Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words (Round 2)
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
The term comes up most frequently in golf and baseball. In 1998, L.A. Times writer Thomas Bonk interviewed elderly PGA golfers like Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, and Paul Runyan, whose career went back to the 1920s and 1930s, to find out if they knew the origin of the word “yips.” Nelson said, “I first heard it when I was on the tour in the ’30s. It was always just there” (Thomas Bonk, 2/26/98, “‘Yips’ or ‘Twitches,’ Who Knows Origin?”).
No less than the Mayo Clinic discuss this condition, which they describe as “involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers are trying to putt.” But, as they point out, anxiety makes it worse as the athlete “becomes nervous and self-focused–overthinking to the point of distraction–that their ability to execute a skill, such as putting, is impaired” (Mayo Clinic).
The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “Nervousness or tension that causes an athlete to fail to perform effectively, especially in missing short putts in golf.” I am more familiar with this term in baseball. Mackey Sasser was a catcher who, after a home plate collision, began having difficulty accurately throwing the baseball back to the pitcher. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch started having trouble throwing accurately to first base. Pitcher Rick Ankiel could not keep from throwing wild pitches and Jon Lester, another pitcher, has had trouble for years throwing the ball to first base.
Just Google “yips” and you can read about how traumatic and life-changing it is for those who once mindlessly, successfully did a task they ultimately found debilitatingly difficult to do. They consulted psychologists and hypnotists, struggling to get back to where they just didn’t think about the fundamental task that now overwhelmed them. But, some have succeeded. Steve Sax, who suffered from the yips in 1983–the second baseman had 26 errors by the All-Star Break–would rebound to be the best defensive second baseman in 1989. He credits a conversation with his ailing father during the 1983 break. His father told him it wasn’t a mental block, but a temporary loss of confidence, that he needed to practice being more confident and it would positively effect his play (Sportscasting.com).
Have you ever found it difficult to do something that once came easily or naturally? Has fear ever gripped you and become a roadblock to success? Certainly, there are mental health conditions that cause people to panic and wrestle with anxiety. But, what about the person who tried to share the gospel with a friend only to suffer rejection or maybe even embarrassment? What about the one who tried to gently confront someone at spiritual fault or overtaken by sin, who was rebuffed to such a degree that it was traumatic? What about the new Christian who was asked to lead public prayer, whose mind went blank, froze, and nearly couldn’t complete the task? There are several areas of Christian duty that can cause us to “freeze up” or shy away from doing them. An unpleasant experience can get into our heads and talk us out of trying to do them again.
How can we overcome this? Consider a few tips from Scripture:
- Forget the past and focus on the future (Phil. 3:10)
- Pray for boldness and confidence (Acts 4:29,31)
- Ask others to pray for your ability and boldness (Eph. 6:19)
- Get others to join you or help, where possible (Ecc. 4:9-12)
- Look to Christ for your confidence and success (Phil. 4:13)
- Don’t let a past failure define you; Keep at the task (Acts 15:38 and 2 Tim. 4:11)
- Elevate your motivation and remember why you do what you do (Col. 3:23)
- Focus on those who may be taking their lead from you, who look to you as their model (1 Tim. 4:12; Heb. 13:7)
- Rediscover the joy (Phil. 2:17)
These are just a few of the divine strategies from the mind of God. We have a Father who speaks to us in His Word. His counsel is also for us to practice being more confident, but to look to Him as the source of that confidence. The end result is more than mere professional success. We can impact eternity when we overcome any obstacle to our service. Do you need to “get back in there”? Utilize the tools He has given! You’ll be so glad you did, and so will others.
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Romans 5.5 is a verse that I know I’ve read many times, but never paid attention to.
It says, “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
This whole section of Scripture is awesome, but this verse really caught my attention. How is the love of God poured into our hearts? How do we experience this? Is it a feeling or understanding? Are we given a sense of calm knowing we are saved?
Context reveals that Jesus showed this love by dying for those who hated Him. God’s love is experienced through Jesus’ death (Romans 5.6, 8). So in that sense, we are able to access God through the sacrifice Jesus made with the Spirit who was given to us.
However, it does seem that the love mentioned in verse five is something a little different.
Firstly, it isn’t the only thing we have with God. We also have peace with God and grace (Romans 5.1, 2). The context of this chapter and much of the next is about the benefits of salvation.
Secondly, the love of God seems to be pretty directly applied. The word “poured” in 5.5 is ἐκχέω (encheo), which means, “to cause to fully experience” (BDAG 312). It’s also a perfect passive verb, which means it was poured in the past and continues to be poured; God was the one doing the pouring.
The destination of this love is our (that is, those who are saved) hearts. When we have been justified, and when we take pride in our trials because they develop endurance, proven character, and hope, God pours love into our hearts.
Because of the multitude of “for”s and “therefore”s following this verse, I lean more towards the idea that this love is something we experience as a result of gaining rational confidence of our salvation through Christ.
My goal in writing this article is not necessarily to explain Romans 5.5 – I do not pretend to know the answer – but to hopefully provoke thought and demonstrate the depth of scripture. I love these difficult passages, and hope that you will study them as well.
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
Wiley Miller is the creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. When apolitical, Miller’s strip can be enjoyable. I cut one of his strips from a daily edition of The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC) back in the early aughts featuring “the eternal optimist.” In the one-panel comic, the grim reaper stands before a man in business attire. This eternal optimist calls to his wife in another room: “Well, honey, it doesn’t look like I have to worry about that long commute anymore.” I kept that strip until it yellowed with age and crumbled into oblivion. I did so for another reason than having a dark sense of humor. I hope I am an optimist on the order of the businessman finding something good to say even in the face of death.
Paul had such a character. He told the Philippians that he had everything to gain in death, as a Christian, and needed only remain for the sake of the brethren (Philippians 1.21-26). Nearing the end of his life, a confident Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8 NASB). Why was Paul an eternal optimist? It was not because he was free of sin. Indeed, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15). However, Paul was full of faith and understood God’s grace.
We cannot afford to live in fear, whether that fear is of death or whether we are “good enough.” We must do the will of God. John says, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB). That faith may not always take us to places providing comfort. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had their faith put to the test. Nebuchadnezzar had instructed everyone to bow to his golden image in worship. The young Hebrews refused because they remembered the Law of Moses and their covenant relationship with God. Nebuchadnezzar was angry with the young men and told them they would perish in a fiery furnace. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3.16b-18 NASB).
Did you notice why they did not fear? Can you see why they were optimistic? They understood their God was more powerful than a king and could deliver them. Yet, even if God did not deliver them, they still realized they had an obligation to serve Him regardless. These days the world seems scary. There is so much bad news on TV. But our God is more powerful. Thus, we can even say, “If I do catch COVID-19, God will deliver me. But even if He does not, I know Heaven will be my home.” Other scenarios would likewise suffice as an example. However, this is one of the things that seems to be on the minds of many today. Build your faith and become an eternal optimist as well. The world, in turn, will become a less daunting place.
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
We know that tomorrow isn’t promised and we also understand that, unless God comes first, everyone will die one day. With that being said, I am almost 100% certain that nobody reading this will pass from this life after having a cow fall through your roof. The “steaks” just aren’t that high. While this is an unlikely way to die, it’s not an impossible way to go. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Joao Souza in 2013. A one-ton cow was grazing on the hills behind his home in Caratinga before it somehow found it’s way up on to his roof. An unknowing Souza was snoozing on his couch when suddenly his life was over. The asbestos-filled roof collapsed under the weight of the cow. Being done in by a bovine is not exactly a bodacious way to make that final transition, but the media had reported two more similar events of cows seemingly falling from the sky in this area just two years prior. Even though this event actually occurred, how ridiculous would it be for us to spend our days in fear— worrying that we will meet a similar fate?
The last verse of Matthew six will tell you not to exert so much energy worrying about tomorrow. This passage has brought peace and comfort to many Christians throughout the years, but many of us still worry about our tomorrows. I guess if our tomorrows were actually ours to begin with, we may really have something to fear. The truth is, God owns the future. He doesn’t tell us not to worry about the things that are unlikely to happen, He simply tells us not to worry. God’s almighty hand still holds the world, and for the faithful believer this reality can set your mind to rest. I’m not sure what tomorrow brings. It’s possible that a cow could even come crashing through my roof and send me into eternity— but that’s alright. It’s not just alright because I could use a little more dairy in my diet, but it’s alright because a life in Christ comes with a secure future. It doesn’t matter what Fox News tells us when the Good News already told us everything we need to know. No matter what the day may bring nothing can change the fact that Jesus came, He died, and He definitely is alive, well, and active every day. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Let’s live our lives with joy and in the peace only He can provide.
I hope this moos you and that you have an udderly fantastic day. If this beefed up your spiritual cow-fidence please share with someone else.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
In a world facing ever-changing circumstances, we need to be reminded of some truths about God. A great text that can help us do this is found in the writings of the Messianic prophet, Isaiah. He tells us some exciting facts about God in Isaiah 33:5-6. In brief, Isaiah reminds us of God’s transcendence (“exalted…on high”), His trustworthiness (“has filled Zion with justice and righteousness”), and His treasure (“a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure”). In the midst of upholding God’s perfect character, the prophet makes this reassuring statement: “And He will be the stability of your times.”
In part, here is what that means to us today…
- There is no minimum distance we have to keep from Him under any circumstance (Jas. 4:8).
- There is no restriction or limit on our access to Him and His blessings, on prayer or His Word (Phil. 4:19).
- There is no chance that you will look for Him and He will not be there (Psa. 50:15).
- There is no possibility that you will learn that what was true of Him yesterday is not true of Him today (or tomorrow)(Heb. 13:8)
- There is no cancellation policy at the throne of grace for the child of God (Heb. 4:16).
- There is no threat or danger that can keep you from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).
- There is no earthly thing to nullify the truth that “the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid” (Heb. 13:6).
- The more we expose ourselves to Him, the healthier we will be.
- There is zero chance that you will go to Him for healing and have it fail (Jer. 8:22; Luke 5:31).
Scripture calls Him the Rock (Deut. 32:4), the shield (2 Sam. 22:31), my protection (Isa. 27:5), my shield, stronghold, and protection (2 Sam. 22:3), and a strong tower (Prov. 18:10). As Nebuchadnezzar understood, “all His works are true and His ways just” (Dan. 4:37).
Take heart. Take on the day. Take comfort and refuge. “And He will be the stability of your times.”
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
We find God not in an anxious mind, but a still heart. God exhorts us in Psalm 46.10a, “Be still, and know that I am God” (KJV). Contextually, this statement occurs amid the possibility of much turmoil. We admit sometimes we must move forward to receive God’s deliverance, as the Israelites did when pressed by pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (Exodus 14.13-16). Yet, there are also times when we can do nothing. For those times, we’re to be still.
What do we mean by “still?” Without trying to sound like a Hebrew scholar which I’m not, allow me to suggest by using this word God is saying, “Drop your arms!” In other words, quit fighting or putting up a resistance. The New American Standard states in Psalm 46.10a we are to “cease striving.” Each of us reach a point in our life when the time for our struggle ends and we must enter the vestibule of God’s Providence.
What do we do, for example, when the doctor says we have cancer? The Kubler-Ross model of grief puts anger as third on its list of seven stages. We all experience grief differently, so anger may come either sooner or later for you than at stage three. However, I can tell you from experience, anger is something you feel dealing with cancer. “Why me? Why not this sinner over here? I never smoked. I never drank. I’ve been chaste.” Yet, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” He has shown us through His Word, His grace is enough (2 Corinthians 12.8-10). And for any lingering anxiety, there’s prayer. What does prayer do? It grants peace we cannot even comprehend (Philippians 4.6-7).
Though an entire lesson can be given about Providence, let me briefly suggest why it’s more awesome than the miracles for which people beg when they hear “cancer.” For a miracle, God instantaneously suspends natural law, and directly intervenes. It’s amazing, I admit. It shows His power in a way one cannot ignore (e.g. parting the Red Sea). Yet, it’s also not the thing to which He must resort to heal one’s body of a disease like cancer. His Providence is there to use the immune system which He placed within us. Providence is quiet. It requires that we be still to observe it. When we do, we see God in a thousand different things. Like a domino stacking champion, God aligns the bits and pieces that, when struck, fall into place revealing the beautiful mosaic He planned for us all along.
The more still you make yourself throughout life, the more you see His Providence. Through prayer comes peace, yes, but so, too, the wisdom to know when to move and when to be still (James 1.4-6). So, let go and let God. Live faithfully and trust Him do the rest.
It was painful to watch my Georgia Bulldogs pulverized by the Auburn Tigers (my fellow Bronco fans can easily relate this year). Yet, later that Saturday evening, I found myself smiling and even cheering for a familiar face who was calmly embracing a signature win against college football’s number three team, Notre Dame. Level-headed. Even-keel. Happy. None of those words quite captured the way I wanted to describe Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt (former general of my beloved Dawgs). It was Dan Walken (USA Today, 11/13/17, 1C,6C) who found the one I was searching my mind for: “serene.” He is peaceful, placid, poised, and phlegmatic. But, as Walken points out, it’s not because the Hurricanes have ascended to number two in the Coaches and Press polls. He has been that all along, even the day he was fired at Georgia (his .740 winning percentage, 145-51, is the highest in college history for any coach ever to be fired). He was criticized for not being able to win the big game—which he still hasn’t. Second to that, the fan base was agitated that he was too concerned about his off-season mission work. There’s such an interesting story about how Richt came to faith, and how deeply his faith drives his life. Walken’s article mentions nothing of that, but few people who know about Richt fail to know how profoundly religion effects his life. It is, unquestionably, what drives his come-what-may serenity.
What characteristic best describes me? I know several I’d like for it to be, but, ultimately, I don’t get to describe myself. The people who know me or know about me get to do that. While the word “serene” is not found in most English translations, it is a biblical concept. 91 times, the New Testament uses a word (εἰρήνη—eirene) that is usually translated “peace.” Luke 11:21 has “undisturbed” (NASB). It can describe harmony between governments or in personal relationships, but it also describes a state of well-being within. In fact, that’s usually the way New Testament writers use it. Jesus says He offers a peace superior to what the world can give (John 14:27). A mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (Rom. 8:6). The God of hope can fill you with peace in believing (Rom. 15:13). This peace passes all comprehension and guards your heart and mind (Phil. 4:7). It can rule your heart (Col. 3:15). It can be yours in every circumstance (2 Thes. 3:16). Repeatedly, Scripture promises peace to the disciple of Christ.
But our world continually scrambles to find it, much less maintain it. It seeks to achieve peace through alcohol and drugs, firearms, money and things, achievement and success, and other earthly things to plug that void. If at our core we do not fill ourselves with the peace of God, we will find ourselves futilely searching and never finding tranquility and undisturbed calm. Richt was able to smile and be joyful at the press conference that centered around his dismissal. You and I can embrace joy and steadiness in the darkest, most painful, moments of life. We never want false hope or empty peace. But a life directed and submissive to the pure, unadulterated Word and will of God leads to unshakable peace. No matter what comes our way!
Would people say I am serene? What about you?
- Planting gospel seed (cf. Luke 8:11) will result in people of all ages, backgrounds, and nations becoming Christians.
- Overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:17-21) will soften hard-hearted enemies.
- Approaching a wayward brother or sister in lovingkindness (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20) will bring some back to faithfulness.
- Faithful attendance will stimulate to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
- Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs from the heart and with purpose will help us and everyone else who is present (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
- Spending time together and getting to know each other will make us closer to one another (Acts 2:44; 4:32).
- Investing in a heartfelt relationship with God will lessen anxiety and increase peace and joy (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
- If the church stays committed to souls and service, it will grow (Acts 6:1-7).
- Speaking to (rather than about) those who we feel have offended us results in greater harmony and reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-17).
- Culture is met mightily by transformed, sacrificial representatives for Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
- We will win more in the world if we are not trying to simply embrace and imitate it as it is (Jas. 4:4).
- Emphasizing leadership will result in people rising up to lead (cf. Ti. 1:5-11; 1 Th. 5:12-13).
- Homes united in dedication to putting Christ’s kingdom first will have a high rate of success in raising faithful children (Pr. 22:6; Eph. 6:1-4).
- If we will consult Scripture for answers to our dilemmas, we’ll uncover the best solutions possible (Ps. 119:105).
In our search for relevance, effectiveness, and success in our present world, let’s not overthink it! Whatever the question, if it matters (2 Pet. 1:3), the Bible has the answer. It will work!