reasons.

One; Testing is an opportunity to show God our faith in His promises.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 NKJV

Anyone who has experienced love in their life understands the difference between "saying" you love someone and "showing" you love someone. When I was a young believer I remember someone speaking on faith and using this illustration. You may say you have faith that the airplane can fly, but if you never actually get on one you have never demonstrated your faith. When trials come into our lives as believers we have an opportunity to show God we really do believe by exercising our faith in the promises He has given us to deliver us through them.

Two; Testing is a measure to show ourselves where we are and where we fall short.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4 NKJV

As I have said before, one of the reasons I like Paul so much is that he constantly compares the Christian life to a race, and I had the opportunity to compete in track for many many years. Now I can truly say I never got to the point where I enjoyed working out, but I knew it was necessary if I wanted to get better. I very much enjoyed the actual races because it was an opportunity to measure my progress and see how much I was improving. Undergoing trials in the Christian life is not necessarily enjoyable, but without them we would never know if we were making progress and growing in our walk with God. Every time we suffer, we know from this verse that God is using it to produce patience, which in turn helps us to mature.

Three; Testing is an opportunity to witness to others.

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 1 Peter 4:16 NKJV

If you think about it, what better way to show the world we are different than to show them by how we react to troubles? I don't know about you, but every day I have opportunities to see how unbelievers react to trying situations. I think we could all agree that the common reaction is with anger, frustration, impatience, and most likely language unbecoming. I also think we could all agree that these are the complete opposites of what we, and God, would expect from someone who truly believes. Have you ever had an occasion to witness and glorify God because someone saw you experiencing trials or troubling situations and wondered why you reacted differently? Going through testing and trials may not be enjoyable, but what a wonderful way to show unbelievers that having faith in the promises of God produces a peace that is unexplainable according to the standards of the world.

As I said at the start, I have heard from many of you who are going through some very difficult times. If you look closely at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 you might notice what Jesus says at the end of every letter; it is the phrase "To him who overcomes". The Greek word for overcomes is nikaō, which means to conquer, to carry off the victory, come off victorious. There is a promise of rewards for those who overcome, yet it would be impossible to be an overcomer if there were not trials to overcome. Rejoice in suffering for as believers the trials we face give us the opportunity to glorify God.

Keep watching.