Killing Anxiety


For a Christian, anxious thinking is illogical thinking.  

When a Christian is anxious, he is assigning more weight, more power, to his problem than to God.  This is, after all, the God He professes is sovereign and who He claims loves him.  And yet here this Christian is, worried and nervous and agitated and irritable.  

This is why Jesus commands His disciples not to be anxious in Matthew 6.  He designates anxeity a lack of faith.  Anxiety in a Christian is doubt in Yahweh.  My anxiety is a defect of trust in my heart.  

When it plagues a Christian, anxiety peppers his mind with questions and dreads that are each threaded through and through with doubt in the goodness and sovereignty of God.  

What will I do?  

What if __________ happens?  

But we can’t live without _________!

How am I supposed to do all this?

When I’m fearful and fretful about a job or a health issue or a relationship, I’m indicating that my heart believes that thing is more in control than the God of Jesus, the Lord of my heart, is.  If I’m anxious, then in my mind I’m assigning more power and authority to the problem than the Bible says it really has.  

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

Matthew 6:25-34

A Christian who’s anxious is giving more gravity to the thing he’s anxious about than he is to God.  In that sense, anxiety is like a check engine light in a car.  It can let me know that there’s a probelm under the hood:  A misfire in my faith. 

But by taking my mind captive and putting it under the Gospel of God and the Christian story, I can start to think of my problems and my sufferings accurately:  As trials that passed through the hands of my good Father in order to make me more like His Son.  By casting my problems and pains and fears in the light of the Gospel (hint:  by reading and believing my Bible daily), I’ll remember and believe that Yahweh is more of a determinative factor in my finances, my physical ailments, my marriage, my parenting, and my vocation than any problem I might be worried about is.  This God is good, and I can trust Him.  I should trust Him.  

Listen, for the anxious Christian, faith can always make strong what worry has weakened. Trust in Christ can restore all that anxiety has stolen.  

When we rightly view our Abba as having far more clout than our problems do, our sinful, foolish, illogical anxieties will flicker out.  Because after all, they needed doubt to breathe and smolder, and like a fire in a dies in a vacuum, anxieties can’t survive more than a few moments in the presence of healthy Christian faith.  

30 Seconds of Christian Comfort

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:25-30

Comfort.  

The disciple of Jesus is supposed to feel better, sense that he’s more secure, after reading this from His Savior.  He should be comforted.

Now, Jesus is not saying that every single believer will be given more beautiful clothing than the flowers.  Why do I know that?  Well, Solomon himself was a servant of God, and Jesus just said that he wasn’t clothed as beautifully as flowers are.  And of course Jesus Himself died with His clothes on the ground below Him, being gambled for by wicked Roman soldiers.  And Paul, His greatest missionary, died penniless.  I have to assume his wardrobe was relatively sparse.

So what is Jesus saying?  How exactly is this supposed to comfort me if I’m a disciple of King Jesus?

He is teaching His followers that God cares for them more than He cares for flowers.  God cares for them.  

God almighty has an intention, a purpose, to care for wildflowers and grass and little birds.  And each of His children is far more valuable than any of them.  After all, the Father spent His Son to have them.

So, how do these words from Christ comfort a Christian?  They teach him two things:  (1) That he is precious to God Almighty, and (2) that this is a caring God.

And so whatever comes, the Christian can know it is for his good.

A PSA On Suffering

  
If you want do your heart a favor, prepare it now for where it should run when sorrow comes.  Because if you live past the age of 40, it is going to come.  

There’s a radio PSA I hear every once in a while that uses humor to make the point that families should have plans about where to go in the event of an emergency situation.  A dad asks each of his kids where the meeting point is and what they’re supposed to do, and each kid fires back a different and increasingly ridiculous answer.  The father then praises everyone for sticking to “the plan.”  Point taken, Ad Council.  I should have a plan for where my kids should go in case there’s a tsunami.  Got it.  

But after I’m done telling them to go the basement if and when they ever hear sirens, I’m going to sit for a second and give my heart a talking to about where it is to go when I am diagnosed with terminal cancer, or I lose a family member, or we go broke.  

Because this side of the return of Jesus is laced with all kinds of shadows for all kinds of people.  Pain is not restricted to those who self-inflict it.  

Good, God-believing people wrote into the book of Psalms (as they were moved by the Holy Spirit) their tears to God.  For instance, Psalm 123 (in its entirety):

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.

The Psalms are threaded through and through with this sort of thing.  So is Lamentations.  And Ecclesiastes.  And Job.  The sorrows of people who love God and trust in Him, and whose hope in the middle of pain and sadness is Him and Him alone. 

The Christian is going to suffer in this life.  Maybe not always, and maybe less than a brother or sister nearby him, but he will suffer and struggle.  At some point, God’s hand will bring about some affliction for him.  

At some point God will allow something awful to happen to me.

I want to plan now for where I’ll run to.  

I don’t want to make a good thing an idol on that day.  I don’t want to just work a bunch of hours to drown out my pain, or go for a hundred hikes all over tri-state parks while praying little and worshiping less.  I don’t want to (merely) cook or write or play games.  

I want to prepare myself now to run to my Father on that day.  

The promises of God in the person and Gospel of Jesus Christ are the purest hope for a Christian who just found out he has brain cancer.  They are what sustained Paul awaiting his execution, what gave Peter and John boldness to proclaim the Good News though they were threatened with death by the authorities in Jerusalem, and what sent our Savior to the Cross on our behalf.  

The promise of rescue and eternal life for all who trust in Jesus.  

When I’m told terrible news or drowning in terrible thoughts, I want to flee to the certain promise of God that when I die I will be with King Jesus.  That when He returns, my body will be resurrected, shed of all its rust and bruises and glistening like clear dew under a new sun.  

Sure, I might write and take a hike and learn to cook a new dish, too.  But the only thing that’ll slow my heart in the middle of the night, the background music that’ll make the worst of my sufferings less terrifying, is the promise of God in Christ.  

After all, if Christ isn’t resurrected, then I of all men should be most pitied when that terminal diagnosis comes.  

But praise be to God that lying is one thing this Father can’t do. 

Let Us Go First

  
It’s a Christian thing to listen.  It’s a Christian thing to allow someone to give his perspective, finish his sentence, share his experience while not judging him or getting overly defensive.  It’s the flesh that belittles and dismisses and refuses to ever give the person on the other side the benefit of the doubt.  It’s carnality that imputes the worst possible motives to a person you disagree with.  Where Christianity would have us speak the truth in love, pride wants a quick one-liner to shut the other guy up. 

There’s a church here in Cincinnati who is holding a prayer service in response to what happened Thursday night in Dallas.  I can’t go because I’m preaching for another pastor here locally, but if you’re in the Cincinnati area, please consider going.  It’s an ethnically diverse church devoted to the Good News of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and that’s about as beautiful a thing as you can find under this temporary sun in my book.  

I want to be humble about these racial matters, because I know that’s what my Savior would have me be.  We are called to have a posture of humility.  And I believe a part of humility is to allow the other person to have his say, whether you end up agreeing with all or part of what he says or not.  And so we should be the kings and queens of dialogue, us Jesus-lovers, because we of all folks have been shown that loving people and loving truth are branches on the same tree.  So let us be the first to listen, the most gracious in speech, and the least afraid of honesty and truth.  

If America is looking for a way to have a true and honest dialogue about something hard to talk about, let’s show her a way.

After all, God left us in a dark world for a reason.   

The Last Set of Jitters

  
Two things happened.  One was fun and good, the other personally devastating.  

The bad one first.  

Instead of finding my identity in Christ’s forgiveness of me, His giving me new life and a spiritual home and family, I often cling to and locate my worth in being respected and admired by others.  My family, my peers, even strangers.  It’s sin, it’s harmful, and I’m in a long process of repentance over it.  God has showed it to me time and again, but I’m stubborn and stupid, and so I continue to go after this thing as though it’ll make me truly happy.  
So, three times in the last two weeks He’s let me get humiliated.  Or at least each one felt like humiliation.  The nature of the breakdowns doesn’t matter, but they were painful.  Embarrassment, shame, and self-loathing crushed me for hours and hours after each one.  When you were in school, did you ever have a project to present and thought that you had one more day to go home and knock the thing out but then, as the class started, heard the teacher say, “All right let’s start the presentations with _______,” and look at you?  They were like that.  

So, after at least one of these rough moments I felt crippling shame.  I felt lifeless.  I wanted to crawl into a hole.  

What you worship is the thing that, if taken from you, you’d fee like you couldn’t go on.  

Okay, so now the good thing that happened.  

We moved.  We bought our first house.  I’ve never lived in one place more than three years, and now I have a real “permanent address” to put on all those forms for the very first time.  So I sat on the front porch of our rented house in the morning sun last Saturday, waiting on the U-Haul and my friends and family, and I thought about how my kids probably won’t ever have the moving day jitters.  When I was growing up, we moved every couple of years, and I remember that nervous happiness of getting to start over somewhere.   There was a fun, hopeful anticipation of a new neighborhood, and a new home.

So as I waited for the moving day help, that good thing helped to drown the bad one.  I started to feel my shame and self-loathing get a little duller, like when a toothache or a pinched nerve or a migraine starts to slip after you’ve taken a painkiller.  And thankfully I was either too tired or too blessed to fight it.  The moving jitters, maybe the last set I’d ever have, reminded me of something good and true:  Those of us who love Christ are going home.  For real home.  

There will be a day of great anticipation and seriousness and excitement and goodness that will be much brighter and better than that sunlit morning when I was waiting to show my kids their new crib.  A day is approaching where the King will remake the earth and her stars, and then put His people in her brightest city, lit to the high heavens by Him.  We’ll love each other and be loved by each other, love Jesus and be loved by Jesus.  We’ll sing and we’ll pray and we’ll serve and we’ll be served, and every last cause for shame and guilt and fear will be thrown out into the darkness.  

That home is coming.  

Where there is no sin, there is no shame. Where there are no false gods, there is no fear.  

Our Jesus is coming to give us and be for us all we could ever possibly need, and everything we should want.  

I’ll wrestle with my embarrassment tonight, but I wanted to remind myself of that, and remind you, too.  

For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, home is around the corner.  

30 Seconds on the Right Kind of Compassion

  
It is not compassion to be vague on that which God is clear. If you speak with great clarity and force on the parts of the Bible our wider culture likes (mercy, the sinfulness of oppression, etc.) but suddenly find yourself hemming and hawing when it comes to clear teachings of God our culture doesn’t like (that sex is meant for Godly marriage, that repentance is necessary for salvation, etc.) you’re probably not being governed by compassion. You’re probably being governed by fear of man.

That kind of compassion, the kind without conviction, is usually cheap veneer covering a heart that craves fitting in.  It’s misguided, self-seeking, and it doesn’t usually accomplish much eternal good.

But compassion made strong by the truth of God and love for God?  That is kindling and spark for a world freezing to death.  

Jesus spoke unimaginably hard words from a heart of unimaginably deep love.  Real compassion is like that, like Him.  It can wound temporarily so that it can heal eternally.  The fake kind can’t even tell you where your problem is. 

Three Causes of Silence on the Sinfulness of Homosexuality

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I think it’s fair to say there are more than a few American Christians who are hesitant to say that homosexuality is sinful. I offer a few of the reasons, based on some observation and some examination of my own heart. This list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, I’m only submitting it as a description of the temptations to silence that I’ve seen lurking in my own heart and as the ones that I suspect I’m seeing play out in the public words (or lack of words) of some other Christians.

1) A genuine desire to not harm people.

This is obviously a good thing. Though God will slay the wicked, He does not delight in their deaths. He makes the sun shine on the repentant and the unrepentant alike, and gives the unrighteous rain and nature and general order in creation. God has intimate regard for His creatures, and that is especially true of His image-bearers, even those He will cast into the Lake of Fire. The Bible tells us these things. Even in the midst of His great wrath, our God has real and true love that makes ours pale in comparison.

But this desire to not harm has to be steered in the right direction by the truth of God’s Word. We often can’t see past the next e-mail or Facebook post, and so our palms can get sweaty over how someone will react to a digital communication when they should be sweating over how that person will stand before Jesus on the Day of the Lord.

God does not bless two men pursuing each other in romance and attempting to have sex with each other. We should desire the well-being of our friends and neighbors who are pulled in this direction or are engaged in this sin, but part of that well-being will be to pulled out of a behavior that only ends badly. We cannot be so nervous about causing short-term pain that we allow someone to cast themselves headlong into never-ending pain.

2) A desire to see the church of Jesus grow in America.

Again, a good thing. I want to see the redeemed, called-out people of God added to. But it is never a good strategy to try to hide parts of who God is and what He has said. We are not simply selling something, as Christians. Many of Jesus’ followers deserted him at one point, in John 6, after He said some very hard words. They were offended and left. That was okay with Him. The ones who stayed loved Him.

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life…’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'”

When we evangelize, we are hoping for a miracle of God by which a spiritually dead sinner is brought to life. We are hoping a Peter is born, someone to whom God has revealed that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Salvation is when an individual goes from hating God to loving Him. It’s a miracle, not a sales pitch. We should work to persuade, but all the while remembering we are persuading them to someone the natural man will find offensive: A Holy Jesus who is King, Savior, and unapologetically Lord.

Trying to cover up parts of what He has spoken is a terrible method.

3) Sinful fear of what people will think.

I know what it’s like to want to fit in. And I know what it’s like to want to be thought well of and admired. But when that becomes where our identity rests, when we are more ready to act or speak with man’s opinion of us in mind than with God’s, we are in sin.

I’m encouraging you and I’m encouraging myself to internally ask questions about what we choose not to say in this image-obsessed day and place:

Are there words and sentences Jesus and His apostles and His prophets used that I could never imagine coming out of my mouth, unless they were preceded by something like, “Now I’m not saying…”? Words like “wrath,” “judgment,” “fire,” and “wicked?” Sentences like “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him”?

-Do I honestly think about standing before Jesus and giving an account for my life? And by comparison, how much do I worry about what other human beings think about what I say or do?

-In my heart of hearts, is my goal in what I say and don’t say about homosexuality faithfulness to Almighty God? Or is something else dictating my speech or silence?

The world needs us to have compassion and conviction. Grace and truth. Great mercy towards sinners, as those of us who have been washed were once headed to Hell, and great boldness towards sinners, as we also know what is coming for the unrepentant and would see them spared that.

Ephesians tells us to speak the truth in love, and we should never forget that last word. Love. It carries the beauty of the Cross and of our Savior in it. Speak the truth in love. We should never neglect the last word, there.

But my fear is that many of us are forgetting the first word.