Comfort for Anxiety, please, hold the guilt trip.

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photo credit: Big Grey Mare Tree Planted By The Water via photopin (license)

Meditating on God’s word is an effective way to counter lies both from our own anxious minds and spiritual attacks. When tempted, Christ himself defeated Satan by countering with what it was written in the Bible. I am a student of the practice, not a teacher. And please continue any medical treatment you are on, but I’ll share what I’m learning with you.

The basics are to recognize our emotional states, identify the lies influencing us, and pick verses that effectively contradict them. When it is the devil, say it loud, with authority, and he will back down if there is no other factors at play.

When it is physical brokenness or our own wounded hearts, that is another story. Christian Meditation still can calm our minds and soothe our heart, but you have to repeat your chosen text many times, really chew on it to get it worked down into the hurting places where God is working.

In selecting texts, many of us tend to go to a concordance named Google, who reports back its top-ranked online lists of verses. “Bible on Anxiety” turns up some excellent websites. That said, nigh any list of Bible verses on anxiety includes verses with some variant of “Don’t be anxious.” For our purposes, that may not be the best choice.

In the proper context, “don’t be afraid” is a soothing reassurance. But “don’t be anxious” typically is a command, and the law tends to provoke anxiety, not relieve it. Now, if you commanding yourself to not be anxious a thousand times or so does relieve your anxiety, great. If it only heaps a guilt trip on you and makes you feel condemned, though, please skip that one.

So what does work?

First, read the most infamous verse in context. It begins Paul’s recipe for defeating anxiety. The full passage is far more helpful. However, it is not a text to meditate on, it is instructions for countering anxiety, which includes instructions on meditation. It doesn’t have to be God’s word, though God’s word is most powerful. An effective Christian meditation is “whatever” is in line with Biblical truth and is good, just, honorable, pure, and lovely. It can even be a visual from God’s word and/or of the good things of God’s creation. One image from the Word that I find helpful is of a tree planted by water, with its roots plunging right down into the stream. Secure in God’s steadfast love.

Second, get specific. What exactly are you anxious about? What provokes it? When it isn’t strictly chemical, persistent fears often arise from negative core beliefs about ourselves and others. A negative core belief is a false belief your heart harbors even when your conscious mind knows it is a lie. This subconscious fear will still influence you so long as it remains buried in your heart. It can backfire to answer your own heart the way you should answer the devil. As a wounded heart feels things, anything said in a harsh tone is speaking death. To speak life, swap out strong rebukes for a gentle, loving tone as you counter old lies with the corresponding truth about your identity in Christ.

Third, don’t rush yourself past the stage of identifying the lies your heart is holding onto to avoid “speaking death.” God can still hear you “speaking death” in your heart. It is still manifesting in your life. Face it. Admit it out loud. It is okay. You must grab hold of it to get it out. What to be wary of is latching onto it only to wallow in it. Meditation, speaking life, is more effective if we first identify the lies embedded like thorns, confess them to the Lord, and get him to remove them.

Fourth, sometimes God says no to removing such thorns in the flesh. That no is nothing to be ashamed of; it happens even to the best of us, namely the Apostle Paul himself. What God did through Paul was phenomenal, yet the man was never able to overcome the shame that had him declaring himself “the worst of sinners” over his actions before he was a Christian, despite his own teachings on the grace of God. There are times when God has a reason for our struggle, such as making his strength perfect through our weakness; in some cases, God is using our very weakness to strengthen us in his power.

Finally, here are seven Bible passages that work well as verses to meditate on to combat various kinds of anxiety. At least they comfort me and the Facebook friends who answered my short survey. Feel free to shorten these as needed, but read them in context the first time. The exact wording isn’t vital for meditation purposes, so long as it reflects the Bible’s intent and meaning.

Psalm 62 Meditation: God is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. God is a refuge for me.

2 Timothy 1:5-12 Meditation: God has given me a spirit of power, a spirit of love, and a spirit of self-control (which promotes the sound mind some translations mention.)

Matthew 19:23-29 Meditation: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Isaiah 26:3 Meditation:”You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 41:5-13 Meditation: The Lord is with us and he is our God. He will strengthen us. He will help us. He will uphold us by his righteous right hand. (From Isaiah 41:10)

Psalm 139 Meditation: God knit me together in my mother’s womb. Praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, including myself. (Bonus prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart. Show me what grieves you. Lead me in the way everlasting.)

2 Cor. 4. 7-10 Meditation: I am afflicted (or hard pressed) but not crushed. I am perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken. I am struck down but not destroyed.

Psalm 4:8 (ESV) “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (This meditation is perfect for anxiety at bedtime.)

Again, you can’t breeze through this. You have to chew on the truth; sustain focus on the verse or the Bible-based meditation for several minutes at least. Try pairing it with instrumental worship music, relaxing nature sounds, or visualizing the beauty of God’s creation. Also, keep your breathing slow, deep, and rhythmic, as if you are breathing in the truth of God’s word. Feel free to let me know what works for you and which verses are your favorites. Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus!

[bctt tweet=””Comfort for #Anxiety, please, hold the guilt trip.” #ChristianMeditation #BiblicalMeditation” username=”@andreajgraham”]

Peace & Planning God’s Way

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photo credit: robdonnelly Evening at Milarrochy bay via photopin (license)

Planning gets a bad wrap in some corners of Christendom, with some inferring it’s ungodly and antithetical to having the peace of God and following the Way.

This can be true, if our plans are fleshy, rigid rules. Our plans do need to be of God, faith-filled, spirit-filled, prayed-over, etc. But God is not a God of chaos but a God of order. The Bible contains many plans and scheduled events, such as the Jewish feast days that are optional for us to keep. Now, God may lead us down roads that don’t make logical sense from our vantage point, and I have NEVER known the Lord to lay out the entire plan all at once, but he totally will give us nice, orderly, planned-by-him steps to take if we commit our planning to him.

That said, plans are best made to be revised and adjusted as needed. However, Christians in my experience, are too passive, too sleepy, just sitting around waiting for God to instantly hand us what he’s promised–and I was the most guilty of all on that. God’s teaching me that we are to stand up by faith and move out by faith to claim what God has promised us by faith and with a prayed-over, spirit-led plan of action of how to carry out what God has called us to.

It’s when we make plans apart from God, in the flesh, and act in the flesh–rather than by faith, and in spirit and in truth–and when we put *fleshy* plans before God that there’s often trouble. That, plus, the fact of life is, plans change, sometimes suddenly. Learning to accept that everything is tentative with “Lord willing” attached and roll with it is as important to having peace as having a vision for moving forward through life’s storms toward obtaining what God has for us.

photo credit: God’s Motivations v17 via photopin (license)

[tweetthis]Peace & Planning God’s Way: “God is not a God of Chaos but a God of Order.”[/tweetthis]

Are you Cold and Bubbly or Hot and Steamy?

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“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Christianity is more than a mere list of dos and don’ts. God does have boundaries, and we do reap the consequences of our actions here on earth. But when we become wrathful, angry, bitter, and slanderous in how we respond to the mote in our brother’s eye, we need to get the beam out of our own, because those are the works of the flesh and as poisonous to us as what we are attempting to correct in others–in some cases, more so even.

Let our kindness and tenderness be truthful, directed towards encouraging one another to godliness. But kind and tender we must be if we want to be like Jesus–and we have to forgive like Jesus, too. God forgives when we repent and turn from our sin in sorrow, so we must not hold past sins God has forgiven against our brothers and sisters, either–and bitterness and anger against all offenses must be put off (into Christ’s hands in prayer.) So we must forgive everyone in the sense of the word where we are simply letting go of bitterness and anger and leaving vengeance/payback to God. But you can forgive someone in that sense but still protect yourself and not reconcile with someone who is still a threat to you. Only when the person has repented in the sense of turning from their sin and thus ceasing to be a threat does the Bible requires us to forgive in the sense of reconciling with the person and continuing on as if they had never sinned against us.

photo credit: JLS Photography – Alaska Sign of spring . . . via photopin (license)

Being on fire for God is a good thing, but lets remember what was so amazing about the burning bush. The Holy Spirit’s manifestation as fire in the bush was not burning the bush or anyone around it. When we’re full of the fire of the Lord, we should have more in common with a bubbly cold spring that consistently gushes forth sweet and refreshing than a hot, steamy geyser that scalds anyone who happens to be standing too close when it erupts.

Lord, search our hearts. If there be any hidden anger, bitterness, or an unforgiving attitude in our way today, reveal it to us, and strengthen us and grant us the will to share that pain honestly with you and release the offense into your just hands. Show us the path in which you would have us walk and grant us the courage to take those steps with you. Pour into our hearts today grace, love, and kindness that overflows and gushes onto others so we might build up one another and not tear down your work. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

[tweetthis]Are you Cold and Bubbly or Hot and Steamy? #devotional #forgiveness #kindness[/tweetthis]

Revised version of a devotion originally posted on May 11, 2011

Christmas Past, Present, and Future

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Transcript of a special Christmas message.

.nativitycardDuring this Christmas season, next to the original Christmas story, the most re-told story is that of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” There have been all kinds of versions made for it. Animated versions with the Flintstones and Mr. Magoo. A version with the Muppets. A sci-fi version, a western version. Even some detective programs have taken to making their own spin on this story. It’s a timeless tale. It was written in a culture strongly influenced by the gospel. And there were some powerful truths in that story and some great lessons to be learned. There was that profound idea of Tiny Tim that men seeing his infirmity would think and consider whom had made lame men walk and blind men see.

The one I’m going to talk about comes from the end of the Christmas Carol when Scrooge has changed and is talking about how he will live his life. “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”

I think that is a good idea for how we observe Christmas.

There is the Past of Christmas and that can be seen in this season in so many ways.

This is the most nostalgic time of the year. It’s the time of the year when people who don’t watch anything that doesn’t have CGI and expensive new special effects sit and gather around a television and watch movies in black and white or animated specials from the 1960s.

And of course it can be seen in music. Every year, musicians release CDs of Chrismas music with original Christmas songs and fans will listen to them and then promptly bury the CDs.

And during this season we are repeatedly driven to old songs. Not decades old but in some cases centuries old. We sing Joy to the World, a song written in 1719.
During the advent season, we sing O Come O Come Emmanuel, based on a song from the ninth century. In some cases, we’re trying to remember something, recapture something that has been lost. And there is a danger that the great past of Christmas isn’t something that is living in us but dead. It’s a fact of history, like Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. And we take it for granted just like that. But that past must live in us. We have to recapture the wonder. We can never let it become common place that God came and dwelled with us, that Christ was our Emmanuel and he came to redeem us.

We have to look with new eyes as the shepherds did as they were sitting there, just doing their regular routine as shepherds had done for centuries and continued to do. And the scripture tells it.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

[ref: Luke 2:9-14 KJV]

That moment is powerful and it lives, if we’ll let it, within us.

Of course, the past not only talks about Jesus’ coming but why He came. He came to free us from sin, to redeem us, that we might be saved through him. And that is the past that must live within us.

And then there is the Present of Christmas.

Christ’s coming to Earth wouldn’t have helped us much if, before he ascended, he has said, “well, I died so you could be redeemed, but you’re on your own from here on out, fellas. Figure out how to live and how to [prevent] evil in the world because I’m out of here.”

But that isn’t what Jesus said. He promised that he would be with us always, even to the end of the earth, and he said he would not leave us comfortless and gave us the promise of His Holy Spirit with us.

And there’s something remarkable the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:5, of the gift of the Spirit that”it hath been given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.”-

Now other modern translations say guarantee, which is fine I suppose but I like the term earnest because it is something that we use today. I remember that when we bought our house, and we made our offer to the realtor, we had to present earnest money so they would not market and sell the property to others. We were serious about purchasing this property. And they took our earnest money because we had a pre-approval letter. They knew we were serious about fulfilling our promise and that we were credit-worthy to be able to fulfill the promise to purchase the house from them. So it is an interesting image.

So God has left his spirit to be with us but it is only a down payment. Well, that raises the question, “A down payment on what?”

And that brings us to the future of Christmas.

And I’m not talking about the future five years from now or ten years from now. I’m talking about the ultimate future, the promises that God will bring us. And there are a few I will talk about. There are many more we could go through.

The first is a place for us with God. In John 14: 2,3, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

He also promises to wipe away all tears. Revelations (sic) 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And He promises peace. Not in the sense that people on Earth usually promise, “we won’t shoot at each other for a while. That’s peace.” But Jesus’ promise is so much more powerful. As revealed to the prophet Isaiah. He writes:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain. [Isaiah 11:6-9]

And in Isaiah 2:4 he says, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war anymore.”

These are the promises of what Christmas means in the future, in that ultimate future. But it can be hard to hold onto as we continue to experience pain and sorrow and tears and sadness. As we look at the news and we see violence and that peace God promised seems so far away with all the violence and hatred and terrorism and evil running rampant in the world. We have to live in the past, the present, and the future.

And Christmas is about the promises, the promises that God has kept, with the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the redemption. It’s the promises He’s keeping, with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And it’s about the promises He will keep. And we can trust Him to keep those promises. He has given us the earnest of them, and He is credit worthy. He is worthy of our trust and our faith and Christmas reminds us of that.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]”Christmas points to the promises God’s kept, the promises he’s keeping, and the promises he will keep.” @idahoguy[/tweetthis]

When Grief and Thanksgiving Collide

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November 27, 2014 is Thanksgiving in the US. It is a day when Americans gather around a big turkey feast, thus it is also known as Turkey Day to those who forget this day is about more than food and football. It is about remembering the first settlers’ difficult fight to survive a harsh winter, one many of them lost. The first settlers managed to bring in a successful harvest the following autumn and celebrated this by holding a traditional English harvest festival. It is that event which the Thanksgiving feast commemorates.

The original community who gave thanks to God for their life-saving harvest had buried over half of their loved ones the previous winter, including most of the mothers, who probably died due to giving their shares of the insufficient food supply to their children. This year, it strikes me hard that people who ought to have been still grieving such bitter losses found the strength to rejoice and be grateful for what they didn’t lose. After all, November 27, 2014 is also the one-month anniversary of my mother’s death.

For my extended family, the pain remains quite fresh. We still don’t know why my mother so suddenly lost her life, since her known injuries shouldn’t have been fatal. Gratitude doesn’t come easy. In fact, it’s quite hard.

For me, the first step was definitely acknowledging to myself, God, and others I felt comfortable telling that I feel inclined to react to Thanksgiving daring to come this year with sarcastic anger. How can we be grateful in the midst of loss? It’d be difficult to suffer someone daring to lecture me to be thankful and grateful at such a time. Mind you, something about losing my mother makes me also feel more painfully my loss of being a mother to infertility. Adoption can’t cure it. Any child I do bear later also can’t replace the ones I’ve failed to have, so, yeah, my mind wants to fixate on my losses.

My second step was freely deciding I don’t want to stay in such a bitter frame of mind. This was followed with me freely deciding to trust God enough to feel God is still worthy of praise and asking him to give me a grateful heart.

“Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you,” Mathew 7:7 says, and God’s promise is faithful and true. I have felt peace in my heart, I am grateful for the comfort of the Holy Spirit, my husband’s support, the prayers of many. I am grateful Mom did live long enough to see her prayers answered and my most estranged relationship with my sister healed. It would’ve been most sad if someone besides Jesus had to die to accomplish that miracle. I am thankful for the two local friends who brought us meals, for the local friend and my in-laws, whose financial gifts helped us pay for our emergency trip back east for Mom’s funeral, which otherwise would’ve been a huge financial strain on my husband and I.

If Thanksgiving and mourning collide for you, let them. Feel the hurt. Grieve the loss. Be honest before God and trusted friends and family. If you want to heal, though, one path is to make the choice to not allow grief to keep you from being there for the living during the holidays, to make the choice to honor the true meaning of Thanksgiving by asking God to help you look up from your losses, to help you see the harvest God has blessed you with, and give you the strength to appreciate it. Know how much it means to God when we offer up a sacrifice of praise. Giving thanks to the Lord for what we have when we’re mourning deeply touches the Lord’s heart.