Anxiety or Trust

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:6).

The challenges of life are more than sufficient to give anyone an ulcer. It only seems to get worse as we get older.

It seems to start with concern about growing up, how we look, how we are perceived, and what we plan to do with our lives. We may get to the point where we worry less about ourselves but then tend to get anxiety regarding the welfare of friends, spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, and others. Then there are the ever present concerns about acceptance and advancement in our society in general, the direction of our culture, the welfare and prosperity of successive generations, and the constant dangers from physical and spiritual forces which may work against us. This is more than any of us can bear!

As Paul is finishing up his first conclusion to his letter to the Philippian Christians he exhorts them to be anxious in nothing (Philippians 4:6). They are not to allow anything to cause them to worry. Seems like something far easier to say than it is to do, doesn’t it?

Paul does not leave the Philippians without a solution; instead of being anxious they are to let their requests be made known to God in everything through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is the way forward: Christians should not presume to hide anything from God since He can see all things (Matthew 10:26-30). We must always make our prayers and requests with thanksgiving so that we do not presume upon God’s past covenant faithfulness and loyalty as Israel did, acting as if every present challenge has become an existential crisis and forgetting all that our God has done for us in making us, saving us, and blessing us in life (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). Thus the Philippians were not to be anxious but to take everything to God in prayer.

How is prayer the solution to anxiety? In order to make sense of it we must first recognize what we are really doing when we worry.

As humans we want to feel in control of situations; we do not handle the feeling of powerlessness very well. In a very real way anxiety and worry are the ways in which we attempt to exert control in situations in which we are afraid we have no control. We worry about the decisions others make because we may not have that much influence over them. We are anxious about the future because we do not know what it portends. When we do not have power over anything else we at least have control over our thinking about it: hence, worry.

By telling the Philippian Christians, and by extension us, to take everything to God in prayer, Paul is really telling them and us to put our trust in God and not in ourselves. We are not in control; such is a hard and sobering truth, but it’s reality. As Jesus makes clear, anxiety and worry do not help us in the least; no situation is made better because we worried or were anxious about it (Matthew 6:27). We do better to relinquish what control we think we have to the One who does have control over the heavens and the earth and who seeks to give us good things (Matthew 28:18-19, Romans 8:31-39).

In terms of anxiety and worry we must “let go and let God”: He can handle it, for we cannot. What will come of us? We should entrust ourselves to God in prayer, submitting in faith so that we can be vessels to be used for His purposes and praise. What about our parents or children? Entrust their care to God who watches over them and who can direct their steps. What about the future? The future will have its own trouble; Jesus is Lord now and will be Lord then, and we have no promise of tomorrow anyway (Matthew 6:34, James 4:14). What about the fate of this nation, or the economy, or our culture? Such are as the grass of the field, here today, gone tomorrow; Jesus is Lord (1 Peter 1:24). What about all the forces of evil, sometimes physical but primarily spiritual, which are arrayed against us? He who is in us is greater than he that is in the world (Ephesians 6:12, 1 John 4:4).

Not much has changed over the years; “in nothing be anxious, but in everything let your requests be made known to God” is as easier said than done today as it was when Paul wrote to the Philippians. But he’s right. We do well to take it to heart. May we not find ourselves paralyzed by the anxiety of the challenges surrounding us but in all things entrust ourselves to God in Christ through prayer!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Anxiety or Trust

Shutdown

For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

Early in the morning on 01 October 2013, all non-essential functions of the United States government shut down after no agreement could be made in Congress to continue to fund the government’s operations. Yet another showdown regarding the “debt ceiling” loomed large at the time as well, possibly putting the “full faith and credit” of the United States government at risk. Many people will lose income; many tasks will be left undone. Politicians, pundits, and American citizens argue and debate regarding the process, nature, and wisdom of these events and are concerned about the future.

This particular episode highlights the challenges that come with earthly government. All of us find ourselves as citizens of some earthly government or another; Paul used his privileges as a Roman citizen to his advantage in proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 21:39-40, 22:23-30). Christians have an obligation to honor and respect earthly governments and their officers, obeying all regulations consistent with the purposes of God, and paying appropriate taxes (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Therefore, worldly government has its God-given purpose on earth, and we do well to respect that. Nevertheless, for generations, people have put too much confidence and emphasis on government, for good and for ill. The Israelites during the Second Temple period experienced persecution and oppression by pagan governments, but their solution always seemed to involve a Jewish government that would prove equally ruthless against the pagans. In various ways some have looked to earthly rulers to promote and maintain Christianity, from Constantine to almost the present day, leading to the Crusades and the Inquisition. Others are convinced that the Gospel should be advanced through government legislation, as if people will follow after God if the state requires it. Far too many expend a lot of time and energy into politics and political causes, imagining that they will find fulfillment in life by advancing some cause, however truly noble or ignoble, through political channels. For many the ultimate goal is the imposition of their particular views on politics and government to prevail at the expense of others; if they accomplish that, they will be satisfied.

Yet there is one trend that always proves true about any sort of human organization, be it government, corporations, non-profit organizations, and so on: they never can fully deliver on what is promised. They are filled with fallible people who often make mistakes; many are corrupted by the lust for power and money and serve themselves and their associates rather than seeking the welfare of all of their people. Even if one can find good rulers making good laws and seeking the welfare of their people, there is no guarantee that it will last: the next generation of leadership might prove corrupt. One legislator’s life work could be undone quickly by others in the future! Furthermore, in order to make everyone happy, decisions are made that most often make no one happy. Politics demands compromise; no one ever gets all of what they want; it gets messy and complicated, just as the shutdown illustrates. As human endeavors they can lead to some good but never can achieve the ultimate good. We were never supposed to put our faith in them as our saviors and redeemers (Psalms 20:7, 146:3).

In Jesus of Nazareth God invites us to find a higher calling and better citizenship, as Paul indicates in Philippians 3:20. Early Christians suffered all sorts of indignities, even unto death, because they declared that Jesus was truly the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God, and not Caesar (Revelation 13:1-10). On account of His death, resurrection, and ascension, God gave Jesus a Kingdom that would never end, and He would rule in righteousness, mercy, and justice (Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14, Revelation 19:11). Through the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and ultimate return, the good news of the Gospel, all men and women are invited to submit to the lordship of Jesus the Christ, the King, and serve Him in His Kingdom, manifest on earth as His church, the congregation of the people of God, and obtain rescue and redemption from sin, death, and all evil (Acts 2:14-41, Romans 1:16, 8:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Colossians 1:13, 18). We have every reason for confidence in the Lord Jesus and in our service to Him; He has not failed in His promises and will not fail us. If we put His Kingdom and righteousness first, and serve Him, we build up treasure in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-34). It will not fade away or decay. It will not be corrupted by a later generation. It will not suffer a shutdown. It will continue to exist and accomplish the purposes of God who established it. And Jesus will gain the ultimate victory over sin, death, and evil, and all who are His will share in glory forevermore (Revelation 19:1-22:6)!

The United States government might experience a shutdown, but the Kingdom of God in Christ will never shut down. Jesus has shut down the powers of sin and death through His death and resurrection, and on the final day, all of the evil powers will find themselves shut down and condemned (Romans 8:1-23, Revelation 19:1-20:15). On that day Christians will experience glory beyond comprehension, and all their confidence in the Lord Jesus will be more than justified (Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). God’s power to save comes through the good news of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ, not by the sword or by gun or by legislation or a non-profit organization or any other such thing. Let us put our trust in God in Christ, become citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, and in all service await the return of our Savior on the final day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Shutdown

Being Abased

I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want (Philippians 4:12).

Apocalyptic scenarios seem to fascinate us. There is never a lack of television shows that describe, often in gruesome detail, the various ways in which our lives may end as we know them. Most of us must confess that we have watched one or more of these shows at times. It is one thing to think about such situations in the abstract while we maintain our comfortable existence. But what if one or more such scenario actually came to pass?

Unfortunately, many have recently been faced with an apocalyptic scenario in life– their homes ravaged by earthquake, tornado, flood, or fire, and in a moment, everything is gone. If the disaster itself was not bad enough, then there is the aftermath– days, perhaps weeks, dependent on outside organizations for food, shelter, and other necessities of life in the worst cases. Sadly, such people learned what it meant to be abased on account of the disaster, if they had not already learned that lesson before because of other circumstances.

Living in bounty is relatively easy; most of us, most of the time, are filled and abound. In fact, not a few of us are probably too filled and abound a bit too much! But what would happen to us if we ourselves experienced immediate humiliation?

Imagine, for example, that the power goes out. It goes out where you live, where all of your friends and family live– in fact, the power has gone out across the nation. And the power does not come back on for years. What then? Pretty much everything we have grown to depend upon is based on electricity and computerized systems. Where would we find the basic necessities of existence? How would we cope if all of our comforts and luxuries vanished in a moment?

How do you think people would respond to such a disaster? How many people would blame God, wondering how He could allow such a terrible thing to happen to us? While such is a natural and understandable response to the calamity, let us think soberly for a moment. Where did God ever promise us a nice, comfortable existence featuring all the benefits of the modern world with its electricity and technology? Everyone in the Bible lived without them. Nevertheless, how many today, in such a situation, would still find fault?

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that being abased in such a way would be a bitter pill to swallow. While it would most likely be the end of our lives as we knew them, would it be the end of the world? Would it still not be true that God has given us the gifts of this creation, our lives, and all the spiritual blessings He provides in Christ (John 1:1-3, Ephesians 1:3)? God would remain good, even in such difficult circumstances for us. Such a calamity might force us to relearn what it means to depend on one another and cooperate with one another so that we can survive!

If you are still reading this, it means that the electricity is still on, our technologically advanced lives continue, and we still live in relative comfort. Odds are still strong that the electricity will stay on until the Lord returns. And I hope that we do not miss the point because of the example– there are innumerable ways that we may find ourselves abased in this life, and we have only mentioned a few calamitous ones. Yet we do so in order to force us to think about how we would respond and react to being abased. Can we still maintain our faith and hope in God even if we find ourselves humbled and in want? Can we still bless and glorify His name even if we find ourselves in distressing circumstances? May we all grow in faith so as to praise and glorify God no matter what circumstances may be in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Being Abased

The Profit of the Many

Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

To say that we live in a self-aggrandizing world would be an understatement. It certainly seems as if most people are out for “#1,” and “#1” is not God or family. According to worldly standards, we must work toward our own best interest, advancing our own agenda, because if we do not stick up for ourselves or try to get a bigger piece of the pie, then others will come in and take what could be ours. Television is now dominated by oversized personalities, and while they may have certain ideologies or causes, much of what they are attempting to do boils down to self-promotion. The more coverage– positive or negative– the greater the “media personality,” and the greater the benefit.

The world of first century Corinth was probably not much less based upon self-aggrandizement, and therefore Paul’s message to the Corinthians must have sounded as shocking and radical then as it does now. Paul does not call believers to self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, or even concern for one’s own agenda. Instead, Paul calls believers to not cause offense or stumbling to others. They are to be like he is, not seeking his own profit, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. Our goal should not be to please ourselves, but to please others.

In context, Paul addresses how the believers in Corinth should handle a situation in which they have been informed by a well-meaning pagan that the food they are eating together was sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:14-33). Had the pagan said nothing, there would have been no difficulty– everything belongs to God, idols have no real substantive existence, and food is food (1 Corinthians 10:27). But if he does inform the believer that it is meat sacrificed to an idol, then the believer ought to abstain from eating, not because he would violate his own conscience, but on account of the conscience of the pagan (1 Corinthians 10:28-29). The believer should not be giving the impression that he is honoring any form of pagan idolatry!

But Paul knows that he is walking on a razor thin wire. Jews consider meat sacrificed to an idol abhorrent, no matter the circumstance; Greeks eat it without any concern whatsoever. The church of God at that time is made up of both groups, and 1 Corinthians 8 has already established how the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols has been contentious there! Therefore, Paul feels compelled to lay down these principles. Yes, his liberty should not be determined by another’s conscience (1 Corinthians 10:29). Since God has not condemned, in truth, Paul should not be denounced for eating meat sacrificed to an idol if he partook with thankfulness (1 Corinthians 10:30). Nevertheless, in all that believers do– eating and drinking, or whatever– all should be done for God’s glory and honor (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is why believers are to act without offense to any, seeking to please everyone in what is done, seeking the profit of many (1 Corinthians 10:32-33).

A word must be given about the idea of “pleasing everyone.” Paul is not saying that we should sin against our own consciences or against God in an attempt to please others; this is not a call for compromising God’s standards at all (cf. Romans 14:23, Galatians 5:17-24, etc.). Instead, Paul is advocating a conciliatory approach toward other people, seeking, whenever possible, the path of least resistance and greatest acceptance, while remaining within the law of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21).

In short, we should not be seeking to be ornery or difficult. We must not be obnoxiously asserting our liberties and “rights.” Instead, we must give thought to do whatever we can do seek the spiritual welfare of the many, and not ourselves. As Paul told the Philippians in Philippians 2:3-4, believers should count others more significant than themselves in humility, seeking not only his own good but also that of his neighbor. As Christians, our goal should be the same goal as God’s– that all men may come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). As Christ’s representatives, we reflect upon Him, for good or ill (Matthew 5:13-16). Therefore, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that all we need to worry about is ourselves and our own salvation. We are expressly charged to seek the profit of as many others as we possibly can.

This seems like a pretty restrictive fence– we must not provide occasions of stumbling for the Jews, the Greeks, or the church. We can understand this today in terms of those who tend to at least look like they are self-righteous and sanctimonious in their knowledge of right and wrong, those who are of the world and who think as the world, and those who are of God. It is very easy to start pointing fingers at any of these groups: the sanctimonious are easy targets because of their hypocrisy, the unbelievers are easy to frown upon because of their ungodliness and immorality, and it is easy to bear down upon God’s people because of our love and our desire for us all to better reflect Christ. Yet, in the end, we must not do so. We must seek the profit of the sanctimonious, the unbeliever, and the fellow believer, and to do so at the same time!

This is quite counter-intuitive and counter-cultural; it always has been, and as long as the earth continues to exist it most likely will be. America’s myths of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and the icon of the “self made man” do not make this any easier. Ultimately, however, our goals must not be the same as those of the world around us. Many will not understand why we would live thus, but we do it to please the God who redeemed us. We must remember, at all times, that Jesus came not to please Himself but to please others, that He did not seek His own profit, but the profit of us all, and that while His cross is reckoned as a stumbling-block, it is only thus for those who refuse to believe– in truth, the cross kills the hostility and allows the Jew and the Greek to be one in the church of God (cf. Matthew 20:28, Romans 15:2-3, 1 Peter 2:1-8, Ephesians 2:11-18).

It is hard work to please others and not ourselves. It is challenging to not provide occasions of stumbling. But let us remember that as God loved us and gave His Son for us when we were alienated and unlovable, so we must love our fellow man, even if he seems unlovable (Romans 5:6-11). Let us not seek our own interest, but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Profit of the Many

Think on These Things

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

The human mind is a most wonderful and profound entity. Its depths and its abilities are only now beginning to be plumbed and understood. There is much about the mind that is beyond our understanding; perhaps it will always be that way.

Yet there is one undeniable aspect of the mind– the power of its meditations. We humans have been given the ability to think our way through all kinds of challenges and difficulties. We have the ability to focus on the positive in the worst of times. But we can also focus on the negative even in the best of times. On account of our mental attitude we may survive and endure; we can just as quickly wither and fall apart.

This is why Paul encourages Christians to focus on the positive– that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Paul’s idea is that if we focus our minds on things like that, our attitude, emotions, and actions will conform to those excellent standards. We will be better able to express the love and joy that should mark believers (John 13:35, Philippians 4:4).

We all know what happens when we focus on the opposite. When we think about what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and grotesque, our attitudes and actions easily follow, and we find ourselves tempted in sin (cf. James 1:14-15). If our minds are focused on what has no virtue and can have no praise, it cannot be pleasing to the God Who is excellent, virtuous, and praiseworthy!

Yet there is an even more pervasive and subtle difficulty– the “middle ground.” In the “middle ground,” one might not be thinking of practices that are sinful, but one is surely not thinking about what is good. Instead, the mind is filled with anxiety, worry, and negativity. Cynicism and pessimism dominate such a perspective.

As it is written in Proverbs 23:7a, “for as he thinketh within himself, so is he.” While we may not always choose an instantaneous reflex, and while there are some circumstances when the brain’s chemistry is not properly aligned, in general, we have the choice about that which we focus upon with our minds. We may try to blame our circumstances, our past, or some other external factor in an attempt to justify negative or sinful thinking, but in the end, such is just an excuse.

In times of distress it is easy to focus on the worries and to believe that things will continually fall apart; at such times we must endeavor even more to remember what is of value, honorable, lovely, and praiseworthy, so that we can be sustained through the difficulty. Yet it is no less important to remember the positive when things are going well. Too many spend the good times worrying about the bad ones they know are just around the corner.

What Jesus says about the heart is also true for the mind: “for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). If we know that we are of God, and that we belong to God, then we will direct our minds to God and to all of the blessings and benefits of this life. We will dwell mentally about all the good with which He has blessed us and all the wonderful things that He has provided in the creation and through His Son Jesus Christ. But if our treasure is in the perishing and fading world, then our thoughts will focus on the dark and negative, and will lead to our own fading and perishing.

While not everything is in the mind, the mind controls a lot more of our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being than we would perhaps like to admit. Where have we placed our minds? Let us focus on what is divine, holy, and of benefit, and serve Christ the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Think on These Things

The Power of Contentment

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:11-13).

It has been made beyond clear that we are entering difficult times. Economies are struggling. Jobs are being lost. People are losing their homes. Uncertainty abounds. Fear is not far behind.

Yet it is at this time that the power of contentment is made evident. Learning to appreciate what you have and not to constantly seek after what you do not have, while not easy, is the only path to true peace and stability while sojourning on the earth.

You may lose your job, but you will still have other forms of support. You may lose your house, but you will still have a family. You may lose your health, but you will keep relationships. And even if you were to experience the greatest of cataclysms and lose your job, house, family, other forms of support, and health, you still have your soul and the love of God our Father through the Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:35-39).

As it is written,

But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

Contrary to what marketers tell you, you do not “need” a flat-screen television, you do not “need” a cell phone, you do not “need” your own house, two cars, and this, that, and the other. You need God and His strength, and when you seek His way, He will take care of the basic human necessities– food and covering (cf. Matthew 6:33).

When we have the attitude that God, daily bread, and shelter are all we really need, we can be better prepared to appreciate other blessings which God bestows upon us– and better prepared to persevere if they get taken away.

Learning contentment is not easy, but it is the only “recession-proof” attitude. Contentment provides inner peace that transcends the highs of economic prosperity and the lows of economic depression, and stabilizes the faith of those who would believe in God. More importantly, it preserves the soul from overconsumption and the service of the idol of covetousness!

Let us decide to seek contentment in whatever circumstance in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Power of Contentment