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

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

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.