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!

Honk! Honk! Honk!

First of all, I encourage you to watch the first few minutes of the video below for an amazing story about honking horns. Trust me on this one—it’s a memorable story that will go along way toward helping you defeat anxiety when it rears its ugly head in your life.

What kills joy and happiness and gratitude? Anxiety is the killer.

What makes people so full of joy-killing anxiety? In a word: fear. Fear of missing out … Fear of falling short … Fear of not measuring up … Fear of bad things that might happen.

If anxiety kills joy, what kills anxiety? Anxiety—the joy-killer—is itself killed when joy is expressed.

Being grateful for what you have kills the anxiety of what you don’t have.

Being thankful for what you have kills the fear of what you may be missing.

Being grateful for what you have kills the anxiety of the bad stuff that may never even happen.

If joy kills anxiety, how can we develop more of it? Most people would say, “If you’re happy, give thanks” or “If you’re happy, honk.” But really it’s the other way around: “If you want to be happy, honk!”

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Honking your thanks is not only good for you, but it’s good for everyone around you who hears your “honk! honk!” of gratitude. David experienced this in Psalm 34:1-3. Even when he was at a low point, when he started praising God other anxious people began to experience joy as well.

Can I challenge you to join me in doing two things for at least the rest of this month:

  1. Keep a gratitude journal in a notebook, on your computer, or in your phone or tablet. Regularly write down those things for which you are grateful.
  2. Don’t keep your gratitude to yourself, but share it with the world. Use hashtag #honk to let people know you are using joy to kill anxiety in your heart.

Honk! Honk! Honk! It’s good for you; it’s good for others; and it brings glory to God.

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.

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)

How To Respond To Bad Pastors

God has ordained that His leaders oversee and administer His ministry. But problems arise in the church when humans change the “His” to “my.”

I read a statistic that 75% of people who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of a problem with their boss. In other words, 3-out-of-4 people didn’t quit their job, they quit their boss. In my personal experience this is equally as true in the church world—Most people don’t quit their church, they quit a bad pastor.

Sadly, those who do quit their church usually do so the wrong way. As a result they become either de-churched (they don’t attend anywhere), or cynical in the next church they do attend.

Who is a bad pastor?

  • One who is no longer effective because he is stuck in an old way of doing things
  • One who is theologically off
  • One who is unwilling to admit an error, ask forgiveness, and make amends
  • One who uses his position to build his kingdom instead of God’s kingdom

We have a great example of how to handle a bad spiritual leader in the story of David and Saul (see 1 Samuel 24). David had done nothing wrong, yet Saul was trying to kill him. At one point David’s men urged David to take matters into his own hands, and he almost did. He got close enough to Saul to cut off a corner of his robe, but quickly discovered that was too close. Immediately after doing so David was conscience-stricken!

Then look how David responded:

  • David rebuked his men as he reminded them that Saul was their “master” and “the Lord’s anointed.”
  • David “bowed down and prostrated himself” before Saul as he apologized.
  • David called him his “master,” “father,” and “the Lord’s anointed.”
  • David said he would leave the matter in God’s hands, allowing God to “judge between you and me.”
  • And twice David declared, “My hand will not touch you!”

This humble reply got Saul’s attention. Saul wept as he said, “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.” Saul then asked David to be kind to his descendants.

Then this conclusion—David gave Saul his oath, and then went away to a safe place.

The New Testament captures these same ideas for today’s Christians. We are told not to lightly entertain an accusation against spiritual leaders (1 Timothy 5:19), but to submit and obey to biblically-correct leaders (Hebrews 13:17).

The Bible gives us only two options for dealing with spiritual leaders…

SUBMIT & OBEY or WALK AWAY

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Responding in an unscriptural way to an unscriptural pastor’s way is just as wrong as what the pastor was doing wrong in the first place!

So give the bad pastor your oath that you will not lay a hand (or a word!) on them, and then remove yourself to a safe place. Submit and obey, or walk away and leave them in God’s capable hands.

The Christian’s Secret Weapon

Over the past couple of weeks, people have been rattled by both real and imagined catastrophic events. We experienced a fabulous astronomical sight in a full solar eclipse, wept for our fellow citizens in Texas and Florida as hurricanes battered their businesses and homes, and then dealt with doomsayers who predicted the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Peter spent a lot of time right next to Jesus, soaking up His teaching and observing how Jesus lived. One thing Peter never saw in Jesus was panic.

So it’s not unexpected that Peter would write to followers of Jesus: Don’t fear what the world fears (1 Peter 3:14). Instead, Peter counsels his friends to keep their focus on Jesus.

Don’t run around in fear, but instead in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Some other translations say things like…

    • …revere Christ as Lord
    • …acknowledge Him as Lord
    • …worship Christ as Lord of your life
    • …keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ (see 1 Peter 3:15)

In other words: let Jesus Christ be your focal point.

When you live this way—focused on the eternal Jesus and not the temporary shakings on earth—Earthlings are bound to notice that there is something different about you. So Peter tells us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have.

Hope—not wishful thinking, but a rock-solid, joyful, confident expectation!

This hope is the Christian’s secret weapon!

This hope is unshakable during difficult times. This hope is unshakable on death’s doorstep. This hope is unshakable when the end of the world is predicted.

The Christian who has a personal experience of the hope that Jesus brings is never at the mercy of the happenings in the world nor the arguments from non-Christians.

But Peter cautions us to never use this hope as a club. He tells us to make sure we never use hope as a means of feeling superior to others. Instead we are to speak to others about our hope gently, respectfully, and with a clear conscience.

So here’s my question to you, fellow Christian: Can those around you see your hope? When they’re fearful and running for cover, do they see you right alongside them, or do they see you standing firm in hope as you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Your hope is a powerful persuader for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!

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