The Holy Spirit Meets Us In Our Loneliness

The Holy Spirit Meets Us In Our Loneliness

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4 NIV).

 

We all love Christmas and Easter, but Pentecost is important too because it is the birthday of the bride of Christ, His Church.  Most pastors will use the second chapter of Acts as the basis of their sermon during Pentecost.  I love the imagery of the chapter as the Holy Spirit came upon the Israelites and gave them “tongues of fire.”

These tongues are with us today as we all go about in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.  In my lifetime, one of the most successful and recognizable evangelists for the Great Commission was the late Rev. Billy Graham.  I enjoy watching old YouTube videos of him preaching the Word at large revivals.  Surely, the Spirit of our Lord was present in the tongue of Rev. Graham as well as the ears and hearts of the crowd.  I am convinced of this.

The Spirit is not limited to those with the spiritual gift of teaching and preaching.   You are a son or daughter of God and upon your baptism into the Church universal, the Spirit has not only entered you but also equipped you for your ministry.   At the baptism of our Lord, the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).  I think God said something similar, although perhaps not as easily discernable, at your baptism and mine. 


I am concerned that many of us, myself included, have a poor understanding of the Spirit.  Yes, we understand the Holy Trinity, and we understand that the Spirit is moving during a God-breathed sermon.  We also know that the Spirit is our Advocate and provides intercessory prayers to the Father when all we can offer are “wordless groans” (Romans 8:26-27).  It is because of the presence of the Spirit and our faith in the Spirit, that we can do far greater things than Jesus.  John 14:12 reads, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” 

Indeed, the same Spirit in Act 2 is with us today, but some people sadly refuse to accept this gift. Scripture teaches that, “The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you (John 14:17, emphasis added).   A result of a Spirit-filled life is that the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are manifested in our words and actions. 

So, if the Holy Spirit is with us and in us then why are so people lonely when they are alone?  It is no secret that humans are social creatures and are made for community.  In the book Loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, University of Chicago social neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo writes about his research on the effects of loneliness – “a sense of isolation or social rejection which disrupts not only our thinking abilities and will power but also our immune systems and can be as damaging as obesity or smoking.”

It should be understood that the pain of loneliness is raw and real for anybody, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.   It is damaging and hurtful to downplay the emotions of a lonely person. 

Let us circle back to the late Rev. Billy Graham.  He said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”  Perhaps Rev. Graham was referring to John 16:8 in which our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit.  “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

The Holy Spirit has convicted me that my job is to love.  Jesus taught in Matthew 22: 36-40 that the Law and the Prophets hangs on our ability to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I think we have a unique opportunity to show our love for God in our loneliness.  Do we chase companionship at the bottom of a whiskey bottle or do we accept the Truth of the Psalmist when he wrote, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  Do we accept that if our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, then He lives within us?   Do we accept the power of God, love of Jesus, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, particularly in our loneliness, brokenness, and sin? 

The truth is we can partner with the Spirit to have victory over loneliness because He is always with us – in the valley of the shadow of death, in hospitals and nursing homes, and most certainly in our loneliness. 

Earlier, I mentioned my love for old-time sermons by Rev. Graham.  I am sure he would agree that there has been no greater sermon preached than the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew 5:4, Jesus addresses the lonely and broken-hearted and offers the greatest gift possible, His blessing.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  The Holy Spirit has convicted me of the truth and victory of this verse, and I pray the same for you.

Prayer:  Dear God, We know that through Jesus you have experienced the human reality of isolation and rejection.  Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to live within us and advocate for us.  Thank you for the fellowship we have with the Body of Christ.  Help us to embrace the fellowship of the Spirit, and to always remember that we are never alone.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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The Spiritual Gift of Presence

Purpose And Proper Daily Use Of Prayer

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13 NIV).

 

Spiritual gifts are something every Christian is given when they receive the gift of salvation. Just as the gift of salvation is by grace through faith, so are the spiritual gifts. 

There are several different spiritual gifts. These gifts are not something we possess; they are God’s supernatural ability to act in our lives in various ways.  There are ministry gifts, manifestation gifts, and motivational gifts.

According to Scripture, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  As a Methodist, my denomination recognizes the following as spiritual gifts:  administration, apostleship, compassion, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helping, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, leadership, miracles, prophecy, servanthood, shepherding, teaching, tongues, and wisdom.

 I think the spiritual gift of presence is often overlooked.  It is not one of the seven that is directly mentioned in Scripture, nor is it specifically mentioned by my church.  However, the Bible has several examples of the spiritual gift of presence. 

 One example comes from the book of Job.  He was a prosperous man of great piety. Satan tested Job to determine if Job’s piety is merely rooted in his prosperity.  Job suffered tremendous losses at the hands of the enemy (possessions, family, and finally his own health), but Job still refused to curse God.  Job’s friends came to comfort him in his time of sorrow.  When they finally arrived, Scriptures tells us that they, “sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13).  This is the spiritual gift of presence in action.  It was not necessary for the friends to say the right thing or bring the right gift.

Paul traveled throughout the Mediterranean area.  Most biblical scholars agree that Paul would have traveled over 10,000 miles – by foot!  That would be equal to walking between New York and Los Angeles nearly four times!  Several books of the Bible are based on his letters to the new church in various cities.  Another example of presence comes from Paul’s letter to the new church in Rome.  He wrote, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—  that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12). One thing is clear: giving the gift is tied to Paul’s visit. He is the conveyer, and recipient, of the gift because he understands the gift of presence, and it cannot, therefore, be given by letter or proxy.  Paul also knows that we must be present to “greet each other with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

In this post-pandemic world, people are more than ever hungry for human contact.  When we show up and support our friends during their time of crisis, we are using our spiritual gift of presence and bearing one another’s burdens.  In the book “Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard: How to Hear and How to Be Heard in Equal Communication,” David W. Augsburger writes, “Being heard is as close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”  Be blessed as you are a blessing to others.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for all of the spiritual gifts that you have bestowed upon us.  Help us to boldly and courageously use the gifts that you have equipped us with and to do the good deeds that you have prepared in advance for us.  Amen.    

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Different Roads but the Same Destination

todd shupe

Different Roads but the Same Destination

todd shupe

Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? ” (Luke 24:32 NKJV).

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3-4 NIV).

Each of us has our own personal story of how we came to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.   For some, the journey to Christ is sudden and dramatic as what happened to Saul, later to be known as Paul, on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to salvation looks more like the road to Emmaus – a gradual realization that Jesus has been with us before we even realize it or accept Him due to His prevenient grace. 

The Road to Damascus is an exciting story as detailed in Acts 9.  Saul was a Pharisee on his way to Damascus to bring followers of Jesus to the high priest for persecution.  On the road, God revealed himself to Saul in a dramatic fashion and Saul immediately submits himself to our Lord. I love the imagery in Acts 9:3-6.   “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? . . . I am Jesus. . . .’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’”  Saul was blinded for three days after the encounter, and I suspect that this experience later prompted him to write, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Scripture tells of other “Damascus” experiences in which a person has a sudden revelation or epiphany that radically changes their beliefs.  For example, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3) and meets Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6).  Mother Theresa has talked about her Damascus road experience when she was on a train at 16 years old.

The Damascus road experience is exciting and captivating.  Many Christians feel disappointed if they do not have a similar testimony.  The problem with waiting for our own Damascus road experience is that we may miss our walk to Emmaus experience.  Remember, God does not always reveal Himself in a dramatic fashion.  Sometimes, He is not in the wind, earthquake, or fire but rather speaks in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

The walk to Emmaus story is detailed in Luke 24:13-35 and describes how Jesus can gradually and subtly reveal Himself to us.  The story describes how two of Jesus’ followers were sad as they walked to Emmaus because the person (Jesus) that they thought was the Messiah had died three days earlier.  Jesus comes along side of them as they walk.  He walks and talks with them and interprets the Scriptures to them, but they do not recognize Him until at the end of the day when He blesses bread and gives it to them.  Then, they finally recognized our Lord. 

As I read the Emmaus story my mind takes me to the story of the LORD calling a young Samuel into ministry in 1 Samuel 3.  God called Samuel three times, but Samuel did not recognize His call, and Scripture tells us the reason.  “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7).  Samuel did not recognize God because Eli was still teaching him about God.  Now, with regards to Saul, clearly, the word of the Lord also had not been previously revealed to him.  So, what about the men walking to Emmaus?  Had the word of the Lord been revealed to them?  Scripture tells us that the men were followers of Jesus and had hoped that “He was the one that was going to redeem Israel.” 

Even though the Emmaus travelers were followers of Jesus, they too were “blind” to His presence because they did not fully understand Scripture.  Their lack of understanding prompted this response from Jesus.  “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:25).  Perhaps the word “blind” could be inserted for “foolish”? 

The people in both the Emmaus and Demascus stories have issues of blindness.  After Saul encounters God, he loses his sight for three days until a disciple by the name of Ananias lays hand on him and heals him. The two men on the road to Emmaus, were already followers of Jesus, but their spiritual sight was poor, so they failed to recognize Jesus as they walked.  

Now, let’s go back to the number of times that God called Samuel – three.  Numbers have symbolic purposes in the Bible, and number three stands out as one of the more prominent numbers featured in Scripture.  Scripture tells us that the journey to Emmaus occurred three days after Jesus was crucified, which is the same number of days that Saul lost his sight after his encounter with God.  You may recall that Jesus rose three days after His crucifixion.   There are other examples in Scripture regarding the number three but perhaps none more significant than the three in one Holy trinity.

I have spent more time journeying to Emmaus than Damascus. God will often move on my heart in a gradual, incremental, almost imperceptible or “Emmaus” way, and looking back after days or even years I might eventually realize that my risen Lord was truly walking with me.  Or after a moving sermon or a powerful small group session, I might look back and realize that God was using somebody else’s tongue to talk to me.  Your calling may not come at one of the extremes (Emmaus or Damascus) but rather somewhere in between.  Just as each of us are uniquely called into ministry by our baptism and profession of faith, we are also uniquely called and gifted to our unique positions within the Body. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for walking with us.  We ask of You what the Psalmist asked – “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”   Forgive us as we fail to recognize you and remind us of the promise of the Psalmist – “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.”  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Can Prisoners Be Free?

Can Prisoners Be Free?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV).

Perhaps the greatest benefit that we have as American citizens is our civil rights and liberties as identified in the Bill of Rights.   We enjoy the freedom of speech, assembly, due process of law, etc. 

The early Israelites were required to follow 613 Commandments from God as provided to Moses.  The Mosaic Law begins with the Ten Commandments and includes the many rules of religious observance given in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, called the Pentateuch. 

God made a new Covenant with us through the blood of His Son, Jesus.  As Christians, we enjoy true freedom due to His sacrifice.  Romans 8:2 reads, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  We have freedom over sin and death, and we will enjoy life everlasting with the Father.

However, I see many people each day that are walking the streets but are not free.  They are enslaved to their sins, unwilling to repent, and unable to enjoy the freedom that comes from the Spirit.   Some are enslaved to drugs, work, fear of the future, etc.  This begs the question, how can a baptized Christian that is an American citizen be enslaved if they are walking down the street?

Sadly, these people have imprisoned themselves in their minds.  This is the worst sort of prison because they have no hope.  Perhaps Jesus was addressing those without hope when He read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

So, what does hope have to with faith in God?  Everything.  The connection between hope and faith is explained in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Those without hope do not truly understand that our God is the God of victory, power, and miracles.  Those without faith are not able to walk through the darkest valley and fear no evil as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 23:4.

However, I see many people each day that are walking the streets but are not free.  They are enslaved to their sins, unwilling to repent, and unable to enjoy the freedom that comes from the Spirit.   Some are enslaved to drugs, work, fear of the future, etc.  This begs the question, how can a baptized Christian that is an American citizen be enslaved if they are walking down the street?

Sadly, these people have imprisoned themselves in their minds.  This is the worst sort of prison because they have no hope.  Perhaps Jesus was addressing those without hope when He read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). 

So, what does hope have to with faith in God?  Everything.  The connection between hope and faith is explained in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Those without hope do not truly understand that our God is the God of victory, power, and miracles.  Those without faith are not able to walk through the darkest valley and fear no evil as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 23:4.

I have been blessed to participate in a national prison ministry known as Kairos.  This ministry brings a Gospel message to people that have committed very violent crimes and are unlikely to be released back into society.  At my first visit to the Angola Prison near St. Francisville, La, I was struck by the freedom of several of the inmates.  I heard joy in their voices and saw it in their eyes.  I was initially surprised and then I listened to testimony after testimony from the inmates about what God has done for them.  Years ago, this prison was one of the worst in the country due to number of violent crimes occurring inside the prison.  The warden at the time-built a church in the prison, introduced Kairos, and distributed Bibles. 

In short, he pointed the inmates to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit was welcome and as a result there was freedom.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17, emphasis added).

If you are seeking freedom, the right next step is to ask the Holy Spirit to search you and reveal any areas of your life that have you imprisoned.  Confession and repentance are essential to forgiveness and freedom.  Shame and fear are not fruits of the Spirit.  2 Timothy 1:7 teaches, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”   May be all be so blessed as to live as freely as those prisoners I met in Angola. 

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for your Son and the gift that we have to live as Easter people.  Thank you for the forgiveness of our sins and life-everlasting in your Church Triumphant. Send your Holy Spirit to search us and reveal to us those things that imprison us.  Give us the courage and strength to rid ourselves of the sin and shame that clings so tightly and separates us from you. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Is Your Peace Temporary Or Permanent?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV).

 

I think we all want peace.  Even the sound of the word is pleasing to the ear.  We differ in how we go about trying to achieve peace.   For some, peace is a quiet night with no children and no phone calls.  Others may find peace by drinking coffee in the morning or wine in the evening.  You might find your peace by owning a home security system and a gun!

The kind of peace the world gives is temporary. It has been reported that in the last 300 years, about 260 peace treaties have been signed—and almost none of them were kept.  As Christians, we not only receive the forgives of our sins and life everlasting, but we also receive His peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, emphasis added).  Jesus specifies the type of peace that He is giving.  This is not your typical peace, not conditional peace, and not earthly peace.  This is His peace. 

The peace that comes from the world is totally circumstantial.  If your peace is contingent on your income, home security system, or coffee, then what happens to your peace when these things are gone?  The peace that comes from a life lived in Jesus and for Jesus is different.  His peace is not contingent on your actions.  There is no quid pro quo or contract.  Jesus gives you a different kind of peace.  The Bible calls it “peace . . . which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

The peace of Jesus is certainly hard to understand from a secular perspective.  His grace allows us to be at peace when there’s no obvious or visible reason why we should be at peace.  I have a good friend that lost his house and contents due to a flood a few years ago.   His life was in chaos, but for some unexplainable reason, He was at peace.  His confidence and peace at this terrible time was a strong witness to his faith.

The peace that Jesus offers us today is the same peace that He offered the woman at the well in John 4.  Jesus told the woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). 

Any areas of our lives that are full of worry, anxiety, or fear represent areas that we have not yielded to Jesus.  This could include our finances, marriage, job, etc.  Whatever it is, we have to let it go in order for God to take control.  You may have heard the expression “let go and let God.”  I think this is great, but I would make one slight change- “let go, let God, and rest in His peace.”

The right next step is to pray the prayer, or one of your own, below and then follow up with your pastor.

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for your love and grace.  Send your Holy Spirit to search me and reveal any areas of my life that I have not surrounded to you.  Grant me the courage and wisdom to yield everything to you so I can truly rest in your peace.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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  • Trusting In The Valley and the Mountaintop

    Trusting In The Valley and the Mountaintop "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4 KJV).Jesus warned us that we’d have problems in life. No one is immune from pain or insulated from suffering, and no one gets to skate through life problem-free. You may have heard the old saying “nobody is an atheist in a fox hole.”  Many of us turn to God during the difficult times in our lives but then go back to living...
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    Finding the Fruits of the Spirit “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.  Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-276 KJV).I love to watch St. Louis Cardinals baseball games on television.  I played little league baseball but knew at a very young age that I would never play professional baseball at any level.  I simply did not have the talent.  It was not “in” me.  I had the gift of a strong arm.  However, it was not the strongest by far and when combined with an...
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Why Are You Asking “Why?”

Why Are You Asking “Why?”

“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me . . . I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance” (Job 42:2-3, 6 NLT).

 

I suspect the most common question that people ask God begins with “why.”  Why was my house destroyed in the fire?  Why am I so unhappy?  Why don’t I have more money?  We will never fully understand the ways of God, but we take comfort in knowing that God is good.  This is the essence of the mystery of faith.  It is important to understand that faith is not hoping for something or having a strong feeling about a future event or situation.  Faith is based on assurance and conviction as described in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

We do not understand God because we are not God.  For us to try to understand God is as futile as it would be for the birds in my backyard to understand calculus.  God addresses the fundamental different between Himself and us in Isaiah 55:8-9.  “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

We all struggle with our faith in the midst of a storm.  Questions that begin with “why” are a sign of fear rather than faith and trust. 

In the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, we read time and again of Job asking God questions that begin with “why.”  “Why is this happening to me? Why are you allowing this? Why so much pain? Why so much discomfort? Why haven’t you answered my prayers?”   Does this sound familiar?

In chapter 38, Job stops asking “why.” God begins to ask some very difficult question to Job.

In the next two chapters, God asks questions to Job that only God could answer. He asks things like, “Where were you when I made the universe? Can you explain the law of gravity?”

After two chapters, Job realizes that he is just a man, and his knowledge is limited. It appears that Job has had an epiphany and his response is in accordance with Isaiah 55:8-9.

Job stops questioning—and starts trusting. He replies to the Lord, “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I – and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me . . . I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance” (Job 42:2-3, 6).

The strength of our faith is revealed when we don’t understand what is happening.  Do we choose fear or faith when life doesn’t make sense?

Of course, we all know we should choose faith, but it is not quite that simple in practice.  We don’t understand the situation, and we certainly don’t understand God’s thoughts, but we can remind ourselves of the things we do know about God to help us through the storm.  As we return back to Scripture, we can learn from Job.

Even while doubting, Job affirmed what he knew to be true about God: God is loving (Job 10:12), God is all powerful (Job 36:22), God is in control (Job 34:13), God had a plan for his life (Job 23:14), and God would protect him (Job 5:11).

You may be experiencing a major problem right now and feel that nobody understands you or your problem, and you may be exactly right!  However, you need to realize that the God of heaven and earth understands you and your problem better than you do!  If He knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7), don’t you think He also is passionately and intimately aware of every detail of your life?  As His children, we have the Holy Trinity on our side.  Jesus Christ is interceding for us to the Father (Romans 8:34).  The Holy Spirit is offering intercessory prayer to God through our wordless groans (Romans 8:27).  And God is leading the way for us.  “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

You may not understand what you’re going through, but you can still say this to God: “I don’t like this, and I don’t understand this, but I know you’re good. I know you’re loving. I know you’re powerful. I know you know the details of my life. I know you’re in control. I know you have a plan. I know you will protect me.”

We mature as Christians when we stop asking “why” and start trusting God—no matter what.  There is freedom and peace that comes from trusting God all the time.  We are each free to chose faith or fear.  Choose wisely.

Prayer:  Dear God, You have delivered us from slavery and captivity and made a Holy covenant with us as your children.  Your love, wisdom, grace, and providence is impossible for us to understand.  Forgive us for our doubt and help us to remember what we know about you.  Use these periods of adversity as opportunities to grow our faith and draw us closer in ministry to you and each other until you come again in final victory.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Rethinking Anxiety

Rethinking Anxiety

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV).

 

I think we all have some level of anxiety.  This is only natural with so much turmoil and uncertainty in the world.  How we deal with our anxiety may be more important than the intensity of our anxiety.  

Ten years ago, Americans spent $14 billion per year on stress management.  Now it is $190 billion!  So, what does that tell us?  Yes, we are a stressed-out society with a lot of anxiety.  Yes, we are desperately looking for answers from the pharmaceutical industry, illegal drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol.  But, no we are not finding answers from these sources.  Note:  There is absolutely nothing wrong with proper use of pharmaceutical drugs for anxiety.  In fact, they can be good, and we know, “Everything good comes from God” (James 1:17).   

One good option for managing anxiety is a healthy diet.  The best meal that you will eat is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at Holy Communion. 

Jesus offers us the same “living water” that He offered the woman at the well (John 4).  I am better able to rethink my anxiety when I think about the magnitude of the promise from Jesus to this woman which is still available to all of us today.  Our salvation is a free gift from God and cannot be earned by works.   Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can claim His promise of the forgiveness of our sins which in turn will allow Him to present us to the Father as holy and without blame.  As a holy child of God, we will be blessed with eternal life or life everlasting with the Father.  What a blessing! 

The troubles of today always seem large when viewed through our earthly eyes.  Stress, trouble, and anxiety have been around for as long as Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life and Jesus told us that trouble is inevitable.  As for me, I gain peace by reading and praying over John 16:33. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Isaiah prophesied from 739–681 BC to a nation that had turned a deaf ear to the Lord. Instead of serving Him with humility and offering love to their neighbors, the nation of Judah offered meaningless sacrifices in God’s temple at Jerusalem and committed injustices throughout the nation. The people of Judah turned their backs on God and alienated themselves from Him, which created the need for Isaiah’s pronouncements of judgment—declarations made in the hope that God’s chosen people would return to Him.

God calmed the fears of Isaiah, not by removing the problem, but by revealing His divine power and presence. Rejoice that God can do what you cannot do! Your anxiety decreases as your understanding of your heavenly father increases.

Our minds cannot be full of God and, at the same time, full of fear.  James 1:8 reads, “He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Are you troubled, restless, sleepless? Then rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty and stand firm on his invitation from Matthew 11:28. “Comes to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Jeremiah draws a direct connection between faith and peace. He says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green and will not be anxious in the year of drought” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for going before us day and night to light the way.  Forgive us for our doubt and all of our trespasses as we forgive others that have trespassed against us.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Real Faith Has Works

Real Faith Has Works

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14 NIV).

 

Most surveys show that the vast majority of Americans self-identify as Christians and have faith in God.  This is great, but James 2:14 puts this in context.  “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”

In my Bible, the heading for Hebrews 11 reads “Faith in Action” and the first verse of chapter 11 teaches, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

I can tell you that I am a great baseball pitcher, but that self-identification does not necessarily make it true.  James 2:14 is teaching us what is the use of telling others that you have faith if it is not reflected in how you live and what actions you take? 

Please do not be mistaken and think that James is saying we are saved by our works.  Scripture is very clear in this regard that we are saved by faith in Jesus, nothing more and nothing less.  Galatians 2:16 reads, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  Our actions are a natural manifestation of our faith.  They are the outward fruit.  “For the tree is known and recognized and judged by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Real faith takes action but does so out of love, not obligation or to curry favor with God.  Real faith is different from pseudo faith because the former is active in ministry outside the church and the later simply attends church every Sunday. 

Scripture contains thousands of promises from God to us.  We cannot claim these promises with an insincere faith.  We cannot expect God to hear our prayers if they are not offered in true faith.  And “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). 

So how do we know if we have real faith?  We must look at our actions and see if they are in agreement with our beliefs.  One of the most important things we can do in life is an honest self-evaluation.  It is also one of the more difficult tasks we can do.  But if we can successfully do this, then we can live out the Faith in Action of Hebrews 11.  The right next step is to sit down with your pastor or Christian friend and help them guide you through the process.  You will not regret this decision.

Prayer:  Dear God, Help us to maintain at least the faith of a mustard seed on our darkest days.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Leaving A Truly Lasting Legacy

Leaving A Truly Lasting Legacy

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).

 

I think most of us are interested in leaving behind a “legacy.”  I see this “legacy” term used in many applications.  Non-profit religious and secular organizations often court donors to donate money to establish a “legacy.”  This concept of having something, particularly something intrinsically good, that lives on after we are forever healed is appealing to most men. 

Your legacy is not contingent on the amount of money that you donate to any organization, including your church.  Yes, we are to do all the good that we can but with the knowledge that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

If you have been blessed as a father, then you been given the greatest opportunity to leave a legacy by living out Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  A child that loves God will become an adult that loves God and will rear children that love God.  Your Christian legacy continues through your heirs for eternity. 

Many fathers do not place God first, love their wife as Christ loved His church, or make any effort to seek His face.  Their legacy is one of sin.  Scripture is very clear that the sin and iniquity of fathers that do not follow God will be passed on to the children for three and four generations (Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9).

The phrase, “the sins of the father” reminds us that God’s law has been established with blessings, as well as judgment.  We cannot live in violation of God’s commandments and expect those closest to us to experience no effect from our sin.  We see this truth manifested in the inheritance of alcoholism, sexual prevision, abuse, etc.  This reality should stir us to obedience to God’s word.  In the Prayer of Confession and Pardon in the United Methodist Church, we ask our Lord to, “free us for joyful obedience.”  This concept of obedience is essential to those seeking a “Closer Walk With Thee.”  Ephesians 6:1 reads, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  We are all children of the Father, and our obedience to our earthly parents is one way we honor and obey our Father in heaven. 

We can all agree that proper training of children is essential for their future development.  The disagreement occurs when we discuss what is proper training.  I would never proport myself to have all of the answers on raising children.  I have raised two children and am very proud of them both but acknowledge that I made some poor choices as a father.

Scripture teaches us that “nothing can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38).  The Father has modelled for us in His love for us as to how we are to love our children.  It is imperative to understand that discipline is not an action we take instead of love but rather is love in action.  Proverbs 13:24 reads, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24).  Wisdom is a result of discipline, and an undisciplined child will not make wise decisions.  This connection between discipline and wisdom is evident in Proverbs 29:15. “A rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).

The brain of a child is not fully developed.  Their understanding of the world is limited, and their focus is typically immature and inward.  Parents do their children a disservice by treating them as adults.  Children are children and should not be robbed of their childhood by adults that want children to help them make important adult decisions, engage in adult conversations, etc.

All parents want to ensure that their children are happy.  The easiest way to attempt this is to give the child what they want.  So, many parents consistently give their children what they want (candy, toys, expensive clothes, etc.) and withhold items and activities that they don’t want (meeting new friends, cleaning their room, eating a healthy diet, etc.). 

Some parents also withhold one big item – discipline.  As a result, they fail to heed the warning of Proverbs 22:15. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.”  Discipline is so important because it puts us on the road to making good decisions.  One really good decision is to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Proverbs 23:13-14 reads,  “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.  Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”

Discipline is the key to yielding good fruit in your children and leaving a true legacy.  As fathers, we must realize that most lessons are caught rather than taught.  So, our actions are important because our children are constantly watching us.  We exasperate them by using arbitrary discipline.  We confuse them when our actions conflict with our words.  We demoralize them when we do not recognize and affirm their achievements. 

Yes, discipline is important but so is grace.  Children of all ages will make mistakes.  Do you recall how the father welcomed back the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32?  As fathers, we show God to our children when we show grace.  My mind is drawn to Malachi 3:3, “He will sit as a refiner of silver.”  I think God is using a mixture of discipline and grace to work out our sanctification.  I cannot think of a better method to help our children to do likewise. 

The right next step here is for all of us to consider what are we showing to our children by our words and actions.  Are we setting a good example?  Are we serious about raising Christian children?  Do we want our sins passed on for three or four generations?  In short, where do we want to store up our treasure?  I pray that all of us can find our response within the God-breathed words of Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Prayer:  Dear God, Thank you for the blessing of children.  Thank you for modelling for us how to be a father.  Grant us wisdom and discernment on when and how to offer discipline and grace.  Help us to leave behind a legacy of children that love you.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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The Pillars Of A Powerful Prayer

The Pillars Of A Powerful Prayer

“Then [Nehemiah] said, ‘O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of unfailing love with those who love Him and obey His commands, listen to my prayer! . . . I confess that we have sinned against you . . . Please remember what you told your servant Moses: “If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored” . . . Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me'” (Nehemiah 1:5-11 NLT).

 

 

Throughout Scripture we are encouraged not to be afraid.   In fact, we are commanded to go one step further and be strong and courageous.  This is the repeated command that God gave to Joshua prior to crossing the Jordan River to begin the long-awaited conquest of the promised land of Canaan.

The command that God gave to Joshua is also His command to us today.   Our strength and courage is not from our flesh but from the Spirit.  We tap into a supernatural strength and courage when we pray.   Sadly, many Christians grow discouraged if their prayers are not answered.  God has provided us with the key to answered prayers.  If we do our part, then He has promised to do His part.  One of my favorite promises is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Since we know what is required of us for God to hear our prayers, we have the confidence to pray boldly.  Bold prayers are an important part of a bold life, and God wants us to pray boldly.  Below are a few pillars of a powerful prayer as found in Scripture.

Base your prayer on God’s character. Nehemiah started his prayer by listing God’s character traits and deeds. He prayed with confidence because he knew the nature of God.  God knows His character better than we do so we don’t need to state them for His benefit.  When we say, “You will never leave us.  You are a faithful God. You are a loving God, etc. we do this to remind ourselves of His nature.  

Confess the sins you’re aware of.  God hates sin, and sin separates us from Him.  Nehemiah confessed his sins.  Nehemiah had not been born when Israel had gone into captivity, but he included himself in the sins of his people.  Confession is essential to a bold prayer and this connection is evident in James 5:16.  “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Claim the promises of God.  Scripture is full of promises from God to us.  If we do this, He will do that.  Nehemiah prayed to the Lord, saying, “Please remember what you told your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:8).  What he was essential praying was, “God, you warned through Moses that if we were unfaithful, we would lose the land of Israel. But you also promised that if we repent, you’d give it back to us.”  Clearly, God did not need to be reminded of what He told Moses or any of His promises.  We “remind” God of His promises, and character, as we pray in order to help us, not Him, remember His promise.

 Be very specific about what you ask for. If you want specific answers, then make specific requests. If your prayers consist of general requests, how will you know if God answered them?  Nehemiah boldly and specifically prayed for success.   The prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10 is another example of a bold and specific prayer. “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.”

Let’s follow Nehemiah’s example when we pray. Proclaim God’s character, confess your sins, claim God’s promises, and make specific requests.  After basing your prayer on the example of Nehemiah, then wait based on the example of the Psalmist.  I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry (Psalm 40:1).   We live boldly, pray boldly, and we also wait boldly.

Prayer:  Dear God, Your mercy and love are unfailing.  We confess our sins and ask for your pardon.  We ask for healing of our lands in the form of an immediate and permanent end to COVID-19.  We ask for this to happen in such a way that it can only be attributed to your grace and providence.  Amen.

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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