Keep Focused

Does the word psychosomatic still have a negative connotation?

It used to be that if someone accused you of having a psychosomatic illness, they meant it was “all in your head.” In other words, change your thinking and your illness will disappear.

But we know so much more now about the mind-body connection. The mind does affect the body and it can cause very real, very distressing physical ailments.

When Q13 first developed cyclic vomiting, everyone asked, “It must be stress, don’t you think?” That question stressed me out! I felt like they were blaming me, like I could somehow change my parenting and his cycles would stop. I already work so hard to keep stress out of my home. Don’t you think that if I could have done anything differently to keep my child well, I would have done it?

As it turns out, the poor kiddo has anxiety hand-in-hand with inattentive ADHD. He does not look like an anxious kid, but who knows what loopdeloops his brain spins. And his body pays the price, which increases his anxiety. More than one cycle at play, because of course our bodies affect our minds as well.

My sister is in the hospital. Again. She’s been in and out of the hospital for years with a chronic illness. Like most illnesses I’m sure it can be aggravated by stress, but the physical pain in her body sure causes stress.

She texted me an update and, understandably, vented her frustrations. She also yelled at God a little bit.

That’s okay, He can take it. But I took the opportunity to encourage her that God isn’t doing this to her, that He’s right there with her holding her hand and hurting with her.

Life happens, whether it’s illness, conflict, a bad day at work, or ordinary inconveniences like a flat tire or keys locked in the car. It can shake our confidence and, some days, even make us question God.

We all need some encouragement, all the time, but especially when discouragement flusters our faith. We need other people to help us keep our focus squarely on Jesus. When all else fails, He is our solid ground.

Walk in Love
Week 12: Final Words
1 John 5:13-21

Connect
What helps you feel confident?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:13-21.
What does this passage say we “know” (vv13, 15, 18-20)? Why are those things important?
What does this passage say God does for us (vv14-16, 18, 20)? Why are those things important?
Name some examples of prayers you could boldly pray “according to his will” (v14).
What specific prayer does John encourage (v16)?
Why do God’s children not continue to sin (vv18-20)? How does that square with your experience of life?
Why do you think John ended his letter with a caution against idolatry (v21)? How does that fit with what he’s already said?
Imagine you are among John’s congregation, hearing these words after a contentious church split. Explain how this passage would make you feel.

Live
When have you felt uncertain in your faith, and what did you do about it?
What helps you focus on Jesus when you feel discouraged?
How does your eternal life influence your daily life? Explain.
Share an example of a bold prayer you prayed and God answered.
How have you seen people in the church handle (well or not so well) other people’s sin?
What idols compete for your attention? How do you guard yourself again their temptations?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus.

 

Getting to Know You

If you want to get to know me but you only invite me to large group gatherings and never have time for a chat over a cuppa joe, you might describe me as awkward, or unfriendly, or cold.

I hope I’m not truly awkward, unfriendly, or cold. However, as an introvert, large group settings are not my comfort zone. If you want to get to know me, it sure helps to know that smaller, more intimate settings are where I open up and can be my best self.

Like the story you’ve probably heard about the blind men and the elephant. Each man stood near a different section of the massive creature. As they felt tail, or trunk, or side, or leg, each described what sounded like a different animal. They didn’t understand they were describing parts of a whole and so they missed the truth of the elephant.

Sadly, it’s possible to do the same thing with Jesus. If we only want to think of Him as a good guy, a teacher, a buddy, and don’t acknowledge His divinity, His saving work on the cross, His indwelling Spirit that confirms for us the Truth about who He really is in all His glory, then we’ve actually missed getting to know Him at all.

God’s Church is massive, and each individual church has a different style and approach to knowing God. That’s fine, but to truthfully proclaim Jesus, there are a few essential Christian beliefs:

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He lived to show us how to live humanly, and He died to pay the price for our sins so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Love God and love for His people are the basic and greatest commandments, and they are how we show that we know and love Him (yes, that sounds like circular logic: to show we love God we love God and His children, but it works).

The denomination to which our church belongs has a helpful motto: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

If it matters for salvation (and Jesus as fully God and fully human sure does), we hold those things in common.

If it doesn’t matter for salvation but is a matter of interpretation and practice, you do you.

But in all things, we share God’s love. Because we love God, and loving God means loving His children.

Walk in Love
Week 11: Victory & Assurance
1 John 5:1-12

Connect
What is important for someone to understand about you as they get to know you, and why?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:1-12.
What is important to believe about Jesus (vv1, 5)?
Explain John’s argument about loving God and loving God’s children (vv1-4).
What do we learn about Jesus from His baptism and crucifixion (“water and blood”)? What would be different about Christianity if we believed only one or the other (vv6-10)?
Explain the significance of the three who testify about Jesus (vv6-12). What do they testify?
What encouragement does this passage hold for one who believes in Jesus, God’s incarnate Son, who died for our sins?

Live
What difference does God’s Spirit, testifying to Jesus as God’s Son who lived and died for us, make to your daily decisions?
How do you lovingly handle differences of belief with others who also say they believe in Jesus?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:23-24. How do you share the good news of the cross with someone who thinks it’s foolishness?
How do you recognize the testimony of the Spirit?
How do/can God’s children encourage you to stick to the essentials of Christian faith?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Walk in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:2

One of my earliest childhood memories took place on a sultry Rhode Island summer night. My parents had friends over and all of us, adults and children, had congregated in the backyard. Did we eat outside? Possibly, as I have seen pictures of al fresco meals on other occasions. But in this memory, the sun had set too long ago for pictures.

Trees bordered the back edge of our yard; a short sloping dirt trail led down to railroad tracks. An open field connected our side yard to our neighbor’s so, despite the warning to stay away from the train tracks, we had plenty of open space to roam.

Swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing and biting our tender skin, my friends and I played Hide and Go Seek. How many hundreds of such games must we have played since then? But this one vividly stands out in my memory because, at only three or four years of age, being outside at night, way past bedtime, in the pitch dark, playing with friends while the adults contented themselves with their own conversations, well, this was novel.

We ran, hid, stifled giggles behind our fingers, then shrieked with wild joy and excitement. The unprecedented freedom of playing in the dark thrilled us almost beyond what we could bear. Our sweaty skin shivered despite the humidity.

But we froze when we heard it: “Oooo, watch out, I’m the Bogeyman…!” There…we heard it again: “Oooo, here comes the Bogeyman, oooo…!”

Our giggles grew nervous. I remember saying, first whispered to my friends, then louder: “What’s a Bogeyman?” before we all ran to our parents, who assured us that some teenager was hiding in the bushes, trying to scare the little kids.

The little kids who had felt like such big kids only moments earlier, squashed by someone else’s fun at our expense.

As I reflect on that night, a few things stand out that still ring true today:

Playing in the dark was exciting, precisely because it was dark, and because it wasn’t something we were typically allowed to do. (What kinds of darkness entice us today?)

The darkness hid potential dangers. (What dangers lurk in the tempting darkness?)

Playing in the dark gave us a new sense of freedom and independence, all good until we got scared and needed help. (How does darkness imitate light? And where do we find help when we need it?)

Walk in Love
Week 2: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:5-2:2

Connect
Reflect on a time when you have taken ‘a walk in the dark’ (literally or figuratively). What was it like?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 1:5-2:2
With whose authority does John write this letter, and why does that matter (v5)?
Explain the light/dark metaphor (vv5-7). Look up one or more of the following passages from John’s gospel: 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36, 46.
What deceit does John call out (vv6, 8, 10)?
What happens when we confess sin and live rightly (vv7, 9)?
What do we learn about Jesus in this passage, and why is that significant?

Live
Explain the attractions/detractions of light and darkness. In what ways do Christians try to stay in the darkness? Why is this so easy to do?
What makes it difficult to “come into the light” in our relationships with one another?
Is it possible to ever be done for good with sin? Why or why not?
How might fellowship with one another help us avoid sin and maintain fellowship with Him?
If you’re willing, share about a victory over sin that Christ accomplished for you.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we try to hide from God and others.

Word of Life – 1 John 1:1-4

What do you believe?

I just started reading a nonfiction book about how to live an authentic life in a world that no longer runs on the (outdated) standard life approaches passed down through generations. It challenges readers to identify the stories we’ve been told and continue to tell ourselves which may or may not be true.

We live out what we believe. In other words, our beliefs—conscious or not—determine our actions.

If we believe human beings are selfish, then we won’t find ourselves inclined to serve others. Why should I give my time (because I’m selfish) to help others who won’t help themselves (because they’re selfish)? We definitely won’t give $5 to the homeless guy on the street corner.

If I believe I’m lazy (perhaps something I heard and internalized from a parent, teacher or coach), then it’s unlikely I will bring to completion even an exciting new project. How can I? I’m lazy.

But people aren’t always selfish, and I don’t have to be lazy. Those things might be true sometimes but they aren’t consistently true. I can reverse the stories and choose to interact differently with the world.

Some things, however, are consistently true.

Jesus is God, from everlasting to everlasting.
And Jesus took on flesh to show humans the way to the Father.

If I truly believe that Jesus is the eternal God, and if I trust both the witness of those who saw and heard and touched Him in the flesh and my own experience of fellowship with Him, then that will necessarily affect my decisions. John calls Jesus “the Word of life.” Because I believe in Him, I trust this Word to lead me to a fuller, more satisfying life. A life lived in love with the One who gave everything for love of me, and a life lived shoulder-to-shoulder with His beloved people.

It may not be an easier life (it could be much harder!), but I believe it will be a true life.

Walk in Love
Week 1: Word of Life
1 John 1:1-4

Connect
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met or seen up close? Describe your experience of them.

Study
Read 1 John 1:1-4 slowly several times through.
How does John describe Jesus (vv1-2)? What strikes you about this description?
Why does it matter that John has seen, heard and touched Jesus (vv1-2)?
What reason does John give for writing this letter (vv3-4)?
What’s the connection between John’s proclamation and the community’s fellowship and joy (vv3-4)?

Live
What difference does it make to you personally that Jesus was “from the beginning”? That real people experienced Him in the flesh? That He is “the Word of life”?
Is it possible to have true fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with people who don’t have a relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus? Why or why not?
How do you experience Jesus in your daily life?
How do you describe Jesus to people who haven’t experienced Him?
How does shared fellowship with God and others increase your joy?

Pray
Thank God for the Word of life!