What Makes Me Anxious? Life!

My freshman year in high school, I ended up with a late lunch period with mostly upperclassmen I didn’t know. I clearly remember walking down into the cafeteria unsure and fearful about where I should sit. I tried eating with a few freshmen I didn’t know and then with some sophomores I barely knew. In both cases I felt unwanted, an intruder. So for the next few days, I tried another tactic: I sat by myself at an empty table. It took care of my social anxiety, but now I felt shame at being perceived as a complete misfit, provoking only more anxiety. So I made a crucial decision: I quit going to the lunchroom and ate lunch by myself in the locker room. Sure, I was lonely, but I wasn’t anxious anymore.  

This story exemplifies my modus operandi with anxiety, something I have struggled with all my life. There have been the usual anxious thoughts over money, future, and career. But my anxiety goes deeper. It’s not just worry about this or that; it’s anxiety about life itself. I tried to avoid most of it by simply sticking to the few things I was good at. But this tactic cost me dearly. I was in bondage to anxiety, trapped emotionally, and unable to grow into a man. How did Jesus come and save me?

The same way He did it with the disciples when he fed the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44). There is something so important about this miracle that it is mentioned in all four gospels. It communicates something crucial about Jesus, both His person and the kind of life He is calling us into. And it is the only miracle where Jesus creates the crisis that only He can solve. Here they are, out in a desolate wilderness, with literally thousands of people flocking to hear Jesus’ words. Sounds great for the ministry, but there’s only one problem. No food—and no place to get it. Then Jesus stuns the disciples by insisting that they provide the food for the massive crowd. Talk about an anxiety-producing situation! Finally, He asks the disciples about their own provisions, which are ridiculously miniscule compared to the need.

So into this crisis, Jesus comes as the true Shepherd to provide rest, provision, and guidance, the great lesson He wanted to teach those disciples. The people are instructed to sit down in the green grass, which grew in wilderness places after the winter rains. The picture of resting on green grass evokes images of Psalm 23 (lying in green pastures). And there is not just sufficiency to fill each stomach, but superabundance. Each disciple went around with his customary basket and filled it with the leftovers.

So what does this have to do with my anxiety? Just like the miracle, Jesus created a crisis in my life, asking me to leave behind financial and emotional security and start a ministry. Into that turbulence, He has shown up repeatedly as the good Shepherd, offering rest, provision, and guidance in unexpected ways. In a way I could have never predicted, it has freed me from the bondage of anxiety. If he can do that for this anxiety-prone heart, He can do it for anyone.

Trust me. Just ask Him.


The Call To Leave Our Families

During this time of growth in Jesus’ ministry, opposition came from an unexpected source, his own family. His brothers, through misunderstanding or perhaps jealousy decided that Jesus had lost his mind and came to take him away (Mark 3:20-21). Imagine your kid brother announcing that he was going to be President someday. How would you react? Cynicism, criticism, trying to keep him in his place? All of these and more is what Jesus dealt with in His own family.

In the face of this situation, Jesus made a shocking pronouncement: "Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35). This weighty declaration forever changes family relationships. Blood is no longer the deepest or most powerful bond. It’s the bond to Jesus. He is creating a whole new family, one that calls for leaving the old family system behind, especially when it is idolized or stands opposed to God’s will. And the one who bonds to Him as a member of His family is the one who seeks and does the will of God, whatever that means. In that radical obedience, we find another family, with Jesus as our elder brother and fellow disciples as brothers and sisters.

But isn't Jesus being insensitive to families here, and what about the command to honor your mother and father? Here's the answer: Jesus is not dissolving the family. He is asking us to leave our families so that we can truly be a family. 

Every family system is dysfunctional in some way because every family system is corrupted by sin. I know of one family where the father used anger as the primary means of control, leaving a trail of carnage; another that put expectations on one sibling to prop up the rest of the family, expectations that almost broke that person; another that simply didn’t know how to talk about anything beyond trivialities, leaving family members to fend for themselves, and finally another where the mother continually dominated the father always capitulated. Entire family systems can be built around shame, or keeping up the family name, or simply demanding that everyone stay in line.  

My own family system was one of a father controlled by work, disconnected from his children and unable to encourage or engage them. In my disgust over him as a teenager, I left for college, hoping never to return home and trying very hard not to be like him. But years later in an argument with my wife over something unrelated, she finished with these words that crushed me: “You are just like your father.” Somehow in all of my running, I had simply repeated the pattern of being tied to work, emotionally distant, and unable to enter into real connections with others. To truly leave my family and follow Jesus, I had to grieve the loss of being fatherless and then confront my father with my anger and sadness. It was a messy business that took lots of conversations and tears. But as we reconciled, I found myself unexpectedly able to become my own man, and then surprise of surprises, I found myself able to love him and even honor him.

All of our stories with our families are different, and the journey will look different for each of us. But only when we leave the false identities that we have inherited, consciously or unconsciously from our families, can we truly take the identity Jesus has for us, and only then can we go back and truly love our parents and our families. Until then we will forever enmeshed in a system that will hamstring us.

But when Jesus enters, He changes everything. He comes to free us.


The War All Around Us—And In Us

We are at war. No one likes the reality of it, but that doesn't make it go away. All throughout history and all throughout Scripture, there is a war going on between good and evil, between God and Satan. It is this conflict that is drives the plotline of so many ancient myths and modern day stories. It is this conflict that drives the plotline of our lives also. But the Scriptures are replete in injunctions not to be afraid, even of this war. The way we fight is to know the work of our enemy so that we can stand against him.

The story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-20 can really help us here, clearly showing both the work of the enemy and the work of Jesus to undo Satan's work. The description of the man before Jesus encountered him is pathetic: driven from his family and community, incessantly crying among the tombs, and mutilating himself with stones. It is a graphic picture of the work of Satan. His tactics are to tempt, deceive, and accuse us, but his goal is to cripple, maim, and destroy the image of God in us. The story in Mark shows only the most advanced state of such a goal, total possession.

Yes, there is a malevolent power seeking to destroy us. It may sound overly dramatic, but I know it’s true from hearing countless stories of abuse, abandonment, sin, and shame. It’s also my own story. In early adolescence, during a time of feeling unwanted and disconnected, I remember looking in the mirror in my father's bathroom and hating what I saw. As I left the bathroom, I remember thinking, "The only way I will ever be happy is to try to be someone else." Satan took that lie and tormented me with it for years, seeking to destroy my unique gifts and calling. For how can anyone live out his God-ordained destiny when he is always trying to live in someone else’s?

But there is more to this story in Mark. Jesus comes with a demonstration of such power that the demonic spirits are forced to leave the man. He allows them to enter a herd of nearby pigs to reveal their destructive intent to the surrounding community. What about the man? He is freed and restored to his right mind. Satan came to destroy, but Jesus came to destroy his work (I John 3:8). As we put words to those lies of Satan and resist him, Jesus will do that same work in us, freeing and restoring us.

He has done just such a work in stunning ways, both in my life and in the lives of others with whom I have closely walked. To be free to own my gifts and use them for the Kingdom is just a sweet and beautiful release. He can and will do the same thing for anyone who follows Him.

For His truth will set us free and win the war.

Only His truth.



The Tug-of-War Inside All of Us

There is an inner tug-of-war in all of us, a tension that drives so much of our outer life. Here it is: We long to be known, and at the same time we're terrified of it.  

So many of our patterns of relating and our failures to love can be traced to this tug-of-war. Which side wins? Usually our terror. Hence the lifelong attempts to cover ourselves, only redoubling the power of shame in our lives. We lock up our longing to be known in a dark closet, treating it as we would an abused child, hoping it will go away. But the longing remains and calls out to us, sometimes insistently, sometimes unexpectedly, and so the tug-of-war keeps yanking at us.

Enter Jesus. Take the story of how he dealt with Levi, the tax collector. Here was a man despised as a traitor by his fellow Jews. Tax collectors not only worked for a pagan government, but they also made their living by overcharging the required tax, as much as they could get away with. As a result, they were excommunicated from the synagogue, and their families were held in disgrace. They were so mistrusted that their testimony in court was not considered reliable. Yet Jesus chooses this despised man to be His disciple.

But the story gets even better (Mark 2:14-17). Levi throws a party and invites the only friends he has, other tax collectors and low-life. What do they do? They eat together. Eating in that culture required a certain physical intimacy, as they reclined together on couches. It also implied an emotional one, as hearts were shared over the food. The text in Mark even suggests that Jesus was the real host of the party.

Imagine the impact on Levi and his friends. They had been despised and shamed much of their lives, and now a famous rabbi and teacher wanted to be close to them. Jesus just saw them so differently than they saw themselves, and it began the dismantling of shame. We don’t know what happened to Levi's friends after the party, but we do know what happened to Levi. He was so revolutionized by Jesus that he eventually penned the Gospel of Matthew.

That same revolution can happen to each of us. How does shame get healed in our lives? How do we learn true intimacy? It comes as we allow Jesus to re-image how we feel about ourselves. The binding power of shame is that it ends up defining us, but the truth is that only He knows who we really are. He says that we are His beloved, and He is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11).

I have watched Jesus begin to free others into their true selves, but the real reason I can write about this is my own life. It's happening to me. When we allow ourselves to be seen through His eyes, we find shame yielding to glory, and we experience the wonder of being known—and being enjoyed—all at the same time. 

It's the beginning of the end of the tug-of-war.