WHO ARE YOU? Identity is Destiny

WHO ARE YOU? Identity is Destiny

The question stumped me. I was in my early thirties, wrestling with deep disappointments, anxieties, and frustrations. Phil was a retired pastor and WWII vet who had become my mentor. Ever so gently, he asked again, “Who are you?”

My mind flashed back to some things my father had said to me in anger, to memories of singing in church and musicals, to adventures with friends, and failures as well. But did those things define me?

“I guess I don’t know,” I said.

The answer I found over the next couple of years changed my life for the better, and it can change yours too.

Some of us look in the mirror and see only disappointment. Some of us see failures or victims of childhood abuse or at least parental malpractice. Some of us see the unlovely and unloved. But that is not what God sees. Consider what scripture says about us when we become believers.

  • Col. 2:13 – You have been “made alive with Christ” and are no longer “dead in trespasses and sins.”
  • Col. 3:1 – You have been “raised with Christ,” and your life is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Heb. 10: 10 – You have been “made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all.” 
  • Rom. 5:1 – You have been justified – completely forgiven and made righteous in the sight of God. (See also 5:19)
  • Rom. 8:1 – You are free forever from condemnation.
  • 1 Cor. 1:30 – You have been placed into Christ by God’s doing.
  • 1 Cor. 6: 19-20 – You have been bought with a price; You are not your own; You belong to God.
  • 1 Thess. 1:4 & Jude 1:1 – You are loved by God, chosen by him, and called by him.

In Christ, you are a righteous, complete, accepted, beloved, and chosen person. You may not feel like it all the time or act like it. And it is not an excuse to indulge in sin.[1] But this is what God says is true of you and every believer.  This is what Christ accomplished for us. Christ exchanged your life with his. Christ secured your future in him. We were taken out of Adam’s lineage, adopted as God’s children, and given the inheritance of Christ.

But some of us have a hard time accepting that. We see ourselves as something less than God sees us, something inferior. That stifles our development because what we believe about ourselves determines our destiny.

An example.

Tom Friends of The New York Times asked Coach Jimmy Johnson what he told his players before leading the Dallas Cowboys onto the field for the 1993 Super Bowl.

“I told them that if I laid a two-by-four across the floor, everybody there would walk across it and not fall because our focus would be on walking the length of that board. But if I put that same board ten stories high between two buildings, only a few would make it because the focus would be on falling.”

Johnson told his players not to focus on the crowd, the media, or the possibility of falling, but to focus on each play of the game as if it were a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game 52-7.[1]

What kind of people will we be if we see ourselves as unholy, unlovable, unworthy, and incompetent: depressed, insecure, resentful, and angry, right? Why? Because life for a defeated Christian feels like a script you can’t remember in a play where you don’t belong, a set of expectations that are impossible to meet. It feels like crossing a two-by-four ten stories high. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead to leave us feeling like that!

Depressed people don’t dream dreams. Insecure people won’t take risks. Angry people can’t build loving relationships.

But what happens when we believe in our worth, value, competence, and goodness? We become world changers. We invest ourselves in life, in dreams that change things, and make life better for everybody.

What does God think of you? Is he proud of you? Does he love you? Who are you?


[1] See Romans 6.

 

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

Note: I’m happy to welcome my daughter, Mikeala Skelton, as guest blogger today. Her thoughts on being single in the church give us food for thought as the holidays approach. D.S.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a rough Friday. I was worrying about my granny, who was experiencing health problems three hours away in my home state of Virginia. Earlier that morning, I had called my dad to see how things were going. He informed me that he was taking her up to a hospital in Lynchburg where they could run additional tests. They were checking for pulmonary embolisms.

The rest of the day was tense with the stress that I might be getting some bad news soon. The tests took all day and Dad had very little news to report. By the end of the workday, I realized that I was about to go home to an empty house. Suddenly, anxiety overwhelmed me, and I was sharply aware that, just like every other human being on this planet, I didn’t want to be alone.

This is the reality that many singles face. Some cope with it in healthy ways, some don’t, and many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We all need community, but sometimes, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. That afternoon, I employed a trick my oldest sister taught me: create a list, then reach out to every person from the top to the very bottom of that list until you get a response. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but it’s a start. 

That isn’t easy for me to do. It feels like a cry for help and I cannot bear for people to see me as helpless, but what I needed that day overpowered my pride, so I went to work sending texts. Not surprisingly, no one was available. It was a Friday, after all. My mentor and her family were busy packing for the weekend’s youth retreat, my good friend and her husband were about to enjoy their first dinner date together in weeks, and my other friend was already at the movies.

Many assume the answer to a single’s struggle with loneliness is easy: a relationship. Get yourself a boyfriend or a girlfriend and all your problems and feelings of loneliness will go away, but that’s not the answer. Even happily married people experience loneliness and if we keep placing romantic relationships on the pedestal of perfection, we will continue to be unfulfilled. The assumption that we must act on our sexuality to be happy is wrong, and the Church has joined the rest of the world in saying that our identity is in our relationship statuses. How? By its lack of intentionality and dismissal of singles as well-rounded individuals.

My goal as I reached out to friends that evening was not to wind up in a sexual relationship. It could have been. I could have just as easily hopped on Tinder than reached out to my married friends. I know how easy it is to replace loneliness with sex, but I also know that real relationships take time and I wanted something real- to be part of a family, to be safe, to be loved. Romantic relationships are great, but they’re not a requirement for any of these things.

As we approach the holiday season, I encourage families of the Church to do more for the singles in their lives. It might seem intimidating, but as theologian Phylicia Masonheimer said, “You don’t have to be in the same relationship stage in order to learn from each other and to unite around a table.” 

A few years ago, I stood alone in a pew listening to the organist play the recessional at the end of a beautiful Easter Sunday service. My family was five hours away and deep loneliness pierced my heart as I watched the other families around me leave for Easter Sunday brunch. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me stood an elderly gentleman and his wife. He was holding a folded twenty-dollar bill and had a shy smile on his face.

“You might not remember me,” he said, “but the Lord is telling me to treat you to lunch today.” 

I gratefully accepted with tears in my eyes. He had no idea what a blessing that twenty dollars was to me, but as I thanked him and tucked the gift in my pocket, I remember waiting for him to say that he and his wife would love for me to join them for brunch. That invitation never came. I don’t blame them for not offering, but I would have willingly paid well-over twenty dollars out of my own pocket just for them to invite me to a meal.

Couples and families of the Church must be willing to be intentional with singles. We’re not all the same. Some of us are divorced, some of us are widowed, and some of us choose singleness. We don’t need to be coddled. We don’t need special dinners or retreats. But think about this: we do everything ourselves. We take care of ourselves. Sometimes, it’s nice to be invited, to have someone be intentional with us, to be welcomed as part of a family. (And not just on Sundays.) The Church must begin intentionally welcoming singles as whole individuals, or we will go looking elsewhere for community. I will go looking elsewhere for community.

*Phylicia Masonheimer recently released an episode of her Verity podcast on singleness. If you’re looking to understand singleness and how the Church and Christians can help singles, I highly recommend it. It will help you better love the singles in your life.

Mikeala Skelton is the Digital Media Producer for Lenoir-Rhyne University.

PRACTICE THESE THINGS J. P. Moreland’s Story of Overcoming Anxiety

PRACTICE THESE THINGS      J. P. Moreland’s Story of Overcoming Anxiety

J. P. Moreland is one of the 50 most influential living philosophers in the world. He is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has degrees in philosophy, theology, and chemistry, has written numerous books, and taught all over the country.

He has also fought and won a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression.

Moreland’s new book, FINDING QUIET: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices That Brought Peace (Zondervan, 2019), is a treasure trove of practical wisdom for those who suffer from anxiety or depression. It is also another example of science “catching up” with scripture.

The Apostle Paul taught the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, stop indulging anxious thoughts, pray about everything, and, most importantly, practice thinking about excellent and noble things. Do that, he said, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”[1] FINDING QUIET provides many biblically sound, practical steps for putting Paul’s instructions to work.

Some evangelicals will find Moreland’s recommendations on antidepressant medications and other therapies controversial and dismiss him out of hand. But they will be doing themselves and anxiety-suffering saints a great disservice. Moreland does not ignore the necessity of growing in grace, but as a committed, obedient believer and major anxiety sufferer, he recognizes the value of medication when necessary. As vitamin D supplements are to people who cannot get enough sunshine or insulin to diabetics, these medications are to people who suffer from anxiety and depression. They are a blessing from God, supplying what the body cannot or is not currently producing on its own.

Moreland offers a novel but biblically based and workable model of humanity that helps us see how body, soul, and spirit interrelate and influence each other. He explains the importance of the heart organ in the Bible and science. He records the latest findings from brain science, psychiatry, newer therapeutic approaches like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and HeartMath exercises, and shares their efficacy in his life.

But FINDING QUIET is not only about the latest science. Moreland reaches deep into the Church’s past to explain how the practice of contemplative prayer helped him learn to acknowledge God in every moment. Dallas Willard fans will find much to like. He concludes with a chapter you won’t find in many Christian books: how to deal with disappointment when God seems silent in your suffering.

At seven by five inches and 220 pages, the book will fit in a pocket as a ready resource for anxiety sufferers. It’s accompanying appendices, notes, and bibliography, also make it user friendly.

Moreland concludes, “The most important point I learned is this: anxiety and depression are significantly formed habits residing in the brain and body (especially the heart muscle and nervous system), and these habits can be largely replaced with peaceful and joyful habits by regularly engaging in the right repetitive habit-forming exercises.” Or, as the Apostle Paul taught us, “Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”[2]


[1] Philippians 4:4-9

[2] Philippians 4:9

RECOMMENDING THE SEA

RECOMMENDING THE SEA

Turmoil. Grief. Anxiety. Are you acquainted with any of these? Of course, you are, especially during this pandemic. How do you soothe them? Where do you find solace? Allow me to recommend the sea.

Few things soothe my soul like the sea. Visiting the shore is an opportunity to engage with God through the majesty of his creation on a level that is difficult to achieve in a neighborhood crowded with houses. The sea’s voice is unmatched by any other except possibly the sky – but that is an article for another day.

Standing on the shore, facing out to sea feet planted inches from the breaking waves with the world of men behind and nothing but sun, sky, and water before, the disrupted parts of your soul begin to settle.

I think I know why. See if you agree.

The sea is expansive. It speaks of the omnipresence of God, massive, immense, all-encompassing, filling the field of view until it disappears over the horizon. The largest ships look like tiny toys across the distant waves.

The sea tells us nothing is too big for God. Nothing happens that is outside of his perception. Nothing happens in our life that is beyond his field of view.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast. [1]

The sea is constant, ever-moving yet never moved. It speaks of the unchanging God. The shore is never silent. Even on dead calm days, the quiet lapping of water on sand or rock is present. It is unchallengeable, indisputable, unchanging. On stormy days it reminds us of our storm-tossed lives. But even then, it does not change. The waves gather and curl and crash into each other and finally spill themselves onto the sand to instantly disappear, their fury spent, their conflict gone. So too our lives but the sea, the life upon which all others depend, lives on.

God is constant. God does not change. Our lives toss about, curling and crashing into one another, spending our energies in furious conflict. And then they are gone, the fury spent, the battle finished. But God remains.

The sea is mighty, often challenged, but never conquered. You can feel it, standing there at the top of the tide. Your visceral senses tell you, “this thing can go where it wants and take you along with it.” When sun and sea, pressure, and temperature meet in perfect hurricane pitch, nothing can stand in its way. Only God is more powerful. He marks the boundaries of the sea. It travels not one inch further than his will. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. (Ps 33:7 NIV)

The sea is majestic. It speaks of the omnipotent God. Nothing he has called us to do is beyond his power to help. Without his permission, nothing can reach past the boundaries he places around our lives.

The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea– the LORD on high is mighty. (Ps. 93:3-4 NIV)

Turmoil, grief, anxiety, make a longer list if you want. I recommend the sea. Nothing is too big for God. Nothing changes God. Nothing is too powerful for God.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ps 139:7–10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Rx For Anxiety

Rx For Anxiety

ANXIETY, I am not immune to it. I doubt you are either, especially now in coronavirus times. Yet something Jesus said just before his crucifixion reminds me that we have a choice about our anxieties.

The Apostle John described the scene for us in chapters thirteen and fourteen of his gospel. Jesus, already in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, was in the upper room with his closest followers, his twelve, hand-picked men. There was a price on his head. He washed their feet, shared the bread and the cup, and, most notably, predicts his betrayal. All were aghast. All were frightened. They were well aware of the threat they were under, the risks they were running by being in Jerusalem. Their anxiety was intense.

Into this fractious moment, Jesus spoke some of his most familiar words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1). Then he repeated them near the end of his talk, just before they left the upper room, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

The first three words of each line tell us something about ourselves that can be hard to believe: We have a choice about our anxieties. Jesus’ two “Do not let(s)…” make an emphatic statement about our ability to choose fear or faith.

The physiological fact is that we can worry ourselves sick.

Psychiatrists have reliable evidence that the more we worry, the more we fixate on some fearful thing over which we have no control, the more likely we are to push our brain chemistry out of balance. Once the neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, nor-epinephrine and, others get off-kilter, it can be tough to return them to an even keel. In some cases, medications are necessary to help restore the balance. But for most of us, medicine is a temporary fix. If we don’t address the underlying habit of fear in the first place, the imbalance is likely to reoccur.

Jesus has a prescription for preventing such brain disorders. “Do not let” it happen. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust God (instead). Trust me (instead).” Do not choose to worry, and it cannot enslave your mind. Choose to trust God, and he will set it free.

Easier said than done? Yes, certainly. But it is possible. Let me offer a couple of practical steps to help. Call it Rx for Anxiety.

First, it may be necessary to confess that we’ve allowed the source of our worry (can you say coronavirus?) to become more powerful than God, more important to our wellbeing than Christ. That’s idolatry. Only confession and repentance can defeat it. “Father, thing A or thing B is occupying front and center in my life. That’s your place. I now repent of that and confess that you are God and nothing else. I confess that I am not in control.”

Second, remembering that physical expressions of worship often help us deal with difficult emotions, take a step of faith. Take that thing over which you have no control (which includes most of life, does it not?), write it down on a piece of paper, and in the act of worship offer it up to God. Then set it on fire.

Some things are more challenging to offer up like this than others. Some may require a daily offering for a while. But make it a habit with all of your worries, and peace will become your companion.

We have a choice about what to do with our anxieties. As you think about all that Christ accomplished for us during his Passion this week, choose trust.

RENDEZVOUS WITH JESUS: Alpha 2017

A new friend sat across the table at the local deli, eager to tell me what had happened to him.

“On the third week, when Nicky Gumble led in prayer, I prayed with him and gave everything to God. I told God I couldn’t do anything without him and didn’t want to try. Up until then I had some good days and some bad days, well, really a lot of bad days and some OK days, full of anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression. All of that is gone. I felt this incredible lightness after I prayed. I’m sleeping the night through now, and I’m so happy.”

That was in 2011, about five weeks into our first Alpha Course, and conversations like it have continued to happen ever since. That’s the reason our church will offer Alpha in September for the eighth time since 2011. I’m writing today to ask you to pray for the course and for friends you might invite this summer.

Haven’t heard of Alpha? Wonder what it’s like?

The Alpha Course is completely apolitical. More importantly, it isn’t built around a sales pitch of the gospel. It is a course, Christianity 101 if you will, founded instead on two fundamentals: Process and Community.

Learning is a process that happens best when we are in the presence of friends. This is what makes Alpha so enjoyable and encouraging. No one is pressured to “buy” anything and all questions are welcomed in a community of friends who’ve gotten to know one another through shared meals and laughter.

Alpha is for everyone. People who have attended church all their lives will enjoy it. Those who’ve never entered a church or considered Christianity will also enjoy it and come away enriched, with new understanding and new friends.

The Alpha Course Team, the people who make the event happen each fall, consists of two parts: task force, and hosts / facilitators. The task force prepares the meals and handles logistics. The hosts / facilitators make  guests feel welcome and facilitate small-group discussions. The only prerequisites to serving on the team are to have attended the course at least once and meet a few times prior to launch for prayer and training.

One of the most important things our Alpha team has learned over the years is that the primary reason people attend the course is because a friend has invited them. So even if you choose not to serve on an Alpha Course team, your prayers for and invitations to friends really count. Of course you’ll also want to attend with whomever you invite.

The coolest thing in the world is to sit with new friends, see the peace and joy on their faces, hear how awesome it is to know that they are loved and cared for by the Creator of heaven and earth, and know that we got to play a small part in their rendezvous with Jesus.

Interested? Visit  http://alphausa.org.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him … Luke 24:30-31

Are you happy? If not, do you know why?

Several things can make us sad and stress us out. Illness, family problems, financial set-backs have their place in our day-to-day contentment quotient. But all things being equal are you a generally happy person, satisfied with the life you live?

Many of us would have to answer “no.”

Peter Moskovitz, in his article America’s Search for Happiness is Driving Us Crazy, reports that we have a multibillion dollar happiness industry bent on helping us find contentment, yet over forty million of us have diagnosed anxiety disorders.

We are obsessed with happiness, yet not finding it. Perhaps we aren’t finding it because we are pursuing it the wrong way.

Read Mercer Schuchardt suggests as much in a recent CT Mag article, The Future of the Church is Analog Not Digital, when he wrote, “The most important and biblical pieces of technology in a church today may not be the projector and the amplifier, but the crockpot and warming plate.”

Schuchardt’s peice struck a chord in a song the Spirit has been singing in my soul for some time. I hear it in Sunday School as Jamie Laine leads us through Ray Vanderlaan’s excellent video series, Becoming a Kingdom of Priests in a Prodigal World. I see it in the faces and hear it in the stories of friends attending our Alpha Course this fall. I read about it in books like Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered and articles like Peter Moskovitz’s interview with Ruth Whippman, author of How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.[1]

If the song had a title it would be something like: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, (but somebody already took that one). The chorus would be:

Sit at table with new friends,

Make room in your life for them,

You never know what God may grow,

By simply inviting them in.

Corny, I know, but it gathers up the power of God at work community. Let me explain.

Whippman notes that, “If there was one thing that’s consistent in happiness research it’s that the main source of our happiness is our relationships with other people in our communities (emphasis added). It kind of cuts across class, race, gender, age, and everything. But the focus in America is very much on happiness as kind of a personal, individual journey; looking deep inside yourself, about mindfulness, about your own thinking. All of that being inside your own head, and remaking your own thoughts from the inside.”

Here’s the thing, as long as we pursue happiness as strictly personal, as a goal only to be achieved as individuals, we will remain isolated, empty, and anxious. Happiness is found in community, in common purpose, in shared successes and sorrows, the great and the small threads we weave with others to create the fabric of a meaningful life.

I know the objections, “Other people rub me the wrong way!”  Indeed they do, but the point is, we need them to. Their idiosyncrasies reveal the cracks in our characters that Christ has yet to fill and force us all to pursue him higher up and farther into life in the Spirit.

More to the point, the life, the Shalom, that flows from the Spirit of God cannot be found, or lived, or shared in isolation. Technology can deliver a sermon to your “personal device” (see the irony?) but cannot include you or others in the body of Christ. Only you can do that as you commit to be there, both body and spirit, and to welcome others to the table.

[1] Whippman is the author of How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, and the interview can be found at:  https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/flip.it%2FBDcPRo-americas-search-for-happiness-is-drivin/f-869a36fce5%2Fvice.com

Rx for Anxiety

ANXIETY, I am not immune to it. I doubt you are either. Yet something Jesus said just before his crucifixion reminds me that we have a choice about our anxieties.

The Apostle John describes the scene for us in chapters thirteen and fourteen of his gospel. Jesus, already in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, is in the upper room with his closest followers, his twelve, hand-picked men. There is a price on his head. He washes their feet, shares the bread and the cup, and most notably, predicts his betrayal. All are aghast. All are frightened. They are well aware of the threat they are under, the risks they are running by being in Jerusalem. It is a time of great anxiety.

Into this fractious moment Jesus speaks some his most familiar words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1). I’ve read those words hundreds of times, often at funerals. But this week the first three words stood out from the rest in a way they haven’t before because I realized Jesus repeated them near the end of his talk, just before they left the upper room, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

The first three words of each line tell us something about ourselves that can be hard to believe: We have a choice about our anxieties. Jesus’ two “Do not let(s)…” make an emphatic statement about our ability to select worry and its gut-wrenching results, or trust and the peace that accompanies it.

The fact, the physiological fact, is that we can worry ourselves sick. Psychiatrists have reliable evidence that the more we worry, the more we fixate on some fearful thing over which we have no control, the more likely we are to push our brain chemistry out of balance. Once the neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and others get off-kilter it can be very difficult to return them to an even keel. In some cases medications are necessary to help restore the balance. But for most of us medication is a temporary fix. If we don’t address the underlying habit of fear in the first place the imbalance is likely to reoccur.

Jesus has a prescription for preventing such brain disorders in the first place. “Do not let” it happen. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust God (instead). Trust me (instead).” Do not choose worry and it cannot enslave your mind. Choose to trust God and he will set it free.

Easier said than done? Yes, certainly. But it can be done. Let me offer a couple of practical steps to help. Call it Rx for Anxiety.
First, it may be necessary to confess that we’ve allowed the source of our worry, in our minds at least, to become more powerful than God, more important to our wellbeing than Christ. That’s actually idolatry and it requires confession and repentance. “Father, thing A or thing B is occupying front and center in my life. That’s your place. I now repent of that and confess that you are God and nothing else. I confess that I am not in control.”

Second, remembering that physical expressions of worship often help us deal with difficult emotions, take a step of faith. Take that thing over which you have no control (which includes most of life, does it not?), write it down on a piece of paper, and in an act of worship offer it up to God. Then set it on fire.

Some things are more difficult to offer up like this than others. Some may require a daily offering for a while. But make it a habit with all of your worries and peace will become your companion.

We have a choice about our anxieties. As you think about all that Christ accomplished for us during his Passion this week, choose trust.