Posts tagged ‘Worry’

Sick in Spirit When We’re Scared for our Bodies

The COVID-19 outbreak is taking a toll not only on the physical health of millions, but on the emotional health of millions, too. A new survey out from the University of Phoenix shows 4 in 10 Americans are lonelier now than ever before. 71% are worried about the health of a loved one while 61% are concerned about their own health. You combine this with 33% of survey respondents being worried about paying their bills and 27% experiencing depression, and you have the makings of not only a contagious disease pandemic, but a mental health crisis. We may be trying to avoid becoming sick in body through masks, hand washing, and social distancing, but, in the process, we have become sick in spirit.

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, some men bring to Him a paralyzed man, hoping He can heal him. Jesus does. But before He heals his body, He says to this man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Jesus knows that this man is not only invalid in his flesh, but struggling in his spirit. He needed his sins forgiven.

What Jesus does for this man, Jesus wants to do for every man – and woman. Jesus cares about those who are sick in spirit. This is why Jesus opens His ministry with not only miraculous healing, but profound teaching. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It turns out that poverty in spirit is just as important to Jesus as infirmity in body. And so, to those who are lonely, Jesus becomes a friend. To those who are worried, Jesus brings peace. And to those who are depressed, Jesus shows empathy. After all, His soul, too, was once “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).

Some 1,000 years before Jesus, King David praised the Lord as the One “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). David knew the Lord cared about all of us and all that is us – both our spirits and our bodies. More than that, David had hope in One who, in his day, was still to come come – a God who is spirit, but would one day take on a body to walk among our bodies and heal them and to love us in our spirits and forgive them. God cares so much about spirit and body that He comes in Jesus, who is both spirit and body.

And so, whatever COVID-19 may be doing to you – whether in your spirit or in your body – you have One who is both spirit and body to see you through. And He will.

April 20, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Election Day Fear

clinton-and-trump

Credit: CNN

Last week, I was driving back to my office after teaching a Bible study at a local business.  I happened to be listening to a radio talk show when a lady called who took my breath away.  She was nearly in tears.  She had just seen a movie forecasting what would happen if a particular candidate was elected President of the United States.  She told the talk show host:

I am scared to death.  I don’t sleep. I’m an absolute basket case. I want what’s good for my children, my grandchildren, my family.  It’s all going down the tubes because, after watching that movie last night, all I saw was what’s coming down, what’s next, what they have planned.

Wow.  What palpable fear.  What genuine terror.  What a heartbreaking phone call.  Fear can wreak a lot of havoc in a person’s heart and life.

I know this caller is not the only one frightened right now.  It seems as though every time a presidential election comes around, people’s fear becomes more and more acute.  So here’s a gentle reminder:  fear is not helpful.  There is a reason why the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  There is a reason Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Fear is like an infection.  Left unchecked, it can destroy people spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.  So if you’re tempted toward fear, especially as it pertains to this upcoming election, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Fear tends toward hyperbole.

Every four years, I hear the same refrain from candidates and political pundits alike: “This is the most important election of our lifetimes.”  Of course it is.  That is, until the next election comes along.  This claim, of course, is usually accompanied with dire predictions of what will happen if the wrong candidates get into political office.  Of course factually, this claim cannot stand up under scrutiny because logically, this claim cannot be true more than once in a generation.  And yet, it is assumed as true every four years.  How can we believe a claim that is so logically ludicrous?  Because we are afraid.  And fear tends to look toward a certain point in time, such as an election, and wonder with worry:  Is this the moment that will serve as the linchpin for the rest of history?  Is this the moment when everything changes?

Christians have a confident answer to these questions.  And our answer is “no.”  We know that history’s linchpin moment has already come with Christ.  No moment or election can even come close to comparing with Him.  Indeed, I find it interesting that the primary way we know about political figures from the first century such as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, and even Caesar Augustus is through Scripture.  But all of these men serve as paltry footnotes to the story of Jesus.  It turns out they weren’t as important as everyone thought they were back then.  Perhaps our leaders won’t be as important as we think they are right now.  So why are we afraid?

Fear fosters self-righteousness.

It was Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote:

Political controversies are always conflicts between sinners and not between righteous men and sinners.  It ought to mitigate the self-righteousness which is an inevitable concomitant of all human conflict.[1]

Niebuhr notes that, in politics, no party is completely right because no person is completely righteous.  So we ought to be humbly honest about our sins rather arrogantly defensive in a smug self-righteousness.  The problem with fear is that it tempts us to overlook the sins of ourselves and our party while gleefully pointing out the sins of the other party. Or worse, fear will justify the sins of our party by pointing to the purportedly worse sins of the other party.  In this way, fear surrenders moral credibility because it puts itself through all sorts of intellectual and ethical contortions to make that which is self-evidentially wrong look right.  This, by definition, is self-righteousness – something that Jesus unequivocally condemns.  If Jesus condemns it, we should stay away from it.  So do not let fear lead you into it. 

Fear clouds decision-making.

Psychologists have long noted that fear is a great motivator.  But fear has a funny way of impairing judgment.  Just ask any deer who has been paralyzed by the two big lights that are barrelling toward him at a rapid rate of speed.  Fear may promise to lead to rescue and safety, but, in the end, it leads to death.  So why would we settle for election cycles that are continuously driven by fear?

Decisions made out of fear tend to be Consequentialist in nature.  Consequentialism is a theory of ethics that says an act is good if it brings the least harm to the most people.  The problem with Consequentialism, however, is twofold.  First, because no one can fully predict the future, decisions based on future predictions, including the future predictions fueled by fear, usually have unintended – and often undesirable – consequences.  Second, Consequentialism tends to degenerate into deep sinfulness as people become willing to excuse increasingly terrible acts to achieve some desired result.  Consequentialism, then, may go after one good thing, but, in the process, it surrenders to and sanctions a bunch of bad things.

Decisions are much better made on principle rather than out of fear.  Decisions made on principle allow the one making them to look at all facets of a decision rather than just an end result.  They also place a high value on integrity rather than wantonly sacrificing that which is right for that which is expedient.  Decisions made on principle are, ultimately, better decisions.

I know that eschewing fearfulness is much easier said than done.  But fear must be fought – especially as it pertains to this upcoming election.  Fear about this election and about the future solves nothing.  It only manages to make the present miserable.  So take heart and remember:

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?  (Psalm 118:6)

Mortals cannot do nearly as much as we sometimes think they can, even if one of them becomes President of the United States.  Things really will be okay, even if sinfulness does its worst.

Do not be afraid.

______________________

[1] Reinhold Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr:  Theologian of Public Life, Larry Rasmussen, ed. (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1991), 248.

October 17, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Following Jesus Day By Day

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve watched the scenario play out again and again. A young Christian man is climbing the ladder of success. But then something snaps. The trappings of success begin to strangle his heart. And he decides to give it all up. His job. His house. His source of income. Traditional means of supporting his family. He gives it all up and announces, “I am going to stop trying to manage, control, and plan for everything my life and just follow Jesus one day at a time.”

Now, on the one hand, I respect and admire this deeply. This kind of decision brings into crystal clarity the trappings of an affluent life. The truth is, we don’t need the stuff we have. And when we treat it like we do need it, we break the First Commandment. We turn the stuff we have into an idol we trust.

In his book Radical, David Platt paints a picture of an Asian house church that haunts me:

Despite its size, sixty believers have crammed into it. They are all ages from precious little girls to seventy-year-old men. They are sitting either on the floor or on small stools, lined shoulder to should, huddled together their Bibles in their laps. The roof is low, and one light bulb dangles from the middle of the ceiling as the sole source of illumination.

No sound system.

No band.

No guitar.

No entertainment.

No cushioned chairs.

No heated or air-conditioned building.

Nothing but the people of God and the Word of God.

And strangely, that’s enough.

God’s Word is enough for millions of believers who gather in house churches just like this one. His Word is enough for millions of other believers who huddle in African jungles, South American rain forests, and Middle Easter cities.

But is His Word enough for us?[1]

I sure do hope His Word is enough for us. Because if it’s not, the Church has lost her foundation, her purpose, her uniqueness, and her hope. God’s Word must be enough.

I say all this so that you do not misunderstand what I am about to write.

I have no inherent problem with people who want to follow Jesus day by day with nothing but the shirts on their backs. I am concerned, however, that the impetus for following Jesus in this way is sometimes based on a misreading of what Jesus actually says. When it comes to trusting Jesus day by day, Jesus explains:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:25-32)

Jesus is clear. We need not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

There is a difference, however, between worrying about tomorrow and planning for tomorrow. One is discouraged. The other is encouraged. Jesus tells a story about ten virgins who bring oil lamps waiting for a groom to show up for a wedding party. But five of the ten did bring enough oil for their lamps. Do you know what Jesus calls those five? “Foolish” (Matthew 25:3). Why? Because they did not plan. The book of Proverbs includes admonitions to plan (Proverbs 21:5; 24:27; 27:23-27) and God Himself plans (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Jesus’ ministry is intricately planned as can be seen from His passion predictions (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Luke 9:18-22, 9:44, 18:31-33) and His training of the disciples for the mission of the Church (Matthew 4:19). Thus, not worrying about tomorrow does not preclude planning for tomorrow.

So, to my friends who have jettisoned plans to follow Jesus day by day, I say, “Blessed are you.” But remember that a time may come when planning, once again, becomes salutary. And if you’re worried that your plans may somehow be out of step with God’s will, you do not need to be afraid. After all, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

If your plans go awry, the Lord will get you back on track. He has promised to. You can plan on it.

_____________________________________

[1] David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream (Colorado Spring: Multnomah Books, 2010), 26.

February 2, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Decidophobia

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

I have a confession to make:  I suffer from decidophobia.

Now, before you accuse me of making up words, this term is not my own.  Walter Kaufmann, who served as a philosophy professor for over 30 years at Princeton, coined it.  He explains decidophobia like this:

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread.  Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals.  Treating these as given lessens this dread.  The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense decidophobia.[1]

Here’s what Kaufmann is saying:  decisions form futures.  Those who suffer from decidophobia worry that their decisions will tank their futures.

Now, to a certain extent, this is true.  Foolish decisions can lead to bad futures.  If one wracks up a lot of debt now, it leads to a lot of bills in the future.  If one is having an affair now, it can lead to a heart-wrenching divorce in the future.

But there are other decisions – decisions that don’t always carry with them the ethical clarity that getting into a bottomless pit of debt or having an affair do.  Decisions like, “What job should I take?”  “What vehicle should I buy?”  “What house should I live in?”  I am trying to make a decision on the last of these three quandaries.  And I have come down with a bad case of decidophobia.

As I have looked at neighborhoods and floor plans and features and storage space, I’ve become worried and concerned.  Will I make the right decision?  But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  decisions like these, though not always easy, are not devastatingly determinative of my future.  If a house does not have all the features I might like, it will still provide me with a roof over my head at the end of the day.  If a job you take does not meet all your dreams and expectations, you will still have a paycheck at the end of your pay period.  If a car you buy isn’t the one you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, it will still get you from point A to point B by the end of your trip.

I have long suspected that God gives us some decisions to make not to teach us about decisions themselves, but to teach us about the anxiety that so many of us feel when we are in the throws of a decision-making process.  I read somewhere that we should “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Many of the decisions we make carry with them no biblical mandate.  Any decision we make will be fine.  Being free from worry, however, does carry with it a biblical mandate.  That’s why it’s time to stop incessantly fretting.  Decidophobia is sinful.

So what’s causing you decidophobia?  Before you get your stomach tied in knots, remind yourself of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:34.  These decisions are not worth your worry.  You are in God’s care.

___________________________

[1] Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice:  From Decidophobia to Autonomy (New York:  Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973), 3.

July 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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