The Ultimate Comeback

In the opening pages of Chapter 1 in his book, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World is at It’s Worst (2018), Ed Stetzer, PhD, author, speaker, researcher, pastor, church planter, Christian missiologist, and the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, states the following:

Baseball great Yogi Berra used to say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

America did. So did Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The majority of people in these nations were once vaguely Christian, but for years, those with loosely held religious beliefs have been dropping them, and as a result, the entire English-speaking Western world is becoming more secular.

Focusing on the United States for a moment may help, though similar trends are taking place across the English-speaking Western world. Most Americans, who identify loosely as Christians, are becoming less so–they are more frequently choosing “none of the above” rather then “Christian” when surveyed about their beliefs. In fact, each year about an additional one percent of Americans no longer identify as Christian.

Put another way, the nominals are becoming the nones. And as they become nones, their mind-set is more aligned with secular-minded people and they have less affinity with the avowedly religious. At the same time, the percentage of the devout has remained relatively stable.

The effect of this trend is that American culture is incrementally polarizing along religious lines. People are either becoming more secular or staying devout, though the biggest group is becoming more secular. This is where we meet the fork in the road: How do we engage with our faith in a culture now polarized along faith lines rather than being at least nominally Christian? (Quote source, “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” pp. 7-8.)

Stetzer identifies three types of Christians–“cultural, congregational, and convictional.” Cultural Christians are Christians in name only because they identify as being born in a historically Christian country but that is pretty much the extent of their beliefs; Congregational Christians, are those who may identify with a particular church and show up at Christmas or Easter, but rarely at other times (e.g., it has little impact on their daily lives); and Convictional Christians are those who attend church regularly and live values aligned with Christianity. The first two groups are growing (as in less and less identifying with Christianity), and he states that the third group is remaining relatively stable.

As Stetzer states:

The percentage of Convictional Christians in the U.S. population has remained generally stable. What has changed are the number and beliefs of Cultural and Congregational Christians. As a result, the collapse of mainline Protestantism and the growth of secularism, Convictional Christianity has incrementally moved outside the American cultural mainstream. In fact, as I explained in the Washington Post, as the numbers of Cultural and Congregational Christians decrease [ for example, read “Pew Study: More Americans Reject Religion, but Believers Firm in Faith”], the worldview and values of these Americans have shifted towards the secular stream and away from that of Convictional Christians. (Quote source, “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” pp. 9-10.)

As Stetzer wrote in his 2015 article titled, Nominal Christians are becoming more secular, and that’s a startling change for the U.S.,” in the Washington Post (mentioned above):

America is undergoing a religious polarization.

With more adults shedding their religious affiliations, as evidenced in the latest from the Pew Research Center, the country is becoming more secular. In the past seven years, using the new Pew data, Americans who identify with a religion declined six percentage points. Overall, belief in God, praying daily and religious service attendance have all dropped since 2007.

Today’s America is losing much of the general religious ethos that dominated the U.S. for hundreds of years. (Quote source and complete article available here.)

Both cultural and congregational Christians (and even some active church goers or members) fall under the category of nominal Christians. GotQuestions.org provides a definition of what nominal Christianity looks like:

Nominal Christians are church-goers or otherwise religious people whose “faith” does not go beyond being identified with a church, Christian group, or denomination. They are Christians in name only; Christ has no bearing in their lives. Nominal Christians may attend church and Christian functions, and they self-identify as “Christians,” but it is just a label. They view religion primarily as a social construct, and they do not allow it to require much of them in terms of morality or responsibility. Nominalists take a minimalist approach to their faith.

Nominalism is of concern to many pastors, preachers, and Christian theologians, as it appears to be on the rise today. Many identify themselves as Christians, but the overall impact of Christianity in the West is not what it once was. But what causes nominalism? Why do people prefer a nominal or in-name-only type of Christianity? One possible reason is that nominal religion is easy. It does not require a changed life. A nominal Christian can point to membership in a church as evidence of his salvation. Church attendance and participation in routines, activities, and programs become the measuring stick rather than a changed life, a new heart, a love for God, and obedience to the Word (see 2 Corinthians 5:17John 14:23).

Another cause of nominal Christianity is the habit of declaring oneself a Christian because of custom or culture. Whole countries, including Costa Rica, Norway, Denmark, and England, have a form of Christianity as the official state religion. This allows a Norwegian, for example, to culturally identify as a Christian—he is a member of the Church of Norway by default, having been registered in infancy when he was baptized. Even in countries with no state religion, such as the United States, cultural Christianity can lead to nominalism. Someone who was reared in a Christian family, attended church all his life, was baptized, lives in the Bible Belt, etc., often claims allegiance to the Christian faith, in spite of evidence in his life to the contrary.

Another cause of nominalism within the church is legalism, the attempt to transform oneself (or others) inwardly by working on the outward behavior. Some people, especially those raised in the church, conform to standards imposed upon them by parents, other Christians, or the church hierarchy without the inner transformation that can only be produced by the Spirit through the Word (Galatians 6:15). Legalists substitute good deeds for saving faith and compliance for conversion. This naturally leads to nominal Christianity, as church-goers and rule-keepers claim the label “Christian” but have no relationship with Christ.

Jesus dealt with nominal Christianity in one of His letters to the churches. The church in Sardis wore a Christian label, but Jesus saw the truth behind the label: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Or, as the KJV says, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” God is not interested in the labels we tag ourselves with. Having a “name” that we belong to Christ is not enough. Nominal faith is not faith. (Quote source here.)

Christianity, at it’s core, is not about the stuff we do, but who we believe in. In a book titled, The Comeback: It’s Not Too Late and You’re Never Too Far (2015), by Louie Giglio, Global Pastor, Visionary Architect and Director of the Passion Movement, comprised of Passion Conferences, Passion City Church, Passion Publishing, Passion Resources, and sixstepsrecords, and the founder of Passion Global Institute, he writes the following in a chapter (12) titled, “The Ultimate Comeback”:

People often wonder: Why do Christians think their way is the best way to believe? How come Jesus is the answer? What about every other faith leader? Aren’t their religions just as good?

It’s a valid question, one that indicates a person is doing some soul-searching and wants to discover the truth. Eventually, I hope to lean them to the crux of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

This single event defines our hope and sets our faith apart from every other religious point of view. Our teacher is not dead. Our leader is not in the grave. Jesus is alive and on this our future rests.

The resurrection of Jesus is the pillar of the Christian faith. If we don’t have this truth, then we are just another religion, with leaders who head a movement and maybe teach a few good things and attract a lot of followers. But when those leaders die, they stay dead.

To get up out of your coffin and smile at the folks gathered for your funeral, that’s the ultimate comeback. Or–switching to first-century cultural patterns–to walk out of a tomb, living and breathing, smiling and holding out your hands to friends so they can check your scars to make sure it’s really you, looking not at all pale and sickly but better than the best version of yourself that there’s ever been, that’s the ultimate comeback.

Think about it. A human body is lying there dead–grave clothes wrapped around the corpse, embalming done, stone rolled across the entry and sealed–on a stone bench. Suddenly blood begins to course through the veins again. The body takes a breath, stretches, stands up, comes out, walks around for everyone to see. And this body has lost any capacity to die again.

You see, all our comebacks are swallowed up by this ultimate comeback. Because Jesus is alive again, we can come back from anything the world throws at us:

    • The deepest kind of sin
    • The devastation of crumbling relationships
    • The rejection of job loss and failure
    • The general disappointment of life
    • The pain of bereavement
    • The hammer of betrayal
    • Whatever, you name it

Jesus’ ultimate comeback trumps all our comebacks, but it also makes it possible in a general sense for us to come back from anything, from anywhere, at any time. The secret is in how Jesus’ resurrection life infuses our ordinary lives with the same kind of power (see 1 Corinthians 15). (Quote source: “The Comeback,” pp. 203-205.)

In answer to one final question for this blog post, “Is Christianity a religion or a relationship?” GotQuestions.org answers:

Religion is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” In that respect, Christianity can be classified as a religion. However, practically speaking, Christianity has a key difference that separates it from other belief systems that are considered religions. That difference is relationship.

Most religion, theistic or otherwise, is man-centered. Any relationship with God is based on man’s works. A theistic religion, such as Judaism or Islam, holds to the belief in a supreme God or gods; while non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, focus on metaphysical thought patterns and spiritual “energies.” But most religions are similar in that they are built upon the concept that man can reach a higher power or state of being through his own efforts. In most religions, man is the aggressor and the deity is the beneficiary of man’s efforts, sacrifices, or good deeds. Paradise, nirvana, or some higher state of being is man’s reward for his strict adherence to whatever tenets that religion prescribes.

In that regard, Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship that God has established with His children. In Christianity, God is the aggressor and man is the beneficiary (Romans 8:3). The Bible states clearly that there is nothing man can do to make himself right with God (Isaiah 53:664:6Romans 3:236:23). According to Christianity, God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves (Colossians 2:132 Corinthians 5:21). Our sin separates us from His presence, and sin must be punished (Romans 6:23Matthew 10:2823:33). But, because God loves us, He took our punishment upon Himself. All we must do is accept God’s gift of salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:8–92 Corinthians 5:21). Grace is God’s blessing on the undeserving.

The grace-based relationship between God and man is the foundation of Christianity and the antithesis of religion. Established religion was one of the staunchest opponents of Jesus during His earthly ministry. When God gave His Law to the Israelites, His desire was that they “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5Matthew 22:37). “Love” speaks of relationship. Obedience to all the other commands had to stem from a love for God. We are able to love Him “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). However, by Jesustime, the Jewish leaders had made a religion out of God’s desire to live in a love relationship with them (1 Timothy 1:8Romans 7:12). Over the years, they had perverted God’s Law into a works-based religion that alienated people from Him (Matthew 23:13–15Luke 11:42). Then they added many of their own rules to make it even more cumbersome (Isaiah 29:13Matthew 15:9). They prided themselves on their ability to keep the Law—at least outwardly—and lorded their authority over the common people who could never keep such strenuous rules. The Pharisees, as adept as they were at rule-keeping, failed to recognize God Himself when He was standing right in front of them (John 8:19). They had chosen religion over relationship.

Just as the Jewish leaders made a religion out of a relationship with God, many people do the same with Christianity. Entire denominations have followed the way of the Pharisees in creating rules not found in Scripture. Some who profess to follow Christ are actually following man-made religion in the name of Jesus. While claiming to believe Scripture, they are often plagued with fear and doubt that they may not be good enough to earn salvation or that God will not accept them if they don’t perform to a certain standard. This is religion masquerading as Christianity, and it is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. Jesus addressed this in Matthew 23:1–7 when He rebuked the Pharisees. Instead of pointing people to heaven, these religious leaders were keeping people out of the kingdom of God.

Holiness and obedience to Scripture are important, but they are evidences of a transformed heart, not a means to attain it. God desires that we be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He wants us to grow in grace and knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). But we do these things because we are His children and want to be like Him, not in order to earn His love.

Christianity is not about signing up for a religion. Christianity is about being born into the family of God (John 3:3). It is a relationship. Just as an adopted child has no power to create an adoption, we have no power to join the family of God by our own efforts. We can only accept His invitation to know Him as Father through adoption (Ephesians 1:5Romans 8:15). When we join His family through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside our hearts (1 Corinthians 6:19Luke 11:132 Corinthians 1:21–22). He then empowers us to live like children of the King. He does not ask us to try to attain holiness by our own strength, as religion does. He asks that our old self be crucified with Him so that His power can live through us (Galatians 2:20Romans 6:6). God wants us to know Him, to draw near to Him, to pray to Him, and love Him above everything. That is not religion; that is a relationship. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ]…

That whoever believes in him . . .

Should not perish . . .

But have eternal life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Greatness of Our God” by Newsboys:

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Seeing What’s Right

Yesterday when I was at a bookstore that is closing, I came across a book I had purchased when it first came out back in 1999, but I lost that book when I lost my job ten years ago and I had to move back to the state I came from previous to taking that job seven months earlier.

When I saw a copy of that book yesterday, I discovered that it has been revised in 2008 with a new cover but with the same title that attracted me to the book the first time I purchased it. The title of the book is, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” by Stormie Omartian, a bestselling Christian author who has written many books since that time.

The title is a reminder to all of us that nobody knows what the future holds, and all that we are given at any point in time is the moment we are currently occupying. We can make plans and be totally convinced that something we want to happen might happen, and sometimes it does work out, and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I opened the book to take a look at the table of contents, I came across a chapter titled, “Seeing What’s Right with This Picture” (Chapter 8). It opens with the following paragraph on page 73:

Have you ever found yourself angry, upset, or devastated when things didn’t turn out as you’d hoped or planned? Next time that happens, look deeply into the situation and ask God to give you a new perspective. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” p. 73.)

In this chapter Stormie Omartian states that we don’t always see the whole truth of what has happened to us, but she suggests that we look at the situation and ask, “What’s right with this picture?” She gives an example in her daughter’s life when she was sixteen, and the daughter came up with several positive things that came from a very negative situation. Omartian states the following on pages 74-75 in response:

This is not just positive thinking or trying to make good things happen with your thoughts. This is seeing things from God’s perspective and letting Him show you the truth. That means finding the light in what seem to be a dark situation. It’s knowing that, because you have invited God into every step of your life, you can find His light there no matter how dark it seems.

“Embracing the moment” is embracing God and finding Him in the moment. “Seeing what’s right with this picture,” on the other hand, is searching for the truth and seeing reality from God’s perspective. It’s being willing to let go of our determination to see things through our own tunnel vision.

Have you ever known people who are so set on believing something bad about another person that they refuse to hear anything good? They make a case against that person and everything that person says or does is twisted to support the case. Nothing will change their minds. Not reason. Not God. This is the same kind of hard-nosed narrow-mindedness that feeds prejudice, gossip, jealousy, and hatred. Seeing what’s right with this picture counteracts that tendency. It may be a lighthearted way of approaching a very dark-spirited issue, but it’s a good place to start. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” pp. 74-75.)

We’ve all been guilty of judging other people because of something bad we might have heard about them, and then refusing to hear or consider anything good about them. And we can become hard-nosed, narrow-minded, and it does feed into prejudice, gossip, jealousy, and hatred. That is why she states that it is so important to look at “what’s right about the person/situation” to counteract that tendency in all of us.

She goes on to give a couple of examples of finding what’s right in a bad situation on page 76-78:

A friend of ours named Jonathan was laid off from work and was initially feeling very defeated about it. But instead of letting his frustration turn into bitterness, he looked to see what was right with this picture. Jonathan gradually recognized it as an opportunity to help his wife, Lisa, establish a new business she had been wanting to start now that their children were grown. Instead of falling into depression, he worked hard for her. The business soon took off and became one of the most successful companies of its kind in town. Lisa would never have been able to do what she did without Jonathan’s help. What seemed like a disaster at first actually was a blessing. What appeared to be a dark time because a time flooded with light. If Jonathan had complained and blamed God, refusing to see the situation from His perspective, things probably would have turned out quite differently.

This may be a big shock to you–I know it was to me–but often when we think something unfortunate is happening to us, it’s actually an answer to a prayer we have prayed. Only the answer didn’t manifest the way we thought it should, so we failed to recognize it. That’s why seeing what’s right is entirely a matter of having God’s perspective.

Jennifer had been praying faithfully for her troubled relationship with her husband, David. When the company David had been working for was downsized, he found himself without employment for what turned out to be ten months. This kind of a turn could have destroyed an already ailing marriage. But instead of sinking into despair, Jennifer asked God to show her the truth about the situation. God revealed it was not true that her husband’s career, as well as their marriage, was finished as they had both feared. The truth was that God had a great path ahead for them, but they couldn’t walk it if they were crippled by a broken marriage. God was giving them time together to repair it.

Instead of letting this situation become a disaster that ripped them apart, David and Jennifer wisely took advantage of the opportunity to seek Christian counsel, be with godly friends, and spend time together doing the things they never had time to do before. Their marriage was healed miraculously, and David eventually found more fulfilling work than he ever had before.

Often we pray for something and don’t even recognize the answer to our own prayers when we receive it because it does not happen the way we thought it would. 

When I read about God leading the Israelites out of Egypt after many unmistakable miracles, I was amazed at how they continually grumbled and complained and failed to see how God was taking care of them.

“What is the matter with these people that they can’t see the answers to their own prayers?” I thought.

Then I realized we are all just like them. God is in the middle of doing something great for us and, because we are not as comfortable as we’d like to be, we don’t recognize the good things He has put in our lap. “Eyes they have, but they do not see” (Psalm 115:5).

How many blessings must we have forfeited because we resisted God when we should have been thanking Him? 

Look at your life right now. Is there anything that worries or upsets you? If so, say, “Lord, show me what’s right with this picture. What is the truth in this moment? Help me to see it from Your perspective.” You’ll be amazed at what God reveals.

If your attitude is one of gratefully searching for God’s truth and goodness in any situation, it will change your life. You’ll never see things the same way again. No matter what happens, you’ll be able to say, “This  was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23). What we’re really talking about here is an issue of trust. It’s basically believing that God is good and he desires the best for you. “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8). Give God the benefit of your trust and you’ll see that you are standing in more light then you ever dreamed possible. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” pp. 76-78.)

This book is filled with information that is helpful to anyone who finds themselves stuck in a bad or trying situation. The above is just a small piece of the whole picture in the book regarding dealing with tough situations. I found it particularly helpful in dealing with my own feelings that still surface occasionally regarding a few people who were involved in what happened to me ten years ago when I lost that job; and after a major job search of several years I never found another job in my field. Also, as a Christian, I know that God is sovereign over every situation and He has an ultimate purpose in everything that happens.

As I looked to find “what’s right about this situation” regarding what happened to me back then, several things came to mind. My perspective on life has broadened in both knowledge and understanding of what is going on in the world today. This most likely would not have happened if I had continued working as I never would have been able to travel and do that things I’ve done over the past ten years that has lead to this knowledge and understanding.

Another major plus includes the stretching of my faith beyond anything I had previously experienced. This may not be obvious in looking at my current set of circumstances as they do not fit in with the typical “success stories” we like to hear that usually contain elements of prosperity, materialism, and outward success that we place a high value on in our society and, yes, even in Christian circles. We do tend to look at the outward appearance and judge accordingly (see I Samuel 16:7). However, God does not show favoritism between rich or poor, educated or illiterate, heads of states or common folks, as we tend to do, and God is no respecter of persons (see Romans 2:11, Acts 10:34); God looks at our heart attitudes (again, see I Samuel 16:7) and our faith in him (see Hebrews 11:6).

The toughest part for me in “seeing what’s right” has been dealing with my feelings regarding the few people directly involved in what happened to me that caused me to lose that job back then. As I mentioned above, I have gained both knowledge and understanding regarding our world today that goes beyond anything I knew at the time I lost that job. Because of this awareness, even though I sometimes still get a bit angry about what happened to me when I think back on it, I am far more willing now to cut them some slack as I don’t know their side of the story or where they fit into the total picture. So it has softened my feelings towards them over time.

Also, I have never wished them any harm or ill will even though what happened to me left me unemployed and financially devastated, and it changed the course of my life. We should never judge a bad situation by what it looks like on the surface as there is much still going behind the scenes that we may never know about. And that is where trust in God is essential. We have to leave it with God to deal with in His way, and our responsibility is to give God each day as it unfolds in our own lives (for those of us who believe in him). And we have to leave even our enemies (and I don’t consider anyone involved in what happened to me ten years ago as an enemy) in God hands, too.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On.” Of course, the source of all wisdom is found in the Bible. As King David stated in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Nothing can replace the Bible as the source for the guidance we need in this life. Proverbs 3:5-7 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.”

And that . . .

Is very good . . .

Advice . . . .

YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:

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A Psalm That Calms the Soul

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognized psalms in the world. It has an amazing calming effect in the midst of stress and uncertainty, and it places our focus back where it belongs. No doubt millions have committed it to memory down through the centuries since David first penned it and put it to music.

It has only been in the past several years that I recognized the value of praying Psalm 23 regarding any kind of circumstance, even when it didn’t seem to relate to a particular situation I was praying about. Here are the words to Psalm 23 (NKJV):

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

In an article titled, 3 New Ways to Think About Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of Transformed4More.com (a ministry for teenage girls), she writes:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, “Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?”

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

    • God will meet our needs.
    • He will give us peace.
    • He will restore us.
    • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

Specifically, Psalm 23:4–“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”–is one of the most well known verses in the Bible (as stated below). GotQuestions.org states the following regarding this verse:

Psalm 23:4, which reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (ESV), is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It is commonly used during funerals or by those approaching death. The message of Psalm 23:4 is one of comfort. We do not need to fear. God is with us, and His presence gives us strength and hope.

However, “valley of the shadow of death” is possibly not the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew text. The NIV, NLT, and HCBS translate the phrase as “darkest valley,” resulting in Psalm 23:4 reading as, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . .” The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet, which means “darkness” or “dark shadows.” It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet), so it is easy to see why some Bible translators include the mention of death in Psalm 23:4.

In addition, the concept of darkness fits much better in the context of Psalm 23Psalm 23, especially verses 1–4, uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1–4).

Sheep do not understand the concept of death. They do understand, though, that entering a dark valley can be dangerous. The point of Psalm 23:4 is that, even when we might have reason to be afraid, we do not need to fear, because God is with us, and He will take care of us. He, like a shepherd, knows what He is doing and has our best interests in mind.

So, it does not appear that “valley of the shadow of death” is the most accurate translation in Psalm 23:4. A “dark valley” connects much better with sheep lying down in green pastures and beside quiet waters. However, the main point of Psalm 23:4 still definitely applies to death. Many people fear death, and those facing death certainly feel as if they are in a “dark valley.” But even in death we do not need to fear, for God is with us, and He will protect and comfort us through it all. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the rod and the staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4, in an article titled, Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me,” by Aaron L. Garriott, production manager of Tabletalk Magazine, he opens his article by explaining how the rod and staff were used in the cultural context of David’s time:

There was much to fear in the dry, craggy wadis and ravines of Judah, presenting sheep flocks with the most perilous elements of their migration. Yet, the fears of the sheep are dispelled upon recognition of two implements carried by the shepherd, a rod and a staff, by which he would govern his flock. The rod and staff can be broadly categorized as tools of protection and guidance, respectively. The rod warded off predators; the staff was a guiding tool with a hook on one end to secure a sheep around its chest. Only the two tools together provided comfort to the sheep.

As the shepherd-made-king David places himself in the role of a sheep, his fears of every evil are quelled by a glimpse of Israel’s true Shepherd-King. David compares God’s governing care of His flock—His providence—to a rod and a staff, a sight that ought to quiet all fears and assure the flock of the care of their faithful and able Shepherd. (Quote source here.)

In the final article for this post titled, That’s All I Want,” by Ray Noah, lead pastor, Portland Christian Center, and founder/CEO of Petros Network, he writes the following on Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd.” ~Psalm 23:1

Psalm 22 foretells the cross of Christ and Psalm 24 speaks of a time when Messiah rules the earth in justice and righteousness. This strategic placement of Psalm 23, universally, the most beloved of all the psalms, is fitting since it’s between Christ’s cross and Christ’s second coming, between our salvation and heaven, that we find ourselves facing life in all its rawness: The ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the joys and sorrows, the life and death that make up the human condition.

Even though the pastoral setting and shepherd-sheep analogy are foreign to our modern culture, there is just something about this Shepherd’s Psalm that resonates in our core. That’s because we are pretty much like sheep—dense, directionless and defenseless—and we cannot do life without the Good Shepherd. You need a shepherd…so do I.

I am not sure where this came from [author unknown], but I suspect you will be blessed by it as I was.

The Lord is my Shepherd—That’s Relationship!

I shall not want—That’s Supply!

He makes me to lie down in green pastures—That’s Rest!

He leadeth me beside the still waters—That’s Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul—That’s Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness—That’s Guidance!

For His name sake—That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil—That’s Protection!

For Thou art with me—That’s Faithfulness!

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me—That’s Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies—That’s Hope!

Thou anointest my head with oil—That’s Consecration!

My cup runneth over—That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life—That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord—That’s Security!

Forever—That’s Eternity!

If you are experiencing major upheaval in your life—a home in turmoil, a relationship on the rocks, a job not working out, a personal humiliation, an inconsolable sorrow, the cumulative effect of heartache and disappointment has shaken your confidence and filled you with doubt, fear and despair—then trying reading and absorbing Psalm 23. David wrote it just for you. Just grasping his first line will transform your life:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Robert Ketchum told of a Sunday School teacher who asked her class if any of them could quote the entire Twenty-Third Psalm. A little girl came forward, made a little bow, and said: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.” She then curtsied and sat down. Now she may have overlooked a few verses, but I think she captured the key to enjoying the benefits of this psalm. Psalm 23 is a pattern of thinking, and if it saturates your mind, it will lead you to new way of living which will counterbalance the raw reality of life with hope, faith and trust, causing you to be utterly content in the Shepherd’s care.

Yeah, the Lord is my shepherd—and that’s all I want. I believe that about covers it! (Quote source here.)

I hope this has provided some new insights on a very familiar and beloved psalm. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my shepherd . . .

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 23” by Jeff Majors:

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On Being Confident

One of the definitions of “confidence” is “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing” (quote source here). Who or what do we put our confidence in when the going gets tough, or in life in general when we need it? Do we put our trust in our own abilities to get us through, or perhaps in a spouse or family and/or friends to help in time of need? Perhaps we place our trust in our employers or our government. However, they may or may not come through for us.

In answer to the question What does the Bible say about confidence?” GotQuestions.org gives the following answer:

Confidence is a popular subject today. We are told to think confidently, to be self-assured, to live brashly, boldly, and brazenly. In a myriad of ways, the theme of modern society is to be self-confident. Popular religious leaders make confidence the centerpiece of their teaching. Does the Bible agree with this “positive thinking” mantra? If the Bible teaches us to be confident, what should we be confident about? If not, why not?

The word “confidence” (or its close derivatives) is used 54 times in the King James Version and 60 times in the New International Version. The majority of uses concern trust in people, circumstances, or God.

The Bible says there are some things we should not have confidence in. For example, “Have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Paul wrote these words to counter the claims of those who thought they were acceptable to God based on their heredity, training, or religious devotion. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and our résumés and geneaologies don’t matter much to Him.

Proverbs 14:16 says that a righteous man departs from evil, but a fool rages in his confidence. In other words, to arrogantly assume that sin has no consequences is a foolish confidence.

If we’re going to be confident in something, Psalm 118:89 tells us what it should be: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” Those who trust in government, finances, other people, or themselves will be disappointed in the end. On the other hand, those who put their confidence in God will never be ashamed (Romans 10:11).

Psalm 16 is an excellent example of a positive confidence in God. David takes no credit for his own goodness (verse 2), nor does he extol his own abilities. Instead, every good thing is ascribed to God (verse 6), and every hope is based on God’s character (verse 1). Because God is unchanging, David can confidently rest in hope (verse 9), despite any hardships he faces in life (verse 10).

Our confidence comes from our relationship with Christ. He is our High Priest, and through His intercession, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The apostles before the Sanhedrin displayed an assurance that amazed their antagonists: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

We can follow God in full confidence in His wisdom, power, and plan. As we obey the Lord, we have assurance of our salvation (1 John 2:3). Also, having a good conscience aids our confidence, for we will have nothing to hide. “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

Paul gives us something else we can have faith in: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Knowing that God promises to work in the lives of His children, Paul was confident that God would help the Galatians stand fast in the truth (Galatians 5:10).

When we put our trust in God and His revealed Word, our lives take on a new stability, focus, and poise. A biblical self-confidence is really a confidence in God’s Word and character. We put no confidence in our flesh, but we have every confidence in the God who made us, called us, saved us and keeps us. (Quote source here.)

Confidence is putting our trust in God. Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I can honestly admit that it’s hard not to want to lean on my own understanding regarding things going on in my life, yet my understanding is limited to my own perception of what is going on. None of us has the full picture of what is really going on all around us at any given point in time. That is why placing our trust in God to direct our paths is crucial.

So what does it mean to “lean not on our own understanding”? GotQuestions.org has an answer to that question, too:

Proverbs 3:5-6 is a familiar passage to many: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.Verse 5 is a complementary pair of commands. We are told, positively, to trust the Lord and, negatively, not to trust our own understanding. Those two things are mutually exclusive. In other words, if we trust in the Lord, we cannot also depend upon our own ability to understand everything God is doing.

First Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We only see part of the picture God is painting. If we are to truly trust Him, we have to let go of our pride, our programs, and our plans. Even the best-laid human plans cannot begin to approach the magnificent sagacity of God’s plan. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25). 

Most of us have a desperate desire to understand, but in so many areas we must acknowledge that we cannot understand. We must approve of God’s ways, even when we can’t comprehend them. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us why we often don’t understand what God is doing: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” God sees the whole picture, while we only see our tiny corner of it. To trust in the Lord with all our heart means we can’t place our own right to understand above His right to direct our lives the way He sees fit. When we insist on God always making sense to our finite minds, we are setting ourselves up for spiritual trouble.

Our limited understanding can easily lead us astray. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” When we choose to direct our lives according to what seems right to us, we often reap disaster (Judges 21:25). Every culture has tried to get God to approve of its definition of right and wrong, but God never changes and His standards never change (Numbers 23:19James 1:17Romans 11:29). Every person must make a decision whether to live his or her life according to personal preference or according to the unchanging Word of God. We often will not understand how God is causing “all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28), but when we trust Him with all our hearts, we know that He is. He will never fail us (Psalm 119:142Philippians 2:13). (Quote source here.)

Another article titled, Do Not Lean On Your Own Understanding,” (author’s name not mentioned) on ShareFaith.com, states the following:

Proverbs 3:5-6 gives God’s guidance for life–“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” These words challenge believers to put more confidence in God’s ability than in their own, to not try to analyze and figure out every detail themselves, but to place their belief in God’s wisdom, love and strength, to lean on God instead of relying on themselves or anyone else.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way.”

God makes the distinction between the heart and the mind. There is nothing wrong with using one’s mind, and this verse is not telling you to stop thinking. But some situations are complex and cannot be successfully understood and still make sense. Rather than making foolish and perhaps risky decisions and leaping off a precipice into a chasm of catastrophe, it’s much better to trust God. God is the One with foreknowledge. Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.” Romans 12:16 rephrases this, “Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits.” (Amplified Bible). God is all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere-present. He is tried, true and trustworthy. (Quote source here.)

There is an interesting story in this next article titled, Trusting With All Your Heart,” by Dr. Harold J. Sala, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Guidelines International Ministries. He writes:

One of the great promises of the Bible is found in the book of Proverbs, which came from the writing of Solomon, often called “the wisest man who ever lived.”

He wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Solomon understood that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the promises of God and their fulfillment. He knew that with almost every promise there is a condition attached to it. He also knew something of the conflict between the known and the unknown, trusting God for what you cannot see.

Today it’s difficult to trust anyone. “Never trust anyone unless you have the agreement in writing,” we say, and then, quite often, the agreement is meaningless. But the dictionary says that trust means, “assured reliance; confidence, appropriation.”

But what does “trusting with all your heart,” as Solomon advised, really mean? In Solomon’s day there were two Hebrew words for trust. They were similar yet had slightly different meanings. The first word meant that when you trust someone, you have the confidence to flee to that person, knowing there will be safety. A bully picks on you as you come home from school, or someone stops you and you are fearful for your safety, so you run to someone who is stronger, whom you know will protect you. That’s trust.

The second word is the picture of a little child who is learning to walk. His father reaches out a hand and says, “Come to daddy. I won’t let you down. I’ll catch you before you fall.” This word is the one used in Proverbs 3:5-6. It means, “to rely upon, to have confidence in someone, to lean upon another.” I like that picture, and it is the advice of the wise old sage, Solomon, who urges, “Do it with all your heart,” no matter how foolish it may appear, because God will never let you fall.

When missionary John Patton was translating the New Testament in the New Hebrides, he sought for a word which was the equivalent of this one which Solomon used, and, in the language of the people he was striving to help, there was no equivalent, at least, none that he could find.

One day a native came into his little hut and, for the first time in his life, saw a chair that the missionary had built. Though it may seem strange to you that someone would never have seen a chair, strive to remember that in many cultures, chairs, as we know them, are just not used.

“What is that?” he asked Patton. Patton then replied, “A chair–you can put your weight on it; it won’t let you down,” and ever so cautiously the native followed Patton’s example and place his full weight on the chair.

“Ah,” thought Patton, “that concept is what Solomon was saying; and thus he translated the text of Proverbs, “You can put your full weight on God and not attempt to understand everything. Acknowledge God in everything you do, and God will direct your steps.”

Our problem is our hesitation to put our full weight on God when we can’t see the future. Today, as in Solomon’s day, our own understanding is often the hindrance to trusting Him, yet if you are convinced that God won’t lie to you, that He is also accessible, and that the promises of His word become the key that opens the door to His presence, then you can rely upon His goodness to meet you.

How God does something is His business, but your failure to rest in Him and to trust Him often keeps you in poverty of soul and spiritually depleted. How much better to rest in Him and realize His understanding goes far beyond ours. Resource reading: Proverbs 3. (Quote source here.)

Our confidence comes from knowing that God is in control, and He can be trusted with our lives and our circumstances. I’ll end this post with, appropriately, the words from Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV): Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…

In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall . . .

Direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Confidence” by Sanctus Real:

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