January 28, 2018
*CALL TO CONFESSION
The God who loves us also calls us to be honest in all things. Therefore, let us trust God's mercy as we make our confession.
*PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of mercy and grace, you bless us in so many ways, we can never thank you enough for all you have done for us, for all the ways you surround us with your beauty and joy and love. Yet, somehow we get bogged down in the day to day realities of our lives, and we forget to notice and to thank you for the simple joys and the subtle beauty all around us. We may forget to pause and thank you for the meal before us. We may be so tired or so flustered that we forget to thank you for the blessings of the day. We may be so anxious about what is coming next that we forget to thank you for already being with us. Forgive us, Lord, for all the times we fail to say "Thank you!" But also teach us, Lord, to keep our hearts overflowing with thanksgiving, so that we are more mindful of returning our thanks to you for each blessing along life's way. Amen.
*DECLARATION OF FORGIVENESS (Eph. 2:4-5, CEB)
"God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. 5 We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness that saved you.)" Thanks be to God!
Isaiah 40:28-31, NLT
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Psalm 139:1-18, GW
1 O Lord, you have examined me, and you know me.
2 You alone know when I sit down and when I get up.
You read my thoughts from far away.
3 You watch me when I travel and when I rest.
You are familiar with all my ways.
4 Even before there is a single word on my tongue,
you know all about it, Lord.
5 You are all around me—in front of me and in back of me.
You lay your hand on me.
6 Such knowledge is beyond my grasp.
It is so high I cannot reach it.
7 Where can I go to get away from your Spirit?
Where can I run to get away from you?
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
9 If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun
or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets,
10 even there your hand would guide me
and your right hand would hold on to me.
11 If I say, “Let the darkness hide me
and let the light around me turn into night,”
12 even the darkness is not too dark for you.
Night is as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You alone created my inner being.
You knitted me together inside my mother.
14 I will give thanks to you
because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made.
Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.
15 My bones were not hidden from you
when I was being made in secret,
when I was being skillfully woven in an underground workshop.
16 Your eyes saw me when I was still an unborn child.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book
before one of them had taken place.
17 How precious are your thoughts concerning me, O God!
How vast in number they are!
18 If I try to count them,
there would be more of them than there are grains of sand.
When I wake up, I am still with you.
John 14:27, NIV
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.
Phil 4:11-13, CEB
11 I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. 12 I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God!
Anxiety Antidotes: Keep Calm & Be Grateful
My anxiety report this week would have to be the two nights that obligations or intentions on either end of a journey left me concerned about enough time to drive safely. Tuesday, the car appointment went fine, though I forgot adding new wipers would take more time than the usual oil change. Still I got two chapters read while I waited! Dinner at a buffet went fine. I restricted myself to one plate of sushi, but the waitress didn't notice. I got brave and went toward the station with my coat on, making it obvious I needed my check. I got to the eye exam on time, but that's where my evening unraveled. They were behind, by half an hour or more. I picked out frames while I waited. I got in line with my prescription later, but the place was really busy that night. My legs were giving out after several minutes, and as I leaned on the counter, the young man thought I'd been waited on, so he went on to other customers behind or beside me. At some point I sighed loud enough that a senior clerk noticed and mildly reprimanded him. I said, "go ahead" (the woman who had been to the doctor after me was older and frailer than I am, so I had to let her go first), but I asked to sit at one of the tables until someone could wait on me. Eventually that same young man did, apologizing and literally shaking.
Now let me say that someone left a very kind note on my desk earlier that morning, and I was of a mind to pay it forward. I complimented the optomitrist's staff on how well they take care of their customers. I mean they have to repeat the same stuff so many times every day, and yet they were personable and caring with each person, even when they were behind. They all gave me a funny look including the doctor, so I said, "Not every doctor's office is this friendly and comfortable. Take the compliment!" They laughed and smiled. It made my day to say that to them. As for the young man who hadn't noticed it was my turn for his attention, when he sat down so nervously, I became more concerned for him than for my own needs. I did everything I could to stay calm and lighthearted and chat comfortably and reassuringly. I realized I wasn't going to go home with my glasses that night, as I heard how far behind they were. I'll have to pick them up this week. I knew I wasn't going to make it to the community event I had planned to attend. I was exhausted anyway.
But on the way home I could honestly pray my thanks for the day:
Finding reasons to give thanks, rather than complaining or worrying through the day is a practice we can all work toward most days. It is an antidote to anxiety, and it also helps us be a better witness for Christ in this world as well as strengthening our own relationship with God. Seriously, I can't think of a downside to spending time giving God our thanks!
Let me remind you of Max Lucado's acronym for CALM.
Today we focus on leaving our concerns with God. We do that in two ways primarily,
to pray with thanksgiving and to find our peace in God's peace. Let me give you an example from continued prayer for one of last week's requests. "God please help Stacy recover from this stroke. I thank you for already being there to guide the doctors and comfort her family." I didn't just ask God to help; I thanked God for helping. Do you hear the difference? I tried all week to look for reasons to give God thanks.
Thursday was a tough drive needing to leave church by 2 to be in Milwaukee by 5. God got me there!
Again, giving thanks helped keep me calmer and leaning on God.
In his book, Anxious for Nothing, Lucado notes as a contrast to gratitude how difficult some of us find it to cross what he says is "the widest river in the world" the river of "if only." (p.93) Many of us react to adverse circumstances by saying, "if only I had left sooner...if only he'd waited on me right away...if only my GPS was actually talking to me...if only that guy had looked before moving into my lane..." and so on and so on. You can come up with your own string of "if onlys" for whatever is going on in your life, and maybe you already have.
But isn't this a pessimist/optimist, negative/positive flip flop on perspectives? Cussing out another driver versus thanking God for protecting me isn't that different from viewing the glass as half empty or half full. What we are learning in this series on Anxiety Antidotes is to be more positive in our approach to life rather than letting the negatives drag us under. So, with Lucado I'm suggesting that we learn to change our "if only" sighs into prayers of thanksgiving by flipping the perspective.
Lucado writes, "The good life begins, not when circumstaces change, but when our attitude toward them does." (p. 93) We need to develop that attitude of gratitude.
Listen again to Philippians 4:6-7 today from the Common English Bible:
"6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus."
Leaving our concerns with God, with gratitude in our hearts is how we find the peace of Christ we seek. This is what Paul is really saying a few verses later. Remember as you listen that he is writing this from a Roman prison awaiting trial and probably death without seeing his many church friends again.
"I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. ... whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. 13 I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11b, 13)
Putting these often individually quoted sections together as a whole, you can see that making our requests to God with gratitude is how one learns to be content in less than optimal circumstances and trusting in that peace of Christ which passes all understanding is the source of strength to endure life's challenges. The practice of counting your blessings and giving God thanks is where it begins.
Lucado lists several benefits to gratitude. People who are grateful have more empathy, a positive attitude, and are more able to forgive. They are less jealous, less materialistic and less selfish. Gratitude, he says, is good for your self esteem, your relationships, your longevity and even your sleep! (p. 94)
If you have ever read "One Thousand Gifts" this is the secret to contentment that Ann Voskamp discovered in the midst of very trying circumstances in her family. She started a journal and carried it with her everywhere, determined to come up with one thousand things for which she would give God thanks. As Mary Marthas read her book we tried to adopt that practice. I hope you will, too, whether in a journal or quick prayers through the day or how you fall asleep at night. Keep giving thanks to God for all the little blessings along life's way. It will make a difference!
Nothing can steal your peace if you are anchored in Christ who is stronger than anything life throws at you. As Christians we believe that Christ is even stronger than death, that not even death can disrupt our relationship with God. Christ's own resurrection is where we anchor that hope. The practice of looking for all of God's little blessings is what binds us link by link to that hope in the bigger crises of life. It's how we cope with the challenges that feel like a perfect storm.
At sea, a perfect storm is a combination of threatening factors all hitting at once. As I can still envision the wall of water from a scene in the movie, "Perfect Storm" it made an impression when Lucado used this illustration. It's torrential winds plus a strong cold front plus a drenching cold downpour. In our lives it's the car breaking down plus the budget being stretched. It's the diagnosis of this before you can have the treatment to deal with that. Lucado borrows the term "perfect storm" to describe the times you could get through problem #1 or problem #2 but not two or three problems all hitting you at the same time.
So where is our anchor, our safety in the midst of such storm? As I said before, it's in Christ. It's that peace of God that passes all human understanding. Memorize John 14:27 or put it on a little note you can keep in your wallet or purse or next to your chair, your desk or your bed. This is God's promise to you in the midst of the perfect storm, in the midst of the mutliplicity of negative circumstances that leave you drained and running low on hope:
"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." (John 14:27)
When we read through some of Acts last summer, we heard about the storm Paul lived through on the way to Rome. The winter seas hit before the ship on which Paul and his guards traveled could arrive at its destination. A forceful wind blew, the boat didn't handle well, and the crew lost patience. They wanted to get to their destination and get paid for the cargo. That's not what happened. The storm that blew left them fearing for their lives. Paul had tried to warn them earlier with good advice. It wasn't his first time at sea! But they had forged ahead. Now, after 14 days of being tossed about like a toy boat, they were discouraged and desparate. Paul couldn't resist saying, "I told you so," but he also encouraged them to take heart, that no one would die. They did lose the ship, the cargo, and had to winter on an island, but they survived! (Lucado refers to this as in chapter 8)
How do we survive the storms of life? Sometimes we avoid them by taking good advice when God puts it in front of us. But we also endure it trusting God with our gratitude, doing our share of the work needed, and asking God to provide what we cannot. We may lose some things. Life has no guarantees, but God can help us get through the storm, the loss, and the challenges of this life.
This is why Isaiah 40:31 also makes a great memory verse or one to carry with you. Along with the verses that precede it, this message from Isaiah is honest about the difficulties of life and our human limitations to deal with them. It reminds us where to turn for help and strength.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
We live where we can see eagles, especially this time of year. The next time you notice an eagle with it's wings spread wide tips up, riding on the air currents that God has provided, think about the strength and help that God offers you whatever you are facing. Imagine the winds of God's Spirit helping you sail over or through that storm.
God sees you in every circumstance and knows you better than you know yourself. That's what we celebrate in Psalm 139. Consider God who knit you together, who is with you wherever you go, who knows your thoughts even before you think them. God is greater than any circumstance you face. God knows exactly how you were created, your strengths and weaknesses as you face each situation. God knows exactly what help you need and is willing to give it, to stand with you, to see you through, to pick you up and dust you off setting you back on your feet when it's all over. All you have to do is ask and trust with gratitude for God to help you do what you must. This is what Max Lucado says, "You can have peace in the midst of the storm because you are not alone, you belong to God." (p. 111)
You belong to God. Stan Toler in The Power of Your Brain reminds us just how incredibly God created us and how very much God loves us. He invites us to take a new view of ourselves from God's perspective. (Practice 3) This can be useful when we feel down and out or we don't think we are up to life's challenges. Along those lines look also at Romans 8 when you need reassurance. God loves you and claims you as God's child. Nothing in all creation, not even supernatural powers can ever separate you from God's love. This is our identity and this also is our peace. This is great reason for gratitude, and this is the CALM to see us through the storm. God is with us! For that let us give God our thanks and praise. Amen.
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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