“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalms 86:15
Over the last several weeks on Thursday’s we have been looking at the four basic attributes of God that can help us to understand the gospel. (see below for links to previous articles) Today, we will look at the Biblical truth that God is gracious. The word “grace” in the Bible refers to God’s unmerited favor or kindness. God is gracious towards us in that He gives us what we do not deserve. Grace is not something we can purchase, earn or even deserve. Grace is something God gives to us out of His own kindness and love. God’s grace is best understood in light of the previous attribute—His righteousness. God’s righteousness demands that a payment be made for breaking of His rules, but His grace compels Him to offer us salvation.
In Genesis 3:21-24, we see the first instance of God’s grace after the fall. In v.21, God provided clothes made from animal skins for Adam and Eve. This act prepared the way for the Old Testament sacrificial system and the coming of Jesus. In effect, the animals that provided their skins for Adam and Eve were the first in the long line of animals sacrificed in the Old Testament to provide a covering for sin. These sacrifices did not have the ability to forgive or erase the penalty for sin; however, they did provide a temporary covering so that people did not have to deal immediately with the full consequences of sin. Ultimately, all of the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to the coming of Jesus and His complete payment for sin on the cross (see Heb 9:11-14).
It is important to understand that we do not deserve nor have we done anything to merit salvation. God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life is the result of His grace, not our works. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Last week I posted a set of three articles dealing with the issue of anxiety. These posts came about primarily as a result of response to a sermon I had preached the Sunday before. I was shocked by the number of people who stopped me in the halls, or came by my office during the days after the message to talk about their struggles with anxiety. In the midst, it occurred to me that this is a much larger problem for Christians than I had imagined. Here are the links to the three articles I posted last week:
This morning I would like to share with some Bible verses to help you cope with anxiety. I hope that you will take some time to review and memorize some of these verses. If you have other verses that you have found helpful, please share them with us in the comments section.
BIBLE VERSE TO HELP YOU COPE WITH ANXIETY
1.) If you are anxious about the future.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a
future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared” Exodus 23:20
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34
2.) If you are worried about finances or material needs
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:25-34
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26
3.) If you are worried about a decision
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. ” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
4.) If you are worried about opposition or enemies
“in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Psalms 56:11
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12
5.) If you are worried because you are going through a time of testing.
“Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8
6.) If you are worried because you lack strength.
“fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13
VERSES THAT TELL US WHAT TO DO IN TIMES OF ANXIETY
1.) Overcome Anxiety with Faith
“casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
2.) Overcome Anxiety with Prayer
“”Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Later this Spring I will be publishing my first book entitled “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude.”Based on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11), this book offers insight into the relationship between our attitude and character. Jerry Falwell Jr., the Chancellor and President of Liberty University says:
“There is no shortage of books in this world based on the general premise that, if we adjust or eliminate our bad attitudes, our quality of life will improve. In “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude”, Dr. Buchanan moves beyond feel-good rhetoric to focus instead on the source of a healthy attitude – in a heart aligned with the desires and teachings of Christ.”
What I propose in the book is that to develop a Christ-like character we must begin by cultivating what I have termed a “gospel-shaped attitude.” Over the next several weeks I am going to share several excerpts from the book. Below is a section from the introductory chapter explaining the basic premise of the book. I hope that you enjoy it and would love to get your comments and thoughts in the comments section. If you are interested in receiving updates and additional information about the book, please sign up to follow my blog by email. Just clock on the box to the right labeled – Follow Blog Via Email.
Attitudes, Actions, and Character
” Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with a man a named David, who served as my associate pastor when I was pastoring a church in Richmond, Virginia. David is one of those people who everyone enjoys being around. He’s the kind of person who always has an encouraging and uplifting word to say, and every time I gave him a task to complete, he took it on without grumbling or complaining. It seemed that no matter what the situation was around him, David always had a pleasant attitude. Anyone who worked with or encountered David would agree that it was a joy to be around and serve with him. Do you know that kind of person? If you do, then you already know the importance of having a positive attitude. But my goal in this book is to go a step further, to go beyond merely having a good attitude.
What I want to show you is how to develop an attitude shaped by the gospel, which, when cultivated over time, will result in a Christlike character. What makes my friend David such a blessing to be around is that he exhibits the character of Jesus in so many ways. But he did not develop this kind of character overnight. Developing a Christlike character is the result of consistently allowing the gospel to shape the way you look at the world and conducts your life. In David’s life, years of cultivating a gospel-shaped attitude have resulted in people recognizing the character of Christ in his life. In this book, I want to show you how to develop an attitude shaped by the gospel so that, over time, other people will come to recognize the character of Christ in your life.
Simply put, our character is the sum of our attitudes and actions over time. In algebraic terms we could say, Attitude + Actions + Time = Character. The key to developing a Christlike character, therefore, is to cultivate a gospel-shaped attitude. Attempting to exhibit a Christlike character without first adjusting our attitudes would be like trying climb Mt. Everest without learning to tie ropes, use snow shoes, or climb smaller mountains. Sadly, most of our efforts in discipleship have focused on producing Christlike character without dealing with the more fundamental issue of our attitudes. There are no shortcuts in the process; there are no quick paths that will get us to Christlikeness. Character is the product of displaying the right attitudes and making the right decisions over a period of time. With this in mind, I would like to submit that our formula for developing a Christlike character should look like this:”
Cultivated over time
Exhibited over time
“Our pathway for developing a gospel-shaped attitude is found in Matthew 5:1–11, or as this passage is more commonly called, the Beatitudes. These eight attitudes form the opening section of Jesus’ most famous sermon: the Sermon on the Mount. In the subsequent chapters, we will break down the individual beatitudes to discover how each of them is grounded in the character of Christ and the gospel, but for now I want to call your attention to the way in which these attitudes, when cultivated over time, will lead us to a Christlike character.”
From “Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude: Understanding and Living the Beatitudes” (Nashville: Crossbooks, 2013) Copyright 2013 Joseph Buchanan
Every Pastor who has ever lived has had to deal with criticism at one point or another in their ministry. If you have been in the ministry for any length of time at all, I am certain that you’ve gotten a taste of the painful experience of being criticized for something you did. After nearly twenty years of experience in the ministry, I have come to the conclusion that criticism is a normal part of the ministry and can actually help us to grow if we will learn to deal with our critics in a positive and redemptive way. Let me share with you a few of the critics that we all have and how to deal with them:
1.) The Unfair Critic
There are some critics that simply are unfair and mean. I have placed this group of critics first because they seem to be the ones that we get fixated and obsessed with. They are out to destroy you by any means necessary. Every faithful Pastor will have to deal with this kind of critic at come point in their ministry. The unfair critic has been placed in the church by Satan to discourage, intimidate, and destroy Pastors if they can. As Pastors we should never be surprised when these kinds of critics show up in the church. Often they will even been within leadership positions within the church and you will be forced to deal with them. These kind of critics will try to occupy an inordinate amount of your time and will constantly try to distract you from the most important aspects of your ministry. In my ministry, I have found that if I give these kinds of critics too much space or attention in my life I will start majoring on minor issues and not staying focused on what is most important. When dealing with these kinds of critics is best to just let their words roll off your back. Don’t take their criticism personally and always respond with love and compassion.
2.) The Selfish Critic
This is the person who throws a temper tantrum because they did not get their way or do not feel they are being recognized. He or she doesn’t like the way you preached Sunday morning, or that you did no visit them when they had their in-grown toe nail removed, or the music was too loud. So they start going around behind your back and criticizing you. What they ultimately want is for you to give them what they want and to custom the ministry after their own personal preferences. It is common in a church to have a half-dozen or more of these kinds of critics all with a different agenda trying to vie for your attention.
3.) The Injured Critic
Some critics arise simply because they have been hurt and are lashing out in frustration. Often the Pastor becomes the target of these attacks and doesn’t even know why. What I have observed is that often we miss ministry opportunities to help hurting people because we cannot see past their initial criticism. When I was Pastoring in West Virginia there was a man who started criticizing me very heavily and I labeled him as being an unfair critic— actually I would have said he was an “instrument of the devil.” I hate to admit it but I demonized him and simply refused to reach out to him. It was not until after he died that I discovered that he actually was struggling with a great deal of pain and discouragement in his life. As it turned out, he didn’t hate me nor was he sent by the devil to discourage me, he was simply a hurting person who lashed out in a desperate plea for help. Don’t be too quick to label your critics as being unfair or selfish. They may simply be injured and need your help.
4.) The Helpful Critic
The last type of critic that I will mention is the “helpful critic.” We forget as Pastors sometimes that we are not infallible. We sometimes make mistakes and have blinders on that keep us from seeing reality. Therefore we need people in our lives who will be honest with us and tell us where we are messing up. In other words, we need helpful critics who will give us an honest evaluation of our lives and ministries. These men and women can help us to grow in our spiritual lives and ministry but sadly we often shut them out because we are too quick to label every critic as being unfair or selfish. Here is the bottom line, you can always learn from your critics and if you shut them off too quickly you will get stunted in your growth. Don’t obsess over them, but don’t ignore them either. Below are some helpful articles that I have found dealing with this issue:
Today, I would like to look at the third major attribute of God— He is Righteous or Just. In English the terms righteousness and justice are different words, but Wayne Grudem points out that in the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, “there is only one word group behind these two terms.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.203) He goes on to say that “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” (p.203)
The word “righteous” often invokes negative feelings in people. We all know people who are self-righteous and look down on others. Most of us also know people who try to impose their own standards of righteousness on other people. We often refer to these kinds of people as being “self-righteous.” Thankfully, the righteousness of God has nothing to do with either of these kinds of people. When we say that God is righteous, we mean that He cannot make a rule or a promise and then not keep it. In other words, God is always faithful to do what He says that He will do. This attribute of God helps us to understand the penal or legal aspect of the gospel. To see what I mean it may be helpful to read Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-24.
In Gen 2:16-17 God gave Adam permission to eat from every tree that was in the garden except for one, which is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This is a simple and straightforward command. At the end of v.17, God established a penalty for breaking this command, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This is a simple and straightforward command; don’t eat of this one particular tree because if you do you are going to die. For God to be righteous, He must carry out the penalty that He attached to this law. In other words, Adam and Eve had to die after they ate the fruit or God would not be righteous. God cannot simply overlook or ignore the rule. God’s righteousness compels Him to carry out the penalty for sin and this is exactly what He does in Genesis 3:13-19 when announces the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.
A.W. Tozer points out that God’s righteousness would seem to “destroy the hope of justification for the returning sinner.” (The Knowledge of the Holy, p.94) This raises the age-old question that can only be answered by the gospel “How does God spare the wicked and yet maintain His own righteousness?” To answer this question we must look to the cross of Jesus Christ, where the full measure of God’s righteousness and justice was poured out upon Jesus as He bore the full penalty for our sin. In the cross, we can fully see both the righteousness and grace of God being displayed. This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Come back next week, when we look at God’s grace.
A couple of days ago I started a series of posts dealing with the issue of anxiety. The response to these posts have been overwhelming and goes to show how great an issue this is in our society. As I shared on Monday, according to Dr. Robert Leahy, “The average American child today exhibits the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient did in the 1950’2.” In the first two installments of this series we looked at how:
Part 1: The Soul Corroding Acid of Anxiety – In this post we looked at how anxiety is caused by a limited worldview, a low theology, an overestimation of our own ability and underestimating God’s love.
Part 2: The Curse of Anxiety – In yesterday’s post we looked at how anxiety traps us in a vicious cycle that never ends up resolving the underlying problems. It erodes our faith, causing us to trust more in our own abilities than in God’s providential care and how it isolates us from the people who love us the most— including God, our families and our fellow church members.
Today, I would like to turn our attention to the cure for anxiety. How do we manage and overcome the issues of stress, anxiety and worry in our lives? I would like to suggest that the Bible points us to at least three steps we can take to counter anxiety in our lives:
Learn to trust God by getting to know Him better this my seem simple but the truth of the matter is that often anxiety in the life of the believer is a sign that we don’t know God as well as we should. The better we know God the more we will understand His ways and His purposes. But even more importantly, the more we know Him the better we will learn to trust Him. Specifically, I would suggest that we focus on understanding His knowledge, His providence, and His ways. We need to know that God knows what we are going through. In Matthew 6:31-32 Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all of these things, and Your Father knows that you need them all.” I underlined that last phrase because it is a key to overcoming anxiety. God knows where you are, what you are going through and what you need. No matter what is happening in your life right now, GOD KNOWS! But these verses also teach us that GOD CARES. He cares for His people by providing what they need in life. Jesus says in Matthew 6:30, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you…Therefore, do not be anxious…” God knows, God Cares, and God provides. Learn to trust Him by getting to know Him better and you will be able to overcome the issue of anxiety in your life.
Make the things of God the number on priority in your life– far too often we experience anxiety simply because our priorities are out of line with God’s will and purposes. As human beings we have a tendency to focus an inordinate amount of our attention and concern on the temporal things of this world, and not on eternity. I have heard people say that someone is “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” but my experience is just the opposite. I have served as a Pastor for nearly twenty years in three different churches and my observation is that far too many Christians are “too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good.” If we would start setting our hearts and affections more on the things of God, I am convinced that our levels of anxiety would decrease. That is why at the end of this passage in Matthew 6:33 Jesus says, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Anxiety will always fill the heart of the person who is trapped in the temporal concerns of this world, but peace and contentment will come to those who “seek first the Kingdom of God.”
Remember who holds tomorrow– One of the most important lessons that every believer needs to learn is that God is in control! There is no reason to worry about the future when you know who holds the future. So much of our anxiety is caused by a fear of the future. I shared with you in one of the earlier posts that last month I spent several days in the Intensive care unit with issues relating to my blood pressure. When I went into the hospital I was having stroke like symptoms — my entire left side went numb and I could not control my hand or leg. My speech was slurred and for a moment all I could think about was “This is it!” My older brother had a series of strokes before he died last year and I was certain that things were going to go very badly. Honestly, while I was laying on the bed in the emergency room waiting for the ambulance to come and take me to Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah, KY all I could think about was what it might be like if I did not recover my speech and control of my left side. I had watched my brother struggle with similar issues and suddenly my future was looking bleak. I was very scared about what the next days, weeks, months and years would hold in store. The tests showed that this was not a stroke and that the entire problem was created by my blood pressure, which is now being controlled by medication. But for those few days that I was in the intensive care unit, I learned first hand what anxiety about the future means. But I also developed a deeper level of trust for the one who holds my future. The key is this, “None of us can control our future, so we must learn to trust the one who does.” God is in control and He holds all of our tomorrows. The more we learn to trust Him today, the less anxiety we will have about tomorrow.
These three posts have attempted to lay out what Jesus has to say about anxiety in Matthew 6:25-34. I am certain that there is much more that could be said about this subject and would like to invite you to share some of your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.
Anxiety is a curse that slowly weighs us down, eats away at our soul like a cancer and corrodes our joy like acid. The curse of anxiety will eventually steal your life, your ministry and your testimony if it’s insidious effects are not stopped. Yesterday, we looked at the “The Soul Corroding Causes of Anxiety” from Matthew 6:25-34. Tomorrow, I will share with you the cure for anxiety, but today I would like to talk about the curse of anxiety. I want us to see vividly what anxiety will do to the human soul if left unchecked. Let me show you four results of the curse of anxiety:
1.) Anxiety traps us in a vicious cycle.
The simple truth of the matter is that anxiety has never fixed a problem. In Matthew 6:27 Jesus asks, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The answer is not a single one of us. You can worry and fret a problem all you want, but worrying will never change the situation. Worrying only makes the problem worse because it traps us in a cycle of trying to take care of the problem ourselves, but never being able to actually fix anything. In fact, anxiety usually paralyzes us to the extent that we end up doing nothing. When someone comes to my office trapped in the vicious cycle of anxiety, I will say to them, “While God is working on that issue in your life, you need to be doing the things that He has clearly commanded you to do.” Then I will lead them through a process of making a list of the commandments they know that God has given them to do. By doing what they know to do, they will be able to move forward and learn to trust God to take care of the other issues in their lives. Worry will paralyze you by trapping you in a vicious cycle. It is a curse of anxiety and the only way to break free is to trust God by carrying out the clear commands that He has already given you.
2.) Anxiety erodes and dissolves our faith.
A second curse of anxiety is that it will erode and dissolve your faith. If you worry about a problem long enough you will eventually get worn down and think that you must fix the problem yourself. This is a dangerous position because you will be prone to depending upon your own wisdom, strength, and resources to fix the problem. This will almost always result in devastation. At it’s very root anxiety is connected with unbelief. Notice in Matthew 6:31-32 Jesus says, “Therefore, do not be anxious saying ‘What shall we eat? or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Notice that last phrase again, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” When we get anxious or worried about something we start thinking that we have to provide for our own needs or to take care of ourselves. We start to trust in ourselves or something else rather than God. Faith combats anxiety by reminding us that God knows exactly what we need and will provide it at the right moment we need it. Until then our job is to simply trust and obey.
3.) Anxiety isolates us.
When I get worried or anxious about something, I end up withdrawing into myself and isolating myself from other people. I have seen numerous other people do this same thing. The third curse of anxiety is that it tends to isolate us. It isolates us from our families. A few weeks ago I spent several days in the intensive care unit and experienced first hand the corrosive effects of anxiety. The more I worried about my physical health and condition the less that I wanted my family to be around me. That may seem strange, but I found that I was withdrawing further into myself and had a difficult time trying to relate to them. The anxiety that I was feeling was isolating me from the people that I love the most. Anxiety not only isolates us from our families but it also isolates us from God. In moments of intense anxiety King David wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Ps 22:1-2) In this Psalm and many others, David is expressing the deepest emotions that come from anxiety. Like so many others have experienced, David felt as if God had abandoned him. Of course, this was the anxiety talking. The reality is that God never leaves us nor forsakes us, but anxiety is a great curse that will sometimes make us feel abandoned.
The curse of anxiety is all to real for those who have experienced it. Tomorrow I will share with you the cure from anxiety. Until then I would like to invite you to share some of your own stories or experiences with the curse of anxiety.