Friday, August 28, 2009

Trust and Obey

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.

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ground Control to Major Tom!

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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lessons From A Smashed Thumb

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.