A Sickness Worse Than Ebola

afraid_eyeFor the past two weeks, my Facebook feed has been littered with updates about the Ebola virus. Some people are afraid it’s going to spread, while others are saying it won’t. Some are saying the government isn’t protecting us well enough, and a few are just cracking clever Ebola jokes.

All the angst about Ebola highlights a deeper sickness in our hearts, a sickness that can’t be cured with any antiviral drug. We are infected with a deep fear of death and paralyzed by our lack of trust in God.

“Do not worry,” Jesus said. “Who of you, by being worried, can add a single hour to his life?”

Jesus said those words for a good reason. He knew that all of us wrestle with fear. All of us lie awake at times and imagine monsters in our closet and outside our door. We see the shadow of death lurking at the threshold of our lives, and our fear turns to terror. Our terror turns us inward, to the point that all we care about is self-preservation.

Jesus warned us about fear, and his disciples repeated the warning over and over again (Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 4:18). Why? Because fear drives us to the kind of selfishness that prevents us from caring about other people. Fear focuses our attention on what we cannot control and we lose sight of what matters.

Worst of all, fear makes us forget the power of God. Fear drove Abraham to lie about his wife Sarah, even though he knew that God was stronger than Pharaoh. Fear drove Moses to argue with God, even when he saw God’s presence in the burning bush. Fear drove the Israelites to harden their hearts and worship idols, right after they saw Him part the Red Sea and drown the Egyptians.

When we allow fear to have free reign in our hearts and minds, the result is devastating to our walk with God.

I wrestle with anxiety sometimes, and on my worst days it dominates my heart and mind. All of the “what ifs” add up and threaten to drown out God’s voice. What’s terrible is that my worst fears center on things I cannot control. Fear makes me small-minded and mean. I find myself snapping at my kids and growing angry with my co-workers. Fear is a terrorist, and it’s always plotting a coup. If we allow it, fear will take over and eject God’s goodness from our hearts.

If Ebola terrifies you, I have bad news and good news. Here’s the bad news: if Jesus doesn’t come back in the next few years, we’re all going to die. Maybe we will die of Ebola. More likely it will be something else. Some other disease, or an accident, or just old age. What’s even worse news is that the United States government can’t stop it. Every American will die, just like every African and everybody everywhere. You and I are already dying because of Adam’s sin and our own.

But here’s the good news: The God who parted the Red Sea and knocked down the walls of Jericho is the same God who raised His Son from the dead. That means that death is not the last word. Even if we die from a terrible virus, death cannot win. Every person connected to Jesus through faith will rise again and reign with Him.

Christians ought to be the bravest men and women in the world. Instead of locking the doors, we’re called to open them up and share the good news. Death is overcome. No fear can destroy us forever.

Instead of praying to the government, we pray to the God who rules the universe. He alone can overcome disease and death and bring us life that never ends. Governments and doctors are helpful to a point, but they cannot ultimately stop death. Only God can do that.

What is the antidote to the fear that paralyzes our hearts? Steep yourself in the Word of God. Read and remember the stories of His power. Set up a memorial stone in your heart so that you will not forget, an ebenezer to remind you of all He’s done and all He’s yet to do. He will not abandon his people to death.

We are called to be brave. We are called to pray for those who are suffering and help them in their pain. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, knowing that He risked death and exposure to all of our troubles. He incarnated Himself and entered our mess, determined to save us. He calls us to model His incarnation, to love others and pray for them, and to refuse to be paralyzed with fear.

There is a sickness worse than Ebola, and it’s called terror. There’s also a cure, and its name is resurrection.

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Spiritual Amnesia is a Killer

remember

ReDiscovered Word 10

(Numbers 14-15)

How easily we forget what God has done. How easily we forget His power. 

While the children of Israel were camped on the border of the Promised Land, the twelve spies described the land’s beauty and fruitfulness. Then they described its inhabitants, enormous giants living in unconquerable cities.

“Compared to them, we’re grasshoppers. This is a fight we can’t win,” they insisted.

Joshua and Caleb disagreed. God had promised them the land, and God would give them the land. But those two optimists were outnumbered. In a frenzy of fear and unbelief, the people nearly stoned them to death.

They wanted to head back to Egypt. In Egypt they were safe. They had enough food in Egypt. Of course, they were also slaves in Egypt, but why dwell on small details?

“Let’s head back! Maybe Pharaoh will take us in! Why are we even out here in this God-forsaken place?” the people cried. “Why did God bring us here to die?”

Of course, God didn’t bring them there to die. He brought them there to give them the land. He brought them there because He loved them.

How easily they forgot that God defeated the Egyptians over and over and over and over again. How easily they forgot the moment of liberation, when they walked across the Red Sea on dry land, just before the strongest army in the ancient world drowned in their wake.

It was a case of spiritual amnesia. Their fear of the Canaanites drove away their trust in God. It’s not that they couldn’t remember what God had done for them in the past. It’s that they chose to forget.

We aren’t immune to their disease, by the way. “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus said. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Yet we so easily forget that God raised Jesus from the dead. We so easily forget that no enemy is too strong for Him. We worry and worry and we choose to forget God’s power.

We fear other people, we fear financial loss, we fear for our health, and we fear for our families. We wallow in our fear and spin it around in our minds until it takes over and paralyzes us.

The worry gives us a sense of control and safety. We believe, in a twisted way, that worrying will somehow fix our problems. It never has before, and all it does is enslave us. But why focus on small details?

Spiritual amnesia is a killer.

So each morning, choose to remember God’s love and power. Write it on your mirror. Recite it when you wake. Tell it to your friends. Record it and play it back from your phone.

God loves you, and He is strong. His promises never fail. Never forget it, and never give in to the fear that enslaves you and keeps you from doing what He’s called you to do.

Choose to remember the truth. God is love, and God is strong, and the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you. Death will lose, fear will one day disappear, and His promises will come true.

Do not be enslaved by fear. Choose to remember the truth.

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4 Great Substitutes for Worry

I worry a lot. I don’t even need good reasons to worry. If there’s something big to worry about, I’ll worry about that. But if I only have something small available, that’s fine too. I can worry as if it were something big. Maybe that’s why my hair is already mostly gray.

When I was younger, I worried about grades, girls, college, jobs, popularity, my height, my skin, my health, and my safety. Now that I’m older, I worry about more sophisticated stuff. Like money, the future, my kids, my wife, my health, my height (OK, not as much anymore), my safety, and my job.

I love what Jesus says about worry (Mathew 6:27): “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Actually, some people translate the Greek to say, “Who of you by being worried can add a single cubit to his height?” As a short guy, that speaks to me. ;) Jesus reminds us that worry is a form of mistrust — God clothes and feeds the birds and flowers, so I can trust Him to take care of me.

Despite my struggles, I have slightly improved over the years, by God’s grace. I’ve found that worry management is really a matter of worry replacement. If I can’t fix whatever I’m worried about, I just have to replace the worry with something else.

So here are a few “worry substitutions” that have served me well:

1. Prayer (Philippians 4:6). It’s sad to say, but too often I pray after I’ve wasted time worrying. When I do pray, I don’t always get the answers I want, but I almost always stop worrying — at least for the moment.  I tend to remember who’s in control. The God who raises dead people is big enough to handle whatever I’m worrying about.

2. Perspective. I was worrying recently about a potential financial setback. It wasn’t anything that would ruin me, and it wasn’t even a reality yet. But I managed to worry about it just the same (I’m quite gifted that way). Then I glanced at Facebook and saw a friend’s prayer request for a devastating personal loss. I looked at my fridge and saw the face of our Compassion child, a girl who struggles to find enough food to eat each day. Suddenly the potential future loss of a few bucks didn’t seem so huge.

3. Praise. God has given me infinitely more than I deserve, and even more than I really need. He is good and merciful to me, a sinner. He’s given me eternal life through Christ, the power of His Spirit, and a relationship with Him. He would be beyond good if I had nothing else to my name. And yet He’s given me much, much more. Dwelling on His goodness and grace keeps me from stressing out about what might happen in the murky future.

4. Patience. Worry is always about events that haven’t taken place. Often I worry because I’m trying to reach into the future and find a solution for problems that might come up later. But I can’t fix them in advance, so I become impatient and fearful. My wife has a phrase for this (she uses it a lot, mostly to me, and always correctly): “You’re borrowing trouble from tomorrow.” Jesus said that each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:27). All I can really do is wait and trust God that He will take care of tomorrow. Or, as Jesus tells us, “Tomorrow will be anxious about itself.” I’m not great at waiting, but patience is perhaps the strongest antidote to worry.

So there you have it. Next time you’re tempted to worry, consider substituting worry with one of these things instead. I’ll be in the same boat with you, doing my best to make the substitution.

If you struggle with worrying, how do you cope? Do you have other suggestions for “worry substitutions”?

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Would You Sell Your Plasma?

Or volunteer for medical research? Or spend hours clipping coupons? What would you do to earn a bit of extra cash for college?

I ran across an article from the New York Times discussing how college students are getting creative in their efforts to earn and save money in this tough economy. One girl volunteered to be a “hair model,” and allowed the salon to make her hair black and shaggy instead of blond and straight. One student admitted that she brings her own coffee to local coffee shops so she doesn’t have to pay for the expensive stuff offered there.

A friend of mine told me that when his dad was in seminary he volunteered for all kinds of medical experiments; I seriously considered being a human guinea pig myself when I was paying for school. My most embarrassing confession is during seminary I spent hours on a website that allowed me to earn “entries” for a supposed $10,000 daily prize. I remember seriously believing that $10,000 would solve just about all of our financial woes. I never won any money but I did win a free subscription to US Weekly, a terrible magazine that arrived every week at my apartment and stacked up in our bedroom until I walked them to the dumpster.

My life was the antithesis of Matthew 6:25-34 in those days — I was anxious about nearly everything.

I’m sure my readers are much better at handling that anxiety than I was, but I’m curious: What is the funniest or most creative way you’ve devised to earn extra money during college?

AND would you ever consider doing something out of the ordinary, like selling your blood or plasma or volunteering for experiments?

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