Be Stirred, Not Shaken

"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…" ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands…" ~ II Tim. 1:6

Category: Christian Living Page 3 of 4

Flee vs. Pursue: What Does God Command?

“Flee from the midst of Babylon [representing sin], and every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity” (Jer. 51:6)

Our society seems to tell us that running away from something is cowardice, or maybe the act of a victim—that it’s better to face things head-on.  And while that might be true for some things, the bible tells a different story when it comes to how we must react in the fact of temptation.  That, we’re told, we must flee.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “flee”?  It’s a word that isn’t used as often in today’s world, but shows up pretty frequently in the bible.  The main word translated “flee” in the New Testament is pheugo, which means to run away or escape—pretty straightforward.  But its underlying meaning has a greater urgency, a “run for your life to avoid getting caught” aspect that’s critical to understanding the command.  This isn’t just “run”.  I run because I’m in a hurry, for health, sometimes even for fun.  Instead, this is a dead sprint because you are under attack, and you might not survive.

It’s interesting to look at what we’re told to flee in the bible, and more importantly, why God commands this.  But God gives us something to move toward, beyond just running away, and that’s just as important to understand.

Fleeing our own human nature—the danger of “what if?”

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Being “In Shape” – Spiritual Endurance

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified”

~ I Cor. 9:24-27

Everyone is born with a different innate level of athleticism—some people can go out and run a few miles without any training or warm-up, while others feel like they’re dying on that first mile and have to train for a 5K. But no one is born with innate endurance. It’s one thing to get out there and run a 5K without preparing, but even the most athletic person can’t go out and run a marathon without extensive training. Long-distance runners or triathletes train specifically for their races and shape their entire lives around their training regimen. Without this preparation, they’ll run out of gas and have nothing left for the final push to the finish line.

The fact is, we’re running a spiritual marathon, not a quick 5K. We need to understand what it takes to be spiritually “in shape” so we can endure to the end. The elements of a spiritual endurance training program are the same as those for a marathon runner—cardio, strength training, and diet, intensified with rest, discipline, motivation, and a commitment to finding and working on weaknesses.

Cardio – conditioning the heart

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Allegory in the Book of Esther: Fear vs. Faith (Musings on Faith)

I feel like no one talks about the book of Esther much.

There are only a few books of the bible that tell just one specific historical story without a lot of extra baggage.  In fact, I’d argue that only Ruth, Esther, and Jonah fit that bill.  These three books tell the story of a specific person whom God brought to a specific place at a specific time to fulfill a specific purpose.  “Specific” is the key word here.  We can’t forget that this is a historical story about real people.

There are only two books in the bible named after women.  Ruth was a Gentile who married a Jew, while Esther was Jew who married a Gentile.  Both books focus on God’s providence for His chosen people—Esther brings about the physical salvation of all the Jews in Persia, while Ruth becomes a key part of the lineage of Christ, and thereby the salvation of the whole world.  Both books show that God is looking after His people even when those people are unaware or indifferent.  And both books are also full of symbolism that can help transform an interesting, sometimes weird, historical anecdote into a meaningful story for modern-day followers of Christ.

No allegory is perfect and all analogies break down at a certain point.  This is a true story, and there are a few different ways of looking at the symbols/allegory.  Most sources I’ve read say that the king represents the soul and Haman represents the flesh, Mordecai represents the holy spirit and Esther the human spirit.  I can’t say that’s flat-out wrong, but honestly I don’t think it’s necessarily right, and over-complicates things—I actually believe that the symbolism in the book of Esther is far more overt and clear than that.  More importantly, I believe that there is one clear warning that Esther’s story highlights that, regardless of your feelings on allegory, we can’t afford to ignore.

From a timing standpoint, the key events in the book of Esther appear to happen right around Passover.  Haman’s decree was written on Nisan 13 (Esth. 3:12; Passover is on Nisan 15), and we can assume Mordecai—sitting in the king’s gate—found out fairly soon and went into mourning.  When Esther finds out, she mentions that she hasn’t been called into the king for the past 30 days, and commands a fast for three days and nights before she will go before him to try and save her people.  So while we don’t know the exact dates, it’s almost certainly Passover timing.

FIRST, I strongly recommend reading through the whole book—it’s short, it will seriously will take about 15 minutes, and it’s worth it.  We’ll quickly run through two allegory symbolism scenarios to get the whole picture, then get down to the heart of what we need to learn from Esther.  If you’re a total spoilsport, you can skip this part and jump to the moral of the story at the end, but I think this part is pretty fascinating and fleshes out some important details…

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Unthankful: Is Ingratitude the Root of Most Sins?

In a previous post about controlling anger, I mentioned that I’d eventually realized that most of the anger I was dealing with stemmed from being unthankful for the many blessings God had given me. And it’s no wonder—we live in an unthankful and entitled society, where everyone takes and believes they have not only the right, but they deserve to have the best. But this is not a mindset Christians are to have, and we have to guard carefully against it. In my previous article, I stated the (rarely-mentioned) opinion that unthankfulness is a major sin, and I want to explore that thought a little further.

Is being unthankful a “little” sin?

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “I know the major sins—things like murder, adultery, lying, blaspheming—and unthankfulness isn’t anywhere near that!” It’s true that the actual word “unthankful” is only used twice in the bible (KJV), so it’s easy to assume that it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. However, the symptoms of unthankfulness—such as covetousness and anger—are addressed often and in great detail, and we have to be careful about thinking of them as “minor” sins. As Gary Petty often says in his sermons, we usually think of “major” sins as the ones with the greatest outward consequences (like murder) and “minor” ones as the ones that “aren’t that bad” (like gossip). But God doesn’t make those kinds of distinctions. Sin is sin, and all sin results in death if not repented of. And while the outward consequences of unthankfulness aren’t as apparent at first, they still eat away at you bit-by-bit until you die.

Let’s look at the most well-known scripture about unthankfulness:

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (II Tim. 3:1-5)

That’s a lot of bad crammed into a few verses! And “unthankful” is hanging out right next to “unholy”, which is a pretty bad one, so you can’t argue that this list is all “minor” sins. The other verse specifically using the word “unthankful” occurs in Luke 6:35 where Jesus is instructing His disciples on being good to their enemies, for God “is kind to the unthankful and evil.” So even worse, unthankfulness and evil are lumped together in this one. Maybe unthankfulness and its symptoms are a bigger deal than we think?

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Controlling Anger

A while back I was re-listening to a sermon by Gary Petty in the “Agape” series (search by his name, they’re on the last page), the one on not being provoked. In it, he was talking about the difference between being angry, which is not inherently wrong or sinful, and how we react to or express our anger—which often is.

Anger is something I’ve always struggled with. Not blinding rage, per se, just extreme frustration with people, things, and situations. I learned at a young age to keep a choke chain on my temper, because when I was hurt I’d end up saying purposefully hurtful things (and I do have a way with words), things I would never say otherwise. As an adult, it hadn’t been as much of an issue until several years ago, when I was going through a period of extreme frustration with my job and life, and just felt angry all the time.

Anger–the emotion vs. what it drives us to do

Satan knows all the right buttons to push to send me on a downward mental spiral of frustration and anger—generally it has to do with being frustrated over what I see as someone else’s awesome life or career (which I think I deserve), or anger at how a certain situation went or someone treated me. Chances are, he knows your buttons too. I sit and run over it in my mind, totally destroying my mood and getting more and more angry. Basically, I make his job easy.

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Fear and Love Can’t Coexist (Musings on Faith)

In the midst of Jesus’s ministry, He called His twelve disciples to Him and gave them power to cast out unclean spirits and sicknesses, then sent them out to various cities. Before they left, He gave them a sort of locker room speech:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles…

And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved…And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:16-18, 22, 28)

I like to picture Jesus stopping here and then being kind of “Woo! Put your hands in, ‘Disciples!’ on three…” and the disciples just kind of blankly staring at him, processing the world’s worst pep talk as their level of panic escalated.

They had signed up to be spiritual rock stars—casting out demons and healing the lame and people begging them for relief from a lifetime of pain, not hatred and persecution and martyrdom. To them in the middle of Jesus’s ministry, crowds of adoring followers trailed them wherever they went.  His words must have seemed unfathomable.

But Jesus didn’t end on that downer.  He continued:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31)

There are many Christians who believe that if their faith is strong enough, God will protect them from every bad thing.  But that’s not what the bible tells us.  Jesus told His followers not to be afraid when bad things happen, that He is with us no matter what.  He didn’t say that bad things wouldn’t happen to us—in fact, as evidenced by the verses above, He pretty much promises that they will.

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‘Kicking Against the Pricks’ – Stubbornness vs. Submission

What does the bible mean by “kicking against the pricks”?

“The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd” (Eccl. 12:11)

Have you ever had one of those weeks, or months or even years, where you feel like nothing is going the way you want it to? It seems like getting anything to go your way is such a struggle, that you’re walking into the wind or swimming against the current. I think we’ve all been there, and it’s easy to wonder at the reason. It may very well just be that you’re having a bad week, a string of mishaps all coming at once, or that you’re simply going through trials for a purpose. There’s another possibility we should all consider during this sort of experience, though—that we’re resisting God’s will. The apostle Paul tells the story of his conversion a few times in Acts. After seeing the blinding light, he said, “And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks’” (Acts 26:14).

To us, this is kind of an odd statement, but it was a well-known proverb in Paul’s time. A prick (or goad, as it’s translated in the NKJV) can be any sharp point that pierces or stings but is generally known as the ox goad, a heavy, sharp piece of iron used to drive oxen. A stubborn and unyielding ox would kick against the goad, driving the instrument in deeper and hurting no one but himself.

When a person is kicking against the pricks and resisting God’s will, it is not necessarily out of a place of hostile rebellion. Take Paul/Saul, for instance. He was following his path of persecuting Christ’s disciples because he believed they were perverting Judaism (the faith of God’s true people), and leading people astray. His actions were executed through righteous zeal. That didn’t make them right. We often see this in the church, when people decide one particular idea or doctrine is right, and blaze a path of destruction through brethren trying to convince them of the same. Goads are used on oxen to stimulate action, urge onward, or steer in the right direction, as well as to prevent them from going the wrong way, and God has a variety of tactics at His disposal to do the same. When someone tries to forge their own path away from God’s will, God will often try and nudge them back in the right direction; when they’re sitting still in a place of apathy or stagnation, He may prod them into picking up the yoke and moving forward.

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“In All Your Ways Acknowledge Him” – What Does It Mean?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

For many people this is a memory verse, both because it’s quite succinctly and beautifully phrased, and also because it is one of those snippets that can be a kind of life mantra.  Often when we read this verse the emphasis is on the first sentence, while the second sentence—that of acknowledging Him and allowing Him to direct us—gets glossed over.  I read it recently and the word “acknowledge” jumped out at me, because I had never really ever thought about what that really means.

Understanding “acknowledge”

See, while the technical definition of the word hasn’t really changed, the way our society uses it definitely has—basically to “give a nod” to.  If you’re walking down the street and you see someone you’ve met before, you’ll often acknowledge them with a nod or wave, basically saying “yeah, I see you”.  Or you may acknowledge someone when they give you a gift, or in centuries past a nobleman might acknowledge an illegitimate child as being his own (bestowing some legitimacy).  So by today’s standards, “in all your ways acknowledge Him” is basically the equivalent of professional athletes pointing to the sky after a touchdown—meaningless.

The trouble is that these understandings of the word render the verse in Proverbs very distant and cold, when the meaning is much more powerful.  The word translated “acknowledge” in most bible translations is yada (H3045), which generally means “to know or recognize”.  In the case of Proverbs 3:6, it is to know His ways inside and out and to recognize that He is the ultimate arbiter of our lives.  It’s a root word so it can be translated many different ways and is used almost a thousand times in the Old Testament.  While most translations use “acknowledge”, the NIV says “in all your ways submit to Him”, while the NLT says “seek His will in all you do”.  Throughout the rest of the bible, yada is most often translated as some form of “to know” (i.e. known, know, knowing), but other uses include “respect”, “understand”, “be sure in”, “consider”, “discover”, and “discern”, and these start to paint a more complete understanding of the word.

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Comparison & Envy – The Key to Unhappiness

I recently listened to a three-part sermon series by Andy Stanley, the pastor for a bunch of the Atlanta megachurches, called “The Comparison Trap”.  He talked about the very natural and very destructive habit we have as humans to compare ourselves to each other—what possessions we have, our jobs, our kids, our overall lives.

But while it may be human nature to do this, there’s absolutely no way to win by comparing ourselves to others.  Or as Andy says, “there’s no ‘win’ in comparison”.

There are two sides to comparing ourselves to those around us—one is wanting what they have, while the other is using them to feel better about ourselves and our sins.  Neither is okay.  Comparison is the wide, easy path to both envy and self-righteousness.

“That should be me…” – the path to envy

“Better a handful with quietness [restfulness] than both hands full, together with toil [weariness, worry, travail] and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 4:6)

In today’s society, the word envy has been softened, de-fanged.  It isn’t used as often as it once was (we typically use “jealousy” instead), but we might say we’re envious of someone’s long eyelashes, or the gorgeous car they’re driving.  We almost never use it in a negative way, but instead use it as a means to give someone a compliment.  If we think about it in a biblical context, it’s often relegated in our minds to a list of “minor” sins like gossip or slander.  However, envy (or jealousy) is frequently and direly warned against in the bible.  Many terrible things happened as a result of people giving in to envy—Joseph being sold into slavery, Cain killing Abel, Saul trying to kill David, the Pharisees delivering Jesus to be killed.  And the New Testament writers included it in many lists of sins, mixing it in there with murder, hate, disobedience, and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:28-34, Gal. 5:19-21, Tit. 3:3).  Why would such attention be paid to this sin that, to us, occurs in our minds and doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody else?

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Lessons From Rahab’s Faith – “Come Out of Her, My People” (Musings on Faith)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:1, 30, 31)

“By faith, Rahab the harlot did not perish…”

Rahab the harlot is one of the unlikeliest heroines in the bible—a pagan prostitute in the city of Jericho, which was a place as corrupt and depraved as it got. Yet, because of her faith and actions, she is one of only two women named in Hebrews 11 (known as the “faith chapter”), and one of only two women named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5).  There are many parallels between Rahab and the church, and a number of lessons we can draw from her life and character.

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