Thinking Out Loud

January 1, 2019

The Bible Verse of the Year for 2018

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor, friend, and — compared with everyone else I interact with online — we’re practically next door neighbors. His writings appear every Thursday at our sister blog, Christianity 201, but this seemed like a great choice to start the new year. I figured he gave us permission for one part of our blogging network, so that included Thinking Out Loud as well, right? His writing appears at clarkedixon.wordpress.com or if you prefer, you can read his writing at C201.

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

“But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Scripture references are taken from the NLT

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April 29, 2018

Stupid Peace

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog Voice of One Whispering, where this was a follow-up to a previous post on anxiety and adapting to anxiety with medication, click this link.

I generally like to write blog posts that are self-contained isolated thoughts, but today what I happen to have on my mind piggybacks what I wrote about anxiety last time.

There, I mentioned that my brain “handles” differently now. I have a bit more control over where my thoughts go than I used to. I can steer them, but they don’t turn on a dime. Anxiety still strikes, but now I can do something about it.

A phrase from the Bible that has followed me around for quite a long time is “The peace that passes understanding,” (Phil 4:7). The thing is, I’ve never quite understood what that means. The “peace that passes understanding” passes my understanding. I can partially grasp the idea: because we know that we’re in God’s hands, we can have peace even if everything in our life, as we understand it, is falling apart. We have a peace that transcends what we see in our day to day life.

The problem with this concept is that we’re necessarily giving something up. We handing over our security in ourselves (or lack thereof) and in a self-effacing surrender we’re giving up our desire to be in control and in the know.

This completely irrational foreclosure of individual understanding is called “Trust” and I hate it.

On a similar note, Proverbs 3:5 tells to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” To Western ears, this is the most ridiculous and offensive idea anyone could come up with – willfully not understanding. I imagine it’s also, to those of us prone to anxiousness, extremely attractive.

So I’m still struggling to achieve functional adulthood (whatever that means) and today I was told by my dentist that I might need an unexpected procedure done. A minor procedure for a minor problem, but a pricey one. And on the walk back I was worrying a lot. But then I took the reins of my Serotonin-replete brain and thought “What if I just choose not to worry about it?”

“Yeah, it feels incredibly stupid to not worry about it because it’s a rather harsh blow to the bank account. It’s an objectively miserable thing to have to deal with, but worrying about it doesn’t get me to a solution any faster so why I don’t I just skip the anxiousness phase and make the most of my day?”

And then I went home and took what a friend of mine calls a “depression nap.” You know, when sleeping is easier than thinking about the thing. Again, it doesn’t turn on a dime, but it can be gradually nudged in the right direction.

The peace that passes understanding is a stupid peace because we, in and of ourselves, have no reason- we see no cause for peace. We, in and of ourselves, have no control. But if there’s someone we can trust watching out for us, maybe a little bit of stupidity isn’t just quite pleasant but in fact the most rational response.

It might take a few hours, it might take a few days, but I’ll get past this emotional bump in the road and hop back on the highway to peace. The way there is rather counter-intuitive but it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

 

December 12, 2017

Don’t Worry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am

Years ago someone told me that when you say to someone, “Don’t forget…” you are actually introducing the possibility that they might. So when my wife says to me,

Don’t forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home

my brain hears

There is a possibility that you will forget to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

or some say that my brain possibly deletes the first word and hears

Forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home.

I’m not sure how widespread the view is that this is how the brain operates, though I certainly understand the potential and the principle. Furthermore, I’m not sure that

Remember to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

while it eliminates the negative, is not simply introducing the same possibility that I might not remember…

…So when I’m reminded that the Bible’s most frequent command is “Fear not;” I can certainly see how that phrase, repeated to someone in my family where anxiety runs high, might not have the soothing, calming effect the speaker intends.

As to the frequency of the command, a popular idea is that the phrase occurs 365 times in scripture; conveniently one for each day. Here’s a blog post that refutes that notion, and one that argues against trying to refute it.

The point is that even though I know positionally that “The Lord is my shepherd;” I am given to anxiety and right now, my youngest son is going through a time where fear is running high and I’m certainly empathizing with his pain.

Just telling someone not to fear may not be helpful. A hug might be much better. Or an hour in conversation. Or an activity which distracts from the cause of the anxiety.

 

February 13, 2017

My Personal Battle With PTSD

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, family — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:17 am

Originally, I never thought of it in PTSD terms, and it’s not like I did a tour of duty in the Middle East. Instead, it started our gradually, with phone calls from the seniors’ home where my mom was living. The calls always came late at night, when the staff were wrapping up paperwork once the residents were sleeping.

  • She had another fall today.
  • They’re putting on her a new medicine.
  • We’ve noticed she’s not eating so much.
  • The doctor’s concerned about her circulation.
  • She fell again today.

I realize these health care workers have a responsibility to notify families, but the calls always came at an hour when we were winding down for the evening and wanted to relax, not deal with tension. We asked for “emergencies only” notification, but we had different definitions as to what constituted an emergency.

It got to where every time the phone would ring I would tense up, and now that she’s gone, the after-effects of this stress continue.

Telephones often bring bad news. Especially now when other forms of communication happen through email or on social media or texts. Four years ago, long before the worst of this experience was to take place, I recognized that having a calming ringtone doesn’t change the fact that it’s a phone call.

ring-tone

So again, while I wasn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan, I do have little bit of empathy for people who are bound by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It’s no fun living with anxiety, stress and tension and while having a strong faith and trust in God ideally brings peace amid the chaos, it doesn’t always work that way. Rather, the disconnect between the elements of faith we profess regarding God’s sovereignty and protection, and the inner turmoil we’re experiencing in the situation; that disconnect only adds to the problem.

A person dealing with PTSD is a person in desperate need of joy.

 

October 4, 2016

Fragile Faith

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

Regular readers here may have noticed that over the past two weeks there has been in an increase in the amount of re-purposed content on the blog. We’re in a period of great stress as a family and I’ve had to prioritize keeping Christianity 201 up-to-date over providing fresh material here.

I wrote some of this five years ago. I’ve added a little extra to it today. Right now, it’s more relevant than ever…

Faith Under Pressure

I’m going through a period of intense personal pressure and finding myself wondering about the condition and authenticity of my faith in light of the anxiety I am experiencing. There, I said it. Scratch my name off your list of Christian superstars. (Whaddya mean it wasn’t there?)

My mother often quoted Jeremiah 12:5 to me at times like this:

kjv_jeremiah_12-5

In the NIV it reads,

5 “If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

In other words, if you panic and are stressed by a little pressure, what are you going to do when something serious happens? Except things these days are particularly overwhelming me. “The swelling of the Jordan,” so to speak.

I say all this to say that it is so easy to espouse certain positional truths in scripture, but it is another matter entirely to live out those things practically when circumstances require a response. 

At times like this — and there have been many lately — I have seriously questioned the genuineness of my faith. I have come to recognize over time that everyone is dealing with something, but the nature and duration of our situation has just seemed unusually cruel. I feel like there’s some lesson I’m to learn from all this, but until I learn it, the circumstances can’t change.

It’s one thing to know all the scriptures which offer the promise of peace in the middle of the storm, but it’s another thing to actually feel that peace descend on you as you expected it would. It’s one thing to know all the verses which speak of trusting and relying on God, but it’s another thing to be able to release that burden.

In other words, we generally have all the answers — for someone else. It’s easy to straighten out someone else’s life; it’s hard to accept God’s instructions when we are the ones under pressure.

Mind you, I can’t imagine not having God to turn to.

October 18, 2015

No Fear in Death

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:42 am

Today we have a guest post by Rick Apperson. Well, Rick doesn’t actually know that yet, but we’ve known each other a long time (in blog years) and have shared content before. Rick blogs at Just a Thought and is a husband, father, Salvation Army pastor and author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ. You could keep going here, or you could send Rick some link love by clicking here to read.

No Fear in Death

I was preaching on heaven and hell recently.  As I spoke to the congregation, I said, “We are all going to die.  In fact every breath we take is one step closer to the end.”

I was taken aback when just then a man in the service began having a seizure.  He was OK and later that week he joked about how he had that seizure at that point in the message.  He was scared in the moment but later saw the humor in it.

Google the term “fear of death” and you will get 160,000,000 results.

160 Million!

Coping, overcoming, medical labels…there is a ton of stuff on the topic.  I get the sense that quite a few people out there must be afraid of dying.  I know that over the years I’ve been one of them.

As a kid I was afraid of the dark, afraid of death and at times afraid of my own shadow!  My fear of death was not so much the death itself but the possible pain involved in getting there.  I was afraid of the suffering and misery, the long goodbye that is often associated with death. Even after I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I was worried about death.  I have had panic attacks sitting in doctors offices, heart palpitation while getting x-rays and near nervous breakdowns waiting for test results.

I admit it.  I’ve been weak at times.

I know the Bible talks about fear. I quoted 2 Timothy 1:7 and Philippians 4:6-7 until I was blue in the face.  No matter what I did, fear would only be tamped down but for a moment.

I found Proverbs 12: 25 to be true. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”  I was being weighed down by my anxiety.

Yet today, I can testify that that fear is rapidly diminishing.  I have grown more comfortable in my own mortality. Through prayer and God speaking through a friend and brother, I have been healed of that anxiety.  I know I am going to die and I am ok with it.  My eternal destination is one I long for more than dread.

My son CJ and I had a conversations about heaven recently and listening to his child like faith, I found myself longing for the day I can spend eternity with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears.

I get excited because I am literally dying to meet Jesus!

I came across this quote while reading a Civil War history book today:

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” – General “Stonewall” Jackson.

“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Victory in Jesus!

July 12, 2014

Mental Illness or the Pressure of Everyday Life?

Filed under: health, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

The pile of newspapers and magazines next to our bed is not something I am particularly proud of, but it does yield some interesting treasures on a daily basis. Recently, I unearthed a copy of a Fall 2011 edition of U. of T. Magazine, the alumni magazine of my school, the University of Toronto.

The cover story was written in anticipation of what was then the upcoming revision to the DSM, which is a kind of Bible for people in the fields of psychiatric medicine and psychology, that has actually been revised several times before.  All I want to do here is isolate six paragraphs that struck me for a variety of reasons.

Mind Games cover story…[Edward] Shorter’s critique is more general. He thinks that the DSM is both an example and a cause of psychiatry’s wrong turn beginning sometime after the mid-20th century. He says the profession moved from a relatively small, relatively valid list of mental diseases – many of which could be treated effectively by tranquilizers, lithium and first-generation antidepressants – toward a vast list of disorders with no scientific validity. Some of the disorders overlap so much that they are almost impossible to distinguish from one another. Worse, he says, some of the disorders are really descriptions of normal, if difficult, human experience…

…The current American Psychiatric Association task force, comprising 29 psychiatrists and other mental health specialists, wants to recognize that many conditions often overlap – for instance, anxiety and depression – so that a diagnosis of only one or the other doesn’t always make sense…

…“There isn’t any other discipline in medicine that depends on consensus for its scientific truths,” says Shorter. “Consensus really means horse-trading – I’ll give you this diagnosis if you’ll give me that diagnosis. That’s the way they do business in politics. That’s not the way you do business in science. The speed of light wasn’t determined by consensus.” …

…“One of the disadvantages is instilling in people the idea that normal life includes chronic medication. This has been a terrible development in the last 30 years, the idea that you cannot have a normal life unless you’re on pills.” …

…Dr. David S. Goldbloom, a University of Toronto professor of psychiatry, says that Shorter has identified a real issue in psychiatry − the underlying cause of a disorder is often not known. No blood test or X-ray can confirm a diagnosis. That means psychiatrists are left to make diagnoses strictly according to symptoms. But that doesn’t mean the diagnoses are without value. …

… The problem of “diagnostic creep,” in which normal human emotions are classified as pathology is also a valid concern, he says. “Being sad, angry, afraid or joyous − that is part of the normal fabric of human experience. How do we draw a line when sadness becomes depression, when joy becomes mania, when fear becomes paranoia?” he asks. …

[…You can read Kurt Kliener’s whole article here …]

Mental illness is a fact of life for many families. I thought that this article helps to raise some issues that non-academics need to be more aware of.

I don’t want to minimize what is a real challenge for so many, perhaps even people reading this right now. But the line that struck me was, “some of the disorders are really descriptions of normal, if difficult, human experience.”

Life is hard.

 

 

 

April 1, 2013

TImely Verse

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

Decided not to go with the usual April 1st post. Not the right season in my life, plus it’s the day after Easter.

Last night I was watching the online version of Cross Point Church’s Sunday service; the one where Pete Wilson takes live questions after he preaches.  He mentioned that he reads a chapter of scripture a day and is always amazed at how timely it is to whatever circumstance he is facing. Then he told a story of how God used a scripture reference in an unlikely place to meet a need in his own life.

But Pete’s sermon also had something I needed — and still need — to hear. One of those verses that arrests you in your tracks. It’s the rendering of Isaiah 26:16 in the updated NIV:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

It’s that last phrase, which I underlined, that really got me.

The Message makes a rare use of capital letters here:

And this is the meaning of the stone:
A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.

The ESV has:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

The CEB:

…the one who trusts won’t tremble

The Amplified:

…he who believes (trusts in, relies on, and adheres to that Stone) will not be ashamed or give way or hasten away [in sudden panic].

The NLT:

It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken.

Finally, the NASB:

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Part of life in the modern world is the potential for fear and anxiety. This is a verse to claim for those who know what it means to panic.

I watch Pete at 7:00 PM EST Sundays at this link.

March 23, 2012

Microblogging Friday

Heard a couple of interesting quotes from The Elephant Room II at James MacDonald’s blog; here’s the first one:

T. D. Jakes on the need for the church to be more integrated:

“When you write the books you read, your truth will always be distorted.”

Second quote from ER II

I think it was Crawford Lorrits on the need for us to stop obsessing on the finer points of doctrine when we’re supposed to be evangelizing:

“When someone is drowning, don’t describe the features of the rescue boat.”

from David Platt quotations at GoodReads.com

“We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

More microblogging this week at this entry at C201 blog

September 27, 2011

Faith Under Pressure

Filed under: Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:30 am

I’m going through a period of intense personal pressure and finding myself wondering about the condition and authenticity of my faith in light of the anxiety I am experiencing. There, I said it.  Scratch my name off your list of Christian superstars. Whaddya mean it wasn’t there?

My mother often quoted Jeremiah 12:5 to me at times like this:

5If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

In the NIV it reads,

 5 “If you have raced with men on foot
   and they have worn you out,
   how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
   how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

In other words, if you panic and are stressed by a little pressure, what are you going to do when something serious happens?  Except things these days are more serious. “The swelling of the Jordan,” so to speak.

I say all this to say that it is so easy to espouse certain positional truths in scripture, but it is another matter entirely to live out those things practically when circumstances require a response.

In other words, we generally have all the answers — for someone else.  It’s easy to straighten out someone else’s life; it’s hard to accept God’s instructions when we are the ones under pressure.

Mind you, I can’t imagine not having God to turn to. 

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