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August 21, 2016

One of the great joys of running this blog is receiving letters to the editor. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those letters this week concerned Adam Ford’s guest article Some Things You Should Know About Christians Who Struggle With Anxiety. I have chosen to print only letters related to that subject. I hope you find them both interesting and thought-provoking.

I have a 17 year old daughter who also has Generalised and Social Anxiety disorders. I found this article a remarkable inside view to living with anxiety and I really value that insight. The one thing I would have appreciated Adam’s perspective on is the use of medication to treat anxiety (perhaps this would be a great follow up article). I think there is a huge misconception amongst Christians that using medicine to treat disorders such as anxiety or depression is a cop-out. Many think that Christians should be leaning on God and faith to overcome these disorders. This misconception does not acknowledge the severity of living with anxiety. We don’t think twice about taking medicine for diabetes or asthma, so why is there still a resistance to treating anxiety and depression medically?
—Joan C, Johannesburg, South Africa

***

The topic of anxiety, panic attacks, etc is a persistent one and also controversial. Our thoughts are quite opposite to the views expressed in the article. True physiological problems are able to be diagnosed by laboratory tests. There are no blood tests, urinalysis, or internal scope which are routinely used to diagnose the ailments mentioned in the article. Rather a set of observable behaviors and attitudes are used to determine them. Sadly, these diagnostic lists are very subjective and the behaviors are easily faked by clever individuals. We have known of this happening.

Various family members & friends have experienced anxiety, depression, panic attacks or such episodes. Those who are Christians acknowledged that at the outset for them it truly was a spiritual matter. Their desire to be in control of their situations over-rode their desire to depend on God’s best and His provision. When medication was prescribed, there was a change in actions, but at times the behavior changed at will, too. It was disturbing to read a Christian site, and for another to confirm by sharing the article to a wider audience, that lack of trust in God and His provision for His people is not a spiritual matter. From the beginning God declared it to be so and there is nothing to indicate He has changed His mind.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. God bless you
—Ruth M, Gorham, ME

***

Tim, I am thankful for your blog and the wealth of biblical wisdom it provides. I had a heart to respond and share my journey with anxiety. I hope it brings encouragement. Thank you Adam for bravely sharing your story about your struggles with Anxiety. Unlike you, I have always been an introvert and had struggled with anxiety since childhood. Anxiety has run all through my family on both sides for generations. I do not normally write a reply to a blog, but as I read your story, my heart ached for you. I could not resist to share my story of God’s deliverance from a period of time when my fear became overwhelming, just as you described. My desire is to bring you hope and encouragement that there is freedom from this prison of fear.

As I share my experience, let me start by saying that I hope that any part of my story does not sound as though I am an expert or that I have all the answers, I don’t. I only boast in Jesus Christ who graciously set me free from this bondage. Like most people, as you mentioned, I kept this anxiety to myself. I was the “good” girl, the “strong” Christian, a Pharisee at heart. I falsely believed that I had to hold everything and everyone all together, including myself. I grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home. At some point in my early childhood, a lie was planted deep into my heart. After doing something wrong, my father whom I greatly cherished, told me that I would be sent to an orphanage if I continued to be bad. I was also taught that God kept a record of wrongs and to be careful not to get 3 black X’s in the sky. This created a very fear based relationship with my earthly father and God my Father.

After receiving Christ as my Savior as a teenager, I still struggled with fear and rejection. After being baptized as a young adult, I was chosen to share my testimony which included struggling with social anxiety. But it was not until many years later, with two teens of my own, when severe trials and suffering hit our family. It was then that I experienced my first panic attack. I was not only being attacked by panic, but all my hopes and dreams for the Christian family I envisioned, was being destroyed. It was a huge dark battle. I don’t think I shared my panic attacks with anyone. My husband knew I was struggling, yet even with him, I did not fully disclose the severity. Like you described, your whole world gets turned upside down. Simple pleasures such as driving, shopping, eating (which includes fear in swallowing and choking), taking a bath, walking in a crowd of people, traveling to new places, even breathing, all became an overwhelming scary burden.

Looking back, I do believe that a big part of this trial was to prove my faith genuine and to lead me to full assurance in Christ. (1 Peter1:6-7) To root out the lies of my heart and bring true healing and freedom. During that time of fear, I could not sense God’s presence, but I do believe now, that He was closer than I ever realized. I believe the Spirit was bringing me out of my bondage to fear and leading me to receive the Spirit of Adoption where I now cry “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15).

Today I have confidence knowing that God first loved me. I no longer I am trying to earn his favor(slavery), live in fear of being sent to an orphanage (rejection), or that He will disown me by getting three black X’s in the sky (performance). The love of Christ has cast out my bondage to fear (1 John 4:17-19).

During my battle, I desperately clung to God’s Word and cried out in prayer for God’s mercy. I also read some books such as Anxious for Nothing by John Mac Arthur and Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick that were great resources to help me renew my wrong thinking. I think most of my fear was initiated in my mind by wrong thinking and self focus. By grace, I learned to take every wrong thought captive and focus on God’s attributes, meditate on His Truth, and behold the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I gradually was set free and have not had a panic attack for a long time now.

More recently, I have grown to love Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones. His sermon on “A Spirit of Bondage” (John 3:8) and “Freedom from Fear” (Romans 8:15) now help me to better understand the many different aspects of fear in the believer as well as the unbeliever. MLJ says that godly men such as Augustine, Whitfield, and Luther struggled with this very thing. How encouraging! Once set free, look at the impact they have had on so many for the Kingdom of God. I believe the same for you.

(Just a sidenote…Since that dark time, God has been restoring our broken family. shortly before my father’s passing he told me that he became born again, my mother rededicated her life to the Lord, my daughter who was missing for weeks was blessed with a son (our first grand baby). God is so gracious, loving, and merciful. May He continue to write our story for His glory.)
—Barbara P, Orange, CA

***

I just wanted to thank you for posting this article, but most especially to Adam for having the courage to write it. My wife has been struggling with debilitating anxiety for several years now. We don’t understand it, why it is happening, nor how to help others understand. Reading Adam’s words was like watching my wife and our life together. Most days I donst get it, but Adam has given her words she has not been able to express to me and so many others around us. I am humbled as a result. Sincerest thanks from the bottoms of our hearts.
—Sean F, Reading, PA

***

Thank you for your openness. I do understand that the purpose of writing this piece was to give people a window into anxiety disorder. It was helpful for that. But it did seem to give the impression that it was completely physiological and therefore not something God was able to change. First of all, God can change the physiological. And also, a disorder like this involves the spiritual and emotional, the whole person. God is at work in all of these areas. Are you able to write a follow up article describing how the gospel has worked in your life to change you? How you have been able to overcome aspects of this disorder to get outside yourself, and serve others?
—Jeremy P, Middleboro, MA

***

I appreciate the author’s perspective, his sense of humor, honesty, affirmation of the power of the gospel within this situation. Nonetheless, the story also seemed to beg the question: why the change? what happened to begin this anxiety disorder?
—Steven I, Three Hills, AB

The Bestsellers
August 19, 2016

Today I continue this series of articles that takes a look at books that have been awarded the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes Christian books that have reached 1 million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the 10 million mark. Today we turn our attention to a book that was based on a movie, both of which promised to strengthen and even save marriages.

The Love Dare by Alex & Stephen Kendrick

The Love DareBy 2008, brothers Alex & Stephen Kendrick had begun to make their mark as Christian filmmakers. While their debut film Flywheel (2003) had made only a tiny splash, Facing the Giants (2006) had earned more than $10 million on a minuscule $100,000 budget. For their third film they had a half million budgeted and hired Kirk Cameron to play the leading role. Fireproof was released in September 2008 and though the reviews were tepid, Christians flocked to it, earning it more than $30 million at the box office.

Fireproof tells the story of “a heroic fireman locked in a failing marriage who accepts his father’s challenge to take part in a 40-day experiment designed to teach both husband and wife the true meaning of commitment.” With his marriage on the rocks, Caleb Holt takes the “The Love Dare,” a challenge designed to improve his marriage by transforming the way he relates to his wife. Over 40 days he becomes a changed man and, through these changes, wins back the heart of his bride. It is a hopeful movie that culminates in a happy ending.

Fireproof

The book The Love Dare was timed to coincide with the release of the film that introduced and featured it. The book’s website describes what it is and what it is meant to accomplish: “The Love Dare personally leads you through daily devotionals, records your thoughts and experiences, and ends each day daring you to perform a simple act of love for your spouse. This 40-Day journey equips you to melt hardened, separated hearts into an enduring love that can withstand the flames of fear, pride and temptation. The Love Dare will help you reinforce and enrich your marriage, earn back a love you thought was lost, and hear more about the One who not only designed unconditional, sacrificial love—He illustrated it. In a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day, learn how to rescue and protect your marriage from the firestorm. Take The Love Dare and FIREPROOF your relationship.”

Sales & Lasting Impact

Fireproof proved to be a successful movie and it aptly introduced the premise and promise of The Love Dare. Interestingly, the book became a greater success than the movie that inspired it. It quickly made its way onto the New York Times list of bestsellers and by 2009 had already sold more than a million copies, thus receiving ECPA’s Platinum Sales Award. To date it has sold more than 4 million copies.

Reviews of The Love Dare were generally positive, at least among Christians who understood its premise and who were grateful for its emphasis on Scripture and prayer. Amazon contains more than 1,800 reviews where it is averaging 4.5 stars. Many reviewers tell of the difference the book has made to their lives and marriages.

On the flip side, some reviewers pointed out that the transformation Caleb and his wife experience in the movie is good storytelling but not entirely realistic. Many Amazon reviewers tell that they benefited from the book personally but lament that it did not have the desired effect on their spouse. Some relay this with deep, sad disappointment.

Since the Award

The Love Dare generated the inevitable associated products: The Love Dare Day by Day, The Love Dare for Parents, The Love Dare Bible Study, Living the Love Dare perpetual calendar, and so on. Meanwhile, Fireproof was the Kendrick brothers’ breakout success and would soon be followed by Courageous (2001, $34 million earned at the box office) and War Room (2015, $73 million). The Love Dare proved that a book could be a valuable accompaniment to these movies and both of their subsequent films was accompanied by one, a novelization of Courageous and The Battle Plan for Prayer for War Room. As far as I know, the Kendrick brothers have not yet announced their next film.

Kendrick

A Personal Perspective

While I caught an early screening of Fireproof, I did not read or review The Love Dare. I chose not to read it largely because of resistance to its very premise. While I am sure that much of the book’s counsel was sound, I was uncomfortable with the idea that something as deeply difficult as a struggling marriage could be fixed by following a 40-day plan. That is especially the case if only one spouse is following it. The book’s advertising copy is a clear example of overselling its potential: “This 40-Day journey equips you to melt hardened, separated hearts into an enduring love that can withstand the flames of fear, pride and temptation. The Love Dare will help you reinforce and enrich your marriage, earn back a love you thought was lost.”

I know that many people read the book, followed the plan, and saw changes to their marriage. Well and good. But I know other people—people I love—who dutifully followed the plan only to see their spouse grow more distant. Their attempts to love were met with anger. Their marriages were just too broken, their spouses too hardened. For these people the book simply could not meet its promises.

In the end, I suppose we just rejoice that the book was genuinely beneficial to some and really did transform marriages. Then we allow it to remind us that at times the consequences of sin are so deep and dark that simple solutions are simply not enough.

3 Keys To a Powerful Prayer Life
August 18, 2016

Every Christian comes to find that prayer is difficult. Prayer is a tremendous joy and a tremendous blessing but the joy and blessing come through tremendous difficulty. Thousands and tens of thousands of Christians have written about prayer and offered their counsel on becoming more skilled, more consistent, and more confident in this precious discipline. I was recently reminded of David McIntyre’s counsel as offered in The Hidden Life of Prayer and it both encouraged and motivated me to pray and to pray all the more. Here are his 3 keys to a powerful prayer life.

A Quiet Place. The first key is a place of quiet, a place that is free, or as free as possible, from distractions. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seclusion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” Of course today we have distractions that may arise from the very devices we use to pray—the iPhone that houses our prayer app, for example—so we need to take special care that we “silence” our devices so they do not distract us.

A Quiet Hour. Having found a quiet place, we also need a quiet, committed period of time. This is the second key. “For most of us it may be harder to find a quiet hour. I do not mean an ‘hour’ of exactly sixty minutes, but a portion of time withdrawn from the engagements of the day, fenced round from the encroachments of business or pleasure, and dedicated to God. … We who live with the clang of machinery and the roar of traffic always in our ears, whose crowding obligations jostle against each other as the hours fly on, are often tempted to withdraw to other uses those moments which we ought to hold sacred to communion with heaven. … Certainly, if we are to have a quiet hour set down in the midst of a hurry of duties, and kept sacred, we must exercise both forethought and self-denial. We must be prepared to forgo many things that are pleasant, and some things that are profitable. We shall have to redeem time, it may be from recreation, or from social interaction, or from study, or from works of benevolence, if we are to find leisure daily to enter into our closet, and having shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in secret.” The most important appointment you make every day is the one you make with God. All of life’s other responsibilities will threaten to encroach upon this time. You will be constantly tempted to neglect it. But it is too good, too sweet, to miss.

A Quiet Heart. With place and time secured, we now face the most difficult task—securing the heart. McIntrye is right when he says “For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart.” Prayer is difficult when we are hurried or surrounded by distractions. Prayer is more difficult still when our hearts are withdrawn, when our hearts are distracted, when our hearts are uninterested in praying. McIntrye shows how this has been the challenge of many great Christians: “Stephen Gurnall acknowledges that it is far more difficult to hang up the big bell than it is to ring it when it has been hung. Mc’Cheyne used to say that very much of his prayer time was spent in preparing to pray. A New England Puritan writes: ‘While I was at the Word, I saw I had a wild heart, which was as hard to stand and abide before the presence of God in an ordinance, as a bird before any man.’ And Bunyan remarks from his own deep experience: ‘O the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God’.” It is difficult but necessary.

Christian, find a quiet place and a quiet time where you can quiet your heart before God. These are the keys to powerful prayer, to effective personal devotions. If you need further inspiration, consider Jesus himself:

Crowds were thronging and pressing Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.

Now, if it was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!

 

August 17, 2016

The Prince of Peace once told his disciples “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Many antagonists have interpreted this to mean that Jesus incites his followers to acts of violence—if not physical violence, at least relational. In their view Christians are cruel, Christians are mean, Christians are eager to separate themselves from anyone who disagrees with them.

But any fair reading of the Bible will show that sword is not meant to be understood literally. No, sword is meant metaphorically, as a representation of conflict—the inevitable conflict that will come to Jesus and to those who follow him. Just as a sword divides, Jesus will divide. But who will he divide? What will be the nature of this division? “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This sword will disrupt and at times even destroy the most natural, precious relationships any of us can have. Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters will be sliced apart, divided from one another.

Jesus is the sword. His gospel is the sword. Every Christian soon finds that the most divisive thing he can do is tell someone else about their sin and their need for a Savior even or especially the ones he loves most. He finds that living for Jesus brings even greater and deeper division. The thrusts of this sword are acts of love, care, concern, pleading. I think of Keith Green and his “Song To My Parents:” “There’s a heaven waiting / For you and me / I know it seems every time we talk / I’m only tryin’ to just make you see / And it’s only that I care / I really only want / Just to see you there.” His relationship with his parents was strained and breaking because he had turned to the Savior and now pleaded with his parents to do the same.

The gospel that is beautiful and transforming to God’s people is ugly and odious to those who are not his people. The gospel that so satisfies those who believe it revolts those who reject it. This difference in taste, this difference in perception, brings division. It divides so that the One who brings peace to the Christian’s soul also brings division to his relationships. One commentator says it well: “Hostility against Christians results not from their making themselves obnoxious but from the sad fact that … sometimes the gospel so alienates unbelievers that they lash out against those who would love them for Christ’s sake.” It isn’t the believer who pushes away the unbeliever, but the unbeliever who pushes away the believer. This distance is caused not by the believer’s hatred but by his love—love that is rejected and despised.

Christian, you cannot be surprised when you experience division. You don’t need to seek this division or long for it or glory in it, but you do need to expect it. Jesus and his gospel bring division between those who embrace him and those who reject him. As Matthew Henry said, “Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation.” Even with those you count nearest and dearest to your heart.

August 15, 2016

You have probably bumped into Adam Ford before, either through his comics at Adam4d.com or through his satire at The Babylon Bee. Over the past couple of years I’ve come to enjoy Adam as a friend and recently asked if he’d like to try his hand at another medium by penning a guest article. He obliged and this is the result. I trust you’ll benefit from it.


For 7 years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your Christian friends and family who struggle with anxiety.

It changes us.

Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone, or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really.

It’s not a Matthew 6 or Philippians 4 issue—it’s a physiological issue.

Pre-anxiety-me would probably have scoffed at this. But having an anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being a worrywart. Most people with anxiety don’t go to the doctor and say, “I dunno doc, I can’t stop worrying about stuff.” Most of us go to the doctor with troubling physical symptoms, and only then do we learn that anxiety is the cause. In my case, I went to the doctor thinking I was having a stroke or some major brain issue. In reality, I was having my first panic attack. When the doctor told me it was anxiety I thought he was crazy or that he was not taking me seriously. I was convinced I was experiencing medical trauma! My entire central nervous system was telling me so. And then this guy tells me I have anxiety. It was surreal. I’ve had tons of people tell me that this is their story as well. This is not the same type of anxiety that manifests mainly as nagging worry. We have a mental disorder, not a control problem.

We know it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense to you—or us, most of the time. It’s called a disorder because it is a disorder—our brains are malfunctioning. We know our thoughts are illogical. We know there is no good reason for our adrenaline to be pumping like we’re running from a T-Rex. We know it’s just the anxiety messing with us. But knowing that doesn’t help a single bit.

Having anxiety doesn’t make us overly concerned about things as much as it makes our brains short-circuit as a feeling of certain impending doom envelops us. Being in an anxiety pit is a feeling that can’t be explained, and in bad times it’s a feeling that’s with us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. It’s our life.

The feeling of doom is very real to us. As real as anything else.

You can tell us everything is OK, and sometimes we know it’s true. But the monster of anxiety will still assure us, louder than anything else, that everything is wrong, nothing is right, every bad thing that could possibly happen is certainly going to happen and there’s simply no other alternative. We are convinced we’ve ruined everything we’ve ever touched, worked on, or looked at. It’s so real and in our state of panic, it feels more real than anything else. Have you ever been in a temporary state of seriously elevated anxiety? That feeling that your heart is in your throat and your stomach has dropped through the ground—it’s that real to us. It’s panic. When panic hits us, it takes over, and invokes an immediate and overwhelming need for escape. We have to live with it.

We’re exhausted all the time.

Think back to a very high-stress situation you’ve been in, when your fight-or-flight response took over. Adrenaline flowing, heart pounding, vision altered. You probably collapsed into your bed shortly thereafter, your body depleted from expending all of its energy reserves. That’s our life when we’re going through a bad anxiety spell. It’s utterly draining to get through even a non-eventful day. Many days we’re ready for bed by lunchtime. Our brains are clouded. We’re experiencing derealization. We can’t think straight. We can’t process information. We can’t focus. We can’t remember things. We’re sorry for sometimes being grumpy or irritable because of this.

Please know we’re not just blowing you off.

We know it seems like we are, but we’re not. We’re sorry for canceling plans. We’re sorry for declining invitations. We’re sorry for leaving early. We’re sorry for not following up. It’s not you, it’s us. It’s our anxiety. Upcoming events, even minor ones, can foster a serious sense of dread for people with anxiety disorders. Sometimes the only way to relieve the pressure so we can get back to living is to eliminate the source. We live in constant fear of anxiety triggers and snowballs. And need to be alone much more than most people. Social situations quickly exhaust us, and we reenergize with solitude. It’s not that we don’t like you.

Having friends and loved ones who are OK with all of this stuff is priceless.

To have those few beloved friends who know we have anxiety and know it makes us act weird, but they’re cool with it and they still love us and pray for us and let us deal with it the best we know how—this is such a blessing from God.

All we can do is be honest with you.

If someone tells you that they have an anxiety disorder, they’re being brave. If someone cancels plans with you and openly tells you it’s because their anxiety is through the roof right now, they’re choosing to tell the truth and be vulnerable with you, instead of trying to save face by telling a half-truth or looking for a scapegoat. The best we can do is be open and honest about our struggles with anxiety. And if we do that, we’re doing well.

The gospel is everything to us.

We live a life in which our feelings actively try to kill us. It’s a strange existence. We know better than most that feelings can be filthy, stinking liars. While subjective feelings try to do us in, the objective truth of the gospel is what sustains us. It’s our life raft.

The fact that God chose us before the foundation of the world, sent His Son to die on a cross for us, taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins, granting us eternal life in perfect bliss with Him in heaven—this is what sustains us through many dark times. I don’t know how I could go on without this truth sustaining me. This is the anchor of our soul: That our status before God is secure because it’s not dependent on our turbulent feelings, it’s dependent on the finished work of Christ, and when God looks at us, even when we’re being smothered by a wet anxiety blanket, he sees a beloved child, perfectly clothed in the full righteousness of Jesus Christ.

When you know we’re struggling, send us a little reminder of the beautiful truth of the gospel. It might be a blessing bigger than you know. Tell us what Christ has done. Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)

August 14, 2016

The kingdom of God is in every way opposite to the kingdom of this world. We see this clearly described in a powerful bit of preaching from an old Wesleyan minister. His text was Matthew 16:24-25: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

If God has called you to be truly like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. He will put on you such demands of obedience that you will not be allowed to follow other Christians. In many ways, He seems to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Others who seem to be very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and scheme to carry out their plans, but you cannot. If you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others can brag about themselves, their work, their successes, their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. If you begin to do so, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but God may supply you only on a day-to-day basis, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, a helpless dependence on Him and His unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.

God may let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit, but He will make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. Then, to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done; this to teach you the message of the Cross, humility, and something of the value of being cloaked with His nature.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, and with a jealous love rebuke you for careless words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.

God will take you at your word. If you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot. Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways which others are not dealt with. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.

The Bestsellers
August 11, 2016

Today I continue this series of articles that takes a look at books that have been awarded the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes Christian books that have reached 1 million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the 10 million mark. Today we turn our attention to a book that uses a fictional story to make a real-life and deadly serious point.

The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn

Jonathan Cahn was born into a devout, reform Jewish home in New York. He revoked his faith as a child, declaring himself an atheist, but when 20 years old, encountered the Christian faith and determined that Jesus is the Messiah. Today he is President of Hope of the World ministries and both Senior Pastor and Messianic Rabbi of the Beth Israel worship center in Wayne, New Jersey.

Jonathan Cahn

One of Cahn’s particular interests is biblical prophecy and it was this that led him to write his debut novel The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future. It released in 2012 and very quickly made a tremendous splash. With only a few exceptions, the Christian novels that sell a million copies are what we might call didactic or theological novels—novels that use fiction not simply to tell a story but to instruct the reader. The Shack and its redrawing of the Trinity is an obvious example and The Harbinger very clearly falls into this same category.

Within the story are claims that the author insists are factual, biblical, and of critical importance. He claims to reveal an ancient mystery that holds the secret to America’s future. He tells how this truth has been hidden in the pages of the Bible until he uncovered it. The book is essentially a lengthy exposition of Isaiah 9:10: “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; The sycamores are cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.” It is, in fact, a two-level exposition of this text, applying it both to ancient Israel and to contemporary America. An excerpt of dialog will help show what he believes and what he means to teach:

“But what does America have to do with ancient Israel?”

“Israel was unique among the nations in that it was conceived and dedicated at its foundation for the purposes of God.”

OK…”

“But there was one other—a civilization also conceived and dedicated to the will of God from its conception…America. In fact, those who laid its foundations…”

“The Founding Fathers.”

“No, long before the Founding Fathers. Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as a new Israel, an Israel of the New World. And as with ancient Israel, they saw it as in covenant with God.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning its rise or fall would be dependent on its relationship with God. If it followed His ways, America would become the most blessed, prosperous, and powerful nation on earth. From the very beginning they foretold it. And what they foretold would come true. America would rise to heights no other nation had ever known. Not that it was ever without fault or sin, but it would aspire to fulfill its calling.”

“What calling?”

“To be a vessel of redemption, an instrument of God’s purposes, a light to the world. It would give refuge to the world’s poor and needy, and hope to its oppressed. It would stand against tyranny. It would fight, more than once, against the dark movements of the modern world that threatened to engulf the earth. It would liberate millions. And, as much as it fulfilled its calling or aspired to, it would become the most blessed, the most prosperous, the most powerful, and the most revered nation on the earth—just as its founders had prophesied.”

The correlation between ancient Israel and modern America allows Cahn to read the Bible’s prophecies in such a way that they apply equally to both nations. “Before its end as a nation, there appeared in ancient Israel nine specific warnings and omens of national destruction – These same nine Harbingers are now manifesting in America with profound ramifications for America’s future and end-time prophecy.” These warnings, he says, are real and must be heeded before it is too late.

Sales & Lasting Impact

The HarbingerThe Harbinger was an immediate smash hit. By 2012 it had already crossed the 500,000 mark and the next year it was awarded the Platinum Sales Award for surpassing 1 million sales. It has since more than doubled that total. While sales were brisk and reader reviews were enthusiastic (currently 8,436 at Amazon with an average of 4.5 stars), the book also received a number of serious critiques for both its quality as a novel and its theology. When addressing the latter concern, most critics pointed out that Cahn violates basic and well-established rules of biblical interpretation by applying to America prophecies given to ancient Israel. The Berean Call made this clear: “Cahn gleans nearly all of his correlations connecting America with a prophecy made to Israel from one verse—Isaiah 9:10. To begin with, this verse applies only to the tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who, along with the Southern Kingdom of Judah, comprise God’s covenant people. All the way through TH , the United States is presented implicitly as a nation in covenant with God. No, God has only one covenant nation—the nation of Israel.”

Many reviewers also pointed to the dubious correlation between words recorded in the Bible and historical events that have since taken place in or to America. “The nine harbingers are selectively (and erroneously) taken from Scripture and are then given life by the comparison to similar things surrounding 9/11, which are then identified with Isaiah 9:10.” But, of course, similarity does not indicate identity.* One reviewer concluded that “The Harbinger is a distraction from properly understanding the Word of God, particularly prophecy and so can legitimately be characterized as dangerous. It conveys what the author believes is a prophetic message, but the book clearly does not meet the tests for a prophetic Word from God.”

Since the Award

Not surprisingly, the success of The Harbinger generated some unique opportunities for Cahn to spread his message. At the United States Capitol Building he spoke before a number of national leaders after being introduced by Mike Huckabee who described The Harbinger as “remarkable,” “soul-stirring,” “stunning,” and “spell-binding.” Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily produced a two-hour program featuring Cahn which further popularized his work. He was also featured on The 700 Club where Pat Robertson praised the book and recommended it to his viewers.

The Harbinger spawned a number of related resources, the first of which was The Harbinger Companion, a study guide of sorts. In 2014 Cahn released The Mystery of the Shemitah: The 3,000-Year-Old Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future, the World’s Future, and Your Future! and this September is set to release The Book of Mysteries, a daily devotional in which “the reader will discover life-transforming secrets, mind-blowing realities, and heart-changing revelations in such mysteries as the Face in the Waters, the Leper King, the Land of Gezarah, the Secret of the Third Prince, the House of Spirits, the Mystery of the Rains, How to Alter Your Past, the Second Scroll, the Similitude, the Mystery of the Eighth Day, and much more.”

A Personal Perspective

I read The Harbinger after receiving a number of requests for a review. I found it difficult to read as a novel and utterly exasperating as a work of theology, though I was at least glad to see that the author included a clear and substantial call to believe the gospel. I mostly left the heavy lifting to others while focusing on a couple of salient points, the first of which is one of the benefits of writing fiction: “What stood out to me as I read The Harbinger … is that writing fiction allows the author to dictate his reader’s reaction. He can present a mundane fact and follow it with a gasp or an expression of awe as if the reader has missed the obvious importance. This is something Cahn does often and to his advantage. What seems like a great stretch in logic can be rationalized or given increased credence by a character’s excitement.” It’s a tactic he uses regularly and effectively.

I concluded this way: “It’s not that The Harbinger has nothing good to say, but that so many of even those good things are built upon a poor and even dangerous foundation. The book depends upon a fundamentally flawed way of understanding and applying the Bible, treating the Bible as a mystery to be solved rather than a clear and sufficient explanation of what we are to believe concerning God and how we can live in this world to his glory. There is no good reason to read or recommend this book.” I stand by those words and assume it applies equally to Cahn’s other works.

 

3 Ways College Students Can Do More Better
August 10, 2016

My friend Peter Krol loves the Bible, he loves college students, and through the ministry DiscipleMakers he loves to bring the two of them together so college students can better understand, appreciate, and obey the Bible. I recently spoke to Peter about some of the challenges faced by college students today and asked whether the principles I lay out in my book on productivity might be helpful to them. In response he kindly wrote this article telling why productivity is for college students, too.


God Almighty’s intention to bless every nation has always included young adults and students.

Remember Joseph? Kidnapped and sold into slavery at age 17, he spent the twilight of his teen years serving, and then managing, the household of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Unjustly accused, he found himself in prison for a few more years. But “the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed” (Gen 39:23). These years became his training ground, preparing him to manage Pharaoh’s food stores and rescue the world from disaster. Facing his kidnappers, he could later say with confidence: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5).

Remember Daniel? Also kidnapped and enslaved at a young age, he was forcibly enrolled in Babylon U to study the literature and language of the Chaldeans. After three years at this indoctrination center public institution, he outshone the civil servants and imperial advisors of his day by a factor of ten (Dan 1:20). He outlived and outwitted not only his royal captor, but that king’s successor, and the next as well. Daniel would see the empire itself fall and another take its place (Dan 1:21).

Remember Mary? This favored one, newly engaged and planning a wedding, would certainly have qualified for student loans, had such things existed in the days when Gabriel visited her with life-changing news (Luke 1:26-33).

Of course, these three twenty-somethings helped prepare the world for another young savior. A son of Joseph and Mary would be accused unjustly. And Persian magi, likely informed by the handed-down teachings of Daniel the Wise, would bow before the one born King of the Jews. The young Jesus would himself increase in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), thus preparing for his most fruitful years.

In short, God’s agenda to bless all nations has always involved motivated young adults and college students. Perhaps you’ll be one of them.

Do More Better

In his book Do More Better, Tim proposes a vision and a system for biblical productivity. The vision is to bring the greatest glory to God and the greatest good to mankind. The system involves applying good tools (calendar, tasks, and information) to your areas of responsibility (personal, family, church, work, etc.). The vision and the system work just as well for college students as for other busy adults; college students will just need to account for the seasonal nature of university life. As you prepare for the coming school year, here are a few suggestions to help you implement the system.

Establish Work Hours

Many students complain about how busy they are, in part because too few of them view their studies as they’d view a job. You can buck this trend. Your chief identity may be “college student,” but that doesn’t mean your studies should rule your life—any more than your future career would rule your life. If you plan to reserve time for hobbies, personal growth, church involvement, and family life then, you should begin to do so now.

In my previous post about the end of the semester, I suggested designating a workweek of not more than 60 hours. When I was a student, my work hours were 9-6 Monday through Friday (with an hour lunch break) and 9-3 on Saturdays. I avoided 8 am classes like an evil stepsister. A few semesters required evening courses, and I would adjust my work hours accordingly to buy back some personal time.

But establishing work hours is the easy part. The hard part is consistently treating them as work hours. This means that, when you are “on the clock,” you should be working. Strain out all distractions. Find good places to study. Always work on the next thing, even if it’s not due right away. Resist the urge to goof around if nothing demands your attention.

If you have a class at 9 am and another at 11 am, don’t squander the hour in between. Find a quiet lounge or unused classroom somewhere between the two buildings, and put the hour to good use. Someday, when you have many demands on your time, and children interrupting you at every turn, you’ll appreciate having learned the skill of squeezing the life out of your sporadic down time.

Here’s the beauty of having defined work hours: When they’re over, you don’t have to do any more work that day. Without a trace of guilt, you can set the schoolwork aside and do things you enjoy. Spend time with people. Get to know your hall mates. Attend or lead a Bible study. Join a small group at your church. Participate in a few clubs. Read something just for fun, or go for a jog.

Commit to a Few Extracurriculars, Including Church

This principle follows from the first one. If you establish defined work hours, you’ll be free to commit to other things in the off hours. You can keep your promises to attend extracurricular meetings. You can join and serve your church-away-from-home.  You can disciple and be discipled. You can learn a new sport or promote an important cause. You can get to know your peers deeply and win some to Christ. You can get adequate rest.

Before the semester begins, define your areas of responsibility. Sample areas could include: church, campus fellowship, sports team, special interest club, or residential life. Create a “project” for each area, with a view toward developing as a young adult before the Lord.

As you organize your tasks within each area, you’ll be more likely to avoid some of the extremes:

  • Recluses make Minecraft, Netflix, and YouTube their only friends.
  • Resume-builders join every club while committing to none.
  • Relational-types can’t turn down an opportunity to hang out, have fun, or go to a party.

What you do now sets you up for sustainable long-term service to Christ. What will help you grow into a mature, thinking Christian adult and a magnetic influencer of others? Give yourself to those things.

Blitz the Task Manager Early

On or near the first day of class, enter your complete class syllabi into your task manager (such as Todoist). It may feel costly to take 2 or 3 hours to do this. But when you combine these documents into a single task manager, you’ll know, on any day of the semester, exactly what is the next thing you should work on. You’ll save loads of time—and retain peace of mind—from week to week.

Don’t Give Up

In Do More Better, Tim recommends a daily and a weekly review of tasks, appointments, and priorities. If you set up the system before the semester begins, and stick to it week in and week out, your semester just might go smoother than a greased watermelon down a bowling alley.

But you’ll still have crunch times, tempting you to abandon “the system” in favor of “the urgent.” Some weeks will have three or more exams. Or your professors will conspire to overload you with unannounced assignments. Or group projects will involve fellow students who don’t pull their own weight. Or a family crisis will prevent you from focusing on anything for a few days.

During these crunch times, remember that God has given you this lot. And he makes everything beautiful in its time (Eccl 3:10-11). In other words: You are not God, and your life does not consist in the abundance of your pain points. Because God never sleeps, you can sleep (Ps 121). Because God is always working, you can get some rest (John 5:17). The world will continue turning, and life will go on.

Get some help to figure out the next thing, and do it. As soon as you can, get back on the daily and weekly reviews. But if you do abandon the system, you can always learn from the experience and try it again next semester. Don’t give up on it altogether. There’s too much to be done.

Avoid Vanity

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

You don’t need to dedicate four years of your life to vanity. Productivity is for college students, too. May the Lord use these skills to prepare you for more fruitful service to him in the years ahead.

Peter Krol is president of DiscipleMakers campus ministry. He blogs at Knowable Word, where he helps ordinary people learn to study the Bible.