Easy Fear.

Sometimes the human psyche doesn’t make any sense. And yet at the exact same time, it makes perfect sense.

A perfect microcosm of that fact is this: I find it easier to be afraid than it is to be fearless.

It’s an odd one, this – because somehow I think that the burden of worry and anxiety, fear of what other people think, etc. is preferable to giving up control altogether, even though the sense of control I get from being afraid is just an illusion.

It’s easier to avoid calling the mechanic because I don’t know what I’m talking about and it might be an expensive fix than it is to call him and realize that God will pay the bills.

It’s easier to not go to the doctor because I might find out bad news and get a big medical bill than it is to go, trusting that it’s for the best and that God will again provide for my needs.

As I outlined these fears in my head, I realized a common strand: I tend to think I’m alone. My struggle for control seems to be rooted in this fear that God won’t come through when I need Him. Somewhere along the line I’ve stopped believing that God is sovereign, that struggles are temporary, and that the suffering (physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc) that we face here is as close to hell that a believer in Jesus will ever be.

Isn’t it absurd that I worship my fear more than I worship God?

Isn’t it crazy that I spend more time attending to what’s wrong with my life than I do God – who created me and everything He’s given me?

Isn’t it odd that I worry about not having enough money when God – who adopted me as His son in Christ Jesus – is infinitely rich?

I lose sight, and I do so easily. It’s a trap that men love falling into – thinking we’re alone, thinking we have to do life as mavericks, taking care of ourselves because nobody else can. And granted, it can be difficult when bills pile up and problems compound each other, when it seems like things aren’t going to get better. Sometimes things do seem incredibly bleak, but I’m writing to say this: I’m at that point right now. I have felt, in the last few days, like things can’t get better. I’ve felt like everything’s out of my control. I’ve felt like I’m a complete and utter mess. I’ve been as negative as I can possibly be.

In the Hunger Games, President Snow explained why Katniss was such a dangerous figure to him when he explains that she gives the people of the districts hope, and the only thing stronger than fear is hope.

The only thing stronger than fear is hope, and how much greater is that truth when I realize that the object of my hope – God Himself – is above every problem I could face.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Psalm 43:5.

 

Stretched, isolated, spread, and clumped: a season [I hope.]

I haven’t written as a simple update in what feels like a really long time, and I’m not flattering myself and thinking that a ton of people are hanging on my every update, because I know that isn’t true. But sometimes it’s nice to shoot from the hip – to be real and talk about what’s going on. That’s much more my aim than making a point or keeping people updated.

As the title suggests, I’ve been feeling this way quite a bit. I’ll try my best to keep it logical and concise, but when I blog spontaneously, that’s a real struggle…

Stretched and Spread

I guess I’ve felt this way for a while. Geographically, I’m in such a weird spot. I live in Richmond, but I work in Lexington (about 25 miles north) and I go to church in Berea (about 15 miles south.) I’m the janitor at my church (a fantastic financial opportunity) and a life group leader, in addition to being on children’s ministry and worship team, and attending monthly council meetings and life group leadership meetings. In other words, it’s not as simple as going to church once a week. It involves a few hours on Thursday night to be there for a small group, a few hours on Friday morning to clean, and being there from 8 AM until sometimes 6 PM. Like a work day. In that respect, I’ve had to check my heart sometimes, because while I have Sundays off from work, they can feel like work days with all the things going on.

With respect to working in Lexington, that’s actually going very well – I have learned to manage a fluid income and I’ve been able to save money, pay bills on time, pay the tiniest bit of rent, and I’m working towards paying off my bills – praise God! However, some of the steps I’ve had to take have led to feelings of exhaustion. For example, my boss graciously schedules me back-to-back closes and opens, and my sister graciously lets me stay with her on those nights, so I don’t have to use a ton of gas. But that also means going up to Lexington somewhere around 3 most days, working until 10, going to bed at 11, getting up at 4:45 or so, and working from 5:30 until 11:30 or 3. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen that I’m blessed with a great metabolism, and I can handle it. I usually get tired at the end of shifts, not the beginning or the middle. I usually cope with naps.

But then sometimes things pile up. For example, this past weekend, I worked Friday during the day, had a softball thing Friday night (in Berea) cleaned the church after that (Berea) worked Saturday morning (Lexington) had to run to the mall (Lexington) run home (Richmond) get my children’s ministry lesson ready, go to worship team practice in the morning on Sunday (Berea,) teach, go to soccer (okay, that was completely voluntary, can’t really complain) get my stuff at my apartment in Richmond, go to lexington to get Erica from the airport (not a weekly occurrence, thankfully) stay the night in Richmond, work Monday morning, get back, and C.R.A.S.H. I know, poor me – I have a life. As I write all of this I realize that I’m not really alone in this busyness; in fact, a lot of people are probably a lot more busy than I am.

Still, all of this is to say that I’ve felt really stretched, really spread lately. It’s funny, because I find myself wanting a break and finding time to take a really small break, but by the time a week has passed, I don’t feel I’ve been able to rest at all. Aggregated rest is hardly rest.

Isolated and Clumped

The worst thing is that, in all of this, I feel pretty alone. I’m not asking for pity, I’m not saying I can’t handle it [I don’t believe we should handle isolation for a long time, though. Isolation is bad.] It just seems that, due to extenuating circumstances, I end up by myself a lot. When I’m off of work in the afternoons, I’m usually either tired or don’t really have enough money to buy gas to run to Berea or back to Lexington, where the little bit of a social life I have occurs.  And of course, if I’m  not off in the afternoons, I’m working, and there aren’t a lot of people who can or want to hang out in the mornings. So if I’m being honest, I’ve felt like I’ve spent the majority of the last three or four months in a little bubble by myself.

There have been moments of extreme refreshment, like when a big crowd shows up to soccer in the afternoons, or when I get to join a big group of people for lunch after church. I’ve been to a game night with Erica and some friends, and I’ve been to a pair of Super Bowl parties. I’ve met a friend for a coffee several times, I’ve taken my little sister out to see Divergent (best night I’ve had in a long time,) and I’ve run into a number of people in my local coffee shop (the one in Richmond, not the one I work at. I run into people there, too…)

Sometimes I find myself questioning my attitude towards people – if my isolation has been by choice or by circumstance, as I prefer to believe. But something happened yesterday that really made me dig deeper on that question (perhaps why I’m now writing.) I saw an old co-worker down an aisle at the grocery store, and I almost shifted gears and avoided that aisle because I didn’t feel like talking. But then, in that moment, everything I’ve felt in the last couple of months in this area boiled up, and the pressure exploded. I walked down that aisle and ended up saying hi to my old co-worker, and we had a lovely little conversation. Then as I left, I ran into a guy I used to referee flag football with. I normally would have brushed past, but I decided it’d be better in that moment to carry on a conversation with him. In doing so, I learned his wife broke her hip, that he had been taking on the responsibility of her cleaning business, that they’d lost two cars in the past four or so months, and he was exhausted from taking care of his family. I don’t know that I did much in the way of encouraging him, but it felt good to stop being so isolated and take the initiative of listening to someone else for a change.

 

I fear that I’ve made too much of a habit of being alone – living with earbuds in, with my door locked, with my car full of stuff and no room for anybody else, with having lunch and sharing life only with people that I get along with, and nobody who has any sort of mess, nobody who doesn’t believe in Jesus, etc. That’s a gross habit. Jesus put this on my heart the other day through (what else) my children’s ministry lesson, when Jesus said in Matthew 5: if you love those who love you, what advantage is that?

And honestly, it’s a mindset I need to adopt if I’m going to be a pastor. I’ve heard God say that over and over in the past few months: don’t just love people who love you, don’t just hang out with people who you like hanging out with. Learn to love unlikeable people.

And speaking of pastoring…

This is hopefully the last leg of this blog. There’s something that’s been looming over for me for months now. It’s one big word: licensure. I got accepted as a licensing candidate for Foursquare in September (I think) and I filled out the majority of the paperwork, but not all of it, and it requires a couple of letters of recommendation from other foursquare pastors. I’ve put it off as long as I possibly can. Why? I’m not sure. I think I felt some sort of pressure that comes with being licensed – once I’ve got the license, then what? Suddenly it’s real – suddenly I have to start looking toward getting this church plant going. But at the same time, the longer I put it off, the more pressure I feel to get it done. Especially as my friend and peer Channing is flying through his in the matter of just a couple of months – I just feel behind, like I’m treading water, standing at a fork in the road. But what am I waiting for? What am I afraid of? Why is this such a big deal? I’ve used every excuse in the book – from being too busy, to being unsure that I want to go the foursquare route – to justify putting this off, and I don’t know why. I want to plant a church, and this is the next step in it. I think I’m making more of it than it really is. The worst part about it is that it puts this false pressure into action, and I feel like I can’t move forward because it’s too scary, but I can’t move backwards because of the cloud of witnesses behind me who know what I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. There’s been a lot of talk of church planting to this point, now it’s time to give feet to those words.

 

So here’s the latest in my life: I’m looking with a friend of mine for an apartment in Lexington.  I think it’s another logical step – most of my social life happens there, my work happens there, Erica lives there…it just makes sense. The only thing I do in Richmond, really, is sleep. Most of what I do here (going to the grocery store, coffee shop, etc) can be done in Lexington also. I’d have to find a new workout spot, but that’s it. That would also enable me to be more flexible with meeting people and making appointments for lunch, dinner, coffee, etc. I think this would be a great step for church planting – developing a network of people, both believers and non-believers, making friends, etc. If I worked in the morning, I wouldn’t have to figure out expensive ways of killing time until dinnertime, etc. etc. I’d also be close to Erica, and that’s always a plus.

And by the grace of God, I’m going to get on with this licensure thing. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as I make it out to be, just something that needs to be in place when the day comes to plant. Also by the grace of God, I’m hoping to play down the pressure that I’ve felt of late, and learn to enjoy life socially, financially, and spiritually. I’m great at perpetuating pressure into stress. But there’s not really that much to worry about, only things I make into worrisome points.

 

Onwards and upwards.

Remember the Mission.

I apologize to my faithful readers [thank you] for the fact that you have, in large part, heard the same regurgitated for months on end: life is about more than stuff. And every time I write one related to that, I hope it’s the last one. Every time I think about it, I hope it’ll finally click that I’m not less or more based on the stuff I have or experiences I’ve had. Perhaps this will be the final straw (fingers crossed.)

 

I got into my car this morning and I was thinking about flying. (several people close to me have been travelling lately.) I was thinking about all the horror stories I’ve heard about flying, how weather delays flights and it’s so boring and terrible to wait in the terminal; how sometimes you have to literally run to make your connection flight; how bags get lost in translation from city to city depending on whether you check them or not (it’s all flight jargon, makes no sense to me.)

I’ve never flown. I’m not scared of flying. I’m scared of red tape. I’m scared of registration and making sure my name is properly printed on the ticket, lest I be unable to fly. I’m scared of missing a flight. I’m scared of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And this is a fear that I’d do anything to face, because I want to make my own evaluation of how annoying or frustrating or rushed flying is. So I came back to the same thing I’ve been lamenting for months:

 

blah blah, I never get to go anywhere, blah blah, I don’t make money, blah blah, people think I’m boring, blah blah, poor me.

 

Finally God stopped me, the way a parent corrects their child who’s been whining about the same thing for a long time (which I have.) But I know it was God because of the way He reminded me of this very truth [in bold for effect:]

When I stand before God to give an account for my life, He’s not going to ask me if I saw the seven wonders of the world, or even if I ever made it further west than Louisville. He’s not going to ask me if I had an iPhone 5csABC123 or a flip phone. He’s not going to ask me if I read my books on a kindle or in the real form. He’s not going to ask me if I drove a nice car or a clunker that got me from A to B. He’s not concerned with whether or not I made it to every cool restaurant that I hear about.

In other words, my experiences mean nothing. What matters is my mission.

I’ve been put on this planet and I, for my own part, have been called to be a pastor. I’m supposed to love people, I’m supposed to show Jesus to people through my life and through my words. I’m supposed to lead people to Jesus Christ, where they can find true joy, true peace, true love, true redemption, true meaning, true pleasure. that’s what I’m supposed to do.

For some reason I’m thinking about the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son[s]. I’m thinking about how bummed he was when his brother came back and he lost half of his possession (when you shake the story out, the elder brother got half of what he was originally positioned to inherit.) God forbid I be more concerned with what I get out of life than I am rejoicing when the younger son comes home.

I’m slowly but surely coming to see that life doesn’t work exclusively in superlatives. I used to think it was lame that I’ve been in the same 30-mile radius for all but six months of my life, while there are other people who never lived in the same state longer than five years. Who’s to say what’s better? They got to see a lot of places and meet a lot of people, but I’ve never had to deal with the tough goodbyes that come with moving. I (should/am trying to/am starting to) consider it fortune to have my roots planted in the same place.

Experiences matter little.

What about the mission?

The challenge here is to keep my mind on the mission despite the fact that people who don’t share my worldview don’t see my mission as important.

Remember the mission.

One day, it’ll prove to be the only thing that ever mattered.

three scriptures I can’t stand.

“Three verses Jeff hates, yes, four he despises…”

It’s true that I was aiming for a little sensationalism in the title. But it’s also true that I hate the following three verses, and later I’ll explain why:

Galatians 5:13

 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Romans 14:13-17

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

1 Timothy 4:16

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

 

Those out of the way, let me tell you what this entry is not meant to do, before you get any ideas.

This entry is not meant to make it sound like I am disagreeing with the Bible. The reality is, the Bible is full of sometimes-harsh truth. I’m increasingly convinced that it is one of the most difficult if not impossible tasks for a man with a flesh and a beating heart to fully embrace every single page of scripture. Sometimes we hear what we don’t want to hear.

That leads me to why I am writing this. It’s because I hate hearing this. It’s because I wish that I were right and the Bible were wrong, not because that is the actual case. Men (and I can’t tell if women do this too,) do you know that sinking feeling when you know you’re wrong, and the last step is for you to admit you’re wrong? It sucks. It requires your pride dying and for a lot of us, that essentially means we die, because our pride can be all we have.

I write this today because these are hard for me to hear. Hard for me to deal with. They force me to evaluate how I’m relating to others and how I’m coming off, mostly for people within the church, but also some outside of it. Let’s get into this.

 

The reality is this: these verses are, in large part, saying the same thing. We are free to do what we want, but at the same time, we are obligated in Christ to serve one another, love one another, and not cause one another to stumble. The 1 Timothy verse is, in this case, just a little out of context, as Paul didn’t really reference this idea of a stumbling block, but the idea is sort of the same. He was saying this: “Timothy, as you go, so your church goes. So watch where you’re going.”

I wanted to find the translation of the Galatians verse that phrased it this way: “do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice.” (I couldn’t, but I swear I’ve read that somewhere.)  What that really means is what Paul alludes to in Romans 6 when he says that the Christian is dead to sin and alive to God. It means that your freedom does not exist for you to sit there doing whatever you want, because if it’s sinful, it defeats the purpose. But Paul adds this bit that instead of doing what we want, we should be serving one another through love. In other words, “you’re free. But don’t use that freedom to do whatever you want, but because you’re free, you’re free to love and serve one another.”

I hate these verses because I find myself a lot of times saying (perhaps pridefully) that I can do things or handle things that other people can’t. And when I’m alone, it’s one thing.

When I’m alone, I have no problem enjoying a beer, especially to help me sleep.

When I’m alone, and when I’m frustrated and praying, I don’t have much of a problem using more taboo words that I wouldn’t use around other people.

When I’m alone or with really close friends, I don’t have a problem saying “what the hell” instead of “what the heck.” (semantically speaking, I defend this simply because sometimes the cleaner words don’t properly express the full extent of one’s frustration or perplexion.)

But these verses in Romans raise a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig yellow flag.

Thursday afternoon, I came home from Lexington and ran to the store to grab some beer I’d been meaning to try. Again, my conscience was perfectly clear in this respect. I don’t have a problem with it. But in my social-media-obsessed mind, I took a picture of it so that everybody knew I was shopping local, living local, and drinking local (it was a Lexington brewery.) But as I was going to post it on Instagram, I decided it’d be a better idea not to share it on Facebook and Twitter too, simply because of the fact that maybe, just maybe, some of the people I’d be leading in a life group just a few hours from then would be put off by their “leader” having a beer, especially before life group.

That thought, I believe, was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But it made me mad. “Why,” I wondered, “can’t I enjoy this bit of life without worrying what other people think of it? Why do I have to be restricted because there are other people in life who don’t agree that it’s okay to enjoy a beer? Why should I feel bad about enjoying one because there are people in life who may not possess the self-control to stop at one? Lord, that’s [cultural taboo.]”

And then I remembered 1 Timothy 4:16, which Pop and I had talked about in passing the day before while we were meeting to outline our sermon series in 1 Timothy. I remembered that pastors are held to a high standard. I remembered that as you go, your people go. And yes, maybe I can “handle” things that other people can’t. But the reality is also two-fold: other people can “handle” things that I can’t.

What if, for example (and I’m not going to worry about the validity or morality of this argument as much) my pastor [heads up, he doesn’t, and if he does, I don’t know about it, which is probably best] watched movies that involved nudity, but he didn’t think twice about it? I’m not saying porn, I’m saying those movies with “artistic nudity.” But let’s say, hypothetically, he enjoys the movie for the movie, and is far too enraptured with Jesus and with his own wife to acknowledge the woman on screen.

I use that example because that’s my vice. I can’t handle all that well nudity in movies, because it gets my mind going in a million different directions. (and I realize the absurdity of my example, as there is not one specific genre of movies [outside of porn] that uses artistic nudity, so there’s not one genre to seek out, if that makes sense.) But if my pastor can, maybe that makes me think I can do it too, so I try it and fall into a vicious cycle of pornography, masturbation, and incessant guilt.

Vice is a weird thing. It’s a really weird idea to think that some people are more vulnerable to certain things, but I think it holds at least some degree of weight. I can use a four letter word in private and not feel guilty about it, but in public, I can’t do that without it affecting someone. In large part, the same is true with alcohol (I’m running out of time, so I can’t argue the whole issue of whether or not it’s okay for Christians to enjoy a drink. My stance in short: if it’s not excessive, and if it’s not causing someone else to sin, it’s fine.)

And to be honest, it frustrates me to think that there are things I can’t do because it would cause someone else to stumble. But as Paul writes – the Kingdom of God isn’t about the things we can eat or drink (I would add the things we can say or watch) but it’s about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Those things come first. And my freedom in Jesus, according to Galatians 5:13, is to serve that purpose and serve the joy and growth of others.

I’m tired of thinking about myself.

I realize the irony in the title of this blog. I’m writing a blog about how thinking about me drives me crazy. So in acknowledging that something makes me crazy and gets on my last nerve, I am indeed thinking about myself, and since the object of my frustration is myself, I am doing it even more. I get that. And that’s why it’s ironic, and that’s why the scope of this entry has changed since its inception in my mind.

I was going to write a blog cataloguing my frustrations and how tired I get with all my selfish thoughts and then ask for help. I was going to ask all of the other people in the world how they do it – how can everyone else be so selfless? But that’s when I realized a couple of things:

  1. You only think everyone else is selfless because you’re so impossibly selfish that you compare everyone else to yourself and you belittle yourself just so that you can be a superlative – Most Selfish.
  2. There’s no process to it – it simply involves death. [more on that later.]

I’ll try to fly through my thoughts as clearly and logically as I can [despite the fact that I am indeed irritated to the point of incoherence.]

I hate thinking about myself. The spirit wars against the flesh, says the Bible, so that I do not do the things I want to do (Galatians 5:17.) My spirit is selfless. My spirit realizes I was (and am) so completely useless without the help of Jesus that I can’t possibly be more special than anyone else, and while I am valuable and loved in the sight of God, that doesn’t puff me up because I realize that God so loved the world (not just me) that He gave Himself. My spirit wants other people to know that, too. But my flesh is selfish. My flesh is bent on sin. My God-formerly-damned self can’t stop thinking about itself. Sin was once defined as humanity bent in on itself, and boy, is that ever true. I think sometimes overtly selfish thoughts like:

My hair looks sweet today.

I hope people like it when I sing this solo at church.

I love having a beard.

I’m such a good athlete.

I hope people love when I play with kids and think how great I am with them.

Or sometimes the really ironic ones, the humble-brags (or brag-humbles) like

I hope people think I’m humble for driving an old car and think I’m wise for not owing on it anymore.

I hope people think I’m humble because I don’t have a lot of cool stuff.

[side note {and this may tie in later} but do you notice how many of these relate to others? I’m writing off the cuff so maybe this’ll make sense later.]

But sometimes it’s a lot more covert. For me, this is my isolation. It’s the fact that sometimes my schedule has me driving a lot by myself and spending time at home by myself when I can’t afford to go out and do social things. And so inevitably, since I’m the only one around, I think about me. I start thinking about my life, I start thinking about what I want to do, and suddenly my priorities concern only myself. Sometimes this feels inevitable, and with how unpredictable my schedule is, I can’t always make plans because things may come up, not to mention that I sometimes work different hours every week.

The reality is this: I want to spend more time with others. I want to meet friends for coffee during the week. I want to have people over for dinner (I’ll have to talk my brother into cleaning the place up) and I want to be involved in the lives of others to a deeper extent than I am. It has, at times, ached my heart that I can’t do this, or maybe that I just don’t do it.

My hope (and simultaneously my concern) is that things aren’t the way they are due to a lack of desire, and solely due to circumstance. Because as I said earlier – sometimes my own interests conflict each other. Sometimes I desperately want to have dinner with friends, but sometimes I’m burnt out on work, or I’ve been away from my own home for days on end and I just want to stay home. Sometimes I think I just haven’t met anyone to meet with and disciple or study the Bible with and then other times I think I just haven’t looked hard enough [surely they’re out there.]

And I realize [or I at least hope] that I’m not the only one who wrestles with this. I think that we are our own worst critics [I have a definite propensity to be mine] and so we’ll inevitably think we are in the wrong. One of my least favorite things to hear is “you’re too hard on yourself,” because I never think I’m hard enough. I think, “if I were harder on myself, things would change. But I’m not that hard on myself.” And I blogged about this a few weeks ago – I often don’t know the effect I have on other people. Maybe I really don’t come off as selfless at all. Maybe I do everything I can. I have no idea.

But my conclusion is this: there is no process to becoming selfless. There is no formula, save one thing: die. I believe that all sin is selfishness manifested in different ways: greed and lust are selfishness of what I want; pride is selfishness of how important I am; lots of sin is related to entitlement (thinking I should be able to do whatever I want) and so inevitably, life with God is to be the complete opposite. I am reminded of Romans 6:11 which beckons the believer to consider him or herself dead to sin and alive to God. The two are inseparable. I can’t be dead to sin and dead to God (that is, I cannot be my own savior,) and I can’t be alive to sin and alive to God (that is, God isn’t tolerant of my sin, I am not His savior and I am not doing Him any favors.)

The answer to the sin problem and the selfishness problem is death to sin. Letting it die. Giving it up. Burning it at the stake. Or more specifically, seeing it nailed to the cross in the form of Jesus Christ, who became my sin so that I could be set free from sin. That’s the only way I can truly discover what it means to be selfless.

Lord, this is my greatest struggle. I’ve heard it said that a gospel mentality puts an end to relating every experience to myself, whether that be comparing myself to others or desiring others or simply exalting myself, and that’s what I want. I know that the only way I can discover what it means to be selfless is to embrace the gospel and apply the gospel to my own sin-prone heart. So that is my prayer today, God – let the scope of my own life be so much bigger than myself. Where I am unrestricted by any other circumstance to share my life with others, let me not be restricted by my own wretched selflessness. Oh, and forgive me for all of the curse words I wanted to use (and the ones that I did) while I worked through this. Make me more like You. In Jesus’ name, amen.