Going Deeper: Peace Be With You

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Shalom, the Hebrew word for

Shalom, the Hebrew word for “peace.”

Our pastor (Rich) made the statement this past Sunday, “that when we show up what we need to do before anything else is bring peace.” He rooted this statement in the observation that three times in Jesus’s resurrection appearances in John 20, he says, “peace be with you.” In two instances it is the first thing Jesus says (John 20: 19, 26).

Rich went on to talk about the fact that Jesus wanted his disciples to know that they had nothing to fear from him. I suspect they weren’t too sure of that. Someone coming back from the dead can be a bit scary. Then there’s the matter of how they acted during his arrest and crucifixion. They were not exactly the poster children for loyalty or courage.

Instead, Jesus said “peace”, or “shalom”, the way Jews greeted each other and expressed their wish for wholeness and health on the life and home of the one they were addressing. It’s what Jesus taught his disciples to say when they came to a town bringing the good news and needed a place to stay. Rich proposed that “we could do worse than simply, everywhere we ever go, say and do whatever lines up with ‘Peace be with you.’ Our reputation in the world would change.”

It is troubling to me that people are fearful of their encounters with church people. But the truth is they are often expecting a judgment, a criticism, or an argument.  It strikes me that it could be a radical thing if instead, what they found in us were people who genuinely wanted them to find peace, wholeness, and health–all the things wrapped up in shalom.

It would be interesting to experiment with that for a week. I can think of some interesting ways to go about that:

  • What about closing our emails with “peace” or “peace be with you” (or “PBWY” on our texts!)?
  • What about writing “peace be with you” on our check at a restaurant along with a generous tip?
  • What about greeting each other at the beginning of our days with these words spoken gently, perhaps bearing a cup of coffee?
  • What about offering to pray for or even with (if they are comfortable) a friend who is stressed that they might experience God’s peace?

You get the idea. I would love to hear other ideas you come up with to say and do “peace be with you”.

Rich also made the point that for us to be that in the world, we need to start by practicing this with each other:

But I think in some ways it has to be our self-talk, too. When we come together, for whatever reason, our first stance, our first words, our basic orientation toward each other needs to be “Peace be with you.” Don’t be afraid, don’t be worried. Be at peace. Be at rest. Be yourself, and let me be myself, and let’s not be anxious about anything, for God is with us.

Churches aren’t always peaceful places. People coming from harried, busy lives may encounter messages that basically say, “you need to do more, give more, pray more” when maybe the first invitation we might give each other is to rest, to enjoy peace, to revel in silence, or the beauty of a song of praise. What a beautiful thing it can be for someone to ask, “where do you need the peace of God in your life right now?” What if board meetings began this way with prayer for one another to know the shalom of Jesus? And might it be the case that when people are at peace, then they can hear the empowering word of Jesus that infuses doing with joy!

On a personal note, I want to extend a “peace be with you” to our pastor as he begins a three month sabbatical. Rich, you labored hard these past eight years bringing peace and a new sense of hope to a troubled church through your week in, week out teaching and presence among us. Often it has meant bearing the burdens of others. May you know the peace of the Lord in rest, in quietness, in the simple richness of shared life with your family, in times of reflection, in all the warp and woof of your lives these next months. May the peace of the Lord be with you!

Our World

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The sermon series we’re experiencing at Smoky Row Brethren Church has been challenging.

JeffWhitesideI’ve come to expect that- barring a freak accident- I’ll be healthy. I have come to expect that my neighbors will respect my presence, that I’ll be refreshed after every experience in which I play, that my definition of what it means to be a Christian in this country will always mean what I grew up believing. I’ve been challenged to maintain those routines in which my faith reveals itself, that I’ll maintain my responsibility to my congregation, and maintain my responsibilities to serve people outside the church. That my integrity will remain intact whether I’m in the presence of peers, in the midst of antagonists, or in the company of believers; that I’ll be a good employee, a loyal friend, and a humble Christian, a committed spouse and parent, and a man of who takes little for granted.

Yes, I knew that we live in a fallen world, that our experiences are affected by sin’s presence in this blemished world, and that only our transition to Heaven or the return of Jesus to earth can change our fallen reality. But some of my preconceptions have been shaken.

I’ve begun to change my expectations. I’ve held tightly to an expectation that my health, my job, and my civil rights are immune to the effects of the fallen world in which we live. After all, Christian people have the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence, in my expectation, creates a sphere of immunity that surrounds me. He keeps believers from ever going through any negative experience

That awful theology does not explain why Christian school children are still being held by kidnappers in West Africa, that Christian villagers in the middle-east need to flee to a mountain to escape persecution, and that saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes can earn a student suspension time in our own country.

I’m learning to realize that Christians are subject to two realities. First we are characterized by our membership in God’s domain. Whether you call this ‘God’s family’ or ‘God’s church’, the point is that God’s protection and provisions are available to his people. God responds to our prayers, and can and may bend and suspend laws of normal existence. But the other reality is that we are still part of the fallen creation for the time that we’re on earth. Bad things do happen to good people. Our bodies age, ail, and fail. Worry, panic, and anxiety, as Pastor Rich pointed out, coupled with loss and shame, are normal feelings for fallen human beings. That side of us continues to be a reality we face.

God promises to be faithful to the promise he has made with all believers, regardless of what we deal with. We are redeemed, but not yet perfected. We are being transformed, but we are not yet who God intends for us to be. Any feeling possible among human beings are feelings believers might have. We are tempted but provided with resources to be able to say ‘no’.

There is one stream of Christianity that teaches that after conversion to the faith, Christian people living with worry, anxiety, and panic show evidence of faithlessness, self-absorption, or even Godlessness. Why? They believe that believers in Jesus Christ have put those issues behind them. The Bible is clear that once a person has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord that they have been delivered from these human problems and have been delivered to life in the Holy Spirit and the accompanying peace, joy and love that can be found most deeply in him. I can’t disagree with that. However, what these Overcoming teachers fail to keep in mind is that we live in a world that is less than what the creator intended.

Our world is messed up. Sin crept into the garden, was embraced by our human ancestors, and the world has not been the same. God’s ideal was compromised by human failure. Yes, I’m holding Adam and Eve equally responsible for the situation, but the truth is that I would have done the very same thing they did. I’m convinced that in the identical situation, you would likely do the same.

So let me say that in the ideal world, the topics of this week’s blogs, fear, anxiety, and depression, would not exist. When Jesus returns, they’ll be wiped away with every tear that accompanies pain, regret, and failure. But until he comes back, we have to deal with living in a twilight zone a place where we have one foot firmly planted in this fallen world and the other rooted in God’s realm. It’s not an easy place to exist.  but may we take comfort in knowing that worry, panic, anxiety, loss and shame, will one day be a distant memory. Until then, they’ll continue to be part of the broken world we live in. May we increasingly take comfort in our Lord than in the world. May we increasingly find confidence in our Lord than in our circumstances. May we increasingly grow dependent on our Lord as we straddle life in two realities.

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside

“DON’T PANIC”

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According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the reasons the book of that title was so popular was that it had the words “DON’T PANIC” in big friendly letters on the cover.  If you had the Guide, and if you knew where your towel was, you were well prepared to face whatever galactic disasters might come your way.

The sermon this week at Smoky Row Brethren Church was about the Christian and fear. Rich talked about worry, fear, anxiety, and panic. These feelings can be caused by many things, from brain chemistry to poor choices. To deal with all of them, however, we need to have a deep sense of God’s love for us and God’s faithfulness to us, as well as an awareness of the resources we have in Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the church.

Brenda Account Picture

I’m no stranger to this topic. Worry runs in my family, generally on the female side. My mother worries about a lot of things, which usually leads to a phone call to me. I worry about my mother. I try to keep on top of my worries and do what I can about them, before they escalate into nastier forms—anxiety and panic. I’ve had experience with those, too.

Sometimes we need that flood of adrenaline—to get out of a burning house or to grab the toddler who strays into the street. But for some of us, our “crisis meter” is broken, and we get a flood of adrenaline at inappropriate times—or we just can’t shut if off.

I’m pretty sure that I inherited a tendency toward anxiety from my mother (and hers). Add to that the perfectionism I absorbed while growing up, along with seasons of hormonal changes, and you get a recipe for nail-biting, floor-pacing stress. We perfectionists tend to take on responsibility for things we can’t control, which is a no-win situation. (Not to mention that our sense of being in control is mostly an illusion anyway!)

For me, anxiety starts as an elevated worry about something in particular. If I don’t attend to it—think it through, find an appropriate response, and commit it to God—it can escalate to anxiety about everything. It’s as if the anxiety is a virus trying to replicate itself; it starts looking around for more things to attach itself to. At this point, thinking no longer helps, because I just keep thinking obsessively about all the things I’m anxious about. If I get to the point of feeling trapped and overwhelmed, I’m susceptible to panic. Now it’s a fight-or-flight situation, but there’s nothing concrete to fight and nowhere to run. Breakdown!  Fortunately for me, I haven’t had any panic attacks in a long time. I’m usually able to manage an anxiety outbreak before it gets to that point.

Everybody’s situation is different, but here are ten things I’ve learned that might help somebody else.

  1. If you’re having severe anxiety, don’t try to “gut it out” and handle it on your own. God has given us the church for a reason, and we don’t get extra points for machismo.
  2. Examine your circumstances. See if you can change something that would reduce your stress. Maybe you should start looking for a new job. Maybe that relationship isn’t worth it. Maybe you just need a vacation!
  3. Go to your doctor. Find out if there are physiological factors causing or contributing to the anxiety. Medical intervention may help you manage the anxiety or at least calm you down long enough to figure out what’s going on.
  4. Get wise counsel. Find out what personal, interpersonal, social, and spiritual factors cause or contribute to your anxiety. Maybe your friends or your pastor can supply this counsel, but if anxiety is a frequent problem for you, you probably need to talk to a professional counselor.
  5. Go back to basics. Remind yourself that God loves you, is for you, and is with you. Go to Scripture to remind yourself of God’s character and promises. Whenever you find something that’s especially helpful, write it down and look at it if you find yourself getting anxious again.  Keep a journal of the things you learn.
  6. Learn how to pray. Prayer isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. For example, praying desperately for God to remove the anxiety may only make you more anxious. Knowing where the anxiety is coming from will help you to pray more specifically. Praying through Scripture, such as the Psalms, can be helpful. The Psalms help us cry out to God within a framework of trust. I have sometimes been led to pray against spiritual attack, although I don’t believe that all anxiety has a spiritual cause.
  7. Identify your resources. See point 1, above. One of the most damaging effects of anxiety is the self-fulfilling fear that it will happen again. It helps to have your resources set up beforehand. Your pastor, doctor, counselor, and friends can be an important source of support. Even knowing they’re there can help, because you know you’re not alone.
  8. Get enough sleep. You can’t deal with anything if you’re exhausted. If you’re having trouble with this, talk to your doctor.
  9. Get some exercise. Work off some of the tension; it does help. Going outdoors gives you the extra bonus of sunlight, which helps with mood.
  10. Eat right. Remember to eat, even if you don’t feel like it. Try to eliminate stimulants, like caffeine, and cut down on carbs. This makes a big difference for some people.

These are just suggestions. There’s no shame in having anxiety, and there’s no easy formula for dealing with it. But God is still there, and help is available. I hope Smoky Row will be a place where we can be honest about our struggles and help one another with them.

What about you? Are you ever troubled by anxiety? Have you found anything that helps?

Be Not Afraid–Seriously?

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Our pastor explored something in his sermon on Sunday that I think many of us struggle with and that is the clash between statements like “be anxious for nothing” or “be not afraid” and the worries, anxieties, and fear that dog our steps and often feel hard to shake off. Sometimes the words “be not afraid” sound a bit to us like “don’t think of pink elephants”. Once there, it is just not easy either to shake those visions of pink elephants dancing in our heads or those worries nipping at our heels.

Bob Trube2

One of the most striking things about most of the “be not afraids” of scripture is that they are spoken by God, or those speaking for God. And this gives me a clue to this thing of dealing with fear that has been of great help to me. “Be not afraid” is not an order to “think positively” or to “make a positive confession” but rather they are God’s invitation to a relationship of trust. God’s invitation is not to try to suppress our worries by our own efforts but to trust them to his care.

I think I first understood this deeply when I was worrying about money a number of years ago. Things were often tight when I was growing up and there was at least once instance where dad was between jobs. I actually think my parents handled this pretty well, but the fear of not having enough carried into my adulthood. Strange then that my chosen profession involved depending on donations of others to pay the salary for the work I do. We were going through a patch where those donations were down and I was facing possible salary reductions, and perhaps worse, not being able to meet our obligations. At least that was what I was afraid of

My strategy for dealing with fear was a combination of worrisome talk that had to be tiring for my wife (who was far more hopeful about things) and “doubling down”, particular in efforts to raise the requisite funds. I even asked God to help me as I met donors and to supply my needs. I did everything except to go to my heavenly Father and say, “Daddy, I’m really scared of not being able to provide for my family and to meet my debts.” I continued coping with these pressures like this until I was doing a Bible study written by Dave Ivaska, a colleague, titled Be Not Afraid. There was a question at one point that asked very simply, “what are you afraid of?” For the first time, I named this fear to God instead of trying to deal with it or even asking God to deal with the stuff that caused me to be afraid.

I can’t say that my fear magically disappeared. But in naming my fear to God and allowing God into that fearful space, the fear began shrinking and lost its hold in my life as I became aware that God didn’t just love me in an abstract sense–God loved me at the place of my fear. Rich talked about this idea that there is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

I’m still on this journey. Other fears about loss are becoming real for the first time. There are the fears of significant loss of physical or mental abilities that come as I notice bodily changes or take longer to remember a name or grope for the right word. There is the kind of loss of recognizing you are far from indispensable and wondering as you hand off to rising leaders whether there is anything left that you can contribute, or what all you did meant when much of it is changed!

Rich talked about how we often experience the love of God that drives out these fears through people in community. I need that! It is still tempting for me to just put on my game face and double down. That strategy never worked very well and I have less energy or time for it now. Perhaps it is in becoming a safe place to name and shed our fears that we become “the beloved community.” That’s the safe place we have with the God who says, “be not afraid.”

Stand Firm in the Faith

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Ben posted yesterday on one of the other phrases in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “be strong.” As I listened to Rich on Sunday, my attention was caught by the phrase “stand firm in the faith.”

Bob Trube2One of the things I most appreciated about what Rich said had to do with not confusing faith and certainty. I find this is a real problem with many. Unless they can be certain about God, or something God has promised, they don’t think they can have faith. Truth is, there is very little in life that I can say that is certain when I think carefully about this. Am I certain my wife loves me? I’m pretty sure of that and I trust her enough to fall asleep in her presence and let her prepare my food. But I can’t prove to a certainty that she loves me. I have faith in her love and after 35+ years of marriage, it seems pretty reasonable to trust her!

On the other hand, there are some who think that faith is simply irrationality–believing what we know isn’t true. Faith may be that for some, but what I propose is that Christian faith is reasonable faith–that God has given us sufficient reasons to believe that he is good and that we can trust Him. The resurrection of Jesus, which Paul argues for in 1 Corinthians 15 is perhaps the most compelling of these reasons.

At the same time, Rich focused on something else that is very important. Sometimes we know all the reasons to believe God and it is still hard to act on what we believe to be true. Rich spoke about the idea that sometimes faith is simply “keeping on”. That is what Paul means when he says “stand firm”. Sometimes the best way to “keep on” is simply to stay put!

This is hardest for me when I am anxious or fearful. One place where I struggle with this is money. Things were very tight for us when I was growing up, and I fear being in that place. Whenever the bills mount up, it is tempting to postpone writing those checks to the church and other places where I give regularly. And I’m more prone to think twice (or more) about helping with a special need. Standing firm or “keeping on” means following my regular routine in writing those checks first–and trusting God to get us through the tight patches.

I fear failure. Yet I find the life of faith calls me into doing new, risky things, at times. It may mean a new situation of speaking about Christ, or a new responsibility where I could crash and burn! The “firmness” in standing firm is not the firmness of success versus the shakiness of failure. It is that whether this new venture flies or flops, I am secure in Jesus–firm.

So a few questions for your reflection:

  • In what instances might you be looking for certainty when God has given you sufficient reason in scripture and your experience that he is good and can be trusted?
  • Where might you be attempted to stop “keeping on” in some practice of faith in your life?
  • Where might the Lord be inviting you to trust him to keep you firm and secure in some new, risky thing?