With each new year, comes a new resolve. We promise ourselves, in varying degrees, that this year we will be stronger, healthier, and better. The drive to do better is human, perhaps, and a good impulse to follow. But where does this drive tie in to our faith?
In my day to day life, for example, I struggle to keep up with responsibilities and expectations intrinsic in a mom’s life. Some days, it gets to the point that I’d like to drink straight from the coffee pot, tie my hair up and say, “Forget it. I can’t do this! I’m giving up! I’m going to pile the dishes and the laundry and the mess all together in a mountain on the front lawn and go live in the Amazon!” Despite these urges, I still live in Texas. I still attempt to keep up with my responsibilities, children, chores, and duties. And I haven’t moved to the Amazon. Yet.
In this struggle, in this grind of the everyday, where does my faith fit in? Usually, my faith starts to find me when I’m at those points. When I want to give up, God finds me. When I’m driving my children in the car, or rocking them to sleep at night, I think about my day. Those are the moments I reflect and usually realize my troubles are never so great that my faith and my love cannot get me through. I have dishes to wash, because there was food on my table. I have laundry to do, because I am able to clothe my children. And I have a family to care for, because God led me to be there and to love them.
Through frustration, through despair, through miscarriages, through difficult deaths and illness that has touched my life, somehow, I still manage to find in those moments of reflection, a sense of peace. Of gratitude. You are here, in this world to live with purpose and direction, God tells me. In Proverbs 19:21, we are told that “[m]any are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
No matter what that purpose is, what God’s plan may be, even if it is to find a reason to smile once in the day, you are waking up to do it. And that resolve, that purpose, is not to become better than everyone around you. A resolution, a promise to yourself should be centered on the belief that you can become better than you used to be. To try to live in love and kindness, as we have been taught. And in those moments, when you just feel like giving up and moving to the Amazon, or wherever you want to go to escape it all, remember that you are never alone. God will not give up on you. So this year, look at your frustrations with new perspective and start your days with purpose.
Written by Meredith
'Stop worrying' is never that simple.
Written by Cara Joyner
Years ago, Mad TV did a skit with Bob Newhart where he played a psychologist. A new client walked into his office and began to share her fears. He listened carefully, rocking back in his chair before saying that he wanted her to pay close attention while he told her two words that would solve all her problems. She grabbed a pen and paper and prepared to take notes. Newhart, who had been quiet and reserved up to this point, suddenly yelled, “Stop it! Just, stop it!”
As funny as the skit is, it can strike an unsettling cord. To someone who is overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, the well-meaning advice that is often given, particularly by Christians, is to simply “stop worrying and trust God.” It is almost never that simple.
I used to believe anxiety was a sinful sign of my lack of faith, so I ignored it.
For years, I tried to work around it. Constant stress eventually makes us sick though, and my body took the brunt of it. Emotionally, I felt fine. I was “handling it,” but the headaches would start by midday and last until bedtime. Nausea, fatigue, muscle aches and insomnia followed.
God created us as cohesive beings—mind, body and soul. We can only ignore the health of one of those parts for so long before it starts to affect the health of the rest.
High levels of stress and anxiety have significant physical effects on our bodies, such as stomach pain, muscle tension, chronic pain, headaches, weakened immune systems and the development of other mental health disorders.
God wired our bodies to give us signals when something is wrong. We notice symptoms of a cold and we respond accordingly. Stress is no different. When we see the signs that all is not well, here are a few places we can start.
Be honest with yourself and others.
As Christians, we believe that the truth is freeing, not only truth as in the person of Jesus Christ, but also the truth when spoken into the rest of our lives.
Imagine a relationship that is experiencing tension. The longer two people ignore the problem and try to work around it, the less healthy their dynamic will become. The same is true for our mental and emotional health. We won’t experience real freedom from worry unless we start by naming it. Be honest with God, be honest with yourself, be honest with your community, be honest with a counselor.
Let it go.
A group of researchers have found that worry is often used as a form of protection. Worry suggests that it is taking care of us by helping us brace for impact. Knowing how difficult it is to suddenly receive hard news, worry tells us that we can be prepared. Together, we can think through all the ins and outs before anything happens.
Like all lies though, worry doesn’t give us the whole picture. While worry would like us to believe we have something to gain by keeping it around, Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:27-34)
When worry presents itself as the most reasonable way out, expose it for the lie that it is and let it go. Replace them with the promises of God instead by returning to Scripture to read what God has to say about your future and your security in Him.
Guard what goes in.
Jesus warned that whatever is stored within the heart would eventually tumble out of the mouth. (Luke 6:45)
What we fill ourselves with will shape the health of our spirits and our minds. Inevitably, it will spill back out in the way we think, talk and behave.
If you find yourself crushed by stress, how might you be able to better guard what goes in?
Examine your triggers for anxiety: Facebook? Particular TV shows? Answering emails before bed? Drinking five cups of coffee before lunch? Three glasses of wine with dinner? Saying yes when you should say no? A lack of boundaries?
Identify what’s going in that is adding to the chaos and then choose to keep it out.
Guard what goes out.
Paul ended his letter to the church in Philippi by speaking to what they set their minds to. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
When we are working out of unhealthy ideas about ourselves and the people around us, it’s easier to keep doing what we’re doing than to choose to think differently.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has found that our brains develop highways for processing the same information repeatedly. With intentional practice, actively choosing to replace old thoughts with new ones will make the brain build new highways and our automatic thought patterns become healthier with time.
What we say matters. It shapes our brains as much as it shapes those around us. Let us guard what goes out as fiercely as we guard what goes in.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Anxiety is not a mandatory standing condition of life. Rather than viewing it as a sign of sin or mistrust, let’s view it as a temporary messenger, designed to slow us down and reorient our minds, bodies and souls towards the peace and the freedom that Christ promised.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT Magazine on January 19, 2017.
Mission is a hot word in the Christian world, and it means a lot of things to different people.
For me, mission is about movement. It’s purpose. It’s intention. It’s hard-thought and hard-fought acts of service and love for the greater good.
To give it a clear definition, I’d say mission is intentional action that fulfills an important purpose. And the truth is, we always live life “on mission” in various ways.
You can be on mission when you go to the grocery store to get food (intentional action) so that you can feed yourself, your family, or others (important purpose; after all, we’d starve if we didn’t eat). You can be on mission when you cheer for your team: buy the shirt or ticket to the game; paint your face; yell loudly; boo the refs; invest your heart and soul; or donate your money to the college (intentional action) so that your team will win the game/championship (important purpose).
Mission is what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It also has a very important relational dynamic to it as well.
One of the ways I think about mission is similar to the game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon." In that game, you pick an actor and then connect that person back to Kevin Bacon by the fewest relationships (degrees) possible.
Mission can also be thought of in degrees, and perhaps it is useful to recognize we do serve others in varying degrees. Here’s what I mean — consider this a 3 Degrees of Mission (stay with me because I start at 2 degrees — you’ll see why).
2 Degrees of Separation
Here I help others to help others.
This is perhaps the most common way we can serve other people. We give money, donations, or gifts to an organization, church, or nonprofit. We give clothes to a local shelter, food to a food bank, money to a favorite nonprofit, tithes to a church, financial or material support to missionaries, and so on.
In this realm, we are really 2 degrees away from the people who receive the help. You might think of this as a way we empower people to help others by giving wind to the sails of others' efforts to help people.
At the end of the day, we invest in other people, who in turn are doing the work of serving others.
1 Degree of Separation
Here I help others.
I give of my time at the food shelter or food bank. I personally assist a family in need. I hand out a meal or money to someone on the street. I mentor at a younger kid at their school. I build the ramp for a family, clean the gutters of the elderly.
Here I am personally engaged with those I am serving. There is no middle person; rather, I am giving what I have to the benefit of others firsthand.
An important distinction here is that there is still a bit of disconnection between me and those I serve. This will make sense as we look at the next degree.
0 Degrees of Separation
Here I am the others I am serving.
This is incarnational ministry, which means I am living in the world with those whom I am serving. In one sense, this might simply mean my family, my co-workers, or my neighbors. It’s those people in my small group or circle of friends.
Here there is no "us and them." It’s all us. I am in the same boat as that person. Their concerns are my concerns because we inhabit the same world. Here service is very much based in relationship. It’s not about giving away money or resources (though that’s not excluded). It’s not about building something for someone (though that’s no excluded). Things are much messier here than in the first two degrees because this is real life. It deals in relational currency, and because I can’t escape into another place I must face conflicts and tension in my ground zero world. This is perhaps the most difficult and most rewarding world of serving others.
Another way of this becoming a reality is that those whom I serve in the 1 degree world become my 0 degree world. Instead of assisting the people who live in those apartment homes, I move to live in those apartment homes. Instead of going into the neighborhood to offer help, I move into that neighborhood. In doing this, I have become part of the world in which I seek to serve.
We need each degree in our lives. To live fully into the missional calling means I consider how I serve in each of these degrees. As I move closer in degree, I must be more intentional and focused on why I am serving who I am serving in that world. I can’t be incarnational with many people, only those in my neighborhood or walk of life. And so each circle gets smaller as each degree demands more of me in time, energy, and resources.
So, I’m asking these questions: Where am I serving in these three areas? Could I fill in an organization, group of people, or person in each category?
What about you? What does each degree mean for you, and how is it lived out in your life?
Written by Mark
Written by Rebecca Marie-Jo Flores
The feeling of a fresh journal when you press your pen on to the first page. Ripping the tags off a new outfit you want to wear. Unpacking a freshly minted Apple product.
There’s something in the human spirit that naturally draws toward new things and fresh beginnings are no different. 2016 has been a doozy of a year for many (seriously, what was that about?) and the prospect of its end brings the hope of a new start.
Humans are pretty much engineered for fresh starts. Our brain is hardwired to respond to new stimuli as a part of our learning processes. This allows us to neurologically wire our understanding of life, ourselves and the natural order of things. It allows us to grow, to push forward into creating new stories, new inventions, to adapt. The unending opportunity for fresh beginnings and the new discoveries they bring are a part of what makes our humanity remarkable.
Even God seems to think new starts are pretty sweet. Here are 7 verses on what the Bible says about them to usher in your new beginning in 2017.
He's faithful in making the new reveal itself in your life.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”
— Revelation 21:5
God gives his people new songs of praise.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”
— Psalm 40:3
He is the author of a renewed spirit.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”
— Ezekiel 11:19
He makes new ways out of the wilderness.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
— Isaiah 43:19
Living in the new is our responsibility and privilege.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” — Ephesians 4:22-24
He's still creating things unseen.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
— Isaiah 65:17
And in Christ, he's given us a fresh start.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
You don't have to wait until the new year for a fresh start because his mercies are new every morning.
"Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
— Lamentations 3:22-23
This article was originally published by RELEVANT Magazine on December 29, 2016.
Hi, my name is Whitney, and I’m a backseat driver.
I don’t really know when it happened. As a kid, I relished sitting in the front seat, serving as navigator to my mom or dad on long car rides. Back then I wasn’t concerned with how they were driving or the routes they wanted to take; after all, they were the adults and knew what they were doing, right? I was perfectly content to look out the window for mile markers and exit signs and compare what I saw outside with the atlas on my lap.
But anymore I almost can’t stand riding shotgun. Correction: I almost can’t stand myself riding shotgun. Nowadays it’s rare for me to be someone else’s passenger. I spend at least 10 hours a week in the driver’s seat going to and from work and running errands, and I am the one thinking about how I’m driving and deciding - sometimes last minute - which direction I’m going to go. So when it’s my turn to play passenger (typically to my husband), I can’t seem to fully relinquish control to the driver. My husband is likely too polite to say anything negative about my behavior; considering the number of gasps and *suggested* directions that pass from my lips, I find that quite impressive.
As I’ve been meditating on this, I realized this scenario is a metaphor for my relationship with God. God is of course the driver. In the driver’s seat of my life, he can look in the rearview mirror to see my past, check the side mirrors to see what’s happening in my present, and look forward through the windshield to see what’s up ahead. He’s like my parents were on road trips, handing me an atlas, helping me to notice the road signs placed along my path and setting parameters for my journey. As the front seat passenger, it’s my job to do what I can to assist him, the driver, which means listening to his instructions, trusting his judgement, and communicating with him frequently along the way. Just like I did when I was a kid. However, things start to go awry when I start acting like a backseat driver. I act as if I have the point of view of the driver, but from the passenger seat I can’t see all the he sees no matter how hard I try. Any decisions I make from this perspective are shortsighted. Busy focusing on critiquing, I’m oblivious to the signs he’s placed along the way, miss my exits, and land us on an unnecessary detour.
So I’ve decided to take a lesson from my younger self and sit back and enjoy the ride.
Written by Whitney
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.