The hope for fun
The smell of popcorn and cotton candy
Endless lines . . .of required tickets
The hope for joy
Bumper cars and smiles
Darts and inflatable guitars
Ducks and spiders rings
The hope for more tickets
One last ride.
Snuggling at home.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Posted by George Atkins at 12:02 PM
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The tapping of lady bugs on my window
Sharing a moment with an old friend
Eating lunch on the porch with my son
Thoughts that plague me
The tapping of lady bugs on my window
Posted by George Atkins at 11:57 AM
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Without your word or your spirit I am like a boat on choppy water.
I am tossed about.
I am at the winds discretion.
With your word and spirit I am anchored.
I am beaten about.
I am wet.
I am cold.
But I am safe.
I am not alone, for you are with me, in spirit,truth,and flesh.
Your church is with me. I am not alone.
In my day, I arise to a dark and cold morning, looking for light and heat.
I enter my den of ministry, looking for light and heat.
I find comfort in your word.
I find companionship.
What is this day, but just another day. A day that you have made.
One of millions.
Nothing different, and yet it is all we have.
I juggle the preciousness and commonality of it.
A day of healing, and a day to do the laundry.
Help me to see the beauty in the common.
Help me to expect the miraculous.
Posted by George Atkins at 7:14 AM
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I have been journaling for much of the past 8 months. Mostly prayers and petitions for God's grace, mercy, and deliverance. And I got to thinking that most of those prayers are much like the Psalms of David. Are they inerrant? Mine aren't. Are they the truthful, transparent writings of my experience with life and God's frequent interruption in it? Yep. So how are they any less inspired than David's? At this point, I am not willing to canonize my journals,and I am not sure David was cognitive that he was writing "Scripture", but I am willing to concede that David was being moved by the Holy Spirit in such a way that was unique, and I from time to time have felt that same uniqueness when preparing sermons. Not unique in that I am writing something new, but unique in that what I am currently writing or working on is set apart from a normal letter of correspondence or journal entry and is in agreement with God's word and Holy Spirit.
So, here is my personal psalm for today; whether it be unique or common.
Where is my hope, but in you?
Where is my comfort, but in you?
Where is my rest, but in you?
Like a spider on a web I feel your tapping. I sense your vibrations.
I see your provisions, and yet I continue to question your goodness.
My mind deceives me, but you do not.
You are not a shifting shadow.
All good gifts come from you.
Your goodness is not determined by the weather.
Whether it be denim skies or driving rain, you are my keeper.
I am yours.
I have worn myself out by asking why.
I have sought some kind of cosmic envelope with special orders.
You have responded with "Trust and Obey".
You have told me to do the "Simple Thing".
You have called me to "Total Surrender".
In my desert you have sent angels of different types.
You have hemmed me in at every corner with saints.
How far am I to look for your provision and protection?
Out my back window?
Two doors down?
Down the alley?
I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
How can I continue to doubt? How can I allow fear to exist?
I have created my own cage.
You have released me, and yet I dare not step out for fear of pain.
My mind deceives me, but you do not.
You are not a shifting shadow.
You give all good gifts.
You are love, wrapped in flesh and bone, perfected in spirit.
You are radiant.
You are love.
Posted by George Atkins at 7:29 AM
Monday, October 5, 2009
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who Am I?” July 16, 1944
Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell's confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.
Posted by George Atkins at 12:43 PM
Friday, October 2, 2009
There is a lot of emphasis placed on walking with God in scripture. Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. And so on. I am currently reading Isaiah. Chapter 2 talks about walking in His paths and walking in the light of the Lord. The Apostle Paul speaks a lot about walking in a manner worthy of your calling, or walking in a manner worthy of the Gospel. The word for walk in Greek is also used for live. I like walk better because its more active. Many of us are alive, but are we walking towards something? Are we walking with purpose?
There are days when I just feel alive. I'm not walking. Probably sitting or crawling. The psalms are great for sitting or crawling. We are not able to walk all the time. There are times for sitting. But, when I walk am I walking with God or am I walking by myself. Sitting and crawling can be purposeful. They are places of rest and humility. They are essential. When we walk, do we walk in such a way that we forget what it was like to sit and crawl, and do we take notice of those we're walking past who are still sitting or crawling?
If we walk, let us walk with the Lord, in his light, and let us not pass by those who need to be encouraged who are still sitting or crawling.
Posted by George Atkins at 8:15 AM
Thursday, October 1, 2009
25 years ago my parents planted a small grove of bamboo in the backyard, thinking how unique it would be. That small grove now consumes a quater of the backyard and nearly 1/2 of the nieghbor's backyard. Its still unique, but it's evasive. It goes where it wants to. It sends runners out to the middle of the yard, and all my parents can do is mow them. They can't stop them because they have no idea where the runners are. All they can do is wait, watch, and mow.
Anxiety is like bamboo. It's unique in its affect. Its evasive. And you can never know where its going to spring up. All you can do is watch.
I have grown to love bamboo. I like how resiliant it is. It just happens to be the fastest growing plant on earth. Its strong. It can be used for many things. It bends but doesn't break. I think I want to be like bamboo. Maybe that way, when anxiety comes up, I won't be so afraid. Maybe I'll bend and not break. Maybe I'll become evasive, taking it over.
There's an old saying, it's easier to plant grass than pick weeds.
Posted by George Atkins at 11:11 AM
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Earlier this year I heard Paul Moser teach us that the most authentic prayer we can pray is 'Help'. I tend to agree. What eloquent prayer can I offer to make God more effective or willing to invade my brokenness? The Psalms are wonderful prayers because they give us a voice; another person to connect with who understands both our pain and joy. But really all those prayers are just prayers of 'Thank You" and 'Help". I encourage you to read them because if you need to cry out for help, you have a companion to cry out with you.
In my own prayers, I pray through the Lord's prayer and the Shema every morning. Giving thanks, confessing my failings, and asking for help.
I was struck by the simplicity of the Lord's prayer but how it covers everything we need; The Lord's will on earth, daily provisions, forgiveness, and deliverance. I was also struck by the simplicity of the Shema in how we are to love God fully and love our neighbor fully as well. The two portions pretty well capture the essence and totality of what it means to pray in the name of Jesus.
That's all I got for today.
Posted by George Atkins at 8:13 AM
Monday, September 21, 2009
This past week was one of the worst in my life. After having been on a prescription for 5 days that caused nausea and vomiting, I had a full blown allergic reaction that resulted in tremors, an inability to speak or stuttering speech, and a host of other unpleasant side effects that the ER blew off as a major panic attack. I was relieved when my new doctor (shout out to Pastor Jeff for the hook up) affirmed the allergic reaction to the generic form of the drug. What I was not expecting was his diagnosis, " You're OCD, and your OCD is causing your anxiety." What? Are you serious? But when he said it, it made sense. He said your OCD doesn't result in obsessive hand washing or locking the door all the time, its repetitive thoughts that get trapped in a loop and don't go away, causing anxiety.
Not too many of my friends and family seem to be all that surprised.
Joline and I sat on the front porch and discussed where we have seen this in our relationship: checking the stove and windows multiple times before leaving on a trip, re-locking the door to the coffee shop several times before leaving, checking the doors of the church several times before setting the alarm, checking weather reports on an hourly basis, and so on. Actions that I thought were just being thorough were actually manifestations of my desire for control and making sure I hadn't made a mistake. I was terrified of making a mistake, especially if it reflected poorly on me. While claiming and teaching a faith of total surrender, I was practicing a life of total control. I was trying to live in two worlds.
Through this allergic reaction and diagnosis the veil is beginning to be torn. I do not label myself as a possible OCD person, but a person who might happen to have OCD and is learning to live with it. This is all very new to me; the understanding of it. I know what it looks like because I have lived with it. I just don't know what moving forward looks like yet. Each day is a step in faith.
The thoughts I have all seem very real and plausible and realistic, from my perspective, but when brought into the light of reality they become less so. Many friends and loved ones have reminded me of the past 4 years (particularly the past year) and tell me to chill out and allow myself some grace, but my mind says otherwise. It tells me to be vigilant. It tells me to keep watch. It tells me to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The temptation is to just look at the physical treatment (Meds). What about the spiritual dimensions? I know that many of you have been in prayer for me. For that I am grateful. I too continue a prayer regiment. I begin each day with prayer that begins with the Lord's prayer, moving through the Shema, and then into intercessory prayer for friends and loved ones. I read scripture and journal. I make time through out the day to listen to the Lord. These discipline are essential, not only for myself, but for every believer who desires to know the Lord and his goodness.
Many of you have followed my blogs on anxiety, and have offered some great insights and transparency. For that I am grateful. Connection is a great tool against anxiety because anxiety isolates. I chose the picture I did above because we often find Jesus alone in the garden. Here we see Jesus ministered to by an angel in his time of need. I can tell you, Jesus has sent angels to me in my time of need. They have been neighbors, church members, pastors, family, phone calls, emails, texts. Thank you for being my angels.
Posted by George Atkins at 10:09 AM
Friday, September 4, 2009
Philippians 3:10 (New International Version)
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
The actual text from which the portion pulled for the poster above may not capture all that the text shares. While I want to know Christ, its not always beautiful sunsets. There are storms in the midst of knowing. There are deserts in the midst of knowing. There is pain in midst of knowing. And, there is healing.
This passage for years has haunted me. It has followed me like a nagging ache or pain. I have read through this portion of scripture so many times, asking "Who would want to know this? Who would sign up for this? This sounds spiritually sadistic." If Paul had simply reversed the ideas, I may have been quicker to agree and accept his approach. Ending on the power of the resurrection sounds hopeful and empowering. But, the portion doesn't stop there. It goes on to discuss the struggle of pushing forward; the staggering forward to know Christ, and suffering is a part of that.
Here is how I have come, not to rationalize, to understand Paul. When you enter suffering the only people who can comfort you are the ones who know suffering. The only God that can calm your heart and mind is one who suffered. The shared experience of suffering draws people closer together. Paul wanted all of Christ, not just a little bit. He wanted to know Christ fully and be fully known. He wants to embrace the risen Jesus, but before he can get there, he has to go through the cross.
How can we call Him Lord if we don't first understand Him as Savior, and how can we know him as Savior if he doesn't know us.
Hebrews 2:17-18 (New International Version)
17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
This is a God who knows us, and wants to be known. This is a God who made himself knowable by becoming like one of us. Can power and suffering coexist? They did in the person of Jesus. Do they exist in the life of the believer? They did in Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:10 (New International Version)
10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Are they able to exist in my life, when all that seems to be present is the suffering? Yes. But you are not able to get there through inner strength or intestinal fortitude. They exist together through surrender. They exist together through seeking the Kingdom.
In my own struggle with suffering I have experienced God's power through my weakness. I have been moved to do and be in ways contrary to my natural inclinations to hide and escape. In moments of despair God has shown up. Even as I type this, I can tell you that I am being carried by the Holy Spirit through God's word to trust and obey.
Dr. David Jeremiah, in his wonderful message about discouragement encourages us when we feel like stopping, running, and hiding that we need to press on and keeping pushing forward because if we don't then we miss out what God has in store for us and miss His provisions. But, it is not us who push forward, but Christ in us.
1. Cry Out to God, first, not second.
2. Continue the work you have been given.
Cry Out today, and keep moving forward. Keep being faithful and obedient to the ministry you have been given.
Next Post: We Have A Winner: A discovery in brokeness and learning how to live with it.
Posted by George Atkins at 9:59 AM
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Read this post from a year ago.
I think this was answered in a big way.
Posted by George Atkins at 10:03 AM
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I love to garden. I look forward to certain seasons of the year because I can predict, or anticipate when certain plants will bloom. I can predict change and movement. Not so much with people. Not so much with the character of God. Ministry is hard to predict. It's hard to anticipate results because we are working with humans, and how they choose to acknowledge God in their lives. There is also the character of God. Not a formula, but a personality. A personality that we can learn about through scripture, the person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but also beyond predictability. I can not predict, but I can trust.
We love predictability. We worship it. ( This is sounding like a similar post to mine . . . ) We want to know how things are going to turn out. The followers of Jesus wanted to know how this was all going to end, and when Jesus would tell them they would just get angry or not understand.
This past summer has been void of predictability. Each day I have begun with a sense of " I have no idea what today holds for me, other than I know I am loved by God, family, and friends." That seems to be a lot closer to the Biblical perspective (Matt. 6:25-34).
Now, I know I will "probably" have lunch outside, go home a little early, help clean the house, enjoy dinner with my family, and enjoy the evening with a guest from out of town. Those things are fairly certain. But, then again, things may change, and I need to be prepared for accepting that change. Jesus tells us " Don't be anxious for your life . . .can you add a day to it? . . why be anxious for tomorrow? Today has its own troubles."
I have read and listened to so many sermons on anxiety from people who have no clue about it. They want to give a formula for how to overcome anxiety. They don't want me to be anxious because I may be proof their formula may be wrong. They're formula is well intentioned, but I don't need a formula. I need healing. I need freedom. I need Jesus.
The closest message I have found to comfort my anxiety is from John Piper. This message has been a real blessing to me, Battling the Unbelief of Anxiety. Why? Because he acknowledges that fear and anxiety is part of the Christian life. If it weren't, why would it be addressed so often in the Scriptures. Whether it be David, Jesus, or Paul, all address it continuously. Piper suggests that because of the battle we have entered into by choosing Christ, we will be attacked. We will stagger in battle. Anxiety, acute or not, will exist in the life of Christian.
Piper acknowledges the reality that there are those of us who would love for the anxiety to go away, but it lingers,and so we have to do daily battle with it. That battle involves the truth of God's word, and the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes both working in tandem to bring us the peace God intends for us to have.
I would push Piper to include the community of saints. We overlook the power of community. The modern evangelical world has pushed the mantra of a "personal faith" in Jesus to the point that we have lost, in many arenas, the role of communal faith. Was this the intended purpose by the authors? No. I believe the idea of communal faith was implied because they understood that the primary strategy of Satan is isolation.
As an INTJ, I enjoy being able to sit and think about things, but I have also found that in the isolation of my own thoughts I become anxious. Therefore, against my personal inclinations, I have been focusing on building intentional relationships and working on staying in better communication with friends and family. These relationships, unlike a formula, are not predictable. . .in the best sense. I have been surprised and blessed by them in moments of need (shout out to Martha).
God has brought new people into my life that I know several years ago I would not have been ready to receive. He has also brought things into my life that several years ago I would not have been ready to handle. Given those two truths, the new people and the anxiety have come together in an amazing way that I could have never predicted. The anxiety, while I still pray for healing, has forced me to rely on relationships (with God and people) in ways that were foreign to me before, but are now indispensable. Sins that I would run to for the sake of saftey and distraction have disipated, being replaced with prayer, meditation, and relationship. I hang on God's word. I pray continously. I interceed for others. If that is what anxiety has produced in me let it have its perfect(intended) result.
Posted by George Atkins at 11:50 AM
Friday, August 28, 2009
I think way too much. Ask my wife and my therapist . . .don't ask my therapist, he's not talk'n 'cause I pay him not to. But if you did, he would say " George spends quite a bit of time calculating risk. He also spends alot of energy trying to avoid failure." Joline would tell you " My husband takes himself way too seriously." I agree with both of them. I think God has wired me in such a way to be very thoughtful in my approach. My life events have taught be to use that energy to calculate risk, avoid pain, and only take steps that have a high percentage of success. In spiritual terms we call it "counting the costs". In plain language it's called "fear".
We worship safety and security. The moment it's jeopardized we scream bloody murder. We want stuff fixed now. We want to move on from pain as fast as possible. We want to name it and claim it. We want comfort. We want assurance that nothing bad is going to happen, and if it does we want to make sure it's not our fault or responsibility. When was the last time you saw a public figure step out and say "Yep, it's my fault. I am responsible for what happened"? I have a hard time remembering one. The most recent one was Commander Scott Waddle of the USS Greenville, the US Submarine that hit the Japanese fishing boat in 2001.
Having not even been on the bridge when the accident happened, Waddle took full responsibility because he knew ultimately the ship, no matter his location, was his responsibility. Most of us would have pointed the finger in the other direction and said " I wasn't there. Its not my fault. The crew should have done a better job." I pray I have that kind of integrity and character when the hour strikes. Could this be an example of "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance?" (Matt. 3:8)
What does this have to do with Trust and Obey? When we worship security; when we live out of a state of fear we will do whatever it takes to maintain that security. We will do whatever it takes to avoid the pain of loss. We will sell our integrity and our freedom. We will deny our faith. We will say "I was never with Him."
Over the course of my young 40 years I have faced this more than once. I have done well, and I have failed. While I have never outright denied Christ, I have denied him in more subtle ways. I have worked hard to maintain a veneer of holiness that required little sacrifice. I have flown under the radar screen of failure. I have only surfaced when conditions were optimal for good responses.
God has given me the gift of anxiety. That is not easy for me to say (and I barely got it typed). I have seen anxiety as a curse and sin for a long time. I have read Jerry Bridges book on acceptable sins that includes anxiety. I have read scripture that encourages us not to be anxious or fearful. I love those passages. Then I read the Psalms and I see a lot of fear and anxiety. I see people who are crying out to the Lord and giving thanks for deliverance. I see the natural ebb and flow of a life that is filled with joy and suffering. I see a book filled with anxiety. I see a Savior who was more than a little anxious in the Garden.
Don't get me wrong; I'm tired of waking up in the morning feeling like I already have a millstone around my neck, but that millstone has kept me tethered to God in a way that I never have been before. I read scripture more intensely. I pray and journal with purpose. I am able to see and hear the pain and suffering of people more clearly. Simply put, I think I am coming to know Christ more in His resurrection and in the fellowship of His suffering; something Paul prayed for in Philippians 3. A prayer that I thought was outrageous the first time I ever read it, and asked " Who would want to know that?" Paul did. He wanted to see, hear, and feel with the heart, soul, and mind of Jesus. You can't know that without suffering. You can't look upon people with compassion if you haven't felt pain. Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Was Jesus fearful? Was he anxious? Look to the Garden. He cried out and wept. He didn't just 'man up". He pleaded for a different way. That is a Savior I can follow. He knew that no matter where He was, as long as He was with the Father, that place was perfect. No matter where I am in my pain, my anxiety; as long as I am with the Father, that place is perfect.
What is that place? Trust and obey. Jesus didn't worship security. He worshiped the Father, and his whole life mission was to be be with the Father and to do the Father's will. Period. He placed Himself in the care and providence of God and sought only to do what the Father had made known to Him. The garden was painful. The cross was painful. The garden was perfect. The cross was perfect. Not perfect in the sense we think of it(beauty), but perfect in the sense of being complete, attaining it's intended purpose.
Are you pursuing a life void of fear or one full of purpose? For a long time I thought I was pursuing purpose. I made deals with God. I attempted to do the right things in order to make God happy, and He in return would protect me from pain. But then pain came. And what was my response? Why Lord? I thought we had a deal? Sound familiar? Anxiety is the "perfect" response to a life that seeks to avoid pain. Anxiety is made complete. It has attained it's purpose. How is that purpose redeemed? At first, in the life of a Christ follower, it brings that person to thier knees, where the only prayer that is audible is 'Help". You come to realize that you have nothing but God. It then draws that person into a deeper sense of humility, a deeper sense of connection. It is then made perfect (complete) in a deeper sense of trust and obedience. Consequences become secondary. Surrender becomes primary.
So then, how do I pray? As the Lord taught me. I give him glory. I call for His will be to done. I ask for His provision. I seek his forgiveness and to forgive others. I ask to be directed in the pathe of righteousness, and to be delivered from the evil one. I pray for myself and others in this fashion, according to his will.
Friends, you may be asking "Why am I going through this pain?". My prayer is that you would come to the place where you can ask " Lord, how will this pain serve your perfect purpose in my life?", and " How am I to trust and obey?" Seek healing, ask for healing. Jesus is able to heal. Also give thanks for the pain,and that it might be made perfect in your life.
Posted by George Atkins at 7:41 AM
Thursday, August 27, 2009
something similar: something that repeats, imitates, or is reminiscent of something else
In a brief dialogue with a colleague of mine, we talked about the need for us as a ministry staff to be on the same page throughout the year, regardless if we trying to do something "all church". What God is speaking to the congregation should be inescapable whether in youth ministry, children, or adults. God does not send different messages to different parts of the body. While they may serve different functions, the body as a whole should be moving in the same direction.
I talked about my desire to have small groups and adult ed compliment what it being preached. My colleague said we should all be 'echoing' in some fashion the message God has for us as a community. I loved that word and image, echo. I realized that's all my life is about. It's about being an echo; an echo of Jesus. His life, death, and resurrection has reverberated through out history. My life is his echo. I am to live like Jesus, die to myself, and be brought to new life.
Not popular concepts in our culture. We want Jesus to make us a better me. We are hoping Jesus makes us an improved version of ourselves. Jesus had no interest in being a better Jesus. He was all about being like the Father; in what he said and did. Being different and creative was not his agenda. Echoing the Father in his teachings and love was all he cared about.
We live in a culture of Christianity where we worship and celebrate people who are creative in their expression of how they do church or how they share the gospel. Trust me, I think we need to be a little more creative in our expressions of faith. I also think we should be doing a better job of just echoing Jesus' life and teachings. We spend more time being creative when we should spend more time just tracing the image of Jesus.
Our inclination is to find ways of weaving Jesus into our life or ministry because we came up with a cool slogan, life purpose, or we started a new business, and now we have to figure out how Jesus fits in. Do you know how exhausting that is? It takes so much work. Work I no longer have the energy for. I have done it all my life, and now I can't do it anymore.
(Side bar:For those of you who have life verses,I'm glad that's working for you. I have prayed and wanted my own life verse for years, and every time I think I have found one, God brings another to me. The closest I have come to a life verse is Jeremiah 9:23-24)
I know this all sounds so simple and contrite, possibly even remedial for some of you, but as one who has served in professional ministry, I watch this happen all the time. I see the franchising of Jesus in new books, life strategies, affinity group Bibles, worship songs, you name it. All claiming to have a creative and unique perspective on faith and the knowledge of God.
In Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy he states (and I paraphrase) he would love to see a church sign that simply said " We teach people to say and do ever thing Jesus said to say and do." How refreshing would that be? No gimmicks. No logos. Just Jesus.
I don't want creative and unique. I want truth. I want freedom. I want hope. I want Jesus. I just want to live truth, freedom, and hope. I just want to live Jesus. That means less of me, and more of him. That means my voice and song are not new and creative; just an echo of a voice and song that has been playing and singing continuously.
Posted by George Atkins at 7:20 AM
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The most frustrating thing about anxiety, apart from a continual sense of impending doom, is the feeling of being disconnected from everything. You feel like you're on a space walk. You look at things that you want to have a connection with such as your home, town, and neighborhood, and all you get is this sense of "It all could be gone tomorrow, so don't get too attached to it."
A wise sage told me, "Don't love stuff that can't love you back."
Scripture essentially tells us the same thing. " Don't love the things of this world", and " Do not store up wealth where moth and rust can destroy it". I get all that. I have a basic loathing of stuff.
(Not true. I love guitars. I'm a hack player, but I love the ability to express myself through music.)
I hate clutter. I hate miscellaneous piles. That junk drawer everyone has ( I have it too) drives me crazy. My form of cleaning is just throwing stuff away. I particularly can't stand the toys from Happy Meals. They seem to grow and multiply like tribbles (old Star Trek ref). I chuck them without discrimination.
But I regress. . . .
I live in this tension of being a parent who wants to create security and predictability for my children, even though I know, or at least feel, likes it's an illusion.
I'm 40. I just moved three states away after having lived in Chicago for 18 years, took a beating in the housing market, moved to a new town, and started a new job. While the new town, home, and job are great, its all different. This has produced some anxiety.
I used to wake up and wonder, "God, why would you allow me to experience so much anxiety and allow me to feel so weak?" Then I faced reality, and recognized the facts of my life for the past 12 months. Actually the past 4 years have been cooky.
While they're not horrific, they are anxiety producing. Moving alone is the 2nd most stressful event in a person's life, next to loosing a spouse. Working in an environment that was under constant change and churn produced emotional instability. Loosing a lot of money in a market that seemed destined only to increase pulled a rug out from under many of us.
When God wanted to get people's attention, what did he do? He moved them, from a land that is not their own. He moved me. He's got my attention.
The disconnect is not so bad now. I can look at things and enjoy them for what they are and are not. I can drive down the streets of my town and be thankful for where God has placed me.
What has been the gift of the anxiety and feeling disconnected? The desperate need to be connected to God and people. I don't think I have have ever been more aware of my need for God's presence in my life, and been so aware of other people's need to feel connected. Good thing I'm the Director of Adult Connections. The guy in charge of it at a church is in desperate need of it himself.
Anxiety produced a feeling of disconnection, but what it has shown me is that my trust and security were in connections that couldn't produce security and predictability. Only God can do that. I trusted in a system that was faulty. I stored up treasure in things that proved rusty.
Do you think God had this all planned out? Do you think He is even shocked by what I am typing right now? Nope. I might be, and it freaks me out from time to time, but I am able to rest in the fact that God has this worked out. As long as I am tethered to the ship (God), I'm in good shape.
Posted by George Atkins at 1:05 PM
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
1. Don't get your thumb between a rock and pick axe.
2. If it bleeds out the end of the nail, that's a good thing because you won't have to get it drilled to relieve pressure. (Trust me, this is going somewhere)
3. Pain has a way of recalibrating your mind in a way that nothing else can.
4. There is very little you can do to make the pain go away.
5. Pain goes away over time, but the throbbing may stick around a while.
6. Your nail is going to look gross for quite a while.
7. You will probably loose the nail.
8. You get a new nail. Not the same one, or better one, but a new one.
A couple of weeks ago I got my thumb between a rock and pick axe trying to pull a rock out of a stone wall. The rock came loose along with the pick axe, sliding over the top of the rock and my thumb as I pulled on the rock with the other hand. (Sorry, no diagrams) My thumbnail remains the wonderful color seen above. It no longer hurts, but it looks gross,and I can begin to feel it loosen from the nail bed.
The moment I did it, it hurt like crazy and began to bleed out the end. A friend, a professional carpenter, said " Good thing its bleeding or'd we have to drill it." Upon which I promptly laid on the kitchen floor and felt queasy. Ice made it feel a bit better, but for the most part it just hurt and there was little I could do about it.
In the same moment I got it. I really got it. Cutting. I understood why some people, predominately women, cut themselves. It releases pain in a controlled manner and takes your mind off emotional pain that seems out of control. I totally forgot about my anxiety. The haunting of possible worst case scenarios disappeared in a flash because I had a more immediate issue, real pain. Black, red,and purple pain.
The blessing was that it bled immediately. I didn't have to go through more pain to relieve pressure. Life is not always that immediate, and we seldom look at current pain as a blessing to relieve future pain.
After the initial pain left, it began to throb like crazy. It wasn't as painful, but it was still hard to ignore. My entire being was consumed with one small area of my body. Again, lesson learned. A part that seemed to be less honorable suddenly became the focus of the entire physical plant.
The nail to this day looks gross. Sometimes the pain we endure leaves a mark that remains, even scars. Ever wonder why Jesus came back scared? Proof of healing. We try to hide scars as much as possible. Why? OK, so they're not lovely, but they are proof of healing. Proof of wounds that have been healed. I understand people may want to forget the trauma that caused them in the first place, but scars serve a purpose. They can help us avoid future mistakes, or remind us of how God healed a wound.
The nail is surely coming off. I can see it separating from the nail bed. Something that I took for granted and caused so much pain in a split moment will be lost. Loss is an inevitable part of life. We loose things all the time. Some by our own doing. Sometimes they're just taken away. Whether you're prepared for it or not, the loss typically feels sudden.
I am getting a new nail. It's not better than the old one, or improved, just new. Often people believe or say, " Oh, it's OK, God will give you something better, something better than you ever expected." They read the end of Job wrong. Job didn't receive all his stuff back, he received new stuff. His children weren't restored, he had new kids. He had abundance, and that is good stuff, but abundance doesn't necessarily heal the pain of loss. Job probably still grieved the loss of his former children. God could have restored all his old stuff back, but he didn't. He gave him new things. New things are just that. They're new, but that doesn't mean they're better.
In the weeks to come, the old nail will fall off and a new nail will take its place. I will soon forget about the old nail and move on with my life.
My prayer is that I recognize the lessons of my smashed thumb in other people's lives. There appears to be alot of smashed thumbs out there.
I pray that I can learn to just sit with people in the pain, and encourage them to seek the Lord, giving thanks in all things. I'm still learning to do this myself.
Posted by George Atkins at 4:16 PM
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The past 4 years, and especially the past one have been among the most difficult in my life. There have been joys as well, but for the most part my wife and I have just wondered out loud. " What is this all about Lord?" Working for a church, coupled with personal and family issues which never cease can bring a person to their knees, both in prayer and in desperation, and often in reverse order. While I am pretty good about avoiding self created drama (Pretty good, although I have finely tuned the art of denial), there is still the drama you are handed by simply being alive,and guaranteed if you follow Jesus.
I have often said that pastors are either playing the role of Moses, or Joshua. You can either help people get to the promised land, or you get to help them cross into it. The problem is, you never quite know which one it is until you are on the edge of it. The sure thing is, you will probably get to play both. Most often we get to play Moses, and I'm cool with that because I get to help prepare people move closer to God's purposes and promises. Just one thing, it involves being in the desert for quite a long time, learning lessons that you didn't think you needed to learn.
I have two friends who told me "George, you are in a desert. Not a literal desert, but a spiritual and emotional desert. The Lord has lead you to this desert. He will send angels to minister to you in the desert, but you can not wrestle your way out of it. Your job is to learn to be faithful in a new way while it lasts. There is nothing you can "do" to get out of it. No sacrifice you can offer that will be pleasing enough because the reality is you're just bargaining, and when has that ever worked with God?" Uggghhhh. I don't care for deserts.
I've been in one, literally, in Egypt, and I couldn't stand the heat. Deserts are dry places where very little lives. That which does live there stays hidden and out of sight because the sun exposes every thing's weaknesses. I dislike deserts.
This desert is totally exposing all my weaknesses. My desire for control. My desire to be liked. My desire to be complimented. My fear of rejection. My fear of being exposed as a fake. My fear of having done something wrong in the past that will affect my family. My fear of not making it through another day. My fear of not being good enough. My initial prayers and cries have been " Lord, just show me what I need to know. Show me what I'm looking for."
One of those same friends told me, " George, there are those of us who think God expects less from us than He does, and then there are those who think God expects more from us than He does. I think you think God expects a lot more out of you than He really does." Bingo, Bulls eye, we have a winner! I want to be God's go-to man. I want to believe the faith rises and falls on me. I want to be the one who carries the ball of Christianity across the finish line. I often have to stop myself and ask, " George, why are you trying to do what only God can do? Do you think He can handle it?" Yes. . . and no.
Side bar: I have the gift of being able to think through every possible scenario. I also have the curse of being able to think through every possible scenario. One produces measured results, the other produces . . . . paranoia.
Some of it is well intentioned. I want to show people Christ in a way that is authentic and not plastic. I want to show a Christianity that works. . . in all situations. I want personal holiness that brings God glory, and shows people Christ and not me.
Then there is the not so well intended reasons.
I want to get it done because no one else is doing it right. I want people to recognize me and point to me and say " We can always count on him."(Can you see the cape flowing in the breeze as I plant the Christian flag on the sunlit mountain side?) I love being that guy. I have been that guy several times in my life. It has huge payoffs. The problem is, it's not sustainable. The image and the reality are not the same, but for a moment.
Deserts are lonely places. You can be completely surrounded by family and friends, but if they are not experiencing the same issues, you are alone. Except for God.
Since entering my desert, God has not abandoned me. I can honestly say I have never felt as if God abandoned me. I can say I have questioned God, but I have never felt as if God was saying "Good luck with all that." Whether on top of a parking garage, in a green meadow, or while on a run God has always meat me. And those angels, he has sent a few. They have come in the form of my children, my wife, close friends, and new friends.
The pillar of cloud is now resting over Beaver, PA. For a season it was over Evanston. In either place, God has been telling me " Remain faithful. obey. Handle accurately the word of truth. Keep focused. Love me,and those whom I put in your path. In this you will find rest." Between the lines He's telling me " Don't waste time trying to find a silver bullet. Don't waste your energy trying to wrestle me. Don't try to present me with sweet smelling sacrifices. Keep your eyes and head moving forward."
Is there a promised land? Yes. But it too has its issues. In either case, desert or not, what I think God is trying to teach me and lead me into is rest. The kind of rest that looks like Jesus in the boat, asleep during the storm; trusting the Father in all things. The danger, the temptation, is to rest in things that are tangible like money, a new home, a job, or escaping into things that are emotional junk food like food itself, pornography, online relationship, you name it. It's perfectly natural for us to seek after rest and security. The question is, where and in what do we seek it?
I am learning what it means to rest in God in all things, giving thanks for today, and not placing expectations on tomorrow. Its completely counter intuitive to our culture of day-timers, forecasts, and predictions. It took Israel 40 years to learn to rest in God, day after day after day after day. It took an entire generation to learn rest (trust). I'm getting frustrated after a couple months.
In all of this, the desert is, dare I say, a gift. The desert allows us to experience God in the same way Moses, Jesus, and Paul did. It allows us, if we are willing, to trust in God alone for our provisions. No one wants a desert. No one asks for God to lead them into the desert, and yet there are a lot of desert experiences in scripture. I guess I'm in good company. I'm not alone. It appears deserts are necessary.
What is the purpose of deserts? Preparation. For what? Other deserts. If we learn to live faithfully in the current one, we are better prepared to live in the next. If we try to skip the present desert, we are guaranteed to face another one and experience the same trials. God is a God of second chances. That includes deserts. Ever wondered what Jesus meant by the abundant life promised to us? I think he meant fullness, but most like to translate that into wealth. I think Christ meant that if we follow his voice, we will experience a fullness of life, beyond our expectations. I have not meat people who have experienced that fullness who have also not experienced deserts. Could fullness include suffering? I think so.
I am slowly. . very slowly learning not to fear the desert. What God is doing to me in the midst of it is pointing out my weaknesses, and his strengths. God is changing me from the inside out.
Posted by George Atkins at 8:06 AM
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Today is my designated day of concentrated prayer. A day I set in place some time ago. Its a day that I enterceed for the needs of others, and open myself up to God in a way that is less about me, and more about God through me. Its a day I look forward to. Its also a day about remembering. Remembering God's work in my life and in the life of others.
I used to believe that one of the greatest affects of sin is forgetting. We tend to forget God's provisions. We take them for granted. We keep moving forward as soon as we have have been delievered. But forgetting can also release us to move forward. Forgetting is not such a bad thing. I know, I know. I am probabably contridicting myself in light of my previous posts, and there are some experieces that I will never forget. Do you think Abraham ever forgot about taking Isaac into the wilderness? No. Was it a defining moment? Yes. Did it shape every encounter from that point foward? To a degree, but probably not consciously.
I do believe God allows us to forget in the sense that if were to live in the constant state of remembering all things we as humans would have a hard time moving forward, and at the same time, the Lord has to remind his people of His past provisions to help them move forward in boldness. The Lord tells us that our sins He will remember no more and throw them as far as the East is from the West. That's pretty far. That's pretty good forgetting.
Now, if I could only remember where I left my cell phone.
Bring to rememberance all that Christ has taught us,and help us to forget the sins we have committed, and the pain we have experienced or caused. Help us to walk forward with the knowledge of your redemptive love and leave behind the temptations that so easily entangle our feet.
Posted by George Atkins at 6:11 AM
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
A friend of mine from another faith tradition questioned, not critically, the role of prayer in my life. Is it for intercession, praise, meditation? My answer was "Yes". All of thee above.
Most of what I have experienced and practiced is deal making with God, "If you get me out of this one I will be so good from now on." Then I read some Sadhu Sundar Sing. Read what he has to say about prayer.
When we see a crane standing motionless on the side of a tank or lake, we may suppose from his attitude that he is musing on the glory of God or the excellent quality of the water. But no such thing! He stand there motionless for hours, but the moment he catches sight of a frog or small fish he springs upon it and gulps it down. Just such is the attitude and method of many with regard to prayer and religious meditation. Seated by the shore of the boundless ocean of God, they give no thought to His majesty and love, or to His divine nature that cleanses from sin and satisfies the hungry soul, but are wrapped up in the thought of acquiring some specially desired object, by means of which they may more fully indulge in the delights of this fleeting world. Thus they turn away from the fountain of true peace, and, immersing themselves in the fading joys of this world, with them also die and pass away.
Equaly moving is CS Lewis's response to prayer in "Shadow Lands". When asked if prayer changes things, Lewis (played by Sr. Anthony Hopkins)replies " I don't know, but I know it changes me."
I have lived for so long without the kind of prayer that changes me. Without the kind of prayer that cleanses me from sin. I dare not live that kind of life any longer.
God used suffering to change me. Go figure! Suffering drove me to my knees. Actually it drove me straight to the ground, prostrate. It drove me to the top of a parking garage where I could be as vocal and I wanted to be. I remember the pain in the prayers. I remember the desparation. Most would want to forget that kind of pain, but I do not. Paul wanted to know Christ in the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his sufferings. It is within the pain we come to know God and God meets us. Not because that's the only place to meet us, but because its often the first or only place were we invite God to present.
Do I want the suffering to go away? Yes. Do I want the memory to leave? No. If so, I am afraid I will abandon the kind of prayer that truly changes me.
One day, after such prayer, I got up and heard the voice " So, will this last after things have calm down, or is this just for now?" I was cut to the quick. I can honestly say, its has continued, but not because I have made a deal with God, but because I can not go back now that I have tasted God's presence and power in such prayer.
Posted by George Atkins at 12:16 PM
Monday, June 22, 2009
My brothers and I grew up raising tropical fish. Actually, they did, I watched and over fed them till I got old enough to get my own tanks.
We kept all sorts of fish, but mostly fish known as African Cichlids, found in the rift lakes of Africa.
These fish are very colorful and hearty, but they do take some time to get acclimated to a new tank. They are very territorial and can be sensitive to the water chemistry. You can't simply dump them into the tank and hope it works out. Before adding a new fish, you should actually re-arrange the entire tank and do a partial water change before intorducing the new fish. This way the environment is new for everyone and the new fish has a chance to establish itself.
This process doesn't happen with people. When we move we're dumped into a new environment we have to figure out the culture and assimilate, to a certain degree. We have to get acclimated to the culture.
Fish disease and death is caused more by stress than anything else. What affect do you think stress has on humans? Something I think we completely underestimate and probably over medicate (I completely support medical intervention when appropriate, and at the same time I think we should be working towards alternatives such as reshaping our thinking as Paul encourages us in Romans).
Stress is an indicator that things are either not normal or different. Stress itself is not bad and can actually motivate us to greater levels of functioning. Too much stress can debilitate us and even cause death.
As I experience my families transition to a new town, each of us are experiencing stress in different ways. Each of us are getting acclimated at different rates. The key that I have found in being OK with the stress is to name it and recognize it, not deny it. In naming it I have found that it looses its power and allows me the grace to be OK with it.
Paul says if you're stressed, pray about it, and God will give you peace, not as the world gives, but only as God gives. I would encourage you memorize Philippians 4:4-7.
Our approach to stress and anxiety can be a witness to God's power in our life.
May the Lord grant us peace, and use our lives to bring hope and encouragement to all those who know us.
Posted by George Atkins at 11:47 AM
Friday, June 5, 2009
The question I get more than any other from people is "What is God's will for my life?" It's usually set in the context of a job change, relationship, or any number of other circumstances requiring a decision. These situations often keep people paralyzed from going in any direction because they are afraid of making a wrong move. They want a guaranteed result. They want to be sure that the path they take will lead to beneficial results.
The reality is, I often get these questions from people who have not cultivated a relationship with God. They are not dedicated to prayer. They do not know God's word. They have not placed themselves with in a community of people who are doing the same thing. In short, they are simply winging it, and by coming to the "pastor" they are trying to take a short cut. I am honored that they consider me as a source of sage advice, and I am, but I have no more access to God's word or the Holy Spirit than they do. While I consider my vocation a calling, and not a career, I do not take that calling as a call to spiritual greatness, but a call to spiritual humility and service.
Romans 12:1-2 says "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
What is God's will? That we be faithful and obedient to the Gospel and not to the world. What does that mean in each situation? This can only be determined in the context of God's word, prayer, and wise counsel ( Wise counsel does not always mean your circle of friends who are willing to tell you what you want to hear). Then moving forward in faith. Is picking the right spouse, job, or car a matter of being obedient to God's will? Yes, and I believe God will show you the right path within the disciplines given, but that does not mean the path will be easy.
We read Romans 8:28 believing that God works all things together for our good because we love God, but we believe good is comfort, and safety. We shun the idea that good could be suffering and trials.
Paul dared to know Christ in the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his sufferings. Who dares to know such a Christ today? Not many, but those who do have a faith that can move mountains. They have a faith that puts them in touch with God's will, because they daily die to themselves and present themselves as living sacrifices.
Do you dare to know God's will? Do you dare to know God in the way Paul and Ruth know God? Or do you want to live your life winging it, being fearful, looking back and constantly asking "What if I had . . ?", or "If I had only . ."
Here is your prescription for knowing God's will. It may feel like flossing at first, but it will provide a lifetime of prevention.
1. Get up in the morning and start off on your face thanking God, confessing sin, interceding for others, asking for wisdom, and giving God glory.
2. Read your Bible. Use a study guide if necessary, but get your face in the book. God speaks to those who seek God out.
3. Get yourself in the company of people who know God and who are willing to speak truth.
4. Throughout the day simply repeat The Jesus Creed (Matt 12:29-31)- 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'There is no commandment greater than these."
5. Be thankful and gracious in all circumstances.
Let me know how it goes.
Start . . .Now!
Posted by George Atkins at 11:18 AM
Thursday, June 4, 2009
There are songs that are attached to specific events in one's life. Into the Mystic came into my life during a transitional period in which I was leaving a job to enter into the ministry. The song was often played on the CD player in the coffee shop, and I remember longing to be in ministry and being able to enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning without having to be interrupted by a customer. That day is now here, but something else is interrupting me. . Life.
I am at another crossroads of life, heading into a new ministry in land that is not my own. The fog horn is blowing, I hear it, and I don't have to fear it. I'm being pulled into the mystic.
This song has returned to me, and I am thankful. For a listen, go to my tunes below. its the first one.
Posted by George Atkins at 9:52 AM
Monday, June 1, 2009
We live in a world, and particularly a culture that wants to know how things are going to happen and when they're going to happen. We have people who are "trained" to forecast the weather, and stock market, but the best they can do is give an educated guess based upon previous data.
Often within the church we assimilate the understanding of predictions to our understanding of prophecy, which is not entirely false and yet, not entirely true. We often look at prophecy with our eyes squinted shut in doubt because so much "prophecy" does not come to fruition. We actually wait for it not to happen, unlike Nineveh who repented in expectation of prophecy coming to pass, which begs the question of Jonah, who's prophecy was it?
I have come to know and experience several prophets in my time, but they did not predict what I would have for lunch, or whom I would marry. They were preachers who rightly divided the Word of God and applied it to the cultural context they were preaching in to guide the people towards holy living. They simply preached the Word and stepped back and said "Thus saith the Lord". The weight of the prophecy then rests on the hearers to respond (James 1:19-27).
Can we predict or forecast how people will respond to our preaching? Somewhat, because we have a history of data to show us how God's people have responded in the past, but we can never know what exactly that response will be in the moment because we don't know how the Holy Spirit is going to work in a certain person's life at any given moment.
We can never be quite certain how the winds will shift or to what degree they will affect the weather. We can never be quite certain how human nature will affect the stock market. We can forecast, and predict. That's all we can do. And in our prophecy we can speak forth the Word of God, and pray that what the Lord calls us to share moves people closer to God.
This is why for me, each day is step of faith. Each moment, even now as I type, I ask God, what would you have me say and do that would bring you glory, and how are you calling me to respond to your glory? I can't live by forecasts and predictions (as much as I try), only by the Word of God.
Posted by George Atkins at 7:42 AM
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Two years ago the First Focus and Youth groups played softball against eachother! I wanted to play, but when I swung at the ball I missed it and I stomped off the field crying. Two years after I decided to try again, and I actually hit it!!!! I kept wanting to hit the ball more and more because it was so much fun hitting!!! I felt more confident than I did two years ago!!! We can't do it again because we're moving to Pittsburgh. But there is softball in Pittsburgh!!! YEAH!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by George Atkins at 4:01 PM
Temptation doesn't always have to come in the form of enticement, like chocolate or sex. Temptation can come in the form of fear or worry. The temptation associated with fear and worry is to believe the worst possible scenario is the one that will happen, and the worrier can either do whatever is possible to avoid that scenario or just cave and actually play a part in self fulfilling prophecy. One is rooted in works and control, the other manifests itself in pluralization.
The Biblical response to fear, is courage, but not courage rooted in personal strength, but courage rooted in surrender. I know, it doesn't make sense, but its the way it works. Its surrendering to God those things that your are fearful and anxious about to God, and walking forward in the courage that God is in control. Its not avoidance. Avoidance is simply saying I'm going to act as if it doesn't exist when it does. Surrender is accepting the reality that it exists but not allowing it to master you.
This is where we see Paul in 2 Corinthians talk about his thorn, and experiencing God's strength in the midst of weakness. Paul asks, pleads, that it be removed, but God says " my grace is sufficient, my power is perfected in weakness."
Today I was blessed by an encounter with a brother in the Lord who appears to be living a parallel life to mine. He's moving forward, trying something new in the worst possible climate to be doing it. Both of us feel like we are living day to day by faith, supported by family, friends, and the Lord. Both of us feel like there are tremendous stakes involved, and there are, and at the same time, both of us feel like no matter what happens we will survive because of God's grace. Neither of us communicated feeling like God was silent or absent. Just the opposite. We have been encouraged by God's presence through scripture and prayer.
What does strength and courage look like again? Its not the absence of fear. Its not the denial of temptation? Its surrendering to God's power in the midst of our weaknesses, our temptations, and our fears, and crying out "Help" because we have no other place to go.
Our life is laid before you. You see it all clearly. You are not surprised by our circumstances. You are not afraid of our fears. You enter into them. You enter into our life through your Holy Spirit. You enter into our life through your word. You enter into our life through the community of fellow followers trying to take the next step of faith when everything else is telling you step in another direction. Help us this day to step into you. Help us to lean into the wave of your grace and love. Help us not to be consumed with our fears, but to be consumed by your grace. Help us to be present for family and friends who need us to be the living Christ.
Posted by George Atkins at 3:39 PM
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
A slight detour from my theme of fear and anxiety is in order.
I awoke this morning having had a good nights sleep after three terrible nights. I awoke thanking God for the sleep. I then prayed for a while, and began to get get myself ready. While preparing myself for the day, the Lord said to me "This is a day of fasting for you." I was like, OK. Never been told the day of, and I usually map this out in advance, but if that's what you want, I'll do it. It came in an almost audible voice. Its a call to pray for His church and his people. Its also a call to listen. I am excited to see what this day holds.
I went downstairs to fix coffee for Joline and I, and a yellow finch landed on my door and began to peck at it. I went to the door ,and it flew away. A moment latter, it came back and did the same thing. So, I opened the door and looked outside to realize something that I had been anxious about was absolutely fine. It was God showing me that He is looking out for me. That he is considering me when I am asleep.
The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. Psalm 145:8
The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:22-25
Posted by George Atkins at 5:11 AM
Monday, May 25, 2009
According to Wikipedia, collateral damage is damage that is unintended or incidental to the intended outcome.
This may or may not be the proper way of describing those who live with others who wrestle with fear and anxiety, but I'm going to go with it.
Spouses, children, and friends are often hurt in the same way second-hand smokers are affected. They may not be the one smoking, but they inhale the results. They are also left feeling powerless to do anything but to stand by and watch. This, in some ways, is just as painful as dealing with it directly. I have been told " I don't know what to tell you. I wish I could help, but I don't know how."
The reality is, few are prepared or equipped to deal with such severe fear and anxiety. The greatest thing anybody living with someone who wrestles with fear and anxiety is to insist they get help, even if it means making an appointment for them. If help is not accepted the loved one in need is like a drowning victim who will only drag you down with them, even though its not their intention to do so.
From personal experience, I have been that drowning victim, and I have pulled others with me, particularly my wife. For several years during difficult times in ministry my wife shouldered the emotional load of both family issues (and we had a few) as well as my depression. It wasn't fair. But, its what she did, and I have had to ask for forgiveness.
I have also had to repent, and repentance took the form of getting help, both medically and spiritually. I had to recognize that my fear and anxiety were rooted in physiological, spiritual, and environmental issues. Just to address it from one aspect would have negated the reality of the others.
I totally believe in the power of prayer, and have an intercessory team praying for me. I also believe in spiritual ware fare and how the Adversary uses our weakness to cause sinful footholds in our life. I have a doctor who knows my family medical history, and a counselor who understands my psychological wiring and work environment. All of these are working in tandem to keep me going. I'm a bit like an Indy race car who needs a whole pit crew to keep me running.
In addition to my spouse, my kids became collateral damage. "Why is Dad so sad? Why does Dad get so angry? Why won't Dad play with us?" I have had to ask for forgiveness from them ,and repent. What does repentance look like with children? I have committed myself not to teach my kids fear, but courage and bravery. With my 8 year old, we have three truths we repeat every day, (1) God is always with you, (2) Mom and Dad will always love you, (3) It's OK to be afraid, but we are able to be brave because of 1 and 2. We repeat it as much for me as we do for her, but I know she is retaining it.
Collateral damage is not the Gospel. Collateral love is. Collateral prayer is. Collateral redemption is. God is in the business of redeeming the ugly and making it beautiful. I guess that's what God calls grace.
You are the redeemer of all things. The stone the cutters rejected you used as a cornerstone, a stumbling block. We have not been rejected by you, but have been called by name and redeemed. Help us to recognize what we need and not what we might want. Be with our family members and help them to speak truth to us. Give us ears to hear, eyes to see, feet and hands to respond. May we never forsake your name. You have seen the things we wrestle with far in advance. Our life is laid before you. Help us to be faithful and obedient in all things, and learn to give you thanks in all things, even our suffering. No matter how real or perceived. You hold all things together.
Posted by George Atkins at 3:29 PM
Sunday, May 24, 2009
This is the perfect word for how people who wrestle with fear and anxiety feel, consumed. Over the years, while not all the time, in those moments I have felt totally consumed by fear and anxiety. Consumed to the point where you forget what joy ever felt like. Consumed to the point where you feel thin, and I'm not talking weight, but the kind of thin that feels like you could be torn in half like tissue paper. Consumed to where all you can think about is the potential for disaster when there is sun and chirping birds (Yes, my mood and word pictures are driven by weather, for right now). Consumed to the point where you feel much older than you are. Consumed to the point were you feel like you have little to offer anybody . . except the church, and this is when it gets dangerous.
Why, because your family can become collateral damage. As a church leader you are told to put on a bold and brave front and keep the troops high because people are coming to you for help in their times of need, so you exhaust yourself in being strong for others, and then have little to give to your family. Its not their (your family) fault, they need you just as much, if not more. We assume that if we're doing God's work, God will take care of your family. Wrong! God will take care of his bride (church). Its your job to take care your bride and family. If you allow yourself to be consumed, they will be consumed with you. (I'll share more about this in the next post).
Pastors try to be lone rangers in our attempts to be brave, and we read scripture that encourages us not to fear, so we say "I'm not going to be afraid", but sometimes that just doesn't seem to work. Why does God tell us not to be afraid? Because we are! God is not surprised that we're going to be afraid. God is not shocked that we deal with anxiety because he says "Don't be anxious". But his call not to be afraid and anxious is not a call to intestinal fortitude, but placed in the light of His presence in our life. God's remedy for fear and anxiety is presence. His presence bring us peace. His presence in our life is in the form of his Holy Spirit, His Word, and his church. But the presence of the church doesn't work unless we become transparent with our fears, especially as pastors. The sin is not being afraid and anxious. The sin is allowing that fear and anxiety to keep you from surrendering yourself to God and others. There are times when we do need to be carried by others. As Ortberg says, the church is the fellowship of the mat (Mark 2). We need to carry each other.
I could give your so many resources about this, but I am only going to give you two right now. First, you need to focus on God's promises. Here is one that seems to be working in many of my friends lives right now and in mine.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)
Second is "Be not Afraid" by Dave Ivaska. This is a wonderful companion study guide to scripture that shows us where God calls his people not to be afraid, and how God comes along side them in their fear and anxiety.
Here is my prayer for you (and me today).
Your word, Your Holy Spirit, and your church are wonderful gifts to us. Help us to lean into those gifts. Consume us with your peace. Consume our fear and anxiety with your grace and peace. Forgive us when we allow our fears and anxiety to paralyze us. Forgive for us when we try to shoulder this alone. Bring to remembrance the blessings in our life. Shut out the fear of what has yet to happen, and replace it with thanksgiving and gratitude for what is. Give us strength and courage to push forward this day. Thank you for being a God who understands and knows fear personally. Thank you for being a God with whom we can draw near in our times of need.
Posted by George Atkins at 4:26 AM
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I'm returning to blogging because its time for me to start sharing about my life with fear and anxiety. Its time that I take the mask off and begin to reveal who I am as a disciple of Jesus Christ and how I live with fear and anxiety. Its ugly and beautiful, paralyzing and propelling.
I am going to take an unpopular stance, and say that I think fear and anxiety are temptations that can lead to sin. I'm not discounting the fact that millions of us who struggle with it may need more than spiritual intervention, but if you only medicate it you will miss out on the abundant grace God has in store for you. Fear and anxiety are rooted in what hasn't happened, but might, in the mind of the individual. For example, it could be bright and sunny out, but the one who wrestle with fear and anxiety can only focus on when it might rain next. There is always the potential for rain, but the individual allows that potential to rob them of the joy in the present sunshine. This may result in one constantly checking weather foracsts and watching the horizon for clouds. Can they control the weather, no, but they want to be ready for it when it does.
Why do I believe it can lead to sin, because its rooted in idolatry. Its a denial of God's love and intervention. It enables a person to believe that they can control the circumstances if they work hard enough.
At the same time, courage is close bedfellow with fear and anxiety. Courage is not the abscence of fear, but the recognition of it and moving forward inspite of the fear. Was Jesus afraid. Hebrews 5:7-9 speaks directly to Jesus calling out in loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save, and was heard because of his submission. It even says that Jesus learned obedience through suffering. Hold the phone! Jesus had to learn something? Yes.
In the coming posts I will share my experiences with fear and anxeity, how its impacted me and my family, and how I have become pro-active in addressing its source and reoccurances in my life.
Join me if you dare. Share if you like. Surrender if you can.
Posted by George Atkins at 1:52 PM