- 2019Mar 19
“Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
That old proverb came to mind as I read a study about the link between increased worry and stroke risk. After adjusting for other behaviors they discovered that those participants with the highest level of anxiety factors had a thirty-three percent higher risk of strokes than those in the lowest range of anxiety.
The study was sobering on a personal level. My Dad was a chronic worrier. He died from complications of a stroke. Worry steals joy and peace from its victims. I saw it with my Dad. I see it all around me.
As I get older I experience more and more how practical Scripture is for daily living. In the teaching of my youth the Bible was a book of lofty and seemingly impossible demands to behave in a way that would please God. Now I see that the Bible is a love story where Jesus met those impossible demands on my behalf. I see now that my simple faith and trust pleases God. And I see a practical book that shows me how to find joy during this temporary journey on earth. The Designer knew when we left the factory that worry is destructive. The study above merely confirms what Jesus said a couple of millenia ago.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NLT)
Worries certainly cannot add a moment though it appears they can subtract. Jesus continues in the same message.
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew, 6:31-34)
Our Designer knew something else. Most of what we consume ourselves with never happens or is not worth getting anxious about. Again, modern research comes along to verify ancient wisdom.
A research study examined how many times an imagined calamity actually came to pass. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen.
The remarkable results came back that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened! Slow down and digest that. Eighty-five percent of what we work ourselves into varied states of frenzy about never even happens. And here is the even more remarkable finding. For the 15 percent of the worry agenda that did happen, nearly 80 percent of the respondents reported they were able to deal with the concern better than expected or they learned a valuable lesson from the event. So 97 percent of what the majority of this study group worried about was not worth wasting the energy, faith and time.
Worry is exactly where the Enemy wants to keep the children of God. Living in fear of the future cheats you out of today. A precious moment tugs on your heart like a child at your sleeve. Too often you miss that moment concerning yourself with something that likely won’t happen or will happen in a way that your worry can not change.
For those of you who struggle with worry maybe it helps to remember that your Heavenly Father is always on the job. Entrepreneur Mary Crowley was famous for saying that she gave her worries to God when she went to bed because she knew He would be up all night. Worry is not an attribute of our God. I suspect that it grieves His heart that we are paralyzed with worry when our Father is calling us to know Him, trust Him and rest in Him.
Trusting Jesus for tomorrow, next week, next year and forever frees us to see what this moment holds. No amount of worry will change the fact that we will face death, adversity and sadness.
Worry causes you to take your eye off of the source of your strength. Jesus. He is your strength and your hope. Keep your eyes on Jesus and the words of a classic old church hymn will begin to ring true in your heart.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
- 2019Mar 07
“If you were a real Christian you would (fill in the blank)” is one of my least favorite phrases.
I have found that blank is always filled with an observation that you would believe exactly as your accuser if you were, in fact, a real Christian. The strategy is from the guilt is a way easier persuasion tactic than grace handbook.
Recently I passed a billboard with this message.
Real Christians Obey Jesus.
Okay. I get the intent of the message. Too many folks leave their Sunday Lesson in the parking lot as they drive to lunch.
Exactly what does it mean to be a “real Christian”? We subtly (or in my own experience, not so subtly) program Christians to believe that growth is about doing more right things. That righteousness somehow requires busyness for Jesus. We imply that change can only happen when you are trying hard and being disciplined for God. The truth is that a dramatic change has already happened when you make that faith commitment to follow Jesus.
Let’s just hit the highlights. Scripture tells you that at the moment you trust Jesus you have a new identity. You are literally a new creation. God sees you as righteous because of your relationship with Jesus. That’s it. Nothing you have done or ever will do earns that righteousness. It is a gift of grace.
You are changed completely when you trust Christ. The trick is living out of that truth. I see Jesus putting His arm around me and explaining that I have been changed. I see Him telling me that my sins are completely forgiven. I see Him explaining to me that all of those things that used to be true about me are no longer true. That no matter what the Accuser might say those things are dead and buried at the Cross. I don’t have to grit my teeth and try harder to win favor and please Him. That sin does not have power over me anymore. That if I trust Him and let God love me I will please Him. My faith and trust is what pleases Him according to God’s Word.
All I need to do to be a “real” Christian is to believe and trust that. I have been a follower of Jesus for five decades. During stretches of that journey you would have been hard pressed to see if that my faith was real. What potential judges would not have seen was that Jesus was slowly and patiently working in my life to make me more in His image. I am a very different person today than I was in my early walk. It was never helpful to have someone point out that “if I was a real Christian” I would be doing this or that. What did help was having grace filled believers come along side me, believe in me, and help me find the gift of grace that Jesus offers. Those are the people you remember with gratitude and joy.
Jesus talks about how we limit our ability to have peace when we don’t allow Him to provide us with strength. He didn’t mention a harness of legalism and works. He talked instead about a yoke, and that His yoke is “easy.”
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NLT
Jesus wants you to don His yoke. Trust Him. Have faith. He has done the heavy lifting already. Rest in Him. Learn how to be humble and gentle in spirit. Quit trying so dadgum (that may not be in the Greek) hard and serve out of grateful love. Jesus tells us when we believe those truths, our burdens are light. The walk with Him is easy and natural.
Being a “real” Christian means beginning each day with a profound sense of gratitude that Jesus offered me this gift of grace. A “real” Christian would never, never, never take advantage of a God who loves you so much that such a sacrifice was made.
I do believe a “real” Christian obeys Jesus but it is so critical to clarify why and how. I obey out of gratitude for His grace. I love Him because He loved me first. Jesus loved me when I was unlovable. Forgave me when I was unforgivable. How hard is it to follow and obey someone who loves you like that? That is real.
- 2019Feb 28
I am a lifetime, avid Cleveland Browns fan. I know. Thank you for your prayers. I am more optimistic now than I have been in many years. Part of that hope is some great young players. But another factor is the new head coach. Freddie Kitchens is a down to earth and positive influence on the field. He asks each player what plays they like to run and then implements their ideas into the game plan. The players were blown away by that level of personal involvement.
My first reaction was “why is that deemed unusual”? Why wouldn’t a leader want buy-in and ownership of the game plan? Why wouldn’t a leader create a culture of affirmation? As General Dwight Eisenhower wisely observed. “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.”
A recent book entitled The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton concluded that appreciation might well be the missing accelerator for happiness and self-esteem. Based on a ten-year study that interviewed 200,000 people, Gostick and Elton conclude that appreciation tops the list of things employees say they want from their bosses. For those who worked in offices with high morale an amazing 94 percent reported that they were shown appreciation. Not surprisingly, when employees quit nearly 80 percent cited lack of appreciation as the number one reason.
We have a fundamental need to be affirmed. The authors were surprised at how sparingly this blessing is given to others. That is a wonderful way that you can serve others. Simply affirm and bless them in their gifts and skills.
Affirmation is a game changer for all of us. Here is a snippet about affirmation from my book Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace.
We should not be surprised that people respond positively when they are told how much they matter. More important, we matter to God. His Word is full of affirmation for those who choose to trust Him.
To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
(John 1:12, NLT)
You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
(1 Peter 2:9-10, The Message)
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
(Ephesians 1:4, NLT)
We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
(John 15:15, ESV)
Jesus calls me His friend. Even when those around you are failing to fill up your affirmation bucket, you can still go to Scripture and find out how God feels about you. Is there a more important affirmation than that? When you believe that your heavenly Father recognizes your worth, it gets easier to find things to affirm in others. How can I suffer from a poor self-image if this is true? Jesus calls me friend, for goodness’ sake!
Affirmation is a powerful tool of God’s redemptive grace. Grace says you can still be loved and accepted even after you make terrible decisions and do bad things. That is exactly what happened when God reached out to love me (and you) after our own terrible decisions and bad actions.
When you see leaders who are loved and admired by everyone I suspect you will find this common trait. They are a full time affirmation bucket filler for everyone around them. Are you willing to swap judgement for affirmation? It will be a game changer for you and those you affirm.
It is especially vital for leaders to practice grace and affirmation. I love this insight from author/pastor Max Lucado. “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”
Jesus of Nazareth also had some wisdom for leaders.
But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Luke 22:26 – NLT