You Live in a Two-World Marketplace

You live in a two-world marketplace in which you invest every day

We live in two worlds simultaneously; our current physical existence and the spiritual realm that is every bit as real as the trees, houses, and people around us. Both worlds have a marketplace with something to “sell” us. And, every day we make choices to invest in our time, money, and energies in what one or both of these markets have to offer.

This idea may seem a bit odd to you but think about it for a moment. A physical marketplace is a location or virtual site where you buy something such as tires for your car or a meal with your family. An exchange occurs when you use a plastic card representing payment or pay by cash or check. You are provided with a set of tires or a good meal with your family for your investment. Money is the currency of our physical marketplace.

On the other hand, the spiritual marketplace (heaven) offers abundant life in the here-and-now and the promise of eternal life through a personal relationship with God. The spiritual life is about investing in the relationships that matter most in life. Our life, given in love, is the currency we have to invest in the things that matter most to us.

Every day you and I invest  things that pertain to our life: time, money, words, talents, and energies. Each day you invest twenty-four hours in work, sleep, and various other kinds of activities. You use the money you have earned to support the people and things you value. You give your talents to help others in organizations you deem important and use your words and energies to promote values at the core of your being.

What are you getting from these transactions? You are getting the things you believe you want or need. If your interest is pleasure and what you can see, taste, feel, and take from life before you die, that is how you will invest your life. Likewise, if you believe your life is a gift from God to be used for His glory, you will choose to invest your life in developing personal character and faithful relationships. In both instances, you choose how you invest with the hope of getting a return on your investment.

The idea that life is a marketplace in which you invest every day is solidly biblical. The concept is directly expressed or implied in many of Jesus’ teaching, i.e., Parable of the Talents, Sermon on the Mount, etc.  Those who embrace Christianity believe life has a purpose and that we are accountable to our Creator for how we use our life. If the Bible is true, we should be concerned with how we invest our time, money, talents, and energies.

“Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” Hebrews 10:35-36.

You live in a two-world marketplace with two fundamental choices; to live by God’s plan or go it on your own. This choice is the most consequential one a human being is ever called on to make. But, choose, you must. Our choices have attendant consequences; this one determines the direction of the brief life you have on earth and your eternal destiny. How will you invest your life today?

P.S. Good news! I plan to finalize proposals for editorial processes and marketing for my book this week. The book’s title is HEAVEN’S CURRENCY, INVESTING IN THE THINGS THAT MATTER MOST. I am excited about the process in front of me and ask for your prayers for the success of this project. I have been working on the book for nearly three years and believe it can have a great impact on people’s lives and bring honor to Christ. I hope the book will be available by spring, if not sooner.

Your Choices, Your Character, and Your Destiny

 

What do 168 and 8736 have in common? 168 is the number of hours we have in one week. From that, you have probably concluded the 8736 has something to do with hours also. It is the hours we are given in one year.

On average an American male lives 76 years while females outlive us by 5 years, on average. Like me, some of you are “living on borrowed time.” One thing I am aware of is that I am running out of time and I need to faithfully use what I have left to prepare myself for the life ahead that has no time limit. What about you?

One of the truths I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is this: The choices I make determine my character, which in turn determines my future. This brings me back to 168 and 8736, and more importantly to 24, the hours I’m given today. This may be the only time I have left. I must make good choices about how I will invest my life because those choices will determine my character.

Somewhere I came across the idea that you can get a pretty accurate idea about a person’s character by examining their calendar and their checkbook; how they spend their time and money. The way we use time and money indicates what is most important to us. Your behaviors related to these two resources give a vital clue about your most deeply-held values. Your character, your religion, is not what you profess to believe but how you live. The decisions you make concerning your resources are the real test of who you are, not who you think or say you are. Day after day, you make choices which, little by little, make you more like Jesus or put you further and further away from being the person you were created to be.

Your incredible power of choice is exercised in many ways every day by how you treat God, yourself, family members, and others. Your character is always in the process of developing or devolving, and it is critical that you understand and cooperate with God’s plan and make wise choices in the way you invest your life.

Jesus tells us to keep things in our brief life in perspective. Our time is limited and we need to be sure we have invested our time, money, and other resources in those things that have eternal value. “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth where moth and rust can ruin them and thieves can steal them. But lay up for yourself treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19-20).

God has given you today. How will you invest it?

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot 

Your Life is a Time-Sensitive Trust from God

Does truth really matter to you? If it does, there are several things you will need in order to have the truth and use it well. First, you will need to have a trustworthy source. Where will you get the information by which you will make decisions? This is an area of deep concern to me because I recognize two things about human nature. First, even well-intentioned people don’t have all the facts about most things. We make interpretations about things we see and hear according to the way we see life. We rarely know all the facts and circumstances as to why someone does something we don’t agree with. Do you think that may be why Jesus us tells us not to “judge” others?

The second thing I have learned through difficult experiences is that some people make a habit of lying. I used to think that something I read was true because it was in print or because someone in a place of leadership said it. How naïve and gullible I was. No longer am I so silly and ignorant. We have people and movements in our country who have an agenda that will basically destroy our country. Jesus dealt with people like this all the time. He knew who they worked for and what they represented. We cannot hide from the fact that our country is under attack. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.

So, what are we to do?  Find reliable sources of information. How do you know they are reliable? Does what they say or write agree with commonsense? Is there a consistency in what they say and what they do?  Is their basic message supported by scriptural teachings and principles? The Bible, as interpreted through the life and teachings of Jesus, is our ultimate source of authority.

The bottom line for me is, does what I am reading or being told pass the tests of scriptural truth and common sense?  Now, let’s see if the truth I share with you today will meet these tests. 

The second life-changing truth I want you to consider is: Your Life is a Time-sensitive Trust from God.

This truth is a foundational teaching of Christianity. Biblical concepts such as stewardship, responsibility, judgment, rewards, discipleship, and Christ’s lordship rest on the premise that we have been entrusted with something. A trust is a property or interest held by one person for the profit or benefit of another. The owner of the property or interest in this case is God, your Creator. You are the trustee or steward of this trust.  

What is it that God has entrusted to you? He has entrusted you with your life and all that comes with it. You belong to Him. Your body, wealth, gifts, talents, and time belong to Him. According to scriptural teachings such as The Parable of the Talents, you are accountable for how you manage His interests. 1 Peter 118-19 is one of numerous New Testament reminders of the tremendous price Jesus paid to save us and make us His own, “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold…but with precious blood…the blood of Christ.”

What is the time limit on the trust God has given you? The trust remains in effect until you die. During your lifetime you are allowed to make choices that determine your character and your ultimate destiny in heaven or hell. You are not guaranteed a specific amount of time in which to execute your trust. Scripture and common sense caution you not to presume you have another day past the one you are now living. You do not know when the time for your trust will run out.

Do you believe this truth about your life being a time-sensitive trust from God? What are you willing to do, to change in order to take it seriously? How will you treat God, yourself, and others in light of this truth? God gives us only one day at a time and that is all we have. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may not come for us but we have now. Let’s give God and others our best today and every day that He gives us.  

 

Responding to Crises

 Crises are nothing new to our country. We have been through tough times before. A 2016 Times Magazine article reminds us we have had at least three major national crises in addition to the National Division (1970-present) we are currently experiencing. An update of the article would surely add our recent experience to the list. If so, the new list will look like this: Revolutionary War (1774-1783), War Between the States (1861-1865), Great Depression (1929-1938?), National Division (1970-present), and Covid-19 (2020).

The title of the article referenced above is “How Today’s American Crisis is Different.” The article’s focus is how, from the 1970s until today, there has been a fracturing of, a tearing apart, of the sense of unity and purpose that helped us overcome the earlier crises. E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” doesn’t appear to be working out for us. Political gridlock and polarization define national politics. Where is our great unifying purpose? The constitution and government which survived the former crises seem to be under serious threat. How long can our nation survive conditions like this? 

One of the challenges we have about learning from our problems is the forgetful mindset we have adopted because of the instant news cycle we have become accustomed to. We are bombarded with multiple tragedies, murders, scandals, wars in real-time from home and across the world. Crises are part of the daily news diet and we simply cannot digest it all. We tend to become hardened to it and develop a survival attitude; reluctant to ponder the profound life lessons crises may hold for us. 

How can we look at these enormous challenges from a more personal, optimistic, and faith perspective? In his book, Faithful Change, Dr. James Fowler says that each generation has felt they lived in unprecedented times, experiencing the full range of challenges of human living. To live faithfully, we must learn to make good choices in light of those challenges. Fowler discusses  three kinds of change we must negotiate if we are to live faithfully: (1) developmental change,(2) healing or reconstructive change, and (3) change due to disruptions and modifications of the systems that shape our lives.

Developmental change is the process of physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges we face in the life cycle from conception, birth, young children, pre-adolescents, teenagers, young adults, and so on until old age and death. This process is ever-present as we deal with the two additional areas of challenge. I’m in my eighth decade and certainly notice lots of challenges that come with the territory. The next step in this process for me is dying. That idea doesn’t appeal to me but I know the One who will see me through that just as He has faithfully brought me to this stage of life. 

The second area, which Fowler refers to as “healing or reconstructive change,” has to do with the need for healing from harmful patterns of emotion and thinking which we have adopted to help us feel safe and less vulnerable to the harsh realities of life. This false sense of self and security is challenged when we lose a job, face a major health crisis, lose a loved one or go through a divorce or other significant disruption. Such a crisis presents an opportunity to reassess who we are and to make necessary changes. Think about how true this is in your personal experiences. How has God helped you faithfully change in light of personal loss or crises in your life?

Change due to systems that shape our lives has to do with the challenges that come from our participation in our society’s social, political, and economic processes. We often feel the only control we have in these areas is how we will respond to the decisions of those in power. We are in the midst of what is often labeled as a “cultural war.” One of the challenges a believer faces in this postmodern culture is how to maintain a faithful, loving witness in a society we believe to be in a rapid downward spiral. While we don’t control many of the financial, health-related, and political issues that affect us, we must learn from these crises and take responsibility for our choices. Our nation is in a mess on different fronts. How can we respond faithfully to what we see is happening to the country we love? 

 Life often poses a variety of challenges; coming at us from various directions. To live well, we must understand how our everyday choices form patterns of decision-making that will ultimately prove to be wise or foolish when the next crisis comes. And, troubles will come to each of us in one way or another.

Sadly, lots of folks may look back on these crisis events and regret their lack of preparation for the problems they faced. Some will wish they had spent more time with those they have lost. Others will chide their lack of financial discipline and regret they didn’t put away some savings for times like these.

Those most fortunate are those who will come to terms with the fact that material possessions and money, while necessary, are not a reliable source for our security. We are made for another world, and it is to our great benefit that we invest our life and temporal possessions in that world.

Whether solely personal or shared with much of humanity, every crisis is an opportunity to reassess how you live and invest in God’s priorities. There are more crises ahead, and the daily investments you make will be crucial in weathering the coming storms.

 Many believe our nation is in a great crisis politically, economically, and morally. Are the vitriol and divisiveness a harbinger of a country that is about to come apart at the seams? Where is that something or someone to bring us together, to unite us?

 

 

 

 

Antidote for Anxiety (part two)

I believe a great deal of the personal pain and problems caused by anxiety could be avoided altogether if the correct spiritual prescription were followed when we first realize anxiety is becoming a problem. I say this not to condemn or judge anyone who deals with chronic anxiety but to emphasize the need to recognize and deal with anxiety before it gets to the controlling stage. We need to” nip it in the bud.”

What can you do to guard against anxiety becoming a controlling factor in your life? What is the spiritual antidote for anxiety? Simply stated, the antidote for controlling anxiety or worry is prayer. “That certainly seems simple enough,” you say, “but I pray every day and I am still worrying all the time. Praying is not working for me” I know many wonderful Christian people who seem to make a practice of trying to worry their problems to death. What they find is that it doesn’t work and they are subjected to many of the problems that come to those who worry. They often feel defeated and may begin to believe that praying about things isn’t useful. At this point, they may stop praying at all.

However, it is a clear teaching in scripture that we are not to be overcome by worry or anxiety. It is also without debate that we are taught to pray for what we need and trust God to supply it. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus contrasts the futility of worrying with trust in God to supply the basic needs of our life. Worry accomplishes nothing related to our needs but does indicate we have taken God out of the equation. Worry is an attempt to not depend on God and solve the problem on our own. Not only is worrying useless, but it also depicts a lack of trust in God and is an affront to Him. Worrying is a serious spiritual issue.

Let me mention a few of the many reasons why a person can pray about something and continue to be overwhelmed by anxiety.

The motive of praying may be wrong. For example, a person may pray for something in order to simply advance himself or his cause and not to honor God. James 4:3 tells us that one hindrance to answered prayer is selfishness in the way we ask. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James also tells us in 5:16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” What we want from praying is an important factor in getting our prayers answered.     

Effective praying involves an important caveat that some may not be willing to obey. That is, the request must conform to the will of God. Another way to say this is; the prayer must be one that honors God and advances to his purpose. In the model prayer, Jesus gives us a broad outline of how to pray. One very notable feature of that model is the phrase, ” Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” While God wants us to live in his peace, anxiety may overwhelm us because the issue we pray about is not completely released to his will. We may not trust that whatever he decides is best or really what we want to happen.

Effective praying requires unwavering trust in God. Here again, James’ words are instructive to us. James 1: 6-7 reads as follows: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Answers to our prayers require that we trust God to do for us what we ask within his will. Doubting nullifies our praying.

Effective praying also has the quality of persistence. Do we really want what we ask God to do? How do we show we are deeply committed to what we pray for? By continuing to pray, to hang on, to persist day after day. Only when we prove we are serious about our praying will God give us what we ask for.

Motive, God’s will, trust, and persistence are ingredients of effective praying. When considering these four things it is quite easy to see why God doesn’t answer according to our wishes or why a person may give up on the work of praying. True prayer involves work on our part. It calls for us to keep our selfishness and pride in check, to abandon the idea that we can do things on our own, to be unwavering in our trust in God, and to hang on, to persist until what we pray for becomes a reality we can celebrate.

With these ideas as a backdrop let us consider a couple of Paul’s ideas about prayer as the real antidote for anxiety. One of the things we know about Paul is that life got much harder for him after his conversion on the Damascus road. He faced many anxious times in his attempt to share the good news about Jesus.  Paul suffered some type of chronic physical ailment, was imprisoned, beaten, run out of town, shipwrecked, contended for the gospel with unbelievers in hostile situations, criticized for his preaching, at times totally dependent on the goodwill of others to supply his basic needs, and put on trial for his faith. He knew about anxiety and how to deal with it.

The first thing that seems obvious about Paul’s approach to troubling situations is that he firmly believed in God’s sovereignty in his life.  Simply put, Paul believed that whatever God allowed in his life he would use for good. We are never abandoned to the whim of fate or without an anchor in the storms of life. For the believer this means that there is gain, there is good to come from the pain, problems, and disappointments in life. This hopeful and reassuring reality should help us pray with thanksgiving and assurance. My favorite verse related to this idea, and perhaps Paul’s clearest statement, is Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The specific statement about prayer as the antidote for anxiety is found in one of Paul’s “prison epistles.” It is called a prison letter or epistle because Paul was imprisoned in Rome and facing a possible death penalty for his faith. These words resound with an assurance that comes from having seen how prayer had calmed and focused him in many uneasy situations in life, and even now as he awaits what is before him. Philippians 4:6-7 reads as follows:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

How do these words apply to us as we deal with our anxiety-causing situations?

First, this is a negative command. We are to STOP, quit, to refrain from being controlled by anxiety. This is not a polite suggestion but a directive, a command. STOP IT.

Second, it is an all-inclusive command. We are not to be anxious about “anything.” There are NO  EXCEPTIONS. There is nothing that we are to worry about. Marital problems, money issues, sickness, world calamities, aging parents, unruly children, and whatever else you can name or imagine are covered by this command. This gets uncomfortable for us because it destroys the illusion that we have control over some things in our life. All these things are important but worrying is not the solution to any of them. Paul tells us we are to worry about absolutely nothing. 

Third, is a transition indicated by the word “but.” Paul does not strip away our useless worrying about real-life issues without giving us a better solution. The word “but” signifies he is going to tell us what we need to do about the things that worry us.

Fourth, we are given a positive command to compliment the negative one. In the negative command, we are told not to worry about anything. With the positive command, Paul gives us a new and effective way to handle anxiety. And, it, too, is all-inclusive. “…but in everything. ” What? What are we to do? We are to pray to our Heavenly Father.

Fifth, we are told how we are to pray concerning the things that make us anxious. This is not to be a flippant, light-hearted approach but an earnest, heartfelt, sincere asking. Praying like this is a serious and sober matter. It requires a willingness to come time and again and to prove our earnestness about what we pray. This is the idea behind “prayer and petition.” It has nothing to do with God’s reluctance to bless us. It is about proving our readiness to receive the blessing and to give God the glory for it. Paul uses the word petition as a way of telling us to be specific, to be clear in our own mind what we want God to do for us. Generalized phrases such as “God bless us” do not qualify for a petition. How, specifically, do you want God to bless you? A petition is a specific statement of our need or desire. Search deep within your heart for what you need and say that to God. Paul also adds the idea of giving God thanks with our petition. We are to pray, to petition God “with thanksgiving.” Thank God for that he has given you life today and any good thing that comes to mind; all of it comes from him! This awakens gratitude and confidence in our praying. It also is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. We simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same time. You may notice that anxious people are not very thankful people.

Sixth, peace will replace and become our state of mind when we pray this way. When we truly turn the situation over to God something beyond human understanding happens. God gives us a sense of peace that will stand like a sentry or guard over our mind and heart. Like a powerful guard protecting a valuable treasure, God’s peace will keep you safe from the devastating effects of anxiety.

If you want to replace the spiritually debilitating grip of habitual anxiety with God’s peace, try praying as Paul encourages us to pray. How do you know this works? There’s just one way to find out; try it for yourself!

Antidote for Anxiety (part one)

 

We live in an anxious world. This rings true on a global scale as well as in our individual lives. Across the world there are uprisings of religious fanatics whose aim is to bring suffering, persecution, and death to those who do not believe as they do. They are driven by hate and will use any means to accomplish their end. This ominous cloud is gathering in many countries and creating anxiety concerning our way of life and our future.

Getting even closer to home is our soaring national debt with no fix in sight and political gridlock in Washington which has brought our confidence in government to an all-time low. Many worry about whether the people we elected to manage such matters have any answers or if they are more concerned about keeping their own jobs than in fixing the problems with our national debt, the border crisis, and soaring crime rates in many of our large cities. If this is not enough to make you anxious, there is the personal stuff of marriage, raising kids, health issues, aging parents, making ends meet financially, and fitting more and more things into an already overcrowded schedule.

 All of us experience anxiety in one way or another. It is part of the human condition from birth to the grave. The baby often cries anxiously as a way of getting the caregiver to deal with his hunger or physical discomfort. The anxious parent tosses in his bed awaiting the return of his teenager from their date. Moms and dads watch a news program concerning a military action and their minds struggle to put away the pressing thought that their loved one might have been wounded or killed in the battle. Day after day they live with the anxiety that the one they have seen grow up before them may return maimed or may not return at all.

It may surprise you that I suggest there is something good about anxiety. I believe anxiety can serve us and do great harm to us. While we cannot and should not hope to be rid of all anxiety, we can take steps to use the good part of it and arm ourselves so as not to be controlled by it.

What is the good part of anxiety? Anxiety is good when it alerts us to some danger or impending harm to us or someone or something we care about. It is good when it cautions us to be careful, to use discretion about a decision. For example, the wise parent becomes anxious when his child does something which can easily lead to physical harm or death. Anxiety alerts the parent to act, to rescue the child from his foolish decision or from someone who could harm him. Anxiety can push us to take action to remedy a problematic situation. It can alert a student to prepare well for an exam, a soldier to be vigilant at his task, or a worker to give his best to his job. In these ways and many others anxiety can spur us to avoid carelessness or laziness which may lead to failure or even death. Seen this way, anxiety can have a good,  beneficial effect. It serves as a warning signal, an alarm to awaken us to potential harm. You might even say it is a sign of wisdom to respond well to the good side of anxiety.

So, when does anxiety cross the line from good to bad? When does this gift become harmful? It is one thing to respond to an anxiety-producing situation in order to resolve the issue but quite another to have anxiety control much of your thoughts and actions. As with anger or other issues, the question comes down to control. Anxiety has crossed the line between helpful and harmful when it is out of control.

What does bad anxiety do to you and others? If you have experienced times when anxiety has controlled you or if you have lived with someone controlled by it you will readily recognize the following symptoms of bad anxiety. It tends to distort or exaggerate the reality of the situation. People controlled by anxiety often overreact to life events. The smallest incident can trigger a major emotional reaction. People not controlled by anxiety would probably see the incident as a minor annoyance or inconvenience and move on.

The person controlled by anxiety doesn’t seem to have the capacity to put the incident into perspective. Already very nervous about something, they tend to connect the small event to the pile of things they are worried about and overreact to it. They may do what I call “going from A to Z.” They are faced with a relatively small problem or challenge but make it much bigger and more threatening than it really is. For example, a person may dread their annual physical with their physician. There seems to be no sign of a physical issue but they become almost frozen by fear because of the possibility the doctor may find some problem. They fear what might be and distort or exaggerate the situation without any rational basis for their concern.

Folks who experience this level of anxiety are miserable. Such people live in fear of what could happen and tend to instill fear in the lives of those who live with them. They go beyond sensible precautions that are healthy and reasonable and are often consumed by worry which results in overprotection and limitation of normal activity. They are controlled by anxiety.

Bad anxiety depletes your emotional and physical energy. Anxiety takes its toll emotionally and physically. Being vigilant all the time is emotionally taxing and wears you down and flattens you out emotionally. When that happens you notice your physical energy is also sapped. That’s because emotions are energy in our physical body and when they are expended we feel tired and depleted. When you are worried about something it works on you physically. You likely will not sleep well and, thus, a cycle may begin in which your physical and emotional energies are not renewed.

A person controlled by anxiety can become vulnerable to more serious health issues such as depression, high blood pressure, and various other ailments. Professionals who deal with the medical and emotional needs of people are becoming increasingly aware of the interconnection between the emotional and physical health of their patients. We have not been created with separate, unconnected parts. What affects one aspect of our life has an impact on other parts of us.

It impairs your ability to focus or concentrate. Anxiety takes away our ability to pay attention to the task at hand. It interrupts or overrides our concentration. For example, the anxious person finds it very difficult to read for extended periods of time without anxious thoughts breaking through. Anxiety creates a sense of being at loose ends, not able to settle down to the job before us. Anxiety makes ordinary tasks more challenging and can help create dangerous situations such as leaving a burner or oven on, failing to disengage the gas pump before driving away, and not paying attention while driving or operating machinery. Anxiety also makes it more difficult to listen to family members and, therefore, can undermine our relationships.

Out-of-control anxiety infects you with doubt and negativity. Besides all the issues just mentioned, anxiety can turn you into a person who has a sour attitude about life in general. Anxiety robs you of your joy and happiness and can make it difficult to be around you. Most people don’t find it pleasant to be around a person who is always negative or doubtful. Anxious persons can suck the hope out of the room.

 I believe many of the ills of our society can be traced to the inadequate or flawed ways we attempt to deal with anxiety. We want to feel calm or excited, want to feel in control at all times. We want quick fixes and shudder at the thought of being emotionally uncomfortable or just riding out the anxiety until it subsides. We don’t want to experience any discomfort. However, reality and healthy living dictate there are going to be times when feeling bad or threatened is okay.

The result of trying to escape real life and its attendant anxiety can bring serious consequences. Several addictions may be traced to the attempt to escape the difficult realities of life. Among them are alcoholism, illegal and prescription drug addiction, and food addiction. You can probably add many workaholics to the list of those who are trying to assuage the demands of anxiety. Also, depression usually has an anxiety component to it and may sometimes be considered a means of escaping reality.

 There are a number of ways to address debilitating anxiety. Here, I have chosen to briefly touch on the medical and, physical aspects of treatment and give a more detailed discussion of the spiritual side from a preventative perspective in part two. Although I have chosen to separate these aspects for clarity I recognize that, in many instances, they are combined with good results.

Medical treatment involves prescribing a drug to counteract the ill effects of anxiety and re-establish a chemical balance in the brain. Medical treatment may also include treatment of physical issues that may be attendant with the anxiety. Prescription drug treatment can be helpful in restoring a sense of balance to the person but, by itself, does not cure the problem. Unless the source of the anxiety is discovered and dealt with therapeutically through counseling or some other means, the real issue is left unresolved.

Anxiety takes a toll on us physically. Exercise, such as walking, stimulates chemicals in the brain which can help control anxiety. Exercise, when done as part of one’s lifestyle, is a good way to work off nervous energy and maintain emotional balance. When combined with medical and/or spiritual help physical exercise can prove to be very beneficial in combating anxiety. There are many enjoyable activities such as gardening, swimming, or biking that can have a positive effect on your physical and emotional health. The issue is to make physical activity a part of your lifestyle, if possible, and refuse to become sedentary. This investment will pay good dividends physically and emotionally. 

I personally believe a great deal of the personal pain and problems caused by anxiety could be avoided altogether if the correct spiritual prescription were followed when we first realize anxiety is becoming a problem. I say this not to condemn or judge anyone who deals with chronic anxiety but to emphasize the need to recognize and deal with anxiety before it gets to the controlling stage. We need to” nip it in the bud.” I believe that those with debilitating anxiety can benefit from the spiritual suggestions I discuss in the next blog but may need some serious medical intervention as well. 

 

 

Do You Remember?

What do you do to help you remember the important things you want to get done?  I get so busy at times that I don’t remember where I put something. For example, several years ago while working on a project in the garage, I lost a knife Dad gave me. Later, I realized this important gift was missing but had no idea where it was. Several years later, I reached for something on top of the water heater and there it was!! I had not remembered putting it there.

I have a rather extensive filing system for important papers with an index for the location of each file. But, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for notes and other stuff on my desk because I don’t remember what I did with it.  Frustrating, can you help me with this?  On the positive side, I make a weekly “to do” list to help me remember on Monday what I wrote down in my planning time on Sunday.  And, I maintain a rather large prayer list (your name is probably on it) that I consult to remind me of the people and issues to intercede for. What are some of the things you do to help you remember to do what you need to do?

God wants us to remember Him. One of the great problems the Israelites had is that they had short memories or no memories at all regarding God’s goodness toward them. The Psalmist reminds us of God’s blessings and calls us to remember Him, “Bless the Lord …and do not forget His benefits.” Psalm 103:1-2. We, like the Israelites, get into deep trouble when we forget God. Sometimes I allow myself to get swept up in the frantic pace of life and rush through my prayer time or Bible reading in order to get to the work of the day. I need to slow down and enjoy His presence and remember all He has done for me.

What do you do to remember who God is and what He has done for you? Are there some pictures or sayings on your wall that remind you of His goodness? Do you listen to music that causes you to remember special blessings from God? Do you take a few minutes each day to read and reflect on scripture? Do you take time to pray and rehearse His goodness as you talk to Him?

The night before His death Jesus did something to help us remember Him. He took bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood and gave it to the disciples and said, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”Luke 22:19. We are in constant need of remembering what Christ has done for us and act accordingly.

In the Old Testament, there are several instances where Jacob and others erected a stone structure to mark the place where God had visited them or done some miracle for them. Every time they would pass by the area the stone would remind them of a specific way God had intervened in their life. If their child or a friend should ask about the meaning of the stone, they could tell the story of how God had blessed them.

Judges were the leaders of Israel before the days of the kings. There is a story in 1Samuel about a battle in which God intervened and gave Samuel and the Israelites a great victory over the powerful Philistine army. To commemorate that victory and to remind the people of why they had been saved, Samuel put up a reminder stone, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

I want to challenge you to do something before the day is over. This will probably take several minutes, but it will encourage you and renew your faith in God’s care for you. Going back to your childhood, begin writing down specific things God has done for you. For example, when were you saved? Was there a particular person God put into your life to encourage you?  Take your time and follow your story up until today. This will be your Ebenezer. It will bless you and remind you of God’s faithfulness when times are tough. Keep this in a safe place and take it out often to remind you of how good God has been to you.

That’s Gratitude for You

 

If you read last week’s blog you will recall my story about my frustration with birds pooping on the swing I use for meditating and resting from yard work. I am happy to report the spike board I put above the swing is working! I have not cut the tree from which I was “spotted” but neither have I suffered a repeat of being personally assaulted by the ungrateful creature that pooped on me. By the way, the spot on my blue pants will not come out. Every time I wear them I will be reminded of the indignity that was visited upon me. 

There is something deeper I am about to get at, an idea that you and I may do well to consider. But first, let me pass along some things about birds that my friend, Alexa, has shared with me. Birds can be annoying and messy but did you realize they serve some good purposes? They help control those pesky mosquitoes and other insects that annoy us, pollinate plants and vegetables, spread seeds (not always so helpful). Caring for birds is also a big business in our economy; an annual  2 billion dollar industry focused on bird seed, feeders, etc. There are approximately 15 billion birds in the United States and almost 11,000 different species of these reptiles.

Now to the idea I want you to think about with me. Sometimes I think about the deeper meaning or spiritual application of common things and how they may apply to my relationship with God or others. I love birds. We have a beautiful backyard with lots of trees where they can nest, and we have three birdhouses we provide without rent or upkeep. We have a creek and a birdbath where they can drink and bathe. We also have three feeders we keep supplied with feed. We have even bought expensive safflower seeds to discourage squirrels from eating their food. I have invented a contraption to stop squirrels from climbing the feeder pole. Be patient, I’m getting to the idea.

With all I’ve done for these creatures, why would one of them even consider making me the target of their poop? Why didn’t he come down and say, “I’m so sorry I did that. Forgive me. I’ll be more careful next time. And, by the way, thank you for taking such good care of me and my young family.” Are you getting an idea of where this is going?

Well, birds don’t do that kind of thing because they are not mentally and spiritually equipped to do that. God didn’t make them in His image. Now, you may not like to think about it this way, but do you think God may sometimes think we take His care for granted. Does our attitude of entitlement and presumption have a parallel to being pooped on by a bird? No, there is no parallel because birds have no soul and just do what they do naturally. When we act ungratefully or disobey God we are doing worse than pooping on Him. We are trashing the love and sacrifice of our Savior.

There’s a story in Luke 17:11-19 that reminds us of our propensity to act like a dumb bird. This is the story of the ten lepers. William Barclay says, “No story in the gospels so poignantly shows men’s ingratitude.” In this story, there are ten people who are suffering from the physical and social issues of this terrible skin disease. When Jesus comes to town, they implore Him to heal them. Jesus has compassion on them and speaks the word and they are miraculously healed and clean. They must have cried, laughed, and jumped for joy as they headed off to get back to their families. They go on their way without a single word of thanks to Jesus for what He had done for them. Somewhere along the way, one of them comes to his senses and decides to express his gratitude for the act of mercy that has changed his life. He returns and thanks the Lord. The story ends with Jesus’ question, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine-where are they?”

I have had some health issues and other challenges through the years that have caused me to understand the importance of a grateful attitude toward God and many people who have invested in my life. Every morning, when I realize I have been given another day, I thank God. Try this every morning and get your day off to the right kind of start. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Psalm 107:1.

P.S.: Today, say a sincere thank you for some act of kindness someone has done for you.  

Risk vs. Reward

 

About twenty years ago Cecelia and I were blessed with Anna Katherine (A.K.), the first of our four grandchildren. Wanting to do something for her and others who might follow, I built a sturdy structure for a swing close to the creek that runs through our property. That swing has witnessed lots of laughs and screams as A.K and the three grandsons have enjoyed it through the years. I think I enjoyed watching them swing as much as they enjoyed using it.

A couple of years ago I realized that the old structure wasn’t seeing much use and decided to bring some enjoyment and laughter back to it. This, I thought, would be a perfect place for an adult swing; a place to relax, to be quiet, and enjoy the babbling of the creek and the beauty of our back yard. It is all of that and more! But there is a risk I take every time I go there to rest or meditate. Bird poop! Let me explain.    

For several weeks I was frustrated that almost every time I wanted to use  the swing I had to be clean off the bird poop. Being the “problem solver” I am I attempted several things to discourage the bird’s lack of consideration, including covering the swing with plastic. The plastic worked but who wants to look at a swing always covered with a poop-smeared sheet of plastic. This called for drastic measures. I decided to construct a spike-board over the swing to stop the birds from landing on the overhead beam; sometimes you have to get serious and take action to mitigate the risk. I’m sure the AAPCA would frown on what I’ve done. This 6 ft. board has 130 nails daring any bird to land there to do their business. ”  

The spike board worked! For several days I visited the swing to reassure myself I had taken the risk out of using the swing. It was clear that the birds were avoiding the spikes! However, a day or so ago I went to enjoy the solitude in the swing to discover a familiar deposit on the swing; bird poop. Wondering how this had happened, I cleaned the area and sat down to relax and meditate. I did not know what was about to hit me. Yep. You guessed it; right on the left thigh of my pale blue pants. It was a long-distance shot from a tree behind my swing.

Well, what am I going to do now? I’m not going to cut the tree and I’m not going to stop using the swing. I’ve weighed the benefit vs. the risk and I think what happened may happen again, maybe one chance in a hundred. I enjoy that swing and a little bird poop is not going to stop me from using it.

Life is risky, isn’t it? Almost everything that is worthwhile involves taking a chance. Marriage, children, friendship, loving someone, driving, flying, investing, sitting in a swing, and many other things come to mind. But what is life worth if you allow yourself to be controlled by the fear of what might happen. We can’t control what is outside our control but we can do what we can to mitigate the risk. Still, there will be “bird poop” or other kinds of stuff we will encounter.

My little story can serve to illustrate some great truths for myself and others who will listen:

  1. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. We can learn what’s really important through the troubles and frustrations God allows to come our way. I don’t learn much when life is easy. We have to weigh the benefit vs. the reward.
  2. With God’s help, we can deal with the challenges of marriage, child-rearing, jobs, investing, friendships, and health issues by absorbing His word and putting it into practice. Don’t give up on what’s really important to you. I like what Psalm 1:1-2 says about those of us who rely on God’s Word to guide us: How blessed is the man who “Delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on His law day and night.”
  3. Life is a faith adventure. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will lead you on the right path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
  4.  Remember the big-picture plan God has for us. God is working in everything to make us more like Jesus. Romans 8:28. We need to adjust our life purpose to align with     His plan.

Dealing With Disappointment

For the past several days I have been dealing with a major disappointment related to the book I’ve been working on for almost three years. About a year ago I made contact with an agent I had a good feeling about and we hit it off really well. He liked my idea and was very helpful and encouraging in the early days of the work. We were excited and shared hope and an expectation about getting the book published.

Everything was going well, and then life happened. This man became very ill and underwent surgery. We talked a couple of months ago and were hopeful we could get the book finished and on the market this fall. A few days ago, he contacted me to tell me his recovery is taking much longer than expected and that he is unable to continue working with me on the book.

Upon receiving his message, I responded that I understood and thanked him for the encouragement he had given me. I also expressed my disappointment for both of us. I believe we would have produced a really good book together.

It has taken me several days to process what this turn of events will mean to my work of almost three years. Honestly, I don’t know what it will mean. One thing I’ve learned in my rather long life is to not minimize the way people deal with their disappointments. For me, this is a pretty big deal and I need to think, feel, and pray my way through it. This is what I am advising myself to do.

Sometimes inspiration and insight come from unexpected sources. I’ve been asking God to help and direct me in what to do next and I think I got some direction from a baseball game I was watching recently. The disappointing thing in the game happened in the 5th inning of the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins. Superstar Atlanta player, Ronald Acuna, Jr. attempted to catch a fly ball hit to right field; landed awkwardly on his right leg, and was carted off the field and on to the hospital. The medical examination later revealed a tear in the right ACL and Acuna is out for the season. The game was halted for several minutes while the tearful, 23-year-old star was being carted from the field. Teammates gathered around and wished him well but had to resume play after this devastating event. There was a pause in the game but it wasn’t over.

The Marlin player who hit the ball Acuna tried to catch scored an inside-the-park home run, leaving the Marlins trailing now 5-3. Max Fried, the Atlanta pitcher who gave up the hit, was still on the mound and hadn’t pitched to a batter in several minutes. Fried had struggled often during the game and now must somehow put aside the disappointment he and his teammates had witnessed and get his head back in the game. But, he continued to struggle, and with only one out the bases were loaded. What I saw next was borderline heroic. With steely concentration and skill, Fried struck out the next two batters to preserve the Braves’ lead and to become the winning pitcher of the game.

When asked later about Acuna’s injury, Fried expressed his concern for his teammate and said “It’s obviously very unfortunate, but you have to stay with the task at hand and finish the game.”

I’m sure you have dealt with lots of disappointing things in your life. Maybe the disappointment came by way of a failed relationship, a lost job, or an accident. Perhaps you have been hurt by an uncaring act or meanness of another person. Or, like me, you are disappointed by something totally out of your control and there is no one to blame. Whatever the case, I want to share a few things that are helping me “get my head back into the game.” If you don’t need this now, there will likely be a time when you will.

  1. God is more concerned about my character than He is my comfort. God cares when life hurts me but He sees the big picture while I’m looking at the smaller stuff. God isn’t obligated to fulfill my dreams. My disappointment results when reality doesn’t line up with my expectations. God is not surprised by any of this; He’s got bigger plans for me.  
  2. I have His promise that he will work something good out of the disappointing situation. “He works in everything for good to those who love Him…” That’s a great and encouraging truth found in Romans 8:28. And, that “everything” includes disappointments! So, God isn’t finished with me or this particular situation. He is working and I have something to do as well.
  3. What do I need to do when I’m disappointed? It’s okay to be disappointed but we don’t need to get stuck there. Trouble and trials are a part of life but they are not to define us. We are not victims; we are “more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.” We grieve our loss but get back in the game. This grieving may take a while but through faith in the Lord, we keep moving ahead. For me, faith is to continue to work on this project. Every time I proof another page or check another footnote, I am expressing my faith in God and His purpose for this book. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need for endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what was promised.”
  4. I confess my disappointment to God and ask for wisdom to process this disappointment in a way that will make me a better person. My identity is not determined by what happens to me and my plans. Someone has said that 10% of life is about what happens to you; the other 90% is about what you do about that 10%. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in everything you do and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.