Prepared To Pass The Test

Pastor Craig shared the seventh message in our series on Kingdom Praying. These are the notes he post on his blog as a short recap of the full message. You may also scroll down to get the link to watch the video of the full sermon.

The prayer that Jesus taught His follower is a prayer for citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. These are not just some magical words to pray whenever we don’t know what to pray. 

We come to a part of the prayer that has confused some people. Jesus instructed us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). 

So some people have asked, “Does God tempt us?” 

No, He doesn’t! The temptations flare up when the ungodly desires within us are given an opportunity to seize what we think will make us happy (see James 1:13-15). 

All three of the synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the place where the devil would tempt Him (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2). 

Jesus went through all of this so that He would be assured that He was fully equipped for the intense scrutiny He was going to undergo for the next 3+ years. At the end of that time neither the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, nor Herod Antipas could find any semblance of sin in His life

The word Jesus uses for temptation in Matthew 6:13 comes from the root word peirazo, which means to assay. We don’t use that word too often today, but it means a testing, an experiment, or a trial, to prove something’s fidelity, integrity, or virtue. 

Just like an assayer would test a rock for the quality and quantity of a precious metal found in it, so we are tested to determine our fitness for what God has in store for us. Remember that the beginning of this prayer is a desire for God’s name to be hallowed and His Kingdom to be made visible through our lives. 

Jesus endured His intense time of testing for you and me. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus underwent every temptation we would ever face, without once giving in and sinning. He did all of this so He could be the perfect High Priest that knows how to intercede for us in our time of testing (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15; 2:10, 18; 5:7-9, 4:16). 

Hebrews 5:9 says that Jesus was perfected (the Greek word is telios), which is exactly what Jesus wants for us—Be prefect [telios] even as your Heavenly Father is perfect [telios] (Matthew 5:48).

In order to know this perfecting process, we have to be tested and assayed (James 1:12, 2-4). 

Temptations reveal hidden sins in our lived, and temptations keep us humbly reliant on God (Psalm 19:12; 1 Corinthians 10:12-13; James 4:1-7). 

Like all of the other phrases in this prayer, this one is both an acknowledgment (I will face temptations) and a petition (I need Your help to overcome the temptation). This is not necessarily a prayer to keep us from temptation, but to keep us through the temptation. We want to be empowered to pass the test. 

A loving teacher prepares us for the test, gives us the test, and then gives us the results so that we know we are prepared for the next level. So remember that this prayer is addressed to our loving Heavenly Father. He prepares us for the test so that we can pass the test. We never walk an unknown path—we never are given a test unless He has fully prepared us for it. 

So let me give you four thoughts to consider:

  1. Don’t rush ahead because that’s pride. Jesus went when the Holy Spirit led Him.
  2. Don’t lag behind because that’s fear. Think of the Israelites who fearful of the “giants” in the land and wouldn’t move forward. 
  3. Don’t be discouraged by a temporary failure. The phrase immediately before this says, “Forgive us our debts.” If you fall short, ask for forgiveness and move forward again. 
  4. Do give in to the righteousness Jesus has made available for you. This is what will help you stand firm in your time of testing (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Just like Jesus, our Father wants to perfect you and lead you up to higher levels. 

If you’ve missed any of the previous messages in this series looking at the model prayer Jesus taught us, you can find them all here

Faith To Forgive

Here is the recap of the sixth sermon in our series Kingdom Praying. This is the recap Pastor Craig shared on his blog. You can also scroll down to get the link to watch the full video of this message.

I shared this in my forthcoming book When Sheep Bite

In January 1647, Oliver Cromwell captured King Charles I during the British Revolution. Within just a few months, Charles escaped and was able to raise another army. A year later, in August 1648, Cromwell’s forces once again defeated the army Charles had raised, and once again Charles was taken prisoner. 

Oliver Cromwell put Charles on trial for his crimes, and after the guilty verdict was pronounced, Charles I was executed. A total of 59 people signed the former king’s death warrant. 

Fast forward eleven years and Oliver Cromwell had died and his son Richard had taken his place as Lord Protector of England. Unlike his father, there was great discontent with Richard’s leadership. As a result, the Loyalists were able to sweep Charles II into power. 

After assuming the throne of England, Charles II wanted the 59 death warrant signers put on trial, but fifteen of them had already died. That little fact didn’t stop King Charles II. He ordered that their bodies be exhumed, placed on trial, convicted of their crimes, and then hung. 

I’m no psychologist, but I think it’s safe to say that Charles II might have had a slight problem with unforgiveness!  

This is from a chapter I entitled “The ties that no longer bind.” The insidious nature of unforgiveness is that it ties us to the one who injured or offended us. 

Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). The word He uses for “debts” means something justly or legally due, or an offense or sin that has been committed. So a debtor is one who morally or legally owes another for the wrong committed. 

So for these debts, we are taught to ask for forgiveness of God and to give that same forgiveness to others. Jesus uses the same root word for both “forgive” and “forgiven,” but there are nuances that make the picture quite clear. 

  • When we ask God to forgive our debts, it is the active voice (I have to ask for it) and it is stated in the second person (I have to receive it). When I ask my Heavenly Father for this, my offense has been paid-in-full because the legal and moral requirements aren’t due any longer. I couldn’t pay this debt on my own, but Jesus paid it for me (2 Corinthians 5:21).  
  • When I forgive someone who has wronged me, it is again the active voice (I have to give it), but it is now in the first person (I don’t wait around for the other person to ask for forgiveness). I let it go. I don’t hinder the other person or myself with waiting for the penalty to be paid any longer. 

This is the only part of this model prayer for which Jesus gives a commentary afterwards (in Matthew 6:14-15). With this, Jesus is teaching us that to say, “I’m forgiven” is also to say, “I’m forgiving.” 

Unlike Charles II, when we are forgiven and forgiving, the inevitable result is freedom for both ourselves and our offenders. 

If we practice this relentlessly, we are both freed ourselves and freeing others! 

When we ask God to forgive us, He forgives us immediately and completely (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 1:18). We are to forgive our debtors just as quickly. 

When we pray, “Forgive as we also have forgiven,” we are both acknowledging His power to forgive us and requesting the faith need to be forgiving people. As C.S. Lewis noted, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” 

The Bible describes satan’s activity as stealing, killing, and destroying. He’s called the father of lies, so he uses slander to try to steal, kill, and destroy. His slander is: “God can’t forgive that” and “You shouldn’t let them off the hook for what they did to you.” 

These two thoughts are linked, just as “I’m forgiven” and “I’m forgiving” are linked. If I begin to  think that what someone did to me was too big for me to forgive, then I can also believe that there is a sin I have committed that is too big for God to forgive. But when I live both receiving and giving forgiveness, I can tune out this lie from hell. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series called Kingdom Prayingyou can find all of them here

The Danger In Plenty

Pastor Craig continued our series on prayer on Sunday. These are the notes Pastor Craig shared on his blog. If you want to watch the full video, please scroll down to the bottom to get the link.

Jesus is teaching us to pray as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and each phrase of this prayer is a reminder of how we interact with the King of Heaven—Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  

We all have a desire to feel secure—to feel our needs are going to be met. In fact, our anxiety level is usually tied directly to how insecure we may feel. The problem for many of us, however, is that we have mistaken wants for needs, and when those aren’t met as we think they should be, we again experience increasing levels of anxiety. 

We see this on full display in Luke 12. First, Jesus addresses a man who is greedily desiring his share of his father’s inheritance. Jesus says, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 

To illustrate this point, Jesus tells a parable of a rich landowner who harvested more crops than he knew what to do with—a harvest which he calls “plenty.” His solution was to build bigger barns for his abundant harvest, to which God announced, “You fool” (Luke 12:13-21). 

This man was not called a fool because he was successful. He was not called a fool because he had plenty. Rather, he was called a fool because his “plenty” caused him to forget his heavenly Father.   

This is an invaluable lesson. Sadly, we tend to be a very forgetful people! 

After God delivered His people from their bondage in Egypt, and they almost immediately start worrying and then complaining about whether their needs will be supplied. God tells them that He will supply every day exactly what they need (Exodus 16:1-35). 

This provision of manna every single morning when they got up was intended to keep them reliant on God and thankful for His provision. But after a while they thought they deserved more—they wanted plenty (Numbers 11:4-6). Later on, Asaph would pinpoints the main culprit of the Israelites’ stumbled throughout their history: forgetfulness (Psalm 78:11, 22-25). 

Jesus taught us to come to God in prayer as Our Father. Just as Jesus was daily dependent on His Father, so He teaches us to have that same level of daily abiding. 

Jesus reminds us what the daily supply of manna really signified; namely, that He would be our Bread from Heaven for all of eternity (John 6:28-40)! 

So that’s why we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” Once again, this is an acknowledgement that no one else can provide for us, and it is a request that we would stay daily dependent on Him. It’s not, “Give us today our weekly bread.” Or, “Give us today our daily wants.” Or even, “Give us today plenty of things.” 

We need our Father for daily bread so that we never, ever forget or vital, indispensable connection to Him!  

Even when we don’t have plenty, we are told not to worry but instead to look to our Heavenly Father for His daily supply (Luke 12:22; Philippians 4:6-7).

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series on prayer, you can check them all out here

Becoming Childlike

This is part 4 in our series Kingdom Praying. These are the notes that Pastor Craig shared on his blog. If you would like to watch the full sermon, please scroll down to find the video link.

I hope you’ve noticed so far that the parts of Christ’s model prayer that we’ve looked at so far are both an acknowledgement of the holiness of God and the greatness of His Kingdom, and also a request for us to be empowered to live in a way that makes those things known to Earthlings. 

One of the ways we live to make these things seen is found in the next phrase: Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10). 

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens shows us a scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present has taken Scrooge to his nephew’s home. After dinner, these young adults begin playing games. Dickens says, “For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” 

Jesus loved children! Being around “the littles” lately at on our school campus, I have a whole new appreciation for this. Because Jesus loved children, their parents wanted them around Him, and He wanted them around too (see Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:14-16; Luke 18:15-17).

Children are loud, busy, adventurous, and easily distracted. But they are also loving, trusting, curious, innocent, and easily comforted. And Jesus loved to bless them!   

What does this have to do with “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”? Jesus taught us to address our praying to “Our Father.” That means we are to interact with Him as His children.  

Jesus wants us to be childlike not childish

  • trusting not posturing—Matthew 6:7-8 
  • honest not hypocritical—Luke 18:9-14 
  • persistent not whining—Luke 11:9-13 
  • humbly dependent not scheming—Matthew 18:1-4 

[Check out these passages here

Children love to do the will of their parents. They’re not trying to earn their approval, but joyfully obeying out of innocence. When we obey God as loving children, we are doing His will on earth as it is done in Heaven! 

So once again, this is both an acknowledgement and a request. 

In Psalm 131, David uses this same picture of a contented child for us. 

Childlike is lovingly dependent. Childish is selfishly independent. Childlike is trusting someone wiser. Childish is believing I know best. 

Our prayer request should always be, “Father, may I trust You and obey You as an innocent child.” 

This is part 4 of our series on prayer called Kingdom Praying. You can check out all of the other messages in this series here.

Living In Kingdom Power

Pastor Craig brought us the third sermon in the series Kingdom Praying. These are the notes he shared on his blog as a recap. You may also scroll down to find the link to watch the video of the full sermon.

Last week I shared a quote about this Kingdom Prayer from the YouVersion reading plan The Prayer That Turns The World Upside Down. Let me remind you of one phrase: “This prayer is dangerous, overturning the kingdom of the principalities and powers of this world.” 

We live on Earth but we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. This prayer is a desire for that eternal Kingdom to be seen by Earthlings so that they will also obtain citizenship. So we saw last week that the phrase “Hallowed be Your name” is both an acknowledgement of God’s greatness and a request that we would display His greatness in our lives. The next phrase—Your Kingdom come (Matthew 6:10)—has that same two-part motivation: acknowledgment and request. 

I wrote Shepherd Leadership to address the non-biblical practices in our churches that had taken on biblical weight. I think this is something that invades many Christian’s thinking about what “the Kingdom of God” actually is. 

Here’s two things I know for sure: (1) Kingdom power ≠ political power, and (2) Kingdom power ≠ religious power. 

A.W. Tozer wrote—

“In Christian circles today, the church that can show an impressive quantitative growth is frankly envied and imitated by other ambitious churches. Numbers, size and amounts seem to be very nearly all that matters…. The great goddess, Numbers, is worshiped with fervent devotion, and all things religious are brought before her for examination. Her Old Testament is the financial report, and her New Testament is the membership roll. To these she appeals as the test of spiritual growth and the proof of success or failure in most Christian endeavors. A little acquaintance with the Bible should show this up for the heresy it is.” 

Jesus was clearly focused on His Father’s Kingdom. The phrase “Kingdom of God” is used over 50 times in the Gospels, and Jesus uses words like “Heaven,” “Hell,” and “eternal life” over 120 times. 

In teaching us to pray, Jesus called us to focus on the eternal. We want people to see “Our Father in Heaven”—in all His hallowed majesty and glory—not merely in the ways we attempt to “Christianize” life on Earth. 

Alan Redpath said, “Before we can pray, ‘Lord, Thy Kingdom come,’ we must be willing to pray, ‘My Kingdom go.’” 

Jesus constantly taught like this, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like….” He said, “The coming of the Kingdom of God is not something that can be observed” (Luke 17:20). Or better stated: The Kingdom of God doesn’t arrive because I oversee something and announce it. 

Peter summed up the ministry of Jesus like this, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Jesus told us to live the same way—“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). 

The early Church was known for living differently—cared for the poor, the young, the sick, the elderly; honored marriage; built hospitals. They were not known because they had political clout. 

Our living Kingdom-focused is the answer to our prayer for God’s Kingdom to come. 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. (1 Corinthians 4:20) 

We hallow God’s name and we make His Kingdom visible when we seek Him as our only priority. Both of these phrases are acknowledgments of His absolute sovereignty and our desire to be empowered to be anointed by the Holy Spirit to go around doing good and delivering all who are under the power of the devil. 

I love this short verse from A.B. Simpson—

Help me to work and pray, 

help me to live each day, 

that all I do may say, 

‘Thy kingdom come.’

Check out the other messages in our series Kingdom Praying by clicking here.

Praying To Hallow God’s Name

Pastor Craig shared part two in our series on prayer called Kingdom Praying. This is the recap he shared on his blog, and you can also scroll down to watch the video of the full sermon.

We said our protocol in approaching Almighty God in prayer is found in just two words: Our Father

Notice the transition: your Father (3x in Matthew 6:6, 8) to Our Father (6:9). How does this happen? Jesus makes it possible and the Holy Spirit continually reminds us of Christ’s completed work (Hebrews 2:11; John 14:13-14; Romans 8:15-16). 

It’s not just “our Father” but “our Father in Heaven.” Let’s remember that our Father is both All-loving and All-powerful. The phrase in Heaven reminds us of His absolute sovereignty. “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him” (Psalm 115:3). What pleases Him? To give us His kingdom (Luke 12:32). 

Then there’s another phrase that is vital: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name

Hallowed means both to acknowledge His greatness and to keep Him separate from any profane things. What is profane? The dictionary says it is irreverence or contempt for God. The opposite of profane is holiness—something set apart exclusively for God. This is not something better than something else, but something exclusively that will bring glory to our Father in Heaven.

The root word for hallowed is “holy.” We see this literally translated in the name Holy Spirit. It is a word also referring to Jesus when He is called “the Holy One of God”(see Mark 1:24). The angel uses the word twice when he says, “The HolySpirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

And that same word translated hallowed and holy is also translated saints. Literally that means “holy ones” or set apart people. 

Jesus is teaching us that our prayer is BOTH an acknowledgment of how God’s name is to be hallowed AND a request that He would empower us to pray and live in ways that makes that happen. 

This means our attitude needs to be focused on God’s reputation not my reputation (as in Matthew 6:5, 7:21-23). 

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name” is both an attitude of prayer and a lifestyle. 

We hallow God’s name when our prayer and daily lifestyle bring Him the supreme glory that is due exclusively to His awesome name! When we keep our eyes and hearts on Him, He will provide everything else we need (see Matthew 6:32-33). 

To follow along with all of the message in this prayer series called Kingdom Prayingplease click here.

The Prayer Protocol

Pastor Craig kicked off our new series on prayer called Kingdom Praying. Here is the written recap he shared on his blog. You can also scroll down to find the video of the full sermon.

Every monarch or president on the planet has certain protocols for anyone who interacts with them. There are requirements on how to walk into the room, titles that have to be used, the way you have to act, things you can or can’t say, and the list goes on and on. 

So it’s natural to think that this is how we also have to approach the Sovereign King of the Universe. But this King so desires intimate conversation with His people that Jesus gave us this simple protocol: “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9-13). 

Jesus told us that He wanted us to dispense with the world’s expected protocols. He said that when we approach God, those protocols are gone. In the preceding verses, He told us that we pray…

  • NOT for show or else we are called hypocrites—putting on an act or performance to earn applause or approval.
  • NOT with “alien” vocabulary or else we are pagans—adopting manners that aren’t our own as a means to be accepted. 

The prayers of Jesus seldom sound like our modern idea of “prayer.” Instead, they sound more like an everyday conversation when He’s talking to His Father, and the sound like commands when He’s casting out demons or healing diseases (see examples in Matthew 8:3, 13, 26, 32; John 11:40-44). 

Jesus also reminded us that we pray because… 

  • He told us to 
  • He wants us to seek God’s Kingdom 
  • He wants us to receive God’s Kingdom 
  • He wants us to live in the power of God’s Kingdom every single moment 

(Matthew 6:5-7, 6:23-24, 16:16-19, 17:16-21; Mark 9:29; Luke 12:32

Let me repeat: our protocol for prayer is nothing like the world’s protocols for interacting with rulers. Our protocol is simply coming to our Heavenly Father in simple, childlike love and anticipation. 

Kingdom praying should be as natural as talking to the most loving Father you can imagine! 

Check out the others messages in our series Kingdom Praying by clicking here.

Year-End Review (2023 edition)

Pastor Craig likes to end the year with a review of all of the sermon series we had during the year. Check out this 2023 edition. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom to find the video to watch the full sermon.

The apostle Peter said he wrote two letters to the church “as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1). And Paul reminded his young friend Timothy to “keep reminding [your congregation] of these things” (2 Timothy 2:14). 

In the spirit of those great apostles, I have made it a practice to take time at the end of each year to look back on all that we have learned in the previous year, and then to look forward to where God may be leading Calvary Assembly of God in this upcoming year.

Clicking on each series title will take you to a list of all of the sermons in that series. 

Intimate Conversation—The dictionary defines the word “intimate” with these phrases: associated in close personal relations, characterized by warm friendship, and closely personal. These words perfectly describe the relationship God wants to have with His children through prayer. Pete Briscoe said, “Prayer is an intimate conversation with the One who passionately loves you and lives in you.” The One who loves you so passionately desires to walk with you and share intimate knowledge with you. Prayer is not something formal, cold, or mechanical, but it is vibrant, warm, engaging, and life-changing.

A Christian’s Mental Health—I don’t think there is any arguing that Jesus was the healthiest individual who ever walked planet Earth. Some may want to push back with, “Of course He was because He didn’t have any problems to deal with!” But the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus experienced everything you and I will ever experience (Hebrews 2:17), so His deity didn’t exclude Him from the stressors that His humanity would have to face. And yet, He handled all of these things successfully. Luke the physician observed the growth of Jesus and tells us that it all began with Jesus having a robust mental health. From that foundation, everything else—physical, spiritual, relational—all could develop properly. We must learn from this example and pay careful attention to our own mental health.

Bold Claims—“That’s a pretty bold claim. Are you prepared to back that up?” I’ll bet you have heard something like that said to you, and maybe you have even said that yourself to someone else who made a big, audacious statement. After Jesus is arrested by the religious leaders—an arrest that will ultimately lead to Jesus being crucified on the Cross—there are some incredibly bold claims spoken by key people in this part of the Story. For the most part, these are claims that we don’t read earlier in any of the Gospels, but as this story is heading toward its most crucial moment, we have these audacious statements pronounced. But here’s the most important part: These bold claims weren’t just made, but they were backed up with proof as well.

We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1500 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! Followers of Jesus—now empowered by an infilling of the Holy Spirit—began to take the good news of Jesus all over the world. These Spirit-filled Christians preached the Gospel and won converts to Christ even among hostile crowds, performed miracles and wonders, stood up to pagan priests and persecuting governmental leaders, and established a whole new way of living as Christ-followers. We, too, can be Pentecostal followers of Jesus Christ today. 

Ascending—Every year, Jews from around the world made four pilgrimages up to Jerusalem for various feasts and sacrifices. These journeys reminded them of God’s goodness as they went to the Temple to worship, and they helped refocus on God’s ways as they returned to their regular routines. Jerusalem is over 2500 feet above sea level, so the pilgrimage there was a physical workout as well as a spiritual workout. These workouts were beneficial for God’s people, preparing them to minister in their cities in the following months. The Book of Psalms contains 15 songs that these pilgrims would sing to and with each other as they traveled up to Jerusalem. These Psalms of Ascent are still instructive for Christians today.

Saints Together—Throughout the New Testament the word “saints” is always in the plural form. This is a clear indication that none of us can develop into the full-fledged Christians we were meant to be on our own. We all need each other. More specifically, we all need the most mature version of each other. A key component of an individual saint’s development is the time spent alone being forged by the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Maturing saints then come together with each other to continue to strengthen and sharpen everyone in the church. Strong individual saints make a strong church, and a strong church makes strong individual saints! Let’s learn about six important spiritual disciplines that each individual saint must put into practice so that they can use their newly developed strengths to help other saints in their own development. 

The Great Attitude Of Gratitude—There’s something about gratitude that distinguishes people. Think about it: would you rather hang around with grumblers or grateful people? The gratitude of Paul and Silas certainly made them stand out from the crowd when they were in Philippi. Wrongly accused, beaten, and thrown in prison, but instead of bellyaching, they were praising God. Later on, when Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Philippi, the theme of gratefulness permeates his letter. The distinguishing mark is actually in the title: The GReat ATTITUDE spells out GRATITUDE!

Long Live The King Of Kings—Throughout human history, whenever a king died, the people would say something like, “The king is dead. Long live the king!” They would say this because the next king ascended to the throne immediately after his predecessor died. Except when a nation had been defeated, the cry, “The king is dead” was unanswered by, “Long live the king!” Israel must have felt like this. After being defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and spending 70 years in exile, it appeared to many that the line of kings was broken. Even after retuning to their homeland, Israel continued to live under the thumb of other powerful nations. And yet, some still clung to the glimmer of the promise God had made about an eternal King sitting on Jerusalem’s throne. The First Advent of Jesus revealed to us in the Gospels reassures us that the promise of an eternal King is true. Jesus came to earth to reveal His majesty to us. The First Advent is so important because it bolsters our faith for the imminent Second Advent when Jesus will return as the King of kings! Christmas is a great time to be reminded that even now we can confidently declare, “Long live the eternal King of kings!”

2024 promises to be an exciting year! If you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, we would love to have you join us! 

The Best Way To De-Stress

Pastor Craig wrapped up on year-long long at nine mental health strategies for Christians. Check out this recap he shared on his blog, and scroll down to watch the video of the full message.

Of all the things that rob a Christian of peace and robust mental health, stress has to be near the top of the list. There are so many stressors in our lives that to not find a way to actively de-stress is to choose to remain stressed. This is sort of like fertilizing the weeds, as we learned in our second mental health strategy

A certain amount of stress is good for us—doctors call this eustress. Our bodies have been designed by God with a hormone called cortisol that helps us respond to stressful situations, and He also designed that the unused cortisol be flushed from our bodies as we sleep and exercise. However, when we become stressed, many times sleep and exercise are squeezed out of our lives. 

Men’s Health magazine reported, “You personally may dictate when you’ll die. After studying 1633 men for 30 years, Purdue scientists found that worrying takes 16 years off your life. Negative thinking triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that can be dangerous when elevated for long periods of time.” 

The eustress can degrade into distress if we’re not attentive to this downward slide. The excess cortisol that is allowed to remain in our bodies leads to unhealthy responses—like sleeplessness, starvation or binge eating, and little to no exercise. These unhealthy factors are further exacerbated by our diminished coping skills that come from the damage done to the hippocampus in our brain. Lingering cortisol kills the neurons in this memory center of our brains, which makes it harder for us to recall past lessons that could help us resolve stress. 

Sadly, distress can become its own downward cycle as the unhealthy responses and diminished coping skills negatively impact our lives, creating even more stressors. 

Stress makes us:

  1. Self-focused 
  2. Short-sighted 
  3. Stingy with our time, possessions, and even God’s promises 

But there is a word of hope for us. William James noted, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” 

I want to give you one thought—one word, one action—to combat stress: Bless

Blessing others takes the focus off myself. Blessing God puts the focus on Him. 

In the Gospels, we see people who had suffered the ravages of stress, encounter Jesus, find freedom, and then begin to bless others as a preventative to returning to their stress-filled lives. We can see a few examples in healed women, a man delivered from demons, and a woman who had lived a less-than-virtuous life (Luke 8:1-3, 26-39; 7:36-50). 

Frequently, the Old Testament psalmists shared how blessing God and others brought them out of their stressful situations. A great example comes from David when he chose to bless God in a stressful place, and ended up being a blessing to other afflicted people around him (Psalm 34:1-6). 

When you feel stress mounting, you need to get active. Feelings follow actions. We usually won’t feel ourselves into action, but we can act ourselves into feelings

The best way to de-stress is to bless! 

As we bless, look at the shifts that take place: 

  1. Instead of remaining self-focused we become others-focused 
  2. Instead of being short-sighted we get a big-picture orientation 
  3. Instead of being stingy with our possessions and God’s promises we become generous

Remember that in the distress cycle I mentioned earlier the brain cells in the hippocampus were being damaged? The excess cortisol literally kills those neurons. The good news is that the hippocampus is one of the few places in the brain that experiences neurogenesis after cortisol is flushed. When you replace stressing with blessing, and the cortisol is regularly flushed from your body, brain cells are regenerated in your hippocampus. In essence, you are developing both a new brain and a new mind. 

The apostle Paul wrote, “Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NKJV). 

Don’t let stress steal life from your years and years from your life. De-stress by blessing God and blessing those around you. 

If you’ve missed any of the previous eight mental health strategies that I have shared in this series, you can find them all by clicking here

Shift Your Faith

Pastor Craig shared the eighth mental health strategy in our year-long series. Below is the recap he shared on his blog. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom to get the link to watch the full sermon.

When Luke says first that “Jesus grew in wisdom,” that is our indication that a healthy mind is at the foundation for every other aspect of health (Luke 2:52). We don’t see Jesus anxious or worried, we don’t see Him confused in His thinking, or even indecisive of what to say or do. So by studying the life of Jesus—and the Scriptures on which He relied—we, too, can improve our mental health. 

This may sound unbelievable when you first read this, but I believe that at their foundation, anxiety and assurance are remarkably similar. The similarity is that they both have faith. 

The dictionary defines faith as a strong or unshakeable belief in something. The biblical definition of faith is remarkably similar: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). 

Using those definitions of faith, let me point out the similarity and the difference between the anxious mind and the assured mind:

  • Anxiety is faith or expectation that something bad is going to happen. 
  • Assurance is faith or expectation that something good is going to happen. 

But the biggest difference of all is seen in the mental health of the one worried and anxious about the bad things that are coming versus the one who is confidently assured of the good things that are coming. 

If we are going to be mentally healthy people, we need to shift our faith from anxiety to assurance every single time we feel the worry building in our hearts. This isn’t just changing our mindset but knowing what we believe and why we believe it. 

Assurance and anxiety both believe in the unseen. The assured person believes in God’s promises to provide all that we need, while the anxious person doubts their own abilities and resources will be able to sustain them. 

As a result, the assured person has an abundance mindset, while the anxious person has a scarcity mindset. 

These feelings can be traced back to our faith about the origins of the universe. The assured person believes that God transcends this universe—that He existed before time began and spoke all created things into existence (Hebrews 11:3). But the anxious person is still trying to find answers in constantly-changing theories about the universe’s beginning. 

Since the anxious person thinks the universe’s beginning was an accident, they can easily wonder if their own life is an accident. But the assured person believes they have been uniquely and purposefully created by God to have eternal purpose (Psalm 139:13, 16; Jeremiah 1:5). 

Finally, the person who sees the universe and their own life as accidental becomes quite anxious and uneasy when they think about death, and what may or may not come on the other side. But the one who trusts God as their Creator is confident that God is their eternal reward (Hebrews 11:6). 

Hebrews 11 is filled with the accounts of assured people who shifted their faith away from anxiety—believing something bad was going to happen—to the assurance that God was bringing about something incredibly good! Hebrews 12 then invites Christians today to remember that cloud of witnesses and keep our eyes on Jesus, who is described as the Author and Perfecter of our faith, so that we don’t lose hope (Hebrews 12:1-3). 

I’ve previously shared seven strategies for a Christian to maintain a strong mental health. Our eighth strategy is a constant shifting of our faith away from anxiety to assurance. Every single time an anxious thought tempts us to believe something bad is coming, we need to make a shift toward the assurance of God’s goodness. 

Really quickly, here is how we can use the first seven strategies to help us make that shift: 

  1. Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you make a new path. 
  2. Notice your fearful or anxious words and pull them out by the root.  
  3. Confront the thought patterns that are causing fear or anxiety. 
  4. Talk back to those fearful thoughts with the truth from God’s Word. 
  5. Check the inputs that may be causing fear (poor diet, not taking time for solitude, anxious friends, etc.). 
  6. Focus on today—I like the words of the song “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow!” 
  7. Don’t look to escape, but take time to de-escalate. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series on mental health, you can find all of them by clicking here