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Archive for June, 2012

Let me begin by acknowledging that I stole the idea for today’s post from an article written by the Associate Minister for the congregation in Florida where we attended when we lived there. I hope that’s okay, Matt.

Too often people have a negative view of Christians, because we are perceived as being—well, negative. Christianity is often thought of as being primarily about keeping us from having any fun. If it sounds like fun, it must be wrong. When I was growing up, the churches I attended seemed focused on the commands found in the Bible, especially those that condemned a lot of things I wanted to do. The truth is, we did a really bad job of portraying the message of the gospel in any way that could remotely be described as “good news,” which is what the Greek word for “gospel” really means. I believe that’s our fault. Yes, there are negatives in the Bible, because there are things that are dangerous for us. All parents know that there are some things our kids want to do that we have to forbid them from doing, not because we don’t love them, but because we know how destructive those things can be.

But that view is not typical of what the Bible presents. Just one example is found in 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18. You can read the whole passage for yourself, but there are three “commands” listed there that can really serve us well, if we take the time to follow them. These “commands” are “Rejoice always,” “pray continually,” and “give thanks in all circumstances” (NIV).

Now those are some commands I can understand and get behind. Just for today, why not try doing three things.

Find something you can rejoice about. I know life may be difficult now. Last year it was tough for us, because my wife was struggling with cancer. But even during that frightening time, we experienced so many examples of things for which we could be thankful. Thankfulness is not the result of circumstances; it is the product of a mindset that sees the beauty and goodness in the world, and in the God who created it.

Pray. The text says “pray continually.” That’s because prayer is also a mindset. It’s not just a ritual we perform at church or even before we go to bed. You don’t have to close your eyes or even say the words out loud. Prayer is a state of mental communion with God, recognizing His presence and working in our lives.

Finally, give thanks for something or someone in your life. Certainly, all of us have so much to thank God for. How about other people? Can you think of someone who has made a difference for good in your life? Why not take the time to thank that person? A card, a letter, an e-mail, or a phone call can really make a difference. And I suspect you will feel better for doing it.

“Rejoice always.” “Pray continually.” “Give thanks in all circumstances.” How much richer our lives would be if we lived that way every day.

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Have you heard the newsflash? Science has proven that worrying actually helps your situation. This revelation has come from the recognition that most of the things we worry about never happen, so the conclusion is that worrying prevents them from happening. Okay, a bad joke, but the point is still valid.

I’ll admit it, when I was a kid, I loved Mad Magazine. Don’t ask me to explain it, because I can’t. The humor was corny and sometimes bordered on being gross. Maybe it says something about me as a teenager. The anti-hero was a lad named Alfred E. Neuman, and one of his favorites phrases was “What, me worry?” As a teenager, I was worried by a number of earthshaking issues, mostly related to self-esteem. I was short and not especially good-looking. Today I am still short and not very good-looking, but at the age of sixty-six, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. But there were so many other things I could worry about. Will I get a date? Will I ever get married? And, of course, I could always fall back on the reliable standby – will the Soviets blow us up in a nuclear war? As if that weren’t bad enough, I was taught in Sunday School that worrying was a sin. Now I had one more thing to worry about.

How do we keep from worrying? Ah, there’s a question isn’t it? Don’t look at me. If I had the answer to that one, I would write a book and give lectures for $10,000 a pop, instead of writing this in a lowly blog. I do, however, consider myself somewhat of an expert on worrying, having done it for enough years to refine the technique. So, let me briefly suggest some things for your consideration.

Yes, worry is stupid. We all know that already. It accomplishes nothing productive, it drains us of energy, it interferes with our relationships, and it sure keeps us from sleeping at night.

It’s also true that the Bible tells us over and over not to worry. Just a couple of examples in the New Living Translation are:

Matthew 6.25—That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing.

Philippians 4.6—Don’t  worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Now, if you’re not a Christian this may not make a lot of sense to you. To be honest, if you are a Christian, this may not make a lot of sense to you. Truthfully, that’s often reality. In 1981 we adopted our first child, a boy. When he was about three-and-a-half years old, we learned that he would be mentally retarded. He is thirty years old now and still living with us. Last year my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Did I worry? I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t. At the same time, I never did feel that this shouldn’t be happening to us, or that God had somehow abandoned us. On the contrary, those experiences have helped us to mature in ways that prosperity and the easy life never could.

So, what should I leave you with today? Certainly not some pious sounding words that do not reflect the complexity of our lives or the world in which we live. The reality is that life is going to throw some punches at us. Sometimes, we are able to dodge them. My wife is cancer free now. But someday, probably within the next fifteen or twenty years, we will be hit with something we can’t dodge.  That’s when we have to rely on our faith that there is more than this life. If you’re not a believer, I cannot hope to convince you in a few sentences, so I won’t try. But neither am I going to allow my faith to be taken from me.

“What, me worry?” Sometimes that’s easier to say than others, but it is still good advice. Follow it if you can. Don’t add more worry if you can’t. And get help if you need to. Perhaps not very profound, but it’s the best I can offer.

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Many of us learned the story of Elijah in Sunday School. 1 Kings 18 describes how Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal and how YHWH consumes them with fire from heaven. So Elijah is a great prophet, right? Well, if we read what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story,” the question becomes somewhat complicated.

In 1 Kings 19, the queen, Jezebel, threatens to kill Elijah, so he runs away. I can’t help but see irony in the fact that Elijah is running away to save his life, but in 1 Kings 19.5 he asks God to kill him. I will avoid a lesson on how illogical we all are at times, but it’s something to consider.

Elijah hides in a cave, fearful, dejected, and convinced that he is the only truly righteous and spiritual person on earth. Anybody feel uncomfortable yet?

But then God does something really extraordinary. He confronts Elijah with just the kinds of things Eljiah would have expected from God—a powerful wind, an earthquake, a fire. But the writer of 1 Kings makes a point of telling us that YHWH was not in any of these spectacular manifestations of power.

Then we are told that after the fire, Elijah experienced something that is described in various ways in different translations. The NIV calls it “a gentle whisper.” The NRSV refers to it as “a sound of sheer silence.” The ESV describes it as “a low whisper.”

I don’t read Hebrew, so I am certainly not qualified to judge among these translations; however, I grew up with the King James, and I have always been moved with what the King James refers to as “a still small voice,” and that description resonates with me in a powerful way.

We expect God to be powerful. Perhaps too often we want a God who will, in a figurative way, send down fire on all of today’s “prophets of Baal.” That was how Elijah viewed God. He even said the way you can determine whose god is real depends on which one acts in a more powerful way.

But was Elijah right? Is God more clearly seen in pictures of vengeance and power? Or, is it just possible that our truest perception of the God of the universe is when He chooses to speak to us in that “still small voice?”

Have you ever heard that “still small voice” speaking to you? Is it speaking to you right now, not in fire or earthquake, but perhaps in the homeless person on the street, the neighbor next door, or the family member alone in a nursing home?

“Still small voices” are tricky. We can ignore them so easily. I want to get involved in politics, change the world, rescue America from the liberals/conservatives who are destroying it. Is it possible that God is asking me to do something more difficult, because it requires personal action on my part? Maybe He wants me to go to that person who has hurt me (or whom I have offended) and restore a relationship. Perhaps there is someone who needs a meal prepared, someone in the hospital to visit. The list is endless.

God is involved in the big picture, and sometimes it may even require fire from heaven to get our attention. But just maybe today—right now, He is speaking in a “still small voice.” Shhh! Can you hear it?

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For about fifteen months I have written a blog concerning the text and history of the Bible, and I have every intention of continuing it. You may access that blog at:   garycottrell.wordpress.com

Today I am starting a new blog which I hope will minister in a different manner, and this first post is written to explain its purpose. I have entitled the blog “Faith and Inspiration,” and that title pretty well describes what I intend for the blog to cover. Please be aware that I am a Christian, and the blog will present a decidedly Christian perspective, although hopefully without coming across as cruel or vindictive regarding other religions or faith viewpoints.

My adult life extends over forty-five years. That provides enough time for me to have experienced more than a few challenges and hopefully learned a thing or two from them. In addition, I have been teaching Bible classes for forty years. Many of the notes from those classes are sitting on my computer, doing nothing but taking up hard drive space. So, taking both my life experiences, as well as what I have learned from teaching over the years, I want to use some of those issues – to challenge certainly, but mainly to inspire and encourage.

We may look at some contemporary issues, and I certainly make no pretense that my views are necessarily correct. Actually, as I look back at some of the notes from classes I taught many years ago, I am constantly amazed that I could have said some of the stupid things I did. Learning is not something I did in the past; it is a process that continues and which I hope will never end.

If this approach intrigues you, feel free to join with me as we explore a variety of issues. Sometimes the post may be simply a quotation or a short message intended to inspire, provoke questions, or even disagreements. We may at times deal with subjects that challenge us to think through both what we believe, as well as why we believe it. I do, however, intend to focus on quotations or discussions that inspire and encourage. There is so much in our world that is negative. I want to emphasize the positive.

Finally, I am not certain how well I will do at writing for two blogs simultaneously, other writing I am currently engaged in, as well as a novel I hope to begin within another year.  I may be attempting too much, but one thing I have learned. While we may not reach our goals, we shall most certainly reach no higher than our goals. So, I have decided to take the plunge. We’ll see where it leads.

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