Did you know that over 40 million people a year struggle with some type of anxiety disorder? From Generalized Anxiety Disorder to PTSD, there are many types of anxiety disorders, and it is the most common mental illness. And for the most part, it is highly treatable.
While most of us probably don’t fit in to an Anxiety Disorder category, it can be said of all of us that we worry. And some of us worry too much. Worrying is both a symptom and a catalyst for anxiety, and can absolutely overwhelm you to the point of paralysis. When we worry, our joy is stolen, our peace is non-existent, and our well-being suffers, along with those around us.
The root cause of much of our anxious worrying is fear. When we are afraid of something, we turn that fear into negative thoughts and run through multiple scenarios of what could go wrong. And there are so many things that we fear!
Losing someone or something precious
Not getting things finished
Being hurt in a realationship
And on, and on, and on.
Did you know that God does not give us fear? Nope. Fear is not from God. We manage that all on our own.
2 Timothy 17 (Modern English Version)
7 For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control.
I think a clue for how to battle worry is found in what God DOES give us. Instead of fear, he gives us power. His power is available to us to help us in our problem-solving. Instead of fear, he gives us love, the strongest emotion a human can give or receive. There is strength for the battle in love. And perhaps most importantly, he gives us self-control, so that when worrying begins to overtake us, we can clang shut that nonsense and focus on things that are going right and the many places we have been blessed.
Power, love, and self-control. Next time you find yourself starting to worry, remember that you have these weapons in your battle bag. You are a worry warrior.
Ever wish you could stop time? As in, literally snap your fingers or push a button and have time stand still? Watching your baby daughter grow up right before your eyes, attending a family reunion knowing you won’t see each other for another year and wondering who will be gone then, starting your last semester of college, waking up to the first day of vacation…there are a lot of examples of situations when we might wish we could stop time and just linger for awhile.
Our hurried lives often leave us wishing we had such power. If only I could stop time, I just might get all these things on my “to do” list accomplished. If only I could just slow down the day, I could cram in all the things that I have over-committed to. If only the sun would stay up a little longer, I could meet everyone’s demands for my time and attention.
Did you know that there was a time in the Old Testament when someone actually asked God to stop time…and he did?
Joshua 10 (The Message)
12-13 The day God gave the Amorites up to Israel, Joshua spoke to God, with all Israel listening:
“Stop, Sun, over Gibeon; Halt, Moon, over Aijalon Valley.”
And Sun stopped, Moon stood stock still Until he defeated his enemies.
13-14 (You can find this written in the Book of Jashar.) The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day. There’s never been a day like that before or since—God took orders from a human voice! Truly, God fought for Israel
The battle for Gibeon was set to end at sundown. Joshua’s military forces did not have night vision goggles, high beams, or even flashlights. In order to defeat the five kings of the Amorites, he needed more time, so he prayed that God would give him that. God heard his prayer and prevented the sun from setting until Joshua had finished his battle.
What battle are you in today that is suffering from your hectic, over-rushed life? Where has your hurry turned into debilitating worry, preventing you from relaxing into a moment and being present in the present? Hurry-worry is soul crushing. Are there things in your over-committed life that can be shed so that you can live in real time without so much stress?
Sun, stand still. Moon, stay put. We call on God to give us the tools that enable us to slow our frantic pace and attend to the meaningful priorities that will bring us closer to him, closer to one another, and closer to peace. This means allowing God to set priorities according to his will, and being willing to LET GO of anything that doesn’t fall into his prioritizing. Are you ready for that?
What do you need to do today to make that happen? Don’t let the sun go down before you do it.
Over the holidays I spotted a holiday edition of MAD Magazine. I was standing in the grocery store checkout line and there he was, gap-toothed Alfred E. Newman, grinning up at me. MAD Magazine is the iconic snark-fest, anti-establishment publication from the 70’s that was the delight of every sarcastic kid in my South Jersey neighborhood. Somebody would score a copy and it would be passed around like a precious loaf of homemade rye on a Bronx street corner. You would feast on every word and graphic until it was somebody else’s turn and you had to reluctantly give it over. If you were the lucky one to be at the end of the breadline, you got to savor it for weeks. I think (unfortunately) that a lot of my humor was formed in that savoring. I’m kind of proud and ashamed at the same time.
Alfred E. Newman was the de facto mascot, and he answered every satirical cultural problem with “What, me worry?” Everything was met with that response: the nuclear arms race, Watergate, the Vietnam War (Lordy, I am dating myself here)…no matter what was wrong, his response was the same. What, me worry?
Oh, how I long to have that attitude. Wouldn’t you like to be Alfred E. Newman for just one day and say back to every problem, “YOU CAN’T WORRY ME.” Instead, I think we actually go about our day looking for things to worry about. We succumb to a highly contagious disease known as what-if-itis and just what-if ourselves to death.
Meanwhile, God says to us, “What, you worry?”
Joshua 1(New International Version)
9 ”Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
This incredible passage is God’s response to Joshua upon the death of Moses. MOSES. ‘Young Joshua, I want you to continue Moses’ work and lead the people into the promised land. There will be rivers to cross, Hittites to battle, hunger to address, and the people you are leading are not particularly known for their compliance and cooperation, not to mention that you are replacing MOSES, but you go, young Joshua! Take my people into a foreign land.‘
And we think we’ve got trouble!
God’s word to Joshua is the same to us today. Take another look at that problem you are worried about, and remember that God is telling you to not be afraid. He encourages you to not be discouraged. His COMMAND is to be strong and courageous. How can God make such an outrageous request of us as we stand here with our knees knocking? Because he promises to be with us wherever we go.
Wherever you go. The operating room, the divorce court, the psych ward, the funeral home, the test room, the angry conversation, the teenager’s bedroom…God is with you. Be strong. Be courageous. You are not alone.
Ever have an epiphany? Like, a really, really good one? I recall having an epiphany once about a toxic relationship I was in. For the longest time I had been blinded to the reality of it, following along and taking the negativity toward me as “personality-driven.” Every time something was said that made me wince, I wrote it off to the other person’s stress/having a bad day/quirky humor/maybe I heard it wrong. But I was hearing it right, and when the epiphany finally came that this relationship was causing me harm, I had to begin the painful process of extricating myself from the friendship.
An epiphany happens when we finally see the light. The word harkens back to the time in scripture when people literally saw the light, a star hanging over Bethlehem that lit the way to the manger and thus lit the way to the salvation of the world.
Matthew 2 (New King James Version)
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
The star led them to Jesus, but an epiphany warned them to stay away from Herod. An Epiphany epiphany.
The word epiphany comes from the Greek word meaning appearance or manifestation. We celebrate the day of Epiphany on January 6th as the final day of the twelve days of Christmas. Many people keep their decorations and lights up until this day to commemorate the Light of the World being made manifest on earth.
In all senses of the word, epiphanies are about the breaking of darkness by the sudden intrusion of light-power. That is what happens every time God appears. Yet in the sense that God is always there, perhaps it is more accurate to say that it happens every time we finally are ready to see the light.
The irony of the Epiphany is that the pagan astrologers saw what the religious scholars refused to see. Trapped in their ritual, expectation, scripture memorization, and endless arguments about doctrine, they missed the entire event, while the star-gazers got to see the Messiah.
Take a look around you. What is God trying to show you? Where is he shining a light on something in your life and yelling, “Pay attention to this!”
Epiphanies happen every day. God breaks into darkness every day. God sheds new light on bad situations every day.
You’ve probably noticed that for the most part, I default to The Message when selecting a Bible translation for my devotionals. I read several translations before I select one, looking for the one that is the most readable and easiest to understand. That often brings me to The Message. Eugene Peterson spent years with his ear pressed to the dialect of today as he transcribed the ancient words of yesterday. It always seems to speak directly into a situation. I was sad when I learned of his passing just over a year ago. I resonate with his lifelong desire to make the scriptures accessible to everyone. On a daily basis.
As much as I adore The Message, the one place where I steer away from it is the Psalms. Call me old school, but there is nothing that satisfies my need for rhythmic poetry better than the King James Version or the New King James Version. With the New King James Version, the fluidity is maintained while all the eths are dropped and the thees and thines are changed to you and yours. Thus “He leadeth me beside still waters” becomes “he leads me beside still waters,” and “For thou art with me” becomes “for you are with me.” Same rhythm, updated words.
Hey, imagine if there was a New King James New Jersey Version! The thees and thines would be youze and youze guyz. But I digress.
I took a run in my neighborhood a few weeks ago and ended up at the marina that overlooks the sound. It was one of those mornings where the water was impossibly still. I could see the reflection of the sun mirrored perfectly in the glassy surface. Naturally, I thought of Psalm 23.
Psalm 23 (New King James)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
Psalm 23 is a song about God’s steadfast protection in our lives. It sings about God’s promise to lead us in righteous paths. It reminds us that he accompanies us on every journey…even into death. We learn that he sits beside us when we face our enemies.
And he leads us to the still waters.
I think this is a reminder today that if you find yourself in turbulent waters, God did not bring you there. Thankfully, he is IN the storm with you, but he doesn’t lead you into tsunamis. No, we do a pretty good job of finding our way into rough seas all by ourselves. God’s desire is to lead you out of your mess and into the still waters, where peace is found.
Ask yourself this: in the chaos of your situation, in the disruption of your circumstance, were you following God, or did you get there on your own? Is he trying to lead you out of a destructive habit, a dangerous lifestyle, or a demoralizing relationship into a better place?
Look around. God will lead you out. Have faith and be courageous. If you follow where he leads, he will restore your soul in green pastures, beside the still waters. You just have to get up and walk.
According to the American Optometric Association, 20/20 vision is defined as:
20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. If you have 20/100 vision, it means that you must be as close as 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet.
Today we begin a new year. A decade has closed, a year has been added, and a new beginning is offered. Looking back at the year just ended, what do you see? Joy, regret, growth, retreat, inertia, advancement…what did the last 12 months bring into your life?
Now looking at the next 12 months, what do you HOPE to see? And no matter what those hopes are, do you see God being active in your year? Does your vision for your life match HIS vision for your life?
One of my favorite scriptures on vision comes from Isaiah, Chapter 6:
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
Here is the quick take-away: King Uzziah was a great and powerful king. Isaiah served as his temple priest. If you look closely at the first sentence, you’ll notice that Isaiah says, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I SAW the Lord.” Kinda’ makes you wonder if the charismatic and powerful earthly king was a distraction. It took his death for Isaiah to see the Lord, who obviously was there all the time. Could it be?
In a smaller sense, we are all guilty of putting things on the throne that distract us from seeing the Lord. Indulgences of every kind, gossip-spinning, hours of Netflix, too much screen time, grudge-holding, over-indulging our children, vanity, laziness…fill in your own blank.
2020 is an opportunity to capture God’s 20/20 vision for your life. We get a do-over.
What earthly “king” is keeping you from God’s vision for your life?
What have you put on the throne in place of God?
What are you worshipping that has become a replacement for God?
Why are you so distracted?
When we clear out all the junk, vision becomes clarified. When we sweep away the debris of our past, we can capture God’s vision for our future. Putting God back on the throne of our hearts will enable us to enter the new year with hope, peace, joy, and love.
I live on an island off an island off an island. My commute to work requires me to travel over two bridges and drive on an incredibly curvy road for three miles. At one point the road curved around a small Methodist church that was large enough to block your view as you drove around it, causing several accidents. The DOT finally came along and straightened out the road after centuries of curviness. As we traverse Colington Road, we all have to be alert to what is just around the corner. It might be a political sign, a muddy rut, or even a chicken. Turning each corner is a challenge of staying alert.
As we say goodbye to an old year and welcome a new one, we have an opportunity to “turn the corner,” offering us a time to reflect on the trajectory we’ve been on and possibly change direction. It is not uncommon to see people back in the gym, (regular gym-goers hate January with its crowded classes and busy weight rooms!) starting new diets, pledging to be more thoughtful and intentional, and otherwise making changes that promise to turn the corner on some aspect of their lives that needs fixing.
You know, Jesus was all about the turning-the-corner-life. God sent him to get us out of the muddy rut humanity was in, and offers us a way out through belief in him:
Acts 3 (The Message)
19-23 “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.
For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven until everything is restored to order again just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old, said it would be. Moses, for instance, said, ‘Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from the people.’
The act of turning toward God and having him wipe away your sins results in God pouring out showers of blessing to REFRESH you. In all the ways we will seek a refreshing this new year, this soul-refreshing is the most significant. And we need to be alert to what is just around the corner. If we meet heartache, illness, betrayal, despair, or even death there, we had better be prepared with God at our side.
Want to lose weight? Take off the heavy burden of sin. Want to get fit? Exercise your belief. Want to be more intentional and thoughtful? Immerse yourself in scripture. Ready to turn the corner? Give your new year over to God and see what HE will do with it.
The showers of blessing that come from turning toward God are peace, hope, joy, and contentment. Wouldn’t that make for a wonderful 2020?
In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be!Unrevealed until its season…something God alone can see.
These beautiful words from Natalie Sleeth’s Hymn of Promise speak of all kinds of good things. They remind us that cold Januarys turn into sunny Junes. They speak of change. They offer promise. They speak of God’s ability to see our potential when all we see is failure. They tell us about growth. Most of all, these words speak of the promise of the resurrection.
I can remember the first time I sang this song. It was at a funeral in my church in Georgia. I recall standing in our sanctuary on Windgate Rd. and looking out at the people who had gathered to say goodbye to their loved one. Sleeth’s imagery in the midst of death struck a chord with me that day that has reverberated each time I have sung it, as it speaks to a reality of life and death that we would rather not consider.
Consider the final verse:
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last a victory…
Sleeth is echoing the truth found in scripture regarding the resurrection:
Romans 6 (The Message)
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
I think the idea of dying paralyzes us, and we become frozen-in-place.
But maybe even more so, the idea of living is just as paralyzing. Just the IDEA of making necessary changes to the way we live freezes us in fear. The thought of letting go of anger, quitting drinking, releasing a long-held grudge, ending an affair, starting chemo, offering forgiveness to someone who hasn’t asked for it and doesn’t deserve it….like the icicles captured in this picture, we become immobilized in our determination to not have to alter how we live in any way.
God wants so much more for us than that. This passage sets forth a challenge: we die with Christ and we also live with Christ….but the life he lives, he lives to God. So should we.
We are stuck in cocoons of unhealthy habits and thoughtless words, but Sleeth likens us to butterflies who will soon be set free. We live in the darkness of our selfish behavior, but she reminds us we are just the ”dawn that waits to be.” In Sleeth’s poetry, we are a potential of something only God can see in us.
It’s time to thaw out. It’s time to warm up and become the people God intended us to be; loving, giving, full of promise, ready to grow in him, and ready to be set free.
What will you do today to respond to God’s call to unfreeze your life? Where is God calling you to make changes that will reveal your hidden promise? How can you be like Jesus and live your life for God?
How about we start today? Let’s get moving.
…unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see!
There is no better way to ruin Christmas when you are a kid than to sneak around and peek at your presents before Christmas Day. I did this once at the prompting of my evil older sister, and it was the WORST CHRISTMAS EVER. She had discovered the stash of presents my mother hid in her bedroom closet and ”forced” me to look. OK, forced is a strong word. I must admit that I was a willing participant. But what a miserable Christmas that was, trying to look surprised as we opened each present with our fake “oooohs and ahhhhs.” Never again did we make THAT mistake!
Christmas is all about the Big Reveal. Even better than seeing what make-over decorator magic Chip and Joanna have pulled off again this week, the big reveal of Christmas exposes so much more than how Christmas appears from the outside.
It isn’t just the gift of an infant in a manger. It isn’t just the presence of God on earth. It isn’t only the miracle of the immaculate conception. It isn’t just the Gloria in Excelsis Deo. It is all that, and so much more. It is a proclamation of freedom from the bondage of sin and oppression.
It is the gift of an inheritance as the rightful heirs of our Papa.
Galatians 4 (The Message)
4-7 But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage.
You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.
In all that is amazing about this big reveal, let’s focus on just one aspect of this passage. At the first Christmas, we were given the privilege of INTIMATE CONVERSATION with God. We received complete access to an inheritance that affirms us as his children. We are granted the chance to dialogue with the one who offers us eternal life. WE HAVE ACCESS TO PAPA.
There is no present in Mom’s closet that can even come close.
How can you experience this great gift today? Where is God calling you into intimate conversation with him? What does inheritance in the kingdom really mean to you?
You are a child of God. Christmas reveals that. So open up this gift and use it. Talk to your Papa! This is one gift you will receive this year that is appropriate to both keep and re-gift. Go and tell it on the mountain, and everywhere.
From a historical perspective, a lady-in-waiting was a noblewoman of lower rank who attended a noblewoman of higher rank, such as a queen or princess. Her work centered on ensuring that the personal needs of her mistress were taken care of. More courtier or companion than servant, ladies-in-waiting provided assistance with secretarial needs, etiquette, practicing court dances, embroidery, wardrobe care, and delivering messages on behalf of their mistress in a discreet fashion. They wait in both contexts of that word: they wait on their mistress, and they sit and wait for their mistress to send for them.
I need a lady-in-waiting! Where can I get one?
Every woman I know has been a lady-in-waiting at some point in her life. Not in the context of court duties, but in the sense of having to wait for something. When we are engaged, we are waiting for the wedding to happen. When we’re pregnant, we wait for childbirth. We wait to hear if we’ve been accepted into college and grad school. We spend time sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for test results, and outside the interview room, waiting to see if we got the job. When hospice is brought in, we wait for our loved one to pass from this life to the next.
And then there is type of waiting that all people experience every day…waiting in line, waiting for phone calls, waiting at red lights, waiting for an apology, waiting for a house to sell, waiting for Christmas/vacation/birthdays/retirement to come…wait, wait, wait.
I hate waiting. How about you?
Luke 1 (The Message)
5-7During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
Elizabeth waited all her life to have a child. She did all the right things, lived a righteous life, and yet was still waiting into her old age. And then the unthinkable happened. An angel visited her husband Zachariah with some startling news:
13-15 But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.
And leap like a gazelle they did! Then another kind of waiting began. Meanwhile, in another part of Israel, Elizabeth’s cousin Mary was also having a conversation with an angel, who brought her some startling news as well. And then he concludes with telling her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy:
36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
Waiters, take heed. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.
The thing you are waiting for will come to be, in God’s time. And if it doesn’t, it wasn’t going to be good for you. When I was five, I prayed for a pony. Still waiting.
God always works for the good of those who love him and who are called to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) So while waiting is tedious, stressful, and downright aggravating, we can acknowledge that God is present, even in the waiting.
One thing I noticed about how Elizabeth spent her waiting time was that she and Zachariah were said to “enjoy a clear conscience before God.” That tells me that they understood the value of repentance, which ironically was what their son John would spend his lifetime preaching about. Clear consciences come when we attend to God’s commandments and live honorable lives.
As you wait, consider this. How is your conscience? Is it clear? Are you harboring any grudges, withholding any offerings from God, or practicing things that would separate yourself from him? Are you ignoring God’s call to go and make amends with someone before you return to the altar?
Repentance is the great conscience-cleanser. When we turn away from sin and return to God, the angels rejoice and our load becomes lighter.
As you wait, remember Mary and Elizabeth. They waited, and waited, and waited. Then, in the fullness of time, they birthed joy, hope, salvation, and redemption for the world. What will God bring forth from your waiting?
Our mothers told us that good things come to those who wait. May you experience patience in the waiting, hope for the future, redemption in the now, and a new understanding that NOTHING is impossible with God.