Just in Case

justincaseI’m not a hoarder . . . any more.

There was a time when I would wander through Kmart or Target and find something that attracted my attention. I didn’t need it, but I bought it anyhow. Just in case.

I had cupboards full of things and felt quite satisfied with myself that I had anything anyone could need for any given situation. I kept everything, just in case.

I had clothes I no longer fit into. I was hoping one day I would. They cluttered up my wardrobe because I may lose weight one day. Just in case.

I was a sucker for sales staff. I bought insurance policies for this that and the other because one never knew what might happen. I got an expensive monitored security system installed. I had to be prepared for every possible disaster. Just in case.

Filing cabinets full of ancient documents.

Boxes in the shed full of books, crockery, knick-knacks.

That huge drawer filled with every cable you could or may (or may not) ever need.

Every piece of music I ever played, sang, and lots that I filed away . . . just in case.

Just in case weighed me down.

There came a point in my life when I was reviewing my insurance needs and I realised I was paying money to protect myself against the loss of stuff I didn’t need, that was cluttering my life. I was buying a policy just in case I lost a lot of junk that I had accumulated in my house just in case.

I know the Boy Scout motto is ‘Be prepared.’ But prepared is a subjective word. There is no way I can be prepared for everything that happens in my life. Just trying to do this causes so much worry, fear, anxiety and nervousness.

In a rather famous sermon, a wise preacher once asked his congregation:

Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

His advice has the power to change not only the way we look at stuff, but our attitude towards life itself.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Read full text here.)

Fear of loss breeds anxiety. Fear of things not being just the way you would like brings worry. The root cause of all this is a lack of trust (faith) in a loving God / Presence / Universe / Force that looks on Creation with compassion.

So what happens if our house burns down? We are still loved. In the words of another group of wise preachers: “All you need is love . . . love is all you need.”

What happens if thieves break in and take our treasured possessions? We still have our lives, our memories, our family and friends.

To store up stuff just in case is to prepare for the worst. It is quite a negative approach to life. Rather, living in a simple acceptance of what is, and trust that we will always be cared for by our all-loving God is enough to see us through anything we face in life.

I think it’s time for another cleanout.

Love and Fear

A long-serving staff member had his final day in our school last Friday and he shared this parting prayer with us (which I would like to share with you):

There are only two feelings, love and fear:
There are only two languages, love and fear:
There are only two activities, love and fear:
There are only two motives, two procedures,
Two frameworks, two results, love and fear,
Love and fear. (-Michael Leunig)

I believe strongly that we must always examine our motivations to make certain that all we do comes out of love (God’s love) and not out of fear. Rev. Ed Bacon speaks of this extensively in his sermons as he sees everything we do coming from “the house of love” or “the house of fear.”

Remember: “Perfect love casts out fear.” May we do all things in love.

Using Scriptures Maturely

BibleBasherI was first introduced to the term ‘Bible Basher’ as a child, going door-to-door with my pastor father. Even back then, the vast majority of doors were slammed in our face, often accompanied by swearing and use of this term. Perhaps it didn’t help that my dad always carried his leather-bound, gilt-edged, Scofield King James Bible under his arm.

I suppose this term, originated as a statement about a person who constantly uses the Bible to ‘bash’–hit–people over the head in a confrontational way. Today this is exemplified in our city by the infamous Rundle Mall street preachers who call down fire and brimstone every day with Bible in hand and signs that read ‘Turn or Burn.’

While I am at times ashamed of my past days as a Bible basher, I recognise that the motivation for doing so (like so many other deeds) was fear, shame, guilt, and a shallow understanding of the nature of God.

Richard Rohr says it so well:

When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:

  1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.
  2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).
  3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.

(Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 64-65)

May we choose to use the Holy Bible in a mature sensibility, to bring healing, restoration, compassion, justice and peace in our world as we find, in its words and message, God’s reign revealed.

Faith vs Fear and a Warning of ‘Civil War’

I was amazed (and somewhat amused) when I read how a Texas (USA) judge has warned that President Obama’s re-election could lead to a new civil war in America.

Tom Head, a county judge in Lubbock, Texas, plunged far out into the periphery of anti-President Barack Obama conspiracy theories on Monday, pushing a particularly outrageous one as justification for a tax increase in the county.

Head told FOX34 that Lubbock’s law enforcement needed extra tax dollars in order to be prepared for a full-scale uprising, which he said could be a byproduct of Obama’s reelection. According to Head, the president is seeking to sign a variety of United Nations treaties that will effectively take precedent over domestic law.

“He’s going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?” Head asked. “I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.” [Read more about this here.]

At a planning gathering for Advent in our church last night, we were talking amongst ourselves about angels and angellic visitations. Mike commented that he found it striking how it seems every time in the Bible when an angel visited, the first words were ‘Do not be afraid.’ This is continued in Jesus’ appearance walking on water and again after his resurrection.

Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for today speaks of our natural fear of God and how Jesus broke down this misconception:

The Bible can be summed up as interplay between fear and faith. In general, people are obsessed and overpowered by fears; they fear what they cannot control. God is one of our primary fears because God is totally beyond us. The good news, the Gospel, according to Luke, is that God has breached that fear and become one of us in Jesus. God says, in effect, “It’s okay. You don’t have to live in fear of me.” God not only takes away all human shame, but even identifies with that shame by changing sides from all cultures, religious and secular, and identifying with the sinner, the rejected, the prostitute, the foreigner, and the leper. (Adapted from The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflections, p. 66)

Those who give in to fear–whether of governmental tyranny or of God’s own self– live a life characterised by worry, anxiety and stress. I’m not surprised that so many who claim to follow Jesus still find themselves bound up by fear. After all, this is a very human condition. God understands this. Thus, when God chooses to reveal the Divine to mortals it is always prefaced by a calming ‘Fear not.’

As the prophet writes:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.(Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

It is not a question of whether or not God is on our side, but whether or not we have faith in God to give us the strength to overcome our fears and enjoy the peace that comes from knowing he will be with us.

Brian McLaren on Islamophobic Evangelicals

Brian McLaren has written an excellent piece on CNN.com about the Islamophobia which is becoming more and more widespread in Christian circles–particularly in those who claim to be Evangelicals. Do yourself a favour and read his post. Especially with a view to recent events, it makes more sense than ever that those who are followers of Jesus need to start living as disciples and not like fearmongers. As Brian writes:

Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late – must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate. (Read the full post here.)

And if you haven’t ordered Brian’s new book, do yourself another favour and get on to it!

Young Adults and the Church, Truth and Christian Identity

Bruce Reyes-Chow has put up another insightful post on his blog, this time focused on why he believes the Church is ‘doomed’ when it comes to reaching the elusive young adult. Do yourself a favour and read the full post. Here’s one paragraph that stood out to me:

I find it interesting that most of the conversations about “reaching young adults” take place among people who are distinctly NOT young adults. I think it is a way that many of us try to prove that 40 really IS the new 20 and extend our youth for as long as we can. Sorry folks, but as we age, our roles and perspectives change. I for one do not regret this, rather I embrace and welcome the roles that I will hold in the future. If we are reach young adults with integrity, then young adults must to be at the table and part of the direction setting in significant ways. Much like we would never plant a Korean American church with a team that was 90 percent non-Korean, we must not try to create relevant young adults ministries by relying on the musings of even the best intentioned 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds. For as hip of a 43-year-old as I fool myself into believing I am, I do not and will not experience the world through the eyes of a 20-year-old — and there is nothing I can do to change that. The best thing I can do is to acknowledge this reality and then find the best ways to empower, guide and support that 20-year-old as she/he discovers a place and role in the future of the church. This posture must be taken in all aspects of the journey: planning process, fiscal management, organizational development, etc. if we are to truly create and sustain ministry with and for young adults.

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While we’re at the Patheos Progressive Christian Channel, Kevin Miller has written about why he would rather seek truth than defend an idea.

. . . [A]s much as we’d like to believe we are primarily rational beings, we simply are not. Emotions play a huge role in the truth-seeking and idea-defending process. Even the term we use to describe a moment of intellectual discovery—an “A-ha! Moment”—is primarily emotional in its connotations. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. We enter the science lab and the theological library as whole persons, not disembodied minds. And we need this kind of emotion to spur the tremendous effort required to coax new insights out of stubborn data and then to gain them a fair hearing. . . .

. . . Problems arise, however, when we become so emotionally attached to an idea that it no longer exists independent of our selves. We have invested so much of our lives into articulating and then defending the idea that it becomes fused with our identity. We don’t just hold an idea; we are the idea.

“I don’t just hold conservative views; I am a conservative.”

“I don’t just believe in universalism, I am a Universalist.”

If we’re not careful, we go from thinking, “My idea might be right” to “My idea can’t be wrong.” And the reason it can’t be wrong has less and less to do with the idea’s relative merits. It’s the fact you’ve ordered your entire existence around that idea, and if it’s wrong, well, you’ve wasted your life. (Read more here.)

The way I see it, when the truth becomes so much a part of your identity that you cannot live with the thought of finding out you may be wrong, then it is held too tightly. At that point, you are so emotionally invested in this way of thinking being right that you can no longer distinguish the idea from reality, the ‘fact’ from the emotional response to that ‘fact.’

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Speaking of truth and identity, Brian Mclaren’s new book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, is being released next week and I, for one, am eager to see Brian’s take on interfaith dialogue and Christian identity. From what I have read so far here, it seems like the greatest obstacle we face in relating to those of other faith communities is that of our own fear.

The single greatest obstacle to rethinking Christian identity won’t be imposed from the other side by other people, whether “us” or “them.” The single greatest obstacle will arise inside each of us. Your greatest obstacle will be in you and mine will be in me. In the end, it’s not the threats of others that cause me to shrink back, but rather my own fear.

You can order copies of Brian’s book postage-free here.

The Real Danger in Anxiety & Fearfulness

The late, great Texas journalist Molly Ivins was fond of telling a story about two young boys, John Henry Falk and Boots Cooper, who liked to play Texas Rangers.

One day, John Henry’s mother sent the two boys down to the chicken house on their East Texas ranch to roust out a chicken snake that had been doing considerable damage there.

The boys mounted their broom stick horses and galloped down to the chicken house to investigate. They looked all around the nests on the bottom shelf but couldn’t find the snake. Then they stood on tiptoe to see the upper shelf and found themselves face to face with a big ol’ chicken snake. They were so scared that they both tried to run out of the hen house at the same time, doing considerable damage to themselves and to the structure.

Watching the commotion from the front porch Mrs. Falk couldn’t help but laugh. When the boys finally made it back, she said, “Boys, what is wrong with you? You know perfectly well a chicken snake cannot hurt you.” To which Boots Cooper answered, “Yes ma’am, but there’s some things’ll scare you so bad, you’ll hurt yourself.”

In Matthew 24 Jesus noted a bunch of scary things: wars and rumors of war, false messiahs, torture, famines and earthquakes. Sounds pretty much like our daily news. Lord knows, there’s plenty to be anxious about these days.

But the real danger is that we become so frightened that we hurt ourselves (and others). In the face of alarming realities, Jesus urged a Christian calm, endurance in our faith and calling, and a bold confidence that God’s love is stronger than our fears and God’s mercy more enduring than present perils.

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

 Save me, Lord, from the sin of faint-heartedness, from a shrinking deference to my fears and a failure to trust your love and purposes as the weightiest thing in my life. Amen. (from StillSpeaking. Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson)