Our strategy is to Gather – Grow – Serve.
This message explores our Serve part of the strategy.
I wrote this for a weekly update I do for our church in response to the shootings in Oregon. Some thought it was helpful, so I share it here.
There are more. These are three which come to my mind this morning.
Pray. Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for the people who live in the area. Tragedies like this always shake a community even more than the broader world. Pray for the response of government and law officials. Pray for our world. These are desperate times. Pray for the Gospel to have opportunities to shine through darkness. “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Remember. This world is not our home. You believe that, right? We who believe are here on temporary assignment. We are pilgrims on a journey — passing through as we head towards our eternal home. Our God is on His throne. He is not surprised. He is not unprepared. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 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.” (Psalm 23:1-4)
Overcome evil. What if with every tragedy and every negative news report believers decided to do something good for others? Not requested. Unexpected. Just random acts of goodness in the name of Jesus Christ. What if we displayed peace and joy in the midst of sorrow? What if others who have no faith saw us who believe responding in faith? “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21)
It is natural for children to respond with fear when they see these type tragedies. I wrote an article in response to this issue a couple years ago. I post it here in case it is helpful dealing with your children. http://www.ronedmondson.com/2012/12/7-ways-to-help-children-cope-with-fear.html
As a supplement to the message I did on anxiety and trust I asked my friend Dr. Jennifer Degler to do a guest post on my blog with her thoughts and observations on the issue of anxiety and Christians.
A psychologist, life coach, author, speaker, wife, and mom, Jennifer is passionate about helping people create healthy, successful relationships. You can find Dr. Jennifer podcasting and blogging about marriage, sex, parenting, friendships, and spiritual and personal growth on the Healthy Relationships Rx website at http://healthyrelationshipsrx.com.
About 20% of the US population has an anxiety disorder. That’s about one in five people, or 40 million adults. If you were allowed to pick your psychological disorder, pick anxiety because it’s very treatable. Not every psychological condition is treatable, but anxiety responds very well to treatment; however, only about 1/3 of suffering anxious people ever seek treatment. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to depression.
When I was in graduate school in the 1980’s, depression was the common cold of mental illness. Now it’s anxiety. Americans live in one of the safest countries in the world, but after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the anxiety levels of Americans skyrocketed.
I think overexposure to and over-consumption of anxiety-provoking material, like 24/7 scary news stories and increasingly violent movies and video games, has contributed to the rise in anxiety disorders. You would think anxious people wouldn’t watch a lot of news and crime shows, but they tend to be heavy consumers, usually because they are subconsciously watching for what the victim “did wrong” in a misguided effort to keep themselves safe by avoiding similar behaviors. Unfortunately, instead of making them feel safer, overexposure to anxiety-provoking shows and news stories just makes them feel more unsafe and keeps their brains in a hypervigilant state.
Anxiety tricks our brain, and the amygdala in particular, into activating our fight vs. flight response when we aren’t actually in danger. For example, when we watch a scary movie, our brains are tricked into thinking we are in danger even though we are safe in the theater. So our heart pounds, our palms sweat, and we breathe faster—until the movie is over. Then we realize we are safe, and our brain and body calm down.
For chronic worriers or those with an anxiety disorder, worry about the future is the scary movie. Those “What If” worries about an uncertain future hijack the brain, trick it into activating the fight vs. flight response, and cause physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. Once anxious people understand this neural hijacking, they are much less self-condemning of their anxiety and better able to use body-centered techniques to calm their anxious brain.
Here’s my favorite quote to use in conjunction with teaching clients body-centered techniques, such as mindfulness or progressive muscle relaxation, which help them use their five senses to pull their anxious mind back into today.
“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me today.” Elisabeth Elliot
And, most of the time, we are okay in today. Dry, warm, fed, roof over our heads–that’s today, and we are okay in today. It’s in the imagined future that we aren’t okay.
It’s so much better to live in the Land of What Is instead of the Land of What If.
1) Christians over spiritualize fear and anxiety. They tend to believe it’s all a spiritual thing and overlook the genetic, personality, and trauma contributors to anxiety issues. And when believers hear another person tell of their anxiety struggles, they tend to prescribe only spiritual solutions for a mind/body/spirit problem. If you have an anxiety disorder, you are unlikely to be able to “pray it away” any more than you could pray away diabetes.
2) Christians carry shame over their anxiety and fear because they tend to believe it always indicates a lack of faith or an immature faith. They believe lies such as “Good Christians never feel afraid or anxious” or “If I struggle with worry, I am a weak Christian.”
3) Because of the shame, they tend to cover over how much they are suffering from an untreated anxiety disorder. They gloss over it, call it being “stressed out,” and don’t share their stories in community where they could possibly receive support and encouragement to get treatment.
4) Christians can give each other truly unhelpful but sounds-so-spiritual advice for managing crippling fear and anxiety, like “Just let go and let God” or “Just give it to Jesus” or “Just lean into Jesus.” What in the world does this look like practically?
5) Christians can be suspicious of helpful body-centered techniques for managing anxiety. It’s like we are Gnostics who believe the body is evil and only spirit is good, when in fact, body-centered techniques work well to reduce anxiety because of the way God made our brain.
6) Because Christianity offers peace, hope, and a certain eternal future, it is particularly attractive to anxious people. So baseline, you’ll find more anxious people in a church than waiting in line to bungee jump. I don’t have hard statistics on this, but I think the incidence of anxiety disorders in a church congregation is higher than the 20% you find in the general US population. Plus anxious people tend to also be imaginative, deeply feeling, empathetic people–the kind of people who are drawn to the kindness and compassion found in good churches.
If you are the 1 in 5 persons who struggles with anxiety, worry, or fear, please get treatment from an experienced mental health professional. While treatment may not make the anxiety go completely away, it should help you suffer much less and be able to enjoy the abundant life and peace Jesus promises.
I remember the first time I saw someone standing on a sidewalk with a bullhorn in their hands, shouting to the crowds, “Repent or Perish”.
They meant well. They had a passion for their work — they wanted people to come to realize the amazing Gospel of grace. I get that. And, I applaud the desire. And the effort.
But, I never thought it was an effective method of evangelism.
I always wondered if anyone ever came any closer to the gospel because the one shouting on the street corner frightened them into repentance. Maybe someone did, but somehow I doubt it’s a large number.
It doesn’t seem to me a bullhorn on a street — or a sign saying “God hates ______” is the best way to share a message of love. And, isn’t that the message? “For God so loved the world…”
It’s loud and it’s on every street corner – figuratively speaking.
It’s called social media. It goes by names such as Facebook. Twitter. Blog.
It’s where the bullhorn holder posts or shares a condemning statement towards someone with whom they don’t agree — sinners we call them. They make a proclamation against them. They complain. They bash. They condemn. They attempt to frighten.
They are loud.
Don’t misunderstand, the person with a bullhorn almost always means well. They have strong passion and intent. I applaud them for believing what they believe. (Personally I think we each hold that right.)
But, my head is spinning about this new bullhorn. With all its good intent, I simply don’t think it’s working. At least not in my opinion.
Certainly it makes the person holding the bullhorn feel better. Like they did their part. It’s a release of bent up a motion.
And, frankly, we even celebrate the practice. It’s how a post goes viral. You’ll get the most shares and likes the more divisive you are. The more controversial the subject the more it gets shared. If simply getting attention is the goal – – the bullhorn works.
Here’s the problem – again, my perception.
The only people an angry online discourse appeals to is other people just as angry about the same issue as the person making the rant.
And, the other side — it makes the people who don’t agree angrier and more firm in their own position.
The online bullhorn forces people to choose sides. It backs them in the proverbial corner where they feel they have no option other than to come back fighting with their own bullhorn.
And, both sides get louder.
The bullhorn approach comes across as having very little grace. And, in the bullhorn shouter’s heart, the grace may be there, but it’s covered over by the loudness of what they view as truth. (And, that’s key, because it’s usually “their view”. The loudest bullhorns are many times subjective — an opinion — often based on truth but full of their own spin or interpretation.
And, this is just my opinion — and go ahead and say it — I’m doing in this post what I’m criticizing others for doing, and maybe I am, but it needs to be said. We shouldn’t use our platform to provoke people. Especially as believers, we should use it to make the world a better place with the ultimate goal of showing the world the love of Christ.
Without love we are clanging gongs. Semi-useless. Bullhorns.
That certainly doesn’t seem to be Christ-like.
If we want to do things like Christ then, rather than blasting sinners on the street corner we will have to meet the woman at the well. We will have to dine with Zacchaeus and his tax collector friends. We have to value the poor widow and not ignore an opportunity to love the little children.
To my believer friends I have a suggestion – maybe a plea – let’s drop the bullhorn. Let’s build some relationships, genuinely love people so we can have any hope of sharing truth.
And, that’s the end of my rant.
(Pre-post thought. In some occasions God may call us to the “repent or perish” type message – He did Jonah — but in the days of grace and with Jesus example, the relational approach appears to work better, again, in my opinion.)
I loved this post from Desiring God recently: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-should-christians-comment-online. I shared earlier this post on how Christians can be less mean online.
The title of the day has always confused me. It’s called Labor Day and yet it’s supposed to be a break from our labor.
And, of course, some will work today. When I was in retail this was a busy day. Thank you to our emergency personnel and hospital workers and those that keep our commerce and lifestyles going today.
But, something tells me you need the day off — or a day off — as much as I do. If there is anything Americans are not good at its rest. It might be the one command of the 10 commandments we dishonor the most.
I wonder if that’s one reason we are so tense with each other all the time — but, I’ll save that thought for another post.
I read the following in this mornings Denison report:
Americans work too much. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. We work 100 more hours per year than the Japanese, and 250 more hours per year than the British. What about the work-obsessed Germans? We work 500 more hours per year than they do. We take less vacation time than other nations, work longer days, and retire later. If anyone needs a Labor Day;to cease from labor, it’s us.
(I highly recommend the Denison Report as a resource for pastors.)
Saddest of all — we often celebrate it as “the American Way”. We call it progress. Efficiency.
But, it may be causing more harm than good. Personally and collectively.
If I’m going to write a post like this I have to point four fingers back any direction I point one finger to others. I could easily be accused of being a workaholic.
Years ago, however, I learned a secret. It’s a secret about myself I believe is probably a secret about you. If I will shut down one day – and periodically shut down for several days – I am far more effective when I am working. It’s a key to long-term success.
When I go to long periods without resting I am more tempted towards burnout, anxiety, and even depression. I’m not as much fun to be around and I worry more than I pray. (Again, could this be a reason we are so tense with each other at times? — again, another post.)
It’s like God knew what He was doing when He issued the command.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m still very much American when it comes to my work ethic. I work far more than 40 hours a week. But, when I shut down – – I try to shut down. I’m not perfect at it (and I have to read this in case my wife still reads this blog), but I’m getting better with age.
Do you need a break? Do you need to invest in yourself?
I highly recommend the practice. Even if you have to work today – schedule your own “Labor Day” soon – and often.
And, I can’t even take credit for the idea.
You may want to read how I protect my Sabbath.
I was coaching a group of pastors recently and asked a question I’ve encountered but never really answered. It’s a question which seems to come up frequently these days. It’s actually a great and relevant question for our times. In fact, I think it’s one many churches need to consider. It’s a common dilemma churches face today.
In church revitalization, I often encourage churches to consider whether the church can be revived. Frankly some churches cannot. Some churches have a culture which works against them. The energy, in my opinion, would be better spent elsewhere.
And, some churches have had their community leave them. The community has changed and they no longer look like their community demographically.
Now, to avoid confusion, I’m not talking spiritually. The church never reflects the community there. The church usually is counter-cultural in terms of how we reflect God’s standards In our communities. I’m strictly talking demographically.
That’s the one scenario which triggered this question.
Background. This church had for years been overwhelmingly a white, middle class church. The community is presently less than 20% white. The dominant demographic is Hispanic.
The question was: How can we grow now that we don’t represent the demographics of our community?
Great question. I’m not sure my answer was what he expected, but I think it’s a good answer. (If I can be bold and say that.) Before I share my answer you need to know I’m a realistic, bluntly honest person. Plus, I don’t think I can tell him or the church what to do. I can only help them consider the options.
I think he’s asking the wrong question — at least the wrong initial question.
I think the question a church in this situation has to ask is what they are going to do — not how they are going to do whatever they do. More importantly, the why behind what you do will ultimately fuel the church to achieve it.
Furthermore, I went on to advise him that I believe the church needs to answer this question collectively — or at least more lay leadership needs to be involved in the answer. Whatever the church decides to do will determine the future of the church. Pastors may come and go, but those in the church will likely have to live with the answer for the remaining life of the church.
Become like the community.
You can strive to represent your community again. This may require staffing and programming changes. You’ll have to ask a lot more questions such as what the community needs and how best to address them. You’ll need to engage current community leaders — and this is not just elected leaders but community activists and people who know the community. It won’t be easy and it will challenge your people, but it’s a noble goal. It’s likely the community reds more churches which do reflect the community. But, getting there won’t be easy.
Leave the community.
You can relocate. You can relocate to a demographic that better represents who the churches now. Some will disagree, but i don’t believe this decision would mean you don’t care for the community which is here now. The church is just different. You should know this can be an expensive option, because you likely will not be able to sell your current facilities for what it will take to relocate. Possibly you can. Or, you could be very kingdom-minded and help a church who does represent the community establish in your existing facility by gifting it to them or significantly discounting the price them.
Slowly die in the community.
This is an option. It wouldn’t be my favorite, but it is an option. It could actually be a viable option if at the end of your time you realize your building is going to be better used by a church that does represent the community. You could begin to share your facility with a church like that now and coexist for the for seeable future, then when your church officially closes its doors the new church inherits the building.
I realize there are strong opinions with each one of these answers. And, none of the answers come easy. Frankly, to me it doesn’t matter as much which you choose — as much as it does that you do. We need churches of all kinds in all kinds of communities. I firmly believe, however, that answering the question of which choice you are committed to make will ultimately determine what you do next.
As an organizational guy, I can tell you that trying to address the how before you determine the what and why is almost always wasted energy. With so much Kingdom-building needed who has time for that?