This week, I share an interesting idea about how your past trauma doesn’t need to dictate your present feelings, an interesting article about how Saul didn’t actually turn into Paul, […]
This week, I share an interesting idea about how your past trauma doesn’t need to dictate your present feelings, an interesting article about how Saul didn’t actually turn into Paul, and an interesting study of Pilgrims Progress by exploring the sixth chapter where Christian begins up the Hill of Difficulty.
– Article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/no-saul-the-persecutor-did-not-become-paul-the-apostle/
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– Pilgrim’s Progress Free Book: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-pilgrims-progress
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Hello, I’m Al Descheneau, and welcome to THIRTY-THIRD episode of “Of Interest”
Today is Friday, May 14th, 2021, and this week,
I’m going share an interesting idea about how your past trauma doesn’t need to dictate your present feelings, share an interesting article about how Saul didn’t actually turn into Paul, and continue our interesting study of Pilgrims Progress by exploring the sixth chapter where Christian begins up the Hill of Difficulty.
Before we jump into it, I just want to thank everyone who has been so encouraging to me of late. Honestly, I’ve felt so supported and loved lately that it’s been almost overwhelming! The Discord community is always full of awesome ideas and kind words. The Twitch stream is engaging and growing. The other streamers are super-helpful, The pastors and churches who are contacting me to talk about ministry partnerships are so kind. Those who are donating to help this ministry grow are so generous! Those who have subscribed on Twitch, or the podcast, or the blog, or YouTube, have made me feel so energized! And anyone who has been helping by sharing what I’m doing with your friends and church are really going over and above. It’s been an incredibly exciting past few weeks and that’s all because of you.
And I just want to say thank you to all of you who have been helping me out. I’m working hard to honour your kindness and that has meant a lot of hours, tonnes of work, early mornings and late nights, but it’s been an amazing ride so far – and I can see a lot more amazing things happening on the horizon. I honestly think the next month is going to be something worth watching, because God is doing some pretty awesome stuff.
And I’m so humbled that you are along for this journey. Thank you, and thank you again!
Ok, and let’s get on with the show.
An Interesting Idea
The mission statement for the XtianNinja channel goes like this: My mission is to build an open, encouraging, and meaningful online family, through gaming, real talk, and God’s truth – so no one has to feel alone. That’s the goal, and I’m using the livestream, podcast, discord, and all the social media at my disposal, to do it.
And after having done it for a little while now, I can tell you that these digital environments, these online conversations, sound and feel very much like the ones that I’ve been having in real life churches for years. Being on Discord or in the Twitch chat is almost like when you’re at a church potluck or over at a friend’s house playing board games. The reason you are there is to hang out, chat about whatever, enjoy each other, have some fun – but then – and you’ve all experienced this – someone has the courage to share something serious, and the conversation goes from surface level pleasantries to caring for that person – which gives others the permission to open up their own hearts – and before you know it, that potluck, that board game night, is suddenly a support group, full of people sharing their struggles and offering to help each other.
For example, it feels like the big conversation that we’ve been having on Twitch lately is how our past traumas define our current reality. If you haven’t joined us, it’s quite an interesting dynamic. I’m playing a video game, trying to be engaging and interesting and entertaining – and to try to keep my eyes and heart open for a natural opportunity to share something of value, or something personal, or a little life-tip, or something about God – and sure enough, usually without me even trying, someone in the chat takes a risk to share something serious. Most of the time, all it takes is me reading out their username and saying, “How are you doing today?”
I know we poop on the anonymity of the internet sometimes, because hiding behind a username allows people to say horrible things they wouldn’t ever say to someone’s face – but I think it works the other way too. People feel free to share some of the real stuff they are going through (things they would never share with others) with strangers online, because no one really knows who they are. It’s easier to say, “I’m having a terrible day and hate myself right now.” when your name is “PokemonMaster6000” than it if everyone knew who you really are.
And so, as I commentate over whatever game I’m playing, or even later on the Discord Chat, the theme I keep hearing is, “I’m stuck right now. I don’t feel well, I don’t like myself, I’m always worried or sad, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.” So, the next obvious thing to ask is, “What’s up? Why do you feel like that? What is contributing to you being stuck?”—and more often than not, the answer is that their past trauma is defining their present reality.
Whether it was that their parents weren’t that great, they had a bad school experience, they were abused or neglected or betrayed by someone they care about, or their own bad decisions have led them to where they are now – physically unhealthy, or financially broke, or friendless, or addicted, or whatever – and they feel like that’s how it will be forever. That this is their reality from now on, and the only thing they can do is just stay put and try to entertain some of the pain and misery away with some video games or internet videos.
To me, that is an incredibly brave moment. I give props to anyone willing to actually say that they’re not having a great time right now – instead of lying and saying “I’m fine.”
What’s interesting to me, and this happens a lot, is that my message on Thursday –– by the way, if you didn’t know already, I preach a little sermon on the book of Philippians every Thursday at the beginning of the stream —- and this week’s message just happened to speak exactly to that issue.
It centered around Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And, while I won’t re-preach the message here, it basically came down to this: The reason you feel like you are stuck right now, the reason you are so afraid of trying new things, the reason you’re worried that if anything happens you’ll just relapse or things will get worse – is because you believe that you are the strongest, wisest, smartest, and most capable person in your life – the only one you can count on to hold yourself together – and you your experience has told you that you’re not strong enough to deal with it all. So, since you think you’re the only one you can trust, and no one else will understand or be able to really help, and you keep failing – you’re always afraid that if anything happens your life will unravel, so you don’t want to move.
That was the premise of the message – and the conclusion was that the only way to break the cycle, the only way to be able to stop your past trauma from defining your present reality, to become someone who will take risks and try new things, who can step back into the world, is to realize your absolute inability to control, save and protect yourself — or your environment – let alone the world – and give all that control to the only One who actually can handle it – your Creator, God.
If you’re struggling with that right now, I’ll leave the rest of the message for you to check out yourself, but let me encourage you that you aren’t as stuck as you think you are. Your past doesn’t have to define your present. Whatever is holding you down isn’t too heavy for God to pick up and release you from.
And I’m not just saying this as a religious Christianese spouting, denier of reality, who has never been through tough stuff. If you’ve heard my story you know that I’ve had my share of bad experiences. The reason I can share this with you is because God has done it for me – and continues to.
I should be a bitter, angry, lonely, self-destructed, addicted mess of a human being that has utterly rejected the world, and spends the days seeking out distractions and planning their own demise. I know that’s true, because in my dark moments, I can see that person try to emerge. But, by the grace of God, I’m not. And the only reason I’m not that person, the only reason I’m talking to you today… the only reason I have hope, a purpose, and peace and joy in my heart is because I keep throwing up my hands and saying, “God, I don’t know what to do. I’m not enough for this. I don’t have the strength, wisdom, self-control, or anything else necessary to deal with this. Please, help me, work a miracle, give me patience, and protection, and forgiveness, and hold me together, because without You I will absolutely fall apart…” And… He does!
There have been times I have almost physically felt God holding me together. The maelstrom of horribleness is all around me, the weight of emotion is too much, my soul feels like it’s going to shatter – and yet, somehow, beyond all reckoning, there is a supernatural force pushing all the pieces together, releasing the pressure, guiding me to the calm at the center of the storm – and helps me take one more step, find hope, feel joy… and I’ve marvelled – and others have marvelled – at the grace of God and the power of witnessing the power of God keeping me together. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “If I would have been through what you’ve been through I wouldn’t have made it. I would have quit. I would be lost. I would be divorced. I’d be in jail. I would be dead.” And I always say the same thing. “I should be. I really should be. Were it not for the grace of God, that’s exactly what I’d be.”
And so, that’s why I want to tell you, to beg you, to let go of the notion that your past needs to define your present, that no one can understand you or help you, and that you are the only one you can trust. That’s all wrong.
And, if you want to talk about it – you know where to find me. I’d be happy to talk more with you about this.
An Interesting Article
This week’s Interesting Article is entitled, “No, ‘Saul the Persecutor’ Did Not Become ‘Paul the Apostle’” and it’s by Greg Lanier, and found on the Gospel Coalition .org blog
I’ve been talking a lot about the Paul lately during that Thursday devotional time, and so when this came across my feed I felt like I needed to give it a little read, because it’s important that when we teach the Bible that we actually get what we are saying from the Bible.
If you’ve been in churches for a while, especially as a teacher or preacher, you will know what it’s like to come across someone who thinks they know the stories in the Bible, but are often very wrong on the details because when they remember the story, they are remembering the movie they saw, the Veggietales version, the version from a children’s book, or some other historical fiction they’ve come across.
Like how people think that Adam and Eve ate an apple, or that Noah took two of every animal on the ark, or that Moses said “Let my people go.”, or that Delilah cut Samson’s hair, or that Mary Mgdalene was a prostitute, or that Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, or that there were three wise men at the nativity, or that the bible condemns drinking alcohol, or that “God helps those who help themselves” is a bible verse… all of that is wrong.
In this case, the thing that the author wants to make sure we get right is that God did not turn Saul the Persecutor of Christians into Paul the Apostle. While God does rename some people in the Bible, like Abram to Abraham or Jacob to Israel, that didn’t happen to Paul.
And the author gives six reminders as to why. First, when Jesus meets him on the road to Damascus, he calls him “Saul, Saul”. Second, when Ananias is sent to him, God calls him Saul, and so does Ananias. Third, when the Holy Spirit chooses him to be a missionary, the Holy Spirit calls him Saul. Fourth, the author says, “Saul” is used 11 more times after that… and then fifth, the shift from Saul to Paul only happens once Paul has set off as a missionary into gentile lands, and that is only because Luke, the author of Acts, starts calling him Paul. And so, sixth, as Acts 13:9 says, “Saul” and “Paul” was just two different names to for the same person. Saul was his Hebrew name, Paul was his Greek name. After all, he was born a Roman citizen, and then educated as a strict Pharisee in Jerusalem. So, he just used both. Which wasn’t a strange thing, right? We have Joseph also called Barnabas, Thomas also called Didymus, and Simeon also called Niger…
But why does this matter? So we can lord our knowledge over the commoners at church and then win big on Bible trivia night?
No. Let me read from the article,
“So why does clarity on this issue matter? Why would I rain on the parade of someone for whom a divine name change from Saul (bad guy) to Paul (good guy) is a cherished illustration of God’s grace?
Theological ideas not rooted in God’s Word—even if attractive and useful—are ultimately unwarranted. I can imagine how easy it is to draw powerful applications from the notion that Saul the persecutor met the risen Jesus and was so transformed that Jesus gave him a new name. That will preach, especially given how closely connected naming and identity are in Scripture. Nevertheless, without biblical evidence for such an idea, we should not use it. Even if it spoils the fun.
… As God’s people we should endeavor to read God’s Word closely and be as faithful to it as possible, in every area. Application that appears to draw on Scripture but isn’t actually scriptural—even if it’s “useful” or “cool”—can easily undermine someone’s faith once they realize they’ve been misled all along.”
And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? People already have a trust problem, and many religious folks already have a credibility problem – and so we need to work extra hard to make sure that what we say is right, true, accurate, and dependable. Especially when we’re evangelising people or training up new believers.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please come and join the Livestream Q&A this Sunday at 12pm Eastern Standard Time. You can send me your comments and questions in advance through the “Contact Me” button on the website, or let me hear your voice through the Speakpipe page. Or, — and I think this is the best option – join the new Christian Ninja Private Discord Server and ask questions there. That way, everyone who is thinking about this can stay in contact and conversation in between episodes and streams. Honestly, that Discord server is really something special and I’d love for you to be a part of it.
An Interesting Study
The last part of these podcasts is an “Interesting Study” on the classic book, “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. Remember, there’s a link to this book – for free – on my blog if you want to read along. This week we’re looking at the beginning of Chapter 6 when Christian starts going up the Hill of Difficulty.
This book has a lot of memorable parts – but Christians adventures on the Hill of Difficulty might be the one that I think of most often.
Consider for a moment how far down the road that Christian has already come. It’s still, basically, at the beginning of his journey. He’s left Interpreters house, walked down the hallway to the cross, and the very next thing on the journey is this giant hill.
Part of the premise of the book, and something you hear over and over, is that God is the one who designed this path. Jesus walked it, carved it, placed signs and warnings along the way, and even stationed some keepers in various spots to take care of the pilgrims. And so, it stands to reason, that the all-powerful God of the universe could have leveled this hill to make things easier, but actually decided to leave it there on purpose. He put a name on it that said “Difficulty”, and we see some other good things along the way, but what He didn’t do was level the hill.
Why? It must be because the Hill of Difficulty brings some value to the pilgrims. If God is good, and knows what’s best, and has all the power to level the hill of difficulty – and chooses not to – it must be for a good reason. What could that reason be?
Consider your own life, or, if you are a parent, the life of your child. Given the choice, would you choose to make your life harder or easier? Would you choose to make someone else’s life harder or easier? The answer should be easier, right? It would be wrong to make someone’s life harder on purpose, wouldn’t it?
Or would it? What if you were a football coach? Is it wrong for you to make your players run until they hurt, smash themselves against one another until they’re bruised? What if you were a teacher? Is it wrong to assign homework that challenges your students, or force them to give presentations in front of the class even though they don’t want to? Is it wrong to make them write reports even though they struggle with language and grammar? What if you’re a fitness instructor? Is it wrong to tell people to stop eating things they like and start eating things they don’t like? Is it wrong to tell them that they’ll need to practice self-denial? Is it wrong to tell them that it doesn’t matter if they want to walk or not – they have to do it every single day?
No, of course not. Why? Because we know that the only way to grow as a human being, physically or intellectually, is through testing, trial, and a little misery.
So, why wouldn’t we think the same is true for our spiritual and emotional lives? What if, just like muscle-training making your body ache, or memorizing multiplication tables making your brain hurt—what if the best way for you to strengthen your soul is through suffering? What if the best way to turn you into the kind of person who isn’t tossed around by this ever-changing world is to force you to dig down deep and discover what your life and hopes and dreams and security are really founded on?
I think it is. In Romans 5:3–5, it says that Christians who have faith in Jesus, “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”
In James 1:2–4 it says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We sometimes read that as just trite words, but what if we adapt them a little, from the spiritual realm to the physical.
What if you had joined a gym because you wanted to get more fit, physically stronger, more healthy. So you hire a personal trainer and they take you around the gym, you do the first session, say thank you, but when you wake up the next day, you feel like you’re going to die. You can’t walk, or move, or hardly breathe. So you call up your personal trainer to complain, but he says, “You should be proud of that pain! You should embrace it and realize how important that feeling is. Because that kind of suffering is going to produce endurance – meaning in not too long, because of this pain, you’ll be faster and stronger than you ever thought possible. And as you do that, your endurance will produce character. The more discipline you have at working out in the gym, the better the rest of your life will be too, because the benefits extend beyond these gym walls! And that character you are producing in yourself, is going to produce an entirely new outlook on life as you realize that you can now do things you never thought possible, live longer than ever, and enjoy life more than most others. So count it all joy, my friend, when you do workouts of various kinds, because you know that the lifting of these weights, and all that time on the treadmill, will turn you into a steadfast person, a strong person – so keep up your training up, embrace the pain, and shoot to have a perfect body, completely healthy, lacking in nothing.”
That’d pump you up to go to the gym, right? Well, it’s the same thing with the Hill of Difficulty and all the frustrations and suffering in your own life. It comes out of nowhere, and avoiding it will only make you worse – but walking through it, allowing God to do what He wants to do with it, will give you the kind of spirit that can handle so much more than you could before – and, as an added benefit – will make you strong enough, wise enough, hopeful enough, and faithful enough to help others too.
And that’s it for today.
Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you heard something interesting.
Remember, you can find more episodes, and links to my social media, the new private Discord server, and a bunch of other good stuff (like my free books) on the website at ArtoftheChristianNinja.com.
If you want to follow along with what I’m doing, this podcast comes out on Fridays, and I livestream on Twitch at Sunday to Thursday at 12pm Easter Standard time. On Thursdays I give a little sermon and on Sundays we do a Q&A where you can ask me whatever you want. I’d love it if you dropped by.
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Thank you again, have a great week, and I’ll talk to you Sunday at Noon, Easter Standard Time.