By Dave Urbanski.

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This Sunday was our Easter service, and Pastor Scott focused our attention on the Apostle Thomas, who has been — perhaps unfairly — stuck with the nickname “Doubting Thomas” ever since that momentous Sunday about 2,000 years ago.

You know the story. Jesus appeared to his disciples on the third day, having risen from the dead just as he had promised. Problem is, Thomas wasn’t with them. Where was he? Pastor Scott posited that Thomas may have been doing something else at that moment. An errand? Well, given the disciples were heartbroken and bewildered that their Master could have succumbed to crucifixion after a triumphal entry into Jerusalem just a week prior — and terrified of Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders who were looking for them — Pastor Scott offered also that Thomas may have just needed to get away, that he “had enough of this.”

Naturally the disciples were overjoyed that Jesus was alive again, and they excitedly told Thomas about the miracle of all miracles when he joined them again. But Thomas wasn’t convinced, telling them “unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

And there you have it: “Doubting Thomas.”

Curiously, though, Thomas and his fellow disciples — and many other eyewitnesses — saw Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead just a few days before, on what we now call Palm Sunday. Wouldn’t you expect everybody’s “faith in Jesus” to sit securely on bedrock from that point on, having seen such an astounding sight?

It wasn’t enough for Thomas. To be fair, though, it seems there’s a strong possibility raising Lazarus may not have been enough for Jesus’ other friends and followers, either — until he showed up in their midst, alive again. At least Thomas possessed the honesty to express his feelings after the upheaval of Good Friday.

Pastor Scott emphasized that Thomas suffered from a malady we all share to some degree: As frail human beings, we often rely on our spiritual experiences to strengthen our faith in God. For example, the Lord brings you through a trial, and you’re full of faith due to what God has done in your life. But that only lasts so long — because when life gets hard again and another trial comes, we hope God will show up in the same way so our faith can stand strong again. Which led to Pastor Scott’s question: “How many more experiences do you need to finally have faith in the Lord?”

The answer — just one more! Truth is, we’ll never have enough experiences to shore up our faith, finally, once and for all, because the impact of experiences on our spiritual lives doesn’t last.

Instead, Jesus told those around him just before raising Lazarus that the key to living effective spiritual lives is to believe in Jesus. Just believe.

And wouldn’t you know that Jesus showed up again to the disciples? He appeared to them despite the locked door that keep them “safe” from the outside world, that kept them “safe” from the threats upon on their lives. And this time, Thomas was with them, too.

Jesus made a beeline to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Of course, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” But Jesus knew where that was coming from: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Our reliance on experience — our insistence even to put our own fingers into Jesus’ nail and spear wounds before we “believe in him” once more — limits our relationship with God. Such a way of Christian living results in us possessing but a sliver of who God is instead of a much bigger, grander, and finally truthful picture of who he is.

Therefore, “do not disbelieve, but believe.” Just believe.

By Dave Urbanski.

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During our final Sunday studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Pastor Scott focused on the “Secret of Contentment” as we examined verses 11, 12, 13, and 19 in chapter four.

Here are those verses: “11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. …19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

A consistent theme in Pastor Scott’s message was that desires can create damaging mirages in our lives, minds, and hearts — false beliefs that once our desires are met, satisfaction will finally arrive for good. But even when we meet a goal, make that purchase, marry that spouse, get that promotion, satisfaction rarely lasts. We almost always want more, and our desires resume. And then desires can turn into expectations … which can become demands … which then can lead to anger and conflict. So how do we avoid such a dangerous, vicious cycle?

First, Pastor Scott showed the relationship between having a need and being content, which actually hearkens back to an “anything/everything” concept from a recent study of ours where Paul in Philippians 4:6 speaks to not being anxious about “anything” but in “everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And that idea is repeated in verses 11 and 12 as Paul notes “…in whatever situation I am to be content” and “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

In other words, we are to practice being content in ALL parts of our lives. But this isn’t easy, is it? Instead we want control, we want things to break in our favor — and sometimes we even want revenge. We want what we want when we want it, and we hang on so tight to that. If we look at our hearts as a room, Pastor Scott said one side is encompassed by the desires of our hearts, and they can be dangerous. In fact, they’re so powerful at times they can take over the entire room! Therefore we need to curb our desires and practice placing boundaries over them and in front of them.

Which bring us to learning the virtue of being content, which Pastor Scott said is like learning a skill. That’s right! We weren’t born with this ability. We have to master it. And how? Practice! (And God is happy to help if you let him.) In truth, contentment is a CHOICE to experience joy right now, today, as opposed when our next desire is satisfied. And even more, it’s a skill to be practiced in all kinds of conditions — low or high emotionally, thin or flush financially, healthy or not physically.

That brings us to a key point: Paul uses “hunger” as an example of a state in which we must learn to be content. Most of us in America don’t know what real hunger is, but when we’re faced with it, working through hunger can be very difficult. But Paul’s message here is that it IS possible to learn to be content while hungry — or when battling any physical affliction. Pastor Scott noted that the solution lies with something other than a sandwich or a salad. The answer, in fact, is spiritual! He shared that discontent while hungry is a signal that we probably need to evaluate our character. That’s why the practice of fasting can be so beneficial, he added. Because when we specifically say “no” to food for a period of time (“No, you don’t control me.”) we’re saying “yes” to God. Again, it’s a practice, a skill, an intentional choice to open up our hearts and souls to the Lord and grow deeper spiritually.

Verse 13 ties in with this theme, as it describes us doing “all things” by the power that Jesus  gives us. Indeed, we’re dependent on the Lord, and we’re out of our depth without him. But through him, we actually can do things that are outside of our own abilities. However, Pastor Scott reminded us to keep this idea in context, as it’s also about contentment. Verse 19 sums it up by repeating the truth that God will “supply” us with everything we need — but not according to the world’s values or standards … instead according to his “riches in glory,” which no eye can measure.

For me, the best part of Pastor Scott’s message was the end when he reminded us that amid the struggle between needs, desires, and contentment, the Lord wants to give us freedom. He gives us all free will to accept him or reject him, and when we become Christians, the Lord gives us freedom from the weight and consequences of sin. No more guilt. We are free finally to live as we were meant to live. But more than that was Pastor Scott’s reminder that this freedom also means we don’t have to hold on to resentment or anger — gripping them tightly as actual NEEDS and stewing inside those self-made prisons, those self-afflicted cages. Truth is, if we struggle in this area and are still sitting in those jail cells, Jesus already has unlocked and opened the door. So what are we waiting for? We can forgive others, walk out of our cage, and let others go free, too. We’re free to be content in his forgiveness and can finally release those destructive desires to him. 

This promise, this gift … is for all of us … today … now. Therefore let us release our ungodly desires so we can make all the room in the world for desiring God … and finally rest in contentment with the freedom he so abundantly offers us. 

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In our study Sunday focusing on Philippians 4:8-9, Pastor Scott had us consider the idea of junk food — but not the Doritos, Nilla Wafers, and Breyers ice cream we consume from time to time. (Or maybe more than from time to time!)

Instead he pointed out that in our world today, the potential for “junk food” to enter our minds and invade our thoughts is greater than ever. Pastor Scott added that Christians often aren’t viewed as intelligent people, but the truth is that Christians ought to be the very BEST thinkers on the planet. The Scriptures are full of examples of the mind as the focus. Jesus said we should love God with all of our minds … 1 Peter notes that we must grow in knowledge … Romans 12 emphasizes the renewing of our minds. In short, thinking — the mind — is important in our walk with the Lord.

The question Pastor Scott posed was, “What does God want in our minds and in our thoughts?” Just as we’re to be intentional about what food we eat when we’re trying to get healthy and stay healthy, we also must be intentional about — and even “pre-determine” — what things we allow in our minds … or else we’ll grab the most available option, which isn’t always the best for us.

Verses 8 and 9 read as follows: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

At the end of verse 8 is a key phrase with respect to our study: “think about these things.” What things? Well, things that are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … commendable … excellent … and worthy of praise. You know what they are. And in fact they are the “nutrients” — as Pastor Scott put it — for the very best thinking. We’re also promised that if we “practice” these ways of thinking, the “God of peace” will be with us.

The important point to remember is that there’s one person who exists above and over things that are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … commendable … excellent … and worthy of praise: His name is Jesus. And as we practice thinking about the things Paul instructs, we must fix our eyes and hearts on Christ, who ultimately will provide us with mental, spiritual, and emotional health and cast away our anxiety.

Pastor Scott reminded us that when our anxiety train is on the move, leaving us spiraling downward into more and more negative possibilities that haven’t happened yet, it’s difficult to “argue” ourselves out of such a state. But he added a great suggestion for how to combat this: We can jump our anxiety train to another track! We can intentionally begin thinking about things that are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … commendable … excellent … and worthy of praise. Is it a magic formula that obliterates our anxiety upon command? Of course not. But again, there’s a reason Paul said we must practice such things. It takes work. It takes effort. It takes trying again, with the Lord’s help, when our good thoughts go off track.

But at the same time let’s also ask God to do spiritual checks on our hearts so he can help us put full stops on things in our lives that are contributing to our anxiety. We can think of them as “strongholds.” Check out the encouragement that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 is in this respect: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”

That’s where God wants us — relying on HIS power to destroy strongholds in our lives that  want to defeat us. But we have to work on changing and improving our way of thinking so that our minds are completely set on Jesus.

And then the God of peace will be with us.