Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Do Not Be Anxious

With Mark in Dresden, Germany
Last month, I accepted the realization that I am an anxious traveler. While I have had the privilege of traversing much of the globe as a child of missionaries and then later as one myself, I was usually accompanied by someone. Only four times in my life have I made overseas journeys by myself. While in college, I spent six weeks studying with Baylor in France. (That was when I finally accepted that I am an American, but that’s another story.) Then during my seminary days, I went to Japan (via Korea, Philippines and PNG) for a summer missions experience. And while in Indonesia, I traveled to Australia and to the US for two weddings. 

I also realize that in almost all those instances, I was met by someone who helped me get to my final destination. Only to Paris did I make the whole trip alone. And that was stressful! I even cried! And I was young! 

So now for the past 30 years, I have traveled with Mark. He’s the adventurous one. He rents the cars, navigates the new directions and drives 100 miles an hour on the autobahn! He makes the trips fun. So I was rather taken aback when I spent a good portion of our recent trip to Europe worrying! 

Will we make the flight? Will we figure out the train? Will we understand where to go? Why doesn’t the number on my ticket match the number on the sign? What if we get on the wrong train? What if we don’t have enough cash? Where do we get cash? If we rent a car, what if we put a dent in it because insurance is really high? Will we know where to park, to find our Airbnb? Where will we eat? What if we get lost? And it went on and on. 

This is ridiculous, I told myself. You enjoy this. This is a once in a lifetime chance to see and experience a new place. Don’t be a downer for Mark. Laugh. Have fun. Stop being anxious!

In Philippians 6a, the Apostle Paul says, Do not be anxious about anything. What does that mean? What is anxiety? How does one NOT be anxious? About ANYTHING?

To be anxious means “experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”. The “Feeling Wheel” puts it in the same quadrant as fear. I know that for some people, anxiety is a crippling disorder that they fight every day. Medically, it is “characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” I am not equipped to address that in this post. Instead, I speak to others like me, who periodically let an impending decision or the care for a loved one consume our thoughts with worry. 

In Biblical Greek, anxious means to be troubled with cares. This same word was used by Paul when he described the concerns of a married person versus a single one in 1 Corinthians 7:34. Jesus used this word too in Matthew 6:31-34 when he instructed us to not worry about what we shall eat or drink or wear. And perhaps the best example is in Luke 10:41-42 where Jesus told Martha that she was worried and upset about many things instead of choosing what was better.

So back to my trip. Despite my anxiety, I was actually able to enjoy myself. How? I was not alone. Only because Mark was with me was I able to relax and enjoy the experience. It took a bit longer, but we did figure out the train. We got where we needed to go and we got home again without any real glitches. And just as Mark’s presence helped assuage my fear, Paul reminds me that God’s presence does the same. Just look right before our familiar verse. In 4:5b, it says, The Lord is near.

I know. I know. We usually jump to the next phraseinstead pray about everythingbut we’ll get to that later. (Remember that the punctuation and verse divisions were added by scribes and not by Paul himself.) For now I am encouraged to see these two familiar phrases joined together once again. Fear and God’s presence.

I noticed this in my study last year of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:28-30 italics mine). Sprinkled throughout Scripture, the promise of God's presence is given as an antidote to fear.

So what will I do the next time I am troubled with cares? First, I will trust the One who goes with me. Because I am not alone, I can reach out to him to ask for his help, guidance, company and direction. Mark may be a good travel companion, but only God is with me—in methrough anything!

Thank you, Father that your Holy Spirit never leaves me and is in fact, in me. I take you with me wherever I go and I am not alone. Teach me to lean on your presence when I am prone to be troubled with cares.

Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Psalm 23:4 "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
Isaiah 41:10 "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Hebrews 13:5b-6 "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.'"

Also in this series:

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

I Will Rejoice in the Lord

I love this shop, Walk in Love
where one can buy tees like this.
When I was in college, I had what I called “blah” days. For no apparent reason, I felt down and lethargic. Looking back, I wish I had explored this more, maybe talked to a counselor, and perhaps it was just hormonal. 

A song based on various psalms was popular at the time:

I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart
I will enter his courts with praise
I will say “this is the day that the Lord has made”
I will rejoice for he has made me glad
He has made me glad, oh, he has made me glad
I will rejoice for he has made me glad.

And so, choosing to rejoice, I sang those words over and over during my “blah” days. And I found that things looked up.*

After my dear friend Lori died and I was tired and weepy and unmotivated to work, I took extra time to rest and take care of myself. After a week or two of puttering around my house (for that is what rejuvenates me), the Holy Spirit led me to some songs** about joy. It was time to choose to rejoice. 

And now, I am sad again. Sad because someone I love has chosen the way of bondage. And like before, the Spirit challenges me to apply the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

What did the Philippians have to rejoice about? After all, Paul was addressing the quarrel of Syntyche and Euodia. He knew that conflict, sin and lack of forgiveness rob joy from our lives. How could Paul’s “companion” rejoice while watching his sisters fight? How can I rejoice when someone I love chooses to walk away from God? 

Rejoice means to be glad, happy, full of cheer, and well off. Paul tells us to rejoice often about many things but only in Philippians are we instructed to rejoice in the Lord.
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! Philippians 3:1a (NIV)
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Philippians 4:10a (NIV)
Paul’s specific mention of what to rejoice in implies there are other things I may turn to in order to find joy. For me, I most naturally rejoice where I am comfortable, feel safe, am at peace with those around me and when they are behaving as I’d like them to. But oftentimes, real pain and conflict is brewing under the surface. And so Paul tells us that only in God is true joy. Spurgeon says this about verse four:
“I am glad that we do not know what the quarrel was about; I am usually thankful for ignorance on such subjects;—but as a cure for disagreements, the apostle says, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.”
So how do I find joy in my current situation? First I focus on the word “will”. I WILL rejoice. I will choose to find some joy in this situation. Choosing to be glad is a discipline that helps overcome sadness or loss. It gets me out of my doldrums. I WILL rejoice.

And secondly, I focus on the object of my joy—the Lord. What do I have to rejoice about in the Lord? He is sovereign. He is big. He is not caught off guard. He loves perfectly all who reject him or distort him. He woos and pursues. He hears my cries. He answers prayer. He runs after the one who is lost. He is faithful and good. I can rest in his unfailing love. I choose to exercise abiding confidence in the sovereignty and bigness of God. 

And so I pray:

I will be glad that You are able to do immeasurable more than I could ask or imagine (Eph 3:20)! I will be happy that You are sovereign and bigger than any trial or obstacle. Nothing is impossible for You (Lk 1:37). I will rejoice that You have paid for sin on the cross and that You offer forgiveness to all who accept it (Eph 2:8-9). I will be glad that Your peace overcomes conflict (2 Cor 13:11). I will be happy that You continue to pursue those who reject or distort You and that Your love is unfailing and unchanging (I Jn 3:1, Lk 15:4). I will rejoice that You are the king over all the earth (Ps 47:2) and that Your plans will always be accomplished (Is 48:10). I will rejoice that You have overcome evil and that Your truth and goodness will ultimately prevail (Rom 16:20). I will be well off because You are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and do not treat us as our sins deserve (Ps 103:8-12). I will be glad that You discipline those You love (Pr 3:12). I will rejoice that You are the God of all comfort who comforts me in my troubles (2 Cor 1:4).

How can you choose to rejoice in the Lord today?
What other statements about the Lord can you make that will bring joy to your situation today?

*Of course, I am not talking about a diagnosed depression or anxiety—for that, please get professional help.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Hang Gentleness!

In the BBC movie version* of Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennett is running around in a tizzy because a wealthy gentleman has come to call on her eldest daughter in the early morning. Because she is not dressed yet, she says to her mother, “Let Kitty [her younger sister] go down. She’s forwarder than any of us.” To which Mrs. Bennett replies "Oh hang Kitty! What is she to do with it?”

This frequently quoted line in our household describes how I feel about Paul's statement in verses four and five of Philippians chapter four: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all". 

Oh hang gentleness! What's gentleness to do with it? (And rejoicing too, for that matter, but we’ll get to that in another post.) Paul had just finished asking the believers to help two church leaders be of the same mind, i.e. to be Christlike. His jump to gentleness seems so random.

My first observation is that this word, epieikes, is translated differently in almost every version: 'gentleness' in the NET and NIV, 'forbearance' in the RSV and NAS, 'gentle spirit' in the NASB and AMP, 'graciousness' in the CSB and HCSB, 'reasonableness' in the ESV, 'moderation' in the KJV and 'considerate' in the NLT. 

Secondly, this is not the same word found in the list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:23. Clarke’s commentary defines epieikes as “mildness, patience, yieldingness, gentleness, moderation, unwillingness to litigate or contend”. It is found in only four other verses:
Titus 3:2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
I Timothy 3:3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money
James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
I Peter 2:18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
I get the idea that I am to be considerate and gracious, reasonable and impartial, not going to extremes as I interact with others, especially when there is conflict. It is the opposite of violent, quarrelsome and harsh.

David Gusak says, “This word describes a person who is really free to let go of his anxieties and all the things that cause him stress, because he knows that the Lord will take up his cause.” Matthew Henry adds, “Do not run into extremes; avoid bigotry and animosity; judge charitably concerning one another.”

So, on further consideration, I propose that gentleness has everything to do with it! While at first this seems out of place — a random thought — Paul knows exactly what I need when I want to put up my hackles and be offended. Paul’s reminder to be gentle (gracious and considerate) will keep me from responding shortly and with irritation when I disagree. And it will guide me as I help others to resolve differences. He knows that a gentle spirit is key to being of the same mind.

How can you let your gentleness be evident?
What does being gracious and considerate look like in your situation?

Father God, teach me to be gracious and considerate. May my gentle spirit be evident as I try to resolve differences with those that I love or participate in helping others work it out. Show me when I am going to extremes instead of being reasonable. Remind me that you have got my back and I can trust you. Help me simply be kind and courteous.

*The actual quote from the book is: “We will be down as soon as we can,” said Jane; “but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went upstairs half an hour ago.” “Oh! hang Kitty! What has she got to do with it?”

Monday, April 30, 2018

A "Same Mind" Example

Beth served as the leader of an anti-sex trafficking ministry. She was young, passionate, idealistic and smart. Beth went into brothels to rescue sex slaves. She met with local police and government officials. Her highly competent, high output personality was well suited for her unique role.

But Beth did not conform to the "Christian bubble" norms. She was brash, loud and not afraid to confront. Her view on women leaders was also not popular in her context. And Beth did have her blind spots. She stomped on a lot of toes. People were hurt and left the ministry. 

So, it didn’t take long for Beth to run into difficulty. She did try to conform but she could not sustain it. It just wasn’t her. She soon found herself excluded from activities. Very reasonable excuses were always given, but still she was left out.

Unlike others in the ministry, Mary took time to get to know and understand Beth. It was not always easy, but it turned out to be a refreshing pleasure. While she came across very strong and intimidating, Beth actually had a very soft, tender underbelly. As she got to know Beth better, Mary found her extremely kind and compassionate, more gracious than anyone else she knew in her town. You had to get close to see it, but she was a very caring person. She didn’t pretend, so Mary was quite comfortable with her authenticity. They often disagreed but their relationship was strong enough to bear the differences. They debated and discussed many things and Mary became the wiser for it. Beth sharpened her in ways others around her could not because of their very interesting discussions. 

Soon Beth bumped up against other leaders. And the typical scenario ensued. Mediation was tried, but the “writing was on the wall”. Her world was too small to absorb someone who was so different, and seemingly not “of the same mind.” Beth eventually resigned.

Mary was sad as she witnessed this all-to-familiar scenario. Saying nothing with deafening silence, pushing away to avoid conflict or demanding cookie-cutter similarity were not the directions God wanted her to go. Instead, Mary understood and practiced the Apostle Paul's injunction to "be of the same mind". While she didn't always agree with Beth nor was she able to change the outcome, she had the "mindset of Christ". She valued Beth and looked to her interests (Phil 2:3-5). She put aside her own discomfort and sought to know Beth, hear her heart and acknowledge her beauty and her unique contribution to the work of the Lord.

How can you have the mindset of Christ toward someone who is "different"?

Lord God, I know that every situation is very complex and I never know all the factors that cause a conflict like you do. Help me not to judge but rather to be wiling to have your mindset when I see conflict. Teach me to make that extra effort to come alongside someone that rubs me the wrong way and truly seek to understand them. It will probably be messy and uncomfortable, but teach me to value others and look to their interests. Help me to not be intimidated by differences but to reach out in love.

Also in this series:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Cleaning Out and Saving Stuff

An aluminum double boiler, hand-embroidered tea towels, pocket knives, Papua New Guinea weapons, army metal ammunition boxes, 50 gallon drums, vintage suitcases, antique cameras in pristine condition, melamine dishes we used as children, a Samurai sword my father brought back from Japan, the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook my mother fed us from—all things that caught my eye among my parents’ possessions as I helped sort, distribute and clean out their home last week. 
Some were from childhood daysmelamine dishes. Some were newer acquisitionsGrandpa’s handmade bookcase. Some brought back vivid memoriesa jar candle that sat in our bathroom unlit. Others I had no idea even existedarmy rings from Manila. Others were curiositiesa 1911 manual on “Nature’s Secrets”. And some made us laughgourds from PNG village men.

But it was the volume of letters, cards and photos that my mother saved from her children, family and friends that truly blew me away. These pieces of paper were the only means of connection we had with loved ones who served God so far away. They represented hours and hours of time invested in handwriting and typing letters that took two weeks to cross the ocean. And so mom painstakingly folded, catalogued and stored each one.
And then of course there were the nick nacks, kitchen utensils, clothing and unwanted furniture we carted to Goodwill. And then finally the stuff to be thrown away. Large items on the front curb and small stuff in trash bags. Dusty, dried flower arrangements, costume jewelry, magazines, things dad said he was going to fix one day, and every cardboard box ever received and every used. Junk, really. But as the adage goes, "one man’s junk...."

We will never know what it all really meant to them. Why did they save the things they did? I ponder what this teaches me about what they valued?

The saved correspondence tells me my mother valued connection with loved ones. The many translation materials and Bible-helps speaks to their value of the Scriptures, the Word of God. The memorabilia from Papua New Guinea, the suitcases and the drums depict the value of serving God as missionaries. And the saved boxes, jars, plastic items, magazines fairly shouts of their value to never throw anything away, to repurpose whatever they could and to accept any gift that was given to them.

Honoring ones parents is a strange thing. Suddenly they are gone and the stuff, the material stuff, stays here. What was collected over a life time, used, treasured and stored is now touched, remembered, laughed at, kept or tossed by the ones left behind. My siblings and I seemed to keep the things that brought either an emotional or a practical response. So what does this say about our values?

Dad’s pocket watch had meaning because it came from his grandfather and he played with it as a boy. Their wedding rings symbolized the love and oneness that created our whole household. Mom's good silverware set reminded me of her gift of hospitality and the many meals I helped her prepare for guests. We valued the items that were loved by my parents.
So as I reflect on last week, I wonder what Jesus valued? He tells us in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:36-40)
Jesus valued his Father, love and relationships. When we value someone, we value the things they value. I experienced that last week.

Do you value what Jesus valued? 

Do you retain what meant the world to him or do you hang onto things that he would throw away?

Thank you Lord, for my parents, for my siblings and for my heritage you blessed us with. Going through mom and dad's belongings was hard work but it provided reminders of love, home, friendship, the Word of God and service to you. Help me to put the physical stuff in it's rightful place and value what You value.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Help Them Be Christlike

This week a childhood acquaintance lost a close friend because she publicly expressed her anger at injustice. Hearing this reinforces my fears. I fear going more public with my writing because I know someone will inevitably disagree with me. And some folks are very disagreeable in how they disagree. 

Like most people, I gravitate toward folks who think the same way I do. Sadly, I’d rather have a complaining session with someone who agrees with me than with someone who may challenge me to think or question my reasoning. And questioning someone’s reasoning in a reasonable manner does not mean we are disobeying Paul’s injunction to be of the same mind (Philippians 4:2).

If being of the same mind doesn’t mean we have to become cookie-cutter Christians, then we will (and do) have disagreements. We could use help. In Philippians 4:3, the Apostle Paul asked someone to help Euodia and Syntyche. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women [be of the same mind]

Perhaps this companion was an elder or family member—who knows—but nonetheless, this person was someone Paul felt could help them be Christlike. If I were Euodia or Syntyche, Christlikeness would not be my goal. My goal would be to get this companion to see my side and declare me to be right. And then to get him or her to convince everyone else! 

Note that the companion was asked. He did not choose of his own accord to “get involved in another man’s quarrel” (Pr 26:17) or “stir up conflict” (Pr 16:28). When anyone uses extreme persuasion, manipulation, triangulating and projection as methods to try to convince another they are right and that we should be of “the same mind”, this is unhealthy and not what Paul's intent.

On the other hand, the companion was also not asked to simply pacify, appease and keep the ladies from getting upset. Peter Scazzero says that “when, out of fear, we avoid conflict and appease people, we are false peacemakers.” His or her job was to help each one understand the other, respect and value the other, not necessarily to make them agree on every point. In other words, to be Christlike (Philippians 2:5). 

We have lost the art of purposeful debate, of gentle questioning, of lively discussion. We take everything so personally. We think that if someone voted for a different candidate or they practice a different mode of baptism or want women to have a more prominent role in the church that we cannot be friends or that they are against us. 

I still loved my father even though we disagreed. I can still sit down and have coffee with a friend who voted differently than I did. I accept that my sons are making choices I would not make. Where I fall short is that I don't take it a step further and truly listen to them — to dig deeper and ask them why they feel that way or how they justify their decision. I have a hard time concealing my judgment or disapproval in my facial expressions. 

I need to practice what I have learned to do in a debriefing or mentoring setting. When a friend shares they are questioning their faith or no longer believe God is good, I don’t recoil in horror. I listen, nod, and affirm their feelings. I acknowledge how they landed at this point and only as they ask for guidance, gently point them in search of something else. And I know my limits — when it is time to “call in the big guns”, as my husband says  and refer them to professional counselors and peacemakers. 

This assumes a certain level of emotional health. According to Peter Scazzero, an effective companion must "have their own beliefs, convictions, directions, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them. They can choose before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think intelligently. I may not agree with you or you with me. Yet I can remain in relationship with you. I don’t have to detach from you, reject you, avoid you, or criticize you to validate myself. I can be myself apart from you.” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)

So what does this look like? How do we help others be "of the same mind"? 
  • We listen to all sides without bias.
  • We do not assign judgment.
  • We remind them what Jesus was like — the traits we can imitate, not the parts of Jesus that only he could fulfill such as rightly seeing into a person’s heart, judging motive, and displaying pure righteous anger.
  • We encourage them to talk (using "I" statements) and listen to each other (repeat back what they hear).
  • We protect them from harmful manipulation and badgering. 
  • We allow them to fail, flounder or reach a different conclusion.
  • We let them go, if necessary.
  • We are gentle (see next post).
  • We are emotionally healthy. We can differentiate. We have appropriate boundaries.
How are you being called to help others work it out?

Lord God, when I am asked to help another work it out, give me wisdom. This is truly a hard task and I may not be up to it. Help me to step aside if I am not ready and grow me in Christlikeness first before I attempt to help others.

Suggested Reading: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero

Also in this series:

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Sacred Touch

I carry my tension in my neck. Computers and iPads make it worse yet. To help with this, I started going to a massage therapist. Her strong fingers find knots and kinks in my neck and shoulders I don't know I have. Her touch brings relief and my physical tension dissipates. But more than that, I realize I also I feel comforted, loved and cared for.

One day she told me she was leaving the practice so that she could devote her entire time to the care of cancer patients — patients who simply long for relief from their pain. She explained that these ones don't get enough touch because others shy away from them not knowing what to do or how to help. 

“Whenever I put my hands on someone's body”, she said, “it is a sacred act, a healing act, a chance for me to bring relief and comfort to someone who is hurting.”

Today as I lay on the massage table (yes, I found a new therapist) receiving that same sacred touch, I thought of Jesus the rabbi, who broke all cultural and religious rules and touched the diseased, the blind, the deaf, the terrified. Jesus who brought comfort and healing through his touch. 
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:3)
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20:34)
Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!” ). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:34-35)
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 17:5-7)
And I wonder who can I touch today? And when I do, may I remember that I am touching God  "For this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye.'" (Zechariah 2:8) 

How might you be able to give a sacred touch to another today?

Lord, I know that touch has also been a devastating thing to many people and sometimes my attempt to help brings more hurt. Give me wisdom to know when and how to extend a sacred touch to a fellow traveler. Help me to point them to you, the true healer and comforter.