Why Worry?

A glass bottle and a glass with water and sliced bread

There is a connection between consumerism and anxiety.  It should be no surprise that as we increase in consumerism (go obtain stuff) and materialism (obtaining stuff will bring fulfillment) that our anxiety goes up.  Often we find our life is this delicate balancing act of obtaining more things (possessions, wealth) all while protecting the things we have already obtained.  At best this leaves us with two main fears; There wont be enough and I am going to lose what I have.  We think that if we increase what we have we can squelch our fears of scarcity.  However, much to our dismay, the fear we lost with scarcity is compensated with our increased fear of losing it all.  Round and round we go as our anxiety moves up and to the right. 

This problem is not new, Jesus when teaching the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) he deals with this connection.  He warns people about the danger of storing up things on earth, it has the potential of mastering you.  Then he states:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”    Matthew 6:25

He then goes on to say, you are important to God, He knows what you need, and He will provide for you.  So what are you worried about? If only it were that easy.  If only the solution to our anxiety was our awareness of it and our need to stop.  Most of the time we are well aware that our anxiety is a problem in need of a solution and then we get anxious about our anxiety.  What Jesus does is clarify the line between the provision and the Provider, a line we often blur.

In the Exodus story God has the Israelites go out everyday to collect mana to eat, but only enough for the day.  There is a reason why God has the Israelites while in the wilderness go out everyday to collect the mana daily.  God wants to show Himself to be their daily provider, by providing for them daily.  He knows that we are a people who love to horde and stockpile.  Then when we do our trust shifts from trusting in the Provider to trusting in the provisions.  We then find our security in our provisions as we become suspicious of the Provider.  Our relationship with the provisions deepens while our relationship with the Provider becomes increasingly shallow.  Then ultimately this leads us down a road where we worship the provisions instead of the Provider.

If I am being honest, what I really want is the provision for tomorrow, today.  However it’s not what God promises us.  We pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread” when we really mean “Give me this month, my monthly bread, give me this retirement, my nice 401k”.  We want security and comfort while God is trying to teach us to trust Him and deepen intimacy.  Ironically enough, the fact that God has proved Himself as provider today frees my mind to be anxious about tomorrow.  I have often wondered what the next meal will be, but have never wondered if the next meal will ever come.  This has skewed my perception of God the Provider.  It has allowed me to look at a fridge full of food and think “There’s nothing to eat.”  God has always provided in a timely fashion.  You would think that day after day, year after year, of the same experience that my soul would find the peace it so longs for. 

I often feel like an Israelite in the 39th year asking “Yeah, but how do we KNOW the mana will be there tomorrow?”   God has already shown you He is a provider in the past, He will show you today, and may your soul find peace that He will provide tomorrow.  May your lack of provision not drive you into the despair of your anxiety but into the care of your Provider. 

Oh Master! My Master!

Jesus

I find it difficult to simultaneously embrace both God’s transcendence (He is big, mighty, holy) and His immanence (He is right here with you).  These are two equally formative truths: He is my master and He is my friend.  As my friend he listens to my unceasing vomiting of words, celebrates with me, weeps with me, and speaks into my life.  As my master He has authority over me, leads me, disciplines me, and demands obedience.   This tension is one of the things that makes Christianity unique.  If He is simply my friend it is easy to reduce Him to a God who is merely making suggestions for improvements in the betterment of my life.  As my master I am confronted with the fact that He isn’t making suggestions but demanding and expecting my obedience. 

We are more comfortable with a peer than we are an authority figure, suggestions than we are commands, and collaboration than we are submission.  Jesus holds this duality in perfect tension as he teaches his disciples at the Last Supper:

You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15:14-15

I’ve had friends who were only my friends as long as I did exactly what they wanted me to do; they were not good friends.  However, here I think Jesus is addressing the uniqueness of the divine relationship.  Status as friends seems to be connected with obedience (do what I command you) and understanding (you’ve been told what the master is doing).

We want understanding to precede obedience.  We expect that God gives us a “why” before we give Him a “yes”.  Like a child who has been told to finish his vegetables or clean his room, we are constantly asking why.  If I am being honest, I often expect that God gives me His line of reasoning so that I can evaluate it, check for weaknesses, and affirm that His conclusion is the best.  Sometimes when asking God “Why?”, I hear God say what all good parents will say at times, “Because I said so”. 

I find that often understanding flows out from obedience.  After choosing to be obedient to God I gain an understanding that only time and perspective could have afforded me.  As your Master, God is seeking your obedience.  At the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) Jesus states it plainly, if you follow his teaching you are wise, if you fail to follow his teaching you are foolish.

Not only does God expect our obedience but He expects our exclusive obedience.  Not because God is insecure in His status as our Master, but because He knows we can’t have two masters.  At some point obedience to one will require disobedience to the other.  On that day we will embrace one as our master and the other as not our master.

I find often that we try to embrace this dual master lifestyle even after being told of its impending failure.  So we try to serve both God and money, God and success, God and self-gratification, God and family, God and country, God and (fill in the blank).  Only to be confronted by a God who continually demands  our exclusive obedience.  Our master is revealed by our obedience. 

God is the good Master.  As the good Master His ways are good, pure, and can be trusted.  As the good Master He is faithful, He will protect you even when others harm you, He will heal you, and lead you.  As the good Master He loves you, forgives you, and comforts you.  And as the good Master He is seeking obedient children.  May it be true of you.    

What Are You Ashamed Of?

What are you ashamed of?  Even pondering the question is threatening, for it confronts us with the very thing we are trying to avoid.  However, once the question is asked we can’t but help ourselves from forming a list in our head.  Where should we start.  The shame we feel about our body?  The shame we feel about our character?  The shame we feel about our choices and direction of life? Much is made about shame in our world today.  We are told not to shame other people and I would agree that shaming others is rarely effective.  However, simply silencing the external voices doesn’t eradicate shame from our lives.   If only it were that easy.  The problem is often the external voices of shame only amplify and affirm our internal voice of shame.  The voices of “You’re not good enough”, “You don’t measure up”, “You’re worthless” are words we hear when no one is around.  Then when someone speaks them to us, there is a fear that they see right through us and speak the things we fear are true. 

Shame is different than guilt, although the two often get lumped together.  Guilt is about what we have done, shame is about who we are.  Guilt says “I should not have stolen that candy bar.”  Shame says “I’m a thief”.  Guilt says “I should have told the truth.”  Shame says “I’m a liar.”  Shame cuts us so deeply because it is an assault on our identity. 

In John 4, we are introduced to the woman at the well.   Jesus (a Jewish male) asks the Samaritan woman for water.  She thinks he is delusional at best.  For, if he was thinking clearly, there is no way that HE would ask HER for water because of the culturally elevated status of the Jewish male and the lowly status of a Samaritan woman.  As the conversation unfolds Jesus’ status is revealed to be even more elevated (first to prophet, then to Messiah) than she knew.  All while her status continues to spiral downward as Jesus exposes all of her broken relationships.  The chasm in status between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was far greater than she had originally feared.  Her original thought is “Don’t you know who you are?  Don’t you know who I am?”  Jesus’ response, I know who I am, I know who you are, and yet I am still here asking you for a drink of water.  Jesus exposed the shameful areas of her life so that she could be freed from the shame that trapped her internally and externally within her community. 

After her interaction with Jesus she returns to the community that shamed her and said “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did”.  If I was confronted by a man who told me everything I ever did, I don’t think my response would be “Wait right here while I go get you an audience of my friends, family, and community”.  I am fairly certain I would encourage him to go about his way and go far, far, far away.  However, the Samaritan woman doesn’t cast him off but invites him in closer.  She experiences such freedom from shame that she also invites others into the places she previously had kept hidden.   

This is the kind of freedom I want.  This is the kind of freedom that Jesus offers you.  A freedom from our shame that doesn’t come because we have silenced others, but because we have allowed Him to speak.  Jesus knows that shame is an assault on our identity.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.        1 Peter 2:9-10

When Jesus died on the Cross not only did he bear your guilt, but he also bore your shame.  He offered to take your old identity and give you a new one.  He took your shame and offered you his glory.  He took your ashes and offered you his beauty.  You were created in the likeness of God, you have eternal value and eternal worth.  Not solely because of who you are, but because of who you have been created to be.  Christ is inviting you into a life where he molds you and shapes you evermore into his likeness.

When we allow God’s voice about our identity resonate louder than the voices around us and within us, we are following the path from shame to glory and from imprisonment to freedom.  We experience healing from shame when “Who you are” is defined by “Whose you are”.

Where are you?

We are all hiding something and fear being found out.  We live in a world where often people are exposed for the purposes of public shaming.  We are constantly being bombarded and baited with headlines like “You will never guess what Insert Celebrity did!”, “Exposed”, “Secrets Revealed”, etc.  We click, we are horrified, and we are shocked just as promised.  It further reinforces our need to hide, lest we too are exposed and receive the same kind of treatment.  However, God wants to expose you.  God wants to expose you not for the purposes of shame but for the purposes of healing.  God knows that you cannot heal and hide at the same time.

As soon as Adam and Eve ate of the fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil their eyes were opened, they realized they were naked, and they clothed themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).  There is a cosmic shift in the self-awareness of creation.  God had reflected on creation and deemed it “good”, creation reflected upon itself and thought “not so good”.  The fig leaves allowed them to hide from themselves and each other. 

Then God comes strolling through the garden and calls out to Adam “Where are you?”  Adam’s response is that he’s hiding because he’s naked and afraid.  Although clothed with fig leaves Adam feels naked and exposed in the presence of God.  Evidently the fig leaves had limited effectiveness.

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.   Hebrews 4:13

It would be one thing if the story of Adam and Eve was just a story we told children about the origin of humanity.  However, it’s more than that.  Adam and Eve’s story is our story.  We break relationship with God, cover ourselves with fig leaves, and live our lives feeling naked and afraid.  

We all have fig leaves that allow us to hide, they just look different.  They are the fig leaves of anger, success, isolation, work, children, money, busyness, faux-happiness, addiction, etc.   They allow us to hide in relationships insuring people don’t get too close.  The fig leaves allow us to put a false sense of who we are forward while we hide our true self.  Problem being, as long as our true self is hidden we cannot experience true love.  Not the Disney happily-ever-after true love, but the Jesus I-love-you-uncondionally true love.  Even if people embrace us lovingly, our fear is that they only love what we have put forward.  We think if they truly knew the things that were hidden, they would not love us but reject us.  This only amplifies and justifies our need to hide all the more.

God loves you too much to leave you in hiding, naked and afraid.  God tells us in his Word, he knows everything (Psalm 139:1-4) AND he loves you unconditionally (Romans 8:35-39).  God’s love for you is based in his character, not yours (or lack thereof).  We are also told that God’s perfect love will cast out all fear (1 John 4:18).  God is calling you out of hiding, he knows everything, yet still loves you, and there is nothing to fear.  Could it get any better?! But wait there’s more!  When we come into his presence he will not leave us naked, but he will clothe us.

After God calls out Adam and Eve he takes from them their fig leaves and gives them garments of skin.  God takes from us our brokenness and  gives us wholeness, he takes our unrighteousness and gives us his righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).  This is a large part of our journey with God.  Allowing God to disrobe you so that he may clothe you.  God is calling out to you, beckoning “Where are you?” wondering if you will come out of hiding and allow him to clothe you.