Managing Stress in Everyday Life

By Rev. Ralph Modjeska

Managing Stress: My dear friend, Rev. Ralph Modjeska, is the chaplain to the Waukesha County (WI) Fire Chiefs Association and Flight for Life. He routinely does debriefing sessions for fire fighters, paramedics and EMTs. In the aftermath of the Waukesha , WI parade tragedy, he conducted sessions for every department in the county, as well as for families of victims.

This is a piece he wrote and uses routinely in his ministry. It is long, but it contains information that might help you or someone you know, so we chose to post it in its entirety.

Managing stress starts with understanding our response

Stress– Commonly known as anxiety, is most often NOT determined by what happens TO us, but by how we RESPOND to a situation. Stress can come in many forms and can affect our families, our workplace and ourselves.

Stress/anxiety can come from:

  1. trying to balance our personal life from our work,
  2. family conflicts or concerns,
  3. child or elder care issues,
  4. alcohol or drug problems,
  5. financial difficulties,
  6. workplace issues or conflicts/concerns about employment, etc.

Everyone experiences stress. It is a natural part of life. Every change in our lives is accompanied by stress. That includes both joyful moments as well as the sorrowful ones.

ACUTE ANXIETY would be a level of stress relieved immediately after the situation is resolved.

CHRONIC ANXIETY would be unrelieved stress experienced over a long period of time, which can lead to illness and depression.

Learning to respond to stress

Clearly life will go much better for us if we can learn to recognize and respond appropriately to stress that comes our way. We need to understand that our body’s natural reaction to stress is either FIGHT or FLIGHT. Both are outdated.

Today, many of our stress-inducing require a more complex response than putting up our “dukes,” (FIGHT) or fleeing from the scene (FLIGHT). For example, have you ever found yourself in a long line at a store and the checkout person is talking incessantly to another customer, ignoring the line of customers? Do you feel like going up and strangling the clerk? That’s FIGHT.

Or another example is when you’re in a hurry but you’re stuck in traffic…increased adrenaline, feelings of anxiety, increased heart rate. That’s FLIGHT.

In small doses, the fight or flight rush of adrenaline is not harmful to us. However, if experienced for an extended period, it can begin to harm both body and soul. This can lead to CHRONIC STRESS, which over time can erode our coping mechanisms. We need to develop new strategies for reducing our stress and we need to train our bodies to relax rather than react.

Life balance is critical to managing stress

New strategies include seeking more balance in our lives, using our creativity on a daily basis, reframing our situation with an optimistic outlook, adopting good habits of self-care and tending to our spiritual life.

Also, include healthy doses of exercise, humor, hugs and rest. A very good defense against harmful stress is to savor and enjoy life rather than experience life as a source of danger or a threat.

The ultimate stress therapy is to remember the deeper truth– we are loved. When stress and its effects begin to overwhelm us, turn to the Word of God!

Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

Stress can be a good teacher

Stress can be a teacher and an inner guide. It tells is when something is amiss—the threats are not always external. If we pay attention to our emotional and physical reactions, keeping track of our stress can provide clues to what is happening around us.

For example, have you ever been unable to sleep or been edgy with your family? It’s important to determine what is going on that needs your attention. It may be that you’re taking on too much at work, concerned about finances, or have a belief system that projects negative thoughts.

Stress is a symptom

Stress is simply a symptom, a clue that something needs to be addressed in your life. Becoming attuned to our stress is a healthy proactive. We cannot remedy that of which we are not aware.

Many people find the “Serenity Prayer” offers a great formula for dealing with stress. Seeking serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Try to avoid unrealistic expectations

You cannot always change the situation, but you can make healthy decisions. That includes protecting yourself from unrealistic expectations placed on you by others, or by yourself. It is always wise to learn when to say “NO.”

According to Dr. Julian B. Reichmond, even of the ten leading causes of illness in the United States could be easily reduced if the following lifestyle habits were modified: drug and alcohol abuse, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking AND unhealthy responses to stress.

Add to that not having a faith in something greater than ourselves. We cannot be our own GOD!

Consider your reaction to a major stress

To understand your reaction to major stress, compare the situation you have been involved in to the splash when a stone is thrown into a a still body of water.

Your reactions are like ripples, which continue after the stone hits the water’s surface. Here are some examples of physical reactions:

  1. restlessness,
  2. tenseness,
  3. headaches,
  4. tremors,
  5. nausea,
  6. change in appetite/eating problems,
  7. sexual problems,
  8. fatigue,
  9. nightmares/flashbacks,
  10. sleep disturbances.

Trauma often caused by our emotional reactions

Most trauma is frequently flowed by one or more of the following emotional reactions:

  1. Becoming withdrawn,
  2. Having trouble remembering or concentrating,
  3. Having intrusive thoughts which are repeated memories of the situation,
  4. Feeling generally anxious,
  5. Feeling survival guilt, which is feeling guilty for surviving when others have not, or feeling guilty over actions needed to survive,
  6. Experiencing increased reactions when situations or activities remind you of an original event,
  7. Becoming hyper-vigilant, the state of being constantly “on guard” or “on alert,”
  8. Being moody, irritable or having angry outbursts for little or no reason,
  9. Becoming emotionally numb to avoid the pain of the trauma.

Denial is common response to stress

HELPING YOURSELF: Often individuals try to protect themselves from troublesome reactions through denial by refusing to acknowledge personal reactions related to the event. Avoid compulsive decisions, such as resigning from your job, until you have worked through the situation.

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol serves only to feed the denial and cause additional problems. Although you wish to be alone, now is the time to turn to someone else for support.

Finally, recognize while the feelings you are experiencing may not be comfortable, they are typical for one who has been through a major trauma—abnormal reaction to an abnormal event.

HELPFUL TIPS: 1. Express feelings and concerns with caring friends and loved ones, 2. Maintain as normal a schedule as possible, 3. Eat well-balanced meals and try to avoid too much caffeine and sugar, 4. Try to exercise, even with just a brisk 20-30 minute walk, 5. Seek professional assistance if problems persist and begin to interfere with your normal activities, 6. Take deep breaths with stress or tensions strike.

Seek the help you need

Learn to seek and accept the help you need. For many, especially during times of stress, it is hard to acknowledge that we might benefit from getting the help of a counselor, advisor, spiritual director or a wise friend.

A great deal of research and writing over the past two decades attests to the link between spirituality and health. Does spirituality make a difference? YES, it clearly does!

Debriefing is often a useful tool for managing stress

Another way to seek help is through what is called “debriefing.” This is simply a technique used for preventing a a more serious reaction to a major, stressful event. It is usually informal and can be facilitated one-on-one (friend-to-friend or a counselor), or in a group. Those who go through debriefing typically have less stress.

Use this easy four step approach to begin managing stress

Take heart, here’s a four step approach for taking action on stress that you can easily use. STOP, BREATHE, REFLECT and CHOOSE.

Stop and realize that you have a choice in how to respond.

Breathe deeply and release physical tension.

Reflect on your situation.

Choose a strategy for dealing with your stress that will lead to relaxation and well-being.

If you adopt these steps, you can make a major difference in the quality of your life

We Are All Guilty

Rev. Nancy Carmichael-Stoner is a Methodist pastor, now retired. She and her husband, Craig, facilitate a Bible study which I have been attending on Zoom for the last couple of years.

We are currently going through Max Lucado’s book “Grace: More than we deserve. Greater than we imagine.” The third chapter mentions Barabbas, the man who went free the day they crucified Jesus. This is her take on the passage the group was examining recently.

My name is Nancy, and I am Barabbas!

Monday night’s conversation centered on Barabbas. This at first seems like an unlikely person who received Grace. Barabbas was a rebel(insurrectionist)and murderer. Indisputably guilty. Jesus was without sin. Not guilty and (Roman governor) Pontious Pilate makes four attempts to free him. The crowd instead wanted Barabbas to go free! It seems ludicrous. Who wants someone like Barabbas to go free, to receive grace?

Lucado challenges us on page 35, to consider how we too are like Barabbas. We have been thieves, murderers, and yes, insurrectionists. How have we robbed people or murdered people? You can rob them of their reputations, perhaps steal apples off their tree, or even by taking something of theirs. We can murder a person’s reputation by our words, our bullying, even with a weapon. However, how do we commit insurrection?

We deny God as our king

Lucado spells it out on page 34 middle paragraph, beginning with “To sin is to state, ‘God, I do not want you to be my King.” In other words, we often dismiss the Lordship of Christ to worship the false things in life, even making them idols. To name a few: football, video games, famous people, money, prestige, etc.

We want to run our own lives the way we want. God is shoved to the back, Christ is great, but don’t bother me, and the Holy Spirit is ignored. Our insurrection is complete. Yes, we are equal with Barabbas. We have failed to keep our King number one in our lives. We often put other things in our lives before we honor His Kingdom. Think of that. We even ignore the grace we have received.

I never thought I was as bad a Barabbas. In fact, I was pretty angry that he was set free, and my beloved Jesus was crucified. God granted Barabbas grace. Yup, Grace. A complete get out of jail free card!

Lucado goes on to say, that “we never hear what Barabbas did with his freeing grace. But we can determine what to do with ours. Personalize it.” I found that accepting that I was as bad a sinner as Barabbas was extremely hard to do at first. But now, I, Barabbas, am working on what I can do with the amazing grace that I have received.

We are all guilty

What is grace? This has been discussed in our class during every session. A good answer might be that grace is unmerited favor, that is, being given something we certainly don’t deserve.

But God’s grace goes so much farther. God’s grace frees us to have a close, personal relationship with Him. It is the power of the Holy Spirit within us when we accept God’s gift of salvation through Christ. As the title of the book says, “greater than we imagine.”

We talk about grace. We search for insight and understanding through the Bible. Craig, our teacher, who came to faith through the ministry of Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel (Costa Mesa, CA) back in the early 1970’s, invites us to explore. He take us down wonderful, illuminating “rabbit holes” digging ever deeper into the subject.

Grace is an endless topic, as endless and mysterious as God Himself. Our study of grace started with a thorough study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

We are all guilty… We are all Barabbas

Nancy’s confession that she is Barabbas, is just an open, honest self-examination. I too am Barabbas, guilty as charged. However, with no defense and no plea, and with no more than a little faith, I am saved by the grace of God. He let His own Son go to the cross rather than see me perish. Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus.

Why Do We Hide From God?

David King of Israel
David rules over ALL of Israel

Why Do We Hide From God?: The Apostle Paul wrote,

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

When we sin, we break fellowship with God and in doing so, we either confess our sins and seek His forgiveness, or we hide under the bed and hope that God forgets about it.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God when they ate of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They knew they did wrong and when God called for them, they hid. When asked why they replied, “Because we were naked.” They covered themselves with fig leaves.

God answered, “Who told you you were naked?” In a utopia, with perfect temperatures, nothing to harm them, they had no need for coverings. But they felt shame. God killed an animal and used the skins to give them coverings. Everything changed from that moment on.

We know what is right and wrong

Humans have an innate sense of right and wrong put there by God their creator. Knowing that they sinned against God, Adam and Eve were looking for somewhere to hide their shame. It’s no different now.

King David, the writer of most of the Psalms, did his share of sinning. He was hand selected by God to be king of Israel, but he was hardly the perfect follower of God. David, even though he was chosen by God sinned, just as we all do. But David was also a man “after God’s own heart” and continues to serve as a mirror of us.

One of his sons, Solomon, succeeded him on the throne. Another one of his descendants would also take the throne of Israel and the entire world. That is the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus would not have sons trying to kill Him for the crown, nor would He sin. Jesus is the only human who is/was completely sinless.

We often blame others when we feel shame for our actions

People react to their own shame differently. Some will deny it and if there is blame to be given, it is given to someone else. Of course, some will just deny it and leave it there to avoid facing it.

Most commonly, people will get angry and bluster about the injustice of being accused. Blame me? How dare they?! Then again, some folks might accept it, but fall apart. They beat themselves up for being such a horrible person, hoping that someone will try to comfort them by saying it’s not all that bad.

David accepted his shame he didn’t hide from God

David looked at his shortcomings straight in the face. When the prophet Samuel called him out for sending Bathsheba’s husband to certain death in battle, he didn’t deny it, but turned to God to repair their relationship.

Time and again David would experience the grace of God and be restored. He didn’t hide. David is a model for all of us how we should handle our shame when we sin.

God created us and wants a relationship with us

Let’s reason together. God created us. He desires the relationship with us. God gave His only Son to die on the cross for our sins. It is not His will that we hide. But rather, crawl up on his lap and say “forgive me.” Jesus spent His time on earth telling us to repent for our sin and shame. That’s what God is calling us to do.

We often hide from God because we are ashamed

God wants to forgive and He wants the relationship to be close will all of us. We hide because we’re ashamed. We may even lose faith because we stray from God, ignore His beckoning and the friendship fades.

It is a two-way street. We talk to God and He talks back. If we cut Him off, we try to justify our foolishness by claiming that God is wrong, or He doesn’t love us.

God sees everything. He knows everything. Why hide? He is loving and compassionate, which means that His relationship with each of us is a top priority. Repent and turn to Him. He is waiting for you in love!

The Difference Between Soul and Spirit

We read about the soul and the spirit, but the question that always comes up is “What’s the difference?” It is difficult for us to determine the difference between our spirits and our souls.

We live in a physical body, but we are spiritual beings, with a soul. Bear with me for a moment. We are body, soul and spirit. Your body is not you. It only something to live in while we are here on earth. It is the flesh that clothes your spirit.

Our soul belongs to God

The soul is your inner-life, your thoughts, dreams, desires and passions. Your soul, however, is not your own. It belongs to God.

We hear about people “selling their souls to the devil.” Your mind turns away from God. You chose to reject Him. So, you see that your soul is one thing you control, because God gave us all a free-will, to make choices and determine what we will and will not believe.

Our spirit concerns our relationship with God

It is your experience of life, your interpretation of events. But you are not your soul. God is spirit and we are created in His image. Our spirit is completely different, because it is about our relationship with God.

It is our connection to our Creator. Our minds might war against the will of God, but even if we deny it, our spirit cries out for God.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)

Our mind is related to our soul

When we read “also your soul” in this context we may understand where the Bible says with “your mind,” it is a substitute for saying with your soul. Our mind is directly related to the soul.

Body, Soul and Spirit

We are composed of three parts—body, soul (mind) and spirit. Each is different, with different functions. The Bible acknowledges these entities.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

We understand the body the best

We probably understand the body best, as it is our home for now. Also, we experience life through the five senses—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.

All of us observe the world around us through these senses, but how we experience the world is different. On the outside, we have our bodies, followed by the inner parts, the soul and spirit.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The Soul

Souls are the Lord’s property. He created us. The body can be killed, but not the soul.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

No man can kill our soul. Although they can kill our bodies, they cannot do anything personally to affect our souls.

Souls that sin will experience death

But notice that souls that sin will experience death. God has dominion here. Because every person sins, the prospects are gloomy without a savior. Only Jesus lived a sinless life. It’s always been that way and always will.

Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)

But we do have a way out of that doom. Jesus offers us a way to God the Father. We are warned not to get too attached to the things of earth.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

We must turn to God to save our soul

The soul cannot take any of the material possessions to heaven. All of the world’s possessions are not worth throwing away an eternity with God. Riches and comfort are not worth losing your soul for. So we are encouraged to take care of our soul and turn to God.

The soul, at its core, is our mind, our will and our emotions. It can be used to magnify our passions and desires, both good and bad. We can lust for the things of earth, or seek the things of God.

Mary tells that our soul should rejoice in the Lord

Consider Mary’s song in the Gospel of Luke.

And Mary said: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)

Her soul glorifies God. She expressed her humanity through her soul and proclaimed His majesty and power. Mary understood her soul belonged to God. She knew she needed a savior. She could express her love for God, through her spirit but only her spirit could express God’s love for her.

Even though God owns our soul, it is still our choice with our thoughts, feelings, etc. It has limitations.

The spirit is entirely different.

The Spirit-being

Again, we are body mind and spirit. Our spirit is the only mechanism to connect with God. It’s function, as its name implies, is spiritual.

We can use our spirit only if we believe in God and accept His gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again to secure eternal life for those who through faith, have believed.

The spirit cries out for God even though our mind might tell God to take a hike. The Holy Spirit works on us to draw us to God.

Galilee, A Very Small Sea

Galilee, A Very Small Sea: We read in the Gospels about the ministry of Jesus taking place in the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It isn’t really a sea at all, but a small lake.

It was also called the Sea of Tiberius, after the Roman emperor of the time, and also Lake Gennesaret, or Lake Kinnereth prior to Jesus’ lifetime on earth. There is a lake in Wisconsin that is similar in many respects, Lake Winnebago. Here’s a comparison:

Sea of Galilee/Sea of Tiberius/ Lake Gennesaret/Lake Kinnereth

Length: 13 miles

Width: 8 miles

Deepest point: 141 feet

685.5 feet below sea level

Lake Winnebago

Length 22.58 miles

Widest point 10 miles

Deepest point: 21 feet (15.5 feet average depth)

746 feet above sea level

Sea of Galilee little changed in 2000 years

The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake in the world, 686 below sea level. The Jordan River flows into it in the north and out of it in the south. Capernaum is on its northwestern shores.

Interestingly, the Sea of Galilee is very similar now to what it was 2000 years ago. The hills and valleys are the same, as well as the color of the water, so what we see now is essentially what Jesus saw. It was a good land for agriculture, with olive trees, fruit trees and vegetables.

The rich land rendered good crops and it is not a stretch to imagine that with abundant food, Jesus and his followers would have provisions.

Sea of Galilee was at a key location

The lake itself was in a crossroads area, It was a travel route for commerce, so there was always new people coming through with new ideas and news of an ever-changing world. Despite this, it was not a rich area and certainly not an intellectual center. People worked hard to get by.

Faith was an important aspect of life there, as people observed the Jewish traditions. Interestingly, being far from the intellectual and cultural centers of the region, Jesus chose the northern section of this body of water as a launching point for His ministry. They were simple people, blue collar so to speak and far from the elite. Unlike Jerusalem, it was clean and the air was fresh.

Where would Jesus launch His ministry now?

Imagine if Jesus were to be here on earth and launching His ministry now. Would He chose New York, or Los Angeles, perhaps London or Tokyo? Perhaps we would have chosen Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Lake Winnebago. It’s a silly question. Salvation came from the Jews and God’s selection of time and place was, of course, perfect.

Jesus choose Capernaum for His first disciples

The fishing town of Capernaum was where Jesus selected his first disciples, telling them they would become fishers of men. It was an idea place to start. I have long believed that the timing was perfect because there was no media to get in the way and distort the message.

There was politics at play with the Romans and the Jewish authorities, but it was simple time. The message spread by word of mouth and with no daily highlights to recap the activities of the day on video, people accepted the message by faith, not after having seen irrefutable evidence.

There were no competing stories, no football games, no worldwide, instantaneous coverage. The pure, beautiful Gospel was presented through bold proclamations by the Apostles, letters to churches and first-hand accounts of the life of Christ.

With no technology to interfere, the Bible took shape and the message remains as it was, with no changes.

Praise be to God for His perfect plan.

Known to God

what is truth

Known to God: Lot’s of people go to church and claim they are Christian. Lots of people give money to good causes. Lots of people appear to be the model of Christian virtue, but does God know them?

This is a hard question. It’s hard because it necessitates an inward look and evaluation. It is not for us to judge what is in the heart of another person, but true faith in Christ does render some outward signs that something had changed in a person’s life.

Most know something about God

Most people, even atheists, know something about God. Casual theists, those who believe in a god, but not necessarily the God of Israel, and the God who gave us Jesus, can tell you something about God too. Even if it’s just a platitude, they can acknowledge something bigger than themselves. He’s the “big guy upstairs,” and He is the guy behind the “good book.”

Those are actually insulting remarks because they do not give praise and honor to Him who created all things. But it’s an uncomfortable subject for them, to unashamedly proclaim that their life has been transformed by the shed blood of Christ. They work their way around it by saying something polite, but it’s obvious they do not know what they believe.

We all need a savior

Salvation is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit calls us to the cross. God does all the work, and by His grace, we are saved. Believers are humbled before the cross, knowing that their sins are many and they are helpless to change their circumstance.

We all need a savior. I cannot brag about any good deeds, as the Apostle Paul writes, they are like filthy rags. I cannot pay the price for my sins, which is death. There is no fine to pay, no payment plan to be implemented. Without the Messiah, I am nothing. It is all God. His grace and His love and His sacrifice.

But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Are you known to God?

Religion is man’s attempt to make himself acceptable to God. It takes many forms, like putting on a false front on Sunday morning in church. It’s being busy on committees and projects to earn favor with the pastor.

All of the trappings of Christianity can be on full display, but it is meaningless without true faith. The works of the flesh, even in the name of God, are worthless if one’s soul is in peril. Jesus was not impressed.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Only belief in Christ can save us

We are all guilty. Nothing can save us, except for belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His payment that we benefit from for entry into the Kingdom of God. His intercession to the Father that brings forgiveness.

It is God’s grace that imparts righteousness on those who believe in His son and accept His gift. Any righteousness is God’s, not ours. Christ fulfilled all of the righteous requirements of the law for us, because we were powerless to do so.

Putting on a show a waste of time

There is no purpose, no sense, in putting on a show for God. It’s a silly waste of time. He knows us. But our “being known by Him” means we have accepted his gift and with grateful hearts welcome Jesus as Lord and Savior. When that happens, our names are written into the Lamb’s book of life and we are known to Him that saved us.

If You Don’t Like Church, Look Beyond The Immediate

Jesus' Resurrection
Jesus’ Resurrection

Don’t Like Church: Ronald Reagan once said, “The problem with government IS government.” He was referring to the size and cumbersome inefficiency of the federal government. A part of his platform was to work to correct that.

With Reagan’s statement in mind I offer this– the problem with churches is churches. First and foremost, the church, meaning all Christian churches, were instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ for the purpose of spreading the Gospel to the world. It began with his disciples.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus wants the church to thrive

Jesus did not establish the church to fail. He had His 12 students to carry on the work, but they are taught to teach the truth, not to embellish, or change anything.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth .” (Acts 1:8)

The early churches had issues

The problems arose quickly. Churches were established and given the sound doctrine, but people decided that wasn’t enough. The Apostles thought people had to become Jews first, then Christians. The Apostle Paul challenged Peter on that very topic and won the debate. But if the leaders are bickering, what are you and I supposed to do?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1)

Of course this is nothing new. Solomon knew this full well.

The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out” (Proverbs. 17:14)

Don’t Like Church: Hypocrites and Fakers

A common excuse for people not attending church, or moving from church to church, is their disappointment over unmet expectations. That can take several forms, such as “they’re all a bunch of hypocrites,” to “the music is too loud.”

If you want to find fault with the church, any church, you don’t have to look far and wide. There is no perfect church. Some churches will claim they are the only ones who tell the truth. Others may say their doctrine is the only pure doctrine. Some may even suggest that all people who do not belong to their organization are destined for hell. Others rail away against other churches and all that is wrong, which showcases nothing but ignorance. No, churches are not perfect.

Jesus established the church

Jesus established the church. It is His. He alone is the final authority, not the Pope or a bishop. Anything you need to know about what the church should be is clearly explained in the Bible.

But you also need to understand that the church is run by men and women. In most cases these men and women want to follow Biblical teaching, but because the church is a human organization, humans get in the way.

You will never find the perfect church, but you will find some very, very good ones. First question you need to ask is simply “does the church teach from the Bible?” There will be differences in opinion on the meaning of Scripture, but if the church is firmly established in the basic doctrinal teachings of the Bible, chances are you have found a good one.

Peter chosen by Jesus

Jesus picked one man to be the foundation of the church— Simon Peter. It was not because of his theological brilliance, or his educational accomplishments, which were none. Take a look and see for yourself why Jesus picked him among the 12 disciples.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-19)

Churches can become focused on status and power

Sadly, churches and ministries within churches, become fiefdoms for themselves. It’s the music leader who doesn’t want to cooperate with the pastor on music for the sermon. Or the Sunday school teacher who thinks their participation is essential for the program to exist.

It’s the elder who has decided he and he alone should tell the pastor what to preach about. It’s the wealthy member who lets the church know that their money is holding the building up. You get it.

From the seats we have the “holier than thou” person who is the model Christian. Then there’s the gossip. Churches can be a mess. Jesus is not. He is the true model of perfection. He is humble and came as a servant.

Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith

The Lord Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, came as a servant.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve , and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

The Apostle Paul gave us a great warning, which is all too often ignored.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3)

Churches are run by people

Because churches are social organizations, run by people, they just act like people. Ego, pride self-contentedness are the culprits. A running joke among clergy is that they should never preach about sin. People just don’t want to hear that. There was the lady to came to the preacher to express her anger. “I’m no sinner and you have no right to talk to me like that!”

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).

Solomon wrote, “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).

Try to make it better through your service

Humans are terribly flawed. We have all sinned against God and are all guilty. We are undeserving, even the best of us. We are saved by the grace of God through faith. Look at the church through God’s lens. Better yet, after making a self examination, get involved and serve. You can make a difference. You aren’t going to fix it, but you can help to make it better.

Freedom or the Law

Freedom or the Law: The major contrast between Christianity and Judaism is the adherence to the law. Before you start thinking that this blog is marking a dividing line against the Law of Moses, or any of the Jewish observances, be still. That isn’t what’s intended here.

Rather, keeping all of the richness of Judaism in mind, all of the laws, all of the holidays, all of the traditions, it points to the amazing sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Law is still essential

Don’t for a moment think the Law doesn’t count. It very much does. Every last word, every last letter, counts as much today as when Moses and the ones that followed wrote them down. Because they count, we are accountable.

Under the Law, the righteous requirements of the Law must be met in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Ever break a commandment, even just a little? Guilty. Ever think about breaking a commandment? Guilty again. Ever break one by accident? Guilty just the same.

Three types of laws

The law means the 10 Commandments, the civil law in the Old Testament, and the ceremonial law. It also is referring to the first five books of the Bible. It also means anything that Jesus commanded for believers. There’s the moral law, the ceremonial law and in general, God’s Word. For this discussion, we’ll focus on the laws of Judaism and how they relate to God’s grace in the New Testament.

Hard to adhere to all of Jewish laws

After God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses and the law began to fully develop in the every day lives of the Israelites, those original 10 laws turned into 613. In order to be in right standing with God, one had to adhere to all of them. It’s a daunting task.

But to understand the purpose of the law, and the need for meeting the righteous requirements of the law, you must understand that God gave His law as a tool for reconciliation.

The human race had turned away from God. The only understanding they had of the things of God came from the oral tradition, passed down from generation-to-generation.

Through the prophet Moses and others, the law became more formalized. It was now a matter of record.

Christians are under grace

Christian believers are separated from the rest of the world, because of their faith in Christ. Those who do not accept God’s gift of salvation through Christ, are living under the law. Christians are under grace.

The unmerited favor of God is given because of our faith, not our works. The law exposes the ugliness of sin, brings everything to view and offers a sharp contrast between sinful man and the magnificence of God. Perfect obedience to the law is required for entry into heaven.

Jesus explains the law

Jesus made His stance on the law perfectly clear during the Sermon on the Mount.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus fulfilled the law

Jesus came to fulfill the law. Because He accomplished His mission, we are invited to enter the Kingdom of God just by having faith and believing. Jesus did all of the work. God the Father reaches out to us, the Holy Spirit convicts us to confess our sins and turn to God. Jesus paid the price.

It is important that the law is fully understood by those who do not believe. At the same time, the grace of God, the gateway to salvation, needs to be presented. Those who are saved by God’s grace through faith, the law is a guideline for godliness. Grace showcases the power of God over sin. The law is fulfilled through Christ and believers are set free.

Four Different Meanings of Scripture

Four Different Meanings of Scripture: Jewish scholars, especially rabbis, hold to the belief that passages of scripture in the Bible have more than one definition. Moreover it has long been thought that the literal meaning of the text is not the important thing to focus on. It might even be the least important.

Confusing? Well, maybe not. What if I told you that a Jewish scholar may look at a piece of scripture and determine four different meanings from it?

What are the four different meanings?

The first interpretation is “pashat,” which is the literal meaning, the simplest way of looking at it. That might be described as reading the passage, word-for-word, and taking an exact, literal meaning from the text.

Then comes “derush” which is the meaning you get after further examination. You studied and have come up with your deductions, as if to say “Oh, that’s what this means!” The thought process is kicking in.

Next we have “remaz” or suggested meaning of the text. When David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd…” did he really mean we were sheep, or is there something else? What is it telling you?

Finally there is “sod” which is the allegorical meaning, that being a story that can be interpreted to have a deeper, or hidden meaning. Jesus spoke in parables. He told a story to uncover a bigger meaning.

Here’s another interesting tidbit for you. The first letters of each of these meanings, P R D S, are the consonants in the word paradise. Go to the Gospel of Matthew and read Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” and apply these four interpretations to it. See what happens.

Bible can be difficult to follow

The Bible offers us an endless wealth of wisdom and knowledge, but at the same time, by just reading the words it’s easy to get mixed up and lost.

Remember that the Bible is the Word of God, the living Word of God. It transforms, it strengthens, and it comforts. Pray before you read.

The Bible has a picture of what God has in mind for you today. Is there a commandment, or a warning, or encouragement or all of the above?

We only understand what God reveals to us

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Bible is “spiritually discerned.” That means if God does not intend for you to understand the text, you won’t. You can read something a hundreds of times and not get it. But then, like a veil is lifted, you read it and you understand completely.

Were you just too dumb to understand? No, certainly not. If God wants you to understand fully, you will.

Understanding the Bible is an infinite process

From Genesis to revelation, the Bible is one, contiguous story, It ties together. It builds on itself. It explains itself and interprets itself.

Jesus constantly mentioned the Old Testament, or more appropriately, the Jewish text. To understand Revelation, for example, you have to understand the book of Daniel.

References, cross references lead you down endless intellectual rabbit holes, enriching your spirit and challenging you intellect. It’s an amazing book on many different levels.

The Myth of Mary, mother of Jesus

what is truth

The myth of Mary: Roman Catholic believers revere Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is the “Blessed Mary,” She is considered an essential link between all people and Jesus.

Many believe that Mary is the one who intercedes for us by approaching her Son. It’s been Roman Catholic teaching for centuries. But what does the Bible say about her? Very little.

Are we to pray to Mary? Is she divine, like her son Jesus? It is easy to get caught up in the experiences of this remarkable woman, giving birth and raising the Son of God. But it is her son Jesus that is the focus of the Bible and the one to whom all praise is due.

Jesus is God, not Mary or any other character in the Bible. Likewise the angels are not God, just servants and messengers. The Apostles are merely men selected by the Messiah to spread His message. Why pray to them either?

The myth of Mary: Many would disagree with my view

This writer’s view of Mary would be considered blasphemy in Catholic circles. She is an ordinary woman, who when called upon by God, said “yes” and obeyed. But to elevate her to a place of prominence, praying to her and in some cases making her a deity, is completely counter to God’s plan for her life.

It might also be suggested that elevating her so much higher than her station and calling, it distracts from the work of the Lord Jesus. People pray to Mary, pray to the saints, but don’t pray to God necessarily and don’t read His word.

They become a distraction from the Gospel and people are led down a very destructive path. Mary and the lot become idols. I can only imagine what they might say when told they are elevated to such high places.

Apostles understood their role

The Apostle Peter chose to be crucified upside-down because he did not consider himself worthy of dying like Jesus did. The Apostle Paul called our good works “filthy rags,” pointing to the glory and perfection of Jesus our savior and God.

Praying to anyone other than God the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ is to miss the point entirely. Praying to Mary in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is likewise a futal activity.

We have direct access to God

Because of the completed work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, we are given direct access to God. In Hebrews it says we can approach the throne of grace with boldness, making our petitions known. Mary and the saints do not sit on that throne.

16 Let us then approach God’s 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)