Casting Call

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

-Peter (1 Peter 5:7, ESV)

I have had an on and off again relationship with fishing. I learned how to fish when I was a child, but didn’t really do much fishing until my teens and early twenties. On good days I could send that little bob and lure flying across the water some 60 feet. And on the not so good days, about 3. Those days the bob and lure made a big plunk into the water right in front of me. It was all about the timing and releasing the line on the reel and stopping the line release and extending my arm and swinging the pole. I was definitely not a a pro. To me, it felt the same way whether I cast the line three feet or sixty. I didn’t have a perfect technique to it, so every time the results were different.

The same is true for casting of my anxieties. I’ve read 1 Peter so many times, yet most of the time it feels like those little splunkers in the water. I want to cast it all away. Like sixty feet, like tossing a ball to Jesus. Like “Hey, Jesus, here catch” or “Here’s all my stuff that I’m holding onto and it is bringing so much anxiety, PLEASE, take it here, like NOW.”

But, most of the time I TRY to cast those anxieties and worries, and then mid cast I start thinking about it all, trying to find my own solution, replaying the situations back in my head like a movie reel, and SPLUNK, It doesn’t make it to Jesus, but lands right back a few feet from me, where I will reel it back in to carry myself, once again.

Have you felt this way too? You want to do this, cast your cares, follow Peter’s advice, but you keep falling short. You cast your cares, but somehow they keep creeping back into your thoughts, and grab for attention.

Me too, but one thing I have learned is to keep on casting. The other step is to stop my thoughts mid cast. To concentrate and think about what I am allowing into my thoughts. Not allowing myself to get entangled in them and allow them to be set on auto play over and over again.

I think that is why I like the verse above from the ESV (English Standard Version) version of the Bible. It says casting, like this is an ongoing process, not just a once and done. That is the way it has been for me. It is a constant battle with my anxieties and worries. I keep casting. I do not give up with one bad cast, like from my fishing days- I keep on working on the technique. I don’t have to worry about Jesus not catching (taking on) my anxieties or worries, it just depends on my letting go, extending my arms and releasing them all. He’s got this. -God Bless – Nancy

Meet and Greet

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,” -James the brother of Jesus Christ

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t one of my favorite memory verses. I mean I can deal with the part about encountering or meeting with trials. I can agree with what James is saying, but the joy part? Well, that’s difficult.

To be honest there are so many different variations of this verse. The one above is from the New American Standard Bible. Others use the words- “fall into temptations” or “whenever trouble comes your way” and even “whenever you face trials of any kind” Regardless, they all seem to agree that it is is not an if but a when. Life is full of troubles and trials. We get that. It is impossible to live this life without them.

I really like the version that uses the word encounter. I was recently reading a devotional from Dr. Charles Stanley of INTOUCH ministries and he compared the word encounter with meeting trials, like you would meet another person. Face to face-. It inspired me to think about this verse in those terms. How do I face trials? Do I greet them as I would a person on the street? As an acquaintance? As an adversary? Welcoming them with joy, seems very counterintuitive. I do not like trials. Why would I greet them as if they are a long lost friend, whom I am excited to be reunited with?

But can I really see them as that? Most of the time I rejoice whenever trials are over. Like whenever I recover from an illness, or when a project that has been trying and time consuming is accomplished and over. But, at the beginning? When I first meet them? If I let my feelings rule, I would run the other way, thank you very much! But, no thank you, I don’t need to greet you today troubles and trials, I think I’ll just turn off the path and avoid you today. But, I fear in doing that I would miss the opportunity for God to be there with me through this awkward introduction and greeting. Avoidance limits the pain, but also limits the joy and comfort I would receive from God.

As we read further on in the book of James, we see that these trials are to strengthen our faith and give us perseverance and mature our faith. These sound very inspiring and give the reader encouragement. Just as it would have for the early Jewish Christians James was writing to who had been scattered away from Jerusalem into the many areas of the Roman Empire. As many scholars believe, James was martyred sometime after writing this letter of encouragement, probably around AD 64. It was not an easy time to be a follower of Christ.

If James were writing the church today, he might have say, “Hey, I know you are going through these trials and difficult times, but just remember they are serving a purpose- to mature your faith, teach you perseverance- something you will definitely need to keep on going. So, welcome them, they are for your benefit. Yes, they are bound to happen, but God’s got this.”

In chapter 1, verse 5, James writes if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God. For many years I have read that verse as a stand alone verse, but this week as I read it again, it began to dawn on me that maybe it closely relates to dealing with the troubles and trials.

You see, that is one of my biggest issues when troubles or trials come. I wonder to myself, “What should I do to handle this, or fix this situation? How do I navigate this? What is my strategy? I also try to figure out if this is something I have brought upon myself, or is it a spiritual attack, or just a life issue? What I need is wisdom in dealing with it all; for discernment, for a pathway through the trial, for a way to handle it, to understand it’s origin, to have a peaceful attitude through it, yup, I lack wisdom on my own, and I need to ask God for wisdom for this trial. I have faith that God will show me what to do, how to navigate this and will bring me out the other side, better not because I will be stronger in myself, but that my faith in God will be stronger, because I will see how He is with me. Not all these trials have quick resolutions, and I need to keep believing – as James adds in verses 6 and 7- but God will come through.

So, these trials are a way for me to be drawn closer to God,to my faith in Him, my reliance on Him to give me wisdom and help me through, to strengthen my perseverance muscle. They are not designed to destroy me, but make me better, to help me mature in my faith, so that I lack nothing (v4).

If we can focus on that, then we can meet and greet trials with a more positive attitude. We can count it joy.

God Bless –

Nancy

Freedom

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners- Isaiah 61:1

Isaiah 61 has always been one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It is the same passage Jesus read in the synagogue when he first began his public ministry. The fourth chapter of Luke shares this. For me, these are very powerful words that describe just what Jesus set about doing when He came to earth. The prophet Isaiah had written these words several hundred years before, and when Jesus read them aloud He added, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21, NIV).

I am fortunate to live in a place that allows me great freedoms; the freedom to marry a husband of my choice, the freedom to have as many children as I desire, the freedom to worship God, the freedom to meet, the freedom to be educated, the freedom to teach what I have learned, the freedom to pursue a career of my choice, the freedom to live where I desire, and the freedom to travel wherever I wish and the freedom to vote for my leaders.

I realize, however, that this is a special perk of living in the United States, and not everyone has these same freedoms. This freedom is amazing and I am thankful that this is the place God chose for me to live. But, unfortunately all who are free at least physically, are not free spiritually.

Many of us struggle with the freedom from whatever has control over us. We try to free ourselves from life’s pains, sorrows, doubts and fears by our own strength. This is weary work. We try to find freedom in organized religion or a self- centered religious practice, only to find it lacking any true release. What we need is help from God to be free from this pursuit of freedom. This pursuit of spiritual peace.

This is precisely what Jesus offers. Jesus came to set men free from the sin that binds them, from the endless religious rituals that were only a temporary staving off of the darkness and hopelessness felt by men. The sacrifices offered in the Temple were only good for a year, for a short time, for it was just a foreshadowing of what was to come through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Jesus set men free from the captivity and hopelessness of sin, the thing that keeps us from peace with God and ourselves and others. We no longer have to be prisoners of this world, in darkness and without hope. We can and have been set free, if we will only realize this. Jesus opened the prison doors, but we must acknowledge it, and trust Him for our salvation and be reconciled to God. It does not take any additional religious working, or sacrificing or reading ten chapters of scripture per day. It is realizing our need for His sacrifice, believing in His work, confessing Him as Lord and Savior, for us, for you, personally, that opens our eyes, redeems us, and enables us to see the doors of the prisons we have created are already open. God does not force us up on our feet, dragging us out of our prison cells against our will but rather, He proclaims freedom. He declares that what the world had long waited for, a Savior, a Messiah, a deliver, was here, freeing us from religion and declaring that sin and Satan had no more control over us.

Whether or not we have personal freedoms or political freedoms, does not matter, for we can experience true freedom- spiritual freedom by accepting Jesus’ proclamation of our release and walking in faith in Him. This my friend is true freedom. God Bless- Nancy

Weary

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

I don’t know about you, but I am weary. And I suspect many of you are also. We all get weary at times, trying to keep it all going. And keep it together. To keep ourselves together. We carry these burdens for ourselves and even for others. We must maintain our work selves, our church selves, our family selves and society selves- All these roles we find ourselves in. Trying to keep all the roles connected, balanced and producing good results. And if that isn’t enough, there’s this burden we carry around with us as a constant reminder of the problems in the world. We are of course not responsible for the world or its events, yet we find ourselves burdened and troubled by the global crisis’ . Too much bad news, horrible news, incomprehensible news. Earthquakes, bombings, hurricanes, uprisings, Covid. We are all just a little weary right now. And the constant contact through our mobile devices in our pockets, keeps all these problems and global crisis’s on our minds and always within reach, inescapable, it seems.

We might tell everyone around us that we are”fine” when the reality is, we are not “fine”, but far from it. We are weary. We need rest. We need help in dealing with all of this. We need each other and we need Jesus’ peace and comfort.

I admit I am not an expert in dealing with it all, but there are a few steps we all can take to help each other. First, talk with each other openly. If you are not doing well, let someone know. Talk to a friend. Tell them what is going on and what is wearing you down. If you are having serious, suicidal thoughts, tell someone or call a professional hotline. Help is close and people who are trained to listen are waiting for you to reach out to them. You are not a bother. Your friends and family do love and care about you, they need you here. The pain you feel is temporary, it will get better and there are people who can help with your pain.Let them help you.

Second, if you are just tired and weary from too much of the world taking your joy, step away from social media, or block or snooze individuals or pages that are upsetting you and causing you undue stress. Do not keep your phone where you sleep and don’t let it be the first or last thing you check in the day. Instead read, listen to music or take a gratitude inventory.

Third, a gratitude inventory is something I have recently begun. Before your day begins or as it ends, meditate on what you have to be thankful for. At the end of the day, recount the positive events of your day and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Just breathing and living another day is reason enough to be thankful. If it is the beginning of the day, offer thanks for the opportunity for a new day, a new beginning. Even the little things matter. So be grateful for a bed and a pillow, for a meal to wake up to. For your family and friends. God has provided it all. We forget sometimes that not everyone is enjoying these at the moment. Some are homeless, others have lost a loved one or a friend. Some do not have the hope of Jesus. They are trying to do life all on their own,in their own strength.

Fourth, don’t dwell on the negative. Look for the good during your day. Focus on what has gone right, instead of what is going wrong. Focus on positive Bible verses like the one above. Write down these verses and place them on sticky notes everywhere to be reminded of them. Or subscribe to a daily word app that will send you a text or email.

Fifth, to know these verses, you must pick up your Bible and read it. Or get an app for your phone with a daily verse. Remember the Bible is not just a book written by a bunch of dudes in the past. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It has power to change minds, challenge you and give you peace and comfort. Don’t believe me? Just try it for a week. It doesn’t mean that suddenly all your problems will disappear, but it will change your perspective. It will change you. Bad circumstances, like those of the world right now, are not going to go away immediately, we cannot change these, but we can change our attitudes and perspectives. And surprisingly, by doing so we change our brains. Our thoughts affect our physical brain chemistry as well as our physical shape. Someone has said that we are what we eat, but scientifically speaking, we are what we think about.

The last step is to take time to pray. God does hear us. It might be we have been neglecting our prayer lives, because we feel like there is a wall between us and God. Or we think He is mad or unhappy with us, but here’s the thing, He knows who you are. He made you. He’s okay with your doubts. He’s okay with you for not being perfect. He loves you. He knows you have messed up, so that’s not a surprise to Him. Just talk to Him, like a friend. He promises rest for the weary and help with your burdens, you don’t have to do this alone.

Taking it to the source

So, my dad owns an older home in the country and has as his water source a spring. The spring is located a few hundred feet away from his home and provides water for not only his house but also my brothers and a neighbor. Now, before you think to yourself, wow! spring water that I don’t have to buy from a little bottle or have delivered by the jug!, Must be sweet. Well, it isn’t all that free sometimes for my dad. There is this long pipe that runs down the side of the road he lives on, under his driveway and into the house. Quite often, this pipe springs a leak somewhere along its length.The only way he can tell when this has happened is for his water pressure to drop and puddles start forming along the road and driveway. The only way to fix the pipe is to first locate the source of the break. This is not as easy as it might sound, for water from the spring runs down a hill alongside the road. The break could be nearer to the spring or further down the piping. It is a matter of trial and error (digging up dirt along the sections of pipe) to find the break. Once he finds the location, the source, he can fix it, and restore his water supply to his home.

Lately, I have been feeling, like many of you, like there is a break in my flow of peace. It is not difficult to find the location of the break, just take a look around the current world situation and it is easy to identify the cause, the source. We feel like chaos and anxiety are winning in the battle for our minds and souls. We are stressed and uneasy, we are feeling insecure and unsure of even making the basic decisions. I sympathize with parents of school aged children who must make decisions about the school year. School administrations are right in there with attempting to decide what to do in the best interests of their students and teachers. We feel confused. We read up on the virus and on the recovery rates, we search for answers and we search for peace in the chaos.

On social media and news feeds we are bombarded with many sides of the same story. Which view is right? Which view is wrong? Is there a right or wrong? Or are we all victims of a greater plot to disrupt our unity as humans so that we see each other as enemies rather than men and women who are created by God in His image? We are seeking truth, but finding more chaos. We are looking for a source for truth, a source for peace. It feels as though our water pipe is broken and we are all parched, thirsty, craving pure spring water that will soothe our weary, tired and parched souls and minds.

Even the most highly respected pastors and ministers of the Gospel are feeling this anxiety and lack of peace. The current situation with the pandemic and violence and confusion happening surrounding the protests for social justice cannot be ignored while Christians pretend it is not there. There is a leak in the pipe. We cannot ignore the problem, but can we seek a better way to deal with it all?

I believe there is. Recently, I have been spending time reading some great books by some great Christian writers that deal with this mind and spiritual battle that is going on in their lives as well. What I have taken away from it is this, we can live in this chaos by re-framing our thinking and focusing on Jesus, our source of peace. See the world and the problems of the world are not going to just disappear.We live in the tension of a world that is groaning and grappling with chaos as it longs for the day when everything will be set right again. Jesus told us that there would be trouble in this world.  But He also told us that He was giving us His peace, the peace that was sure and lasting, not the peace the world gives( John 14:27). If you haven’t read the Book of John before, or if it has been awhile, it is a good place to start to calm your chaos. It will remind you and help you understand just who Jesus is and what He taught. He came to earth as a man, fully human, and He knows what we are feeling. He felt pain, suffering, grief, anger, disappointment. He knows well what we are all going through right now. One thing to remember is He often went off by Himself and prayed to God. Theologians sometimes grapple with this concept, after all Jesus is God, part of the Trinity, so why did He have to pray, was He talking to Himself? True, He is part of the Trinity, father, son and Holy Spirit, but each is different in role, and He, Jesus, was seeking to do the will of the Father, so communication was important.

Which brings me back to my final point, and one which I am personally trying to incorporate in my daily routine. I have been challenged and convicted about how much importance I have given to social and news feeds in my daily life. I check my phone before I go to sleep and first thing in the morning and I’ve realized it is too connected to my day. It feeds into my anxiety and chaos. I am deciding to leave my phone out of my bedroom at night while it charges. It is too addicting to check it every time it dings. It seems to be one source in my life that has been feeding my anxiety. My husband has decided to stay off of face book for a while because he has realized it changes him and how he views others. Often our phones are what keeps fueling the leaking of our peace as a society. We can easily find something to upset us, or something to which we disagree on with on our news feeds and social media. Our phones are always with us, feeding this anxiety, non stop. For you it might be your tablets, or laptops or TV. Or maybe the radio or podcasts you listen to as you commute. The basic question to ask yourself is what am I letting into my thoughts? What am I giving my allegiance to? Is it helping me, or hurting me emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I giving it greater significance than God? Is it making me a better person? Or a bitter, angry, anxious, stressed out one? As a Christian am I reflecting God, or the world?

The source of our anxiety might be the pandemic and social unrest, but are we adding gasoline to the fire by what we are fueling our minds with? To get back to my water pipe analogy, what are we doing that breaks our peace? Are we taking a sledge hammer to our flow of peace by what we devote ourselves to? Are we passively letting the media tell us what to think and believe? Are we letting ourselves be anxious? Are we truly searching for the source of peace?

Its easy to find the leak, its worry and stress, and we can make it worse, as I tried to explain, but what are we doing positively to fix the broken flow of peace in our lives?  In a world that seems out of control,this is something we have control over. Just like my husband and I can choose to put some distance between the chaos that is being fed through our need to be in constant contact with media, and replace it with quiet , you can as well. To stop and give God space in our lives and in our thoughts. To meditate on God and His word. To pray and to be quiet enough to hear God speak.