It’s Not That Important

This post is a point from a recent sermon which I thought was A) important and B) open to some elaboration.  I have taken it and elaborated on it here.

A fifth/final way to escape fear/live apart from anxiety is to see that some of the things we fear are not as important as we think they are. These fears aren’t as great as we make them out to be.

For example, I’m afraid of not being a good preacher and I have been for some time.  It was established very early in Bible college that I was a “good preacher”.  I’ve been called that or told I am that more times than I know.  And that was very pleasing to me when I preached my first few sermons at 14 & 15 years old.  Now, though, some thirty years later, it isn’t so great.  Once you get a title like that, you then have to live up to it.  Like the old gunfighter who has to defend his reputation against every young buck who wants to make a name for himself, I have to defend my reputation.

(When I preached this, I said I thought there was some movie about an old gunfighter defending his reputation.  Somebody shouted out The Shootist.  I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know if that’s it or not.  I do know that I’ve seen this idea in a slightly comic form in this Far Side cartoon.)

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After 25 years, I’ve gotten tired of defending that reputation.  I’ve gotten tired and discouraged of having to prove every Sunday that I am a “good preacher”.  I’ve gotten really tired of having to live up to that label, or, to put it differently and perhaps more poignantly, of having to earn that identity.

Fortunately, the Lord has shown me recently that I don’t have to do this anymore.  He has shown me that “good preacher” is not my identity.  He has shown me that “son of God” is my identity, and He has further shown me that this identity doesn’t have to be proven or earned.  He has, in other words, shown me that being a good preacher is not that important.  What’s far more important than being a good preacher is bringing His word, that is, bringing people a true message from Him.  That’s not the same as being a “good preacher” as that title is culturally understood.  It sounds the same but it is not.  Bring a word from God is far more noble and profound than being a good preacher.  It s also a  lot easier to do and a whole lot less stressful.

Let me give you another example of a fear I have which isn’t as important as it first seems to be.  I’ve always been afraid of visitors not being impressed with my church.  To that end, I’ve obsessed over how clean the carpet is, how good the worship is, whether or not there are any misspellings in the bulletin or the slides, if church members are friendly to the visitors, and any number of similar issues.  It suddenly occurred to me, though, that these worries are completely unfounded.  They are not unfounded in the sense that they don’t happen; they do happen.  But they are unfounded in the sense that they don’t mean much.  If someone rejects my church because there is a misspelling on a worship slide, they would leave my church for any reason.  Keeping such people pleased with everything today merely means they will become displeased about something tomorrow.  There is always the chance they will become displeased about something tomorrow, anyway.  It means such people aren’t and probably never will be in a real relationship with me.  And it is rather silly to worry about losing something that is not a real relationship.

I’m willing to bet there are some things in your life that aren’t that important as you think they are.  I’m willing to bet you are afraid of things that really aren’t as significant as they seem, which really won’t do the damage or aren’t the damage they portend to be.  I don’t know what these are exactly.  They may be like mine.  They may have to do with your reputation or identity in some way, with how people see you or think of you; whether or not they love you/you are loved.  But they could be something else completely.  I don’t know.  I just know we are frightened by things that aren’t really that frightening, and I further know that we won’t be frightened by them anymore if we realize they aren’t as frightening.

If you’d like to hear the entire message this post was taken from, you can find it here.  Enjoy, and may God deliver you from your fears!

I Can Make It

This post contains a short point from a recent message.  I left a part out of this point, a small but critical part which came to me after the message was completed.  I hated that, so I decided to rectify it here.

Another technique I’ve discovered to escape fear/live apart from anxiety is to realize that I have more resources than I think.  Resources (or the lack of resources; that scarcity/poverty lying under the harvest, the threat of not having enough) is a major source of anxiety for me.  That’s what introverts worry about (I don’t know what extroverts worry about, but lack of resources is what introverts worry about ). What I’ve realized lately, though, is that I have far more resources than I give myself credit for.  I have inexhaustible resources, actually, or at the very least i have access to inexhaustible resources.  I am a child of God.  The Father has given me full access to His household; He has put on my hand the signet ring, allowing me to do family business or spend family capital.

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My favorite description of the access I have to the Father’s resources. All He has He counts as mine. I’m allowed to touch and use everything in His estate.

When I have need, then, I can supply it not just from whatever meager resources I have scrapped together (how much money I’ve managed to save, how much sleep I managed to get, etc.) but also and even more so from the Father’s resources.  I can go into the Father’s barn.  I can withdraw from the Father’s bank account.  I’ve always had the ability to do this, I suppose, but I’ve only recently learned to actually do it.  I haven’t been looking at last night’s sleep to get me through the day as  have all my life, but I’ve been looking at God to get me through the day .  When I feel tired, I say, “God, I need something here.”  I say that and I usually seems like I get it.  Energy is usually given to meet my need.

I’m not the only one to discover these resources or the ability to use these resources.  Santa Clause discovered this as well.  I started reading a book about Santa Claus (aka St. Nicholas) yesterday.

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In that book, I discovered this statement about young Nicholas’ growth in the faith:

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Nicholas found he could ask God for strength and receive it.  He found he had access to more resources than his own.  I’ve found the same thing, and it has had a profound affect on me.  I was in a difficult situation the other night.  I was struggling with the same difficulty my wife and I have been struggling with for some time.  As I struggled with that, I looked up to heaven and said to God, “I just can’t make it.”  And immediately I heard God say back, “Yes you can.”  I don’t know if God said that to me directly or said it through the Holy Spirit or said it through my own conscience which He has taught to think as He thinks (any of those ways gets you to the same place), but He said it.  It was said.  “Yes you can make it.”  And that statement was based on this idea.  I could make it through this difficulty because I had his resources to get me through it.  My own resources weren’t sufficient; I rightly realized that.  But I had (and have) more resources than my own.  Those resources are sufficient to get me through this difficulty and any other which comes my way.  That gives me a lot of confidence.  It gives me the same confidence I had when I learned I could run 10 miles.  Before I knew I could do that, I was afraid of running, afraid of my energy giving out when I was far from home.  Once I knew I could do that, I no longer feared running.  I looked forward to it, actually.  I laughed at the distance that once frightened me because I knew I could cover it.

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And that takes away fear.  Understanding that I have these other, better resources which enable me to get through whatever I need to get through disarms my fear.

So that is one point of my message.  If you’d like to listen to the rest, you can find it here.  Enjoy, and may God lead you out of anxiety!

Never Have To Beg

“Remember, Daddy: you promised me a Freeze!”

That was what my daughter said to me this afternoon.  We were pulling into Taco Bell, our traditional Saturday lunch spot.  She had missed out on a chance to get a Yoo-Hoo earlier, so I compensated by promising her a Freeze at the Bell.

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A couple hours later, we were there and she was reminding me of my earlier promise.  And reminding me.  And reminding me.

After the third reminder, which came less than 30 seconds after the first, I realized that I was experiencing one of those proverbial “teaching moments”, and I determined to seize it.

“Listen to me, hun,” I said as we stood in the Bell parking lot, taking both her hands in mine and keeping my voice as even as possible so she would understand I was intense but not angry, “I do remember my promise to you.  And even if I didn’t, I would only need a small reminder.  You don’t ever have to beg me for anything.  I am happy to give you anything you need.”

That (more or less; I think I was a little more eloquent at the time) was what I said to her in that instant.  And I did so not because I wanted her to know something about me.  I did so because I wanted her to know something about God.  I wanted her to realize that she doesn’t have to beg God for anything, doesn’t have to plead with God for anything, doesn’t have to beseech God for anything, doesn’t need to bang on the door of Heaven for anything, doesn’t need to be anxious for anything or afraid she won’t get something.  She doesn’t need to do that because God, like me but to an infinitely greater degree, is happy to give her what she needs.

This is something I have recently begun to realize.  I’ve been routinely praying to God for twenty-five years, a quarter of a century.  I’ve been sporadically praying to God longer than that.  And for most of those years, my prayers have had a desperation to them.  I have pleaded with God, tried to bargain with God, persuade God, reason with God, make my point, etc. ad infinitum.  It suddenly dawned on my sometime this year, though, that all this is unnecessary.  If God is good (which the Bible repeatedly says His is and which nature strongly suggests), He will simply supply these things.  He will supply them not because I have successfully begged them out of Him.  No, He will supply them because He is a supplier.

Now I know you might question this a little.  After all, doesn’t the Scripture talk about “wrestling in prayer”?  Yes, it certainly does.  Paul uses that phrase in Colossians 4, and Jacob demonstrates the idea in Genesis 32.

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Paul doesn’t say what Epaphras was wrestling in his prayers, though.  It may well be that he wasn’t wrestling with God (which is how I imagine many interpret this verse) but rather with those spiritual forces who oppose the will of God.  And, yes, Jacob wrestled with God until he was blessed, but I’m not sure the Scripture says that his wrestling was what really got him blessed.

No, I think God gives because God is a giver.  I think God gives apart from begging and desperation.  I think God is exactly like the father in Luke 15 who told his eldest son:

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That son didn’t need to beg.  He did need to ask (which is how families work but apparently not what he was doing).  But he didn’t need to beg.  He didn’t need to get desperate or fear.  My daughter doesn’t, either.  Nor do we.

Jehovah Jireh

Facebook showed me this “memory” today:

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That was me doing a little bouldering at the Diablo Rock Gym about five years ago.  (It was taken by a professional cinematographer, by the way; I know it doesn’t look like it for some reason, but it was).   As I looked at this “memory”, I was reminded me of something else that happened at this gym.  I was climbing one day with my wife (who, being afraid of heights, was not nearly as enthusiastic about climbing as I was).  The climbing routes are always given names; bouldering problems are just numbered, as you can see in the picture (V1, V2, etc), but routes are named.  Usually a group of routes in a certain area have related names; their names follow themes (movies, songs; one times it was hobbits, I think).  It so happened that the group I was climbing were named after God.  Each route had one of the “Jehovah” names of God.  I’m sure you’re familiar with those names.

In particular, one route was named “Jehovah Jireh” (or “Jire”, as above).  As you probably know, Jehovah Jireh means “The Lord Will Provide” and comes from the “binding of Isaac” narrative of Genesis 22.

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I remember thinking very deeply about that truth as I climbed that route.  I needed the Lord to provide for me in that moment; the route was at the edge of my abilities, and I need strength and skill to complete it (which I did).  I needed the Lord to provide for me in other ways as well: in my ministry, my marriage, etc.  As I climbed this route which had this blessed name/Scriptural promise, I had the strong hope He would do just that.  I climbed the route with the belief that He was not only providing for me in that climb but would provide for me in these other ways as well.

Oddly enough, I saw this memory on Facebook on the same day my daily devotional reading put me in Genesis 22.  I read the binding of Isaac narrative with its Jehovah Jireh promise right before I saw this picture.  So I got hit with this truth twice.

And that was something I greatly appreciated.  See, I have worried about my needs all my life; that has been a big issue for me ever since I first learned my family was poor as a grade school kid.  I know for a fact I was worried about my needs being met at least by 4th grade if not by 3rd grade.

But what I see now in the word of the Lord is that I have worried about these needs needlessly.  What I am being reminded of in the Scripture/the name of God is that God is a provider, that God is my provider, that God will provide for my every need just as He provided for Abraham (in whose footsteps of faith I am walking; Romans 4:12).

I forget this truth at times.  I start looking at my needs rather than at my Father God’s goodness, and I start to worry.  This truth will never be a one-and-done truth, at least not for me.  I’ll never get over my concern about my needs the way this lady got over her fear of flying:

That’s why I need constant reminders of it.  That’s why I need to keep coming back to Genesis 22 and similar passages (Matthew 6:33), which I will do all my life.  I need to be continually confronted with the truth of Jehovah Jireh as well as all the other related truths of the goodness of God so I can overcome my fear, and today I was confronted with it.

I guess that was God providing for me all over again.

Inconsolable

Despite the well-known and empirically-proven fact that all Christians are hypocrites (Image result for emoji wink), I am truly bothered (and sometimes bewildered) when I find myself falling into wrong.  This is particularly true of wrongs I never thought I’d fall into.  Such a wrong is inconsolability.

I’ve seen people be inconsolable in my own time.  I’ve seen it and I haven’t like it too much.  I’ve seen it in the Bible as well.  Perhaps the best example is that of Jacob:

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You might say, “Well, you can hardly blame Jacob for being inconsolable at that moment,” and I would agree with you if I weren’t a critical, judgmental Christian (again, Image result for emoji wink).

Honestly, the fact of the matter is that I’ve never liked such inconsolability, whether it is Jacob’s or some modern person.  I’ve always thought it was faithless or melodramatic or who knows what.

Until, that is, I began feeling it myself.

I’ve been inconsolable the past couple days.  My inconsolability has been different from Jacob’s.  I’ve not told anyone I’m going to mourn until I die.  But I have been resisting encouragement lately.  Some of that encouragement comes from my mentors; one of my mentors was trying to encourage me yesterday.  Some of it comes from God itself; in my reading yesterday, I came across Genesis 8:1 (Then God remembered Noah), which I thought was an encouraging word from the Spirit Himself.  In both of those cases my reaction was, “Eh, I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t want to believe it.”  I knew I should both hear it and believe it, but I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want people (or God) to try to encourage me.  I didn’t want to be encouraged.  I wanted to be inconsolable.

Understandable.  Maybe?  It’s always understandable when it’s us, isn’t it?  But it is still wrong.  Yes, this hypocritical, judgmental Christian is admitting he is doing wrong or, perhaps more accurately, has fallen into wrong.

And I don’t know how to handle that wrong, quite frankly.  I could say something like, “We should not be inconsolable” or “We must be willing to be encouraged.”  Such a something would be true enough, I guess, but I don’t think it would be effective.  It’s kind of like telling people to, “Calm down.”

If I had to guess (and I have to here; I’m in uncharted waters, after all), I’d say it might be more effective to remind ourselves who our God is and what His story is.  It might be more effective to remember that our God is not only telling a good story with a good ending but is inviting us into that story/ending.  I say might.  Feelings are feelings, after all.  Moods are moods, and getting out of bad ones is a hard thing to do even for the faithful people of God.  That is the best I’ve got on this one, though, and honestly I don’t think it is half bad.

Anxiety and Kingdom

I’m not preaching tomorrow.  I’m too sick.

I started preaching full-time when I was 19-years-old.  That’s close to 25 years.  For the first 15 of those years, I preached at least twice a day (at both the Sunday morning and the Sunday evening service).  The church I’ve served for the past 10 years only has the morning service, but I sometimes preach for the Indonesian congregation which uses our building in the afternoon, so I still get in two a Sunday sometimes.

And I’ve missed very few of those sermon engagements.  Very, very few.  I’ve probably missed so few that I can count them on one hand.  Tomorrow will increase that number by one.  I can still count them on one hand, but I will have to use one more finger.

And I’m not happy about that.  I’d rather be preaching.  I enjoy it very much.  I also enjoy the other interactions I have at church, the opportunities to speak into other peoples’ lives and to have them speak into mine.

I’m not entirely unhappy about that, either, though.  I’m not entirely unhappy about it because I know it was not only the right decision but it was made for the right reasons.

Here’s how it happened:  I woke up sometime very early Saturday morning with chills and incredible congestion.  I got under an electric blanket and went back to sleep, confident I would feel better in the (later) morning.  But I didn’t.  Even a shower and a shave didn’t make me feel better.  In fact, at some point during the shower I developed stomach pain as well.  And so I ended up on the couch instead of taking my daughter to the library as I do every Saturday.  At some point, I decided to contact a preaching buddy  to see if there was a chance he could be ready to go tomorrow “just in case”.  He could, but he needed to know by 4 PM.  He then called me about 1 PM to see how I was doing, and at that momentI decided it was time to throw in the towel.  I said he should plan on taking my spot.

That might not seem super-significant to you, but it was to me.  You see, one of the reasons I have missed so few preaching engagements is that I’ve been afraid of missing them.  Missing a preaching engagement, whether because of sickness or weather (snow often hindered church services in Ohio) or family situations or what have you, was always a major anxiety for me.  I thought people would be unhappy that I wasn’t preaching and leave the church, or that the leadership would be unhappy and let me go, or that I wouldn’t be able to wow any new visitors and they wouldn’t come back, or that I’d somehow forget how to preach during the off Sunday, thus causing my ministry to collapse.  And so there were many Saturday nights spent evaluating headaches or snow accumulation with a great deal of apprehension.

And I realized this time that such apprehension is not a part of the Kingdom.  I realized that Kingdom people who are confident in both the love and guidance of God don’t make decisions based on anxiety, that anxious decisions aren’t Kingdom decisions, that anxiety is not Kingdom.  And so, even though I was tempted to ask my preaching buddy if he could give me more time to make my decision, tempted to try to “see how I was feeling later”, tempted to push myself to preach even though I didn’t feel up to it, I decided to pass the pulpit to him.  I let him take over knowing that neither my congregants nor my God would be upset with me, that nobody would leave the church, that I wouldn’t be fired or forget how to preach.  I let the preaching engagement go, refusing to allow anxiety to make me do it when I really didn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) do it.  I let the Sunday go knowing that God’s will would still be done, and that will would be good.

It was a victory, I think, a new maturity in my walk with God.  I’m not criticizing anyone who hasn’t had this victory yet; I know how difficult anxiety can be, and you’ll find no condemnation from me if you are struggling with it.  But it was a victory for me.

Now if I can only shake this cough.