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.

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.

 

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.