There are so many voices that try to take away our confidence in God. Friends sometimes say things that influence us away from God, and sometimes even a family member. Someone might say, “Well, following what God’s said really doesn’t matter.” Or, “Why follow the Bible? People disagree with what it says, and besides, who can really know what it means?” We sometimes find these ideas expressed online, on television shows, and even in the news. We need confidence in the Lord to use our gifts and talents to fulfill our callings in life, and to know and appreciate our blessings. Here are some simple ways to have more confidence in God.

KNOW THAT GOD MADE YOU

Know that God made you. People know that God created the world because creation shows His great power: the trees, the sees; the sun and the stars are God’s marvels. But, do you know that God made you? David said, “You formed my inward parts; / You wove me in my mother’s womb,” and said that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:13-14, NASB). This shows two important things about God’s concern for you: First, God made you intentionally, or “fearfully” (Ps. 139:14, NASB), with great care, to create you as an individual! Second, He made you for great things, or “wonderfully” (Ps. 139:14, NASB), with a body to sustain your life here on earth and with a soul with the capacity to know and enjoy Him now and for eternity!

KNOW THAT YOU’RE “COMPLETE” THROUGH JESUS

Know that God’s made you “complete” through Jesus (Col. 2:9-10, esp. v. 10, NASB). Paul wrote, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Col. 2:9-10, NASB). Jesus has met your greatest need! Since He’s God and lived a perfect life, He made up for your failure to meet God’s standard in your life. He took everything bad about you upon Himself on the cross and received your punishment, and then He rose again from the dead! You don’t have to chase after other things! With all authority, He covers you with His perfection to make you complete!

SEE JESUS AS YOUR FAITHFUL FRIEND

See Jesus as a faithful Friend! You didn’t go knocking on Jesus’ door. No, Jesus came knocking on your door! Do you remember the story of Zaccheus? Like Zaccheus, you were up in your tree when Jesus called you down and invited Himself over to your house! (Luke 19:1-10). Since Jesus stepped into your life as your friend, He’s here to stay! Paul teaches that He remains our friend during our greatest hardships, that our sins can’t remove us from Jesus, and that even “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine” won’t “be able to separate us from the love of God, which is In Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:33-39, esp. vv. 34, 39, NASB).

SEE THE BIBLE AS INSPIRED BY GOD FOR YOU

See the Bible as “inspired by God for” you, and that it’s for your good! (2 Tim. 3:16-17, esp. v. 16, NASB). Paul wrote that it’s “profitable” and lists what we can group into three important ways we can find it helpful: “for teaching,” or positive instruction about what God’s done for us and what he wants from us; “for reproof” and “for correction,” or to let us know when we’ve missed God’s mark and some earthly consequences; and for “training in righteousness,” or to build us up to do good in the future (v. 16, NASB). It makes us “adequate, equipped for every good work” (v. 17, NASB). It other words, as God’s Spirit works in us through God’s Word, we’ll have strength, the confidence in God to fulfill our callings in life!

HAVE A CHRISTIAN LIFE-VIEW

Have a Christian life-view, or view of your life. View your life from a Christian perspective. Paul said that the Apostles were “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” and that they were “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NASB). We all have a worldview or framework of beliefs that we use to understand reality (Nash, 24), but what I mean by Christian life-view is to have a perspective about your life and the way you live that is influenced by our Christian faith. With a Christian life-view, you will take your thoughts and attitudes and check them against the Bible. As we learn to respond to others with kindness, learn to guard our thoughts against immorality, and learn to see God as our Provider, we’ll find that we have more confidence in God in our lives: “O taste and see that the LORD is good; / How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:8-9, NASB).

NURTURE CHRISTIAN FRIENDSHIPS

Nurture Christian friendships in your life. We have the privilege as believers to build each other up, encourage each other, and bless each other as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Although it’s important to have friends who aren’t Christians, it’s also important to recognize to guard against negative influences. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’”(1 Cor. 15:33, NASB). This teaches us two important things: First, know that you can be negatively influenced by others. Despite all the good things the Lord’s given us, others can influence us to forget. Second, it’s important to set good boundaries with people and influences that discourage us from having confidence in the Lord. We need to set limits with people, entertainment, and media. Just as the sinful influences corrupt goodness, godly influences promote goodness. I’m so glad that you meet with each other each Lord’s Day here, that you build each other up, and that you bless each other.

You will be blessed with more confidence in God and will enjoy fulfilling your callings in life! Have confidence in God: He created you with great care and concern; He’s made you complete, so that you don’t have to look to other things; He’s your faithful friend who never leaves you; He gives you His Word to guide and correct you; He helps you view your life from His point of view for your good; He gives you Christian friendships for your blessing and encouragement. Confidence in God begins with knowing that you’re complete because of Jesus. When you‘re having a hard time, say, “Jesus, thank you for accepting me” to have a greater “sense” of His acceptance of you. For your blessing this week, would you give a Christian family member or friend a call to talk, share, and pray for each other?

WORKS CITED

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE R, Copyright C 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

Nash, Ronald H. Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.

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You’re extremely important and valuable to the Lord, and what you’re doing for Him is extremely important, too! I want to encourage you in what you’re doing for the Lord and to look for fresh opportunities to serve the Lord in your life. Since we‘re created to enjoy the Lord (The Shorter Catechism, 1), we’re blessed and more fulfilled when we serve Him. Let’s look at principles on how to joyfully minister to others!

KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MINISTER: TO SERVE SOMEONE IN JESUS’ NAME

Know that to minister means to serve someone in Jesus’ name. We think of a pastor or teacher as a “minister,” but the word in the Bible is the word for “servant,” or the same word for “deacon” (see Mark 10:43; Vine, 744). Jesus taught us about ministry when He said, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42, NASB). First, we need to see someone’s need (i.e., thirst). Second, to meet that need (i.e., give water). I sometimes have a hard time seeing outside of my own shell around me, but when I do, I see it’s sometimes easy to meet someone’s need. Third, we do it in Jesus’ name (i.e., because we’re His disciples). Fourth, we know that we’ll be blessed (i.e., have a reward). The Lord will reward you in eternity for what you’re doing for Him. I believe that Lord also rewards us in this life with a sense of purpose and fulfillment!

KNOW THAT YOU’RE A MINISTER

Know that you’re a minister, and that what you’re doing for the Lord is extremely valuable and important. Paul taught that every Christian is a minister and wrote about equipping ministers and ground-level ministers. Jesus “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12, NASB; cf. Marshall, 767). This means that we’re all ministers! Those who equip others (i.e., “pastors and teachers” [Eph. 4:11, NASB) are ministers, but so are those who are equipped to minister, (i.e., the other saints), which means me and you. You’re a minister at home with family, with your neighbors, at work, and serving here in the church. See yourself as a minister with Jesus with you, guiding, helping, and blessing you in your ministry to others!

FOLLOW JESUS’ HUMBLE EXAMPLE

Follow Jesus’ humble example. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NASB). From the book of Daniel, “Son of Man” means that Jesus is eternal God (Dan. 7:13-14, esp. v. 13, NASB; Young, 676). Yet, He left heaven’s comfort, not “to be served” (Mark 10:45, NASB) or for His own comfort. He came “to serve” by suffering for our comfort and benefit: “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NASB). He took everything bad about us upon Himself and received our punishment on the cross and rose again so that we would have forgiveness and eternal life! Yet, as we purpose to serve others, we find a benefit. As we follow Jesus’ example, we gain a sense of meaning, joy, and fulfillment!

KNOW AND SHOW JESUS’ SYMPATHY

Know and show Jesus’ sympathy to others. The Bible teaches that we can always come to Jesus for grace. He “sympathize[s] with our weaknesses” because He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-16, esp. v. 15, NASB). Jesus understands how hard it is for you. Next time you’ve failed, feel full of anger, or want something bad for you, like giving in to an addiction, say, “Jesus, I admit this unrest but know you’re with me in this pain” so you can get through that rough spot. Know His sympathy toward you, and show it: Talk to someone with a sympathetic heart that‘s full of God’s grace, to be there for them in their pain and struggle, just like Jesus is with you!

KNOW THAT YOU’RE FORGIVEN

It’s hard to enjoy serving the Lord without a sense of His forgiveness. Know that you’re forgiven, not based on your good works or performance, but because of Jesus. Remind yourself of Bible verses to gain a sense of assurance: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB). Know that Jesus came to you. When you were running far from the day, long into the night, Jesus came after you. He picked you up with nail-pierced hands of forgiveness, and carried you home as He began to sing and rejoice! (Luke 15:1-7). Enjoy your forgiveness through your Savior, and you will enjoy serving Him and others in your life!

SERVE THE LORD THROUGH YOUR CALLINGS

Serve Jesus and others through your callings. If you ever doubt what God wants you to do in life, you probably don’t have to look very far: If you have a child, you’re called to be a parent. If you’re married, you’re called to be a spouse. Look at your life, and you’ll see that you’re called to be a good neighbor, a good friend, a good employee (if you work), and a faithful servant in the church. Your callings and gifts are important! Paul even put those who have gifts for “administrations” and “helps” in the group as “apostles” and “teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28, NASB). Give yourself to these callings to enjoy your service, to find greater satisfaction, fulfillment, and a sense of the Lord’s blessing in your life.

You will be blessed as the Lord guides you as you joyfully minister to others! Jesus’ smile is over you, and He loves every little thing you do in His name: When you say “Hello” to your neighbor, when you buy your friend lunch, when you sympathetically listen to someone’s struggles, when you pray for your grandson who really needs Jesus, and when you use your administrative gifts to serve on a board in the church. Can you think of someone you can serve this week, maybe to ask someone how he’s doing, someone to take to lunch this week or out for coffee, or someone to call on the phone? Is there a family member you can pray with or pray for? Enjoy God’s blessings as He works through you as you joyfully minister to others!

Works Cited

“Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament: The Nestle Greek Text with a Literal English Translation, forward by Prebendary J. B. Phillips. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1958.

The Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs. The Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, PA.

W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words with their Precise Meanings for English Readers. Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville. Nd.

Edward J. Young, “Daniel” in The New Bible Commentary, eds. F. Davidson with A. M. Stibbs and E. F. Kevan. WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1953, pp. 668-681.

DEDICATION

I dedicate On God’s Shoulders: Recovering from Bitterness through the Gift of Acceptance to everyone who has ever felt hopeless and demoralized. Please know that you’re an extremely important, valuable person, created in God’s very image. It’s my sincere prayer that this study helps cultivate a greater sense of Jesus’ safety and security in your life, and that you’re renewed to move forward in the most positive way possible for you and your loved ones. God bless you!

EXPECTATIONS FOR RECOVERING FROM BITTERNESS

Bitterness makes its subtle entrance into our lives through our “thorns,“ or the things that poke and prod us, and through which we become disappointed, agitated, and angry. Left unchecked, it silently shapes the ways we think about ourselves, God, and others. And, because bitterness doesn’t make our lives better and isn’t what God wants for us, we need to recover from it, to leave it behind as we move toward better things. “Just what does recovering from bitterness look like?” Let’s set some expectations for recovering from bitterness.

Recovery Isn’t Perfection

Recovery from bitterness doesn’t mean perfection. We’re imperfect people and won’t be completely holy on this side of eternity. Our thorns are powerful influences in our lives, and we’ll respond poorly to them at times. Paul the Apostle was a mature Christian but wrote about his own moral failure when he said, “for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:14-25, esp. v. 15, NASB). We can’t expect to perfectly cope with our thorns and shouldn’t think that we’ll never lose a battle against bitterness.

Recovery Isn’t Removal

Recovery doesn’t mean that our thorns will be removed, or suddenly disappear! Paul pleaded that God would remove a thorn from his life, but God had other plans that involved Jesus’ power and Paul’s “weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7-10, esp. v. 9, NASB). We don’t know all of the specific reasons why God allows every single one of our thorns, but recovery helps us deal with their presence, and if they’re removed, their remaining imprint.

Recovery Is Renewal

Recovery does mean renewal. With God’s help we can have a greater sense that we’re whole in the “inner man” or “inner person,” which refers to the human soul (#1). Paul used this idea to point out God’s work on our very nature, which penetrates every part of us (#2). It’s our “inner man” that “is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16, NASB) and that God strengthens “with power through His Spirit” so that we comprehend Jesus’ incredible love! (Eph. 3:14-19, esp. v. 16, NASB). Christian recovery renews us by helping us to see that, through Jesus, we’re complete and safe.

Recovery Is Life Re-Framed

Recovery does mean that our lives are re-framed. As we learn to better cope with our thorns, we’ll have a better outlook, which enables us to begin to leave our bitterness behind as we move forward. This outlook will be broader in scope because we’ve learned to process the reality of our thorns as part of a larger picture, a picture with Jesus and His forgiveness at its center, and one in which we see that the good outweighs the bad. Like Paul, we’ll get through life with a mysterious, veiled strength that appears and feels like weakness but will tend to breed contentment “in whatever circumstances” we’re in (Phil. 4:10-13, esp. v. 11, NASB; cf. 2 Cor. 12:10). Even though triumph in our recovery will be mingled with failure and our successes won’t always feel like victory, truly Christian recovery will yield blessings for ourselves and others!

RECOVERING THROUGH THE GIFT OF ACCEPTANCE

There are times when I just want to have a sense of safety in my life, to know that everything’s going to be okay. My thorns get the best of me when I feel threatened or insecure, and this dynamic sometimes leads me to become bitter about problems and circumstances. Yet, I’ve also found that I can more easily shed bitterness and see more clearly when I internalize what we can call four “healing points.” We can recover, or cultivate renewal and healing, as we internalize that God accepts us and demonstrate acceptance in response.

God Accepts Us

We internalize that God accepts us. Jesus died for our sins and rose again. He also came to us in the midst of our lives. He searched us out; He came up behind us individually and said, “You’re my sheep,“ as He took us up in His arms. Then, He laid us “on his shoulders,” a place of perfect safety and security, as He began “rejoicing” over us and called the angels of heaven to join Him in His chorus! (Luke 15:1-7, esp. v. 5, NASB). Our Living Savior embraces us with nail-pierced hands, and we heal as we sense His safety because it tends to crowd out feelings of guilt and insecurity.

We Accept Others

We accept others. Although we sometimes feel threatened by those whom we think dislike us or make us feel uncomfortable, we remember that God freely accepted us when we were against Him and His ways. He showered us with “kindness,” “love,” and “mercy” through Jesus when we were “foolish,” “disobedient,” and “deceived” (Titus 3:1-7, esp. vv. 3-7, NASB). We can accept others on this basis, following God’s words “to malign no one” and demonstrate gentleness to everyone, “showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1-2, esp. v. 2, NASB). We heal as we accept others because it tends to crowd out bitterness and gives way to sympathy and love.

We Accept Our Callings

We accept our callings, or our “roles” in life. So much of what we do is in relationships through which we can demonstrate Jesus’ acceptance and leave a lasting positive impression. In families, husbands can cultivate renewal as they sacrificially “love [their] wives, just as Christ also loved…and gave Himself up for” the church (Eph. 5:25-30, esp. v. 25, NASB). Fathers can model Jesus’ gentleness to their children rather than “provoke” [them] “to anger” (Eph. 6:4, NASB), and women, who can be so nurturing, can likewise embrace their husbands and children in these life-affirming ways (Titus 2:4). We heal as we accept and internalize our callings because demonstrating Jesus’ acceptance edifies ourselves and others.

We Accept God’s Providence With Thanksgiving

We accept God’s Providence, or His control over our lives, with thanksgiving. Paul wrote, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18, NASB). We’re thankful for God’s gift of Jesus, as well as for daily sustenance, good circumstances, good relationships, and joyful opportunities for service to God and others. We acknowledge God’s promise to bring good into our lives through even our thorns (Rom. 8:28). We heal as we accept and internalize God’s Providence because we’re renewed in a positive focus on God’s good gifts and good works in our lives, which tends to neutralize the influence of bitterness.

INTERNALIZING ACCEPTANCE THROUGH PRAYER

I find that I recover better when I more consciously internalize each of these four “healing points.” This means that I take them to heart on a regular basis, sometimes more than once a day. Prayer has been an effective way for me to internalize these points, as I can pray through them quickly or elaborate on one or more in light of what I’m experiencing. Here’s an example prayer that touches on each point with some suggestions on how to personalize and elaborate.

I Know That God Accepts Me

“Jesus, please help me to sense your acceptance in all of those areas of my heart and mind where there’s bitterness, resentment, disappointment, and pain so that I would have a sense of safety in life….” [You can mention Jesus’ kindness and focus on His acceptance, forgiveness, and sympathy for you in order to cultivate a greater sense of His love.]

I Pray To Accept Others

“And, so that I would accept others.… [You can mention specific people to whom you want to show Jesus’ acceptance and your desire for blessing in their lives. You can name circumstances that make it difficult for you to accept others in general or specific people in particular related to either your life or theirs, and then come back to the theme of acceptance.]

I Pray To Accept My Callings

“And, so that I would accept my callings in life.…” [You can mention specific callings in relationship to your family, your work, or at church, where you can demonstrate Jesus’ acceptance to others. You can ask for help to demonstrate and cultivate Jesus’ acceptance in peoples’ lives through these callings.]

I Pray To Accept God’s Providence With Thanksgiving

“And, so that I would accept Your Providence with thanksgiving….” [You can name specific things that you’re thankful for, beginning with God’s gift of Jesus for your forgiveness, and moving on to relationships, opportunities for service, and possessions. You can mention the good that God has brought into your life through your thorns in order to neutralize their negative influence.]

GET OUT THERE AND RECOVER!

Okay, “Get out there and recover!” is over the top. Our progress as we recover from bitterness may seem modest at times. And, we’re sure to find people who are further along than we are who have never used the word “recovery” in relationship to their experience. Nevertheless, please don’t get discouraged! All of us need to recover from bitterness, to attempt to leave it behind as we move forward. When all hope seems lost, internalize that Jesus accepts you, that you’re on His shoulders, and start over again! You will be blessed as you see that Jesus sings, shouts, and rejoices over you! God bless you now and always!

WORKS CITED

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE-R-, Copyright-C- 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

1. Donald T. Kauffman, ed. “Inner Man,“ Baker’s Pocket Dictionary of Religious Terms (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1967), 249.

2. Stephen Motyer, “Inner Man,” in The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Walter A. Elwell. Abridged by Peter Toon (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1991), 245-246.

There he was–a poor beggar without the use of his legs, relying on the goodwill of religious people in front of the temple. Peter comes with John, and he’s miraculously healed, which leads to a wonderful, hope-filled sermon about Jesus. From this remarkable snap-shot of Peter’s early ministry (Acts 3:1-26), I’m absolutely convinced that we’re at our best when we focus on serving people, wanting to help them by bringing them the rich comforts of Jesus with clarity and compassion. For us and our churches, we’re at our best when we focus on helping them in their recovery.

WEALTH-INTENSIVE MINISTRY–“WEALTH”

Wealth-intensive ministry can have a positive effect but will always fall short. This is what the beggar wanted and expected from Peter, some silver, some gold. Yet, it’s wealth that Peter said he didn’t have! (Acts 3:1-6). We sometimes believe that wealth can solve everyone’s problems. It helps run programs at large churches. Christian advocates of social justice inevitably talk about what they or others must do with their resources to relieve distress and pain. Relief can be good, and within the local congregation through diaconal ministry it’s imperative. But, we’re like Peter: We’re limited, especially those of us involved in small churches or church plants. We can’t just throw money at peoples’ problems, and if we put our hands in other peoples‘ pockets to give it a shot, we’ll only make things worse!

MIRACLE-INTENSIVE MINISTRY–“BIG ‘M’ MIRACLES”

If we only had some “Big ‘M’ Miracles,” you know, the ones that violate the laws of nature, we would have effective ministry, right? Peter actually did perform one of these miracles through God‘s power. He commanded the man to “walk” in Christ’s name, seized his hand to pull him up, and the man’s ankles and feet were healed so that he leapt about as he praised God! (Acts 3:6-10, esp. v. 6, NASB).* Yet, this miracle wasn’t the end of the story, and contemporary claims about miracles shouldn‘t be the focal point of Christian ministry. Most of us know that they’re not really being done at the hands of the big-name folks who hold miracle crusades. We can’t make modern-day miracles or even sensationalistic attention-grabbers the cornerstone of our ministry.

COMFORT-INTENSIVE MINISTRY–“JESUS’ COMFORT IN RECOVERY”

If we really want to help people, we’ll focus on helping them. Yes, it’s tautological, but if we really want people find a sense of wholeness, to be assured of forgiveness, we’ll bring them the comforts of Jesus in their recovery. Peter did this as he contextualized the gospel for his hearers. He spoke of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and since some of the men whom Peter addressed had some involvement in condemning Jesus to death, he pointed this out. His purpose, though, wasn’t to beat them down, for he said that they “acted in ignorance“ and talked about forgiveness, “times of refreshing,“ blessing, and appealed to their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures to communicate the marvelous things that Jesus brings (Acts 3:11-26, esp. vv. 17, 19, NASB).*

How can we be like Peter today? Well, we can begin by clarifying and contextualizing the gospel of Jesus, talking about the significance of His death and resurrection for human lives, and explaining how He heals our hurts with His forgiveness and acceptance. This will always be fruitful. This comfort-intensive ministry, this intentional focus on helping people, has application for us individually as well as for our churches. The gospel meets the spiritual and psychological needs of hurting, wounded people, assisting them as they process deep-seated issues related to their personal backgrounds and life-situations. When we and our churches do this, we’re serving people within the context of their recovery.

Recovery is far-reaching. We may think of those of us with a background in substance abuse as the prime candidates for recovery, but it’s much more. To be in recovery simply means that we’re in the process of improving the ways we cope with the “thorns” in our lives. We can be in recovery from bitterness, disappointment, resentment, anger, and the list goes on. Some of these dynamics in our lives are brought on by issues in relationships or by mental illness, but none of us get through life unscathed. We all need help in these areas. We can help others fit their experiences and influences into a larger narrative that has Jesus’ love and acceptance as central, which will cultivate acknowledgement, sympathy, accepting others, accepting life-callings, and accepting God’s Providence.**

Within the context of recovery, we can minister to those who see their need, who are in the process of coming to terms with life-circumstances they have ignored or pushed aside. We can help those who are coming to terms with the ways they’ve failed to cope and the people they’ve hurt in the process. This is you; this is me. It’s here that Jesus meets us, as we internalize His forgiveness, safety, and security. We exalt Him as the Safe-Maker, who embraces us as we go the wrong way…. He takes us up in His arms, lifts us onto His shoulders, and to our utter amazement begins to sing, shout, and rejoice over us! (Luke 15:1-7).

OUR RECOVERY MINISTRY ASSIGNEMENT

How can we begin to practically minister to others within the context of Christian recovery? Consider the following simple steps:

1. Familiarize yourself with Christian recovery literature to better understand the types of “thorns” that powerfully affect us at the core of our being. Celebrate Recovery produces resources that can be helpful.

2. Write down a few things that people in your sphere of influence struggle with. Ask yourself, “How does the gospel of Jesus Christ help them to better cope with these issues? What do they need to know?,” and write down some responses.

3. Start a support group for your church, even if it’s only a church plant or mission work. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged recovery group. Set expectations about privacy during meetings and do what you’re able to make it a safe place where people can talk about powerful influences in their lives to learn to better cope.

4. Talk a lot about Jesus’ kindness and acceptance. As we recover, we face things about ourselves that are, well, unpleasant to think about. They need to know; we need to know that God accepts us for the sake of Jesus, that all condemnation has been taken far out of the way, and that the angels join Jesus in song over us as He parades us through the courts of heaven!

Ministry means service, service to God, often through serving people. Because God has and continues to serve us with nail-pierced hands, we do well to serve others with the same mindset. We can bless them more than we think if we meet them where they hurt and help them to internalize Jesus’ comfort and light!

— John A. Peters

* Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE-R-, Copyright-C- 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

** I wrote about this in “On God’s Shoulders: Recovering from Bitterness Through the Gift of Acceptance” (https://johnapeters.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/on-gods-shoulders-recovering-from-bitterness-through-the-gift-of-acceptance/).

 

“[B]ut sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

The word “apologetics“ comes from apologia in Greek, which carries the idea of giving a defense (Miethe, 32). Christian apologetics is the theological subject that defends Christianity’s claims (Carnell, 7). This makes it sound like a broad subject. Yet, even though it deals with philosophical, theological, archaeological, historical, and broader issues related to worldview, all of these subjects find their bearing on the gospel itself. Those of us who take up the task of being apologists often refer to 1 Peter 3:15, where Peter says, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to given an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB; Carnell, 10). We sometimes think of apologists as those who engage in formal debate, maybe in an academic setting, or maybe only for ordained ministers. But, Peter’s words are in what we call a “General Epistle,” which means that it’s addressed to all of us as believers. In context, it’s actually very personal, as Peter teaches that we’re called to be robustly consistent Christians in our day to day lives (1 Peter 3:14-18).

THINK AS CONSISTENT CHRISTIANS

Peter tells us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts” (1 Peter 3:15a, NASB). This means that we’re called to give Jesus preeminence over the things that we think and feel, and base our values on our thoughts about Him and what He wants from us as He‘s revealed in Scripture. Just as Jesus is Lord over everything in this world, He’s Lord over everything about us. And so, as believers we re-examine what we think In relationship to our personal backgrounds, the values of our families, and the influences of our culture. We put Jesus first and develop a view of life that is consistent with His Lordship over us. This is like what Paul wrote about when he said that he and Timothy were “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NASB, cf. 2 Cor. 1:1).

TALK AS CONSISTENT CHRISTIANS

Because we put Jesus first in our thoughts, we talk in a way consistent with the way we think, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15b, NASB). We talk in a way that is consistently Christian, recognizing that “the hope that is in [us]“ 1 Peter 3:15b, NASB) is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, and so we defend and explain this message when asked (see v. 15 NASB margin note on pg. 365, which says that giving a defense can be translated as giving an explanation). This is our hope, the promise of forgiveness that gives us eternal life.

We can clearly explain that God has forgiven us. We confess that we haven’t lived up to God’s standard for our lives. Yet, we can explain that even though we don’t deserve and can’t earn eternal life, God sent Jesus to live the perfect life in our place, die to pay for all of our sins, and rise again from the dead! He has succeeded where we’ve failed. Amazingly, His glorious, gracious response to our utter failure is to show His justice through forgiving us, punishing Jesus so that we would go free. God accepts us, embracing us through the wounds of the nail-pierced Savior, and we’re now His forever! There’s no condemnation against us. All judgment against us is gone. He magnifies grace upon grace as He comes to you and comes to me with comforting words, that everything is going to be okay. We don’t have to worry. He’s taken care of our sins!

The gospel is God’s theodicy, or God’s defense of His ways. We might think of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost as an explanation of God’s dealings with humanity. The pure, unvarnished gospel, though, is the ultimate theodicy, one that God gives as the ultimate magnification of His glory. Paul elaborates on this sacred, saving message in the book of Romans, where he explains that God exists, that God is just, and that God maintains His justice as He forgives us through Jesus, fulfilling His promise to Abraham.

We sometimes also associate historical evidence with Christian apologetics. Paul provides such straightforward testimony here, too. Jesus‘ burial confirmed His death, and His appearances confirmed His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8, esp. vv. 3-5; Geisler, 118 including note). These historical events assure us, as believers, of the Bible’s comforting message that Jesus’ death was “for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3, NASB), or to take them far out of the way!

LIVE AS CONSISTENT CHRISTIANS

We live in a way that is consistent with Jesus’ Lordship over us. We follow His example by loving others despite their failures just as He loves us despite our failures. Related to this Peter tells us to answer others “with gentleness and reverence” within the context of being harassed by them for being Christians (1 Peter 3:14-18, esp. v. 15c, NASB). This is where apologetics gets personal, where it hits home. Some people will never show us the acceptance and kindness that we long for in our relationships with them. Peter’s words call us to re-examine our lives so that we don’t take their rejection personally, which will enable us to better live in ways that honor Jesus and demonstrate love for others.

There’s a trend in the field of Christian apologetics in general that may help us to better love others. We have to get away from the idea that if we just say and do the right things that others will receive us with open arms. Thomas Aquinas’ ideas have influenced the ways we think of and defend God’s existence quite a bit (Miethe, 206), and in my opinion, if we reconsider some of the foundational ideas he had about philosophy, we may gain some helpful insights about Christian living. We may begin to relate to others in ways that are more realistic.

Aquinas was a great thinker, but (like all of us) he had some “blind spots.” One person has written that Aquinas didn’t believe that we have ideas that are inborn. According to this person, he thought that we were blank tablets. Yet, it appears that even he wavered here, saying that we do know something of God naturally (Carnell, 126-127). Nevertheless, he believed that knowledge that we are born with is vague and that it’s not naturally universal (Gomes, 188). If we believed Aquinas’ views about human knowledge, we might be tempted to think, “People are generally reasonable. If I just present them with the right argument, they’ll accept what’s true.” In our relationships we might think, “If only I can show them that I’m a nice person, then they’ll accept me.”

The Bible presents a different picture about what we know naturally. It teaches that God’s proven His existence to all of us. As Paul wrote, all people have “the work of the Law written in their hearts,” which is the basis on which He will judge people (Rom. 2:14-16, esp. v. 15, NASB). Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to love God and our neighbors (Mark 12:28-31). Since the command to love God is on every human heart, every person must know that God exists on some level.

Here’s where some contemporary Christian philosophers can help us reexamine Aquinas in order to have a more consistently Christian view of life. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga believes that human beliefs about God are innate (Nash, 39). He says that our beliefs about God’s existence are “properly basic,” or don’t require any additional beliefs to support them. Other basic beliefs are the world’s existence, that other people exist, and belief in memory. Just because God’s existence is basic doesn’t mean that we can’t demonstrate God’s existence by presenting reasons. It does mean, though, that we don’t need to prove God’s existence (Nash, 80-89). We all have some degree of knowledge about this already.

If we all know something about God, no matter who we are, there has to be another explanation about why we all don’t have right ideas about Him. This encourages us to consider non-theoretical issues that affect the ways we think about God. These issues relate to our individual and family backgrounds and experiences, which affects our personal psychology (Nash, 28-29). If we consider the “nature” side of the equation, we know as Christians that we’re all affected by sin. Add to this the “nurture” side, where these non-theoretical issues come into play, and we can see how we can get far off track in the ways we process God and His ways intellectually. This certainly affects us in life at ground zero, where we live day to day.

The shift away from Aquinas’ thought, though, really almost begs us to begin to process the ways our personal backgrounds have affected our lives. If we haven’t thought too deeply about negative life experiences, including the people involved and the bitterness we have against them and against God, we’ll have a “short” in our wiring. We won’t understand the things that make us feel threatened and become controlling, for example. And, we won’t see why others relate to us in these ways either. We may expect that if we’re just nice enough or giving enough, that others will suddenly embrace us, treat us well, or respect us. If we abandon these expectations, though, based on our rejection of unwarranted ideas in Aquinas’ thought, we’ll be able to relate more positively to people who, partially based on their negative life experiences, may treat us poorly. If we understand the importance of the influences in our own and others’ lives, we’ll have a framework consistent with Jesus’ command to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44, NASB) and will be better able to do so.

Is apologetics personal? Yes, and much more than we sometimes think! It affects the ways we develop a worldview, the ways we explain our faith, and it can even drastically affect the ways we relate to others. May God help us to be good apologists in every sense of the word.

 

WORKS CITED

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLEÒ , CopyrightÓ 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, Fourth Edition (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids: MI, 1948, 1952).

Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996).

Alan W. Gomes, Syllabus for Historical Theology Survey: Vol 1, for HT514, Spring 2001 (Talbot School of Theology / Biola University: La Mirada, 1988, 2001).

Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words (Bethany House Publishers: Minneapolis, 1988).

Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, 1988).

I love the Book of Titus! In this short, three-chapter letter to Titus, a younger minister whom Paul saw as his child (Titus 1:4), Paul helps us understand God’s kindness toward us and God’s goodness for us. As it encourages us to know that He accepts us, it prods us to put our ideas about what’s right that are molded by preference and culture on the shelf and assimilate wisdom and goodness into our lives. Here are some “keys for the good life” that we can gleam from Paul’s little treasure.

TAKE THE LONG VIEW

Although people talk about “the eternal present” to emphasize living for the moment, the present isn’t all there is. We’re encouraged to take the long view of our lives, to see the bigger picture of God’s plan to bless us.

God’s intention has always been to shower us with His love and devotion. Here, Paul wrote extremely comforting words, saying that we were “chosen of God,” and that “long ages ago” God promised to give us “eternal life” through “His word” (Titus 1:1-4, esp. vv. 1-3, NASB used throughout). Despite our hardships, what God did for us in the past and promises us for our future lifts our eyes toward everlasting joy, giving us certain hope because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a hope that’s greater than the “now” of our existence!

LIVE SENSIBLY

Some people say, “Have fun in your twenties! Go out and live a little!,” not realizing that we move forward with a greater purpose when our lives are characterized by relationships and qualities centered on God and goodness. We need to live sensibly in this world, knowing that we’re important, as is our lifestyle.

Paul encouraged men and women to teach the younger generation to be “sensible,” interacting with them in a personal, caring way (Titus 2:1-8, esp. vv. 2, 5, 6; cf. 2:11-14, esp. v. 12). This sensible living has its basis in goodness and is in line with sobriety, kindness, purity, good teaching, and love for our families (Titus 2:1-8) and is in line with seeing God’s forgiveness, that Jesus “gave Himself…to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Titus 2:11-14, esp. v. 14). Living with God’s ways in mind enables us to comfort others, encourages us to make wise decisions that we won’t regret, and know we’re forgiven, even when we’re not sensible!

SEE GOD’S SAFETY

Paul paints a bleak picture of us but a hope-filled picture of God! We have to see that even though we have a spiritual disorder, God has made us “safe.”

We “were…foolish, disobedient, deceived…hateful,” and envious, Paul said, when God “saved us” through Jesus. This amazing, irresistible rescue was “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” but by God’s mercy and compassion. Here we were, going the wrong way, when God came to us. He washed us through Jesus’ death for us and gave us eternal life! (Titus 3:1-7, esp. vv. 3, 5). Because God has made us safe, we can have confidence that we’re in His forgiving, stable hands as we fulfill the things He’s called us to in life in our jobs, families, and relationships!

TREAT EVERYONE RESPECTFULLY

Have you heard the phrase, “respect has to be earned”? Yes, we respect people when we see their good character, but this doesn’t diminish our obligation to treat every person with dignity and decency.

Paul taught that we should treat everyone respectfully. He wrote that we should respect those in authority and “be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed” (Titus 3:1) regardless of the character of those in these high positions. He went beyond this, though, when he broadened this principle to encourage us to show respect to every human being without distinction: We should “malign no one“ but be “peaceable, gentle,” and show “every consideration for all men” in light of God’s kindness to us (Titus 3:1-7, esp. v. 2). Last time I checked, Jesus didn’t die for me because I was a good person, and when we have trouble accepting someone we can pray, “God, help me to sense your acceptance when I feel rejected. Help me to show Your acceptance to [insert name of person here].”

SUMMING UP THE KEYS

Please read Paul’s letter to Titus! See God’s goodness toward you, accepting you through Jesus, and God’s goodness for you, teaching you how to best live your life! To sum things up and internalize these things, here are the keys that I’ve found helpful: Take the long view, or see God’s plan to bless you eternally. Live sensibly and invest in goodness in your relationships and callings. See God’s safety, or see that God’s forgiven and accepted you through Jesus. Treat everyone respectfully, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. God bless you!

–John A. Peters

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLEâ, Copyrightã 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

SAFE ON GOD’S SHOULDERS*

We all want to feel “safe,“ don’t we? We just want to know that everything’s going to be okay. We tell this to our toddlers when they don’t get their way; to our teenage daughter worried that some guy at school doesn‘t like her; to our spouses concerned about our finances (or the lack thereof!). “Don’t worry. It’ll all work out,” we say. The truth is, though, that we often don’t believe this ourselves! But, that’s where Jesus comes into the picture: Jesus makes us “safe.“ In fact, there‘s nothing safer, nothing more secure than being with Him. In incredible love, He gives us a deep, abiding sense of safety on His own shoulders! (Luke 15:1-7).

JESUS WANTS TO MAKE US SAFE

Jesus wants to make us safe–so much so, that He comes after us individually. We’ve strayed from His flock; we’ve wandered far from the day, but He takes the initiative to find us. He sees our footprints; He sets out on His course; He leaves “the ninety-nine in the open pasture” to find “the one which is lost” (Luke 15:4, NASB used throughout unless otherwise noted). He comes to find you, and He comes to find me. With unending persistence, He doesn’t sleep on His watch when our lives are in peril, for, not wanting us to slip away into the night, He continues His search “until he finds” us (Luke 15:4b).

JESUS DOES MAKE US SAFE

Jesus not only wants to make us safe, but Jesus does make us safe! Seeing us in the distance, He runs…. When He comes up behind us, He “lays [us] on his shoulders” (Luke 15:5). “You’re my sheep,“ He says, as He stoops down to take us up in His arms, lifting us out of our mess and into His safety. Although we’re weak, we’re on the shoulders of The Strong; although broken, we‘re with The Whole. No one can harm us here; no threat can overtake us. Our greatest enemies are vanquished. He’s taken our sin out of the way through His death, and He‘s given us new life through His resurrection–our condemnation is gone!

JESUS HELPS US TO FEEL SAFE

Although our sense of safety is fleeting, Jesus helps us to feel safe. He didn’t come to shame, scold, or beat us down with His staff. No, He lets us know that He‘s come to take us home, and what a homecoming! Long ago, He said that He would rejoice “over [us] with shouts of joy” (Zeph. 3:17).** Now that we’re on His shoulders, He begins His “rejoicing” (Luke 15:5) over imperfect, mistake-laden failures–over you and me! There’s great “joy in heaven” (Luke 15:6-7, esp. v. 7) over our rescue as He parades us through heaven’s courts as trophies of His victory! Resounding praises echo across the streets of gold as the voices the angels, the saints, and of God Himself swell into a symphony too wonderful for mortal ears! Shouts are heard across the skies that let us know that we‘re embraced, loved, accepted, and forgiven. Our consciences are free from shame and guilt. There’s no judgment against us, no liability on our account. In a stroke of compassion, He’s declared that we’re innocent and pure. We can feel safe now!

JESUS MAKES EVERYTHING OKAY

So you wonder how things will ever work out for you from here? Ah…I see Him coming now, there, in the distance! His footsteps in the rain…. He comes with scarred hands and feet to find you, all for your forgiveness. Wait….through the peels of thunder I hear Him begin to sing, to shout, to rejoice! He‘s found you; He takes you up in His arms! I promise, everything’s going to be okay now. You’re not alone. You don’t have to fear. You’re in the arms of the Safe-Maker. You‘re safe now. You‘re on His shoulders….

–John A. Peters

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLEÒ, CopyrightÓ 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSIONÒ. CopyrightÓ 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

* This is a revision of “Jesus, Our Accepting Shepherd,” published on 12/21/2011 at https://johnapeters.wordpress.com.

** The NIV reads, “he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).

REFLECTION SESSION 1

1. Even though we, as believers, are safe, we don’t always feel safe. Does this picture of God carrying sinners on His shoulders help you to see that God accepts you? Why or why not?

2. Do you think of Jesus as someone who sings, shouts, and rejoices over you? Why or why not?

3. Jesus came to you in two ways: 1.) He came to die for all of your sins; 2.) He came to you personally to give you new life. How does it make you feel to know that He’s done these things for you?

4. Name one other story in one of the Gospels that helps you to see that Jesus accepts you.

5. Find one passage in the book of Romans that helps you see that Jesus accepts you.