A Surprising Way To Relieve Stress

Paul writes some pretty straightforward words to the Christians at Philippi about how to overcome anxiety.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a problem-free nor a stress-free life. That’s simply not possible. Our bodies were created to deal with stress in a healthy way. But stress that is unhealthy, or unnecessarily prolonged, or not flushed properly from the body becomes anxiety. Anxiety is the culprit responsible for a whole list of bad things!

When we face a stressor, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. The main function of this hormone is to prepare us to fight or flight. Sometimes this looks like over-engaging in problem-solving, and sometimes it looks like complete withdraw from life. Sometimes cortisol leads to sleeplessness and a diminished appetite, and sometimes it makes people sleepy and craving comfort food.

But the bottom line is the fight-or-flight response is very me focused!

The strategies Paul lists for us take the focus off me and put it on God. He especially counsels us to pray to God and to praise God. Between these two healthy responses is something unexpected. He writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

What in the world does gentleness have to do with relieving stress?!

First, let’s consider the motivation: The Lord is near. I think this could mean:

  1. The Lord’s name is near, as in we are called “Christians” and so we should act in a way that glorifies God.
  2. The Lord is near to help us.
  3. The Lord’s return is closing in where we will have to give an account of how we have lived our lives.

Then there is this word gentleness. This word means:

  • moderation
  • considerate of others
  • patience toward our situation and toward others
  • or as The Message says: Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.

Cortisol is naturally removed from our physical bodies through rest and exercise. Anxiety is naturally removed from our emotional lives the same way—resting in God’s presence (honk!) and gently and considerately exercising a blessing for someone else.

THE BEST WAY TO DE-STRESS IS TO BLESS! 

When anxiety builds:

  1. Honk
  2. Bless
  3. Repeat

Don’t let stress win by making you self-centered. Defeat stress and anxiety by praising God and blessings others. And then make that a daily habit!

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The Power In Rejoicing

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:4, 6).

Paul isn’t playing around here—when he says to rejoice, it’s not a suggestion or a good idea. He says REJOICE with the force of a commandment!

Even the Greek word for rejoice isn’t a mild “yea!” It carries with is the idea of big joy! It’s the kind of rejoicing that is…

  • exceedingly great!
  • overflowing!
  • bubbling up!
  • never ending!
  • continuously gushing!

Why would Paul make this kind of rejoicing a command? Because God is serious about pointing us to the only path that will guard our hearts and minds. When we are rejoicing, praying, and thanksgiving, then the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Do you realize how much of our worrying is pointless? My friend Scott pointed out the following research:

  • 40% of the things we worry about will never even happen
  • 30% of the things we worry about happened in the past and cannot be changed
  • 12% of our worries are regarding health issues we don’t even have
  • 10% of our worries are about our friends and loved ones which are based on rumors

That means … only 8% of the things we worry about have any basis in reality!

Think about that—9 out of 10 things that consume our minds with worry aren’t even worth our time!

That’s why Paul commands rejoicing as a means to freedom and peace.

  • What should we worry about? Nothing! 
  • What should we pray about? Everything!
  • What should rejoice about? All things!  

This is the one and only path to transcendent peace! 

This is part two in our series The Antidote For Anxiety. Be sure to check out the video below, and also check out the first part of this series—Honk! Honk! Honk!

Handling Tough Texts

How do you handle a hard passage in the Bible? Peter wrote this about Paul, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand….” But if we don’t take the time to wrestle with that passage, Peter says this is what happens next: “…which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

So here’s a 5-step plan I use when I am working through a challenging passage of Scripture.

  1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you

All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and the same Holy Spirit lives in a Christian (1 John 2:20). Think about that: the same Holy Spirit that inspired an author to write the words of Scripture is the same Spirit that will illuminate them to you!

  1. Read the difficult passage in context

We will make our task much easier when we “zoom out” from the difficult text and read the whole passage surrounding the difficult verse/phrase. Perhaps we need to “zoom out” even farther to understand why the whole chapter or book was written.

  1. Identify the parts that are clear

Start off by identifying the parts that you do understand, and then see what light that shines on the tricky text.

  1. Cross reference with other Scriptures

Never, ever, ever draw a conclusion from just one passage of Scripture. Paul reminded his audience that he used the “whole counsel of God’s Word” (Acts 20:27) in forming his sermons. If the challenging passage contains an Old Testament passage, look it up; if it references an historical event, read that history. I also like to use biblegateway.com’s excellent search feature to find cross references.

  1. Draw conclusions on what appears to be the main point

Only after you have done step #1-4 should you attempt to draw some conclusions. You will set yourself up for error if you draw a conclusion first, and then try to find other texts in the Bible that agree with you.

The Apostle Peter writes something rather challenging in his first letter. In fact, Martin Luther said this about 1 Peter 3:18-22: “A wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” If you would like to see how I walk through the 5-step plan on this “obscure passage,” please check out the video below.

10 Quotes From “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons from Eugene Peterson. Check out my full book review by clicking here. Below are a few quotes that caught my attention.

“The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence—congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written, congruence between a ship and its prow, congruence between preaching and living, congruence between the sermon and what is lived in both preacher and congregation, the congruence of the Word made flesh in Jesus with what is lived in our flesh.”

“Science and religion are opposites, the way your thumb and forefinger are opposites: if you are going to get a grip on things, you need them both.”

“Friendship is not a way of accomplishing something but a way of being with another in which we become more authentically ourselves.”

“Naming an event a miracle doesn’t mean we can’t understand it. It means we can’t anticipate it. It means we can’t reproduce it. We cannot control it. There is more going on then we can comprehend.”

“There are people today who mistakenly look at those [Ten] Commandments as restrictive, not realizing that for those who first heard them—and for those who hear them still, in faith—they provide for and preserve the values of the free life. The reality and truth of God is protected from commercialization and manipulation. Human life is honored. The dignity of work is protected. Close personal relationships are preserved. Truth is respected. Each of the commands articulates a reality and a value that protects a free life.”

“Aaron made a god, a golden calf. At that moment Aaron quit being their pastor and became their accomplice. There are some people who are always looking for a religion that makes no demands and offers only rewards, a religion that dazzles and entertains, a religion in which there is no waiting and no emptiness. And they can usually find someone like Aaron who will help them make it up, some sort of golden calf religion.”

“Acts of love cannot be canned and then used off the shelf. Every act of love requires creative and personal giving, responding, and serving appropriate to—context specific to—both the person doing the loving and the person being loved.”

“Our habit is to talk about God, not to Him. We love discussing God. The psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to Him.”

“The Christian life is not, in the first place, something we do. It consists of the healthy and mature formation of our lives by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Christian living goes off the rails badly when it is conceived as a program or routine that we engage in or skills that we master.”

“In prayer we do not act. God does. In prayer we do not develop a technology that sets the gears and pulleys of miracle in motion. We participate in God’s action. ‘Not my will but Yours.’”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire (book review)

Eugene Peterson may be best known for his work on The Message: a paraphrase of the Bible in more modern English. But before he worked on The Message, he was already putting the Bible into modern English in his weekly sermons. As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 of these sermons.

Peterson says, “When I prepare and preach a sermon, I need constant reminding that I am part of a company that has a rich and varied genealogy. I do not start from scratch. I do not make up something new.” These sermons are divided into seven categories, in which Peterson states he is “preaching in the company of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John.”

To be honest with you, this collection of sermons was a bit of a disappointment to me. I was anticipating sermons that were much more expositional in nature, but instead I read sermons which were Peterson’s poetic thoughts about a passage of Scripture. I found this curious since Peterson himself says in the introduction to this book that “the Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence…between preaching and living, congruence between the sermon and what is lived in both preacher and congregation” (emphasis mine). And yet I found in these sermons very few details to actually attend to and live out.

If you prefer poetic discussions of Scripture in which you will have to find your own way of applying biblical principles to your life, you will probably enjoy this collection. But if you are looking for a meatier walk through the Bible, these sermons will probably leave you—as they did me—a bit flat.

I am a WaterBrook book reviewer.

7 Ways For Christians To Point Others To Jesus

Have you ever had a really bad job? How about a job that you said, “This job is killing me”? They probably weren’t as bad as the job Ernest Shackleton advertised for:

“Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

And probably not as bad as the help wanted ad for the Pony Express:

“Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellow not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

Several times in his letter to Christians, the Apostle Peter tells Christians that living in a Christ-honoring way on earth is going to be tough. So are Christians just supposed to grin and bear it? Are they just supposed to slap a smile on their face and hang on until the end?

In a word: No! 

Instead, Peter points out seven ways Christians can live so that they will point others to Jesus.

  1. Live in reverent fear of an All-Righteous Judge who doesn’t miss a thing we say or do (1:17)
  2. Live such good lives that consistently glorify God (2:12)
  3. Live as the best of citizens, respecting those in leadership (2:13-17)
  4. Live as good employees (2:18)
  5. Live as Christ’s ambassadors by following the example of Jesus (2:19-24)
  6. Live with your spouse faithfully and submissively (3:1, 7)
  7. Live focused on eternity (4:1-2)

(you can read all the passages from 1 Peter here)

When the first Christians lived this way, everyone spoke well of them and help them in high regard because Christians…

  • Transformed life for women
  • Built the first hospitals
  • Founded the first free medical dispensaries
  • Established orphanages and homes for the aged
  • Made life better for children
  • Brought a dignity to marriage

Anyone who asks the question: ‘What has Christianity done for the world?’ has delivered himself into a Christian debater’s hands. There is nothing in history so unanswerably demonstrable as the transforming power of Christianity and of Christ on the individual life and on the life of society.” —William Barclay 

Bottom line—We need to live so that people will say “I those Christians!”

3 Apologetics For Your Christian Hope

There was a story circulating that a physicist once claimed that the bumblebee was defying the laws of physics and aerodynamics in its flight. Apparently, he calculated that the ratio of the bumblebee’s wing size in comparison to his body size just didn’t make the math work.

But entomologists and physicists quickly jumped in to say, “Hey, look, the bumblebee is flying, so clearly it works!” And then they went to work to try to explain it. They figured out that the bumblebee flaps its wings more back-and-forth than up-and-down, creating tiny hurricanes the propel them through the air. But then that created a whole new set of problems, like how does the bumblebee control a hurricane so precisely as it turns, stops, dives, and climbs. So then they had to create a new explanation, which they named dynamic stall.

All the while, the bumblebee is flapping its too-small wings 230 times per second(!), and going about its daily activities without being able to explain tiny hurricanes, the laws of physics or aerodynamics, or even knowing what dynamic stall is. It simply flies!

The ultimate argument for anything is doing something that critics say is impossible.

Peter tells Christians to be prepared to answer anyone for the reason for the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15-16). The Greek word for “give an answer” is apologia, from which we get our word apologetic. Here are three apologetics for Christians to use for the hope that they have.

It really comes down to this: My hope is based on the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ, which I believe because of the Bible AND because of the change in my life.

  1. The Bible’s authenticity

“No other work in all literature has been so carefully and accurately copied as the Old Testament. The particular discipline and art of the Jewish scribes came out of a class of Jewish scholars between the fifth and third centuries BC. They were called the Sopherim, from a Hebrew word meaning ‘scribes.’ The sopherim, who initiated a stringent standard of meticulous discipline, were subsequently eclipsed by the Talmudic scribes, who guarded, interpreted, and commented on the sacred texts from AD 100 to AD 500. In turn, the Talmudic scribes were followed by the better-known and even more meticulous Masoretic scribes (AD 500-900).” —Josh McDowell, God-Breathed

“No other ancient text is substantiated by such a wealth of ancient textual witnesses as is the New Testament. Roughly 5,500 separate manuscripts are available, variously containing anything from the entire New Testament corpus to a slight fragment of a single verse. … This textual support is far superior to that available for any other ancient documents, such as the classical texts from Greek and Roman writers (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero). Only partial manuscripts have survived for many works of antiquity, and it is not unusual to find that the only complete manuscript for some ancient writing is a copy dating from 1,000 years after its composition.” —Archaeological Study Bible, “The New Testaments Texts” (page 1859)

“The biblical Dead Sea Scrolls are up to 1,250 years older than the traditional Hebrew Bible, the Masoretic text. We have been using a one-thousand-year-old manuscript to make our Bibles. We’ve now got scrolls going back to 250 BC. … Our conclusion is simply this—the scrolls confirm the accuracy of the biblical text by 99 percent.” —Dr. Peter Flint

  1. Christ’s resurrection 

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul lists all of the eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection, giving critics ample opportunity to challenge these witnesses in person. If these witnesses would have been perpetrating a hoax, skeptics of their day would have been able to uncover the inconsistencies in their story. If the account of Christ’s resurrection was made-up, it’s doubtful the early Christian martyrs would have “stuck to their story” as they were being tortured, but none recanted.

Josh McDowell notes, “By AD 100, the apostles had died, but the Christian Church was still in its infancy, with fewer than twenty-five thousand proclaimed followers of Christ. But within the next two hundred years, the fledgling church experienced explosive multiplication of growth, to include as many as twenty million people. This means the church of Jesus Christ quadrupled every generation for five consecutive generations!

  1. My personal experience

“I am a changed person. I am not who I was before I met Jesus” and “My life tends to go better when I live by biblical principles” are both excellent apologetics!

Let others argue that God doesn’t exist, or that you shouldn’t have hope, and then you—like the bumblebee—just keep flying with Jesus! (see 2 Timothy 3:14)

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