Why Worry?

“Thank you for worrying about that for me; it made all the difference!”

“Hey listen, I’d really appreciate it if you’d take some time to worry about something for me…”

“Okay everyone, we need to stop what we’re doing and take some time to really just worry about what to do next.”

“You know, I just worried, and worried, and worried, and before you know it, I was through my trials. The worry is what carried me.”

Has anyone ever said anything like this to you? No? Really? Seriously?!? Not surprising, right? No one has EVER asked me to worry on their behalf. No one has ever advised me to intently worry about something to help get it done. No one has ever read any Bible verse that encouraged me to worry. I’ve never had anyone claim their spiritual gift was worrying for other people. Worrying is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit. I’ve never encountered a worry-centered ministry and I’ve never seen a book that helped people become better, more effective worriers.

So why are you worrying so much?!?

I’m going to show a couple translations of the same verse, but look at what Jesus says in Luke 12:25:

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (New International Version)

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (New Living Translation)

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?” (New American Standard Bible)

I know your problems are big. I know your trials are hard. I know the next step in your future seems unclear. I know… I know… I know… And perhaps you’re thinking, “Actually Daniel, you don’t know.” And perhaps you’re right. But surely Jesus knows? Surely Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said that worrying doesn’t add a single hour to your life. So please, do yourself a favor and stop worrying.

Jesus continues that thought in Luke 12:26 by saying “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (The “very little thing” is add a single hour to your lifespan.) Jesus is saying that since you can’t even add an hour to your life by worrying, why are you worrying about everything else? Is it helping? Not a chance. Is it hurting? Possibly. Just take a moment to consider how effective or helpful your worrying is. It doesn’t take long to realize that worrying is not helpful or effective. So please, do yourself a favor and stop worrying.

Stop worrying and turn to God. He is so much bigger and larger than any of our tiny problems. He is eternal; our problems are temporary. He is infinite; our problems are limited. God big; problems little. So turn to a great, big God and, whether or not He takes your problems away, refuse to worry. Instead, trust.

Trust that God knows what He’s doing. Trust that God has it all figured out. Trust that God can and will use your trials to bring glory to Himself.

Life is full of surprises!

This is part seven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

When I first found out that I wasn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan I was pretty disappointed. This may sound odd to my non-military friends, but it’s the truth. I was disappointed because I wanted to go somewhere were “the action” was; somewhere exciting! I got tasked to go to one of those non-disclosed locations in Southwest Asia. One of the things that I assumed was that no one would be searching for God at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base. I had foolishly put God in a box and decided that, because people were not in immediate danger outside the wire, no one would be considering the bigger things in life.

Surprise!

Give Him the chance by opening yourself up and God will surprise you. Always! Part of my prayer on New Years day was, “I surrender 2010 to You, for Your glory.” I actually wrote that down. I think God prompted me to write it down so I would remember my surrender. At the beginning of the year, and at the beginning of my deployment, I decided to let God do His thing. Isaiah 55:8-9 is one of my all-time favorite passages. It reminds me that God is God and I am not. He knows what He’s doing. Sometimes I don’t know, but He always knows. Faith isn’t having all the answers, it’s trusting in a God who has all the answers.

I originally deployed with a very skeptical attitude. Like I said earlier, who would be taking God seriously at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base? God surprised me because the fellowship I enjoyed there was some of the best I’ve ever had. I also met a lot of people who wanted to grow closer to God during their deployment and I met a few who came to know Christ during their deployment.

In fact, my deployment turned out to be an amazing experience. Surprise! The Chapel had Bible studies every night of the week. The worship band had about nine members including a former Tops in Blue performer and they sounded amazing every week. The Holy Spirit used me to lead a friend to Christ. I made friends who I will keep in touch with for life. I saw people grow and mature in their walks with Christ and learn more in those six months than they’d known their whole entire Christian life prior. God taught me more than I could ever share (although I am trying).

I say all of this because God surprises me. All the time, He surprises me. It’s foolish for us to put God in a box and assume anything about Him. He is God. He is bigger than any box we could put Him in. As I stated in a previous post, God puts people in the right place at the right time so that His will can be done. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know, looking back, that God put me in the absolute right spot at the right time.

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure why your life is the way it is right now, all I can tell you is to trust God. Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Surrender your life to His purposes, sit back, and be amazed. You might just be surprised!

The Way

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then came light, water, earth, plants, sky, stars. After all this had been made, God created life: animals, birds, fish. Finally, God created us in his own image. Genesis 1:31 says that “God saw all He had made and it was very good,”but this goodness didn’t last for long. Sin soon entered the world with the fall of man—with the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God originally created everything “good” but evil had been introduced to His creation. Like a disease with no cure, evil has passed to all mankind since then. We’ve been born with this evil inside us and for thousands of years it seemed as though there was nothing that could be done.Then came Jesus. Not only did he save us from our sin, he set us free from it. Mankind was liberated from their bondage to sin. God’s grace is like a vaccine that can be spread if you have enough exposure to those who’ve already been cured (i.e. Christians). This cure wasn’t something you could be born with, but instead something you chose—like in the Matrix, when Neo chose to take the red pill to wake up, we have the option to wake up from our slumber and be liberated from sin. This option is now available to us all; to wake up from our slumber and live a new life.

But is that all? Are we simply saved to go to heaven while the formerly good creation continues to be infested with sin? Do we separate ourselves from everything around us and try to stay in spiritual quarantine?

Hardly! Salvation is just the beginning. Jesus came not only to save us, but to restore all creation to the peaceful way it was in the Garden of Eden! Romans 8:19-21 tells us:

“The creation waits in eager expectation for the son of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

I’m not trying to say that salvation is that bad of a gig, but if that’s all you’re interested in, you’ve missed half the point! Immediately after Jesus comes back to life we find the Garden of Eden being hinted at. In John 20:10-18, three days after Jesus had died, we find his mother, Mary, standing outside his tomb all by herself, weeping. Next two angels appear and talk to her. Mary turns around and bumps into Jesus. Thinking he’s the gardener, she makes conversation with him for a moment, then Jesus reveals who he is and tells her to go tell the others.

Isn’t it strange that Jesus’ own mother mistakes Him for a stranger? Or was it simply Jesus disguising himself somehow? I opt for the latter, I think Jesus wanted her to think he was the gardener. Why?

Because all the Jews of Jesus’ day had memorized the first five books of the Bible (the Septuagint) as thoroughly as most Americans have the Pledge of Allegiance memorized or as well as a lot of Christians have the Lord’s Prayer memorized. So if I mentioned a nation that was indivisible, it might make you think of the Pledge or if I said forgive us our trespasses you might think of the Lord’s Prayer, especially if it were something that we talked about on a daily basis!

So the point is, when the readers of the Gospel of John heard the word garden, it may have made them think of The Garden of Eden. The place where creation was in harmony and everything was the way it should have been. Sadly, man has been banned from the Garden of Eden. But is it possible for us to return all of creation to a place where we’re in Harmony with our Maker?

Maybe.

If you look at Genesis 3:21-24, you’ll find the story of us being banned from the Garden:

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

I think something goes unnoticed in the story of the Garden of Eden. Did you know there were two trees? Yes, two! In Genesis 2:9 it says that there was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but there was also the tree of life! If you look carefully you’ll notice it says in Genesis 2:16, God tells Adam he can eat from ANY tree he wants. So originally we were allowed to eat from the tree of life. I’m not exactly sure what the fruit from the tree of life was, but have you ever had fresh pineapple? Dang!

Next thing we know, in Genesis 3, Satan convinces us that we can’t trust God. Satan tells us we should eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We foolishly believe him and next thing you know we’re being banished from the Garden of Eden.

Something interesting to note is that God says we must not be allowed to reach out and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever. There are other parts where God tells us if we eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil we will “surely die.” Many believe, and I agree, that man was originally supposed to live in the Garden forever and never die. We were made immortal. The way for us to attain this eternal life was to eat from the tree of life like it says in Genesis 3:22.

So back to my original question, could there be a way to restore harmony? Perhaps. If you read Genesis 3:24 very carefully, you’ll notice something interesting about the way it’s phrased. It says that the “way” to the tree of life is banned.

Where else does the Bible refer to the way? Look at John 14:6:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Jesus is the way.

Jesus is the way to forgiveness of sins.

Jesus is the way to the tree of life.

Jesus is the way to eternal life.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Faith and “Planning?

As a Christian, I know that God has big plans for me. I know that my life has a calling. Second Peter 1:4 invites us to “participate in [God’s] divine nature.” When we become Christians, we choose to accept that invitation.

Jesus’ last words are an invitation for us not only to join his ministry, but to take it everywhere. Let’s read Matthew 28:18-20:

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

This verse makes me think of Jesus shooing the Apostles. “Get! Go do something; I’ve got your back. Make a difference!”

The only question that remains is, “What does God want me to do?”

And there we have our problem. One day I realized that the verse that defined my (pseudo) walk with Christ (it was really just standing in one place) had become Psalm 27:14:

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Those who know me well will tell you that I always have a plan. I’m the type that likes to know where I’m going to be 10 years from now.

When I started living for Christ, I realized that my plans needed to change. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do, but I knew with absolute certainty that God had other plans for me. But I had become so obsessed with what God wanted me to do that I hadn’t done anything or made any decisions.

It felt like I had been in my car at a four-way stop, wondering which way to go. I had been so afraid of going in the wrong direction that I had decided to simply put my car into park and wait.

I didn’t know what I was waiting for, perhaps a burning bush?

I knew for a long time that I was on the verge of figuring it out; I just needed to give it more time. Then one day my answer was finally reveled to me. It definitely wasn’t the answer that I was expecting.

“There is no plan, only a person.”

I had been asking the wrong questions! Instead of focusing on what God wants me to do, I needed to be asking myself who God wanted me to be!

As far as my future is concerned, what I want to do, where I want to go, that choice is mine. God gives us freedom to pursue whatever we’re passionate about. I think the key is to become the Godly person that God has called us to be. Then, when big life decisions arrive, we’ll be equipped as a person to make the right choices.

Jesus, our perfect example of faith, never taught people how to plan out a successful Christian life. Jesus taught us who to be! Suddenly, my focus became less outward, and more inward.

I began to ask myself, “What’s the point of being a Christian?” What did Jesus have in mind when he was teaching his disciples? Jesus was talking about us in John 10:10 when he says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Jesus came not to hinder us but to set us free.

Looking back, all of my hesitation and second-guessing seemed very foolish. I have the Holy Spirit as my guide. It’s very liberating when you realize that nothing is the wrong choice when you have furthering God’s Kingdom in mind.

In Hebrews 11 we find the author discussing faith. What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith isn’t knowing something, it’s trusting God and taking a risk and putting that faith doing something. Faith without action is no faith at all. If there isn’t a fight or struggle for something it probably isn’t worth having. Later in the chapter the author lists dozens of Old Testament heroes who were all successful because of their faith in God. These ‘ancients’ never knew what the outcome of their actions would be, but they knew that God was with them. So, with faith that still sets an example, they took their chances.

Looking back, I couldn’t even remember what had caused me to be so afraid. Galatians 2:20 says,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

My problem was I hadn’t been living by faith in the Son of God. Why be afraid? We’ve already died to self. Now, Christ lives in us.

I’ll admit, the world can be a scary place but Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This verse has a warning and a promise in it. First, we’re guaranteed to have hardships, but Jesus also promises that he has overcome this world. If He is within us, then we also, through Him, have conquered this world. Romans 6:13 tells us:

“Do not offer the parts of your bad to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

The encouraging thing about this verse is the fact that, once we’ve offered ourselves to God and put the old nature to death, we can become ‘instruments of righteousness.’ Suddenly we have purpose. Suddenly we are free to make a difference.

I was finally ready to start making a difference, but I was still wondering how I was going to do it. I wanted some type of assurance that as I grew closer to God, He would bless my plans. Well in John 15:7 Jesus states, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” By remaining true to God, I can rest assured that my actions will be blessed. Ultimately, that’s what faith is…taking a chance and knowing that God has got your back.

Seek ye first…

One of the things that I love about God is when He tells us to do something, He does it Himself too. God sets the example. He tells us to love Him because He loved us first. It’s not something that we initiate, but it is instead a reaction to how wonderful He is. For example, Leviticus 19:18 says,“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

God sets the example in two ways in this scripture. First of all, our God is a forgiving God who does not bear a grudge but instead forgives us for our sins. Secondly, God showed us how to love one another by putting skin on and dying for us on the cross. So with Gods ability to lead by example in mind, let’s look at Matt 5:33-37:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by Heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

This is a passage from Jesus Sermon on the Mount. Here we have Jesus telling us that anything we say we will do should be done. For example, if I tell my mother I’ll call her on Saturday, there isn’t any need for me to say, “Mother, I swear by the hair on my head that I shall call you before the sun sets on Saturday.” Just the fact that I said I would call should be more than sufficient.

God would never ask more of us that He could give, which is why I like to think of the Bible as a promise. I know I can take God at His Word. I know that if God says He loves me, there isn’t any need to swear by anything. His word alone can be trusted. As we go through more scriptures, look for two things: look for a challenge, and look for a promise. You’ll see what I mean.

One of the greatest challenges of being a Christian is not worrying. I get so caught up with work and my career, social engagements, my lack of a dating life, the list goes on and on. Eventually I get so concerned with all these side things that I forget that my primary focus should be on my walk with Christ; everything else is secondary, whether I can remember that or not. I feel like the disciples when Jesus feeds five thousand: They were so worried about the problem of feeding the crowds that they lost sight of the solution: Jesus Christ, who had the power to feed the crowd easily! (Just a neat little fact: this is the only miracle that is in all four gospels.) The bottom line is this: if we remain intently focused on Jesus, He will provide for us. He tells us this in Matt. 6:33

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Ah yes, sweet relief. If I seek after His kingdom and His righteousness (challenge), then everything will be given to me as well (promise)! Yes! But wait a minute…what does seeking His kingdom and His righteousness mean? Do I need to find something? One of the things I’ve noticed and grown to appreciate about reading scripture is that its not about finding answers; its more about seeking a deeper understanding. When I get into the Word, I usually walk away with more questions than answers. So how do we seek His kingdom and His righteousness? Well if you look back at Exodus 20:1-7 you’ll see the first three commandments.

And God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
(1) You shall have no other gods before me.
(2) You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (There’s a challenge and a promise if I’ve ever seen one!)
(3) You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

What I’d like to point out is that these are the first three commandments, and they’re all about your relationship with God. The next seven commandments are about your relationships with others. We are called to love God from the inside out. We must first focus on loving Him, and then we will have the ability to love one another. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us how much we are supposed to love God:

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

So we have to love God from deep within us until we have no strength left, and then, just when you think you’re all out of love, we are supposed to love more. But this leads me to another question: How do I love God? What are signs of my love for God? Am I supposed to write ‘I heart God’ on my notebook? Well Jesus answers that question in John 14:21.

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Wow, so one of the signs of my love for Jesus is obedience to His commands? That’s a monumental challenge, but it also comes with a monumental promise. If I love God and develop an obedient attitude, He will love me and Jesus will love me and show himself to me. You want Jesus to show Himself to you? Well that’s easy, just obey His commands. But now I’m left wondering how to obey His commands. Well I’ve got the Ten Commandments as a good start, but it takes more than that. Lets look to Joshua 1:8 for some guidance.

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

God’s Word always amazes me. Here I’m told to meditate on God’s word. I can’t just read it and then brain-dump it. I need to chew on it. I need to look for deeper meaning than what can be easily seen by skimming through. But look at the promise that God gives us here. He tells us that we will be prosperous and successful. So the key to success isn’t thinking and growing rich, it’s thinking and growing in the word of God. There’s a difference between understand something and meditating on it. For example, if you look at the Pharisees, it’s clear that they understood what the scripture meant at face value. ‘Do not murder’ means that you don’t murder. Simple, right? Wrong! Jesus has a deeper understanding into what the Law really means. If you look at Matthew 5:21-22 you’ll see Jesus telling us what God really intended for us:

“You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

So it’s not about simply obeying the commands so that you can check off a list of accomplishments. Its about obeying these commands from the inside out. Psalm 119:9,11 paint an excellent picture of this:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I have hidden your word in my heart,
That I might not sin against you.

Here David tells God that he has hidden Gods commandments in his heart. He had meditated on it, he has searched it for the deeper meaning, and he has realized that Gods word is key to living a Godly lifestyle. It seems so simple, but it’s a challenge.

So let’s review. First and foremost, you can trust God. He will always live up to His end of the deal. The real question is, ‘can we be faithful to Him?’ Next we learn that we need to focus on Him. If we look intently at God, all the problems of the world seem so much smaller in comparison. We learn that if we’re going to love God, we need to know how to follow Him. And finally, the key to loving and following God is getting into His word. So I encourage everyone to dig deep into the truth. If we listen carefully, we will hear what God has to say to us. And that, my friends, is the key to success!