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Dealing with Anxiety

It happened again yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that I had again felt the wave of irrational panic sweep through my body. My hands began to shake, my pulse quickened, noises seemed deafening. The room began to spin, it was difficult to get a deep breath, and my arms began to feel week. I know this foe that occasionally appears to steal my calm though I cannot tell you why it comes. About 8 years ago I had my first real anxiety attack. I was in my office and everything in the room started to go sideways. My hands began to shake and I felt weak. I thought I just needed some hot tea (a minor obsession of mine, I drink four cups a day). I shuffled into the copy room and made myself some tea and quietly hurried back to my office where I tried to relax. After some time of prayer and considerable effort to simply relax, I finally forced myself to go into the youth building and pick things up. Eventually, I was able to calm my nerves.

After that first attack, I began to wrestle more often with anxiety. Sometimes it felt like a weekly issue. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a medical anxiety issue. I’m naturally a pretty easy-going and calm person. Though in Brazoria Texas, I’m told I am high-strung (so I guess that’s a matter of perspective). I like things to be in order and I live a relatively ordered and easy life. I do not claim that my struggles with anxiety are anywhere near the difficulty of some people who feel the walls close in and have to completely shut down the outside world. I do not have “crippling anxiety.” I do struggle with minor anxiety attacks. About 4 years ago they were frequent and I had not experienced an attack for about a year and a half… until yesterday. I shared what I did to address the issue in a tweet and was told that it was helpful. So… I thought I’d explain a bit more. Maybe you’ll find some help. Maybe you know this already. Maybe…

4 observations about anxiety.

  1. Usually, anxiety attacks have a trigger. Often anxiety attacks are a result of some sort of encounter, suppressed or remembered. People who struggle with anxiety typically have a looming pressure that they can feel coming closer. My anxiety has almost always been associated with meetings or people. Both meetings and people bother me. I feel nervous at the very thought of sitting down and having a “talk” with someone in a meeting in which I do not control the agenda. For me, I recognize this as a trigger. I’ve been around other people who have anxiety as a response to chaotic noise or crowded rooms. I even knew one person who had an anxiety attack whenever they saw a particular flower. Identifying these triggers can help. It is important not to avoid these triggers… It is best to address them.
  2. Anxiety is a real issue. This is not a pretend psychological gloss of fear or an excuse to avoid confrontation. It’s a real problem people struggle with. Further, when Paul says “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and petition make your request known to God” (Phil 4:6) he is not talking about dealing with anxiety attacks. (For thoughts on that particular passage, click here.) That said, anxiety affects people differently. The common symptoms are shaking, shortness of breath, inability to focus, and a light-headed feeling. However, they are not limited to these.
  3. Honesty and transparency in community can help to alleviate anxiety. There are few things more powerful than living in authentic community. A community based on trust and openness is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. When transparency is held in high value, many triggers will be arrested and dispelled in the comfort of open community.
  4. You cannot simply “fix” anxiety. It is a complex problem. Most people who struggle with anxiety cannot tell you why they struggle with anxiety. They simply do. It is difficult to identify triggers much less the source of anxiety. I’m a pastor and I’d love to tell you that there is a verse that will solve every anxiety you will ever face. And while it is true that strengthening your faith and knowledge of God can help, anxiety is not simply answered with a verse. It takes more to war against this opponent.

Some things I do to address anxiety attacks.

  1. Silence is counter-intuitive in our culture. We desire to drown out noise with louder sounds. However, when anxiety strikes me, I need silence. Soft music doesn’t help, in fact, it often increases the strength of the attack. Years ago I invested in some noise canceling headphones. When I feel an attack coming, I grab my headphones first.
  2. A calming hot drink. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I put a small scoop of cinnamon in it. I was told that cinnamon in hot tea can help with unsteady nerves. I’m not a doctor, I have no medical evidence for this. But, I can attest that it does work.
  3. Focus on one task. When I struggle with an anxiety attack, I need to feel successful. I need to be reminded that I can complete something. Assurance that I’m useful. The task does not have to be a big one. It can be something as simple stacking papers or making lunch. I find it is helpful when the task takes some effort but is mostly rote.
  4. Practicing the presence of God. Christians have a great advantage over others who struggle with anxiety. A disciplined practice of faith and consistent routine will help to stabilize your life and offer strength when the attacks hit. Anxiety can be heightened by unfamiliar activity. Because I occasionally struggle to control my anxiety, it is helpful to maintain a consistent and disciplined routine.
  5. It’s hard to breathe when the room closes in. But you need to breathe. It helps to control heart rate and settle the racing mind. So take slow steady breaths and bring some control to your heart rate.
  6. Ask for help. I live in authentic community with people who know me well. When anxiety closes in, one phone call and I’ve got a community around me, praying, coming to help, and offering presence. This is probably the greatest asset to overcoming anxiety. If you don’t have a community, join one. If you’re in my area, Sovereign Grace Fellowship is a community that will offer you that kind of fellowship.

Great Art: You Must Linger to See it

When the soul needs respite and the heart needs the vexing challenge of soul-stirring intellectual engagement, art offers a haven. On the nights when one cannot recognize the eyes of the individual in the mirror and the world seems as though it is failing to maintain its own rotation, art gives us a perspective that can rescue. When the everyday monotony of life begins to drain our souls of joy, art refreshes and revitalizes our hearts. Art: three simple letters used to label the concept of expression in total. The word seems wholly inadequate. It should be longer and have an “x” somewhere in it. Perhaps it is simple and short because art is easy to overlook and pass by?

Art is a powerful medium to express that which is inexpressible by any other means. Great art transcends cultures and time. It has no limitations and only grows in its appreciation as it is engaged. Great art refracts through layers of expression that expose a deeper truth, often revealing things that cannot be understood without equally deep investigation.

As of late, I have been inspired by the work of Makoto Fujimura. He uses a particular style of Japanese art to produce works that are masterful. Fujimura’s work is literally done in layers. Several translucent layers, one on top of another. The result is stunning, but only if the viewer allows them to linger. You see, the eye has to adjust to seeing the layers. In our modern world, this is extremely difficult to do. Yet, to appreciate the beauty of Fujimura’s work, the eye must hold fast to the piece. We must train our eyes to linger and rest on the expression. As the eye grows accustomed to the peculiar focus required to see the layers, the piece will spring to life. The greater attention given to grasping the work, the more beautiful it becomes.

So it is with all great art. The soul must be allowed breathe deeply the scent of expression. We must permit our souls the time to linger… to gaze upon the beauty and understand. Our souls, like our eyes, must adjust to the refraction of the light. As the light illuminates the layers of the canvas, our eyes slowly gain the necessary perception and begin to see the glory of the painting. We begin to see the work of the artist.

The Greatest Artist has displayed His work in layers that have become common to our eyes. We fly past His work constantly, seldom stopping to admire the layers of His glory. But if we would linger a bit, we would find our eyes adjust to an ever increasing beauty in the Father of Life. If will settle our souls to seek and savor Jesus Christ, we will find the much-needed respite from this present monotony. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Now a brief word of warning: Jesus is The Artist, who created everything. He is also the Light that exposes the work. When you stand in His presence to see His work, you will inevitably find some layers of yourself exposed. And that can be uncomfortable. But, to see the beauty of The King and to know His work is worth it.

Linger over the great truths of Scripture. Engage the incredible artworks produced by God’s people. Gaze at the beauty of what and who God has created. Listen to the music that He provides upon the winds. Seek beauty in Christ’s display of His glory. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

The Coming Book!

Hello everyone! I just wanted to let you know that my first book, Thinking Through Ephesians is in the editing process!!! I’m very excited about it! However, I have to warn you… the Ephesians blogs have been taken down. You won’t be able to access them. The book should be completed soon in ebook and paperback formats (final edits are underway and the forward is being written by Dr. Leo Percer!). If you liked the blogs, I think you’ll like the book and I hope you’ll be encouraged by it!

After Ephesians, we’ll be publishing a book of poetry and art through John’s Gospel. After that, I hope to have my work through Philippians compiled into a second study book, “Thinking Through Philippians.” I hope you’ll be encouraged by these works and they will serve to inspire greater devotion to the Word of God. Here’s what they look like: EphesianscoverJohn Poems

Philippians 3:1-3; Brief Thoughts

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 

Christian are people with a particular affection for joy. There is a unique capacity within the soul of a reborn man/woman for joy in every circumstance. Because of Christ and His sovereign control and activity in all things, Christians are especially suited toward a joy-filled life. So, Paul writes the constant affirmative exhortation to rejoice. By this point in the epistle Paul has established that there ample reason to rejoice in the life of a Christian. Consider what has been accomplished in the hearts of believers through the work of Christ. He has rescued and has started the sanctification process which Paul observes that God will complete (1:6). With the confidence of an active God who cares deeply for your needs and is engaged in their lives, Christians can rejoice in any and every circumstance.

Sometimes, it can be exhausting to remind people of the truth of who they are. But in the area of rejoicing, it is a delight to remind brothers and sisters that they are privileged to rejoice. Moreover, the particular reminder of rejoicing in the Lord is safe for those to whom the reminder is given. Consider what Paul means by “safe.” He is not here insinuating that there is some sort of physical or material security in rejoicing. Rather, there is a security in the Christian walk when believers focus their attention on living a lifestyle of joy. As Christians focus on rejoicing, it becomes increasingly difficult to allow circumstance to overrule that joy.

Cultivating a lifestyle of rejoicing starts by developing a heart of gratitude. The person who can be grateful to God for the circumstances in which they find themselves will have little difficulty rejoicing. Oh Christian, learn to express thanks in all things and joy will come with much greater ease. Further, when a Christian is genuinely seeking joy, they will not afford the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27). If one is busy about cultivating joy in their lives, they will have no time for the sins that so easily ensare. So, it is safe for Paul to write these words to the Philippians.

Verse 2 begins Paul’s conclusion to the Philippians. What follows are warnings and reminders beginning with a warning about the Judaizers. These were a group of Jewish Christians in the first century who demanded obedience to the Old Testament Law. Legalistic at their core, they insisted that Christians must observe the ritualistic practices of the Jewish religion, especially that of circumcision.[i] This distinction is why Paul refers to them in such graphic terms. Judaizers were literally insisting on physical harm to the body in effort to uphold the Jewish law. Yet Christians are not bound to the Law. Having been set from the Law, they have now bound themselves to grace (c.f. Romans 6 and the whole book of Galatians).

Paul calls the legalists, “dogs,” warning his hearers to be on guard for them and watch for them. Even in modern culture, the same tendency exists to insist on morality over faith. There are numerous examples of modern legalists in the western church. There are those who espouse a political label, who are dominated by a culture of traditionalism and moralism. There are those who follow ritualistic practices that are nowhere to be found in the Scripture. There are those who espouse a doctrine of morality without faith. Friends, this is not Christian at all. The Judaizers were not believers. Neither are many self-proclaimed Christians in the west.

Paul asserts that there is evil among these people. He explains that they are evil-doers. People who place a legalistic morality above faith are practicing evil. It is simple. Anytime one puts the Gospel into a system that demands morality in order for the Gospel to save, then the Gospel has been nullified and replaced with a moralistic legalism.

There is one group that can claim to be God’s chosen people. That is those who have come to Christ in worship by the Spirit of God. These are the people of God. They are the true circumcision: those who have had the flesh nature removed from their heart and are new creations (c.f. Col. 3 and Gal, 5:24, and 2 Cor. 5). Believers can claim this title because it was given by God. It is not earned or claimed because of some sort of moral excellence. It is bestowed on those who have trusted in Christ. It is in surrender and trust that believers find their confidence. Likewise, the confidence of a Christian must be centrally located in the work and character of Christ. The flesh is of no benefit. Only the worship of Christ in the Spirit can one find the ability to rejoice always.

 

[i] Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, p. 695). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.

Philippians 2:1-2; Brief Thoughts

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

The fellowship of the saints in a unified spirit and the encouragement of watching brothers and sisters striving to live holy lives is a completion of joy. In Scripture, joy is called a fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, it empowers believers to do the mission of God in Acts 13, and it grants perseverance to Christians in suffering in 1 Thess. 1:6. (C.f. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament entry on “chara” or “joy”) In western Christianity, joy alludes us. And by joy I mean: soul satisfying happiness. (For a more full explanation of happiness I commend Randy Alcorn’s book on the subject). It does not allude us because we can’t understand the definition of joy or process the significance of such a powerful disposition. The absence of joy for the western Christian is most often simply because we don’t believe joy is found in Christ.

Western Christianity has espoused that Christ is sufficient for religious function and atonement for sins, but is not necessary for everyday life. I know this, because I live in the western Christian culture and have pastored western Christians for the past 13 years. We attend a church, participate in a work of benevolence, or live by a code of morality while simultaneously seeking to fill our affections with entertainment, possessions, and activities. These things are not necessarily evil or antithetical to Christ, but they are not Him. Instead of pursuing joy in knowing Him, most so-called believers portion some time to Him and then allot the rest of their time to other things. Our churches attempted to capitalize on this mindset by setting up programs and activities based on affinities. We tried to get people to the gospel utilizing some other means than presenting them with Christ. We won people with things and entertainment. As a result, Christianity in the west is dying… or is at least sick. (This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is necessary to recognize the problem before you can identify the solution). The trouble with portioning time to an infinite God in whom there is infinite joy is that in doing so, we are limiting the infinite. We cannot claim the joy that rightly belongs to us and hold Jesus, The Spirit, and Father at arms-length. In order to have fullness of joy, Christ must be all consuming.

What then, can complete our joy? According to Paul it is the unity of the saints being lived out in holiness. Look again at verse 1. Paul begins this exhortation with a challenge of faith. The exhortation is a conditional one. If verse 1 is true of the believer, then do verse 2. The implication is, if the first part is not true, the second part is not possible. Examine closely how Paul challenges faith. The condition he lay down is that these Philippian believers are finding their encouragement in a consistent relationship with Christ through the Spirit.

Believers find encouragement in Christ and walking with Him in obedience to His precepts.

Believers take comfort in the uncomfortable self-sacrificing love that is born out in their hearts for the people around them.

Believers participate in the mission of God by obeying His Spirit and following where He leads.

Believers have affection and sympathy for each other because Christ’s affection and sympathy for His bride is poured into the hearts of believers and overflows from the Christian to all.

Do those 4 statement describe your Christian life? If not, then you are either: seeking joy somewhere else and need to adjust your lifestyle or you do not know Christ. Consider this carefully, your eternal destiny is at stake. Stop trying to find joy on your own, confess your inability, and follow Christ.

What greater joy is there than the fellowship of saints walking together in holiness? There is no greater joy for a teacher than the students applying what they have been taught. Likewise, there is no greater joy for a pastor than to see the congregation he is a part of living in mature Christian community.

The evidence of mature community are unity in mind, love, and mission. First, to be unified in mind implies some sort of discourse and common agreement. Be careful, dear reader. Unity is not achieved through avoidance or pacification. Unity is achieved when we wrestle through deep topics and truths together. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you do have to wrestle together to reach agreement. All true Christians can agree on this simple fact: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. This truth stands as our foundation. Everything that follows is exposition on the topic and is necessary to the Kingdom. The second evidence is a unity in love. Christians have been given love that transforms the soul. If that love is not transforming their actions, they have not been given it (C.f. 1 John 3-4). The final evidence of mature Christian community is a unity of mission. Paul asserts that Christians are in agreement on their journey. In other words, believers walk the same path and follow the same shepherd. They are joined together by their common Spirit which sealed them at redemption (Eph. 1:13).

This connection is unique to Christianity. It is not found in other religions. Christians have a unity that transcends circumstance and preference. While this unity can be mimicked through affinity, activity, and preference, it can never be truly achieved apart from the gospel. This is why it is so important that the foundation of our church communities be in the message of Jesus Christ’s life-giving gospel. Christian brother or sister, find a church that is founded on the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. Whenever we add an “and” to the gospel, we cheapen the power of it. This is truly a massive subject and one I do not have time for in this short work. For more on this particular subject and the implications thereof on the local church: read The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive (9Marks) by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop.

Ephesians 5:18-21; Brief Thoughts

… be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What completes a soul? It is some ethereal connection to a divine being? Is it material wealth? Is it altruistic actions that satisfy? According to Paul, it is the Spirit of God that completes a Christian. So we are admonished not to find our fulfillment in wine which leads to a sort of in-completion, but to seek our fulfillment in the Spirit of God.

The four participles following the exhortation “be filled,” explain what a person who is finding their sustaining in the Spirit acts like. They address each other in spiritual praise, they sing to the Lord, they live a life of gratitude, and they submit to each other.

First, one who finds their fulfillment in the Spirit will find that what comes from within their hearts are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” For if a person is filled with the Spirit, then things of the Spirit will proceed from that person’s mouth. (c.f. Mat. 12:34 and Luke 6:45) These Spiritual songs pour forth from someone who is filled by the Spirit in the same way that football statistics pour from an obsessive fan or the way business information pours from the mouth of a workaholic. If you fill yourself with the Spirit of God, you will talk about Him with other believers. He will be the center of your speech. What glorious speech it is when Christians speak of their Savior! How great His compassion and how wonderfully life-giving to those who encounter such a people.

The holy work of the Spirit in the hearts of those who believe develops a deep love for God. That love overflows in praise and melody to the Lord. Remember, Paul is not addressing a worship service or even a congregational gathering in which singing is common. He is speaking of the lifestyle or “walk” of a Christian. Making music to the Lord is inherent in the life of a Christian. Our hearts are tuned to bring Him praise with every breath. Thus it is fitting for a Christian to live a life that overflows with praise to the Lord. Do not be so shallow as to think that this call to sing to the Lord is merely a call to musical worship. This calling upon Christians is a call to worship the Lord through the beauty of the souls cry to Him. Think upon that for a moment. Your heart sings praises to God. He hears your heart’s cry and hears your heart’s praise. The holy God of the universe hears and delights in your heart’s worship. The beat of your heart in pursuit of His glory and name is melody to the Lord. Oh that our hearts would sing praise to Him.

The life of a Christian not only brings praise to Him, but it brings praise from the joy of gratitude. Paul shares in Philippians 4:6-7 that peace comes with gratitude. It is in gratitude that we find peace and joy in life. Not simply gratitude when circumstances or gifts abound in our favor. But gratitude when they come in the form of trials or sufferings. Throughout the epistles we are urged to consider it joy when we face trials, to rejoice in our sufferings, and to be thankful to God for every circumstance. Can you do this? It is easy to thank God for the things that go well. It is difficult to thank God for the things that go poorly. Are you able to thank God for the things that hurt? The peace of God comes when we are able to surrender every aspect of our being in gratitude to God. Can you thank Him now? Christians live and find life in this gratitude. For this kind of radical thanksgiving is what fills us with the Spirit.

Note the name by which we give gratitude to God. It is in Jesus name and by His authority that we are able to give thanks to God the Father. Without Christ’s covering over our hearts, we would not be able to extend gratitude to Him. So it is, we are able to revel in our thanksgiving because of the gift of Jesus Christ within us. He is your means of transport to the glory of God. He is your revelation to God’s presence. He is your motive for gratitude and your intercessor to allow you the access to the Father.

Just as Christians submit to Christ and surrender to God, we also submit in love to one another. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers and that Spirit is conforming us to the likeness of Jesus. (Col. 3:10) If we are to be bearers of the image of God, being made into the likeness of Christ, then humble submission should be a defining characteristic. Remember what Paul states of Christ in Philippians 2:1-11. Christ was obedient to God. In submission He made Himself nothing, entrusting Himself to the Father. Likewise, Christians ought to exemplify such willing submission to each other.

Consider what it would be like if your church community looked like what Paul is describing. Consider the influence your church would have on the world around them. In truth, they would make a tremendous impact. But like the early church, churches who live as Paul details would be persecuted and reviled… But they’d be in perfect peace with God. Isn’t that worth all the rejection this world can muster? Isn’t knowing Christ and becoming a child of God a greater joy than any hatred we face. Dear Christian you are faced with a choice: live holy and please God or ignore sin and live in relative ease on this earth. Only heed this warning: if you choose to ignore sin, it is likely you have never known Christ and your sin will be your only reward. Repent and pursue Christ.

I Did Cast My Vote: a Poem

I thought about calling this “I didn’t vote for Him.” but realized that would be click-bate and I hate that nonsense…  so This poem was inspired by the recent discussions of our new president. It really doesn’t talk about him… so if you are looking for political fodder for your angst or encouragement for politics, you wont find it. But here’s a poem.

We voted on ballots loaded with candidates
Remembering our votes would serve to mark the date
We chose the lesser of two evils, holding balance like Weebles®
Tottering back and forth, in our course
of sinful disposition
praying the Lord, save us from our own decisions

But remember when our ballots held His name?
and we proclaimed “Barabbas!” in extreme disdain?
The hope of life eternal, standing before us
Beaten, bloodied, bruised, ready to be poured out over us
Our vote was clear, “Sin’s the master here!”

Yet rejecting our vote, He took our shame and disgrace
Sacrificed Himself in grace for His name and our sake
He lay His life down to raise Himself King
Accepting not our votes, they were wasted things
He died on the tree bearing the reproach
of all who believe, all those who did vote
against His majesty, glory, and might
He made enemies sons, and ended our night.

So we lay our vote down, for he bears a King’s crown.
You see, to elections Kings do not submit
They are Kings after all, in spite of all this
The good news is this King of whom I speak
Has come to rescue, the dead, lame, and weak
He died in our place, but entombed did not remain
He granted life to the Saints who trust in His name

My vote was cast for Hell and for Death
But my King rejected it, bringing me rest
He handed me life when I demanded my say!
Then He rescued my soul, showing me His way
By no work of my hand, He made me His own
Now life in my being comes from His life alone.

He is the life giver, my King so gracious
He is my only righteousness, my own goodness fallacious
His life is now mine, having taken my death
To the cross at Golgotha, laying it to rest
So vote as you will, He the King does remain
His glory is eternal, and His rule is the same!