Monday, August 18, 2014

Oh, the Stress (II Timothy 4:6-18) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school and making small talk to put his subjects at ease.  "What are you going to be when you grow up?" he asked one little girl.  The little girl paused and then replied:  “Tired."

Here are some humorous comments about stress.   “Reality is a leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.”   “I used to have a handle on life, but mine broke.”  “I'm not stressed out.  I've just been in a very bad mood for 30 years.”  “I'm not saying I'm stressed, but I've been seriously thinking about billing my doctor for the time I spend in the waiting room.”  “You know you're really stressed when you start getting on your own nerves.”  I'm not saying I'm stressed at work, but I've been taping pictures of my boss on water melons and lauching them from high places.”

Anyone here know anything about stress?  Stress is a normal and inevitable part of life, everyone faces it.  You are not alone.   Stress influences how we interact with others and how we feel about ourselves and our future.   We generally use the word "stress" when we feel that everything has become too much - we are overloaded and question if we can cope with the demands and pressures placed upon us. 

When demands are felt to greatly exceed our ability to cope with or deal with them, we are stressed out.  Stress includes feelings of tension and anxiety.  It's the wear and tear our minds and bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment.     One definition is that stress is the combination of a stressor and the body’s reaction to it.  Stress is the body's response to changes that create taxing demands.  Stressors are triggers that cause us to experience stress. They can be major life events or small daily hassles.  Being stressed can be a temporary condition or chronic.

Stress must be taken seriously.  It has been linked - directly or indirectly to hypertension, cancer, depression, ulcers, and heart disease.  

Surprisingly, stress can be a positive in your life.  Yes, I said positive.  Sometimes stress get's you going and is good for you.  Positive stress provides mental alertness and efficiency.   Positive stress feels exciting, generates energy and improves performance.  It can increase self-esteem.  Without any stress wouldn't our lives be boring?  Wouldn't they feel pointless?  Stress can help to motivate you, to help you focus, and drive you to meet your deadlines.  It can give an extra burst of adrenaline to help you meet your goals. 
Positive examples of stressors, which may seem daunting at times are planning a wedding, having a baby, moving to a new community, buying your first home, graduating from college or getting a new job or being promoted at work.

But when the stress undermines both our mental and physical health it is negative. Negative stress feels overwhelming and out of your control.  It threatens our equilibrium and well-being.  Examples are the loss of a job, divorce, a car accident or illness.   Physical signs of distress include: changes in eating or sleeping patterns, weakness, dizziness, frequent headaches, neck and back pain, and frequent colds and infections.  Emotional signs include: persistent hostile or angry feelings, increased frustration with minor annoyances, nervousness, lack of concentration, anxiety, and depression.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical danger.   Symptons, like recurring flashbacks, continue to occur.  The mind and body reacts as if you are still in immediate danger.  PTSD is common to war veterans, the VA deals with this regularly, but it can also result from other traumatic incidents, such as a mugging, rape, child abuse, car accidents, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.  

I think of the stress President O'bama and his cabinet is under given the state of the world today.  He knows Americans generally don't support more involvement or sending more ground troops to Iraq.  On the other hand, an evil terrorist group, Isis, is rolling over northern Iraq, killing and displacing innocent people.  They are threatening genocide against Christian minorities in Iraq.  They have committed attrocities against Muslims and Christians.  Obama, as we have heard, has decided to send humanitarian aid and to authorize military air strikes to attempt to stop this terrorist group from commiting genocide.  Our prayers are with the president and his cabinet, the brave pilots conducting the strikes and the innocent people of Iraq.  

In our passage from II Timothy, the apostle Paul is under stress.  He is in prison in Rome.  I’ve personally been in a number of prisons in CA, not as an inmate, let me be clear, but when I was a Criminal Justice major at SDSU, and just being in a prison raises one’s anxiety level.   

The apostle Paul is writing to his close friend and associate Timothy from prison.  Paul knows that his death is near at hand. “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  In his time of deepest need, Paul’s friends had deserted him. “Demas has deserted me, Crescens has gone, Titus has left. Alexander, the metal worker did me a great deal of harm.  In speaking of being in court and defending himself against charges, no one came to my support, and everyone deserted me.” 

The Apostle Paul openly and honestly shares his feelings in that situation.  Have you ever been stressed out?   What are some antidotes to stress?  How can we better cope with and reduce stress in our lives?  Certainly we know that getting regular exercise, learning to meditate and relax, getting rest, taking a break, and other things are important antidotes.  But I offer some insights based upon this lesson. 

First, know who you are and whom you are called to serve!   Paul opens this letter with the testimony: “Paul, an apostle (that is, one who is sent) of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.”  Paul knew who he was.    

The 5th century B.C. Greek philosopher Socrates said:  “Know thyself!”  What does this mean? I think it means know your capabilites, your limitations and your strengths, know your heart and your mind.  Know who created you and who called you.  Know the one whom you ultimately serve and are accountable to.   If you don’t know who you are, you are vulnerable to allowing others to define you and you are susceptible to collasping in despair when challenges face you.  

Our faith says: ”I know who I am because I know whose I am.  I am made in God’s image.  I am a forgiven sinner.  I am a child of God.  I am a servant of God.  I am a friend of Christ.  I am loved by God.  I am accepted by God.  Christ is with me.”

Second, know your purpose, what you’re trying to accomplish!   Paul’s mission was clear:  God had called him as an apostle to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.  He writes: “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all of the Gentiles might hear it.”  Seek a clear sense of your purpose in every situation of your life.  Sometimes we find ourselves asking – “What in the world am I doing, why am I here, what am I trying to accomplish?”  Seek clarity in your purpose and persevere.   This may be a situation in the church or in a relationship or at work or in the community or in your family.   Know why you are doing what you're doing.

Having a plan, setting priorities and goals is critical, because otherwise you’ll be pressured to follow or conform to other people’s ideas and expectations about what you should be doing. You’ll feel pressured to do things which you may not feel in your heart is right for you.

Certainly we listen to others, I'm not saying that.  For sometimes they are right and other times they are wrong.   Don't assume others advice must be right or must be wrong.  Filter it through your sense of your own purpose and priotities.

Third, seek out support from others.   Paul writes: “Do your best to come to me quickly.”  There is an urgency here.  He doesn't say “hey, give me a buzz when you have a moment, text me when you get a chance.”  But rather - come quickly.   Reach out to others.  Communicate with others, don't let your pride stand in the way.  Talk to others you trust about your situation and the overwhelming pressures you are feeling.  Shun the Superman/Wonderwoman urge, “I can handle it by myself.”   God will work through others to sustain you.   You need other people for spiritual and emotional support.  

When something is stressing you out, don't bottle it up; share it with a trusted friend.  Paul, virtually alone in prison, further writes: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.  Only Luke is with me.”    Reach out for help from others.  It is amazing how most people are ready to listen, pray with you and give support.   God will speak and reveal himself through others.

Fourth, keep your focus on God!  Keep God at the center, maintain your daily walk with the Lord, know whom you truly worship and depend on and rely on.   Look at your schedule for the day or week and pray: “God, out of all the things I could do, how do you want me to spend the time you have given me.”  “Or God these are the things I must do, I pray for strength and guidance and peace.”  Spending time in prayer for God’s guidance will reduce anxiety and stress and bring you peace. 

Sometimes in the midst of life’s burdens, stress and pressures we lose our focus and turn away from God, the source of life.  We take a detour from nourishing our soul, our spiritual life and try to solve the problems alone.   When we lose our spiritual focus, stress quickly builds.  Recall Paul’s words in Philippians:  “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Make a commitment to maintaining a regular pattern of worship and personal prayer and time in the word. 

The apostle Paul makes the following request: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.”  These would have included the O.T., perhaps the Gospel of Mark, a scroll of the teachings of Jesus, copies of his own letters and other important documents.   Paul knew these resources would inspire him.  

I love his closing words: “Everyone deserted me, but the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.”  “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly Kingdom.  To him be glory for ever and ever.”

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