The Problem With Following People (Including Yourself)

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed people in the church don’t always act Christ-like. For many, the worst hurts they’ve suffered from another human being came from someone who called themselves “Christian.” Even if that’s not the case for you, I’m sure you’ve seen pettiness, hypocrisy, and other issues among God’s people.

Yet even though we know human beings aren’t perfect, there’s still a tendency to align ourselves with them. We’ve all known people who found a teacher they like so much they’ll follow him even if he contradicts the Bible. Maybe we’ve even been there ourselves, often without even realizing it. We might also have seen churches break into factions when leaders disagree over a point of doctrine, and then followed one of those leaders as the group splits apart.

When you go through something like that often enough, it’s easy to lose trust in other people. Maybe we stop relying on other Christians, or refuse to listen to the ministry, or become obsessively critical of others. We might decided we’re the only reliable authority on scripture and that it’s dangerous to listen to anyone else.

Wanting someone to follow as an authority, or rejecting others and their ideas to avoid getting hurt, are both natural human impulses. But that doesn’t make either of them a good thing. Whenever we trust a human being (including ourselves) more than God, we’re going to get into trouble. We need to find a balance that lets us live in unity with our brethren while following God first and foremost. Read more

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Surely Goodness and Kindness Will Follow Me

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” begins one of the most famous passages in scripture. For many, Psalm 23 is their favorite part of the Bible. The whole thing is absolutely beautiful, but today I just want to focus on a phrase at the end.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. 23:6, KJV)

The Hebrew word translated “mercy” here is often translated “loving kindness” in more modern versions of the Bible. And this isn’t the only place where God’s loving, kind mercies are linked with His inherent goodness.

O Give Thanks For Who God Is

The link between goodness and kindness is mentioned again and again in songs of praise. Ten times in the Bible we’re told to praise and thank Yahweh “for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever” (1 Chr. 16:34; 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3; Ezr. 3:11; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11).

Goodness and loving kindness are an essential part of God’s nature and character. Yahweh (to use His proper name) “is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 105:5, WEB). This isn’t something that’s ever going to change. We can count on Yahweh — both the Father and the Son — being good, lovingly kind, and faithful forever and ever. And when we walk with them, we’ll get to experience Their goodness and kindness directly. Read more

Replacing Anxiety With Power, Love, and A Sound Mind

There’s a verse that I’ve found myself praying when I struggle with anxiety, which has been pretty often for the past couple weeks. It comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy in which he assured the young man that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, KJV).

I don’t want to speak for everyone’s anxiety, but for me at least I do feel like it’s often tied to a lack or imbalance of the three things mentioned here. I’m scared when I feel I have no power or others have too much power. My anxiety spikes when I’m not felling loved and looked out for, as well as when I spend too much time turned in on myself instead of actively loving others. And my mind seems unsound or undisciplined when it spins elaborate worst-case scenarios to worry about, or tells me things like “you’re broken and worthless.”

This verse says that I don’t have to stay stuck there. When we have God’s spirit in us, we have access to a part of Him that can replace fear with power, love, and sound mindedness.

Power

There are a few different Greek words that could be translated “power.” The one here is dunamis. Like other words that come from duna it carries “the meaning of being able, capable.” Specifically, dunamis speaks of inherent strength and power (Zodhiates’ and Thayre’s dictionaries, entry on G1411).

We see this power demonstrated when Jesus performed miracles. “All the multitude sought to touch him, for power came out of him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19, WEB). When we’re given God’s holy spirit, this same sort of power that resides in God is put inside of us (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The power doesn’t belong to us (Acts 3:12; 2 Cor. 4:7), but it is available to us.

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Thanksgiving And Grace

There’s a deep scriptural connection between thankfulness and grace. While it’s obvious that we should be thankful for God’s grace, what’s not so obvious in English is how closely the two concepts are linked by the Greek language that God picked for writing the New Testament. Here’s an example:

the service of this ministry is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but also is overflowing through many expressions of thanksgiving (eucharistia) to God. Through the proven character of this service they will glorify God because of the submission of your confession to the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your participation toward them and toward everyone, and they are longing for you in their prayers for you, because of the surpassing grace (charis) of God to you. Thanks (charis) be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:12-15, LEB)

The Greek word charis (G5485) is typically translated “grace.” We usually define it as “unmerited favor.” It can also indicate what grace causes – joy, favor, gratification, acceptance, benefits, thanks, and gratitude. It’s etymological relatives eucharistos (G2170), eucharisteo (G2168), and eucharistia (G2169) are the words for thanks, thankfulness, and thanksgiving.

Direction of Grace

As I read through the Bible verses where charis appears, a pattern emerges in the translations. If charis is shown by God to man we call it grace (e.g. John 1:16-17). If charis is shown by man toward God we call it thanks (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:57). If charis is shown between men it’s a favor or credit (Luke 6:32-34; Acts 24:27), thanks (Luke 17:9), or occasionally a chance to minister grace (Eph. 4:29).

Receiving the grace of God should make us respond with something so similar, so closely connected, it can be called by the same word, charis. More commonly, though, “thanks” is translated from a word made by combining “eu” and “charis.” The word eu (G2095) means “good” or “well.” Literally, the combined word means “well favored,” though we usually take the implied meaning “to be grateful” or “thankful” (Strong’s on G2170, eucharistos). Read more

When God Gives You Something You Can’t Handle

Have you ever heard a Christian say that God won’t give you something you can’t handle? It’s a nice, cozy idea in theory but it quickly clashes with real life.

What about my two Christian friends who committed suicide? Should they have been able to “handle” it according to this reasoning? And what about all the families I know who are reeling in the wake of unanswered prayers for a child who died? Are they being punished because God knows they can “handle” such a tragic trial? Or what about my personal battle with anxiety and depression? Am I failing to “handle it” when I turn to a counselor for help?

While the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle is taken from a scripture (1 Cor. 10:13), that’s not what that scripture actually says. Church people have twisted this verse into a feel-good platitude when there’s a lot more going on.

A Promise For Help And Protection

When God Gives You Something You Can't Handle | LikeAnAnchor.com
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In this part of 1 Corinthians, Paul is talking about what we can learn from Israel’s history. He talks about how Christ interacted with the ancient Israelites, the ways they displeased and tempted God, and the punishments they received (1 Cor. 10:1-10). Then he writes,

Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.

No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Cor. 10:11-14, WEB)

The Greek word translated “temptation” is peirasmos (G3986). It means a trial or “putting to the test” of a person’s character. When used of God, it means proving someone by bringing them “through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him.” When used of the devil, it means he’s soliciting someone to sin for the purpose of making them fall (Zodhiates’ Complete WordStudy Dictionary of the NT).

In context, the verse we’re talking about isn’t a promise that God won’t give you more than you can handle on your own. It’s a promise that He won’t let you be in a situation where your fall into sin becomes inevitable. He never sets us up to fail. Read more

Fighting Something You Can’t See

Choosing to follow God means we’re walking in harmony with Him. And that means we’ll be walking out-of-step with this world and with “the god of this world,” as Yahweh’s adversary is called (2 Cor. 4:4). In many ways, our Christian walk is one of warfare and struggle.

One of my ongoing struggles is with anxiety. My mind wants to loop through worst-case scenarios and imagine all the “what if?”s in a given situation. I’m often nervous, jumpy, and preoccupied with what’s going on in my head. My anxieties are something I can’t see, and unless I tell people about them or have a panic attack in public most wouldn’t have a clue how much it impacts my life (they call this “high functioning anxiety”).

Scriptures tell us that as Christians, the battles we face have spiritual components. These sorts of battles are difficult whether they’re visible to other people or not; whether they’re internal or external. But even when we feel like we’re battling something we can see — a nasty coworker, a disease, a failing relationship — Paul reminds us that we “do not wrestle with flesh and blood.” There are spiritual forces behind all the battles we face (Eph. 6:12). And we can’t see the full extent of our battles, or fight them effectively, without God’s help.

The Usual Type of Battle

It’s often a struggle for me to answer the question, “How’ve you been?” or “How was your week?” Unless something electronic breaks or someone I care about is going through something, my weeks would usually look pretty good from the outside. And I don’t want to tell most people that I’ve been struggling all week with something that’s only a problem inside my own head.

There’s a stigma against admitting you’re struggling. You might be seen as a saintly example of endurance if you’re facing a physical trial. But in many churches it’s a different story when you’re battling something mental or emotional. So many people see interior struggles as either a lack of faith or something that you could just “get over” if you prayed about it enough. However, there’s a passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul makes it sound like struggles within ourselves are the kinds of battles Christians usually face.

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5, WEB)

Our warfare isn’t primarily a physical battle. It’s a spiritual and internal one that can also spill over into our outer lives. Even when the Adversary uses outside attacks it’s still part of a battle for our minds, hearts and spirits. It’s well past time for Christians to recognize this and start supporting each other through the invisible battles we all face. Read more