The Church Beyond Anxiety

We live in anxious times.  

It doesn’t take a keen observer of the news to feel it.  It is always there during an election, but it feels more acute this time. The stakes are so high, it seems, that Canada is already offering a new home for the losing side.  If you have to go somewhere, there are worst places. 

As someone who spends most of my waking hours either at a church, reading about church, thinking or writing about what it means to be the church, all this feeling of anxiety isn’t unfamiliar. 

It flows from our fear – the fear of what we can’t control or predict, the fear that the ground beneath us is shifting, the fear that the ground might not be what we thought it was or what it always has been. 

It is, in fact, more than a feeling. It is reality. The ground on which we stand is shifting. What were once our strengths we now experience as liabilities. We don’t have the same influence we used to, even here in the Bible Belt. The institutions and structures we created to enable ministry have become burdens and obstacles to continuing it. Our experience isn’t the answer because the culture and church where we gained it no longer exist apart from our memories. 

The shifting landscape means we aren’t sure where we are headed and what exactly we should do.  The only thing we are certain of is that we don’t like uncertainty. 

I was struck last week at how friends from another denomination were reporting on the exact same arguments and frustrations and battles at their annual meeting as we did at ours a couple of months ago. Different names on the signs and different meeting places, but the same divisions, the same heartbreak, the same falling short of the city of God. 

When it comes the church, anxiety is a universal experience. 

The Antidote

The uncertainty tempts us to seek our salvation in new strategies and well researched plans – a third way, a new approach, a call to action, a way forward, you’ve heard them all. But a surplus of plans and consultants hasn’t released us from the prison of anxiety and uncertainty. 

That’s because the antidote to the problems isn’t a new strategy – it is faithfulness. The firm foundation we are looking for in the midst of uncertainty won’t come from marketing slogans or complicated plans.  Instead, it is found where it always has been – in answering Jesus’ call to follow.  The call to fidelity is the call that created the church and it is the call that will see the church through.

The way beyond fear is no more and no less than the Way and the pattern of life that Jesus handed down to us.  It is found in worship that reorients our life by centering it in God, in spiritual formation that reminds us that everything we have is a gift and in working to make the world more just and more like God envisions it.  It is acting from our core conviction that everyone was created in the Image of God and it is living by grace that in the best times and in the worst times God is with us.  

It is the Way that prevents us from chasing lesser things and it is the Way that enables us to stay true to our purpose and calling.  It is the Way that reminds us of why we actually exist in the first place – to bear witness to God’s love, to make the world a better place for all of God’s children, to enjoy a community where everyone can find and use the gifts God has given them and to help one another live lives that look more like the life Jesus lived and the one he envisions for us. 

We find our way in this complicated time for the Church by living into the rhythms of these convictions – the Way and the pattern of life shaped by gift and responsibility, by confession and forgiveness, by absolution and reconciliation, by salvation through faith  and membership in God’s beloved community. 

Make no mistake, this Way isn’t easy.  It requires a trust and a radical commitment in the victory of God.  But why not – don’t we say that the church is of God and give our lives in the promise that the church, the bride of Christ, will be persevered until the end of time? 

It’s probably unrealistic to think that the anxiety we live with in the church is going away any time soon.  As dramatic as this might seem, the culture will shift again – there will be new challenges and more obstacles, new uncertainties and more chances to live in fear.  

But the way forward is the same as it always been, and it begins with answering a charge – Follow Me.  

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The One Thing You Need: On How To Survive The Feelings

I was in that familiar place the other night.  A long day at work filled with the stress and anxiety that can come this time of year in my chosen vocation had taken its toll. As I sat on the couch, staring at the television in order to get sucked into another story so I could escape mine for at least a few minutes, my wife asked the question – “How are you doing?” I responded with all that I could muster, despite the fact that all that I could muster had been reduced to a broken sentence. “The Feelings, lots and lots of The Feelings”.

The Feelings – whether you call them that or not, you know them.  We all do. Any of us who have graduated past the age of five have known them and the situations that create them, cause them and bring them into the center of our lives.  All it takes is having the experience of being knocked around by life a little and knowing all too well the struggle of trying to hold the work stuff and the faith stuff and the family stuff together while trying to live a life of meaning and purpose.

photo-1422284763110-6d0edd657b13

We definitely know The Feelings in my family.  We’ve met them and despite our wishes, they keep coming back to visit even though we’d rather they not. They are messy, they tear things up and they break every rule my mother taught me about being a good houseguest.

That’s why we have a saying around here – boring is underrated. It’s not that we prefer the boring life.  It’s just that over the last few years we’ve dealt with some stuff, serious stuff, stuff that will knock you back, stuff that will make you cry, and stuff that will really put you on your knees – because you want, no you need to know where God is in all of it and you also know that grace from something more powerful than you is the only way you are going to get through it.

And what I had to remind myself after I formed that sterling example of 21st Century American Literature the other night is this – it is the grace that will get me through.

When I look back on the hard times in my life, I remember and am thankful for my community of saints. When I have felt weary, and when the stress seemed like a mountainous wave just waiting to crash over me and my house, it has been my friends who have lifted me up out of despair over and over again by reminding me of what I know is true. When the struggles won’t stop, the spiritual practices – the habits and the patterns that God has developed in me over time that keep me rooted and grounded in love – have also done their part to rescue me.

But more than anything it has been the grace that has gotten me through. When the anxiety builds and the worry piles on and the fear shouts its condemnation, it can be easy to lose my way. And as a recovering perfectionist when I lose my way – whether it is allowing sin to lead me to anger, making a foolish mistake, snapping at a friend or simply allowing defeat to set in – it doesn’t take long for the condemnations to come again.

Maybe this is why my favorite book in the Bible is Lamentations.  It is tucked in the Old Testament between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  It’s power comes as the writer draws you into the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness the people feel after the destruction of the temple and the Exile that followed. But the tenor of the book changes in chapter 3 from despair to hope: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

photo-1421091242698-34f6ad7fc088These are the words that get me through. Because it’s when all you have is the broken sentence that faith makes a difference.  It’s when you feel defeated that you remember the words of hope – that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It’s when you feel like you have met your match that you remember the words of Exodus – that God heard their cries.  It’s when you feel like you can’t take one more punch that you remember the words of grace that God speaks again and again – that sin is real and so are its scars, but that God is willing and able to do whatever it takes to heal and to restore and to renew.

Despite my wishes, I know The Feelings won’t leave us alone.  They will be back because sometimes life is hard and control is an illusion. They will be back because Christian faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening to you, but instead points to the power that will help you survive them when they do.  But when they come, this I can call to mind and have hope – God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.

Grace – no matter what you are dealing with, it is enough to get you through.

Thank You So Much For Sharing...

The One Thing You Need: On How To Survive The Feelings

I was in that familiar place the other night.  A long day at work filled with the stress and anxiety that can come this time of year in my chosen vocation had taken its toll. As I sat on the couch, staring at the television in order to get sucked into another story so I could escape mine for at least a few minutes, my wife asked the question – “How are you doing?” I responded with all that I could muster, despite the fact that all that I could muster had been reduced to a broken sentence. “The Feelings, lots and lots of The Feelings”.

The Feelings – whether you call them that or not, you know them.  We all do. Any of us who have graduated past the age of five have known them and the situations that create them, cause them and bring them into the center of our lives.  All it takes is having the experience of being knocked around by life a little and knowing all too well the struggle of trying to hold the work stuff and the faith stuff and the family stuff together while trying to live a life of meaning and purpose.

photo-1422284763110-6d0edd657b13

We definitely know The Feelings in my family.  We’ve met them and despite our wishes, they keep coming back to visit even though we’d rather they not. They are messy, they tear things up and they break every rule my mother taught me about being a good houseguest.

That’s why we have a saying around here – boring is underrated. It’s not that we prefer the boring life.  It’s just that over the last few years we’ve dealt with some stuff, serious stuff, stuff that will knock you back, stuff that will make you cry, and stuff that will really put you on your knees – because you want, no you need to know where God is in all of it and you also know that grace from something more powerful than you is the only way you are going to get through it.

And what I had to remind myself after I formed that sterling example of 21st Century American Literature the other night is this – it is the grace that will get me through.

When I look back on the hard times in my life, I remember and am thankful for my community of saints. When I have felt weary, and when the stress seemed like a mountainous wave just waiting to crash over me and my house, it has been my friends who have lifted me up out of despair over and over again by reminding me of what I know is true. When the struggles won’t stop, the spiritual practices – the habits and the patterns that God has developed in me over time that keep me rooted and grounded in love – have also done their part to rescue me.

But more than anything it has been the grace that has gotten me through. When the anxiety builds and the worry piles on and the fear shouts its condemnation, it can be easy to lose my way. And as a recovering perfectionist when I lose my way – whether it is allowing sin to lead me to anger, making a foolish mistake, snapping at a friend or simply allowing defeat to set in – it doesn’t take long for the condemnations to come again.

Maybe this is why my favorite book in the Bible is Lamentations.  It is tucked in the Old Testament between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  It’s power comes as the writer draws you into the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness the people feel after the destruction of the temple and the Exile that followed. But the tenor of the book changes in chapter 3 from despair to hope: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

photo-1421091242698-34f6ad7fc088These are the words that get me through. Because it’s when all you have is the broken sentence that faith makes a difference.  It’s when you feel defeated that you remember the words of hope – that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It’s when you feel like you have met your match that you remember the words of Exodus – that God heard their cries.  It’s when you feel like you can’t take one more punch that you remember the words of grace that God speaks again and again – that sin is real and so are its scars, but that God is willing and able to do whatever it takes to heal and to restore and to renew.

Despite my wishes, I know The Feelings won’t leave us alone.  They will be back because sometimes life is hard and control is an illusion. They will be back because Christian faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening to you, but instead points to the power that will help you survive them when they do.  But when they come, this I can call to mind and have hope – God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.

Grace – no matter what you are dealing with, it is enough to get you through.

Thank You So Much For Sharing...