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.  

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60 More Seconds of Christian Comfort

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 6:26-30

Look around you, Christian.  God feeds birds and causes flowers to grow and makes lilies and tulips beautiful.  This is His world.  And if you have truly been born again in Christ, then the God who owns and runs this universe spent His all to adopt you.  

Look at how tender this God is with robins and finches and dandelions and grass.  And you are His child.  Trust Him!

The word Jesus uses at the beginning of verse 28 doesn’t mean just to watch.  He uses a word like that in verse 26, but in the sentence that begins verse 28 He uses a word that means to study or observe or learn from.  So, seriously:  Go outside and look.  Step into your backyard and watch the petals of a flower flicker in a breeze like a candle flame, and know that every step in that dance is by His hand.  Go look at a tree and see the odd shape and direction of its branches, gnarled like an old man’s fingers, and know that every moment from that tree’s first break through the soil to its falling back down back into it are all by the decree of the God who loves and adopted and values you, Christian.  

“Do you see that sun coming up over the horizon, over there, tracing the blue sky with its warm gold?  Do you see that bright yellow star our side of the earth is facing right now?  Study it.  Look at it.  Birds and plants and stars and sins; this is all in His hands, child.  Trust Him.”

This is a good God.  This is a King we can trust.  This is a beautiful, caring, creating, provident, kind, remaking, rescuing, adoring, wise God.  

Let us seek His Kingdom first.  

Let us trust Him.

Grace and peace.

Peace.

How Do You Deal With Pain?

 Let me generalize, here.  I’m going to say, for brevity’s sake, that there are 4 ways people deal with pain:  By pretending, by dwelling in it, by running, and by trusting. 

Cue drum roll. 

  • Pretending

Maybe you’ve tried this one.  You might pretend that you are beyond pain’s grasp (no one is), or that you’re too strong for it (nope), or that because of your winning smile and sense of humor you are impervious to suffering.  You might drift off into a fantasy world.  Video games, TV shows, alcohol, and shopping can all serve as bubbles to slip yourself into, pretending as though guilt or grief or fear or anger aren’t really out there on your doorstep.  The problem?  Well, there are probably several, but here’s one:  Even if your pretense does lessen the sting, whatever was causing the pain is still there.  And if it was harmful before you started trying to pretend it away, your pretending hasn’t done a darn thing to change that fact.  If in response to the pain of your crumbling marriage you decided to binge watch NetFlix to pretend the sting away, your marriage will still be in the same mess it was once season 2 of Homeland is over.

  • Dwelling

You might re-play your hurt in your mind over and over and over (and over).  Live in it.  You might always be savoring the bittersweet flavor of whatever hurt (or is hurting) you, like some kind of poisonous piece of candy.  This “strategy” for dealing with pain is the default method for a lot of hearts.  Some just fall into it unconsciously, like breathing.  Whatever pain befalls them will become the soundtrack of their day, their week, their decade.  And the harder and harder that sort of a heart gets, the more difficult it is to shatter the lie that this posture is (usually) built on.  Oh, and what lie is that?  Glad you asked.  The lie that you are owed something better than what you have.  You’re not.  And neither am I.   The Gospel involves the News that sinners who are owed nothing but Hell are offered everything including Heaven.  The Gospel cannot jive with choosing to dwell in or choosing to mentally replay and replay pain.  Or with the bitterness it produces.  

  • Abandoning

You might run from whatever is causing your pain, without weighing the cost of doing so.  Now of course if you have weighed the cost, and certainly if the thing causing the pain is sin, running is good.  But that’s not what I’m categorizing as “abandoning.”  That kind of running would actually fall into my “trusting” category below.  It would be gutsy running.  But to leave a marriage, a job, a relationship, a church, a neighborhood without Biblical reasons or without carefully and prayerfully considering not leaving is the sort of fleeing hurt or hardship that we don’t even want our children to exhibit on the baseball diamond or at the homework table.  Christians should want to do what’s right, not what’s easy.  Certainly the right thing isn’t always the very hardest thing, but it’s almost always hard, and so if we train ourselves to run simply because something hurts, we are training ourselves for everything but righteousness.  The life of the man who has truly trusted in Jesus will be a life that involves, at some point and in some measure, persecution and hardship.  If we’re used to abandoning ship at the first hot stab of pain, we won’t be able to confirm our election and see the face of God.  

  • Trusting

And here we are.  You knew I’d get to the good one.  

There is a kind of person who can know that the God who created and sustains and governs the universe is for him.  A kind of person who is free to live without fear of death or condemnation or abandonment.  It’s the person who has trusted in the God of the Cross.  Pain cannot paralyze or destroy someone who knows the One in control of it is working all things together for the good of the family he’s been made a part of.  

We all have people or things we trust when the water is rising up around our necks, but the sanity of that trust is measured by the ability of the one we’re trusting in to deliver what we’re hoping in them for.  If I trust my mom to be able to deliver on a tuna salad sandwich, I have a reasonable trust; if I expect her to win a Stanley Cup, I do not.  And there is only One who is worthy of our deep, uniquely human hope for deliverance.  There is only One who can give what we most long for.  In the throes of suffering, it’s not ultimately and finally helpful to trust your spouse or your positive thinking schtick to be able rescue you for good and for all.  Only Christ can do that.  

And there’s another thing about trusting Christ:  He is the prize.  Knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection is the most beautiful thing any human soul could ever enjoy.  It will eclipse any and every pain we could ever experience.  The grace, power, beauty, holiness, and majesty of God are indescribably greater than our hurts here on the old earth.  

When we truly trust God, we’ll enjoy Him, and when we enjoy Him we’ll be better equipped for the world’s stiffest pains.

So how do you deal with pain?  I know I’ve probably done all four in the very recent past.  But if you’re stuck in trying to pretend your pain away, dwelling in it, or abandoning ship, I can commend to you with all my heart that trusting Jesus of Nazareth is the only way to really successfully and finally deal with pain.  

He is the King.  The only wise God.  And in Him all our sufferings become a little less agonizing and a little more meaningful.  

    Stifter once said, ‘Pain is a holy angel, who shows treasures to men which otherwise remain forever hidden; through him men have become greater than through all joys of the world.’  It must be so and I tell this to myself in my present position over and over again – the pain of longing which often can be felt even physically, must be there, and we shall not and need not talk it away.  But it needs to be overcome every time and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain, and that is the one of joy in God.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing to his fiancé from Nazi imprisonment 

    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.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me…  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. 

    Philippians 4:12-13, 23

      60 Seconds On Joy

        
      So here’s the thing about deep, abiding happiness, or “joy.”  It is ultimately going to be determined by the ability of whatever you’re living for to deliver on its promises.  

      If the thing you look most forward to is retirement, your joy has a good chance of being severely constricted.  It’ll only last as long as the good, healthy part of your work-free golden years does.  It’s dependent on them.  

      If it hangs on you achieving your career goals, it’ll be as fragile as your ability to be perfect.  

      Even if you live for a capstone beauty like family or community service, you’ll be asking other imperfect humans to bear the sum weight of your total gladness.  

      They can’t.  

      The only One who can fulfill the human thirst for true joy is the One who authored that thirst.  Jesus Christ is the only entity in existence who promises only what He can deliver, and can deliver every good thing.  

      No person or career or fantasy vacation can deliver unshakeable happiness.  They weren’t made to.  They aren’t the foundation the human soul was designed to rest on.  

      The human heart was made to crave happiness like human tissues were made to crave water.  We’ll always seek it.  So trust in Jesus.  

      Better to drink from a well than a mirage.  

      The Filthy We Were (Zechariah 3)

        

      Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Remove the filthy garments from him.’ And to him he said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.’

      Zechariah 3

      I preached Zechariah 3 last week.  I thought I’d share some points from within this fourth vision God gave to the prophet Zechariah and from the wider scope of the Bible story.  

      • There isn’t a single person on Earth for whom the question is, “Am I morally filthy?”  The question always is, “Will I confess my filthiness and trust in the only One who can cleanse me?”
      • Man-centered answers to Satan’s accusations, to the problem of our guilt before God, always say either, “You’re not that bad,” or “You are that bad and so there’s no hope.”  Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ says, “You are that bad, and so I’ll clothe you in my righteousness.”
      • If you think the most important piece of your salvation was something you did, thought, felt, or decided, you’re misunderstanding the Gospel.  We don’t hear a word from Joshua in this vision.  The hero in this salvation story is the hero in every salvation story:  God.
      • Those of who have trusted in Jesus worship a God who was willing to crush His Son rather than lose His rebels.  
      • No worldly philosophy can rebuke Satan, because the curse he invokes is real.  The best liars are usually telling a little of the truth.  Our sins are real and the curse of death sin brought is real.  And Satan knows it. 
      • If the best answer you have before God is that you are a good person, you won’t be able to stand before Him any more than Satan can.  
      • If your answer before God is that you are a filthy sinner and that you trust only in the mercy of Jesus, you’ll find that God is the most forgiving personal being in existence. 
      • God’s answer to your worst fears about yourself might not be that you’re exaggerating them.  The Gospel’s answer to our flaws and treacheries is that God is willing to snatch us from the fire that we deserve to be cast into.  And that, by the way, is written by a former drunk. 
      • Satan has no answer to God’s rebuke in this vision; the Gospel shuts up Satan and sinners, because the Gospel is the Good News that Jesus became a curse for His people and clothed them with His perfect righteousness. 
      • It took Jesus 24 hours to unspin a curse Satan spent eons invoking. 
      • People always follow what they trust.  God’s command to walk in His ways is a command to trust Him more than whatever or whoever you could follow instead.  

      This vision God gave Zechariah breathed a lot of joy and confidence into my soul over the past few weeks.  I know I can stand right along with Joshua the high priest, knowing I deserved the fire, and say to Satan and the world:

      Keep your self-help and political saviors and pyramid schemes.  I need to be rescued!  And you can’t do it.  We’re calling to the only One with hands strong enough to snatch us.  And we’ll shout over all your sales pitches.

      God has rebuked Satan on my behalf because of the perfection and holiness of Jesus of Nazareth.  And now I can trust Him and follow Him forever.  It calms the heart.   

      We worship an unspeakably wonderful God.  

      What the World Needs

        
      The world needs unbridled, unfiltered Christianity.  The ancient, remarkable, simple, beautiful Gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.  It’s what’s been sparking revival in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and Latin America.  It’s what brings the world to life and makes the darkness tremble.  This planet needs the sting and salve of the message of repentance from evil deeds and full-bodied trust in Jesus Christ, not merely a winning smile and a pleasant-sounding insinuation that everything’s going to be just fine.  

      Packaged, focus-group-tested, man-centered, worldly Christianity, Christianity where we try to be so much like the world that they won’t be bothered or offended, makes Satan laugh and lulls unbelievers faster to sleep as they careen towards God’s eternal judgment.  

      The world needs us to be willing to be hated.  Not to seek it out, mind you, but simply to be ready to accept when it comes, and then to respond with mercy and forgiveness and more pleading for them to repent and believe.  We are tragically misguided if we thing that if we as Christians were more like Jesus, everyone would love us.  The truth is that if we were far more like Jesus, many people would love us deeply, but many others would be standing right behind them, shouting for Barabbas to be released so they could get on with their crucifixion.  And Satan might be right there with them, snickering at our blood.

      But then it wouldn’t be the first time he was shortsighted.  

        

      Why Christians Should Not Admire Donald Trump

        
      Pray for?  Sure.  Vote for?  You decide.  But admire?  That’s the only thing I’m interested in challenging.  If you trust and treasure Jesus Christ, I do not think you should be affectionately drawn to, or even respect, the way Mr. Trump has chosen to conduct himself.  

      I’ll be fast, because I have three little kids, so my time is always short:

      • An obsession with self-exaltation, self-justification, and self-preservation are decidedly unchristian.  When Mr. Trump constantly crows about his wealth, his poll numbers, or his crowds, he is demonstrating a heart Christians should not want to emulate.  True Christians set their hope on God.  They trust Him to be their righteousness and rescue, their identity.  
      • A man who repeatedly mocks others for being “weak” is not sharing the Christian’s awe for a Creator who took the form of a slave to rescue His people.  You can’t idolize human strength and understand the Cross at the same time.  Christians should know, and should love, that their Savior was made weak for them, and that in turn their weakened selves are made strong solely through Him.  
      • Christians should not have loud or consuming cravings for wealth, and so we should not admire those who do.  We should mourn for them, and pray that they would receive a far more lasting treasure.  
      • We are a people who have joyfully bent our knees to the King.  We shouldn’t be enamored with people who glory in their pride, and don’t seem to bend their knees to anyone but themselves.*  We are told by our God to submit to governing authorities, church elders/pastors, and each other.  A man who would balk at submitting to anyone doesn’t deserve our praise; he deserves our pity.  

      There you go.  I said I’d be fast.  I’m not angry with the man.  I’m going to pray for his soul and his heart tonight, since I wrote this tonight.  But he has won the applause of many of the people who live with me in this day and place, so I wanted to take a second to advise Christians not to clap along with them, and explain why. 

      I’ll close with some 1 Timothy

      From chapter 6:

      Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

      And from chapter 5:

      Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need… The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.

      *I say “seem to,” because to be in sin and away from Christ is to be bending your knees to Satan, whether you know it or not.  Everyone is a slave to someone.