Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Even on your worst days you are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace. And on your best days you are never so good that you’re beyond the need of God’s grace.”  – Anonymous

Perched along the Anclote River at the end of Dodecanese Boulevard in picturesque Tarpon Springs, Florida is Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill, one of my preferred writing (and lunchtime) destinations. Besides the sumptuous seafood served in a friendly, casual, “TIKI” atmosphere, the waterfront location provides amazing views of the Anclote River complete with breathtaking sunsets. For me, Rusty Bellies has become a quick slice of “workday” paradise, just a short drive from my home – a genuine Inspiration Point.

And so there I was, sitting at my regular table, noshing on fresh Grouper skewers over black beans and rice while writing and occasionally chewing the fat with a few acquaintances. This one guy in particular kept making negative comments about himself. I really didn’t know him very well, but he seemed nice enough. Still, I couldn’t help but notice his frequent self-abasing remarks. He seemed to be obsessed with his shortcomings and failures. It is one thing to be humble – dead to self – quite another to stew in the crock pot of self-loathing.

When he finally summed up his life as a wasted, worthless and godforsaken existence, I could not contain myself any further. I looked straight at him and said, “Every human being is born with a copy of the Creator’s master blueprint flashed upon the fabric of his human spirit. God doesn’t forsake us! But, we can and often do desert him. We are all born into a world of wickedness (sin). In time, our fallen nature takes control of our lives, we mess up and thus we are all in desperate need of the Great Designer’s amazing grace. That is why He sent a liberator to the earth.”

Yea, the guy just stared at me. Uncomfortably. And for a moment I felt a bit awkward myself, wondering what to do next. He needed to know the Truth. So I told him even more about the Liberator Jesus and His power to set mankind free.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”  – C. S. Lewis, (1898-1963)

Have you ever felt like this gentleman? Stuck in a funk of disappointment, hopelessness; maybe even despair? Look, I have made a myriad of mistakes in my life. Regrets?  I’ve had a few. Missed opportunities? You bet! But I have decided that wallowing in self-pity is not the way to handle my problems, especially in the light of what is written about us humans in the ancient scriptures,

13 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. 15 You were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion! 16 You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!” – Psalm 139:13-16 TLB

The Creator knew every detail of our lives before we were born – the good, bad and ugly. As we grow older, it’s easy to look at our cumulative mistakes and think that we’ve diminished our usefulness to God. Listen, no life is so messed up, so broken, so imperfect that the great Designer can’t fix it.

God loves the human race. He may hate our sin but he loves the sinner. He may allow the consequences of sin to manifest in our lives, but He still loves the sinner. However, one day his Divine love and mercy must give way to his Divine Justice and the final judgement of everyone who refuses the free gift of His liberating grace. Consider yourself warned.

The next time that you look at someone and think, “they seem to have it all together”, remember this: we all wrestle with personal brokenness, mistakes, and hurts.  There is not one person on spaceship earth who isn’t struggling in some way.

Most of the appearance of mirth in the world is not mirth, it is art. The wounded spirit is not seen, but walks under a disguise.”  – Bishop Robert South, (1634-1716)

There are numerous examples of broken people in the Bible for whom God had a plan – even when they seemed to be “hopeless cases.”

  • Esther was an orphan girl living with her cousin.  In the culture of her day, she had three things working against her; she was a Jew in a hostile land, a women and an orphan girl. Hopeless?  God used Esther to save the Jewish nation.
  • Joseph was sold by his brothers into Egyptian slavery.  Later he was falsely accused of rape and thrown into jail.  At that moment, his life sure seemed hopeless and useless.  God eventually raised him up to a great leadership position and used him to save his people from a 7 year-long famine.
  • Job lost his children and all of his wealth.  His body became covered with boils and oozing soars. His wife walked out on him when he needed her the most.  Hopeless?  Sounds like a lost cause to me. But without knowing it, Job was proving false the accusations Satan made about him to God. Eventually Job was restored and blessed abundantly.  His life and actions have provided comfort and encouragement to people who are struggling, even to this day.
  • The Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well was a mess.  She had been married 5 times and then didn’t bother to marry the 6th man in her life.  She was a social outcast and appeared to be a hopeless loser.  Jesus spoke with her, exposed her true condition and offered her His living water. As a result, God used her to bring the Samaritan people the Gospel and many in her town were converted.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times.  The shame he felt must have been overwhelming.  When Jesus saw Peter after the resurrection, He didn’t scold him.  He asked Peter to spread the Good News of mankind’s liberation to others.  Jesus knew the real Peter.
  • Paul had a reputation for killing people that followed the teaching of the Liberator Jesus. He actually thought he was doing God a favor. So, Jesus confronted him as an extraordinary light on the road to Damascus. The incident left him shaken and temporarily blind. Paul later became a hand-picked convert and was responsible for setting up the early churches. His writings make up nearly half of the New Testament.

Every one of us has a purpose. God formed us; He knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7). Our faces and personalities are well-known to Him.  It doesn’t matter how far away we have wandered, He never forgets who we are.  His love for us reaches to the far corners of this earth and to the depths of the ocean.  He does all He can to bring us back home to Himself whenever we go astray.  And when we ask for His forgiveness, He doesn’t keep a record of our failures.   In His great mercy He sees the beautiful person He created.   God doesn’t see the mess we’ve made; He sees a diamond in the rough – a work in progress.

If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, and His ear open to our prayer–His grace sufficient, His promises unchangeable.”  – John Newton, (1725-1807)

Broken people are not rubbish to God.  Whatever the state of our affairs, God loves us.  He sees the value in each of us.  He knows the gifts he has placed within our DNA.  As his workmanship, we are continually modeled by his Divine hands into a new creation based on His original and marvelous design.

 10 “For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above – spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].”  – Ephesians. 2:10 AMP

GOD DOES NOT MAKE JUNK…

Almighty God, we confess our faults to you. We have messed up; but we can depend on your faithfulness to forgive our many failures, making us blameless in your sight. Our hope rests upon the Liberator Jesus. He paid our ransom and set us free. Help us as we journey along life’s road until the day of our final walk on the trip back home. We ask this all in the name of Jesus – our kinsman redeemer. AMEN.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.

ISIS… Global Warming… Terrorism… Economic Collapse… Racism… Airport Security… Riots… Murder… Retirement… College…

So how is your ANXIETY level? That’s what I thought. Let’s talk.

Anxiety is sometimes defined as uneasiness associated with vague or unknown threats, both real and imagined. Fear is often defined as an emotional response to a clear and present danger – usually real, and immediate. There are subtle differences between anxiety and fear. Ironically, fear can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause fear. But, both produce physical stress responses.

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength. ― Charles Spurgeon

I want to focus on the anxiety that results from the undercurrent of future uncertainties. In other words, worry over things that might or might not happen:

  • Will I ever find my true love?
  • Will the economy collapse?
  • What if an asteroid strikes the planet?
  • What if I go to the bank and get killed in a robbery?
  • What if I am on an airplane and it crashes?
  • What if I am hit by a car trying to cross the street?
  • What if I lose my job and become homeless?

Yes, the anxiety list is filled with endless scenarios. Every morning we awaken to a myriad of new opportunities to make us feel uneasy about the future (let alone all the stuff we keep overanalyzing and replaying from our past, but that is an entirely different subject).

Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith. ― Henry Ward Beecher

I have referenced the work of Thomas S. Kepler (1897-1963) in a previous commentary. He was a respected biblical scholar, prodigious author and Professor of New Testament studies at Oberlin College. Kepler also wrote a weekly syndicated newspaper column on religious issues. He published a story about a woman who came to the realization that anxiety was ruining her life. According to Kepler, she began to keep track of what was worrying her.   This is what she found:

  • 40% of the things she was anxious about never happened.
  • 30% of the things she was anxious about already happened (i.e. – it’s the past, get over it).
  • 12% of the things she was anxious about were the opinions and criticisms of others.
  • 10% of the things she was anxious about were unnecessary health concerns, which actually made her health worse through nervousness.
  • 8% of the things she worried about were “reasonable concerns,” since life does have some real challenges to overcome.

So, if just 8% of her anxieties were actually reasonable concerns, how legitimate is your relentless undercurrent of dread? No wonder you’re so worn-out. Anxiety is zapping your energy. And for what benefit? Worrying does not solve problems (especially the ones that are only in your mind). And even your reasonable concerns are never an excuse for unnecessary apprehension. There are occasions when brief anxiety can be appropriate (uneasiness about that math test later today or an impending job interview, etc.), but when anxiety becomes a steady companion, that’s not so good. How many hours of your invaluable time have you invested in worry? What a waste. You’ll never get a single moment back.

In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He wills that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety. ― Aiden Wilson Tozer

In the New Testament book of 1st Peter you will find this good word,

7 Let him (GOD) have all your worries and cares (anxieties), for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

To me that is so awesome. The creator of all things (GOD) knows who I am. He actually thinks about me. Every detail of my life here on this planet is of personal concern to Him. And since I actually believe this is true, how can I justify worry?

“Well now brother, I just cannot comprehend how GOD can know every detail of every human life and all at the same time.”

Neither can I. That’s why He is GOD and we’re NOT!

Look, I’m no fool. I’ll readily concede this; there are plenty of opportunities to worry. But that does not excuse living with persistent anxiety (and fear). Please consider these words that came from the lips of the Jesus,

25”Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”   (Luke 12:25-26 NLT)

The point is; anxiety is useless. It accomplishes nothing of value. And modern science tells us that it can contribute too many ailments – physical and mental. The bottom line: anxiety is a killer. So, how do you stop anxieties grip on your life?

Happiness is not a brilliant climax to years of grim struggle and anxiety. It is a long succession of little decisions simply to be happy in the moment. ― J. Donald Walters

First, change your focus. Clearly you are spending way too much time dwelling on potential problems (real or imagined) instead of concentrating on the one who by His power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Listen again to the words of the Jesus as recorded in the Bible’s New Testament,

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with the getting, so that you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, and God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:30-33 – The Message)

That is incredible! Jesus wants me to chill. Relax, He said. Get to know God. Learn His ways. He will handle the details that you have no control over and make provision for everything that concerns you. All we have to do is trust Him. We have His word on that.

Second, talk with God. When you hear the word PRAY, think of a conversation. Prayer is talking with the creator of all things (GOD). Can you imagine that – an honest conversation with the source of life itself? Consider your closest friend. It is easy to talk with them. They know you and they love you. That level of intimacy can only spring from the depths of your human heart. Prayer is talking to your closest friend (GOD) about your most pressing concerns. The New Testament writer Paul said,

6“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 -NLT)

Let’s break that down.

  • Don’t worry about anything.
  • Talk to God about everything.
  • Let God know your concerns (what you need).
  • Thank God for His solutions.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s not. Like any relationship, your comfort level grows over time. Imagine waking up at home in the middle of the night. The power is out and the interior of your bedroom is very dark. You must navigate your way to another room. Can you do it? Sure you can. You are familiar enough with your surroundings to walk that walk. But what if you were sleeping in a strange hotel room? That walk in the dark might prove challenging because the surrounds are unfamiliar. Every word we just read is the absolute Truth. But it takes faith and patience to live it. The more you do it, the more comfortable it will become.

Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is not only aware of us but cares for us. He is our Father. He is accessible to all who will seek Him. ― Gordon B. Hinckley

You may be going through a tough time right now. Life has swamped your little boat. Sometimes you struggle just to find meaning in your day to day existence. Talk to the creator of all things (GOD) and let Him have all your worries and cares. Decide right now, I will not be defeated and I will not quit.

Here are a few parting words of encouragement penned long ago by the New Testament writer Paul as he refreshed a group of struggling Christians who lived in the ancient city called Ephesus,

10-18 In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray…” (Ephesians 6:10-18 – PHILLIPS)

Be strong in the Lord and remember; He is keeping His eye on everything that concerns you. He alone holds the future. Stop fretting about tomorrow and experience the joy that comes when you seize the day and learn to live in His all sufficient grace.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.

Have you ever felt forsaken?

I sure have. I’ve doubted God and even wondered if He really exists. I’ve become angry and cursed His name when my prayers were not answered (or more truthfully, when I didn’t like the answer). I’ve walked through many a valley and spent seasons in the spiritual desert. As far as I was concerned, God had let me down.

Wait, I hear the Christian RAP club… Hit it guys,

Yo dear brother, God can never let you down. 

Just keep on waiting and He’ll surly come around

I see miracles ahead, around the next bend

Keep believing till’ the very end

Seek the lord while he can be found

And all of your problems will soon leave town

Bravo!, Well played.

But, I’ve heard all that before.

For the record, I agree, no matter how impossible my problems seem to me, “…Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:27b) The power of the almighty can still heal the woes of mankind today. But knowing the truth does not mean that we will never feel abandoned.

Tell me, what happens when you are sitting at lunch with someone who looks you straight in the eye, struggling to hold back tears, and they say,

“I love God. I go to church and I even tithe. I talk to the Lord regularly about the things that weigh heavy on me. In my prayers, I ask… I seek… I knock. Then I wait and wait and wait some more. In the end, God remains silent. He takes no action that I can see. Instead, the awful often happens. I am hurt and angry. I don’t understand why he chooses not do things that seem so clearly right to me. Why doesn’t God keep His word like the preacher said He would? What happened to all those exceeding great and precious promises that I read about in His book?” I’m confused and empty inside. God has forsaken me.

Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. – Bono

Clearly this is a sincere human being who is very disillusioned. From where he sits, it feels like God has left the building. And he is not alone.

  • “Why did I pray so intently for my husband’s healing… and he died?”
  • “Why did I ask God for a child for twenty years… but I never conceived?”
  • “Why didn’t the Lord help me raise the money to save my home?
  • “If God is so good, why is His world so miserable and unhappy?”

There are no easy answers to any of these questions or countless others like them. And please, spare us all those well-ordered one liners from your promise box. They may be true, but rarely helpful at moments like these.

The raw concerns of real life are painful to confront. It’s easier to suffer in silence. So, we live under the pretense that everything is going to be just fine. We keep telling ourselves, “God is going to make all this crummy stuff disappear one day soon and everything will be much better”.

What happens when “someday soon” never seems to come?

Hiding your hurt, anger, and disappointment behind facades of God-speak and perfunctory piety is poison to the soul. Your spirit slowly fills with a contagion that destroys your genuine faith in God.

If perception is your reality, then I might as well just say it; from where some of you sit right now, it sure appears that God has let you down.

But here is what I believe; it’s your expectations that have been dashed upon the rocks of disappointment. And now, it’s hard to navigate the waves of this life with a faith that has run aground.

Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations. – Earl Nightingale

Unconsciously, we absorb many erroneous and unconfirmed “facts” about God in the course of a lifetime. We read books about what He (supposedly) has promised to do for us when we pray. All of the sermons, seminars and a million casual conversations have molded our interpretation of what we can expect from Him. Some of these expectations are spot-on. Some are not. The trouble begins when things don’t go the way we believe they should. We can feel deceived. And over time, our faith grows weaker.

Unfulfilled expectations are worse than low expectations.  It is okay if you sometimes feel like God has grown silent and even turned away. In reality, He has not. I know this because He so plainly promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

But that is not how you feel right now.

Listen, take a deep breath. Cry if it helps. Curse out loud if it will make you feel better. But please, do me this favor, listen carefully as I reiterate some important spiritual realities.

  • Prayer isn’t a mystical process for getting things to go your way.
  • Prayer isn’t a guarantee of satisfaction.
  • Pain and struggle cannot be removed with simple requests.
  • As a rule, God doesn’t wave supernatural wands and instantly change things.
  • God exists outside of our time dimension and, because we are chained to the ticking of the clock, He will often seem to move agonizingly slow.
  • Life isn’t fair and you cannot change that.
My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am. – Brennan Manning

It brings me great comfort to know that the Liberator of mankind had human feelings too. The creator of all things (GOD) took human form and appeared on earth as the Nazarene. Jesus became one with the damned so that we could be free from the damnation. Human hatred toward the message Jesus came to deliver turned to false accusation and indefensible murder. As Jesus hung on the executioners cross, our brokenness reached deep within His spirit. Creation was now within the dying heart of her creator. Gasping out his final human breaths the Savior cries,

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The creator of all things (GOD) forsook Jesus as he died a criminal’s death. Elohim – the Creator and Judge of the universe – turned away as Jesus experienced our hell, and felt the wrath of the Almighty toward this lost and doomed world. For a few horrific moments, He experienced a total disconnect from the source of true life so that we would no longer have to live in that state of separation.

And then, placing His spirit into the hands of the Father, the physical Jesus died. In that solemn, sacred, blessed moment, every struggle, every valley, every circumstance of human existence was corrected and justified.

Welcome to the ragamuffins. We are the waifs and strays who follow that marvelous incarnate man from heaven who once visited this planet by way of the Galilee. Daily we struggle to “work out the salvation that God has given us with a proper sense of awe and responsibility” (Philippians 2:12). As one among us, it will always be safe for you to share your individual fears, disappointments and pressing concerns. We will laugh and cry with you as we patiently await His return. And I promise you, one day all will be understood.

Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is an author, broadcaster, and a popular Bible teacher.
© 2015 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.

What? God let you down?

Some of you just got so uptight. Performing intellectual cartwheels through all of your theological platitudes.

“Why dear brother, God can never let us down.” “God’s ways are simply not our ways.” “We must never question God.” “Just keep believing.” “God always answers prayer.” Miracles are just around the corner, etc., etc.”

Well done. You’ve memorized some good Biblical principles. Line upon line they have been written upon the tablets of your human spirit. And for the record, I agree.   27 “…Everything is possible with God.” (Mark 10:27b)

But tell me, what happens when you meet someone who says,

I love God. I go to church and I practice tithing. I talk to the Lord regularly about the things that weigh heavy on me. In my prayers, I ask… I seek… I knock. Then I wait and wait and wait some more. In the end, God remains silent. He takes no action that I can see. Instead, the awful often happens. I am hurt and angry. I don’t understand why he chooses not do things that seem so clearly right to me. Why doesn’t God keep His word like the preacher said He would? What happened to all those exceeding great and precious promises that I read about in His book?” I’m confused and empty inside. God has let me down.

This person is clearly dejected. And there are many more just like him.

“Why did I pray so intently for a healing… and that person died?”

“Why did I ask God for a child for twenty years… but I never conceived?”

“Why didn’t the Lord help me raise the money to save my home?

“If God is so good, why is His world so miserable and unhappy?”

There are no easy answers for these questions. But this is certainly not the time to start quoting all of those well-ordered one liners from the promise box.

The raw concerns of real life are painful to confront. It’s easier to carry the burden of pretending everything is going to be just fine. So we tell ourselves, “God is going to make all this crummy stuff disappear one day soon and everything will be much better”.

What happens when “someday soon” never seems to come?

Hiding your hurt, anger, and disappointment behind facades of God-speak and mechanical Christianity is poison to the soul. Your spirit slowly fills with a contagion that destroys your faith in God.

If perception is your reality, then I might as well just say it; from where some of you sit right now, it sure appears that God has let you down.

But here is what I believe; it’s your expectations that have been dashed upon the rocks of disappointment. And now, it’s hard to navigate the waves of this life with a faith that has run aground.

Inadvertently, we absorbed many erroneous and unconfirmed “facts” about God in the course of a lifetime. We read books about what He has promised to do for us when we pray. All of the sermons, seminars and a million casual conversations have molded our interpretation of what we can expect from Him. Some of these expectations are spot-on. Some are not. The trouble begins when things don’t go the way we expect. We begin to feel deceived. And over time, our faith grows weaker.

Unfulfilled expectations are worse than low expectations.  It is okay if you sometimes feel like God has grown silent and even turned away. In reality, He has not. I know this because He plainly said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

But that is not how you feel right now.

Take a deep breath. Cry if it helps. But please, do me this favor, listen carefully as I retell some important spiritual realities.

  • Prayer isn’t an extraordinary process for getting things to go your way.
  • Prayer isn’t a guarantee of satisfaction.
  • Pain and struggle cannot be removed with simple requests.
  • As a rule, God doesn’t wave supernatural wands and instantly change things.
  • God exists outside of our time dimension and, because we are chained to the ticking of the clock, He will often seem to move agonizingly slow.
  • Life isn’t fair and you cannot change that.

Welcome to the Ragamuffins. We are the waifs and strays who follow that marvelous incarnate man from heaven who once visited this planet by way of the Galilee. Daily we struggle to “work out the salvation that God has given us with a proper sense of awe and responsibility” (Philippians 2:12). As one among us, it will always be safe for you to share your individual fears, disappointments and pressing concerns. We will laugh and cry with you as we patiently await His return. And I promise you, one day all will be understood.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

Zig Ziglar was a motivational teacher and trainer who traveled the world delivering a messages of humor, hope, and encouragement. As a talented author and speaker, he had a unique delivery style and powerful messages that earned him many honors. Ten of his twenty-eight books topped bestseller lists. Zig was a committed family man, an enthusiastic patriot, and an active Christian. He passed away from pneumonia on November 28th, 2012 at the age of 86. Here is a quote from Mr. Ziglar:

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude – Zig Ziglar

 

I totally agree.

Your accomplishments in life (altitude) are determined more by your desire to succeed (attitude) than by your natural talents (aptitude). Attitude is a choice. Nothing – person, place or thing – can force you to have a bad attitude. Yes, our environment and daily circumstances can influence our attitude but in the end, attitude is still your choice. So, choose wisely.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. – Thomas Jefferson

I think Mr. Jefferson can speak with some authority on this subject. He was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). Jefferson believed (in so many words) that your attitude will make or break you. The right attitude moves you forward toward achieving your purpose in life (goals) and a bad attitude renders you helpless.

An Old Testament Proverb says, For as he thinks in his heart, so is he… – Proverbs 23:7a (Amp)

Just as our food intake affects our physical health (you are what you eat); our thoughts affect our mental and spiritual health (you are what you think and believe). Dwelling on undesirable thoughts will never result in a good and positive attitude (being around negative people doesn’t help either, but we’ll save that for another lesson).

Here are three things I want you to remember:

  • Thoughts Determine Attitude
  • Attitude Determines Behavior
  • Behavior Determines Outcome

When your mind is focused on negative things, you will develop a bad attitude. As a result of a bad attitude you will behave accordingly. And your behavior (actions) will determine the results you achieve in your life.

Paul, the New Testament writer and apostolic minister, knew the profound impact that our thoughts have upon our attitude. He wrote,

 8 “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. – Philippians 4:8 (New Living Translation)

Peace of mind comes from the right kind of thinking. Spiritual peace comes from God, when we pray. Paul knew this also and he told the Christian community at ancient Philippi (a city in eastern Macedonia in the southern Balkans),

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 (New Living Translation)

The Bible is an awesome book because it contains everything our creator wants us to know about this life and the life beyond. Keep your mind fixed on the promises of God. His assurances (as found in your Bible) are THE TRUTH. That is why we look to it for “… what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.”

Chuck Swindoll is an evangelical Christian pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher. His radio program, Insight for Living, airs on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. He is currently the senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, in Frisco, Texas. Here is his take on Attitude:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude … I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you … we are in charge of our Attitudes.” – Chuck Swindoll

What could I possibly add to that?

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of a personal tragedy that changed the course of his life. He began to question everything he had been taught about God. Rabbi Kushners son, Aaron, died at age 14 of progeria. If you are unfamiliar with this disease, it is best described as the accelerated aging disease. At his death, Aaron was a short, bald and wrinkled old man in appearance even though he was only 14. In his book, Rabbi Kushner asked: “If God existed, if He was minimally fair, let alone loving and forgiving, how could He do this to me?”

Why do the innocent suffer?

Why should anyone suffer for that matter?  It’s a question that has haunted mankind since the beginning of our time. It may be one of the most important issues of our lives. Rabbi Kushner asked the question this way, “why do bad things happen to good people?”

Can we make sense of our world, and our sufferings in this world?

Maybe. Maybe not. But we can turn to the word of God for help in dealing with the challenges of our lives here on this planet we call earth.

Why ME God?

Questions about suffering affect all of us in some way. Even if we are fortunate enough to escape tragic accident or severe illness, we all have our problems. For some it may be fear or loneliness. Others battle depression due to rejection, divorce, relationship issues, etc., etc. Hunger, war and brutality plague humanity. And none of us will escapes the final tragedy known as death.

 Is there a purpose for all this Distress?

  1. Suffering keeps us focused on the true state of this broken world.
    • 18 I am sure that our suffering now cannot be compared to the shining-greatness that He is going to give us. 19 Everything that has been made in the world is waiting for the day when God will make His sons known. 20 Everything that has been made in the world is weak. It is not that the world wanted it to be that way. God allowed it to be that way. Yet there is hope. 21 Everything that has been made in the world will be set free from the power that can destroy. These will become free just as the children of God become free. 22 We know that everything on the earth cries out with pain the same as a woman giving birth to a child. 23 We also cry inside ourselves, even we who have received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the first of God’s gifts to us. We are waiting to become His complete sons when our bodies are made free. [Rom. 8:18-23 – New Life Version]
  1. Suffering teaches us to depend more on God and less on this world system.
    • 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. [Heb. 12:1-4 – New Living Translation]
  1. Suffering reminds us that future eternal bliss trumps temporary happiness.
    • 18 I am sure that our suffering now cannot be compared to the shining-greatness that He is going to give us. [Rom. 8:18 – New Life Version]
    • 13 Be happy that you are able to share some of the suffering of Christ. When His shining-greatness is shown, you will be filled with much joy. [1 Pet. 4:13 – New Life Version]
    • Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. [Ps. 126:4-6 – New Living Translation]
    • To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will give them the oil of joy instead of sorrow, and a spirit of praise instead of a spirit of no hope. Then they will be called oaks that are right with God, planted by the Lord, that He may be honored. [Isa. 61:3 – New Life Version]
  1. Suffering can focus our attention on the sovereign work of God in our lives.
    • 1 As Jesus went on His way, He saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His followers asked Him, “Teacher, whose sin made this man to be born blind? Was it the sin of this man or the sin of his parents?” 3 Jesus answered, “The sin of this man or the sin of his parents did not make him to be born blind. He was born blind so the work of God would be seen in him. 4 We must keep on doing the work of Him Who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” 6 After Jesus had said this, He spit on the ground. He mixed it with dust and put that mud on the eyes of the blind man. 7 Then Jesus said to him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.” (Siloam means Sent.) The man went away and washed. When he came back, he could see. [John 9:1-6 – New Life Version]
  1. Our trials help others see that God is the source of all things in our lives.
    • For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.[a] This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” [2 Cor. 4:8-9].

 Conclusion

There isn’t always a cut and dry answer to the question of why we suffer.

And maybe, it’s really the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we should ask these questions instead:

  • What purpose is there to life?
  • What future does God have beyond this life of suffering for me?

As unfair as it may appear at times, our lives have a definite purpose.

Jesus lived, suffered and died by the same rules of life that we live and suffer and die by. Jesus, as God incarnate, suffered and died for human beings, to take away their sins and open up salvation for those who would believe on Him.

The crucifixion is proof of how much God cares about us. And, in the future resurrection of the righteous dead, God will transform our mortal human flesh into immortal bodies and make our new lives suffering-free. The tormented souls, the cancer stricken, the accident victims, the unloved, lost and lonely — everyone who has suffered — will suffer no more.

God will swallow up suffering and death in the victory of eternal life. In that day, God will be acknowledged by all humanity. He will act as eternal healer and life-giver. He will be recognized by all as the one who is fair and just. In that day, He will take no pleasure in human suffering.

As described in the book of Revelation – In that new world order – God will dwell with his people. Revelation chapter 21:4 tells us: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

Let us pray for that day to come swiftly.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

16-18 We know and, to some extent realize, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!  19-20 If we live like this, we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own hearts make us feel guilty; For God is infinitely greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  21-23 And if, dear friends of mine, when we realize this, our hearts no longer accuse us, we may have the utmost confidence in God’s presence. We receive whatever we ask for, because we are obeying his orders and following his plans. His orders are that we should put our trust in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another—as we used to hear him say in person.  24 The man who does obey God’s commands lives in God and God lives in him, and the guarantee of his presence within us is the Spirit he has given us. 1 John 3:16-24 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

One of the great threats to our faith is our tendency to be extremely hard on ourselves. Every time our heart finds us guilty of some new transgression, we struggle with loving ourselves. I mean really, how do I love myself when I do bad things (or even when I think about doing bad things)?

The problem is, we can’t love others if we do not love ourselves. You have heard people (including me) say we should shun self-admiration. That doesn’t mean we are not to love ourselves. There is a big difference between being “IN” love with yourself and LOVING yourself. Jesus said that we were to love others the same way that we love ourselves. In fact, he does not suggest that we do this, He commands it. Listen to what he said,

28 “Then one of the scribes approached him. He had been listening to the discussion, and noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he put this question to him, “What are we to consider the greatest commandment of all?”   29-31 “The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second (command) is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Mark 12:31 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

The more insecure and uptight we are, the more difficult it is to keep from spiraling into self-debasement. When you have a low opinion of who you are in Christ, it doesn’t take much pressure for your heart to denounce you.

Even when we feel pretty good about who we are, daily shortfalls present us with opportunities to marinate in guilt, shame and self-condemnation.  We can then become our own worst critic and consequently we fall into a trap of our own making. I recognize (based on the lessons of the scriptures) that God forgives me. And, I am always learning to forgive “those who trespass against me”. So why is it so hard to forgive my own under-performance and daily nastiness?

Good question. I think it is because all of us walk around with a picture of an ideal self in our minds. We can see with reasonable clarity the person we would like to be and sometimes we even pay attention to the person God wants us to be. Try as we do to live up to that idyllic imagining, we fail.   And let’s not forget all of the helpful voices reminding us we are not so good.

Voices you say? Yes, many voices.   Like an overly critical parent, an angry spouse, an insensitive boss, an infuriating colleague, a selfish neighbor, and even the innocent observations of impertinent children can hurt.  Teenage children are experts in making parents feel totally inadequate and completely inept.

And what about our society? How many ways do we fail to measure up? Let me count the ways.

  • We don’t look the way we should,
  • We don’t dress the way we should,
  • We don’t make the money we should,
  • We don’t have all the material possessions we should,
  • We don’t have the popularity or the prestige we should,
  • We don’t have the independence, power, or control we should.

Need I continue? The sad thing is, that while we should know better, our hearts often buy into this garbage, and when they do, they condemn us. Self-condemnation leads to a life of discouragement. When we are discouraged, it is hard to do much of anything. All we feel is the pain of defeat and disappointment.

The good news is that God does not condemn us like we condemn ourselves.  John reminds us, God knows everything. That means God sees the positive in us. God recognizes our intentions, even if our actions don’t always bring about the result of what we envisioned. Our hearts may condemn us, but as John explains, God is greater than our hearts.  Remember, we have only a limited picture of ourselves. It is easy to measure our lives by one mistake, one failure, and one defeat at a time. God sees the big picture – all that we are and even more importantly, all that we can become.

This is the truth of which our hearts need to be reassured:

  • We are loved so much by God that through Jesus Christ, He was willing to lay down his life – to give everything – to get us back.

A Divine rescue was required and God refused to let anything, even our depravity, stand in the way of our redemption. He prepared a great sacrifice – his Son – in order to provide the means by which we can be liberated from the burden of our sin nature (the seat of condemnation).   If God loved us that much, John reasons, we too, out of genuine love for others, ought to be willing to share whatever we can with a brother or sister in need. Real love always leads to action.

But here’s the irony; we cannot be free to love sacrificially, as Christ has loved us, if we continue to spend our time wallowing in self-condemnation. Instead we must realize that since God has not condemned us, we are fools to condemn ourselves.  Once we have given up self-condemnation, we discover a new sense of boldness before God. As our confidence grows, we begin to ask God for anything and everything we need in order to serve him better. According to John, when our heart is right, we receive from him whatever we ask. And then as we obey God, we discover that he is pleased to abide in us and we abide in Him.

1-2 No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are “in” Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1-2 – J.B. Phillips New Testament –

No matter what happens, never give up on yourself. If God chooses not to condemn us; we have no business condemning ourselves.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.

 

#1 Get in the Game

It is our responsibility to discover and develop our unique aptitudes and apply ourselves in developing our full potential.

10 “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither you go.” – Ecclesiastes 9:10

God expects us to use our talents in profitable and productive ways here on earth.

22 “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” – James 1:22

  • POINT: Be a DO what the word says person, not someone who sits on the sidelines of life. This is NOT a spectator sport.

13 I can do all things because Christ gives me the strength.”  – Philippians 4:13

  • POINT: I can do all things. All things? That is what he said – ALL THINGS!

Why? Because, my strength comes from God; it isn’t up to me to be strong on my own.

#2 Maintain a Positive Focus

Negative emotions often result from focusing on mistakes of the past. If God has forgiven our sins, then why should we not forgive ourselves? Dwelling on past blunders perpetuates negative thought patterns and emotions. We must live for the day and focus on the future, not the past.

13 “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.  – Phil. 3:13-14

Paul made some mistakes in his past. He said that he chose to forget what is in the past and focus instead on the future. The goal of fulfilling our calling is in THE PRESENT and THE FUTURE, not the past.

#3 Ask God for His Assistance

If you find yourself spiraling downward into depression, ASK God to help you.

First: Remember:

  • God is the source of our strength.
  • He knows the proper responses for our particular situation.
  • He has given us His Spirit to overcome negative forces impacting our lives.

Since God is the source of all good things, we must ask for His aid.

7 “Ask, and what you are asking for will be given to you. Look and what you are looking for you will find. Knock and the door you are knocking on will be opened to you. 8 Everyone who asks receives what he asks for. Everyone who looks finds what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks has the door opened to him. 9 What man among you would give his son a stone if he should ask for bread? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, would he give him a snake? 11 You are bad and you know how to give good things to your children. How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”  – Matt. 7:7-11

#4 Get Your Thinking Straight

What are your mental debates like? What contemplations fill your mind?

  • The worries of daily life?
  • The emotional pain you are suffering?
  • Hurt feelings?
  • Physical pains?
  • Your economic circumstances?

If so, your’ thinking stinks!

  • Instead, set your mind on THE truth!
  • Focus on the kingdom of God above everything else!
  • Live as a man or woman who is true and transparent before God

Jesus put it this way…

33 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”.  – Matt. 6:33

Everything we need comes to us when we fix our mind on things above and focus on God’s kingdom while we live within a right (i.e. righteous) relationship with Him.

Paul told the Christians at Colossi…

1 “If then you have been raised with Christ, keep looking for the good things of heaven. This is where Christ is seated on the right side of God. 2 Keep your minds thinking about things in heaven. Do not think about things on the earth.” – Col. 3:1-2

Paul’s instruction to God’s people makes it crystal clear that we must refocus our thinking to a different level, to have an optimistic view in this mundane evil world.

8 “and now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you”. – Phil. 4:8-9

Truth, honesty, justice, purity, loveliness, good reports, virtue and praise are not views upon which the world commonly focuses. The news media, business community, governments and educational institutions do not generally bring about this type of thought pattern. Therefore, to remain positive in a negative world, we must sidestep this world’s agenda and reflect on God’s point of view.

#5 Obedience Promotes a Positive Outlook

God’s Word tells us that to obey is better than sacrifice (I Sam. 15:22). Obedience to God’s Way brings many blessings, not the least of which is an optimistic view of our life. Being in harmony with God’s laws brings confident assurance that our lives have value and that God will guide us. Notice the tangible blessings that bring contentment into our lives when we obey God:

  • Peace: “Great peace have they which love your law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
  • Vision: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18).
  • Favor: “My son, forget not my law; but let your heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to you. Let not mercy and truth forsake you: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of your heart: So shall your find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:1-4).
  • Requests Granted: “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (I John 3:21-22).

As we walk with God, we will recognize our need to claim more of His promises. Our faith will increase as we see God actively helping us each day. We can overcome the blues; deal with bad attitudes, solve unresolved problems, settle disputes, and calm our anxiety and fear.

© 2014 by Joseph A Cerreta, all rights reserved.  Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD is an author,
broadcaster, popular Bible teacher, and the founding Pastor of Living Faith Christian
Fellowship in Holiday, Florida.