‘Our Anxiety Is for Our Good’ — In The Midst of Madness Preview, Pt. 2

NOTE: This is the second preview excerpt of my book In The Midst of Madness: A Christian’s Experience with Anxiety and Finding Relief. The book will be available on Jan. 12, 2018.

Our Anxiety Is for Our Good

You might not believe me. And I wouldn’t blame you for doing so. If you suffer with the amount of anxiety that I do, I totally get it.

It sucks! It’s one of the worst things that you encounter on a regular basis. Sometimes it keeps you in bed. Sometimes it keeps you from interacting with those you love. Sometimes it keeps you from prayer, study of God’s Word, resting in His promises. But if we are to believe that Word and those promises, we have to accept and believe that our anxiety is for our good. Romans 8:28 says:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Those who love God and are called according to His purpose, that’s Christians. We who are Christians love God, and He’s called us to do all things for His glory, His purpose for our lives. So that’s us. And the Bible says that all things work together for good. Our good. Our best.

One of the ways in which He works all things together for our good is how He brings us salvation. He took our sinfulness, something we can’t get rid of on our own, and forgave us for it by sending Jesus to die on the cross and come back to life on the third day.

But it’s not just in how He deals with our sin nature. He works all things together for our good. ALL THINGS. I can’t emphasize this enough. ALL THINGS. Every single thing in our life works together for our good.

This is kind of hard to comprehend. Especially when it comes to dealing with our anxiety. That doesn’t seem like something that can be used for our good. But here are three reasons why:

1) It shows us our weaknesses.

We as a human race don’t like to look at or acknowledge our weaknesses. We don’t like to think about how much we suck at things. We don’t want people to point out our flaws, our scars, our inabilities. We don’t desire for others to know our deficiencies, our blemishes.

Sometimes that leads us to spending so much time trying to remind ourselves of our strengths that we forget that we are weak. And it is absolutely vital that we realize just how much we are weak, just how much we screw things up. Anxiety is a weakness, unfortunately. Sometimes we have no control over when it comes, but it’s a weakness nonetheless. And when we’re reminded of it, we’re reminded of the soft spots on our skin, the chinks in our armor.

2) Our weakness shows us that we need God.

We won’t make it on our own in this life. We need God. Our weakness shows us that we need God. God is the only one that can help us through those weaknesses, that can bring us through the hard times with the direction and purpose that we so desperately need.

He shows us that it’s OK to be weak, that it’s OK that we suck, because He’s there to pick us up, to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves, to provide the strength when we don’t have it. He does it by working through His Holy Spirit, by encouragement and challenge from His Word, by the people He surrounds us with.

3) God grows us through our anxiety.

When we deal with anxiety on a regular basis, we can learn how to deal with fear, how to fight against lies we tell ourselves, how to share our issues with others in moments of lack.

Through the rest of this book, we’ll discuss how we grow through our anxiety in different situations of life. We’ll talk about anxiety in school, relationships and other circumstances we find ourselves in that bring about panic. We’ll also dive into what it means to beat fear, one of the most central ingredients of anxiety. And then we’ll talk about the hope that exists even in the midst of anxiety.

I’ll share a lot of how I’ve grown through dealing with my anxiety in each of these areas. This is a very personal area of life for me. Because I’ve dealt with it so much, I’ve been itching to share my experiences with others in a book. It would be a waste for me to go through this and not try in some way to help at least one person with the anxiety they’re experiencing.

So as we move forward, just know that I’ve got you on my mind. I’m praying for you. And I hope that what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, can help you as well.

‘Introduction’ — In the Midst of Madness Preview, Pt. 1

NOTE: This is an excerpt from my book In the Midst of Madness: A Christian’s Experience with Anxiety and Finding Relief, which is releasing on the iBooks Store on Jan. 12. You can read more about the book here.

Probably my favorite book of all time is Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning.

It’s somewhat unlikely you’ve heard of him. He’s not a big name author in Christian circles these days. But he should be, and here’s why: Manning was as honest about his struggles in Abba’s Child as I’ve ever seen in any book. He writes about how he viewed God as a punisher without grace for many years, and how that view negatively affected his spiritual life. A former Franciscan priest, Manning dove into his personal life, including his alcoholism. In a profile for Christianity Today in 2013, Agnieszka Tennant writes of Manning:

“Manning’s admission of his failings — combined with his ability to make others feel God’s love in spite of their transgressions — is one reason for his popularity among those who have paid more attention to their shame than to God. His message is a liberation of the perpetually guilty, those who grew up in churches that preached a lot of sin but little grace.”

Manning has influenced Christian music artists like Rich Mullins and Michael W. Smith and theologians like Larry Crabb, Max Lucado and Eugene Peterson. They’re names that aren’t as familiar to my generation, but are household in Christian circles in generations past.

Manning’s kind of narrative rarely fits in today’s circle because of its rawness, its honesty. It’s one that doesn’t pretend holiness or perfection, but readily admits and even details flaws and weaknesses, sins and shortcomings. Abba’s Child focuses on the realness and nearness of God’s love, of a Father’s deep love for His child, a child that can come to Him without hesitation and without fear, because it’s a love that never goes away despite any sinful shortcoming.

It’s a narrative that has spoken volumes to me since my first read. And it’s a series of truths that have helped inspired me to write this book about Christianity and anxiety. Not only have I taken inspiration from the style of Manning’s writing — intensely personal, thoroughly spiritual and superbly relatable — but I’ve been inspired by his message, one that is completely Christ’s.

I’ve lived with severe anxiety and depression starting around 2008. I’ve been a Christian the whole time. I accepted Christ in the summer of 2006, and two years into following Jesus, I got super anxious. And I’m not talking about being nervous for a little bit, but serious anxiety, leading to panic attacks and depression and even suicidal thoughts.

I’ve learned a lot along the way and God has given me desire to write about it. I want other people to grow from what I’ve learned through Bible study and life experience, and that’s what this book is all about. I want to help you deal with the anxiety in your life. I want to help you to think right.

So much in our lives can change if we learn to think right. Paul emphasizes the importance of thinking right in Romans 8:5-7.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

And again in Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Setting our mind on the things of the Spirit, on spiritual things, on godly things, on God Himself, is evidence that we’re living by the Spirit, that we’re Christians, that we’re God’s children. And Paul gives us a list of adjectives that describe godly things. That’s how important thinking is.

And that’s what I spent this entire book trying to do. I thought about how I could help you think rightly about your anxiety and hopefully give you some wisdom on how to fight it, how to daily overcome it.

I want to tell you that this book was written specifically for those of you that struggle with anxiety disorders. I had you in my mind when I outlined the book, when I started it, when I was writing the chapters and as I’m writing this introduction.

But I don’t want to exclude those who don’t have diagnosed anxiety disorders. If you have stress or anxiety of any kind, these concepts are true and have continued to help me as my disorder becomes less of an issue. The book will focus primarily on those dealing with high levels of anxiety, but it’s really also for anyone who is a Christian and has stress over certain situations in your life with Christ.

Important note: This is not a medicine or health book where I’m going to tell you how your brain chemistry works and how to fix it. I’m also not going to suggest which medicine to take or even whether to take medicine. That’s a decision for you and a mental health professional. Full transparency: I’ve been taking medicine for my depression for about 18 months as of writing this introduction, and I think it’s been helpful. I think it can be helpful for you if needed. But I do not claim medical or psychiatric expertise. If you have questions about those those things, please speak with a professional.

Here’s another thing: therapy, or going to see a counselor to talk about this, is also incredibly helpful. A lot of the things I’ve learned have come through talking about things with a counselor. So if that’s something you feel like you need, go for it! I highly recommend it.

This book is not a fix-all for all of your anxiety problems. This book is meant to address some spiritual issues at play and try to help you with your spiritual life in conjunction with, if necessary, professional help from counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, whomever. If there are mental or emotional issues that you need professional help with, do not look solely to this book.

It frustrates me when Christians think anxiety is a spiritual issue and can only be fixed by reading your Bible and praying, and I don’t intend for that to be the case. In so many cases, if not all of them, it’s more than that. Finding solutions is often much more than simply doing “spiritual things.”

Most Christian books start off with hitting the overarching concepts first. Then they dive into specifics. Many of the books you’ve read probably work this way. They give you basics, then get down to the nitty-gritty. I’m structuring mine a little differently. I wanted to begin with my story of anxiety, so I’m starting by looking into particular areas where I’ve dealt with anxiety and sharing what I’ve learned about those areas. You’ll learn more about me in those chapters, probably more than you ever wanted to know about the author of a book you’re reading.

After those specifics, I’ll get into broader concepts that are big take-home points as you face anxiety on a daily or near-daily basis.

This book was written with believers in Jesus in mind. If you’re reading this book and you’re not a Christian, please keep reading. I explain in the book why I’m a Christian, why I follow Christ, something you might be wondering about doing. I believe that the ultimate solution to dealing with anxiety is following Jesus and believing in Him. So please, keep reading.

I want you to fall in love with Jesus even more as you read this book. He is the answer for the spiritual problems that drag you away from Him. And I hope that, through my transparency and His glory and goodness, you can find Him and fall deeper and deeper into His loving embrace throughout your struggle with anxiety. That’s my goal. I pray sincerely that you find and you fall.

It’s Better to Be Together Than to Win the Argument

So many things divide us.

Oh, I know, what a hot take. We’re divided? No way.

How often do we think this is OK, though? How often do we think, “Well, we disagree on something, and it makes us dislike each other,” and we just move on?

I admit that I’ve felt that way recently. There are brothers and sisters in Christ of mine with whom I have differences of opinion, and I really don’t feel like talking to them. I really don’t want to, have no desire to.

When I look at what Jesus says about unity and togetherness, my attitude is completely against His intention.

In our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17, we see that Jesus’ intention for us is to be united, no matter what, because that’s how we show others He’s real. Verses 20-23:

I do not ask for these [his disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

In college, I heard several stories of some older friends of mine and how they came to Christ because they saw the way Christians loved one another and interacted with one another. They saw a community they wanted to be a part of, a family they wanted to join. So they investigated Jesus and saw He was what made those Christians different, what made them the way they were. It led to their salvation.

That’s a practical application of those underlined words in what Jesus said in the “high priestly prayer” in the Garden of Gethsemane. People believed in Jesus because of the community of believers.

Can we recapture that now? Is the church of America too far beyond that? It’s better to be together than win an argument. It always is. We can disagree on things and still love one another.

I hope that’s not too far gone.

 

 

I’ve Looked Down That Road Too

So I work as a reporter at The Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C., and my world was shaken yesterday.

We were told there was a police-involved shooting in downtown Sanford, a few hundred yards from our office. We were waiting for more information from police. Then the news came in. I’ll copy our report below:

A 28-year-old male from Sanford died Thursday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Sanford police.

The incident occurred around 1 p.m. in front of an abandoned business at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and First Street. Police cars blocked off a section of Charlotte Avenue while the man stood outside of the abandoned business. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and shot himself after communicating with police detectives and other civilians for about 90 minutes.

During the 90 minutes, nearby businesses closed down and people eating at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, just yards away from the incident, were forced to stay inside the restaurant.

After the incident, EMS administered immediate medical assistance and he was transported to the emergency room at Central Carolina Hospital. He was pronounced dead by the medical examiner at the hospital.
 
The name of the man has not been released yet. Stay with The Herald for more.

I was shaken. Why? I’ve looked down that road before, that road of taking your own life, and it’s a dark one.

I didn’t get too far down that road, but I’ve heard stories of others that didn’t, like this young man. As I saw tributes on my Facebook feed to this guy yesterday, I saw that he was well-loved by people of all races, ages and political perspectives. People came together to remember him. I won’t print his name here out of respect for the fact I never met him, never knew him and had never even heard of him before yesterday.

But I want to believe that I’ve felt part of the pain that he felt. Obviously, something happened in his life or his mind that drove him to this drastic decision, and he felt he couldn’t go on.

I understand the impulse. I’ve struggled with enough in my life to make me think about that path — depression, anxiety, bullying, religious doubt, fear of man, despair over mistakes.

In this time, I struggle to think of what I could say to comfort those who might be hurting or mourning. I’ve never been intimately acquainted with someone who has taken their own life. I’ve known people — a former high school classmate, a distant relative, this man yesterday — that have done so. I’ve known people that have thought about it. Words just aren’t enough in this situation.

What I will recommend, and what I hope to do more of, is this: don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK?”

I think we’re nervous to get too invested in others’ lives for several reasons. First, we can be selfish people, and getting too much in others’ lives takes away time and attention to ourselves. Second, we don’t want to pry or make things awkward. And third, sometimes we just don’t know how to.

I’ll suggest it this way: Think about how often you start a conversation with someone and you ask, “How are you?” or in the case of Joey Tribbiani, “How you doin’?” It’s a common conversation starter. How often do you or the person you’re talking to say “fine” or “good”?

I recommend that we start taking the time to dig deeper into that. Obviously not with people you’ve just met or in professional settings, but with friends or relatives, be willing to ask, “How are you good?” or “How are you fine?” If they seem a little unsure, don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need to talk about something?”

The worst that can happen to you is that they say “no” and it’s a little awkward for a while. The best that can happen is that 1) you have a meaningful, productive conversation with another human being (talks that seem few and far between these days) and 2) you might bring a little hope and love into another person’s life.

Yeah, love. There’s not enough of that right now. And I’m not blaming the person’s family or friends or coworkers or whoever for not loving him enough. That’s not the point. I’m asking you who know people to show that love to others. Point them down the path of love.

I want to say one last thing, to send a message to my brother who passed on:

Yes, I know we never met, and you’ve probably never even heard my name. But you’re my brother because we’ve had similar struggles, I imagine. I love you, man. I hope and pray you’re in the arms of a Savior who loves you. I hope your life will spur others on to love. I hope your life will spur me on to love.

— Zach

God Paid for Me. What Am I Doing With That?

I like to buy music. Probably too much. But I like it. I like finding new music to listen to while I drive to work, while I write articles at work, if I’m just lounging around my apartment.

The newest music I bought was the album If I Never Speak Again by Hearts Like Lions. Before I bought the album, I listened through it on Spotify, considered music from their past (like their excellent EP These Hands) and weighed up how much I would listen to it. Considering those considerations, I bought it.

Worth it so far.

The question this leads me to is this: God paid for me. He put a lot of thought into it. Am I responding to that well?

Heavy.

It’s not a question in my mind that God paid the highest price for me. His Son died.

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” – Psalm 49:15

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

But what am I doing with that payment? God paid His Son to set me free from the eternal bondage of sin. There’s two ways I need to learn how to respond, two ways I need to deal with this better.

First, I need to know that I am loved and forgiven. 

I can’t let myself continue to be burdened with my guilt and sinfulness. I need to recognize it, but not at the expense of remembering God loves me and cares for me. My sin sucks the joy out of me, yes, but it doesn’t take away the fact that He’s saved me from its eternal consequences. That is the most joyful and wonderful part of being paid for.

But that’s not it.

Second, I need to act like I’ve been paid for.

Just like Hearts Like Lions’ album is serving the purpose it’s been bought for right now, I need to serve the purpose I’ve been bought for.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

What am I doing with the body and the life God bought for me, what He bought from the depths of sin and Sheol? Am I making wise decisions? Am I fighting sin with all that I’ve got?

Far too often, the answer to those questions is no.

So asking the question “What does it mean to be that God paid for me?” can be both an encouragement and a challengeIt can remind us of our blessed position before God, but also our call to be more for Him.

Laziness and Idleness: They Suck

So I don’t like writing the words “suck” or “sucks.”

It has a lot of negative connotations, especially for the older crowd. And I get it. There’s a sexual meaning behind the work that leads to some people viewing it as a bad word in situations where it doesn’t involve a vacuum or a straw.

But when I say that laziness and idleness suck, I really mean it. I’m not just saying it casually.

A few minutes ago, as I was processing what I was going to write in this blog post, I did say it kind of casually. But as I thought about it more, I realized “suck” was the right word in more ways than one.

I’ve been looking for a job for a couple months now, and as such I’ve had a lot of time at home trying to fill up the hours. At first, it was fine because my wife was there and we had things to do to get our apartment set up or figure other things out as a newly-married couple. But now that she’s back working, I’ve been spending a lot more time at home by myself and it’s draining.

You’d think that having nothing to do would be the opposite of draining. Well, not entirely. I’ve been sitting around a lot, watching Netflix, reading and writing, sometimes doing something resembling exercise, some other stuff. I have been looking for a job, I promise, I’m not being completely useless. Sometimes I even see it as “rest” from the last year of working, wedding planning, getting married, all that.

But my days have been marked by idleness and laziness. And I don’t think I need to go too deep into how bad laziness. I’ll just share Proverbs 13:4 – “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”

Pretty straightforward. Laziness is basically ignoring what needs to be done and instead sitting around. Idleness is a little different. It means to do nothing that is beneficial. 

Lazy people can still do things. Lazy people can do meaningless things and still be lazy. But idle people do nothing. I’ve found myself being awful idle for much of these last few weeks.

And today, I realized how it sucks.

Idleness sucks because it’s wasting time.

This usage of the word “sucks” is more of the “this isn’t good” connotation.

Ephesians 5:15-16 say, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The Bible warns us, encourages us to make the best use of our time. When we’re idle, we’re not utilizing our time the best way we could.

I’m not saying we have to be using all our spare time in serious prayer and Bible reading and meditation. Those things are at the very least definitely good and beneficial time fillers and at the very most absolutely crucial and essential to living life as a believer the right way.

But we need to think, well, I need to think about how to use my time so much better than I have been until I get a job. Until God provides employment for me, I need to be doing things that benefit my mind, heart, body and soul.

Idleness sucks focus and purpose from your life.

This is what idleness does to me. When I’m not putting my mind to good use, it leads to me losing focus on what is important. Temptation to sin becomes stronger, particularly sexual sin.

When the mind wanders, as it what often happens when you’re idle, it will attach to whatever seems most appealing at a base level. Unfortunately, men’s brains are more wired to think about sex. So we as men must be extremely careful to watch our minds, be careful where they wander. We just might end up in a place we don’t want to be.

Christians are called to be people of purpose and direction. And laziness sucks that very purpose and direction from us.

Rest is good. Idleness is not. Find the difference. Choose rest, then get back in the game. Choose purpose.

Because laziness and idleness suck.

The Same Old, Same Old Salvation Story, And How My Cynicism Got Punched in the Gut.

My church-related cynicism took a fresh hit of reality this weekend, one that was well-needed.

At a church event, the people leading it shared their testimonies. They were (separately) dealing with similar issues. They had heard of Jesus-related things when they were young, but they shoved it aside. Instead, they pursued drugs and alcohol, sex and sports, just about anything else to find happiness in life. Traumatic events shook them. Eventually, they found themselves ready to end their lives, sinking in desperate situations.

But God intervened. Maybe it was a Gideon Bible in a cheap motel room. Maybe it was a kind word from a family member or friend. Whatever it was, God intervened, pulled them out of the gutter and brought them to a place where they chose to follow Him for the rest of their lives.

When I heard these testimonies, I shook my head and thought, “Not again. How old and tired is this narrative? Are they just embellishing to make a bigger point? It couldn’t have been that bad.”

I carried that thought with me for an hour or so. See, not every salvation story is that way! I didn’t do drugs and drink alcohol in high school. I never hung with the wrong crowd. Not for as long as they did, at least, maybe for a couple hours at most before I realized they were the wrong crowd. So what does this have to do with me?

Eventually, I got reminded of something that’s amazing about God.

He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And there’s something about that sameness that is ubiquitous in these kind of salvation stories.

See, humans are, at their core, the same. We’re all looking for the same thing. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment.

And, for the most part, we go to the same thing to find that. Attention from others, substances of some kind (drugs, porn, alcohol), pouring ourselves into our work.

And the same thing happens every time – it doesn’t fulfill it. It doesn’t do the trick. It doesn’t really help us.

So we all often find ourselves in the same basic situation – stuck, lost, hopeless. Maybe it turns to us wondering why we should even live anymore, but we essentially wonder what the point of life is.

And then God reaches us with the same message – “I love you. I care for you. In me, you will find rest for your souls and forgiveness for your sins. I am the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Then we ask God the same thing – to forgive us of our sins, come into our lives, make us whole again.

And the same thing that happened to everybody else who accepted Jesus happens to us: He does it.

I realized something else today as I was writing this: Those testimonies can perhaps be the most powerful because we can all find some way to relate to them. We may not have dabbled in drugs, but we’ve got something that gets us high but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

And that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. It relates to every single situation that man faces and provides the same answer: Jesus, on the cross, taking on sin, so we could live forgiven and fulfilled. The ultimate answer doesn’t need to adjust based on what we’re going through.

You know how one medicine doesn’t fix everything? You can’t take Advil to cure internal bleeding (at least I don’t think so). You don’t need chemotherapy for a flesh wound. That’s not how it works with Jesus. Every illness, every disease, every problem has the same cure.

That’s something to celebrate every time we hear the same old testimony of death to life. Because really, my testimony isn’t that different. I didn’t do drugs, but I was pursuing things that didn’t bring true fulfillment or joy. Then Jesus intervened, and I began to pursue the thing that did.

Cynicism can be a good thing in the right and proper context (that’s a whole other conversation for another time). But sometimes I’d wish it would just go away and let me rejoice in the beauty of the Gospel.

That’s the same thing I’ll be working on for a while.

So please, people, go on and testify.

God Isn’t the No. 1 Priority for Christians. Priority Is the Wrong Word.

Yes, I admit that title is a bit click-baity, but let me explain.

Back when I was in high school, we talked in youth group about priorities. What did we value in life more than anything else? What did we spend most of our time on?

I remember one time we did this exercise where we listed our priorities. I think I had my girlfriend at the time as No. 1, school as No. 2, food as No. 3 (some things never change) and God as No. 4. I was (sinfully) impressed with my own honesty as well as concerned.

Well, if I can be honest, I don’t know if that’s changed all that much. Of course I’d love to say He’s No. 1. But as I’ve thought about this language, this semantic, this rhetoric, there’s something missing and lacking, in my opinion, by discussing God and religion and relationship this way.

It’s most recently come to my life with my recent engagement. I told my fiancée the other day, “You’re my No. 1 priority.” I paused, thinking, “Wait, isn’t it supposed to be God/Jesus?”

Another thought then crossed my mind: “Isn’t God/Jesus supposed to be the basis for all my life?”

Isn’t it possible that the danger with listing things in priorities – and by no means is this a life-and-death danger, but just something curious and interesting – is that we can begin to compartmentalize our lives? We can say, “OK, God is No. 1. Then my schoolwork or job is No. 2. Then my friendships are No. 3.” Perhaps that’s the level of concern we should apply to those things. And it’s not absolutely terrible to think about life in that way.

But the compartmentalization can lead us to thinking that God doesn’t associate with our jobs, or our friendships don’t associate with our church life, or Jesus has nothing to do with how I eat. And that’s just not true.

In Colossians 1, Paul is writing about the preeminence of Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God,” v. 15 says, “the firstborn of all creation.” Verses 16-17 add this:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The idea Paul deposits here is that Jesus is the beginning and the end, the basis for everything, the glue for everything. He’s the foundation, the rock. We talk about Jesus as the cornerstone of the Church (Ephesians 2:20). Everything was started through Him. Through Him, for Him. Everything, whether we see it or not, is tied into Jesus.

And the same goes for our lives. Compartmentalizing can become dangerous, especially when other people are involved.

It kinda depends on your life stage what your priorities are, what your attention goes to, but the idea that Jesus is the cornerstone of all your priorities helps keep in focus, I think, why you’re doing what you’re doing. If Jesus is the basis for your priorities instead of just another option on the list, you’re keeping in sight how important He really is and how He affects everything you do.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need to make time in your day specifically for Jesus like you do for your spouse or keeping yourself clean. It’s the springboard for everything else. It’s the foundation. It’s the fuel. You can’t give the proper attention you need to your other priorities without getting something from Jesus first.

Yes, this is semantics and perhaps a bit nit-picky, but semantics are important. Semantics deals with the meanings of words and phrases. And since words and phrases are an everyday part of our lives, in our relationships with others, our relationship with ourself and our relationship with God, they’re important to be aware of.

So what should our priorities be? Family, friends, our jobs, our health, our ministry. Whatever God has put in front of us, whatever sustains us and whatever we care about the most.

And Jesus gives us reason and purpose to faithfully pursue each and every one of those things.

Don’t Give Up: Following Jesus Is Worth Every Single Second of Despair

Note: This is the finale of a series on the idea of not giving up in different scenarios. Previous posts include entries on workrelationships and depression & anxiety.

I’ve been on the brink of quitting following Christ several times.

The majority of those times have been the result of realizing how terrible I am at being obedient. Maybe I committed a particular sin that makes me feel like human feces. I think, “Well, wouldn’t it just be easier to quit? Wouldn’t it just be easier to ditch the whole thing and do my own thing? Sure wouldn’t feel so guilty all the time.”

The despair was rising, the depression setting in strong. I felt empty, gone, done. What’s the point anymore? If everything is just going to end up this way, where I’m frustrated about my proficiency at following Jesus, why keep going?

There are times I still feel this way. But I want to share with you something I learned, something that keeps me going.

It’s not about your “proficiency” at following Jesus. It’s simply following Him at all that is obedience.

Let me explain with a video game analogy.

I don’t play a lot of one-person shooter video games, but in the ones I’ve played, there’s usually some kind of quest or mission. You usually know how to get to the next step of the mission by an arrow or some kind of directional method that points you where to go next.

Let’s take the first game of this kind that I ever owned – Halo 3:ODST. Actually a pretty boss single-player mode for someone who’s not a video game geek. You start by landing on a planet looking for some missing teammates. How you progress through the levels is simply by killing aliens and reaching the next objective.

One of the beauties of these games it that there’s no set way you have to get through the levels. Obviously you have to achieve all the objectives, but you can die as many times as you must to achieve the mission. Each time you die, you get to start again.

Following Jesus is a lot like that.

Say you’re on a mission to overcome a certain sin. You enter the “level” – facing temptation. You fight it off for a little bit, but then you “die” – succumb to the temptation. In video games, you get a second chance, third chance, fourth chance, etc. In following Jesus, you get the same.

If you lie or cheat or boast or get drunk or commit sexual sin or whatever, following Christ means you get to get up and try again, just like Master Chief or Samus Aran or whatever video game hero you love the most.

Proverbs 24:16 says, “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.” Righteousness doesn’t show itself by perfection, but by rebounding from the fall. Every single time you stumble, Christian, you have the opportunity to get back up and you’re still loved by God. You can get back in the battle.

That’s why I encourage you here, in the final post of this series, to never give up in your walk with Jesus. God is on your side! He has given you the tools – His Holy Spirit, the Bible, brothers and sisters in Christ around you – to bounce back with strength. You won’t always bounce back well. I sure don’t. But you have the ability and power to bounce back.

So in this final post of the series (written about three weeks after the last post), I want to make one last encouragement to you. It’s something I’ve been trying to remember in my own life, something I need to grow in, something I need maturation in. So I’m right there with you.

Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. It’s not worth it.

Don’t ever give up.

Desiring Sex Doesn’t Make You a Pervert. It Makes You Human.

WARNING: This post is probably PG-13 on a rating scale for discussion about sex. So if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip this one. And, unfortunately, there’s no discussion of (500) Days of Summer, although it is one of my favorite movies of all-time.

I’ve recently started writing more about sex on this blog. I think it’s something that is a taboo subject in a lot of Christian circles, something we’re afraid to discuss, something that’s uncomfortable and awkward, something that needs to stay behind closed doors.

And while sex itself is a private occasion designed for a husband and wife, discussing it in public shouldn’t be so awkward to do. Sex is a human act just like eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. The only difference is that sex was designed for a specific circumstance in life, marriage between a man and a woman. Eating, drinking, sleeping, etc., has no such limits.

And because those limits are there, we assign limits to discussing it. I understand the need for some of those limits – I’m not going to try to have a conversation with my kids about it in the future when they’re 4. I’ll wait until I feel like they’re mature enough to handle a conversation about it, and then I’ll be open about it and have a real conversation.

One of the things that I’ll tell my son or daughter, whichever one I have, is that having sexual desire doesn’t make you a pervert or sexually deviant. It makes you human.

Because sex is something that’s so off-limits for single people, we get in this weird state where even thinking about sex can feel bad.

Here’s what I mean: I’ll be going along in my day, and a thought about sex comes up. Then I’ll kick myself because I shouldn’t be thinking about sex. Right? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Not necessarily.

Dwelling on sexual thoughts with someone other than your wife – this includes your boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, fiancée – is sinful. It’s pursuing sexual pleasure in a means other than your wife. It can easily become something lustful, and that’s not good. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The “body” in this instance includes your brain, includes your mind. So the call in this verse includes this question: Are you glorifying God in your mind? By spending significant time thinking about sexual thoughts, imagining things, etc., you’re sinning. You’re not glorifying God.

However, what about the split second thought you have about desiring sex, that urge to find pleasure in a sexual way? Well, that’s just human.

It’s human to want sex. If God truly created all things, as we believe, He created human beings with parts and drives to have sexual intercourse with our spouses, with the one we’ve dedicated our lives to in marriage. We see it in Genesis 4:1 –

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”

God is involved in our sex lives. He created us with a desire for it to build intimacy between man and wife, for pleasure and for procreation.

So desiring that doesn’t make you weird or perverted. It simply makes you human. So please don’t beat yourself up or think you’re weird just because you want to have sex with your husband or wife some day.

If your thought process goes beyond that and you start imagining it, then there’s a need to slow down, to clear your mind. We want to pursue purity in how we think about sex.

Purity doesn’t equal never having a thought about sex. It means thinking about sex properly in the proper context.

And that’s the war we wage.