Last week, we opened the conversation to address the elephant in the room of modern life - crippling anxiety. It has become impossible to ignore. Let’s continue that discussion this week...
Have you ever been the recipient of an inheritance? A treasure in our home is the desk and chair set that Eli inherited from our pastor and mentor, Rev. Joe Barnes. This man was such a tremendous influence in our lives - he taught us everything he could about ministry and loving people, and gave us so many wonderful opportunities to learn and grow as young people. The desk and chair are solid reminders of his love and care for us, and the great investment he made into our lives. Every inheritance is something special that the giver wants to leave with the recipient as a blessing and reminder of their love, care, and concern.
We all know that one of the greatest story lines is that of the hero, down on his luck, who opens the registered letter and finds that he has just inherited a vast estate from a favorite great aunt. In a moment, his life changes forever. This story is so inspiring and does something deep within each of us as we read. Why is that? Perhaps it is because this is our story, too - each of us is the person who can have their life changed by Someone who wishes the best for us. Each of us can be the recipient of a solid and real reminder of Someone who believes in us and loves us.
Read in John 14 the following words of Jesus,
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
This is what Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. This is the inheritance that Jesus left for them and for all of us who believe in Him. Jesus says, “My peace I give you.” Not just any old peace - the peace of Jesus. The limitless peace that Jesus Himself has in His own heart and mind. It is difficult to imagine what that even means.
We often make the mistake of thinking that God is just a magnified version of man. Whatever I am like, or maybe whatever my father was like, is the idea that I have of God in my mind. This is not right - we are made in His image, not the other way around. There has never been a time, since forever, that God felt anxious or worried or afraid. There has never been even a moment in all of eternity when it was unclear if God was going to be able to come through. He is the maker of all things and the owner of all of the resources. Even time is not something that gets in His way, let alone anything else. It is this great peace of knowing that God is control that Jesus offers to us.
Uncertain times and being surrounded by a godless worldview fill our hearts with gripping fear, but Jesus is, "called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end." (Isaiah 9: 6-7) Scary situations and difficult seasons leave us feeling anxious and afraid. God does not feel that way - He can see the deep work He is doing in each of hearts through those tough circumstances, and "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) Uncertainty leaves us feeling lost and defeated, but God has never been uncertain; death terrifies us, but Jesus says, "“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16: 24-25)
Your inheritance is the limitless peace of Jesus, about whom was written, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1: 1-5) Accept this great inheritance and let it change your life.
Paul, writing to the Philippian church, tells us how to put our inheritance to use in chapter 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
You have at your disposal the peace of Jesus!
-Know the word of God, and trust that God is never out of control
-Rejoice in the Lord
-Do not be anxious - instead, pray with thanksgiving about every situation
-Only think about what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (this means we must discipline ourselves to stop thinking about all of the opposites)
In all of this, the unfathomable peace of God will guard your heart and mind from all of that crippling anxiety, and your inheritance will be a magnet to those around you who are desperate for relief.
The Elephant in the Room
I have been wrestling with this idea all week, and have decided to go ahead and break it up into two weeks' worth of reading. I hope that these thoughts bring some hope and encouragement to many of you - either for yourself or on behalf of someone you love. This school year, in all of our traveling to different student groups around the nation, it has become increasingly clear that we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room - we must talk about fear and anxiety. Let's see what Jesus has to say about this...
In John 14, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
The conversation continues, and at the end of chapter 14, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
The night that Jesus said this was the night of his betrayal, the night before the cross. The disciples knew that trouble had been brewing, and that some powerful people were really furious at Jesus, but it is safe to say that they had no idea what was about to happen in the next hours and days. The things Jesus says to them that night are so wonderful - it is thrilling to read them every time. He is so full of encouragement and peace and hope, even though you can be sure Jesus knew exactly what kind of group was gathering to come find Him even as He spoke. He knew exaclty what was coming, yet was full of peace.
I wonder if you are the kind of person who likes to know what is coming? I am, for sure. My family gets so annoyed about this, but I like to read all about the movie we are about to watch before we watch it. Since childhood, I have always prefered to dive into a new book by reading the first chapter, then the last chapter, and only then the middle. I especially love mysteries, and my method usually ensures that I know who did it before I read what actually happened. I know this is so scandalous to some people, but I really like to know where we are going when I start on a journey. People tell me that this means I must be a closeted control freak, but I don’t think that is it. I think it is because I am naturally pretty weak and afraid, and somehow, knowing what is coming makes me stronger to face it when it does come.
It has been startling to realize how greatly this current generation is gripped by fear and anxiety. Worry is not new to the modern era, but it has certainly soared to new heights. We were at a student conference this past weekend, and Eli preached a sermon on the Peace of Jesus. At one point, he asked the students to raise their hands if they felt not just mildly afflicted, but bound by anxiety, and at least 75% of the room responded. This is debilitating to so many young Christians, and if left unchecked, will be the bane of the Church in this generation. It is difficult to share our faith in Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, with any sincerity or power when our lives are overcome by anxiety. What is causing this epidemic?
We live in a society that is increasingly secular. The foundation that our country was built upon has been removed little by little. Many would say today that God is not real, Christianity is not real - it is just a myth or a superstition that people developed to try to make sense of the world. The Bible and everything that it teaches has been thrown out as irrelevant and flawed and bigoted. The family has been demolished, and it is just fact that most young people today grew up in a fractured home. On top of all that, we have been told that we are just accidents of nature, and that there is no ultimate purpose or truth in this life. We are told that life has no meaning, so all of us had better seize any little bit of "happiness" we can, no matter what the consequences. There is no firm foundation left, and in its place is nothing but chaos and confusion. It is as if everyone is being asked to walk across the Grand Canyon of Life on a tightrope, with no safety net at all. No wonder so many feel such crippling anxiety.
But, just like Jesus said, “the prince of this world…has no hold over me.” Christians, the time has come for us to remember that this place is not our home. We have been born again into God’s Kingdom, and there is no firmer foundation. The chaos that we feel all around is not the ground that we walk on. We have something much more solid.
Yes, yes. That sounds so nice, but are you sure? How do we know? There is an answer for that...
We must be People of the Word.
It has now been more than 60 years since the Bible was read in schools in this nation, and in that time more and more people do not go to church at all. This means that we cannot be surprised when people do not know Truth since they have never actually heard it. Where would they have heard it? They have not. All most people have heard is what the world tells them.
We cannot assume that we already know enough of Truth, either. God’s promises, God’s plan, God’s character - all is plainly written in the Word of God, and we must read it and read it again and know it. Only then will we be able to consistently counter the false claims and culture of this world and stand upon the solid ground of Truth.
It is a big book, to be sure. But if you have never read the whole Bible cover to cover, I encourage you to do so this year. It is awesome! It helps to make sense of all that is going on around us, and it strengthens our faith. C.S Lewis said it so well, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” The Word of God explains everything that is happening, how we all got here, why there is so much pain and sin in the world, and how God's love is so powerful. Not only that, but it plainly spells out that every one of us was lovingly and purposefully created, and that all of creation is really heading somewhere much more real and lasting than this place!
When you really know the Bible and the Truth it reveals, you can walk steadily, even when things seem to be falling apart around you. Terrible things do happen, it is true. All but one of the original disciples were killed for their faith in Jesus. Stephen was stoned to death for his love for Jesus. Paul went through hell on earth for his faith. Being a Christian does not mean we are immune to or exempt from the horrible and painful things that happen in this life. But the Bible makes it plain that this is not the way things were supposed to be, and that God has made a way for eternal victory and health and healing in the end. The Word of God says over and over that God will never leave us or forsake us, and that He is with us, even now - we can have peace and joy and comfort instead of anxiety through every season of life. The Bible makes it clear that this life is just a moment compared to eternity in the presence of God.
Remember what we read to begin - on that night He was betrayed Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
This is why I like to know the end of the book as I read it. This is why I like to know what is going to happen in the movie even as I watch. If I know what is coming - and I do - I can make it through everything life throws at me, even when it does not make sense to me. If God is with me - and He is - I can lean on Him as hard as I need to when hard things come. Be encouraged today! Next week, we will look at the inheritance Jesus left us in His will.
What Spills Out...
Imagine that you are searching through your grandmother’s attic one day, and you came across an old steamer trunk. Opening the lid, you are surprised to find a treasure trove of old and beautiful things – lace and linens, precious family jewels, fine old leather-bound diaries and books, and some beautiful and very expensive vases. One vase, in particular, catches your eye, and you decided to put it in your living room, front-and-center on the mantle. It is gorgeous - everyone who comes by your house notices and comments on its loveliness.
For many months, years even, it sits there looking perfect – until the day of the earthquake. One afternoon, everyone is busy with life and work when suddenly the ground starts trembling, and everything starts rattling and shaking. Pictures fall from the walls, books fly off their shelves, and yes, the beautiful vase succumbs to the violent shaking and tumbles off the mantle to the ground.
In the aftermath, you are walking through the house, amazed at the mess just a few minutes of shaking has left. You notice a terrible smell – something has surely died in your living room! You move towards the back of the room, and the smell intensifies – it grows almost too strong to go any further. What in the world could be causing that awful stench? Then you happen to look down – and there is the beautiful vase, the showpiece of your home. It has fallen to the floor, and its lid, the one that was so tightly shut, has popped off and the contents spilled out. Something so old and so vile has spilled out on to the floor, maybe something that was left in there decades ago, leaving a mess and a smell that you would never have known was tightly shut up in such a beautiful container.
This vase is like our hearts. As we know and walk with the Lord, oftentimes our externals get pretty well cleaned up. We stop looking and acting like we used to – no more foul-mouthed, perverted, selfish-self, just the new and improved, halo-firmly-in-place self. We get cleaned up and look quite presentable. Everyone thinks we have it all together, and even we ourselves start thinking we are pretty terrific - until the day of the shaking. Then we are surprised by the disgusting stench that falls out of our hearts and spills all over the floor. Who knew that junk was still in there?
It is so important to understand that Christianity is not some kind of moral-management plan or do-it-yourself venture. It is not a series of checklists - things to do and things not to do. Living that way sets all of us up for failure. We run the tremendous risk of becoming the most self-righteous and least-kind people on the planet. By thinking that we are in control and managing our own spirituality, and that as long as we do or don't do certain things is all there is to this, we limit the true work God can do in our hearts. The exterior may be clean, but the interior might still be full of foul things.
Truly being a Christian means trusting in and walking with the Lord of All. Real Christianity is a life of self-surrender and of being conformed by God into the image of Jesus. As we walk with God, He is with us through all of the hard circumstances and the earthquakes that life brings. The shaking could be anything. The death of a loved one, a failed class, a disagreement, a betrayal, a broken dream – life can and will throw any number of surprises our way.
Allow me to share a personal example with you. Many years ago, we experienced the miscarriage of a baby. Unfortunately, this is something many people go through. You are so excited to realize you are pregnant and then begin to dream a little, thinking of names, decorating the nursery in your mind, wondering what that little one will be like. But one day you start feeling horrible, maybe bleeding and cramping, and fear begins to grip you. You try to pray, to hope, but your body just betrays you and the baby is lost. Then you have to pay the doctor’s bill. Everything about the experience is horrible.
But what was even worse than the experience itself was what spilled out of my heart in the weeks and months to follow. I was so angry at God, and found myself actually thinking things like, “how could you let something like this happen to me when I have been so good?” or “I thought you were a good Father and wanted to give your children good gifts?” I never said them out loud to anyone, but wicked, ugly things that totally question God’s character and motives came spilling out of my heart and threatened to poison my whole life. I found myself becoming more irritable, more short-tempered, sad, and just angry.
One day during that season, Eli preached a sermon out of Luke 15 to the students - Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son. Instead of focusing on the younger brother who runs off and lives wildly, the sermon was about the creepy older brother who stayed home in the Father's house but was full of self-righteous thoughts. I sat there, punched in the gut to realize that I was that person. Deep down in my heart, I really thought God owed me good things for my service to Him.
Thankfully, the rest of the sermon was about the incredible Father in the story who loves and welcomes both of his wayward children. I came to my senses and realized what road I was traveling down – the road that leads from anger to bitterness to rebellion, straight to deception and death. That is a horrible, lonely road and I do not ever want to be on it again. The good news is that God IS a good Father, and He is patiently waiting with open arms for us to come back to His embrace.
What is the lesson in this? Just this – we live in a fallen world in which bad things often happen. Sometimes the Lord allows us to go through things that hurt, and through it He helps us to see the things that we have kept hidden in our hearts. Things we might want to hold on to and not surrender to Him - like selfishness and self-centeredness and more love for myself than for God or my neighbors. These are the very things that can ultimately lead us away from God forever.
Through these painful experiences, we learn a lot about ourselves and so much about Him. We can understand a little better the Fellowship of His suffering, and we can learn even more to lean on Him and to trust Him. Don’t be afraid of the earthquakes and storms life will bring – for they are sure to come. Know that God will help you clean up what spills out and make you more like Jesus in the process.
A New Year's Resolution
Happy New Year! I must confess that the fresh page of a brand-new year is something that I look forward to each winter. It somehow feels so hopeful. All of us have many things we would like to leave behind from last year, and what a great feeling it is to start over fresh and new.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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