A Conversation With My Self (A sermon on self-talk)

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation”  Psalm 42:5 ESV

“Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.”  Psalm 42:5 AMP

Because of their share vocabulary, themes, and refrain, most biblical scholars think Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 were originally one unit. They open a collection of psalms (42-49), attributed to the Korahites, which opens the Second Book of the Psalms. The exact setting of this unit (42-43) is unknown, but it appears to be the prayer of an individual estranged from his home and the Temple. Some have suggested that Psalm 42-43 was written by David when he was driven from Jerusalem during Absalom’s (David’s son) rebellion. But whoever he is, the psalmist is being taunted by his enemies, he has been exiled or otherwise denied access to the Temple, and he is in despair. The unit can be divided into three sections: (1) 42:1-5, (2) 42:6-11, and (3) 43:1-5. The unit is held together by a recurring refrain in 42:5, 11, and 43:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great British Baptist preacher of the 17th century, known as; “The Prince of Preachers,” commented on this text: “As though he were two men, the psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hopes argues with his sorrows.” Yes! In this psalm, we have a record of a man who had a conversation with himself.

Now, before you think that strange, having a conversation with yourself is actually normal and natural behavior! In fact, research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day! The real strangeness is not in actually talking to yourself; it is when you constantly do it out loud! So, having a conversation with yourself is an occurrence that happens all of the time! The truth of the matter is that no one does anything without talking to themselves first! Before every decision; we have a conversation with our selves. After every compliment or complaint; we have a conversation with ourselves! But what kind of conversation is it? Researchers say that 80% of the conversations we have with ourselves are negative and disempowering, things like: “They don’t like me. . . I’m never going to be able to pull this off. . . I’ll never lose this weight.” And when we constantly have these types of conversations with ourselves, it is no wonder that we must constantly have battles of anxiety and depression because 95% of our emotions are determined by the way we talk to ourselves!

In the text, the psalmist seems to be battling with depression. But the thing I like about it is that, although, he is somewhat depressed, as a child of God, he knows better, and so, he has a conversation with himself! He asked his soul; his inner self: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” In other words: “Self, why are you so depressed?” Now, if and whenever we find ourselves feeling sad or depressed, the best place to start of the road to recovery is to ask the question: ‘Why?’ When we ask; why?, we just might discover our feelings really are not justified! The song writer asked her soul: “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart by lonely and lone for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He, His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me!” Yes! The psalmist asked himself: “Why are you depressed and why are you filled with anxiety?” He tells himself, first of all, to hope in God. The Hebrew word for ‘hope’ in the text, means ‘to hope, to wait with hope, to have hope with a positive expectation.’ Oh! My brothers and sisters, there it is! When you’re feeling down and out, it might be because you have been saying the wrong things to yourself and not asking yourself the right questions!

No! No matter what going on, on the outside of you; it is never as important as what going on, on the inside of you! Even the conversations we have with others are not as important as the conversations we have with ourselves! You see, most of us never quite get a handle on our lives because we keep looking without, when the problem is actually within! The negative things other folks say to us and about us are not as powerful as the negative things we say about and to ourselves! In 1 John 4:4, we read: “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (ESV) Now, we know that the ‘he who is in you’ in that text is God, and the ‘he that is in the world’ is Satan or his designated agent, but the truth of that verse is also applicable to our subject: The ‘inner-me’ is greater than my enemy! Unless by negative self-talk, I make my ‘inner-me’ my enemy! And that is the problem with most folks! The reason they are constantly depressed and not successful in life is because they have an internal conflict; they are fighting against their own self! Therefore, we must always remember; what we say about and to ourselves is always greater than what any other person might say to or about us!

The psalmist had a conversation himself to encourage himself! Be careful of how you talk to yourself! Be kind to yourself! Never put yourself down, it’s really not needed because there are enough people in the world, standing in line, waiting to do that for you! Don’t make yourself your enemy! Yes! I like the fact that the psalmist said to himself, and I am ‘Millerizing it;’ “Self, why are you depressed and filled with anxiety? It doesn’t matter what the enemy is doing because greater is he that is within you than he that is in the world! Look to the Lord! I don’t believe He brought us this far to leave us now! If the Lord brought us to it; He’s going to bring us through it! Just sit tight, wait on the Lord and remember the good times! This is not the first time we’ve ever been in trouble! Do you remember when? The Lord did it then and He’s going to do it again! Besides, trouble don’t last always! It can’t rain forever, and even while it’s raining, up above the clouds; the sun is still shining!” That was what the psalmist said to himself! No! Things are rarely as bad as we tell ourselves they are! But, if we keep on telling ourselves how bad they are; they will get worst! Most people don’t realize it, but our words influence the way we feel and the way we feel influences the actions we take, and the consistent actions we take, have a cumulative effect of shaping our character and determining our destiny! Wherever we are right now is because of the consistent conversations we have had with ourselves in the past! If you don’t like where you are! If you want to change your destination; the change will begin when you change what you consistently say to yourself!

Now, the Bible says in KJV style: “faith cometh by hearing.” In plain language, faith is developed from what we hear. But the hearing is not just from what other folks say, it also comes from hearing what we say to ourselves! In fact, as we said earlier, what we say to ourselves is much more powerful, for good or bad, than what others say to us and here’s why: We can choose to disagree with and reject what others say to us and about us, but we always accept as truth what we say to and about ourselves, whether it is actually true or not! Now, most of the time, what we say to and about ourselves did not originate with us, but rather with some authority we believed (had faith in), from childhood, such as; our parents, teachers, and other adults. That’s why, we should be ever so careful how we talk to our children! Most messed-up adults were messed up children who accepted the bad and negative judgement and labels from parents and other adult who were messed up themselves because as children, they accepted the bad judgement of parents who were messed up because, as children. . . . you get the picture? The root of some of present-day inter-personal issues can be traced back through generations!

But, the key to changing your situation is not to be angry with your parents or any of your ancestors! When you were born, there was no manual or an instruction book sent home with you from the hospital. So, your parents did the best they could with what they knew! But since you are listening to this word today; you now have access to knowledge that could change, not only your life, but the lives of generations to come! All that is possible because now you know, you need to go home, sit down, and have a heart-to-heart honest, positive and open conversation with yourself!

Now, someone at this point might be asking; ‘Well, what should I say to myself?’ Well first of all, you need to quit telling yourself what you think about yourself and start telling yourself what God says about yourself! Quit telling yourself you are a chump because the word of God says you are a champ! Tell yourself: “Romans 8:37 says, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Quit telling yourself that you are a victim because the word of God says that you are a victor! Tell yourself: “1 John 5:4-5 says: ‘For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ Tell yourself: “Self, since I have been born of God and I believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that means I am an overcomer; I am a victor and not a victim!” Yes! You’ve got to discipline yourself to believe and accept; not what other people say and think, not even what you say and think, but rather what the Word of God (the Bible) says about you!

Now, you need to remember, I said you’ve got to discipline yourself in this area! That means, it’s not going to happen without consistent, intentional, attention and effort on your part! We’ve been talking to ourselves wrong for so long that when we start talking to ourselves right, it will not feel right, at first! We’ve been having bad conversations with ourselves for so long that having a good conversation with ourselves will seem unnatural and fake, at first! But as you stick with the program, surely, gradually, and eventually, your world and your life will be transformed by the renewal of your mind and your positive faith-affirming self-conversations. Because, when you change your conversation; you will change your thinking, and when you change your thinking; you will change your life! The Bible says: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus! That means we should think and speak like Jesus, even when we are having a conversation with ourselves!

Well, I need to quit here, but even when we change our conversation with ourselves; life won’t always be easy! Sometimes, it will seem like more than we can bear! But when the tough days come, remember the words of an old familiar song I heard them singing the other day: “Like a ship that’s tossed and driven; battered by an angry sea! When the storms of life are raging and their fury falls on me! I wonder what I have done, to make this race so hard to run, then I say to my soul; (I have a conversation with myself!) Yes, then I say to my soul: ‘Take courage! The Lord will make a way somehow!”

 

Jesus: The Only Way?

Jesus made a statement, recorded in John 14:6, that puts all who would seek to sincerely believe in and follow him in a precarious position with the world! He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) Now sometimes, when we read the Bible, the various other translations have variations of the text that leave room for different interpretations, but that is not the case with this text! Sometimes, a difference, such as a definite article used in one language as opposed to an indefinite article used in another language might leave room for a slightly different interpretation, but that is not the case with this text! With this verse; all of the English translations and versions agree with the various Greek texts, as to what Jesus said! He didn’t stutter! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ way, but ‘the’ way! Jesus said he was, not ‘a’ truth, but ‘the’ truth! Jesus said, he was not ‘a’ life, but ‘the’ life! Jesus said, the only way to come to the Father (God) was through him! Oh! What a bold and audacious statement! Now, there are only three legitimate responses to what Jesus said! There are only three ways we can process what he said and only three conclusions we can reach:

We could conclude that Jesus was mentally unstable and that he was a mad-man! Now before you label me as a heretic for even raising such a possibility; it has been raised before! In the Gospel account recorded by Mark, we read: “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:20-22 ESV) At one point, his own family thought he was crazy and his religious opponents accused him of being possessed by the devil! So this idea of Jesus being insane is not a new concept! Now, if Jesus was indeed mad, then we have nothing but the rambling statements of a deranged lunatic and we can dismiss all of his statements as ludicrous! But, there was too much that he said and did that made sense for us to dismiss him as crazy because of the things he said and did that did not make sense to us!

The second possibility is that Jesus was a deceiver or an imposter! This was the position of the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the established religious order of his day. In the Gospel recorded by Matthew, we read: “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, ‘Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.’ Pilate said unto them, ‘Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.’ So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:62-66 KJV) Now, the ironic thing about that whole situation is that the very ones who accused Jesus of being a deceiver were, in fact, deceivers themselves! The very guards they posted at the grave, witnessed the resurrection, but they paid those guards to lie about what they had seen! The fact that they paid the guard to lie is a proof of the resurrection because if the resurrection didn’t happen, why lie about an event that didn’t happen? (See Matthew 28:11-15) From all accounts, Jesus was certainly not a deceiver! In fact, he was so upfront and honest that he discouraged people from following him. (See Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62) He told potential followers upfront the hardships they would have to endure and the price they would have to be prepared to pay to follow him! He wasn’t like so many of us, who tell all of the benefits first and reluctantly share the drawbacks, only if asked!

Now, before I share the third possibility, let’s look at some of the implications if Jesus was indeed a lunatic or a fraud and if Jesus is not ‘the,’ but merely ‘a way,’ ‘a truth,’ and ‘a life.’ Let’s look at the implications if there are indeed ‘other ways’ to the Father, other than Jesus. If that was indeed the case, then, Jesus came and died for nothing! And if that were true and Jesus came and died for nothing, then he was indeed a lunatic! It makes no earthly or heavenly sense to go through all that Jesus went through if there was another way! And surely, if there was another way, he would have taken it! He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV) Jesus was asking the Father, if it were possible, to provide another way so that it would not be necessary for him to go to the cross! Do you see that? Those who reject the claims of Jesus say there are other ways; well in the garden, Jesus wished there were other ways also! So don’t you think if there were other ways, he would have taken them? He would have been a fool and a lunatic if he didn’t! But, there were no other ways; that’s why he went to the cross, to secure the only way! So, when people say or suggest there are other ways, they are in a sense, saying that Jesus was a lunatic, because it would have been the epitome of stupidity and insanity to go to the cross if there were other options! So, if there were and are other ways; Jesus was crazy and those who follow him are crazy also!

But, what if he was right? What if, he indeed paid the price and God indeed validated his claim by raising him from the dead? If that is the case (and I believe with everything within me that it is; in fact, I am staking my eternal destiny on it!), then that means we owe him our gratitude, loyalty and ultimate allegiance! People today do not want to accept the fact of Hell and punishment because they say that God is a God of love. Well, God is a God of love! That’s why he sent Jesus! John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV) God is also a Holy God and a God of justice, that is also why God sent Jesus! The Apostle Paul declared: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 KJV) John, the Elder, declared: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 KJV)

Now, there may be some who might read this and dismiss my claims because I use the Bible as my source. They do not think an ancient book of doctrines is valid in a modern world. What an absurd proposition! The Bible is even more valid than today’s newspaper! Besides that, aren’t we, in America, governed by a set of laws taken from an old document called the Constitution? And by the way, most of the precepts and ideas within the Constitution came directly from the Bible, as did most of the legal codes for all nations!

Jesus claimed exclusivity! “No one comes to the Father except by me!” He said! So, the ones who follow him are not being arrogant, intolerant, or trying to be more than others when they make that claim; they are just merely repeating what Jesus said and claimed! And just as Jesus was rejected and ridiculed then, his sincere followers will be rejected and ridiculed now! So, thanks Jesus! Thank you for the pickle you’ve put us in! But, those of us who sincerely believe in you and love you are more than willing to go to you outside the camp (of political correctness and social esteem) and bear the abuse that you endured! (Hebrews 13:13)

Fifty Years Later

I remember the day and I remember it well! I came home from school that Thursday afternoon to discover gospel music playing on the radio and my mother crying. I knew something was amiss because the local radio station that my mother listened to, would normally only play gospel music until noon. After the noon hour, the station would change to a rhythm and blues musical format. As for my mother crying, I had only seen her cry once before that time. It was one year earlier; February 14, 1967, the day the only grandfather I knew (her father) died. I asked my mother what was wrong, to which she replied: “King is dead!” At the time, I was a naïve seven-year-old with no clue as to what she was talking about and so I asked: “King who?” At that point, my mother sat me down and explained to me who Dr. King was and what was going on in America.

Fast-forward to fifty years later. My mother has been gone for 19 years and that naïve little seven-year-old is now a fifty-seven-year-old preacher and pastor. America, although much progress has been made, is still a nation wherein people are judged by the color of their skin more-so than the content of their character! It seems as if, for the most part, the only time some people talk about Dr. King, his dream and what happened is during Black History celebrations in February and on April 4; the anniversary of his assassination.

Tremendous progress has been made! We’ve even had a two-term Black President, but America is still a nation, wounded, handicapped, and scarred by racial prejudice and racial hatred. It’s 2018, and there are still people in this country today who still think “white is right” and “black and brown shouldn’t be around!” The nation has opted to elect a president who shows no apparent respect for the truth, the poor or the disenfranchised. Because of the climate this administration has allowed (encouraged?) closet racists have come out of their closets, boldly speaking with their lips dripping with the saliva of hatred and contempt for people who are not like them! Is this the America of Dr. King’s dream? In 1968, there was confrontation with the police and law enforcement in protest of the war in Vietnam. Today, there still seems to be a systemic problem and disparity between the treatment of Black and White suspects! Black suspects are more likely to be labelled as thugs, shot and killed ,while White suspects are more likely to be labelled as mentally ill, treated with respect and even given burger and fries before going to jail! Is this the America of Dr. King’s dream? Even in Black communities, it seems as if Black lives only really matter when they are taken by the police; otherwise, it seems to be acceptable for Blacks to kill one another over drug, family, or personal disputes! Is this the Black America of Dr. King’s dream? Even many in the church, who are supposed to be setting the moral climate of justice, righteousness and equality for the community have forsaken the path and succumbed to the lures of fame, prosperity, and money! Is this the church of Dr. King’s dream or even the church that Jesus established?

It is fifty years later! We’ve come a long way; but we have such a long way to go! Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a man in and for his own time. We must quit looking and waiting for ‘another King’ and be kings and queens in our own right in our own generation. We don’t have to go to Washington, we can be agents of change, sources of inspiration and hope, right where we are! It is past time for our actions to be limited to reminiscing about what others have done in the past. We can’t get full off of yesterday’s lunch; we must cook and eat for today! Deep down inside all of us is everything needed to make an impactful difference in the world today. It’s fifty years later; the question is not whether or not the dream is still alive because it has been alive for ages! It didn’t start with Dr. King because it was alive in the hearts of the ancient prophets who spoke of a God who desired justice to roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream!

It is fifty years later! Dr. King lived and was killed for what he believed in! What about you and I today? Are we willing to take the necessary risks to stand up for justice and righteousness or will we be content to settle for the comfort of our own private prosperity as long as we are not directly impacted by the injustices and ills that still plague our society? Will we be content to just ‘talk about it’ or will we rise up and ‘be about it?’ I’ve heard all my life an old axiom that says: ‘Prayer changes things!’ But, the older I get and the more I study ‘the Book,’ I am convinced that is not entirely accurate. Prayer is not designed to change things; prayer is designed to change people so that people might change things!

It is fifty years later: Thank you Dr. King for allowing prayer to change you so that you were inspired to be an agent of change in your generation! Hopefully, we will eventually understand that you didn’t live and die for us to just remember and talk about you, but rather so that things would be easier for us to make changes in our own generation.