What gets your attention more? A story about a point of interest in life, or a story from someone’s life that makes an interesting point? Personal stories get my attention. When a person starts off a conversation with “I was out to sea in a huge storm…” I am about 20 times more likely to perk up and listen than if they start out saying “There are many things you can learn by being at sea in a huge storm.” I’d say up to this point I’ve written what I would call general interest posts here on my blog. I do share personal stories from time to time, but mostly I am writing topically about things that get my attention. The more I read it the more it feels so…analytical, and, well it feels a bit sterile. Its too clean. I like analysis. I especially like to take apart false belief systems using the gospel. I also like applying the gospel to practical matters like raising children and being married. I think I’m pretty good at it, but it doesn’t seem to get much traction with people. By traction I mean pulling people along, hopefully into a better place or better life. Some people always find a handle on what I write and get pulled along, but it doesn’t seem like in general folks are connecting with the message. Good analysis without good handles accomplishes little. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve learned much of anything that didn’t come through a story; either mine or someone else’s. I’m feeling like I may be able to accomplish more if I just give you the story as it unfolded and unfolds. Maybe you can come with me and we can figure some stuff out together.
So at the moment I am a wrecked pastor. Do you have a pastor or a church? Some have one or the other; some have both; some have neither. You want to know the really strange thing about becoming a pastor? You don’t really have a pastor any more; at least like most people do. You want to know another weird thing about being a pastor? You can’t read the Bible right any more. It messes with your head. Between those two things alone you could lose your mind. Most of the pastors I know got into it because they had a pastor they admired and/or they loved the Bible. Once you are a pastor every pastor you meet wants to find out “how the church is doing,” and every time you open the Bible you start doing a sermon outline. It sucks. Oh and another thing is you don’t have many people you can say things like “this sucks,” to without thinking you might not want to say that out loud. Stuff piles up in a pastor’s life like papers on a desk. Why do pieces of paper start cluttering your desk? Because at some point you lost the energy to put them away, or you just can’t think of any good place to put them. They don’t fit into any category. You don’t know how you’d label a file folder. This is what it is like being a pastor. I’ve always got things pending that don’t fit anywhere but they are not things I can forget about or shove into a drawer; they’re pieces of lives. A couple divorcing with children. A woman discovering she married a person she doesn’t really know at all. Parents who found out their son is gay. A bounced check in the offering. A man who wants to tell me the fantastic thing God just revealed to him that everyone needs to get on board with. Living clutter. Pieces of love.
It surprised me when I got my first bout with depression. It surprised me so much that it took two years and a bazillion tests and doctor visits before I knew what was wrong with me. What does a pastor do when depression sits down on him? Who preaches the good news to the good newser? And who is going to help clear up the clutter? I don’t know. I’m striving to overcome depression. I think that’s right. My therapist friend tells me its not helpful to say I suffer with depression. I get his point. But I have suffered. I’m not suffering at the moment. You bet I’m not or I wouldn’t be writing this…well I might be, but nowhere as efficiently as I am now. I want to help with my suffering though. My Tina and I agreed years ago to share the bad things in our marriage – the things that gut punched us and hurt the worst – so we could give hope and guidance to other married people. It feels like suffering, when it is offered up brings life, but suffering when it is covered up just rots. If you are a pastor, maybe our story will bring life to you. If you have a pastor, maybe you can get a better understanding of the story they can’t tell you by reading ours – and help bring life to them. I titled this “A Wrecked Pastor” because at my worst that’s what it felt like. LIke a car wreck, I’ve discovered over time that, while there was some considerable damage, the car isn’t totaled. It still runs. Part of getting it on the road again is telling the story to you and for you.
Bible: We are cast down but not destroyed…
Reading: The Anointing, R.T. Kendall
Listening: Lucifer’s Hammer, Larry Niven
Watching: The Americans, FX
Kellerism Today: We worship that to which we ascribe ultimate value
Elizabeth: “You know what I wish, as I fall asleep every night? That I’ll wake up and not be worried.”
Phillip: “About what?”
Phillip: “You can’t live like that.”
Elizabeth: “Show me another way.”
from The Americans – conversation between two deep cover KGB spies living double lives in America.
Most of us aren’t living double lives like the spies in The Americans. Well, at least we aren’t doing it on purpose. But we do worry a lot. The spies are worried about getting caught; getting exposed for being something they are not. They are always looking at every person and every situation from a posture of threatening their existence. We are worried about…about what? What are you afraid of? The money running out? The kids going off the rails? Your health going down the drain? We look at things threatening us too. What if the economy tears away our livelihood or age or disease steals our health or bad people turn our children into bad people? How will we survive if that happens?? Spies develop elaborate cover stories and engage in activities intended to keep their secrets safe. In The Americans the two main spies have gone so far as to have two children together to make their fake marriage appear real. The children don’t even know they are pawns in international espionage. We have our own cover stories though. We build elaborate defenses to keep us safe and happy. We build financial walls. We pursue education or skills we think will keep us valuable. Some of us do have children because we want to feel our lives are meaningful. The thing you fear the worst will be very close to the thing you believe you can’t live without. And you may go to bed worrying about it on a regular basis.
Worry is strangling in slow motion. Worry will not make you better at your job. Fear will not improve your parenting skills or make you a better lover. It will choke friendships and marriages and keep families from fulfilling their highest goals. It will chain you to places and jobs and people you should leave behind. Fear needs to be ruthlessly eliminated from our lives if we are going to live well.
There is only one solution for getting rid of worry and fear, and it is counterintuitive. The way to defeat our fear is to embrace a higher fear; we must have a huge fear to defeat our little fears. The Bible teaches this. Our fear of everything else is supposed to be swallowed up in the fear of God. We are not supposed to deny the fears one by one. They exist. They are real. Some of our worst fears are going to come true. We don’t deny these things; we deflect them with our fear of God. How does this work? What is fear? It is a focus upon some object. It is something we must reflect upon in relation to our lives. If you are afraid of clowns and I tell you there is a clown in your living room, what are you going to do? Stay away from the living room! You’ll go out of your way to avoid that room. Fear is a reference point. Remember what I said about the spies – everything in every situation had to be looked at in relation to their lies and blowing their cover. A new man in the corner cafe reading a newspaper could be the FBI or the CIA staking them out. No rest for them, ever. If you keep your reference point on your bank account, your marriage, or your children, you will be afraid for those things all the time. If you move your reference point to God, you have only him to fear. What is higher than God?
OK – I admit there is a hole in this method of getting rid of fear. If we move our reference point onto God, we also have moved our fear to the person with the greatest potential to destroy our lives. No one has more knowledge or power than God. No one could do more damage. Not only that, how do we know what our relationship is with God? If we are going to reposition everything relative to God, we have to know how that works. How do we know what He thinks of us? How do we know its safe? How do we know that fearing God is any different than fearing anything else? Because of the gospel, we can answer those questions. In the gospel fear is actually turned inside out. Whereas all the other fears (reference points) cause us to build defenses in order to keep the fearful things away, the fear of God lets us take down all the walls. Why? Because the One who had all the knowledge and all the power took all his knowledge and all his power and bent it down to help us, not to destroy us or condemn us. This is the Christian gospel – the good news – and it is either true or it is not. If God did what the Bible says he did for us, we can be sure that none of the things we fear outside of him are fatal to us. Paul sums it up in his letter to the Roman Christians: if God is for us, who can be against us?
So I will show you another way. Believe the gospel. Believe God was and is willing to give up everything to have a relationship with you that is based on love not effort. This is what Christians call being “saved” or being “born again.” Either way, it is a completely different way to live that deals with our fears without denying or suppressing them.
“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”– Chinese proverb
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”– John’s Gospel
“If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”– Matthew’s Gospel
“I’m in a dark place,” a friend said, “A really dark place.” So many pictures flash through my mind when I hear people talk of personal darkness. I grew up a city kid until I was about ten years old. I didn’t know darkness. The few times I visited relatives who lived out in the sticks were brief experiences into a new kind of night; a night without the orange cityglow background. When we did move out there ourselves, and those unlit nights became my nights it was hard to adjust. It was the hardest part, actually. Dark was really dark. Years later I found a darkness even thicker than a country night. In the middle of the Atlantic running with wartime lighting on a cloudless night I walked out onto the bridge wing to look around. As soon as the hatch closed behind me I felt lost. It was like entering a sensory deprivation chamber. We were running with the wind so there was no breeze. I barely made out the sound of the bow slicing into the ocean. I felt my way over to the rail and inched out toward the end of the wing. I had been standing there for a few moments when a voice said, “Dark out here, huh?” I thought I was alone. I ‘d been holding my hands up in front of my face trying to see them with no luck. The voice startled me. I could recognize my junior watch officer’s voice, there was no face to go with it. “Yeah.” I said back. “Pretty darn dark.” And it didn’t get lighter. After 15 minutes I still couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. This was a darkness that enveloped me. It felt like I was wearing it. The only break in it was along the waterline where the ship was stirring up algae and creating a green glow of phosphorescence. It was so faint and sporadic it seemed unreal. The darkness was imposing and seemed eager to steal even this feeble attempt to overcome it. This is what dark means, I thought.
A dark place. How can we get out of a dark place? I’m not really sure. Most of the dark places I’ve found myself in are like the bridge wing or the move to the country. I didn’t ask to move to the country, and I didn’t expect the bridge wing to be so dark. Something happened, I went through a move or a door and…and there I was in the dark. The only thing I know for sure about getting out of a dark place is that it isn’t accomplished by thoroughly examining the darkness. It doesn’t come through determining all the reasons you’re in it either. Some people seem to think it’s helpful to know how dark the dark really is, or to spend their time determining exactly how they ended up in it, but I don’t. I don’t want to cruise the darkness and I don’t want to curse it either. I just want out of it as soon as possible. But if you are in a dark place today there are two things I learned on the bridge wing I hope will help you. First, I wasn’t alone in the dark and neither are you. There is a familiar voice which can penetrate the deepest darkness of our souls. Second, there are hints of light as we move in the darkness, and they are real. You are moving, even if you can’t fully discern it. Follow when you can’t see. Listen in the dark.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”- John’s Gospel