Monthly Archives: February 2021

Unconnected thoughts for February 26

Some days the longing for Jesus’ return is more intense than other days. I cry out in my heart. I breathe. I carry on.

My wife is listening to Stealth while she is cooking. It is pretty fabulous.

Yesterday, my back spasmed all day. I stayed down and took muscle relaxants. Then I felt guilty for taking time off. I hate anxiety.

Jesus said that some of his servants will figure he isn’t coming and start to beat the other servants and get drunk and party with drunkards. It seems like this is being fulfilled right in front of our eyes.

Jesus also said that he will avenge his people and cut the oppressor into pieces and cast him into outer darkness.

Whether you are single, married, barren, or full of  children; wherever you are called and whatever you do, the purpose for which you were created is to glorify God and enjoy him forever; to live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him – beginning in this life. When you praise and glorify the Lord, you are living your best life and doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.

Idolatry is alive and well. What causes you unrest? Where is your trust? what do you believe will make you happy? What uncleanness will you tolerate to get what you think you want?

I’m learning how to sit with myself and look at what is running through my mind and analyze it. As it turns out, I am not very kind to myself. I am practicing setting my mind on better things, but old habits die hard.

If the one who committed a crime against you is brought to justice, whether by God or by man, the consequences of his actions are not your fault. Never your fault.

Be kind to yourself. If there is sin, repent and be washed clean. For everything else, you are wonderfully made and gifted by God to be exactly who you are. Embrace that and then you can embrace others without fear.

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Dealing with Anxiety

Yesterday, I acknowledged my anxiety disorder publicly. The response has been very kind and I truly appreciate it. I also have some very close friends locally who have been a tremendous help to me.

I thought I would do a quick follow-up. I am not an expert, just someone who is taking one step at a time, but here are some things that help me.

First, when anyone would like to talk, I do much, much better with specific times. “Can we talk at 3:00 PM on Thursday?” I put it in my calendar. That is a huge help to me.

Second, I have found that self-care is extremely important. I have started walking with Susan every morning. I turn the phone off when I need to. I spend time in prayer and simply meditating on God’s promises or nature or some theological point that I am mulling over.

I try to take a break when I need one.

I remember God’s people and pray for them, going down the list in my mind.

On truly bad days, I run through the fingering of Bach’s French Suites in my mind. If I have time, I do it physically on the piano. The act of running your fingers through patterns is strangely calming.

I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I avoid toxic people as much as I can. I know that there are certain people that will cause me a sleepless night, so if I do have to meet with them, I will plan on not sleeping that night. I will get my headphones ready, and my kindle, and prepare some calming exercises. Strangely, this seems to help. I guess it gives the illusion of control.

Medications help. They are not a cure, but they calm the mind so it can start to work properly.

Someone wrote that anxiety is dwelling either in the past or the future. We fret over things in the past that we can’t change. Or we fret over the future over which we have no control. To calm myself, I remember Jesus’ words, grounding me in the present. Take no thought for tomorrow. Which of you by worrying can add a moment to your lifespan?

Breathing deeply, counting the breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Five things that I can see. Five things that I can touch. Five things that I can hear. Breathe. In. Out.

God remembers that we are dust. He remembers our frailty. He doesn’t put near as many burdens on us as we heap on ourselves. “Come to me”, Jesus said, “And I will give you rest.”

I have a coloring app on my phone. It is surprising how much it helps me.

I take comfort in the encouragements of scripture – take no thought for tomorrow. Be anxious for nothing. In everything give thanks.

And I thank God that these are not commands barked at me by a sergeant-at-arms, but the lullabies of a merciful heavenly father soothing a troubled heart.

And above all, get help. Talk to people. Use words. Call things by their names.

Help is there. But you have to admit that you need it.

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coming out

When Paul was in chains in Rome, he rejoiced that the power of the gospel was seen in his weakness.

One thing that I have read continually from those who heard Ravi Zacharias speak is this: when he spoke, you knew you were in the presence of a great man. he was so articulate, so wise, so charismatic. He could work a crowd. He could answer any objection.

Paul was just the opposite. In fact, Paul said that he preached in weakness and trembling. He was ridiculed frequently for NOT being a great public speaker, or a skilled rhetorician.

As I was thinking these things, I decided to come out. I have hidden something about myself for many years. I’ve hidden it even from myself, preferring to beat myself up for not being quite right than acknowledging that I have a weakness that I can do very little about.

I have anxiety disorder. Whether it was inherited or whether it was learned through much experience, or perhaps a little of both, it is a chain around me that I cannot rid myself of.

My brain warns me that I am in danger and tells me to flee, usually at the most inopportune time.

My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.

If it is bad, I won’t eat.

I wake up frequently in the middle of the night having conversations in my head, running events through my head over and over again – until I break out into a sweat and my body temperature goes up.

I read recently that Herman Bavinck, arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, vomited before every sermon.

I don’t vomit. But I completely identify with the sentiment.

I manuscript sermons because I don’t know when my mind will go blank. I rehearse conversations because I have no idea what to do in them.

Social events are exhausting. I tend to flee somewhere just to regroup. Weddings are torture.

My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human. My conversation is fine.

But there is a part of my brain that attacks me during every single conversation:

“You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone. Don’t you know how to people?”

“You are doing this wrong. You are going to fail. You’ll never make this. They will think you are stupid.

I won’t try out a new restaurant if the ordering procedure is too different. I have never tried sushi. I have never attempted to do something new for fear of failing.

When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode. “Failure deserves to be beaten, outcast, isolated, and alone.”

I would far, far rather serve the table than sit down at it and be served. When I am clearing dishes I know what is expected, and when I know what is expected, I don’t break out in a cold sweat and listen to my heart pound in my ears.

I have been like this as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.

But that is a hard way to live.

One of my earliest memories was being terrified of trying out the slide. My parents, not knowing what to do, spanked me until I went down.

I remember the absolute terror of my first fire drill when I was about 5. They should not allow children to be tortured like that.

I self-medicated with nicotene for years. It gave me a good excuse to leave any social situation and it would calm my panicked nerves. But when I quit several years ago, my panic attacks and anxiety would attack from out of nowhere.

Today I know that it has a name and there are things to do about it. I have anxiety disorder.

I have anxiety disorder.

My dad used to say that worrying about stuff never helped. He was fond of saying that the things he worried the most about never happened. I’m very glad for him.

For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time.

The curse on this world is very real. People do things that are even worse than you can imagine. The hate that the world can throw at you is unfathomable.

Illness is real. Cancer is real. Brain damage is real. Suffering is real.

The cross is real, and if we are Jesus’ we will pick it up with him and follow him.

And like Paul, when those chains tie us down, paralyze us and keep us from doing what we want to do – God will show himself strong.

“How can you be a minister” – my anxiety tells me repeatedly.

And then I remember Paul’s words:

(1Corinthians:2:1-5)  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

And so I’ve decided to quit pretending that I’m something I am not. I will speak the truth. I will teach from house to house. I will visit. I will call. I will do what I can to show the power of God in the cross of Christ.

But then I might have to sit down. I might have to go outside and regroup. I might need to do something to calm my pounding heart and my rapid breathing.

I’m not the kind of preacher that has everything together. When people see me, they don’t say, “I’m in the presence of a great man” and that’s OK.

Because if I can lead someone to the living water, if I can exalt the power of God, if I can tell you about the beauty of Jesus who sweat great drops of blood, who fell down terrified at Gethsemane in order to bring me to God – then it is all worth it. Because I also know that when I am at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I will sit in his presence and rejoice and no longer panic. I will no longer feel like an outcast. I will no longer be an outsider looking in on the normals.

And that is what I long for. But more than that, I long to be free from sin and misery.

In the meantime, don’t look for me to exalt human strength. I don’t have any. When I am in God’s presence, it won’t do me any good anyway.

Instead, I have an anxiety disorder. And so I look to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come for the well. He came for the sick. He didn’t come for the strong, he came for the weak and foolish – and that is me.

If you are like me, and struggle with these things, don’t be ashamed. Walk right into it, for Jesus is with you through the valley of the shadow of death.

I wrote these words so that you might not feel so alone. There are a lot of us out here. I just thought that you might want to meet one.

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unconnected thoughts…

Yesterday I watched Ernest and Celestine on Prime Video. It was delightful.

In 1912, Jim Thorpe had his shoes stolen before he competed for the gold in the Olympics. He found two mismatched shoes in the trash, made them fit by adding extra socks, and won two gold medals. You will never be that cool. But you CAN decide to do your best with what God has given you.

Doing your best with honor and dignity is a goal worth striving for.

Today I read this: “I’m sorry for all those who you loved that made you feel like loving you was hard work.” I remembered that time when someone made a speech in front of fellow elders and pastors that used the words, “I love everyone; but Sam Powell is hard to love.” I didn’t know that.

Every new morning, I wake up next to a beautiful and loving woman who never makes me feel like I’m hard to love.

In turn, she is quite easy to love. Love is like that.

When you decide that truth is an acceptable sacrifice to make for the survival of your system, you no longer have a system worth preserving.

When you decide that right and wrong are acceptable sacrifices to make for the survival of your system, you no longer have a system worth preserving.

Bob Seger is my guilty pleasure. My wife puts up with it.

I frequently hear that marriage is hard work and God will sanctify you through that hard work. I have no idea what that means. I have never once thought of marriage as “hard work.”

Speaking of marriage, housework, cooking and dishes have nothing to do with gender roles and have everything to do with being an adult.

A lot of men just need to grow up and learn how to act like adults.

When one is terrified of “losing their place and their nation”, they will do horrible things to each other.

But when your treasure, your place, and your kingdom is in heaven, and your life is hid in Christ at the right hand of God, you are set free to love.

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The offense of the cross

The “offense” of the cross is not what many in modern evangelicalism think it is. It isn’t to make yourself as offensive as possible; nor is it getting in people’s faces over the law. It is the offense of the cross; not the offense of the law.

The offense of the cross is that our whole righteousness before God is the perfect righteousness of Christ put on our account. Our only hope before God is our sins nailed to his cross.

The reason that this is so offensive is that it means that your pedigree, your education, your socio-economic status, your politics, your standing in the community, your church membership, your good works, your wisdom – count for less than nothing in God’s eyes.

Your hope is exactly the same as the hope of the drug-dealer, prostitute, drunkard, homeless guy, and Hollywood celebrity – God’s grace alone.

The cross of Jesus is God’s exclamation point on all of our pride.

It means we are no better that the “others” and cannot boast in any way. This is what Philippians 3 is all about.

Paul had a better pedigree and education than you did, and he counted it dung that he might know Christ.

That is the offense of the cross.

The Jew and Roman, the Greek and the Persian, the men and the women and the children, those who offered sacrifices and those who didn’t, those who knew what the law said and sat in church every Sunday and those who didn’t – all of them only stand before God one way, and only one way – through faith in Christ who offered himself a propitiation to God in your place.

How much you tithe, how many church events you go to, how you voted last election, what you think of those horrible sinners out there – do absolutely nothing to take away your sins.

That is the offense of the cross.

The very religious man in the front of the church is found guilty. The tax collecting traitor pleads for mercy, and is declared “not guilty” – justified.

That’s the offense of the cross.

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Random thoughts for February 2nd

What if “Be anxious for nothing” and “Don’t be afraid” weren’t commands, but encouragements? What if we could tell the difference?

Sometimes, one has to come out of the closet with controversial opinions – so here goes: Jerry Lewis isn’t funny. I hate to break it to you.

If you can label someone and then cut them off, it saves you from having to think and engage. This sums up 2020.

Labels are very rarely helpful or edifying or accurate.

Because labels are so misleading, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking people to define what they mean before engaging with the label. What you mean by “liberal” and what I mean by “liberal” might be two different things. This is why engagement, communication and respect are so important.

Engage with ideas; not with labels.

But dehumanizing an opponent is easier than examining our own belief system. That is why it is so popular.

I long for the day when Christians can disagree with one another without labels and without hatred and without fear. It seems to me that this is the definition of love.

You won’t win playing someone else’s game.

The Christian life is a process of change. Christ’s spirit calls us to put off the old man and put on the new. This means that you will not be the same person you were 10 years ago. If you have never changed an opinion, something is wrong.

I don’t long for the “good old days” for they have never existed. I do, however, long for the future when the fulness of God’s kingdom comes.

One great thing about living in 2021 is streaming television. My wife and I are watching “Mad About You”, and old sitcom starring Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. It is brilliant. Their chemistry is beautiful to watch. And the characters love each other, which is rare for television couples. They are also extremely funny.

I am firmly convinced that the only reason Happy Days was popular was that there was literally nothing else on.

When I was a child, I had a friend that I hung out with. We used spoons to dig roads and tunnels in the dirt and pretend we were civil engineers designing roads for Hot Wheels. I miss doing that.

I once clogged up his toilet and didn’t know how to process that, so I just got on my bike and went home. Sorry, Rick. My bad.

Bob Hope isn’t funny either.

That’s all. Go outside and take a walk.

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