Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Fear Factor

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT HALLOWEEN   :)

I believe that our default setting is fear...Humanly speaking.
It's familiar to us.  It hovers near to us most of our days.

Sometimes we like to toy with fear, as long as we believe we can control it.
That's why we watch the movies that are filled with it and play the video games that are built upon it.
As long as we think we can control it, we feel empowered when we play with it.

However, if honest with ourselves, when we know that we can't control it or manage it; then it overwhelms us, and we are lost. 
It twists into anger, isolation or both. 
Most of our negative interaction with others is born out of the build-up of fear inside of us.

I'm afraid I will lose my job.
I'm afraid you will not accept me.
I'm afraid I will not be invited.
I'm afraid of your culture.
I'm afraid I will be alone forever.
I'm afraid I will be abandoned...again.
I'm afraid that everyone thinks badly of me.
I'm afraid of what I don't know about you.
I'm afraid that there's something better than what I have.
I'm afraid if you get what you want, I will lose something I want.

These fears push us towards some terrible choices.

In the garden it's part of what pushes our first relatives to choose to align themselves with the voice of an ingratiating liar rather than that of the consistent, caring and truthful voice of The Father.
After that first choice another falls immediately on its heels...Let's hide! 
From where I sit, that seems a rather silly thought....Let's hide from God.  
How could they ever think that was possible?  But that's what fear does.  It creates irrational responses in us.

Hiding is a symptom. 

The bible gives us multiple instances of folks who hide from who they are, or rather who they are meant to be, and the turmoil they go through because of it.

Even decisions that appear rooted in selfishness are sometimes actually borne out of fear in some way.

Glancing back at the thoughts written in blue, I'm certain that the list is incomplete, because each of us has our own points of fear-rooted broken-ness.  They are formed by our personality and life-experiences.  Our fears swell when we find ourselves in repeated circumstances that draw them out.
But I don't think it has to be that way.

The only consistent, true antidote to fear that I know of, is faith.  

Belief that Christ is active in all of the areas of my life can free me from much anxiety.  So, I don't have to micro-manage the work of God.  Living in that space allows me to take a cleansing breath and find release.  I can live with open hands.  No one can take from me, something I have already freely let go of.  


( I John 4:17-18/Message)   

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.


(Psalm 4:8/NIV)

In peace I will lie down and sleep,    for you alone, Lord,    make me dwell in safety


(Isaiah 26:3-4/ESV)

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever, 
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

May we all fully know the grace and peace he offers to us today, filling in every crack in life that fear wants to seep into.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Take A Walk

...He led me through the forest to his "campout"; a place of rest for a young boy who was collateral damage, in the cycle of addiction that had trapped his mother.  Through him I learned how difficult life can be, tethered to the choices of a parent who couldn't grow up.

..."I want you to meet my Grandma," she said, ushering me through the entryway.  Then I was sitting down on the sofa in a modest apartment listening to a Jewish woman explain to me how she had survived a place called Auschwitz, with her faith in a loving God still intact.

...His name was Njoroge and  I dutifully followed his dark, extended, index finger pointed  to the right and then the left, for several kilometers until we reached the Ngong Hills.  The noise of the matatus, cars and buses of Nairobi had long drifted away and then, I stood in front of his family's shamba.  The corn was a foot taller than I, the melons sat ripening upon entwined vines along the ground and I began to grasp the hopeful simplicity of life in rural Kenya.

...He was weeping, with his head in his hands; these huge hands of a full-grown man, shaking violently, and asking me, "Why couldn't they love me?"  While we sat there alone, I saw the man shrink away to a little boy... to the child in all of us, still reaching for the embrace of a mother and father.

...Five dollars was the cost of my education.  I gave the tuition to Cary and followed him down the front steps of the parsonage. We made a brief stop at the liquor store and then we were into a back-alley, and for the rest of the day, traveling along the pathways of his life among the homeless on the streets of Chicago.

...Her name was Adi.  Through her kindnesses we learned that in far off places along the west coast of the Black Sea, and apart from any connection that we or the church had, God knew our whereabouts.  He would find us a home, and bring us to his people who had been waiting for us there all along.

...He was lost, mystified as to how it had come to this.  She was stern and immovable.  Her eyes were fixed on a blank wall opposite him.  In that moment I understood how love not nurtured and taken advantage of, can fade into a stone-cold resistance from which it may never return.

...We sat down across the table from each other while she tearfully explained the choices she had made to leave her physically and emotionally abusive husband, for the love and support of another woman.

...Apollo met me at his home. We rode in my Toyota to the center of Nairobi, then climbed the stairs to the roof of a 5-story building.  The entirety of the the space was his he said.  Every bit of the area had been burnt to the cement foundation.  I looked across the 3000 or so square feet with sadness.  Then he said, "I have brought you here to pray for my business, and that God would restore it.  I know that if you pray, He will do it."  In that moment, I was inspired by a faith, that was more someone else's than mine.

If I took the time, I could record a hundred more of these introductory moments...maybe two hundred. I don't know for sure.  I have been privileged to journey life with others who guided me down paths of learning that I know I would never have come to on my own.
No book would have the words.
No professor has such teaching skill.
It's education via community...
People who shared with me about their pain.
People who expanded my definition of joy and commitment.
Children, adults, men and women, each a human heart who helped me to see something that I would not have seen without their unique perspective.
                 I guess that each day I am becoming more convinced of a particular belief.  
I heard once that, "the opposite of addiction is connection."
I had to think on that a bit, but today I am more than ever convinced that this is truth.
                                        We need each other.  
There is a help, an education, waiting for me, that is woven into my relationship with others.  We have so much at our fingertips to
communicate with each other, but we seldom do that in person, and this impersonal existence 
with our world is creating a lonely ditch we have fallen into.
I have read several articles lately that point to this issue.
(here's one: http://time.com/5261181/young-americans-are-lonely/)

I am so thankful for the lessons 
             which have come through simple conversations with people not like me.

I actually believe that in those moments or hours of the journey, there was a third one who walked with us, and in fact it was his invitation that we were both responding to, without even knowing it.
He was gently and creatively, drawing together two separate timelines so that we could find healing and help
          from each other.
So...each time I choose to take a walk, 
                                 share a coffee or a meal,
                                                        ask a question, 
                                                                go into a meeting with someone I have not met before, 
                            with no agenda but to listen and learn,
I find that quite often, I have dipped my cup into a well of understanding,
                                                                                 deeper than I could have ever imagined.









Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Heart of God

I offered pizza.  
They happily agreed to my offering; standing in the rare sunlight of a February afternoon, with smiles on their faces and shovels in hand. 
So I phoned Domino's the next day.  They delivered lunch, and the folks from Stone Soup Gardens went to work on placement of four, 4000 gallon water catchment cisterns for the community garden being built on the south parking lot of our church.  

A couple hours later, I was talking with the crew during a short break.   They thanked me for the pizza, and I said, "Can I just say to you how much I appreciate all of the work you are putting into this project.  I don't know your faith background, but I think that the work you are doing makes God real to people who are struggling, and need to know that someone cares. Thank you for that."   

Regardless of what we believe, I think that each of us at some point, ask ourselves, "If there is a God, How does he feel about me? Does God even know who I am or what I am going through?"
I wish the church was better at showing how deep God's love is.  
I wish that I were better at it too.  There have been many times that I have prayed that God would allow me to have his heart, that I could share a better hope or a deeper peace with someone who needs it.  When that prayer is answered,  I am drawn into a depth of concern and focus that is all-consuming and relentless.
So, I want to suggest that our God is an emotional being, and much more than we tend to imagine. 
His heart is BIG and incredibly sensitive to what we are experiencing individually.
                                  All of us...all of creation...all the time. 
We have emotions because he made us in his image, so he is an emotional being.  
Also, I don't know if we really believe this.  
We are not convinced of the idea that our God is really that deeply connected to us when we are hurting. 

In response to that uncertainty, I give you Jesus.
                           Luke 19:41-42English Standard Version (ESV)
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it..."
That means he sees the village life on the outskirts of Jerusalem as well as the dynamics of those living in the urban settings.  
He sees the families that just arrived in the city, trying to make their way in new surroundings and those who have lived there for decades.
Those who have work and those who don't.
Those whose social standing is elite and those whose standing is servitude.
Those struggling with addictions and those who are free.
Those surrounded by family and those who feel completely alone.
Jesus takes a sweeping look at the city of Jerusalem. He takes in all that is happening there...

Couldn't  that be the Kent-East-Hill that he is looking at?  
Or Covington, Renton Highlands, Tukwila, Federal Way, Des Moines, Auburn, 
Maple Valley...The Greater Seattle area or Tacoma?
Can't it be wherever we live?
He sees our neighborhood. 

                                     He knows our issues, all of them, and He weeps.

In another gospel account...same scene, He says, 
         "How long have I wanted to gather you unto myself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings"
      That is not an image of a God who only cares on major holidays, like Christmas and Easter, or only pays attention when it will bring media coverage.  That is the image of a protector, a nurturer, someone who desires to be as accessible as possible, 
                             and is moved to tears when he has to watch us struggle on without him.

Then, there is this SECOND illustration, found in John's gospel...it is more intimate still.
                        John 11:33-36English Standard Version (ESV)
33 When Jesus saw her (this is Mary, Martha's sister) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved[a] in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?”They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”



These verses show us again, that Jesus doesn't come to us 
     as a doctrinal concept, 
              a theological position,                       
                             a core value....
Jesus is not a something, but a someone.
...And he weeps over the pains we experience and the separation that we feel from him...when we are trudging through it alone.

He is...The Heart of God.


       
     













Friday, October 13, 2017

So That Healing Would Come

Broken relationship is ugly.
Whether viewed from a distance or up-close.
In the home, in the church, in our nation or in the world we have to get to a place,
where we acknowledge that we see it, and we won't have it.
We want something better.
We want healing, and we will give each other permission to learn and grow in understanding
in order that the healing would come...Here is what I'm learning.

Sometimes the cause is unfaithfulness or selfishness.
Sometimes simply misunderstanding or even just a difference in opinion.
There is shock, confusion and hurt.
Followed by silence, or at least a cold and removed dialogue.
Walls formed; caring and love being snuffed out.
It happened in an instant,
            and past hope seems irretrievable.
It is heaviness.
It is life-sucking.
It is dream-gouging.
It is faith-shrouding.
I need to remember that there is always a work in progress, with this effort at its core:
                                           to steal, kill and destroy.
   
Too much ends up, in one of those three categories and is never redeemed.

But I have also been part of, and witness to, the opposite of this process.
I have seen people move from a settled place of seemingly unflinching, stone-like, anger
into an experience quite different; a place where
   something fairly miraculous is rediscovered.

It too, arrives in the room, or the moment, in an unpredictable fashion.
It comes sometimes by choice and sometimes through revelation.
Sometimes prayed for, or sometimes just hoped for,
         and it comes when something else leaves...

                     When blame exits the room, it leaves the door open for forgiveness to enter.

I am not suggesting that we would pretend that painful wrongs were never committed.
Some acts are so destructive that to ignore them would not only be foolish,
                                                                   it isn't an authentic action toward true healing.
What I am suggesting is that holding onto our anger doesn't bring us power,
                                                                                it makes us a prisoner to our own pain.

Somehow we need to find release, even where a complete restoration is impossible.
I believe that it will seldom come to us by seeking justice.
Almost never by debate.
Our release comes by letting go, rather than trying to grasp hold of something.
Finally... no one else can pry my hand open it has to be my choice.

We do have a model.
It is strong, and bold, and also, quiet and sacred.
It is beyond us and yet available to us by His Spirit.

                                        "For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, 
                      no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out..." 
                                                                       (1 Cor.  5:19/The Living Bible)










Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Bado kidogo..." He says

I go to the cemetery sometimes, when there is no funeral to attend.
I know it sounds creepy, but it's not.  Let me try to explain why...

Wandering down a paved walk.
My heart whispers...Stop and listen.
I look at the markers.
Notice the cuts that frame the stone and the interior carvings.
Angels and flowers.  Crosses and Star of David.
Names and dates.
There are husbands and wives.
Beloved Mothers and Fathers.
Daughters and sons.
At rest.

That whisper again...Listen some more.
A deep breath, and then let it out.
I start to speak, to ask a question, but catch my tongue and bring my lips back together.
Sit down at a bench.
Close my eyes and bow my head.
Another deep breath.
It is a struggle to... be still and know.  To wait.  To truly become silent.

Wind.
Warmth.
Clouds and sunlight.
Birds chatter in the trees.

"Listen some more," He says...softly.
"Come a little farther," He says.  
Before I should speak.
"Bado kidogo..." He says...
Because I can still see the slender Kenyan man, from memory, pointing me down the red, dirt road, toward a rounded turn up ahead in the distance.  There is my destination.  It is just beyond the field of maize, just past anything I can see clearly; just beyond all that I know.

So I continue on, in quiet, and then...I'm "there"... and I know it, because I can feel it. "There" is not a place but still an arrival.
I exhale.
And I realize that it is in this quiet, that
                                            I am found and in full sight.
In this willingness to inch myself away from the cool, hard concrete bench and those
things that my eyes can see, my heart and mind are opened up to so much more.
                                                             Because I am now a witness to this world through Him,
I can become small again, and be protected; under His wing.
I can become whole again, and be hopeful; by His strength.
I can find peace again, and be healed; by His grace.
                                            But only when I step away..."Bado kidogo..." He says.

* Bado kidogo is a phrase in Swahili that roughly translated means, "just a little bit farther."  :)







Friday, June 2, 2017

Creator or Custodian

I'm looking through the living room window this morning at the sunlight pushing its way onto the walking trail behind our house.
There are some tall fir trees and a huge maple. The maple has leaves that remind me of dinosaur footprints, waving back and forth in a gentle breeze, swaying in the sunlight and shadow.
There are smaller, evergreen seedlings and various bushes lining the trail.
There is a shrub with small white blossoms, another with purplish ones and one plant with tiny red berries to add color.
It is beauty.
It is warming.
It is comforting.
I made none of it.
I just get the opportunity to view it and be thankful.

Somehow, this is a reminder to me that in this process called life, I am in great need of being shaped by someone other than myself.  I need a Creator.

To some degree this is the sentiment behind Psalm 62:1 - Take me to the rock that is higher than I.

I am concerned at times that instead of seeing God as one who we are in awe of, as one who is wholly different and beyond us, and yet has a deep, self-sacrificing and passionate love for us, we more or less see Him as our Custodian instead of our Creator.

In other words, we look at the relationship to God as though He stands at the ready, ONLY to make alterations in us that we grant Him approval to make.  We also instruct Him as to when those alterations should happen.  In other words,  we come to Him when we believe it's time for a bit of maintenance, or clean up; only when we are certain that we REALLY NEED that kind of attention.  

So, when He interferes with our plan, without our approval, we are resentful.
When He asks for more of us than what we feel is a fair commitment of time, energy or resource, we back away from him and complain.
It also shows up when we get our feelings hurt by someone, or something that happens which troubles us.  Our response is that we don't pray, or read our bible for a week or a month...or six months. We skip worship at the church we attend and say, "we need a break!"  (Someone is reading this right now and is irritated with me for this observation; feeling like I am being too narrow in my perception of the Christian experience.)

Let me say this, just to help...Church attendance is not the measure of our faith.
However, can I also say that our lack of attendance, does not equate to a greater freedom in Christ.

I guess what I am leading up to is that when I allow myself to be "author and finisher of my faith," it may seem like I am in control, but I'm actually removing Jesus from his role as Creator, and have made him into a

                                                     Jesus, who is my Custodian.

If the truth of God,
                    His living, reality in my life,
                                                             by His Spirit,
                   does not have the freedom to work through me the way He desires it to work,
           I may be more comfortable.    
                                     But is "comfortable" what I really want?

Many years ago, Rich Mullins wrote a beautiful song that lyrically addresses some of the thoughts I have tried to connect within this post.  My favorite lines in the song say this in relation to God's truth,
     
I did NOT make it,  No! it is making me.
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.

Enjoy!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3i-_VWxOAc
(This is a re-recording by Third Day/Brandon Heath)



                            









Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jogging With George Jetson

As a pastor, it has always been a challenge for me to speak truth that has an edge to it.  Truth that brings comfort is hopeful and easy to deliver.  Truth that brings challenge is difficult to share.  With that thought in mind, here goes:

I believe that fear is working to drain the life out of the church in the United States.  We have not been surrounded and had the hope strangled out of us, we have handed it over freely in favor of a "holy huddle" until Jesus comes.  

To expand a bit...There is evil in the world.  It does exist.  Since Genesis we have had pain, problems and death (and this is just the short list).  But our real issue is that we have forgotten how to rally under The Banner of Love in the church in order come against that evil.    

We act as though the end is near (insert cardboard street-sign here) and duck for cover.  We grimly cling to a truth that protects, preserves and insulates us from the pain around us.  What if, instead, we moved outside the four walls of the church, and carried with us the truth that protects, preserves and reconciles others who are in pain.  Isn't that what is defined by Paul's words (2 Cor. 5:16-20) when he calls ALL OF US to be "ambassadors?"

So, let's not get sucked into the trap of fear, or it will swallow us up like George Jetson's treadmill.   Come on church!

"Do not go gentle into that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Pick the right battles.  Choose to have courageous conversations with your neighbor; someone who is not like yourself.

There is a fresh harmony that can return to the church today.  Honestly, it isn't new.  It's something that has been encouraged throughout the scripture story.  It's an idea that could unleash The Spirit of God like the prophet Joel spoke about and Luke repeated in Acts 2.  It bridges all that tries to separate. We have only to walk boldly, humbly and repentant toward that harmony.  A blend of race, gender, culture and age that we have somehow forgotten through time, but that the word challenges us towards over and over again.

I truly believe that His Spirit will surround us in this mission.  :)

It won't be easy.  Through time, we have given our enemy too much tether to snare us with.  Too many stereotypes to bind us in.  Still, if we allow Christ to work in us and through us, He will tear apart the tether and release us from those stereotypes that have kept us from the dreams and visions that Joel spoke about.  He will bring restoration to the church, and,
                  
                             "...all the powers of hell will not conquer it!"  (Matthew 16:18)



* For those needing a smile today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2Z8kPpLg1g

** For those who want a challenge today, The Sound, by Switchfoot, a music video in honor of Dr. John Perkins, a leader in the civil rights movement and someone I was fortunate enough to meet at a pastor's gathering at Highline College:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNQgABsUfK8
(BTW - If you are more accustomed to quieter music  :)  you may wish to turn the volume down, however Dr. Perkin's comments are interspersed into the song)