Surrounding Yourself With Encouragement During Trials

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

1 Peter 4:12-13New King James Version (NKJV)

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Suffering for God’s Glory

Last week I talked about some of the difficulties that my family was endured.      (Ramblings of Death, Illness and a Baby) It seemed that problems were coming at us faster than we could handle them. It was not just the big ones, (See the link.) but all the small ones that added to our stress and anxiety. The little things are the ones that just put you over the edge. The air conditioner failing, garbage disposal breaking and the dog deciding that the BBQ would make a great chew toy. It is in these moments that one wonders, “God where are you?” It is in these moments that you need encouragement. During trials it is critical to know your Bible and trust what it says. God uses His word to encourage us. Encouragement in trials is key to relieving the stress you are under.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17New International Version (NIV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Surround Yourself with Hope

The world has become so negative. We are surrounded by destructive words, behavior and images that demean our self worth and break us mentally and spiritually. This is why we must combat the enemy who wishes to destroy us. There are 5 ways that we can build our lives with a foundation of hope and encouragement.

PRAY: If you do not regularly communicate with God, you are making a big mistake in your life. God is our Heavenly Father, He loves us and wants to hear from us. He is an awesome and perfect Dad. These two verses say it best. 

 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

He shall regard the prayer of the destitute, And shall not despise their prayer.      (Psalm 102:17)

READ YOUR BIBLE: The Bible is God’s love letter to you, it is filled with hope and encouragement. How will you know God if you don’t read it? God has a plan for your life. Reading the Bible gives you clarity and peace.  Memorize verses so that you will remember them in the middle of a desperate moment.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

GO TO CHURCH: God created us to be relational, Church is a place where we are called to encourage one another, but also a place to be encouraged. Christians are called to care for one another. In the passage below, we are called to assemble together.

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

ENCOURAGING PEOPLE: We need to surround our selves with people who encourage us in our walk with God and in life. Look for people who use encouraging words that build you up and show you grace. Become one of these people, by building others up you will establish hope in your life through difficult times.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

POSITIVE SOCIAL MEDIA: Social media can either depress you or it can be a reminder of spiritual growth. If you look at my social media, I use it to encourage others with a daily reminder of God’s Goodness. I also surround myself with other like minded individuals. In the past month, so many people have inspired and encouraged my wife and I to keep enduring through these difficult moments. We have felt the prayers of thousands and have seen them answered.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Give Praise to God

Josiah

Although the last month was difficult I had so much to be thankful for. God brought a music album that encouraged me. It is from a friend of mine, Aaron Michael, so check it out. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/promises/1337486248)
We had a church that prayed for us, and family who supported us. I also had a special friend (Jill) from Instagram; who every day would send encouraging messages and prayers into our lives. I must also give praise to God, who is amazing. God healed my dad, so he and my mother were able to celebrate their 63 wedding anniversary. On that very same day, my son Josiah was born. He was born healthy and my wife is in amazing health and good spirits.

To the follower of Jesus, encouragement is a #proofofyourfaith.

Ramblings of Death, Illness and a Baby

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
~Psalm 9:9

Psalm 34:17-19 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Sickness has spread through out our house today. I would like to say that today’s post  was going to make a lot of sense, but I may be under a deep delusion since I have obtained some sort of flu bug and am writing this with a fever. I planned on writing some epic peace on the power of prayer, but am not sure if my concentration will hold  long enough for me to be coherent. It seems that every time I do have a “brilliant” thought to convey; my mouth interrupts my brain with a desire to run to the bathroom, or I am called by one of my children; to save them from the porcelain demon. Epic blog post this will not be, but rather one of ramblings.

James 1:2-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Every week I gather my notes, bible verses and convictions which are bound in prayer. I then begin my endeavor to share the love of Jesus with you. This week has been turbulent for me. My wife is due any moment with our new son to be, Josiah. His name in Hebrew means, “Jehovah has healed.” I sure pray that this is prophetic.

In all seriousness I really do mean that. For years I have prayed earnestly for my other son, Jakob; to be healed from a vaccine poisoning that he had as an infant. I have also prayed for a healing to my depression,(Depression and The Christian Faith) and with all the excitement of a new baby, we received word that my father has taken quite ill and their is the chance that I may not get to say, “Good bye.” It is impossible to be in two places at once, and definitely not a good idea to be sick with a flu and fever. This has left me torn and stressed. My desire is to be with my dad and comfort my mother, but my wife really needs me. I cannot wait for this demonic trial to stop tormenting me, but all in the good time of our heavenly Father. My trust will always be in the hands of my Father and His plan for my life. He is a good, good Father.

James 1:17 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Yes I do not blame God for my trials, I blame Satan. He is the one who comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He is the father of lies. The greatest lie he tells us, “This is all God’s fault.” I will not be persuaded by that liar. I do thank God for the opportunity to learn from my trials. I also ask God for more joy. It is from joy, that God grants inner peace so that Jesus can do His work of endurance and maturity. Trials after all are a #proofofyourfaith

Thank you Lord for the trials I face. Thank you Father, for teaching me patience and mercy. I know you love me and I know that you are there. You never leave or forsake me. Grant me strength to love, as you have loved me. Let me endure to the end, reaching towards you, falling into Your arms Jesus. Then this race will all be worth it, just to be with you, eternally.

Amen

Defining the Worship of God.

Do you know what it means to Worship God? Does your behavior, life, exemplify your worship of God?

A while back, I blogged about.  The God We Should Worship. It brought up a discussion with a friend, who asked, “Do we know what worship even is?” Many worship leaders don’t even understand what the purpose is. A pastor told me that in his search for a worship leader they had hundreds of applicants who could not define the purpose of worship.

Praise and worship are more than singing, they bring the follower of Christ to a place of reflection on their life in Christ, His  blood stained sacrifice and His resurrection. Simply put, it points us to the cross of Jesus. It directs us heavenly into the throne room of God. Worship and praise focus us on the awesomeness of God, His Love for us and His redemption of mankind from their sins. It overwhelms us with the knowledge of God’s love for us. The worshiper elevates God’s greatness above their own-self, acknowledging the glory of the creator. Their worship points to Christ and the truth of His Word. Christ centered worship enters us into the presence of God with heartfelt gratitude for what He has done. It is full of thanksgiving and humbles us with a contrite spirit. Scripturally sound worship, penetrates our soul with the word of truth, shedding us of the strife of life.

Godly worship empowers us in our walk with Christ, transforming us through the holy spirit. It engages us to act with love to those around us and finally it provides trust in God’s sovereign will for our lives. It testifies to God’s greatness.

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things,things planned long ago. (Isaiah 25:1)

Worship guides us: In the recognition that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Praise gives thanks for those gifts bestowed upon us by God.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.” (Psalm 16:2)

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

Worship guides us:  In the recognition of our sin and of Christ’s perfect act of redemption on the cross. Praise gives thanks for the Fathers Grace and His plan of salvation.

When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works. (Psalm 73:21-28)

Worship leads us: To the knowledge of total surrender to God’s sovereign will and grace. Praise provides a heart of gratitude that all things work out for His will. Worship is about surrendering your will to God, letting him speak to you and allowing Him to alter your thoughts, emotions and mindset. Worship can move us into His presence changing our lives forever. Surrendered worship fills you with more love, compassion and grace for others. It waters the fruits of your spirit, transforming you into  a new creation, removing the guilt, shame and condemnation.

Then Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord,
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
“There is no one holy like the Lord,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God. 
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed. (1Samuel 2:1-3)

 Worship shepherds us: it cultivates behavior that attests or testifies to the saving power and eternal hope that we have in Christ Jesus. Praise showers God for His enduring love that He has for us.

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16)

Worship is not about you!
It is a sad commentary, but worship for some is about being entertained. Worship needs to draw us to a place of righteousness. It is directed towards God for all that He has done for us.

In the end, worship can never be a performance, something you’re pretending or putting on. It’s got to be an overflow of your heart….. Worship is about getting personal with God, drawing close to God.  –Matt Redman

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12: 29-31)

In the same way, that we should love God; we should also worship Him. With all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. True worship is bound in the Christ centered love that we give to Him, who first loved us, and the active love we show to others.

Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of Person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Stand in awe of Him. Let Him overwhelm you with the way He is.  –John Piper

Worship and praise are not just to be done in a church building. Do them in your home, in the quiet places; where your soul can soar heavenward as sweet incense to God. Sincere, Godly, worship and praise are a proof of your faith.

Share with me your thoughts,

God Bless,

Stephan

Old Weary Me

Old weary Me. A poem by Stephan Caraway. How do you view your percieved failures?
Are you conquering life or just surviving?

The response from last weeks blog post has been amazing. (Destroying the Message of Guilt and Shame) The emails that I have received and the private messages, from Facebook, Twitter to Tumblr, have moved my heart. God is doing something incredible. My hope is for healing to take place and for your identity in Christ to become clear. A few weeks ago I posted a poem, I Need to Know the Cost. Once again I am not a poet; with that said, the good Lord inspired my heart to write this a few months ago. I thought it was an appropriate follow up to last weeks post. I love to get your feed back, I will respond to your comments. You may also email me at stephan@proofofyourfaith.com

Old Weary Me
By Stephan Caraway

So weary am I for this life I’ve tried,
So clearly in strife, all hope is denied.
With failures to last, in shame do I live,
A haunting past, with nothing to give.
The chains are heavy for old weary me.
In pain, I cried could You break them free?

Then with a whisper I heard Your voice,
In love You gave me a heavenly choice.
Not just to survive; but in Christ I would thrive.
In joyful tears, you removed my fears.
God’s love so true, I surrendered to you.
Forgiven at last, from my sinful past!

Now I live a conquering life,
No longer living in sinful strife.
Raging a war at the devils gates,
Leaving behind those burdensome weights.
Fighting and praying to set the captives free,
Telling the story of God’s love for old weary me.

So I set my mind on Christ above,
Looking to God’s gracious love,
on the Holy things that are heaven bound.
To hear God’s call, His voice to sound,
Well done good and faithful son.
Your cost is paid by the crucified one.

Praise to Him who saved my soul,
In Christ’s bloody, loving toll.
The cost, I cannot truly bare,
His love I must surely share.
I rejoice and sing for what for what God did win.
Salvation from that virus sin.

© 2018 Stephan Caraway. All Rights Reserved

One last note: Special thanks to insanitybytes2.wordpress.com. Her kindness in sharing my last blog post was amazing and heart felt. She demonstrated selflessness and love. Her writing does not come from vanity or a desire to seek fame, but from compassion and a desire to help others.

 

Destroying the Message of Guilt and Shame

“I know that there are also people who aren’t malicious, but are simply lacking in empathy. I know that there are some people who mean well, but are unfortunately clueless and oblivious.”- October 13, 2015
Rebecca Prewett, Rape Survivor

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-3‬ ‭

The other day, I met a woman who asked me why I was so positive. (My kids would laugh at this statement.) The compliment was nice to hear, because it meant she was seeing Jesus in me. I used the opportunity to share Jesus with her. Our conversation led me to understand that her belief in God was tied to her belief in the church. She began to share some of the pain she had been through in her life. She had endured a cheating husband, which led to a toxic marriage. She was raised Catholic and felt that she needed to forgive and keep trying. The more she tried, the more he cheated and bullied her. The guilt of failure made her stay in a one-sided marriage. Finally the pain was to unbearable and she divorced him.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:1‬ ‭‬‬

When I asked if she was still attending church, She looked down to the ground and with sadness said, “I cant handle the way I am judged by the Church. Guilt and shame tortures me enough.”

This was so painful to hear. Jesus came to remove the stench of our past and create a new life for those who surrender their lives to Him. The cross of Christ does not judge us, but frees us from the burdens of our sins. So many Christians are living with the shame and guilt of their past, it blinds them from focusing on Jesus. They can’t comprehend what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus.  It is easier to believe the demonic lies that Satan whispers to them; the fear based lies of guilt, shame, and condemnation. Many believers live in an identity crisis. They do not know who they are in Christ Jesus. Their identity is in their past, not in the future God has for them. She was discouraged and depressed, she thought God’s love was conditional. I encouraged her, shared the truth of God’s word and poured His eternal love into her.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:4-5

When it comes to guilt and shame it takes several conversations before an individual can began to understand what Jesus did for them. Many people read the Bible and all they see is condemnation. Jesus understood shame. He understands our shame. Jesus was stripped of all clothes, hung on a cross completely naked, fully exposed for all to see. He was abandoned, dehydrated and weak. The crowds mocked Him and laughed at Him.Their ridicule was cruel. In the passage at the top it says that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame. Don’t be fooled; this was a form of sexual abuse. The crowds were like a rape gang encouraging the torture, of God’s Son, adding to the shame Jesus felt. They cheered and celebrated His suffering. The Roman Crucifixion was a perfected art form of torture and humiliation.  Jesus was beaten, tortured, humiliated and shamed for our sins, our shame and our humiliation. All of this He endured for us; to be the author and perfecter of our faith in God. All for the joy of reconciling us to God. In His death and resurrection, Jesus freed us from the bondage’s of our past. His blood washed away our sins, guilt and shame.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17

Christ removes the old and makes things new. The Gospel is not about shame and guilt. Jesus died to remove the stain of it from our lives. The church is the bride of Christ, it is not meant to be condemning and judgmental. Followers of Jesus should be encouraging and loving, sharing the message of reconciliation. Philip Augustine a writer for jessicahof.blog  writes that Church attendance and those who claim to be christian has fallen significantly. I believe this is because we have failed to present a clear Gospel message of hope and salvation. We are using far to many commentaries and man made theologies instead of the scripture. The Gospel of Jesus provides hope and salvation, it empowers, forgives and demonstrates love. It is embodied only in Jesus Christ and His word. This is why we need to know the Bible, which is the Word of God.  His truth freed us. (See my blog post Are You Being Guided by Truth?)

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:37-39‬ ‭

There are those who promote their view over the scripture, they promote a “False Gospel”. (See: “The False Gospel We don’t Talk About” By Lisa Robinson) These are the ones who shame and guilt you into a religion that is not Christianity. There are also those who unintentionally lead people to hurt and depression, It is because they lack the love of Jesus. Many claim Jesus, few know Him or his love. In their own selfish pride, they destroy lives.

“I know that there are also people who aren’t malicious, but are simply lacking in empathy. I know that there are some people who mean well, but are unfortunately clueless and oblivious.”- October 13, 2015
Rebecca Prewett, Rape Survivor

The Bible speaks of a great deception that will cause many to fall away from Jesus. Some will leave because of hurt, and others will leave because of lies. Jesus will never be the reason. Let us not be deceived. This is why we do not put our faith in pastors or strange teachings but in Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word. We need to endure in our Bible reading and in seeking the truth of His kingdom. We need to endure in our love for one another. Endurance is a proof to your faith.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The quote was from the blog Prone to Wander. This is a tough subject, please let me know what you think.

–Stephan

Keep Your Life Calm With Love

Let’s be honest with each other; the world today needs love and needs to know God’s love.

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Everyday I hear the comments from liberals and conservatives wondering why we can’t get along. Interesting enough each group blames the other. Each side claims the other group is rude, angry, intolerant and full of hatred. I realized some years ago, what ails America is a lack of love. This is why we are a sick nation. I am not talking about tolerance, I am speaking about genuine selfless, patient, love. All sides of the hostile American political system are missing this. In the above passage, the word flesh is to be understood as your selfish desires. Paul, who wrote Galatians, was stating that all of God’s laws were directing us towards love. Those who love God, let His love fill their lives through Jesus. It is through His love for us that we are able to love one another. Christ demonstrated that love by willingly sacrificing His life on the cross for us. Those who really follow Jesus as their savior understand this and live by it. Yes, I am making a clear distinction between those who follow Jesus and those who claim to be Christians. Jesus also made the distinction.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

What does the love of a true Christian look like?

Paul makes that clear as well; we are to serve one another. It does not require a rocket scientist to figure this out, but love that serves does so without a self motivated agenda. It is compassionate, patient, forgiving, and gentle. True love never speaks a harsh word, it never responds out of anger or hurt. The one who serves others encourages and builds up. This was demonstrated to us by Jesus. This is how we, who claim to be Christians, should act. Study the death of Jesus. Show me the harsh words He uses. You will not find them, because Jesus came to serve. Jesus came to love.

45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Paul does give a warning in the passage from Galatians. It is the warning that every American needs to hear. It is a message to every person who claims they are good. It is a warning to the prideful and the arrogant. Read it carefully.

15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15

There seems to be a push by many Americans for violence. Violence will not solve anything. It will result in the death of millions. Innocent people will suffer, especially children. Violence, anger, hate will consume and destroy us all. This is why we need to love. Love never fails. Love always wins. So love deeply and love often.
P.S. To the people of Singapore I love you and am praying everyday for you. May the love of Christ fill your hearts with joy and peace. May you endure to the end. Run the race with everything you have until you fall into the arms of Jesus.

Are You Being Guided by Truth?

Reading the Bible needs to be at the forefront of what we do in life.

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

A while back, I posted The God We Should Worship . The purpose was to bring some clarity to the incorrect understanding that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. The central argument is that Christians worship Jesus because He is God, the Triune God. This is the core of Christian belief. We get this theology from the Bible. Jesus made this claim several times. Muslims view Jesus as a mere prophet whose teachings they regularly ignore. The differences between Islam and Christianity are apparent. One only needs to read the Bible to know that there is no grace of God in Islam. Grace is a character of God that he reveals in the Bible.  Through the scriptures, God reveals Himself to us. I have found myself in awe of God as a result of seeking Him. One gets to know God by studying the Bible, memorizing scripture and praying. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. The more I love Him, the more I desire to be in His presence. I love him because he first loved me. For God is love. It is in His love for me that God reveals His Divine character of truth through His word.

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him”.(John 18:37-38)

The whole world claims we want truth, honesty, integrity, and transparency. The fact is that most people don’t even seek it. They personally don’t want truth to interfere in their daily lives. They don’t want truth to destroy their misguided conceptions of life. Most people would rather believe lies about themselves. They live in the guilt and shame of their failures. They can’t comprehend that God could love them. The truth of God’s word, tells us that He loves us. Those who truly seek truth become doers of truth. The person who does not apply the word of God to their lives is failing to live a Christ centered life. If you are not reading God’s word, you can’t apply it. If you are not reading and applying the Bible to your life; your Christianity is worthless.

“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (‭‭James‬ ‭1:21-22‬ ‭NASB)‬‬

Are you of the truth? Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Jesus told Pilate, that everyone who is of the truth hears His voice. If you don’t read God’s love letter to you, how will you distinguish the truth from a lie? Are you listening to the stranger’s voice? Examine your life for a moment. Is your Christianity weak? Do you struggle with your walk with God? Are you focused on loving Jesus or are you living in doubt? There are things that you can do to draw closer to God.

  1. Ask God for help. Seek His wisdom.
  2. Read the Bible everyday. This is critical. It’s good to have a plan. Write down what you learn. I journal through my Bible Everyday
  3. Memorize scripture. Take time while you are standing around and memorize scripture. (I use an app called fighter verses.)
  4. Pray. Write down your prayers and your answers .  If you have a hard time praying, pray through the scriptures. (Try the Psalms)

God loves you! Let God’s grace shine on you. Seek His truth.

I Need to Know the Cost

The cross shows us our value to God. It demonstrates God’s love for us and how precious we are to Him.

We despised him and rejected him;
he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
we ignored him as if he were nothing.
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
(Isaiah 53:3-5)

I do not consider myself a poet, that word belongs to those who dedicate themselves to that art. This past year, I have had some amazing times with God and have been  inspired to write some of my thoughts down. I am confounded by God’s love for me. It overwhelms me at times and leaves me drenched with love, understanding and awe. On one such occasion, I wrote the following poem:

I Need to Know the Cost.

I need to know the painful cost,
of the blood He shed upon His cross.

So gruesome a price Christ did pay, His life, our sins He did slay.
Unworthy of Him who bore my sin.
All for love my soul to win.
His body so broken, His flesh torn to shred.
My life to be saved, with his blood that was shed,
I need to know the epic cost, of the life Christ gave upon His cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

Oh Holy Communion remind me still,
of the precious blood that was spilled.

Repentance I need for my sorrowful sin.
His body so broken for my soul to win.

How precious is the life Christ gave, by grace and love, my life to save.
I need to know the painful cost, of the life we hung upon that cross.

Lead me to the everlasting way; that my heart will never stray.
Fix my eyes on the eternal one, so Christ can finish this race I run.
So precious  is your love for me, in Jesus name I am free.
Grow your love in me; still more, so others will see the cross you bore.

© 2018 Stephan Caraway. All Rights Reserved

Final Thoughts: Since we are approaching Palm Sunday, ask yourself the following: Is your love for Jesus real, is your praise genuine or are you just a fan?

A big Happy Birthday today to my hero, friend and the best sister in the world. You  inspire me with the way you live a conquering life for Jesus. Happy Birthday Rebecca!

Depression and the Christian Faith (Pt. 2)

Representing Jesus, in a worthy manner, while enduring painful trials; should be the goal of every Christian.

Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart is appalled within me. (Psalm 143:4)

For the past few years I have been absent from writing, not because I wanted to but because I couldn’t. It has been difficult dealing with depression, I have felt so suffocated and at times very paralyzed. In order to deal with my depression, I had to prioritize what was important in my life and remove the things that interfered with surviving. This sounds brutal but it was necessary.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul. (Psalm 143:8)

The first priority was seeking God to bring me through this nightmare. I did not want to lose my ability to show kindness and love during my cycles of depression. I knew that maintaining my relationship with the “Great Physician” was key to battling the waves of anxiety and sadness. At time this was a chore; forcing myself to read the scripture and praying, when all I wanted to do was to vegetate in the corner of a dark closet. These quiet times were so valuable to me, the time spent with God gave me the strength to endure another day of pain and misery. God also gave me the ability to push through with a measure of love and kindness that was not my own. The Psalms were and still are a great comfort to me.

Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

The second priority was family. I did not want to let down my wife and children while under the crushing effects of depression. I look back and am amazed that I was diligent in going to work and providing for them. This was clearly God’s love for me. I know that if I had not been consistent with prayer and the scripture, things at home would have deteriorated quickly. I did not want my illness to be an excuse for sin. I still had to honor and love my wife and children. As I look back I can see how God just filled in when I thought I had no more strength to make it through a day. But by honoring my commitments, God honored me. I truly felt the shepherding hands of Jesus lifting me up and prodding me to get through each day.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits. (Psalm 103:1-2)

The third priority for my life became a commitment to health and mental health. Jesus made it clear that our bodies are a temple in which God wants to reside. We must take care of our temple. Diet was an integral part in fighting depression. I removed some of my favorite foods and saw a marked improvement. I also made a commitment, with the supervision of a doctor, to take medication. The key is to be honest with your doctor, it is not shameful to take medication. You may have to adjust what you take, but stay with the program. Family is a great motivator. My wife was amazing in her support of me. She really worked with me on meal plans and encouraged me in being consistent in taking my medication. The love I have received from my family has made this journey enjoyable. My kids have actually loved some of the changes. We have learned to love new health choices in our diet such as Yucca Root, Turmeric, and Arugula. Cooking with the kids has become a real joy and an adventure. It is quite encouraging to focus on the benefits of your new diet and celebrate the victories, rather than mourning the changes.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s loving-kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

It is important to prioritize the energy that gets you through each day. I could not endure this affliction without Jesus. My walk with him will always be a priority, because of His love for me. When you do struggle; ask God for strength and He will provide.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the Lord(Lamentations 3:24-26)

The proof of our faith is not the trial, but it is in the manner in which we deal with it, and in the way we represent Jesus to the world while enduring the trial. Love is always the proof of anyone’s Christian claim.

Depression and The Christian Faith

2016 was one of the most difficult years for me. It was a year in which I faced incredible stress and heartbreak. It was also the year that I faced my depression.

I have not been able to blog for quite a while. A few of you have contacted me to find out why. This last year I have had to deal with my depression. I ignored it to long, and I believe that God finally made me face it. I actually believed that my relationship with God was at its best point in my life. I was enjoying daily devotion time and really learning so much. But God wants us to face the truth about who we are. I wanted to deny my depression, after all how can a Christian be depressed? For me this is what I struggled with for the past few years. I wondered if I was failing God. I would agonize, “Where was the Joy that was supposed to come with being a follower of Jesus?” Instead of dealing with the depression, I would make excuses, blame others, or just live in denial. This year my depression took an ugly turn. It came in so hard and deep that I could hardly function. It suffocated me. All the things I enjoyed in life were gone, I could not see any optimism or hope. I would find my self weeping for no apparent reason. These struggles would often lead to emotional out burst of anger, fear, anxiety and deep sadness.

My wife finally had enough and let me know that she was no longer going to tolerate me if I was not going to get help. She began to detach herself from me and our marriage. Over the last few years I had failed to realize what a toll my depression had placed on my wife. I had ignored the pain she had to endure.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NLT)

Depression is not a sin

The first thing that I had to realize was that depression was not a sign that I was failing God or that God did not love me. There are many examples in the scripture of people who fervently loved God, but suffered from depression. Elijah and David as well as the Apostle Paul all endured periods of great depression. Philippians seems to be a letter written specifically for those enduring depression. The word Joy is one of the most underlining themes. It is full of encouragement and reminders of God’ faithfulness. One of the Psalm’s that has helped me the most is Psalm 143. This passage has become a rock for me durring the last year. I find myself praying this Psalm to God at least once a day.

Once I realized that my depression was not a sin, I did have to come to grips with the fact that the results of depression can lead one to sin, in the way they treat others. Some of the sins that I struggled the most with were fear, anger, selfishness, pride and intolerance. As I look at this list I am filled with great shame. I never realized the pain I was causing others. A person who is dealing with depression often fails to see the sins that are doing the most harm in their lives. This is why it is important to get help.

Stop blaming others and circumstances and just get help!

My life is extremely stressful, so it was alway easy to blame my behavior on stress, or on someone else. When I finally agreed to get help it opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had been ignoring. It also helped me to understand what was contributing to my depression. It turns out that my liver is a major contributor to my depression. So along with medication, I have had to change my diet. This is not easy for me because I love to cook. I have gone to a gluten free, dairy free and night shade free diet. In other words a twig and tree bark diet.(It is really not that bad; but there are so many foods that I had to give up.) I have had to give up tomatoes and potatoes and all peppers as well as bread and dairy. The diet has been brutally tough; the food I am willing to sacrifice, but my marriage and devotion to Christ, I am not. I have had to learn to cook in a whole new way. It has actually helped both with my depression and relationships with my family. My children have become quite excited about trying the different dishes that I prepare. My wife and I have become much closer and have really developed much better communication skills.

God wants us to grow in Him. My counselor reminds me every session of Psalm 139:23-24. It is a verse that every follower of Christ should pray and meditate on each day:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

You may not realize how your behavior is effecting others, so please seek help, repentance, forgiveness and  most of all, trust in God’s plan for your life.