Monday, November 25, 2013

The "Must" Problem…and Anxiety

I'm up at 2 AM.  This is ridiculous. My mind is clogged with random thoughts.  As I list them on paper (my way to unclog the brain-constipation), I see a repetitive word.  It's the key to why I'm awake.  The word is "must." In my running list of what is causing me a lack of much-needed-sleep, I repeat this word over and over.  I "MUST" do.  I "MUST" think about.  I "MUST" work on.  I "MUST" not forget.  So there you have it.  My problem has a name.  I didn't create it.  Someone else did.  It might seem a bit inappropriate at first glance.  I'll use it anyway.  The problem I face is "mustabatory thinking."

The "musts" are consuming and controlling my meant-for-sleep-time this morning.  As I stayed in bed, I created more "musts."  I "must" get this under control.  I "must" get back to sleep, because I "must" be up early.  I simply jumped from one "must" to another.  The truth is that I can do nothing about these things in the middle of the night.  However, the "musts" are addictive when it's dark and there are no distractions. The "musts" are addictive...and toxic.  The "musts" drive me away from a mind of peace that the Lord intends for His followers: the peace that passes all understanding and keeps my heart settled on him.  The "musts" reduce me to a state of anxiety.

Right. The cure, then, according to the Apostle Paul is LIGHT in the form of gratitude, prayer, and a think list (see Philippians 4:4-8).  I know this.  However, I'm reading in the book of Matthew for my LIGHT-STUDY at the moment.  God knows this.  So, where do I pick up?  Matthew 6:25-33 (in my Bible, it has a section title: The Cure for Anxiety).  Coincidence?  I think not.  Here are the key verses in this particular passage:

Seek first His kingdom and  His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own (6:33-34).

Jesus says, when it comes to anxiety, "Do not be...(vs 24)."  Does this mean that Jesus-Followers will never be anxious?  Let me ask another question: Does this mean that Jesus-Followers will never get a cold?  Of course not!  Anxiety is called the common-cold of emotional problems for a reason.  We will get anxious.  Period.  Yet, Jesus tells us would-be-followers that there's a better way than wallowing.  The better way is a way out.  We don't have to live there.  Jesus, bless his holy heart, gives us some steps up and out.  Mostly, if we really think about it, they are just reminders.  So, he reminds us of these things:
- He takes care of the details of our lives.  He's in charge.  He's SOVEREIGN.
-Worrying doesn't do me any good.  It doesn't change a thing.
-Replace the anxiety with Kingdom-mindedness and righteousness.
-Live fully in the moment.

So, here, in the middle of the wee-hours-of-the-morning, the only thing I can do from that list is "replace my thinking."  So, what does it mean to be Kingdom-minded, instead of earthly, worry-minded?  How do I think outside my own little selfish world to the bigger, grander world of the King of Kings?  Here's where Paul's commentary in Philippians 4 helps.  Look back a couple of paragraphs.  I can start with gratitude. As I list what I have to be thankful for, my heart begins to settle.  I make a "thank-you list" and I truly begin to sense contentment filling my heart (A GrEaT tHiNg to do the week of THANKSGIVING - coincidence, I think not).  I can add prayer, not just for myself and the details of my world (in fact, "self" is my problem, so I go elsewhere in prayer) , but for the greater good of the Kingdom and for others in need.  Prayer settles me even more.  I'm reminded of the BIG GOD who is in control and at work on behalf of his children.  I'm still awake, so after praying around the world, I begin to think on those things that are worthy of praise.  After being reminded of so many in my known-world who are hurting, and lifting them up, this is a great way to remember the character of my God-who-is-in-charge.  I'm beginning to yawn.  This is a good sign.

Yet, Jesus added a second "seeking."  He added to "seek His righteousness."  Oh, yes...Jesus followers practice righteousness.  In my case, the practice involves "confession."  My worry isn't indicative of a follower who is training for righteousness.  Do we ever read of Jesus worrying?  Outside of his wrestling with God's will before His death, I remember no time where He wondered about the tomorrows of his life.  So, like the one who is going before me, I repent of my "mustabatory thinking" and make a choice to also confess my trust of him-who-holds-all-my-tomorrows, and yield to all that the new day coming has for me...

...but, I think I'll go back to bed for a while.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fasting & Social Justice

When I think of a day of fasting, I often equate it with doing nothing but sitting home and praying.  Praying is important (and I get that it goes hand in hand with fasting), but when I just pray, my mind goes straight to the food in my cupboards, and I want to go eat something.  When my mind starts thinking food, my stomach is alerted to wanting something substantial, and it starts growling.  The Lord NEVER MEANT for us to sit around and do nothing.  In Matthew 6:16-18, when Jesus talked about fasting, he assumed we’d still be with people, so he instructed us not to put on a gloomy face (in order to be seen by others as fasting).  Not only did Jesus assume we’d fast, and pray, but he assumed we’d be doing something significant on the day of our fast…  What?

I went back and read Isaiah 58, focusing on verses 6-12.  God leaves nothing to the imagination, and certainly, no reason to wonder or be confused.  In verse 6, he starts off with a question, “Is this not the fast which I choose…?”  Then, he explains.  The next six verses are all about what we would call “social justice.”  Our God is a God of one-anothering.  When we fast, we aren’t supposed to turn inward, sit idly around, and do nothing.  When we fast, we are supposed to be about other people.  We are to practice righteousness, by being service oriented, and loving on others. 

I’ll be honest here.  When I think of social justice, I think enablement.  Too often I go to that place of skepticism where doing for others means taking care of them in such a way that I shoulder responsibility for them instead of giving the kind of care that helps them do better, be better, and own their own responsibility.  It’s just MY opinion that sometimes we, as a nation, and, yes, as believers have mixed up the difference between taking care and giving care.  There is a difference!  One makes me feel responsible "to fix"someone's life, and will wear me out.  The other gives encouragement and direction that provides enough care to help someone move forward of their own accord, and no one wears out.  I don’t think attempting to fix anything for someone else is pleasing to the Lord, especially if it leads to exhaustion.  We need to maintain enough energy to keep-on-keeping-on for Kingdom’s sake.

Yet, I have so moved to one extreme that I’ve forgotten the call of the Lord to reach out in love and Christ-like service.  The Lord is not happy with that either.  So he tells us the kinds of things he’d like to see on our fasting days.  I’ll summarize, but be sure to read Isaiah 58.  Ways to serve:
  • Do something to work against injustice (unfair practices)
  • Find a ministry that helps others who are being exploited
  • Share your food with the hungry
  • Clothe those who are ill-clad
  • Be available to your own families
  • Quit blaming victims/others (offer forgiveness)
  • Be generous to one in need
  • Look for someone who is in an “empty place” and find a way to “fill their plate”
  • Bring sunlight to one who is in darkness
  • Quit gossiping about other people’s sins  (ouch)
  • Ask the Lord for direction…bow the knee, for the Lord will continually guide you (verse 11).

In every spiritual practice of righteousness-training that Jesus mentions in Matthew 6, he talks about a reward.  If we practice for righteousness in the way he has lined out, we are rewarded.  He never tells us how.  The prophet Isaiah, writing the words of the Lord-God, does.  I love what he says to us:

If you give yourself… then, your healing will come speedily, and your righteousness will go before you; …then your gloom will become like midday, the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (8, 11)

Do you, like me, ever find yourself dried up, emotionally spent, wallowing in unfulfilled desires, and wondering about the next steps of your journey?  God clearly has directed me this morning to get out of myself, go to another (particularly one who is worse off), and do something that looks quite like Jesus’ hands and feet.  I have a few ideas of where to start…

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fasting: More Than Just Seeking More of Jesus!

We’ve just arrived back in Colorado after our two-month road trip.  In reflection, I think this trip may have been more of a spiritual field trip in preparation for something the Lord is trying to teach me.  I’m asking for patience as I sit and ramble some, only because the thoughts that are running rampant through my brain haven’t yet been processed. I still need to put them together in one cohesive unit.  In this sense, I’m probably a bit premature with this blog, but everything seems to coincide with the study I’ve been digging into on being a Jesus-follower and fasting. 

First may I say, my country is truly beautiful from “sea to shining sea.”  I thoroughly enjoyed every breath-taking minute as we traversed this land, eyeing the landscape from the mountains to the valleys to the Eastern shoreline and back.  What a miracle that God chose to allow me to be born here in the midst of diversity and freedom.  I do not take that for granted.  I live in a land filled with resources – a land of plenty.  However…

I began to see my country in a new, and, I’ll admit, frightening way when we returned from Kenya.  Prior to our flight across the big pond, many of our family and supporters asked if we were fearful to go because of the recent terrorist attack on a Nairobi mall.  It never crossed my mind that this might deter us from going.  No, I was not intimidated.  Yet, when we returned to the US, our government had been through a chaos-driven two-week shut down, our national leaders seemed to be more divided than ever, Americans seemed to be battling their fundamental rights, and our president stood in front of the cameras speaking what some were calling “mis-truths” (a pretty way of avoiding the word “lied”).  As we caught up on homeland news, my heart felt dread-full-heavy.  We seem to be on the brink of disaster.  Unless someone steps on the brakes, we could easily be driven off a cliff…

So, this brings me back to the book of Matthew, and Jesus teachings about fasting.  Remember, he talked about “when” we fast, not “if” we fast.  Jesus assumes we will fast as a Jesus-follower.  My initial thoughts were that those who walk as Jesus walked do so because they want more of Him more than they want to fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  I still think this is so, but there’s more to fasting… 

In seeking more commentary from the Word on this subject, I’ve read Isaiah 58, Joel 1, Daniel 9, Zephaniah 1, and Nehemiah 1 (I invite you to read those chapters). Fasting and crying out (loudly!) were a commonality.  Fasting and confession always went hand in hand…not just personal confession, but, often, on behalf of the NATION.  When Joel called for a solemn assembly, he called for fasting and confession of Israel’s corporate sin - even so, the prophet Zephaniah.  When Nehemiah and Daniel fasted, they wept for their own sinful hearts, yes, but the bulk of their prayers were on behalf of their homeland.  The Lord, speaking through Isaiah, instructed the Israelites in how to fast properly in order that this nation might be led by Righteousness and protected by the Lord, as their Rear-Guard.

Here’s why I think I was sent on a field trip across the US (well, one of the reasons…): God is calling me to instill fasting as a regular rhythm of discipline on behalf of my country.  It’s one thing to see our country in snippets and another to see it in its entirety within such a short time frame.  I found myself falling in love with America in a way I had never loved her before.  As I fell in love with her, my heart ached for her.  She was birthed out of worship for God (religious freedom echoed out of the hearts of those who colonized her).  We are following a dangerous path that leads us away from our foundational heritage.  Our two-week trip out of the country also intensified these truths.  I have sensed my Lord asking me, “Do you love your country enough to pray and fast for her, confessing on her behalf, seeking Me to lead and protect?” 

Even though, honestly speaking, inside I dread the thought of this spiritual practice; because I want to be a Jesus-follower, to walk where he has walked, to train for righteousness, my heart is saying, “Yes, Lord.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jesus-Followers Fast...Oh, Really?

And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
Matthew 6:16

I've been putting this blog off until the last minute.  This seems to be a pattern lately.  Sincerely, I just didn't want to personally reflect on the topic of fasting when it comes to righteousness-practice. Jesus wants followers who will walk in his footsteps; followers who want to be taught/discipled; who are willing to listen to rebuke and are open to correction.  Jesus wants followers who will practice and train for righteousness.  So, he teaches those of us who have gotten up, put on our hiking shoes, and said, "I'm in!", all about giving, prayer, and forgiveness.  While I know I've got some training to do, these things are still "doable" to me.  Now, Jesus discusses fasting.  Fasting - as in not eating!   SERIOUSLY, what I'd really like to do is grab my x acto knife and cut this section out of my Bible.  Gasp! There it is, I said it...this is the real me.

Instead, Jesus takes my x acto knife from my hand and stabs it gently in my heart (he doesn't intend for it to kill me, he's just doing a little surgery).  He's showing me the ugly that needs to come out of there.  He's opening up my soul to reveal that more than money, more than prayer, more than forgiving those who have hurt me, there is something even bigger keeping me from more of Him!

It's the word whenever up there in verse 16 that is the x acto knife in his hand. Whenever is a word of assumption.  Whenever assumes I am fasting.....regularly.  Whenever means there is a "when" when I stop eating and seek more of Him.  Whenever means that I enjoy His sweet presence so much that I desire it more than I desire food.

The truth is I've fasted.............................................But only a few times.  The truth is I'm healthy enough to fast.  The truth is there is nothing physical to prevent me from doing so.  The truth is that I know all the ins and outs of healthy, biblical fasting.  The truth's not a regular part of my spiritual practice.  The truth is.......................I don't like going without food.  So, the real truth is........................................I guess I don't want to experience more of His presence that much.  

I know I could fast from other things (facebook & pinterest come to mind), but good old-biblical fasting meant food.  I like food...................A LOT.  I reckon a lot more than I realized.  Maybe, it's even an idol?  Like I said, I wish I could cut this part out of my Bible.  The surgery Jesus is doing on my heart is quite painful.  At this point, I think I need to rest from this heart-operation.  I'll just go back to bed and recover for a while...and, as I do, I'll reflect on what the Lord's pulled out of me.

Until later...