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My enemy has a name

My enemy has a name

The first time I was crippled by anxiety was a couple years ago. I had prepared a lesson to teach at my church for the young adults Sunday School class. As I was about to enter the room, I stopped and looked through the open door at all the faces of the Sunday morning crowd. A thought creeped into my mind: “What if you mess up?”

Suddenly, the thought became a reality, which formed into an environment that asked more questions.

What if you look like an idiot? Everyone would see it.

What if they notice how strange you are and reject you?

What if you have no value? You will waste their time.

What happens when they see that you’ve been fooling them all along and they realize that you’re worthless? Then, you’ll be alone forever. No one cares about you.

This sequence of thoughts, emotional responses and worry-building occurred in about three seconds. My mind was working in overdrive, and it became a run-away train of destruction. My heart was pounding through my chest. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. I suddenly felt the eyes of everyone in the room peering into my soul, and they felt were superior to me. 

You may look at these thoughts and say to yourself, “This is silly. None of those things would actually happen.” You’re probably right. You may say, “You just need to calm down and focus on the positive.” That would have been helpful too. But in that moment, I was a slave to something that bound my logic and casted it into a pit that I couldn’t find. In that moment, terror overcame me, and I was no longer in control.

Later, I chocked it up to nerves. I told myself that it had been years since I spoke in front of a crowd, and I was just too shaken up. I didn’t prepare well enough, and that’s why I was so nervous. I struggled through that morning and decided to avoid teaching for a month or two.

I eventually got back in the saddle, and everything was fine. I’ve been teaching in my Sunday School consistently ever since. I still get nervous, but nothing like what I had experienced before.

The years have passed since that instance, and the Lord has taught me so much about His character, His will, the value of Scripture, the body of the church and how to cultivate a heart for others. Through all this growth, told myself, “The Lord has filled me up with joy. What could possibly happen to me that could diminish that joy?” This false sense of security would soon change.

A week or so ago, I walked into work and was immediately handed a storm of chaos. The pressure built up, and I handled it calmly. Afterward, I was personally attacked and told that I wasn’t handling the chaos well, and I should have done a better job communicating those things. Suddenly it all rushed back.

My world narrowed to a tunnel-vision and a fog of terror shrouded my every thought. I gripped the wall in desperation, and my heart was beating so fast. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something. Like watching a computer boot up and run a thousand apps simultaneously, my sight flooded with a familiar line of questions…

What if? It was as if my consciousness sank back into a dark room and just watched helpless as questions fed into questions all themed with the ultimate reality, “What if everyone leaves me, and I am alone?”

I didn’t know how to stop it. I thought, “Computers have a restart button, so maybe I should try to clear my mind in a similar way. Think of something good,” I told myself. “You’re not in control! Get it together!” My attempts were useless. For every positive thought, my mind created 50 opposing arguments, each with bullet points of evidence for their truth. I thought it would last forever.

Then slowly, the shouts of my mind died down, like they were sinking into the darkness, and I had regained control. Distance grew between the thoughts and my mind as I heard them shouting from afar, and the fog lifted. Later my smart watch would show that my heart rate went from 65bpm to nearly double that and lasted for three minutes. It felt like an eternity.

Days went by, and my world had narrowed to the constant concern of “What if it happens again?” I avoided crowds. Paralyzed in anticipation, I forced myself to go hangout with groups of friends and believed it would pass.

I asked close friends for prayers and advice. I begged the Lord, “Please, I can’t control this. What is causing this?” I stayed up late thinking and worrying “What is the root? How do I stop this from happening again? Am I just broken and need a counselor?” I looked through my health insurance to see if I was covered to see a therapist. A couple of times I even stopped what I was doing and just wept in tears of helplessness.

One recent morning, I was working on my computer at work, and something happened. My mind had been weighed down in sorrowful anguish ever since that day. Suddenly, I heard a voice speak a single word through the pain, “fear.”

My eyes lifted from my screen, and it was as if this weight I had been carrying around, melted into the floor under my feet. I wasn’t reading an article or researching exercises to combat anxiety. I wasn’t meditating or working out. I wasn’t sitting in a room and asking for professional advice. I wasn’t doing anything that merited success.

The voice was calm and quiet. It did not boom like thunder or have a distinguishing affliction in its tone. It was gentle and confident all at the same time. “Fear,” the voice said and suddenly it all made sense. I was afraid. Fear told me, “You’re not good enough.” It said, “What if everybody sees you’re worthless?” If fear was the question that became the fire burning in my heart, the gasoline dumped onto the flames was also fear. It was a self-compounding reaction that would not, and could not, be smothered. That is, until it had a name.

Fear is what I was fearful of; “Fear” was the name of my enemy. There are three powerful things that the Lord has taught me about my enemy.

Fear is the absence of truth. I had asked myself “What if I end up alone?” This is how Satan operates, he asks these questions. If I hold fast to the truth of God’s word, fear is relinquished.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1).

God knows the answers to the questions of anxiety. The Creator and Sustainer of your every breath knows the answers. He knows them, and He’s in control of their result. I can have confidence in my every moment because I know my Father loves me and has been working in my life even before I was born.

“Because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will You let Your faithful one see decay” (Ps. 16:10).

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13).

I did nothing to earn freedom from the pain. This is the most important lesson that I want to communicate to you, dear reader. Much like the powerful truth of the Gospel, we did nothing to earn righteousness, so we also must understand that true freedom from fear only comes through the loving-grace of God.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:4-9).

There are many helpful avenues of resources to fight fear. But none extinguishes those flames like being wrapped up in a divine love from a Creator that hates fear more than I ever could. I testify with these words that I desire that freedom in Christ more than a thousand momentary victories in a world riddled with a thousand excuses not to. I leave you with these passages of truth from God, Who knows the answers to all your questions of anxiety and fear.

“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine” (Isa. 43:1).

The Joy Method

The Joy Method

There’s been a recent social trend that has exploded in popularity. No, I’m not talking about the latest political MEME. And I’m sure, much to everyone’s dismay, fidget spinners are not making a comeback.

I’m referring to the popular show on Netflix, “Tidying up with Marie Kondo.” If you’re not familiar with the series, Marie Kondo has developed a method of seeking joy in removing personal items that typically just take up space. Clothes, furniture, jewelry and books—nothing is off limits. One of the biggest steps in the process is a cadence of sorts, to verbally state the closure created in parting ways with the specific item(s).

At first, I saw this method as just another trend, which typically triggers a heavy eye roll. I’m not sure if that’s from being a third-culture kid or from my dislike of “clicks”, which is what most trends create. Either way, I’m just not a fan.

No matter where you stand, the results are very real. This method has created a lot of joy and tidiness throughout the world. I hesitate to describe it as joy, mostly because I view joy with reverence on a biblical scale. But Kondo joy is a real thing.

A few weeks ago, not even thinking about the Kondo method, I decided my bedroom needed a serious deep cleaning. Once I was finished cleaning, it was like a rush of joy overcame me. I started looking at other areas of my life, physical and emotional, to “clean up.”

I realized that the joy I was experiencing was in discipline. It got me thinking, “Is this why the ‘Kondo method’ is so popular?” I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be in what we do with that joy that defines our experience. Biblical joy can have many characteristics.

  • Joy of redemption. Neh. 8:12—”Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”
  • Joy in trust. Job 6:10—“Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.”
  • Joy in victory. Psalm 20:5 “May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.”
  • Joy in sanctification. James 1;2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The biblical values of joy have one trait in common—its source is God’s design. Whenever I experience God-given joy, its format is His fullest creation. We get a taste of it when tidying up, but eventually that well will run dry. There’s only so much clutter that can be removed before you’re back to square one. The difference between tidying-up joy and biblical joy is that the latter never runs dry.

Perhaps sometimes we experience tidying-up joy because of a sense of empowerment and accomplishment. We believe that, somehow, we are the captains of our own ship’s destination: “Look what I did. How far I’ve come. See my success and know that I have done this. I don’t need anything from anyone. I am in control.”

Cleaning up my room sparked a series of positive events, but it’s the Creator I must worship and not the gifts nor abilities He gives. There’s nothing wrong with seeking joy or tidying up. Those are good things. It’s when we seek value in the things rather than the Giver that we confuse their purpose.

Phil. 3:8 says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

At the end of the day, seeking to glorify the Lord in joy is what a Christian should seek. Everything else, according to Scripture, is “loss.”

No Boxes in 2019

No Boxes in 2019

What if every decision we made as Christians was prefaced with the perforating reality of the grace of God? Imagine that: What time am I leaving for work? Who do I need to meet with? What will I have for lunch? Should I rest or go out tonight? What will I wear? Iced or hot coffee?

Imagine every one of these activities beginning with “wow, God, I don’t deserve Your grace but thank You for loving me so much to send Your Son to take my punishment”? It almost sounds silly, doesn’t it?

What do any of those decisions have to do with eternal righteousness in Christ? How can any of those decisions relate to the all-powerful Creator of time, matter, and the universe? I must admit that I am guilty of this skepticism.

Everything in my world fits into nice, equally-sized boxes. Work, family, time, friends, finances, career, success and home—they all have their place that I put them.

I have expectations and familiarity with each box. Some contain fun. Some require discipline. But all have one thing in common: I know their dimensions. I can close my eyes, run my hands along the corners and tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, if it’s mine. I can press my fingertips against their imperfections—their bumped or bruised, weathered usage. Their size and contents contribute to their value.

If, for example, I took my family box down from the shelf and opened it, I would find comfort, encouragement and love. The family box possesses each character and uniqueness of every family member. I know it by heart, and I know what it stirs up within me.

So, if I took any of those boxes and said to myself “each time I take each of you off the shelf, I can’t help but be overjoyed in God” it would sound silly…wouldn’t it?

I recently went on a mission trip to Central Asia. I had lived my teenage years in this country, so I had a pretty good picture of what to expect when going back—the food, the culture, the people, all of it. In my mind, this is a good thing. It gave me something to look forward to. I knew this box even if I had to brush off some of its dust that had gathered over time.

After spending some time in the country, I realized that my box was still very accurate, minus one thing. There was nothing more valuable to the local Christians’ lives than the overwhelming joy of being a child of God. Everything only had value because of what Christ had done on the cross. Time, people, lunch, activities, rest, clothes and tea—all were good because they were common grace from God.

I was confused. Were they not familiar with the box system? Things have value because of where they are in our minds. The box’s size, location, familiarity, bumps and bruises, and the people inside them! I was crushed. I couldn’t believe that my daily life had gotten so overly saturated that I had missed this joy.

When the local pastor spoke about his brothers and sisters in Christ, those spread out across the city and the country, it was with overwhelming joy of salvation. When he spoke of their gifts and talents, their prayer requests, their worship, and even their poverty it was with outflowing purity of righteousness. Christ had come, the Son of God had come and created clean hearts! Therefore, let each word and expression and encounter be fueled with natural glory to God.

How have we missed this as Christians living in America? Why hasn’t the piercing justification completely shaken our religious culture to the core? Is it the distractions? Is it the comfort? Is it the need to make our mark or live a quiet life? What box is so important that we don’t fit the reality of the grace of God in?

I think it’s all of them. We create cultural boundaries, hierarchy of acceptance and systematic reductions upon truth—the truth that is greater than any dimension or metaphysical structure we may create.

The truth is, because The Creator loves us so much. He offered His Son as the sacrifice for our sinful rebellion, so that we may be reunited with Him in glory.

Brothers and sisters, when we reduce this reality, we reduce the magnitude of His glory. We take the mystery and wonder of the depth and majesty of God and put walls around it for our selfish comprehension and comfort. When we do this, we say “I appreciate you this much, but no further for now.”

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:3-10).

As we enter 2019, I want to encourage you, reader. Before you eat breakfast, get dressed, plan your day, or get into your car, understand one of the most important realities ever: You were bought with a price, and there is nothing more valuable than that. Let that sink in. Let it glorify God. Heaven inches just a little closer when we see through the lens of grace.


The Promises Are True

The Promises Are True

The promises of God. The sweet-tasting, life-giving promises of God. I can’t give enough examples of how these promises have manifested hope in my life. Those who are humble, He will give grace:

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).

He loves righteousness and justice; He has not abandoned us to life on earth without Him:

“He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).

He delights in the joy He provides for His beloved:

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10).

Placing your trust in the Lord is a blessing:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7).

The promises of God are an endless well to draw from. It’s a source that our Father consistently refers us back to. With passions that rage against righteousness and hearts that are easily deceived, it is out of love that He redirects us to His unshakable character. God’s promises have never lied or let us down. Abram’s trust and faith in God became more real to me over the past few months than ever before.

I have been struggling with the weight of time – its open-endedness, its vast and imaginative untold stories of impact on my life. Where will I be in my career? Will I always be single? How much longer until things change dramatically? Am I ready for those changes? The fear, the growing pains, the stress all piling up and weighing me down.

The weight has affected my outlook. Its effect has caused a burden of expectations that I build up in my mind. I didn’t know how to describe it to my brother and sisters in Christ. The closest I came was “I’m fine spiritually, but my flesh is fearful.” I believe with every fiber of my being that God is sovereign. So why am I struggling with this pain?

Studying Abram brought me to a deeper understanding of the issue. Abram believes wholeheartedly that God will fulfill His promise to multiply his offspring. Abram tries to expedite God’s promise through Ishmael (Genesis 16). God tells Abram that Ishmael is not the promise He spoke of. Around 15 years later, Isaac was born, and Abraham (formerly Abram) was filled with joy in seeing God’s promises come to life.

In Genesis 22, Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham obeys all the way up to thrusting the knife into his son. I have read this story a thousand times, and never has it baffled me in this new way. What changed? Why did Abram taint his faith with Ishmael but was willing to sacrifice the promise God had made?

“(Abraham) grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:20-21).

Abraham’s journey of hope was placed in the promise of God and not the results he had placed in his mind. Abraham had faith and trust that God would deliver on His promises regardless of if it was through Isaac or another.

Do you see? My handle of trust in God’s promises was cut short by the image of what I had created on my own. The image of what family looks like, what a career looks like, what change looks like defined my success in God’s promises. He promises trust, blessings, joy, grace, righteousness, justice, family. What He does not promise is how I define those things.

My brothers and sisters, I’d like to encourage you with this blessing the Lord has poured out on me. Do not define any of God’s promises to align with your ideas of what the result of His promises are. Your image of children, home, success, love, marriage, singleness, money, power, sex, men, women, retirement, debt, friendships, pride, peace can ruin your life. Hold fast to His promises for what they are and not what you think they should be.

Going for the save

Going for the save

I was going for the save! The volleyball was descending toward the sideline and it looked like it was just barely going to stay in bounds. I had to go for it. So, I planted my left foot, dug deep into the sand with my right and stretched as far I could. As soon as I pushed off my completely-buried right foot, a sharp-burning pain struck my right calf. I thought it was just a really bad cramp, so I tried stretching out. The following 20-30 minutes I spent sitting on the sidelines trying not to pass out.

A week later, I found out that I tore my calf in two places and I spent three weeks after that keeping it elevated, iced and doing a whole lot of nothing but rest. A strange thing happened as I rested. As I was forced to be alone, the Lord began to speak to me in two very specific ways: a praise and a petition.

The petition for Him that He revealed was that my discipline, in general, was extremely lacking. My quiet time had dwindled; Scripture memorization was non-existent; diet and workout had slowed to a crawl; my lust had heightened; my financial giving was reduced; and my desire for “me time” was my daily task. If you’re familiar with my testimony, you’d understand the gravity of these tragedies. A little more than two years ago, God glorified Himself in my life and crafted a wonderful re-birth of my entire being. I wrote a blog about it, titled “Looking over my shoulder,” that everyone should read and see the faithfulness of God and the glory of His grace. So, how could this be? I believe it boils down to two reasons.

The first reason: after experiencing God in a new way, I forgot that I’m not in heaven yet. The presence of Christ is such a glorious and purposeful thing, it is easy to push aside anything that’s not Him. Not easy in the sense that it is effortless, but that the comfort of His glory is the only place you want to be.

That sense of warmth and comfort became confidence, and much like Paul describes in Rom. 7:11 (“For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.”), my sin gave me the confidence that I didn’t need to do anything else. That righteous redemption on this earth would lead to discipline on its own without prayer, without Scripture, without time management, without the battle over sin. Which it would, if I were in a place without sin: heaven.

The second reason for my lack of discipline is the obsession with something better. I’ve obsessed over a career in filmmaking. I’ve obsessed over a meaningful relationship. I’ve obsessed over a restful state of mind. All are designed to be ways to glorify God, when pursued and not obsessed.

Discipline is my petition. My praise is quite simple but very profound. I praise God for the ability to move. To be able to stand up, sit up, walk across the room, stand in the shower, to cook in the kitchen, to go to the grocery store, to kneel in prayer, to help people move to a new home, to workout at the gym. I didn’t realize my physical dependence on movement and all the emotions that tie to it. There’s something emotionally indescribable about the value in movement. The freedom to get up and go somewhere, anywhere, is uplifting. Having to sit and not move has given me a greater understanding of anyone that is physically disabled.

It seems like our whole lives are built up of prayers and petitions. I am grateful to the Lord for continuing to heal my leg and to open my eyes to the desires of my heart in the process.