Anxious for Nothing

Anxious for Nothing (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

Max Lucado titles his latest book, based on Philippians 4:4-8, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World .  Pastor Lucado opens with this chilling description of anxiety: “It’s a low-grade fear.  An edginess.  A dread.  A cold wind that won’t stop howling.”  In contrast, the apostle Paul advised in Philippians 4:6 that we must “be anxious for nothing.”  Since Paul used the present active tense in this verse, he meant to convey an ongoing state.  Hence, Paul wanted to address a life of perpetual anxiety (living on high alert).  And while we categorize anxiety as an emotion rather than a sin, it can lead to sinful behavior.  Thus, Max presents the acronym C. A. L. M. – Celebrate God’s goodness; Ask God for help; Leave your concerns with Him; Meditate on good things.

Therefore, Pastor Lucado stresses, we need less fret, more faith.  Because, the author adds, belief always precedes behavior, we need to rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty instead of rehearsing the world’s chaos.  In addition, God’s sovereignty stabilizes your soul.  It bids you fight the onslaught of fret with a sword etched with the words but God.  For if your mind is full of God, it can’t be full of fear.  God’s answer for troubled times remains constant.  He occupies the throne in heaven.  His grace restores the life guilt sucks out of your soul.  Also, grace provides the fertile soil out of which courage sprouts.  Essentially, then, you’re presented with tow options: wear your hurt or wear your hope.

Most noteworthy, there’s never a moment in which you face life without God’s help.  Consequently, God’s perfect peace is possible in the midst of your perfect storm.  As a result, when fear comes at your from all sides, let God speak to you and bestow his perfect peace.   Isolation, in contrast, creates a downward cycle of fret.  So clutch the presence of God with both hands.  Start with Jesus’ wealth, resources, and strength – what you personally possess fails to generate or approach what you truly need.  Your good life begins when you change your attitude toward your circumstances irrespective of an actual change in your situation.  Even if you lose all, you’ll discover that you really haven’t.  God’s been there all along.

In conclusion, Pastor Lucado suggests that you practice thought management – pick what you ponder.  To heal from anxiety requires healthy thinking.  Satan, the father of lies, knows this.  However, while Satan’s the master of deceit, he’s not the master of your mind.  Therefore, stockpile your mind with God thoughts to disarm anxiety.  Just as Jesus entrusted His anxiety and fear to His heavenly Father in Gethsemane, we follow suit.  Our heavenly Father lights our pathway out of the valley of fret.  Rather than meditate on the mess, set your eyes on the Lord, anxious for nothing.  Max exhorts:

“A new day awaits you, my friend.  A new season in which you will worry less and trust more. . . . with reduced fear and enhanced faith.  Can you imagine a life in which you are anxious for nothing?  God can.  And with his help, you will experience it.”

The severity of sin, the immensity of grace

“A happy saint is one who is at the same time aware of the severity of sin and the immensity of grace.  Sin is not diminished, nor is God’s ability to forgive it.  The saint dwells in grace, not guilt.  This is the tranquil soul.”- Max Lucado

“But all these thing that I once thought very worthwhile — now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone.”- Philippians 3:7 (TLB)

Max Lucado continues Chapter 3 of Anxious for Nothing as he reflects on Paul’s Damascus road experience.  Pastor Lucado notes that once Paul saw Jesus, he couldn’t see any more.  And for the apostle Paul, that meant more than the loss of physical sight.  In addition, Paul no longer saw value in his resume, merit in his merits, or worth in his good works.  Instead, Max states, Paul saw only one option.  To spend the rest of his life talking more about Jesus and less about himself.

Pastor Lucado summarizes:

“He [Paul] became the great poet of grace. . . .  Paul gave his guilt to Jesus.  Period.  He didn’t numb it, hide it, deny it, offset it, or punish it.  He simply surrendered it to Jesus.”

As a result, Max exhorts, courage sprouts out of the fertile soil of God’s grace.  Mercy snaps our guilt chains, setting us free.  While guilt frenzies the soul, the antidote of grace calms it.  Great sinners depend upon great grace.  There, Pastor Lucado notes, we find a forgiveness that is too deep to be plumbed, too high to be summited.

In conclusion, Max encourages:

“In the great trapeze act of salvation, God is the catcher, and we are the flyers.  We trust.  Period.  We rely solely on God’s ability to catch us.  And as we do, a wonderful thing happens: we fly.”

Today’s question: How does the immensity of grace produce a tranquil soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Perpetual anxiety versus limited anxiety”

Grace restores life to our souls

“Guilt sucks the life out of our souls.  Grace restores it.  The apostle Paul clung to this grace.  To the same degree that he believed in God’s sovereignty, he relied on God’s mercy.”- Max Lucado

Today, as found in Chapter 3 of Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado discusses the final five ways we deal with our guilt.

5.  Punish it.  To assuage our guilt, we hurt, beat up, or flog ourselves.  Although we may not use actual whips, we flog ourselves with rules. More rules.  We compile long lists of things to do, observances to keep.   Pastor Lucado refers to this as “painful penance.”

6.  Avoid the mention of it.  Just don’t bring it up – don’t tell your family, minister, or friends.  Thus, Max notes,  you “keep everything on the surface and hope the Loch Ness monster of guilt lingers in the deep.”

7.  Redirect it.  Rather than relying on God’s grace restoring your soul, you find innocent targets for your guilt.  You take it out on family, yell at employees or that driver who just cut you off.

8.  Offset it.  Here you determine never to make another mistake as you seek perfection in your family, career, appearance, or Christian faith.  This  way you stay in control.  In addition, you develop total intolerance for slipups or foul-ups of others or yourself.

9.  Embody it.  Here you embrace your badness. Also, you even take pride in it.  And since you’re bad to the bone, it’s only a matter of time until  you do something bad again.

In conclusion, Pastor Lucado observes, unresolved guilt creates an anxious person.  A person “forever hiding, running, denying, pretending.”  Furthermore, living such a lie produces exhaustion.  However, as Max reminds us, grace restores the life that guilt sucks out of our souls.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you understnad that God’s grace restores life to your soul?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The severity of sin, the immensity of grace”

Your soulprint – the truest thing about you

“Your soulprint . . .[is] the truest thing about you.  It’s your God-ordained passion, your God-given gifts, and your God-sized dreams.  It’s the potential that can be tapped only in a relationship with the One who gave it to you in the first place.”- Mark Batterson

As Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 9 of Whisper, he discusses the fourth quadrant of the Johari window.

4.  The unknown quadrant.  This final quadrant consists of things you don’t know about you as well as thing others don’t know about you (emphasis author’s).  As your soulprint and thus the truest thing about you, you need to seek God in order to discover your true self.  While Jesus knows our sinful nature, He also sees our potential.  And He treats us accordingly.  Although we write people off, Jesus writes people in.

In conclusion, Pastor Batterson presents five ground rules for the fifth love language.  Because this language involves people, it’s complicated and subject to misinterpretation:

  • No one is above rebuke.  Mark encourages you to give someone you trust permission to speak truth into your life.  And listen very carefully when that person says something you don’t want to hear.
  • Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.  As Mark astutely observes: “If you live off compliments, you’ll probably die by criticisms.”  So, if something fails the Scriptural filter test, throw it out.  But if it passes the test, repent.
  • Think long and hard before you dish out advice.  The primary reason we fail to hear what others have to say occurs because we’re already formulating our response while they’re talking.
  • Always encourage before you correct.   That’s the pattern found in the book of Revelation.  So, Mark advises, if you’re going to err on one side or the other, make sure you err on the side of positivity.
  • Conversations get tougher the longer you wait.  Don’t say something just to get if off your chest.  It’ll backfire.  Grace and truth fill genuine relationships.

Today’s question: Have you identified your soulprint?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “An internal clock that perceives God’s promptings”

Overcoming self-defeating dimensions of personality

“The only way to overcome these self-defeating dimensions of our personalities is ruthless self-discovery.  And it’s so much more than self-help.”- Mark Batterson

“Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.”- John Calvin

As Mark Batterson continues Chapter 9 of Whisper, he discusses the third quadrant of the Johari window.

3.  The blind spot quadrant.  Pastor Batterson stresses that this quadrant consists of those things you don’t know about you but others know about you (emphasis author’s).  As Mark quips: “This is getting ready to go on stage with your barn door open.  You need someone in your life who loves you enough to say what needs to be said: ‘Zip it up!’ ”

Therefore, we need spiritual fathers and mothers who’ve been there and done that.  In addition, we need friends to speak the truth in love.  And we need accountability partners to call us on the carpet as well as remind us we were born for so much more.

In fact, Pastor Batterson states, all of us possess a literal blind spot.  It occurs at the place where the optic nerve passes through the optic disk.  However, we rarely notice our blind spots.  Because, based on visual clues, our brains adeptly fill in the blanks.  But it’s also the place we’re most susceptible to errors in judgment, information, and understanding.

Furthermore, it’s why the fifth language – people – is so critical.  We develop blind spots if we don’t receive wise counsel from others.  And these blind spots = spiritual weak spots.  When wise friends speak the truth to us in love, the right word at the right time contains the power to open our eyes.

In conclusion, Mark underscores, there’s often a fine line between healthy and holy manifestations of our personalities and unhealthy, unholy ones.  As a result, we need people full of grace and truth to help us navigate that line.  And to hold us accountable when we cross it.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you overcome self-defeating dimensions of your personality?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “All a work in progress”

A great cloud of witnesses

“We all have a great cloud of witnesses, and that cloud consists of anybody and everybody who has influenced our lives. . . .  To believe that any of those people are in our lives by happenstance is to grossly underestimate the sovereignty of God.”- Mark Batterson

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us.”- Hebrews 12:1

In Chapter 9 (“Hidden Figures”) of Whisper, Mark Batterson covers the fifth love language – people.  For as the English poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.”  Furthermore, the primary reason C. S. Lewis attended church revolved around his belief that failing to go would result in something he called solitary conceit.

Therefore, Pastor Batterson asserts, God puts people in our lives to:

  • overcome solitary conceit
  • overcome solitary confinement
  • keep us humble
  • draw out our potential

Through our relational encounters, God gets us where He wants us to go.  Hence, people constitute the fifth love language.  For example, God used a spiritual father, the apostle Paul, to encourage Timothy.  In 2 timothy 1:7, Paul wrote that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (NASB)

Most noteworthy, the word timidity comes from the Greek word deilia, meaning “cowardice.”  It’s the only time that the word occurs in the New Testament.  However, according to church tradition, Mark notes, Timothy was dragged through the streets and eventually stoned. His crime? – trying to stop a pagan parade.

In conclusion, Pastor Batterson states, when you use your personality as an excuse, your personality controls you.  As Mark exhorts:

“You tell me your excuse, and I’ll tell you where God wants to use you.  That’s how He puts His grace and glory on display.”

Today’s question: What great cloud of witnesses most impacts your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Two options – alter ego or altar ego?”

Bibliolatry – the Bible as an end in itself

“There is a very subtle form of idolatry called bibliolatry.  It involves treating the Bible as an end in itself instead of a means to an end.”- Mark Batterson

In Chapter 5 (“The Key of Keys”) of Whisper, Mark Batterson discusses the first love language – Scripture.  He notes the challenge the Bible, the inspired Word of God, faces in our culture.  For our modern society chooses to elevate tolerance above truth.  Hence, Pastor Batterson explains the consequences:

“When truth is sacrificed on the altar of tolerance, it might seem as though everybody winds, but in reality everybody loses.  God calls us to a higher standard than tolerance.  It’s called truth, and it’s always coupled with grace.  Grace means I’ll love you no matter what.  Truth means I’ll be honest with you no matter what.” (emphasis Mark’s)

Among all books, Mark underscores, the Bible falls into a category of its own.  At least two things make the Bible absolutely unique:

  1. The Bible’s “living and active (Hebrews 4:12).”  Thus, Pastor Batterson notes, we don’t simply read the Bible to gain knowledge.  After all, Mark reminds us, “knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1).”  In addition, the Bible reads us.  As we read Scripture, we inhale what the Holy Spirit exhaled thousands of years ago.
  2. We never get to the bottom of the Bible.  According to rabbinic tradition, the author states, every word of Scripture consists of seventy faces and six hundred thousand meanings – like a kaleidoscope.  Therefore, no matter how many times we read the Bible, it never gets old.  It’s timeless as well as timely.  Furthermore, a well-used Bible testifies to a well-lived life.

In conclusion, the goal of reading the Bible isn’t just acquiring Bible knowledge.  Most noteworthy, the goal involves learning to recognize and respond to the voice of your heavenly Father.  That’s so you grow in intimacy with Him.  Thus, Mark offers a serious equation: Holy Scripture – Holy Spirit = bibliolatry.  Taking the Holy Spirit out of the equation leaves us with the letter of the law, Mark asserts.

The quickening of the Holy Spirit means the difference between information and transformation.

Today’s question: How do you avoid bibliolatry so you grow in intimacy with Christ?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Get into God’s Word – so His Word gets into you”

Waiting for healing and restoration

“Although I wait for healing and restoration, I do not wait alone.  We have the spirit of Christ with us always.”- Ann Swindell

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor honors him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”- John 14:16-17 (ESV)

In Chapter 9 (“Waiting with Grace”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell admits that she daily longs to be healed.  And still, she receives God’s grace.  Thus, Ann hasn’t received the grace of healing.  However, she experiences the grace of God’s presence.

Most noteworthy, the author adds, the Bleeding Woman twice encountered the grace of Christ’s presence.  First, she touched Jesus and received physical healing.  But, she also received grace as she looked Jesus in the face and told Him her story.

Because Jesus knew the Bleeding Woman came to Him in faith, He sought her out.  In addition, he offered her His presence and acceptance.  Also, Jesus acknowledged her existence as well as her suffering.  Ann explains how we daily experience the indwelling presence of Christ.  She states:

“What grace!  This is the great grace we have been given; we don’t have to wait for an encounter with Jesus once in a lifetime or once in a year or even once in a week.  For those of us who believe in Jesus and have given our lives to him, we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit every moment of every day.  What grace God would live within us.  In our delight and our sorrow, in our joy and our pain, we are never alone.”

Today’s question: How do you receive the grace of Christ’s presence as you await healing and restoration?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The recipient of extravagant grace”

Staying tender and needy before God

” . . . if we remain paralyzed and if we refuse to risk staying tender and needy before God, then we are risking . . . missing out on the opportunity for closeness and intimacy with him and with others.”- Ann Swindell

Ann Swindell concludes Chapter 8 of Still Waiting as she underscore the inherent danger in risk.  Yet, whether we’re waiting for material or spiritual blessing, it’s our choice to keep risking.  In fact, risking is the only choice available.  Since we can’t predict the ultimate results of our actions, essentially we risk all the time.

As a result, Ms. Swindell explains why the only way forward involves risk.  Ann states:

“Risk is the only way forward, even — and perhaps especially — if it’s the continual risking of our hearts before the Lord, the risk of giving him all our desires without knowing what would happen.  This is scary business, treacherous heart territory.”

However, it’s far worse to miss out on staying tender and needy before God.  Because unexpected freedom arises from riskiness.  Instead of confusion, repulsion, or awkwardness, we find a place, Ann notes, “where grace cracked wide open.”

Therefore, such moments offer a surprising gift.  As you share your brokenness with others, they share their brokenness with you.  Also, as Ann’s found, shared brokenness leads us to shared hope.  Not despair or wallowing.

Finally, the author exhorts, your place of risk becomes a place of deep connection with God.  Ann describes how to learn of God’s goodness and presence in deeper measure:

“When I open myself to vulnerability with God, I have the opportunity to learn of his kindness and love more richly.  These attributes can’t be learned any other way.  Real love requires risking our hearts with him.  We know this because we have the best model for risking and living vulnerably before Father God: Jesus himself.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses hymns, or Christian songs help you stay tender and needy before God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Healing and restoration”

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me (Tyndale, 2017)

Pastor and author John Ortberg titles his latest book I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close.  Although we crave intimacy, it remains a scary concept for a lot of people.  Therefore, intimacy cannot be coerced.  For God desires connection, not compliance.  Thus, the building blocks of intimacy consist of shared experiences that build meaningful connections.  This requires the essential elements of time and presence.  In other words, intimacy is a big feeling built on small moments.  Details matter.  And while the spiritual nature of God’s presence at first seems like a barrier to intimacy, God’s spiritual nature actually makes intimacy with Him deeper than with anyone else.

Vulnerability, Pastor Ortberg observes, drives us to attachment, to intimacy.  In moments of temptation, of aloneness, we make the choices that uniquely shape our character.  Yet, only God’s big enough and strong enough to assure us everything’s OK.  As John states, “Jesus offers to walk with you in the midst of your ordinary life today.”  Jesus continually invites us to connect – and never gives up.  However, our capacity for self-deception know no bounds.  This creates a serious problem with intimacy.  Thankfully, grace secures the foundation of Jesus’ call to more courageous self-awareness.  In addition, His great love for us gives evidence that we’re worthy of love and belonging.

This leads to Romans 12:15, a passage Pastor Ortberg calls “the golden rule of intimacy” – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  There’s a magic arithmetic in shared experience.  When we share joy, that joy increases.  In contrast, when we share pain, that pain decreases.  So, don’t put sadness in charge of your life.  Rather, take your sorrow to God.  Since Jesus exemplifies the ultimate combination of authority and vulnerability, He offers us ultimate intimacy.  Also, God created us to have great authority and great vulnerability.  It’s not a matter of having one at the expense of the other.  In this process of commitment, we experience a freedom that avoiders never know.

Finally, Pastor Ortberg defines the Deep Down Dark  as “the place where you know you can’t make it on your own.”  In the Deep Down Dark, groaning (complaining to God) in suffering builds intimacy.  On the other hand, grumbling (complaining about God) destroys it.  Furthermore, healing from shame – deeply embedded condemnation – only comes from finding an acceptance greater than our greatest rejection.  As Lewis Smedes writes, we need the “spiritual experience of grace.”  God’s grace readies us to make any statement or take any actions that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.  Intimacy, John asserts, needs “outimacy.”  It needs to overflow in love beyond itself.  This happens in a community that lives and breathes Jesus.

As a result, it’s not a case of  I’d like you more if you were more like me.  As Pastor Ortberg concludes:

“I wonder if he [Jesus] whispers it still.

Just stop.

Be still and know.

Whoever has ears, let them hear: Bring in the love!”