Anxiety and the character of God

Triangle slideAnxiety is the natural result of doubting the character of God. This diagram helps you think properly about God’s character in relation to your well-being. God’s wisdom means he knows what is best for you; God’s power means he has the ability to accomplish what is best for you; God’s love means that he genuinely wants what is best for you. Reflecting upon this triad is a helpful way to overcome anxiety. Whatever storm you face, you are safe within the confines of God’s love, wisdom and power.

Anxiety will occur whenever you doubt one of these elements of God’s character. The diagram is also an excellent diagnostic tool for anxiety. It clarifies where you should focus your Bible study. For instance, if you doubt God’s goodness then study passages about his love (1 John 4:8). If you question his ability choose passages on his power (Jer. 32:17). If you question whether he knows what is best, then study passages on his wisdom (Rom. 11:34).

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety published by Biblical Strategies. Available in Christian bookstores and with online retailers.

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When your spiritual memory is selective

Brick Wall Version2Taken from Dead-End Desire: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity. Available at Christian retailers, Amazon.com and the biblical strategies website (biblicalstrategies.com).

To overlook God’s awesome work in our past and develop a complaining spirit, we need only be selective in the way that we remember the past. We see this tendency in the Numbers 11 narrative:

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled . . . the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Did they just say they remembered eating for free? Talk about revisionist history. Were they not the slaves of Egyptian tyrants for 420 years? Weren’t the final years in Egypt unbearably difficult? How could they forget how bad their past was? The same way they forgot how good God was. Their memory was selective.

We learn a valuable lesson from the Israelites, easily missed in the first reading: our desires generate selective memories. Like an intentional case of Alzheimer’s, we choose to leave things out of the story so that we might get what we want. In this case, the Israelites wanted meat instead of manna. That, in and of itself, would not have been sinful, except that God was the one serving up the manna. Furthermore, God had a far greater lesson he wanted them to learn when they hungered in the wilderness. Moses points to it nearly 40 years later when he instructed the next generation.

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you . . . testing you to know what was in your heart. […] And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

God wanted them to turn to him when they were hungry. He was the provider of every good and perfect gift. In God alone they would find their fulfillment, but the Israelites were convinced that a good steak would suffice. The purpose of our circumstances (especially the difficult ones) is always greater dependence on the Lord.

The people assumed that their less than desirable circumstances were cause to complain. Actually, they were an opportunity to depend more fully on God. Perhaps you’re shaking your head in disbelief, unable to understand how the Israelites were never able to grasp this truth. Careful. They weren’t the only ones to struggle with a selective memory. I know that same struggle, and I bet you do too.

We get so focused on what we don’t have, that it’s easy to forget what we do have. If I promised you the thing you really wanted right now, you might be willing to tweak your past a bit to get it. Just like the Israelites, our desires rewrite the events of our past. We too, can fall prey to a selective memory.

This past year my wife Kym started keeping a diary of the ways God had worked on our behalf. As the kids chimed in around the dinner table one night, I suddenly realized that I had already forgotten some of the things that I had praised God for just a few months earlier (go to page  61 to start your own praise journal). Selective memory is like a scalpel, cutting out your recollection of God’s work in your past. Once you’ve begun to forget, a complaining spirit isn’t far behind.

Jesus was led by the Spirit

Jesus stepped out of his sandals and into the muddy Jordan. For the first time he noticed the weariness of his feet as the river drifted lazily over them. He had traveled south for three days to get to where the baptizer was working.

 “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord!”John’s voice stirred the crowd that had gathered. Jesus stepped forward into the deeper water drawing ever closer to the one who was baptizing. There was a hint of wonder in John’s tone as he asked Jesus the question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus smiled and answered, “This is the proper way to do everything God requires of us.”

Descending into the water, Jesus felt the urge to pray.  His lips were moving in a prayer even as he was going under. As he came up from the muddy water, he lifted his face to heaven and kept praying. Earlier he had discovered some of what his Father was asking him do, and now he was affirming his willingness . . . and waiting.

The clouds parted. The sun shone brightly. Or was it more than the sun? For those standing on the shore it appeared as if heaven’s light was shining only on a man in the middle of the river. His face and hands were uplifted in prayer . . . still waiting.

John stepped back, his eyes drawn heavenward in wonder. He had baptized hundreds before, but the likes of this he had never seen. The light was descending. Slowly. Holding . . . Holding . . . Holding. Floating like a dove over the waiting man. Then suddenly the light was gone — almost as if it had entered the man standing waist deep in the river.

It was only then that they heard his voice, the source indistinguishable, but not the words. “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Still standing in the river, Jesus lowered his hands. He looked around at the people’s faces and smiled. They were the reason he had come. He began to move towards the shore. As he did, he felt within him a power he had not previously known. It was through this power that he could help them in their greatest need.

For those who were watching from the shoreline, it appeared as though he left the river differently than he went in. He had gone in of his own accord, but as he neared the shore, it was as if someone was leading him.  Like a guide, but invisible to the eyes of the watchers. . .

Taken from Just Like Jesus-biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser, pages 39-40. Available at www.biblicalstrategies.com

biblical strategies for growing well

For those of you who are kind enough to follow my blog or receive my emails I’m certain that an explanation is in order for my absence of communication for the past several months.  My writing efforts over the course of the summer have been directed to publishing a small book entitled: Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well (ISBN: 978-0-9881942-0-5). It was released several weeks ago and is available at the biblical strategies website. www.biblicalstrategies.com Here’s a taste of what you’ll read in the first couple of pages.

Mary fought back the fear rising in her chest. She could feel the muscles in her back tightening uncontrollably. Frightened, she tried to recite the verses she had learned as a child. The contraction subsided, and she rested. There was cause for the fear she felt. Having never known a man, she was about to give birth to a son.

Joseph’s deep voice began to hum a familiar melody. It was just like him to hum only the tune so she would have to voice the lyric. Between contractions, she quietly sang along to the song she had written months earlier: How my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

But Mary’s sweet song was driven from her mind with God’s promise to Eve, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.”

The final contraction was the worst. The young girl’s body stretched between time and eternity. Satan was insistent upon the child’s destruction, but the Father’s desires would be accomplished precisely on time.Mary pushed hard and heard her newborn son’s first cry. His tiny lungs inhaled earth’s air as a human being. Amidst the chaotic noise of an overcrowded Bethlehem night, she heard her husband’s gentle voice, “We will call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Years later, the apostle John would capture this event with nine simple words: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

Jesus Christ, although fully God, was born fully human. If you embrace this truth, you will desire to follow his example. If you do not, living just like Jesus will seem beyond your reach. You might even wonder if it’s possible. After all, you might reason, “He is God and I am not.”

Yet, the Scriptures don’t let us off the hook so easily. John, who defended both the humanity and deity of Jesus, charged us to live just like Jesus. He wrote, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

When I study the deity of Christ, I am drawn to worship him, but when I study the humanity of Christ, I am inspired to live like him. The first causes me to realize what I am not, but the latter causes me to realize what I should be. When I confuse the two, I no longer see my need to depend fully on the resources Jesus used because I assume he used a resource unavailable to me—his deity.

Several years ago, I had two conversations that confirmed the importance of applying the humanity of Christ to the Christian life. The first was with my ten-year-old daughter; the second was with a man in his forties. Both individuals were different in every way, and both were struggling with different temptations. Yet when I encouraged them to walk just like Jesus, they gave the same answer: I’m not Jesus. Jesus is God. I am not. Both overlooked the simple fact that Jesus became man.

Here is a significant, yet forgotten truth behind the incarnation of Christ: Jesus walked where you walk so that you might learn to walk like he walked. Jesus communicates this truth further when he repeatedly uses the phrase “follow me.”Your thoughts, feelings, and choices should be modeled after him. No matter your age, growing well means learning to walk just like Jesus.

Taken from Just Like Jesus:biblical strategies for growing well by Phil Moser. Published by Biblical Strategies. Available at www.biblicalstrategies.com

Top 10 promises to memorize

Memorizing verses about the character of God and the nature of the gospel is an effective means to hold temptation at arm’s length. Temptation occurs at the “desire” level (James 1:14) so loving God more changes our desires. I have found the best way to do this is to get to know him better and to grow in appreciating the benefits of the gospel. The following 10 promises and accompanying verses have helped me to do both.

#1 God is good, loving and faithful.

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:5).

# 2 God loves me and enjoys acting on my behalf.

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV).

 #3 God sacrificed his Son to show his love for me.

 8…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:8,10).

#4 Nothing can separate me from the love of God.

 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:35, 37)

#5 God is purposefully at work in my life and circumstances.

 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. . .  13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek   me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11, 13)

#6 God will never stop loving me.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:23-24).

#7 God will always be with me.

 . . . for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).

 #8 God is with me when I’m in trouble.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.             Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea . . . (Psalm 46:1-2)

#9 Having been forgiven I need not fear God’s condemnation.

 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

#10 God saved me, because of who he is, not because of who I am.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-6).

Call to me and I will answer you

If it isn’t your favorite verse from the Old Testament, it probably ranks in the top ten. Its Jeremiah 33:3. Even the reference is easy to remember.

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.

I’ve heard it quoted in personal testimonies. Casual conversations. With first time acquaintances. At funerals and weddings.

But looking at the context makes the verse even more meaningful. Where was Jeremiah when he wrote this verse? What was his life like?

The contemporary translation, The Message makes it pretty clear.

Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him: “This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own’ (Jer. 33:1-3).

Not only was the prophet in jail, but he was still in jail. Inferring he’d been there for a while. If you look back to chapter 32 you’ll find the cause of his jail term: He’d given a message the king didn’t like very much, and the result for Jeremiah was to do some jail time (Jer. 32:1-5).

Are you kidding me? Imprisoned for doing the right things?

And another favorite verse is close to that setting. . . Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).

It was in the setting of injustice that God gave Jeremiah verses of hope. And he offers that same hope to each of us today.

So does your life have some injustices? Were you mistreated by an authority? Misinterpreted by a friend? Do you feel trapped in your present situation? Does it seem like you are still in the same situation you’ve always been in?

Sounds like a good time to call to the Lord and he will answer you. He’s wanting to show you great and mighty things that you did not know.

Faith and waiting…

Faith involves waiting, and most of us don’t care for waiting much. Have you ever considered how the Biblical characters commended for their faith had learned the practice of waiting?

Read Hebrews 11, paying special attention to how long these faith heroes waited, and you’re sure to see the connection between faith and waiting.

  •  Noah had faith (11:7), and he waited 100 years for it to rain—in the mean time he got busy and built a boat.
  • Abraham had faith (11:8), and he waited until he was 100 years old before his wife gave birth to the son of promise: Isaac.
  • Sarah had faith (11:11), and she waited until she was way past the child-bearing years before her arms cradled her son.
  • Moses had faith (11:23), and he waited, shepherding sheep in Midian for 40 years, before God sent him back to Egypt to free his fellow Israelites.
  • The Israelites crossed the Red Sea by faith (11:29), yet prior to their crossing they panicked, and Moses told them to stand firm (wait) on the Lord to do a miracle (Ex. 14:13).
  • The advancing Jews had faith (Heb. 11:30), and waited for 7 days for Jericho’s walls to fall –while they daily did their aerobic walking around the city.
  • Rahab had faith (Heb. 11:31), and waited in her home in the Jericho wall while God’s appointed earthquake shook the surrounding walls down.

Perhaps your present circumstances require some waiting:

  • For that lab report to come in.
  • For a prodigal to return home.
  • For the repentance of a spouse.
  • For a child to be born.
  • For a relationship to be restored.
  • For that potential employer to call about the job.

 The waiting period can be a faith-building period if you and I will learn to trust God through it.

Waiting gives us the opportunity to look ahead for what God will ultimately do on our behalf.

So…READY, SET, and by faith WAIT.