February 4, 2018
*CALL TO WORSHIP (Psalm 103:1-5, NLT)
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
*CALL TO CONFESSION (Psalm 103:8-9, NLT)
"The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever." Therefore, let us make our confession to our compassionate God.
*PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious God, we are learning to think and speak and live more positively but those habits of negatively are deeply imbedded in us. Forgive us when we slip back into those well worn ruts, when we complain, when we whine, when we assume the worst, when we let our fears get the better of us, when our imaginations run wild, when anxiety weighs us down. Lord, maybe we never thought of these things as sin before, but they are not the life you intended for us. We ask you to forgive us and to help us replace the negativity around us with more positive influences and more positive lives. Thank you for the calm and peace you bring to us when we bring our attention and thanksgiving and obedience to you. Amen.
*DECLARATION OF FORGIVENESS (Psalm 103:10-12, NLT)
"[God] does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west." Through Jesus the Christ, God has forgiven you. Thanks be to God!
Proverbs 4:23, NCV
Be careful what you think,
because your thoughts run your life.
Proverbs 12:25, NIV
Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up.
Psalm103:17-22, NLT (note that we have already read much of this psalm in call to worship, call to confession and declaration of forgiveness)
The love of the Lord remains forever
with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
18 of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!
19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne;
from there he rules over everything.
20 Praise the Lord, you angels,
you mighty ones who carry out his plans,
listening for each of his commands.
21 Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels
who serve him and do his will!
22 Praise the Lord, everything he has created,
everything in all his kingdom.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
John 15:4-5, CEB
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5, GW
3 Of course we are human, but we don’t fight like humans. 4 The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments 5 and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.
The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God!
Anxiety Antidotes: Keep Calm & Cling to Good
We are working on retraining our brains to be more positive and less negative. We have to be careful, because our thoughts really do run our lives. We want to take every thought captive and surrender them to Christ, because anxiety does weigh us down needlessly just as the proverb said. Kind and encouraging words do cheer us up, so not only do we want to hear them ourselves, we want to share them with others.
These scriptures all point to the very practical things we are trying to learn as we strive to let go of anxious negative thought patterns and become the healthy positive people filled with hope as God intended.
I am pleased to say that I am at least catching more of my negative and pessimistic thoughts and turning them around. When I hit frustrating situations this past week I did my best to think through a positive helpful response instead indulging in a pity party. I even had a dream that should have been a screaming nightmare, but even in that dream I calmly did what I could to move to safety and let go of what I couldn't protect. That was an entirely new twist for me! There's a situation in my apartment life that I've been complaining about for a couple of months. During this study I've started telling myself, you don't get to complain unless you are actually going to do something about it. This week new management provided that opportunity to turn things around. I carefully and prayerfully wrote an email trying to be as positive and understanding as I could while still being specific and honest about my concerns. I prayed before I clicked send. The response from the new manager erased my fears and that day two of the concerns were already repaired. Thank you, God!
I like what Max Lucado has to say about this alternate way of thinking in Anxious for Nothing. In response to these proverbs he offers advice for healthy thinking.
"Want to be happy tomorrow? Then sow seeds of happiness today. (Count your blessings. Memorize Bible verses. Pray. Sing hymns. Spend time with encouraging people.) Do you want to guarantee tomorrow's misery? Then wallow in a mental mud pit of self-pity or guilt or anxiety today. ( Assume the worst. Beat yourself up. Rehearse your regrets. Complain to complainers.) Thoughts have consequences." (Lucado, p. 121)
This is the next step after a conversation Jessika and I had this week. She reminded me that thoughts and dreams just come to us. We don't always know from where. That fits what I learned in various forms of contemplative prayer. We don't necessarily get to decide what thoughts come to mind. So don't waste your time feeling guilty about them.
However, we do get to decide what to do with those random thoughts. I get a kick out of the way Lucado illustrates this point when he writes, "You can be the air traffic controller of your mental airport. You occupy the control tower and can direct the mental traffic of your world." (Lucado, p. 121) Positive, healthy thought? A good dream or vision? Something good come to mind? Great, let that one land in your brain and unload it into your life. Depressing or anxious thought? Complaining or pessimistic reaction? Putting yourself down or having a pity party? No, not welcome! Send that thought on it's way. Borrow the biblical phrase, "Get behind me, Satan!" Bring a better thought in for a landing. (Lucado discusses this on p. 124) Here's what I wrote in the margin as I thought about Lucado's air traffic control image: "While you are the air traffic controller on duty, think of Jesus as your shift supervisor. When you aren't sure or need help, that's who you ask!" (me, lol)
One of the things I read in Seligman's Learned Optimism this week really struck me, that children under the age of 7 don't score in the pessimistic or hopeless range of surveys that test such things, even when those surveys have been adapted and administered in ways understandable to their age level while testing for the same concerns as youth or adults. Pessimism is learned. Young children have not yet lost the abundance of hope that we consider part of their innocence. It made me think that when Jesus said we can't enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become like a child, perhaps on one level he was suggesting that unless we can share in the optimistic hope of a child we won't even recognize where heaven is already in our midst. When we become burdened with our life experiences and feel helpless and hopeless, when we forget to turn to the source of our strength, hope, and joy, then we miss the blessings of heaven God has already provided here on earth and the ways Jesus is still with us through the Holy Spirit.
Today's message is to Cling to Christ. It comes from the image of the Vine and Branches Jesus offers in John 15. John records this as part of the lesson Jesus is teaching his disciples on the night of the Last Supper. Put that in context, as Jesus prepares to go to the cross, he wants his followers to remember how to stay connected and encourages them to do so. That night he will tell them more than once not to be afraid, that he will leave them his peace, that he will send a helper, that he is preparing a place for them and will come to them, that he wants them to be one, to remain in him as he remains in God. (themes in John 14 - 17)
If a branch is separated from the vine, it withers and dies. But attached to the vine the life giving sap can flow through it, so that the branch will bring forth buds that form leaves to gather the sunlight and blossoms that become fruit bearing seeds for the future. Is there anything more hope filled than that image of the branch that remains attached to the vine? Even when the master gardener needs to prune it back, it is done to promote future growth. As you drive home today, I want you to look at the empty trees and picture them with buds and leaves and in many cases, blossoms and later fruit or seeds. When we look at the barren, empty situations in our lives, it is a positive response and even a prayer to imagine that situation turned around and good coming forth.
How do we Cling to Christ? One obvious way is through prayer. I read Toler's chapter on prayer this week in The Power of Your Brain. His opening paragraph suggests something we heard last year in our study on The Lord's Prayer. Daily praying the Lord's Prayer is one way to form a habit of staying connected to God. It honors God, thanks God, makes our requests of God, and celebrates God's goodness and sovereignty. When you don't know what to pray, it's a good starting place. Meditating on those phrases as we did while studying it, is one way to meditate on good things as Paul tells us to do in Philippians 4. Remember that meditating on good things is the M of CALM in Lucado's anocronym for overcoming anxiety.
As you pray this or any form of prayer, one of Toler's comments on prayer is well worth keeping in mind.
"Prayer is not about trying to influence God or motivate him on your behalf. It's not about impressing others. It's about conversing--sharing and listening, understanding God's heart. That's the point." (Toler, p. 106)
God already knows what you want and what you need and to what extent those actually match. Prayer with a listening heart opens you up to understand better what God wants for you.
Oliver Price offers "four keys to effective prayer...
1.Claim the presence of Christ...
2.Trust [Christ] to take charge..."
3.Let Christ change you according to his will for you.
4."Agree to trust [Christ]." (quoted by Toler, p. 108)
Toler has his own list of six prayer practices:
2.Pray early in the day
3.Pray focused on God
4.Pray for the needs of others
5.Pray in faith
6.Pray continually (Toler, pp. 108-109)
We'll be talking more about prayer and the rest of Toler in the Adult Class today.
Another way to Cling to Christ emphasized in the Bible is to give thanks. We've noted this before. Paul said in Philippians 4:6, "Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart." and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus." When the situation seems it's worst, instead of enumerating all the things that are going wrong, dare to look for and count all the blessings in the midst of it. This is what Paul means as his secret of being content in all situations in Philippians 4:12.
In his study guide to Anxious for Nothing Lucado shares a bit of Corrie ten Boom's book, The Hiding Place as she tells her story from the concentration camps of the Holocaust. She and her sister were moved into a new barracks to sleep on a wooden platform covered with dirty straw. Corrie was horrified to discover it was infested with fleas and complained she didn't know how she could survive there. Her sister claimed God had already given them the answer and referred to the 1 Thessalonians passage I just shared. God wanted them to give thanks in all circumstances. Corrie gave thanks that at least they were together. Betsie dared to give thanks for the fleas. Do you know the fleas kept the guards from bothering them? The sisters found opportunities in that freedom to read their Bibles even to other women who wanted to hear. The guards didn't walk in to catch them.
When you are struggling at work or at home, when the driver or the customer next to you is annoying, when life throws you more curves than you can catch, pause and look for reasons to give thanks instead of grumbling. Giving thanks to God reinforces your grip on Christ, and when life is going wrong, that's what you want to hang onto. Remaining firmly in Christ through prayer and through thanksgiving, keeps us connected to the source of help and hope. We can't force the good to come anymore than a branch can force fruit to grow. But it happens naturally when attached to the vine.
Good will come if we Cling to Christ. Lucado says it's like a young child facing a high traffic street. The parent doesn't say, "run for it" or "let's see how you do." The responsible parent says, "Take my hand, we'll cross it together." That's what God says to us. "Stick with me; we'll get you through this together." (adapted from Lucado, p. 137)
Lucado ends his chapter with the story of Kent Brantly, a medical missionary in Liberia who shared the fight against the ebola virus, until he recognized his own symptoms. He quarantined himself while waiting for the results and through a miserable three days he chose to read his Bible and write in his journal. From the book of Hebrews he gathered the commands to never give up, to make every effort, to go to the throne of grace, to rest in confidence. When he called his wife in the States with the news that he tested positive for ebola, she found encouragement in hymns as she sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness and I Need Thee Every Hour and as she and her parents knelt in prayer. When he was brought to Atlanta, and a new treatment was tried, Kent improved over time and was eventually cured as many rejoiced.
When we face life's worst, let us choose to Cling to Christ and encourage one another as we do so. Lift your concerns and those of others ernestly to God in prayer and continue to pray with thanksgiving and faith. Send unproductive thinking out the door and replace it with things that make you smile or laugh, things that cause you to count your blessings. As you learn more and more to do this for yourselves, let it also be an example you live for others.
I want to close this series with something Lucado shares from his own journal. (found in last chapter)
Today, I will live today.
Yesterday has passed.
Tomorrow is not yet.
I'm left with today.
So, today, I will live today.
Relive yesterday? No.
I will learn from it.
I will seek mercy for it.
I will take joy in it.
But I won't live in it.
The sun has set on yesterday.
The sun has yet to rise on tomorrow.
Worry about the future? To what gain?
It deserves a glance, nothing more.
I can't change tomorrow until tomorrow.
Today, I will live today.
I will face today's challenges with today's strength.
I will dance today's waltz with today's music.
I will celebrate today's opportunities with today's hope.
That's how God asks us to live. Live for today with hope and faith as we Cling to Christ.
The books referred to in this series are as follows:
Max Lucado. Anxious for Nothing. Harper Collins Publishing, 2017.
Stan Toler. The Power of Your Brain. Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph. D. Learned Optimism. Vintage Books, 2006.
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