Do Not Let Anxiety Steal Your Joy

Do you struggle with anxiety? You are not alone. An estimated 40 million adults in the United States have been affected by this nemesis. In fact, so many have been affected that the healthcare industry spends $42 billion dollars a year to combat this plague. This number is 1/3rd of the total cost of mental healthcare in the U.S. Aren’t these alarming statistics?

I must admit. I am part of this statistic. I struggle with anxiety. It’s like a dark rain cloud that hovers over my psyche. It leads to high blood pressure, isolation, fear, and depression. Worst of all, anxiety steals my peace and joy in Christ.

While anxiety likes to rear it’s ugly head, it’s not invincible. It’s conquerable. Don’t let anxiety lie to you. It is prone to say, “I am who you are. Your personality is anxious. Just live with it.” But this is not true.

Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The creator of the universe told us to be calm. If we ask, He will give us a peace that surpasses all human understanding  (Philip. 4:7).

I know my anxiety is inflamed when I forget this marvelous truth–that Jesus gives us His peace. He is the Prince of Peace. This is the deep, abiding peace between our hearts and our Creator that cannot be taken away (John. 10:27-28).

Do we believe this? If so, why worry? Oftentimes, our focus is on self rather than God. We rely on our own strength. Quite frankly, it’s pride that keeps us worried because that means we are trusting in our own talents to get us through life’s constant challenges. But our talents are finite. As humans, we are broken, incomplete, and susceptible to mistakes. Trusting in self will only exacerbate the worry because infallibility doesn’t exist within. It only exists in our Creator. He is the true conqueror.

Furthermore, when the world let’s us down, we become accustomed to disappointment. We are used to trust being breached. Worry sets in because trust is replaced with doubt. But once again, our relationship with others is different from God. God doesn’t make mistakes. His promises are never empty. When he says, “Peace I give you,” this is exactly what will come to fruition.

I know it’s difficult to fight anxiety. When you do, don’t dwell on the fear. Put on the whole armor of God. Remember, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, philosophies, and powers (Eph. 6:12).

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us exactly what to do when we are tempted to worry. “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.”

Here’s a thought. “There’s a traffic jam. I am going to be late to work. I may even get fired from my job.” How do you combat this? Be proactive. Call your employer. Tell them, “I am sorry but I will be running a few minutes late.” 99 out of 100 times, they will understand your predicament is out of your control.

What do you do next? In every situation, including your drive to work, present your requests to God. What are your requests? God, help me right now. I am feeling anxious in the car. I might be late for work. Please calm me down. Grant me your peace. You are ultimately in control. Amen.

Here are some other tips to help you overcome anxiety.

  1. Call a friend and share your inner struggle.
  2. Attend church consistently and maintain fellowship with believers who can pray for your situations.
  3. Read the Bible before you start your day.
  4. Listen to Christian radio while driving to work.
  5. Take deep breaths and count slowly from 1-10.
  6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy life.
  7. Find a hobby or activity you enjoy doing that will replace fear and worry with recreational joy.
  8. Journal your anxious thoughts and pray for God to take them away.
  9. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  10. Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours).

Any other ideas? Please feel free to comment below!

Martin Luther Misquoted by Evangelicals

Today, evangelicals defend Luther’s pithy statement: “Justification by faith alone in Christ alone.” Here is what R.C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier ministries, has to say about Luther’s theological accomplishments.

“Luther blazed the rediscovery of justification by faith alone, and he restored the church’s focus to Christ alone.” – R.C. Sproul

But does Sproul accurately portray what Luther meant by justification, or is he, along with other evangelicals, misquoting the Reformer?

Many protestant denominations believe that God grants salvation to each person based solely on the faith of the person, apart from any action taken by that individual. In theological circles, the idea is called sola fide: saved by faith alone.

According to Luther, he would disagree with modern evangelicals on what “faith alone” encompasses. Faith shouldn’t be separated from repentance and baptism. Luther is being misquoted. For instance, in Luther’s Large Catechism, He describes the synergistic relationship between baptism and faith.

[I] affirm that Baptism is no human trifle, but that it was established by God Himself. Moreover, He earnestly and solemnly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. No one is to think that it is an optional matter like putting on a red coat. It is of greatest importance that we hold Baptism in high esteem as something splendid and glorious. The reason why we are striving and battling so strenuously for this view of Baptism is that the world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that Baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless…. Although Baptism is indeed performed by human hands, yet it is truly God’s own action (1978, pp. 98-99).

While scholars differ on what Luther meant, it’s quite clear his soteriology (study of salvation) involved baptism. If salvation is dependent upon baptism, then was Luther contradicting his own theology: Justification by faith alone in Christ alone?

No. He is properly defining faith. Faith is not spiritually divorced from works (Jam. 2:24). Faith is not physically separate from our actions like Gnostic theologians would like us to believe. Faith clings to the water (Mark 16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:4-6; Gal. 3:27). Faith is faithfulness. Faith is obedience (Acts 2:38). To define faith absent from obedience is no faith at all.

Unfortunately, justification by faith alone in Christ alone has caused many to misinterpret Scripture. While we are saved by faith, our faith is never alone; it is fused with repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). And that’s why Luther himself included faith, repentance, and baptism as part and parcel of the gospel. He understood their symbiotic relationship as it corresponded to the reality of salvation. “Faith clings to the water.” – Martin Luther.

Here is a typical response when an evangelical hears baptism as part and parcel of the gospel.

“Baptism as a necessary means to secure salvation? To require baptism for a believer is adding works to the gospel, which is a foe to grace and an affront to God.”

The key difference between this statement and Luther’s is Luther did not believe baptism was a work of man. In fact, baptism is the opposite of a work. We are baptized in the name of “Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16; Acts 2:28). We are placed into Christ (Gal. 3:27) through His death, burial, and resurrection. It’s all about what He accomplished. Baptism tells the world, “I can’t save myself. I need Christ. The flood of judgment is upon me. Place me in the ark of salvation through your blood. Call on the name of the Lord.” Baptism without faith is just going under the water, but baptism with faith is being born again (John 3; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Personally, I believe the confusion is a result of modern evangelicalism today. Instead of “repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” we tell unbelievers to ask Jesus into their hearts for salvation.

First, nowhere in Scripture does it teach us to ask Jesus into our hearts for salvation. Secondly, the sinner’s prayer is a modern form of Gnosticism because it tries to separate the physical and spiritual realities and undermines what the Bible teaches. Thirdly, and most dangerously, if one takes the view that salvation occurs before baptism, then they are treating baptism as a work rather than a promise from God.

If you take the position that salvation comes first and baptism second, then you have to treat baptism as an act of obedience. You are putting it on the other side of the cross alongside sanctification. When you do that, you misguide people to what baptism really means.

I understand why people might say requiring baptism for salvation is a works-based salvation. It’s because evangelicals have been taught baptism is a work of man just like tithing and fasting, rather than a promise from God.

If Martin Luther were here today, I think he would be shocked how often he is misquoted. In fact, in the quote above, when Luther said the “world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless,” I think he is talking to the modern Protestants. I find it ironic that the very ones who defend Luther’s “justification by faith alone in Christ alone” today are similar in theology to the very ones Luther objected to during the Reformation.

Quantum Mechanics Points to an Intelligent Creator

Can quantum mechanics objectively prove God’s existence? Yes and No. Let me explain. Looking at the science objectively, I can demonstrate, for instance, that the wavelength of a photon can be determined by taking the velocity of the wave and dividing it by the frequency. This can be measured and proven in the observable universe.

From this data, I can only infer subjectively that it’s possible some intelligent mind gave quantum mechanics the sophisticated brilliance to work so elegantly. Does this therefore conclude God exists? In my mind, I can’t think of any better explanation for the data given.

Some have contested this statement, saying, “Why would you infer a mind or that it is intelligent? The universe “works” in such a way that it comes on as all of this, but terms like sophisticated, brilliant or elegant are meaningless here. Do those words even really describe it?

I would argue yes, quantum mechanics does point to an intelligent Creator. For instance, Eugene Weigner, a Nobel Prize Physicist, had argued materialism is no longer logically consistent with present quantum mechanics. Beforehand, Einsteins theory of relativity maintained the universe was deterministic and mind independent. Now, through the double slit experiment, scientists discovered a wave function collapses when there is an observer. When no observation takes place, the photon continues as a wave. When it is observed, it quantizes into a particle.

If the laws of physics weren’t affected by the minds observation, then mechanical materialism or physicalism would be a tenable theory. However, quantum mechanics suggests the opposite.

If the human mind transcends matter then it’s possible there are other minds that transcend the physical universe. And might there not even exist an ultimate mind? Quantum mechanics help bridge the gap between the pure sciences and the metaphysical world. This is huge because no longer are we “inferring” a mind, but the experiments are rather proving it.

In conclusion, it’s hard to make a definitive statement that science “objectively” proves the existence of God. We can’t experimentally test this in a lab. But that doesn’t mean science can’t point to God being a more probable explanation for the existence of the universe than string theory, multiple universes, or naturalistic processes.

Why? Because as I said before, the real world is more sophisticated than a computer machine. Computer machines don’t just spontaneously pop in and out of existence. There was an architect with a mind who gave it code and mathematical computations. Software programs are not self-sufficient; they require a designer. If computers require a programmer, how much more does the fine-tuning universe need one? That’s why I still contend that God is the best explanation for the universe. Thoughts?

 

Denominational Preference Should Never Supersede Doctrinal Faithfulness

I do believe it’s tenable for a denominational tradition to be doctrinally faithful. For Paul clearly said in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” Thus, the traditions of the Judeo-Christian worldview do play a vital role for interpreting Scripture.

However, they do not take the primary role. Denominational preferences or traditions should be superseded if they violate the clarity of Scripture. This means there are doctrines, most notably salvation, that are so clear from the reading of God’s word, that to violate it’s objectivity in favor of keeping a denominational tradition is tantamount to unorthodoxy.

The most notable example is Matthew 15:1, where the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Jesus answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

Clearly, the law of Moses never mentioned that washing hands before a meal was necessary to keep oneself clean. It was introduced into the Babylonian Talmud and over time became wrongly equated with God’s law.

In conclusion, I am not anti-denomination. I am only suggesting denominations should be open minded to changing their doctrinal views if it is found, after careful investigation of their “statement of faith”, to be opposed to the clarity of Scripture.

I realize all denominations, including those who are non-denominational, fall into a set of theological presuppositions. That’s okay, as long as the church does not replace the word of God with a doctrinal creed. And I believe this is clearly articulated in Paul’s letter to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

God’s Law and Grace Are Harmonious

“To separate God’s law from grace is to misapply both law and grace.”

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). For all have sinned and stand condemned before God (Rom. 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Thus, all deserve God’s wrath for breaking His law.

Thankfully, Jesus took our punishment on the cross in order to satisfy God’s righteous anger toward sin. Because God upholds His law, He must punish all sin, including yours and mine. To absolve us from the curse of the law, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (Isaiah 53; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but he lived in complete obedience to the law. That’s why there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Why? Because what the law was powerless to do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us (Rom. 8:4).

Therefore, the only way to understand grace is in light of the law. The law says, “You are guilty.” But God says, “even though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Essentially, the law magnifies grace.

Jesus also makes it clear the law is everlasting. “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose (Matt. 5:17). And He did. He perfectly obeyed the law and that’s the only reason we are made righteous before a holy God.

Did God Change His Mind About Dietary Laws?

It is crucial to note that God’s first commandments to humans were related to eating. The Hebrew word “command” is used for the first time in Genesis 2:16-17 to reflect God’s headship over creation. While God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the created order, He still set “boundaries” when He said, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.

This is a pivotal point. Eve really ate a forbidden fruit. The physical reality of eating something that God has “declared” forbidden is linked to the spiritual reality of disobedience to God. If this interpretation was strictly to convey a moral point, then why not turn the entire story into an allegorical lesson? Because you and I both know it’s critical to believe in a literal Eden, a literal tree, and a literal fall of man or otherwise the historical-redemptive piece is missing from the Bible.

It is correct to say the original Edenic diet assigned to man consisted of fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables (Gen. 1:29-30; 2:9; 3:2). That being said, God was the first to kill an animal in order to clothe Adam and Eve for the purpose of keeping them warm and more importantly, to demonstrate without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22).

It was also Abel’s sacrifice of meat in Genesis 4:4 that was acceptable and pleasing to God, not the fruit of the ground brought by Cain (Gen. 4:3). The main focus was the sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean meat was forbidden in God’s original plan. I believe God always intended for meat to be eaten, and he would later differentiate between clean/unclean in Noah’s time based on Genesis 7-9.

Regardless of whether meat was eaten or not in the garden, the distinction between clean and unclean animals was still made before the more specific covenantal stipulations with Israel at Sinai.Thus, dietary restrictions are not embedded in the socio-cultural context of the Isrealites, but is rather a subset of the clean/unclean distinction as a meta-narrative of the entire Bible.

Therefore, when John Piper associates circumcision with the dietary restrictions, he is committing the fallacy of false equivalence. First, circumcision was deeply embedded in the ceremonial law. One could not come to the temple if they weren’t circumcised. It was also a sign of their “distinction” from the pagan nations. But the separation from Pagan nations rationale doesn’t work with the clean/unclean animals. For instance, W.F. Albright points out in his book, “Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan,” that large and small cattle were more generally sacred, so that it is quite irrational to single out the economically and religiously much less important pig and to explain its prohibition in Israel by its alleged religious significance.”

Additionally, a comparison between Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 demonstrates that the repetition of the dietary code in Deuteronomy 14 is free from ceremonial or ritual regulations connected to the sanctuary or holy place. Also, out of all the eleven kinds of uncleanness that are classified in Leviticus (uncleanness of child birth, mildew in clothing or in house, leprosy, etc) all of them are temporary. Some are 1 day, 7 days, 33 days, etc). The uncleanness of animals, however is permanent (Gen. 7:2; Lev. 11:1-47; Deut. 14:3-21). This means an unclean animal is born unclean and dies unclean. As one scholar pointed out, “the type of uncleanness is hereditary, non-cultic, and universal, while the other kind is acquired, temporary, and ritual/ceremonial.” In fact, the dietary regulations were required for the “sojourner” in Leviticus 17:3 through the law of hunting.

Skeptics argue there are no positive evidence existing in the form of commandments or prohibitions prior to the book of Leviticus to support such a standard. First, let me point out that God still punished Cain for murdering his brotherAbel prior to the 10 commandments. Scripture makes it clear that the law of God is written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15). In fact, God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in “nature” so that all are without excuse. Secondly, I disagree. If you read Leviticus 11, it is connected theologically with the Exodus from Egypt in terms of motivation for its observation. Recall that Exodus 20:2 starts with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” The same terminology is used in Lev. 11:43 “You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls upon the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Here cleanness and holiness are linked with redemption from the slavery and bondage in Egypt.

Moreover, God links Leviticus 20:22-26 in connection with the gift of the land. “You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves “detestable by beat or by bird or anything which the ground crawls, for I have set apart for you to hold unclean…” The appeal to following the laws of the land are connected with future blessing.

Another objection raised was that if one applies the dietary regulations then do they have to apply the entire book of Leviticus? First, the idea of unclean/clean is not limited to the book of Leviticus. Yes, the specific command is, but the motivation and themes are represented throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation. Second, why is it that people hastily jump to the conclusion that the laws in Leviticus are arbitrary? Do you think God would create “revelational” laws in contrast with “rational” laws which man can better understand? Remember Leviticus also condemned prostitution, bestiality, and other abominations that Christians reject as well. As far as the mold, how do you know whether God was trying to protect his people from infection? If you want to do extensive research, look up D.I Macht, “A Scientific Appreciation of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

The key is really to look at the passages in the New Testament to see if God’s commandments concerning clean/unclean animals have been abolished. First, the Mark 7 passage is mentioned to argue God abolished the old testament dietary law. According to the text, I agree with the statement that there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him, but the things which come out of a man are what defile him. No one is suggesting the animal itself is what defiles us. Otherwise, God wouldn’t call his entire creation “good.” Second, when the Jews obeyed God through circumcision, temple worship, honoring the Sabbath, etc, were those “practices” keeping them from being defiled? Of course not. While it was an external sign of their obedience, it was their “faithfulness” to God and desire to be “holy” that was pleasing to God. And our salvation is never found in the law, but in Christ.

At the same time, faith without works is dead. There is no such thing as a disobedient “faith.” Same is true with the Sermon on the Mount. He did not abolish these commands, but rather to show that they all went down to motives, not just external acts. So when God tells us what is clean/unclean for food, and we disobey that command, then it’s our disobedience that “pollutes the heart.”

Moreover, this passage has been studied in detail by R.T. France. He makes this statement.
“The syntax clearly marks out καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα as a parenthetical editorial comment, since there is no masculine singular subject within the reported speech to which it can relate (hence the emendations found in some MSS, representing attempts to ‘correct’ the syntax by those who failed to recognize the nature of the clause…The subject therefore is Jesus (the subject of λέγει, v. 18a), whom Mark thus interprets as ‘cleansing all food’ in the sense of declaring that it is no longer to be regarded as ritually ‘unclean’” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 291; cf. 276).

As I argued beforehand, it’s clear from the passage in Matthew 15:20 that Jesus concludes with why he made the statement: “These are what defile a person (murder, anger, lying, etc); but eating with UNWASHED HANDS does not defile them. There is no mention of “unclean animals.” Secondly, the Greek word bromata that is used refers to all foods of any kind. If flesh meat was the subject under the discussion, the word for flesh, sarx, or even a reference to animals would be a more appropriate distinctive. If all foods are employed, then even poisonous berries and mushrooms are now okay to eat. I don’t think this was the driving force behind Jesus’s statement here.

Finally, in Acts 10, Peter saw a great sheet let down from heaven with all kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles in it. Peter was instructed to rise, kill, and eat. Then God says, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” The lesson is God was trying to show Peter that Gentile converts were acceptable to God and should be received by the believers. This is evident because Peter was perplexed until Acts 10:28 when he explains what he thought the vision meant: “But God has shown me that I should not call any MAN impure or unclean.” The context is clear Peter was referring to the Gentiles, not food.

The vision also needs to be understood. It does not say the sheet was full of unclean animals. There was a mixture of animals, both clean and unclean. The words used are koinos or common and akathartos or unclean. The unclean animal is clearly one that God assigned in Leviticus 11. The other kind was a clean animal that had “been contaminated or defiled by contact with an unclean animal.” Moreover, Paul rebukes Peter when he says, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” If Peter was accused of being like the Gentiles, it surely wasn’t because he started eating unclean meat. For he said in his vision in Acts 10:14, “I have NEVER eaten anything uncommon or unclean.”

Romans 14:14-17 is another passage where Christians say Pauls point was to tell Gentiles to abstain from consuming unkosher foods since it would offend the “weaker Jewish brother,” not because there is still a creation distinction of clean/unclean. But Paul defines the weaker brother in verse 2 as one who eats only vegetables. The question was whether meat was acceptable at all since meat was sacrificed to idols. One might accidently consume it without knowing it came from a pagan temple.

In 1 Timothy 4:1-15 the traditional interpretation is Paul condemns the practice of abstaining from certain foods for religious reasons and shows that every creature God made is now clean because they are sanctified by prayer. When Paul says every, it’s not to be absolute. For example, in Genesis 1:29 God told Adam to eat every tree and plant, but we know in Genesis 2:16 that the tree of knowledge was off limits. The meaning of this passage is every creature God made for “food” is to be received with Thanksgiving because it is sanctified by God’s word through his law (Lev 14/Deut 14).

In conclusion, God always has a purpose for his laws. They are not arbitrary. They are for our good. Marriage is for our good. The Sabbath is a day of rest since humans need breaks. Eating clean animals helps nourish our bodies. These laws are to protect us from harm. Above all, God wants us to obey these laws to keep us healthy and demonstrate our “faith” by our works. Our works don’t save us, they only reveal our trust and commitment to the only one who can save us, Jesus Christ.

How do we Fish for the Souls of Humankind?

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” -Matthew 4:19

Today, my son and I were playing the Catch and Count Fishing Game by Melissa and Doug company. The fishing rods have a magnet attached at the end of the pole that connects with another magnetic circle on the fish. Each fish has a different color, fin arrangement, and number. The game is really useful for hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem solving, and interpersonal skills, but most importantly, it reminds my son of the gospel message.

Every time my son and I play, he tells me of the time in children’s church when Jesus said we should make fishers of men. It’s such a joy to have your own son remind you of the importance of evangelism. While he may not perfectly understand this analogy, he does know it’s crucial for believers to fish for the souls of humankind.

Are you currently fishing for the souls of people? Do you think about how to share the gospel with your friends, neighbors, family members, or co-workers? I want to encourage you that God has given you the best fishing pole (The Word of God) and the bait (grace) to bring the most hardened fish (sinners) to a relationship with the Almighty One.

Maybe you are hesitant to cast out the fishing line in fear of rejection from others. Don’t worry. Jesus said that when you follow him, you will make fishers of men. He didn’t say you “might” make fishers of men.

As Christians, our call is to be faithful to what God commanded: To go and make disciples. To make fishers of men. When we use the right fishing pole (the Bible), the right bait (grace), you might be surprised how many fish (people) begin to nibble (inquire) about the good news of Jesus Christ. May God bless you in your endeavors!