High Anxiety

High Anxiety

I have always been an anxious person.  I arrive at the airport two days before my scheduled departure.  I want my taxes done by the end of January.  I know the circumstances under which I am likely to die.  I will have a heart attack while awaiting the results of a routine medical test.  The test will show I am fine, but my anxiety about the test will cause the heart attack.

My son seems to have inherited this tendency toward anxiety, his daughter too.  She gets extremely upset when they head into the subway, afraid they might miss their train.  He must remind her, “It’s all right.  Another train will come along soon.  They always do.”  I apologize to both.  Undue anxiety is a burden.

I used to think my anxiety was useful.  I believed it caused me to be cautious, prepared and appropriately conservative.  I was not likely to hike above the tree line if there was any possibility of a thunderstorm.  I always traveled with any medications I might need.  I took care.  Unfortunately, over the years I have learned it is possible to become dependent on your anxieties.

I have an anxious friend who is very sure there is no God.  He approaches each day as though he must find some independent meaning to the next 24 hours.  My friend takes pride in his unbelief.  He uses his confident atheism to feed his ongoing anxiety. There is a smug pride in his lack of expectation about any inherent goodness in the world.

I understand how my friend came to his position.  Better not get your hopes up, for surely they will be dashed.  We use our anxieties to manage our expectations, to stop us from looking at what might be possible, to stop us from aiming for the stars.  It is difficult to set aside these “useful” anxieties, primarily because of how completely dependent upon them we have become.

To let go of anxiety is to admit you are not in control.  It is to acknowledge you never were and you never will be the captain of your own ship.  To let go of anxiety is to fall into the arms of the Jesus you cannot see or hear, the one who is nothing if not subtle.

I know I must loosen this grip on thin air, this vain clutching.  I must trust God, the one who knew me before I was born and numbered every single hair upon my head.  I must give up these “useful” anxieties that provide nothing but false assurances.  I must leap and trust the God who will help me grow wings on the way down.  I must move beyond my anxieties.

The Keys to the Kingdom

The Keys To The Kingdom?

I know many Christians who live frightened lives.  They are afraid of being judged. They are afraid of disappointing others and disappointing God.  They live lives of fearful desperation.  The generosity of spirit they lack toward themselves is often projected onto others.  These poor souls become bitter and judgmental.  They do not exhibit the fruit of the gospel.  They exhibit a distortion of the gospel.

The scriptures are full of stories of broken and flawed people who were used by God.  Because they became followers of God did not mean they stopped doing stupid things.  They just recognized God’s grace was greater than their stupidity.  There is no shortage of examples.

Jesus chose Peter to preach the first gospel message, the same Peter who spoke at the transfiguration when he should have kept his mouth shut.  The same Peter who took his eyes off Jesus and fell into the water.  The same Peter who cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest.  The same Peter who denied knowing Jesus.  One could arguably say Peter did the wrong thing only slightly less often than he did the right thing.  Yet he was given the keys to the kingdom.

How about David?  He had an affair, impregnated a woman, put her husband in a place where he was sure to be killed, and still managed to be called a man after God’s own heart.

Given their checkered pasts, neither of these men would be chosen to lead a prestigious church.  The search team would say, “We can’t choose David, there is infidelity in his background.”  “We can’t choose Peter, the guy is a loose cannon.  He’ll stick his foot in his mouth.”  How about Jacob?  “Ooh, we can’t consider him.  There are inappropriate financial dealings in his background.”

You get the idea.  I am not suggesting we take God’s grace and forgiveness for granted. Paul made that pretty clear in Romans 6.  But who decided to take it upon themselves to determine who was in and who was out?

I spoke at a church recently in which one of the elders told me I was pretty dangerous because I believed women should be allowed preach.  I certainly understand how he might disagree with me.  Lots of people disagree with me.  But to suggest that I am “pretty dangerous” seemed a bit of a stretch.  Maybe I am misguided, but “pretty dangerous?”

I am pleased God seems to have found a use for lots of flawed people.  It gives me hope – both for me and for the elder who thinks I am pretty dangerous.

And so it goes.

My Favorite Readers

My Favorite Readers

When I was writing weekly for Christian Standard magazine, I would often ask myself, “For whom am I writing this column?”  What reader am I envisioning?  My readers were a hodgepodge of people ranging from seminary professors to small town Sunday School teachers.  All manner of folks seemed to read the column at least every now and again.

There was one group I heard from more than any other.  It was older women, mostly from small town and country churches – the kind of people who form the backbone of just about every church.  They come to me when I speak at their congregations, tug at my sport coat and pull me down to whisper, “I read your column every time it comes out.”  They write on pretty stationery, with impeccable penmanship.  They know all manner of things I do not know and cannot even begin to know.  I am warmly gratified by their encouragement.  I think of them as my “core” readers, the ones who nod with a knowing smile, or kindly dismiss a misguided column with gracious silence.

For some reason my preaching has always been appreciated more by women than men.  Based on the volume of my mail, so is my writing.  I am comfortable with that.  In fact, I am pleased so many women enjoy my column, women who lack agendas and are seldom in a hurry to “change things.”  You know who these women are.  They look a lot like Jesus.

Come to think of it, that might be why they appreciate my column, because these readers do look like Jesus.  Jesus spent a lot of time with wounded travelers and misguided zealots.  He probably would have read my column too, just like he would have read yours, pleased to see us giving it our best shot, resigned to the reality that we get it wrong more often than we get it right.

I love when I see a handwritten letter come in the mail, especially if it’s on stationery with cardinals and cherry blossoms.  I know I am going to appreciate the sentiments written inside.  I answer every letter, on my own stationery, with my own terrible handwriting.  It is one of the most enjoyable things I do.

And so it goes.

He Creates the Categories

He Creates The Categories

If you listen to a preacher long enough you will begin to figure out his or her unresolved issues.  They keep coming up in sermons.  Some subjects are repeated so often you’d think the preacher was following the advertising adage, “It takes six to stick.”

A lot of us who grew up in the churches of Christ and Christian churches speak often about grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  During childhood we heard enough sermons about judgment to last several lifetimes.  The problem with our approach to choosing sermon topics is that we are out of balance.  The God of scripture is gracious and merciful and loving, but he can also be angry and elusive and rather particular about what he expects of us.  He will not be categorized.  He creates the categories.  He does not fit into them.

When God came to earth he was just as confounding as he was when communicating from heaven.  God was not liberal.  God was not conservative.  God made everyone angry.

I often use the DiSC test, a psychological tool that describes people by how they prefer to interact with others.  The four categories of the DiSC are Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.  Most people discover they have strengths in two of the four areas.  For instance many senior pastors score with a high “D” and “I” on the test, meaning they are dominant influencers.  On the other hand, many elementary school teachers score with a high “S” and “C” on the test, meaning they are conscientious and steady workers who prefer small groups.

Very few people question the findings of the test.  Most feel it is very accurate.  After we finish scoring the test I often ask what personality type various biblical figures had.  Mention Peter and everyone says, “High Influence and Dominance.”  Ask about Barnabas and they say, “High S and C – Steadiness and Conscientiousness.”  Paul has a high “D” and a high “C.”  He is dominant and focused on the details.  Once you understand the test you can pretty accurately pick the personality type of anyone in scripture – well, just about anyone.

I always ask about Jesus last.  Occasionally someone will suggest a specific personality type for Jesus- usually their own!  Most people sit in stunned silence.  Jesus is the only person I mention whose personality defies description.  He is the perfect balance of all four types.  And that would be my point.

We are made in God’s image, but we are not God.  Only Jesus was.  Only he was fully and perfectly human.  So when it is time for me to preach the word, I would be well advised to let God be God and not edit his material to my own liking.  I may not need to preach the 21st century version of Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, but I don’t need to be Thomas Jefferson either, tearing out the pages of scripture I do not like.  A little balance will go a very long way.

And so it goes.