Thinking Out Loud

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.

 

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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.

 

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.

June 21, 2016

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:04 am

The Sea

When I arrived at University at age 17, I joked about filing a lawsuit against my elementary and high school board of education as compensation for all the things they never taught me. “How,” I asked anyone within earshot, “is it possible that I have arrived at this place with so many things I don’t know.”

Sometimes I feel that way about my religious education as well. I find myself years on wondering why I am hearing so many things for the first time. The background context to familiar stories. The way a passage in the NT ties in with several in the OT. The manner in which a story can be processed correctly on two different levels.

Depth. Richness. Passion. All the things that weren’t present the first time around those texts.

Like the thing about the people at the time of Christ having a phobia about the sea. It makes no sense, a large voting block of the disciples were fishermen. Boats. Water. Fish. And yet…

Knowing about the aquaphobia (fear of water) that characterized people in the times and places where scripture originates is actually helpful to understanding a number of Bible passages and narratives. R. C. Sproul writes.

The Mediterranean coast of western Palestine is marked by rocky shoals and jutting mountains. The ancient Hebrews did not develop a sea trade because the terrain was not suitable for much shipping. The sea represented trouble to them. It was from the Mediterranean that violent storms arose.

We see this contrasting imagery in Psalm 46. The psalmist writes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (vv. 1–3). Then he adds, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God” (v. 4).

…But the Jews feared other problems from the sea besides turbulent storms. Their traditional arch-rivals, marauders who beset them countless times, were a seacoast nation. The Philistines came from the direction of the sea.

The [nation of Israel] looked forward to a new world where all the evils symbolized by the sea would be absent. The new earth will have water. It will have a river. It will have life-giving streams. But there will be no sea there.

The sea represented chaos, the earth looks forward to a restoration of order. The New Earth has a river running through it, but there is no sea…

Sunset - Mark Batterson…Why am I writing this today?

As you get older, your memory starts to contain the summation of all the various stories you’ve heard; from friends, from newspapers, from television, etc. Each of these is filed away in your mind by category, and one of those classifications would involve water accidents. Boats sinking. Drownings. Persons lost at sea.

I’m realizing that with the arrival of summer, there is a thing where Canadians want to be near a body of water. Perhaps it’s because our summer is so short, and our temperatures run to great extremes. We want to (literally) dive in and experience the heat of the sun and the cool of the lake at the same time.

But I’m also realizing that I now have a healthy respect for the water. Some friends have a pond that is spring fed and there’s a point in the middle where I can’t begin to imagine how deep it is. I find myself getting more nervous venturing out that far. I think of the ocean, but then I hear stories of rip tides, something that just wasn’t in my consciousness on the annual family trip to Miami Beach and I want to rethink my memories. I think of the Great Lakes, one of which is just blocks from my house, but I’m reminded of stories of hypothermia, and it tempers my desire to go out on boats large and small. The water represents the unknown.

Boy Afraid of the OceanIs this an age thing, or simply the result of news overload? Do we reach a point where we regress and become the little child afraid of the waves? What about the classification of healthy fears; is this one admissible? Have I become J. Alfred Prufrock from the poem by Eliot?

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

No, not hearing mermaids singing. Not so far, anyway.

But definitely at a point where pictures of the sea can be frighteningly beautiful.


Credit: The middle photograph was taken by Mark Batterson

Aquaphobia is a basic fear of water; the fear of the sea is called Thalassophobia

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!

August 29, 2013

Back to School Blues

New Church Year

In many parts of Canada, back-to-school doesn’t happen until after Labor Day. So the weekend takes on added significance…

My friend Jimmy watched from across the road as my parents off-loaded a very pale version of my younger self from the backseat. He approached the car to ask about our weekend away at a Christian conference center, but I was quickly escorted into the house, into my room and onto the bed.

People did get sick from the water sometimes — it was before the days of today’s water control standards — but my ailment was brought on entirely by the stress and anxiety of facing another school year. It arrived for several years like clockwork on the first Monday of September.

I have no idea why, and no idea how it disappeared. I know in high school there was always a nervousness about new teachers, new textbooks and new subjects; but by then I looked forward to school. Furthermore, the actual physical illness dissipated by Junior High, though there was always a little bit of trepidation.

With two kids in university, we’re still not divorced from the school start-up date as being the true New Year’s Day; and I still find myself sensing echoes of the butterflies and apprehension involved in kicking into another fall season.  In most of our churches, the ministry year kicks off in earnest in the fall; and the business I own is tied to the retail cycle, where September marks the ramp-up toward Christmas.

In some ways, I suppose it’s spiritually good and healthy to recognize when things are a little out of your control. Each portion of the life cycle brings with it enough uncertainty to know that it is God, not us who is fully in control.

Jimmy went on to become a Catholic priest. I tried to track him down, and got as far as church he had recently left, but then the trail went cold. I’m not a detective; I don’t have the resources to pursue it any further. I thought he’d like to know that we shared a common destiny of being involved in different aspects of vocational ministry.

Mysteriously, I was always well enough to attend school the next day. I never missed the first day of classes. Maybe I was becoming ill 24-hours too soon.

I know that my mostly U.S. readership lives in places where the kids have been back to class for as much as three weeks now; so be it belated, or just about right, I wish you a happy new year.

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.

August 3, 2012

Illustrated Ray Comfort Text is a Labor of Love

2016 update: Sadly the website referenced here no longer exists.

So despite everything I wrote here yesterday about posting cartoons and comics on the blog, I’m forging ahead with this one, largely because illustrator Richard Gunther seems to actually want his material to be viewed by as many people as possible.

What you see above is actually page 16 (the middle page) of Why Trials written by Ray Comfort at the blog MightyMag.org .  You can see the panels in the correct order by following this link, or if you’d rather browse the whole blog click the first link and then scroll down to the posts for July 30thTake a few minutes to do this, you might find you want to send this to someone you know. (You can also click the image.) Or perhaps you yourself are facing trials, spiritual attacks, anxiety or simply find yourself in a ‘desert’ season in life. Click the image to read Why Trials.

Note: If a keyword search online brought you here and you’re not sure why, the post tags for today are all taken from the 32 cartoon pages. Click here to see it in its entirety.

About the artist: New Zealand writer and illustrator Richard Gunther is the author of dozens of children’s books.  He is perhaps best known for his provocative cartoons about God, the Bible and the Christian life. He provides daily cartoons for the blog site of evangelist Ray Comfort. Over the years Richard has produced a mountain of free Christian material for people to use. He has the desire to make Jesus Christ known in all the world because Jesus is the source of life.

April 30, 2012

God Meets a Family in the Midst of Crippling Loss

After my time serving on staff at a local church came to an end, we took a two-year break from that church and attended another in town, somewhat renown for its children’s ministry and Bible teaching. The pastor at the time was an excellent speaker, and his oldest son, Benjamin, was in a Sunday School class with our oldest.

Flash forward more than a decade and we learned that Ben had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. To say this seemed to hit close to home was more than an understatement. It seemed to me like only yesterday the kids were saving seats for their dads at a Sunday School Father’s Day party by crossing their legs over the empty chairs next to theirs. My wife heard about a Facebook group, Pray for Benjamin Elliott, and as new feeds came in, she would forward them to me by email. Praying for Ben became part of our nightly prayer routine as a family.

After it looked like Ben had triumphed over the disease, sadly he relapsed; and not longer after, the Facebook group was renamed, The Ben Ripple; mostly because it appeared that the stories which rippled out from Ben’s life and death were impacting so many lives both near and far. Ben’s mom, Lisa Elliott carefully crafted each post, and the thought did occur to me that someday, this material might benefit a greater readership, and sure enough, much of the material from those Facebook posts have been gathered together into a book of the same name, The Ben Ripple.  (I suspect this will not be her last book.)

I asked my wife to take another look at those Facebook entries through the book, and share a few thoughts from a mother’s perspective.

The Ben Ripple is a challenging read.  Walking through another person’s pain and loss, even in retrospect, takes some doing, especially having been one of the followers of the ‘real time’ Facebook updates, which comprised an honest, hopeful and wounded journaling from a woman of faith and intelligence whose life was suddenly shaken loose.

In this book, Elliott brings back those first raw outpourings, ties them together with some more objective reflections on what was happening in the family’s lives at the time and closes each chapter with practical suggestions for those dealing immediately with cancer, and for those on the periphery who just want to not say or do the wrong thing.

Her writing is both skilled and passionate, drawing the reader closer to understanding and empathy with a situation that most of us will never experience –  the loss of a child –  and one that more and more of us live through – fighting cancer.  She takes time to explain the treatments, with their setbacks and successes, and to appreciate the medical professionals who were involved in her family’s lives.

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

The Ben Ripple is a remembered and continuing journey well worth walking.

~Ruth Wilkinson

The Ben Ripple is published in paperback by Word Alive Press and available through them in Canada and through Ingram and Spring Arbor in the U.S.   A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Kitchener, Ontario based promotion and publicity agency which comes alongside Christian publishers to provide key titles with enhanced visibility.

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

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