4 Posts from April 2010

The Cure for Worry, Part 1

May I get very personal?

The pressures of our times have many of us pastors caught in the web of the most acceptable yet energy-draining sin in the Christian family: worry. Hey . . . don’t look so pious! Chances are good you awoke this morning, stepped out of bed, and before doing anything strapped on your well-worn backpack of anxiety. You started the day, not with a prayer on your mind but loaded down by worry. What a dreadful habit! (It happens to me far too often.)

The stress from worry drains our energy and preoccupies our minds, stripping us of much-needed peace. Few in the pastorate are exempt. We fret over big things and little things. Some of us have a laundry list of concerns that feed our addiction to worry. Anxiety has become a favorite pastime that we love to hate. And worse, we’re passing it on to our children (and in my case, grandchildren). As they see the worry on our faces and as they hear it from our lips, we’re mentoring them in the art of anxiety. Let’s not go there.

As always, Scripture has the answer. Paul wrote this while under house-arrest:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)
His prescription for anxiety can be boiled down to this six-word principle:

Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.


Before moving on, read those six words again slowly, several times. Notice that the remedy to worry involves a choice. He’s not asking you to exist in a state of denial. “Don’t worry; be happy” fails to appreciate the seriousness of your concerns. You worry because the problems you face are difficult to solve. Furthermore they have ongoing consequences if you don’t find a resolution. God doesn’t expect you to suddenly stop caring. Instead, He offers an alternative to the pointless and exhausting habit of worry.

Before this day is done, you will have another occasion to choose between worry and prayer.
Determine now what you will do. Decide now that when the crisis arises, you will transform worry into prayer.


Rescuing Your Children

Sin has a ripple effect in families. Even in pastor’s families.

Propensity to prolong one particular sin might be handed from father to son genetically. One day science may prove or disprove this notion. However, we know for sure sins are passed from one generation to the next by example. We don’t have to look any further than the first book of the Bible to see it. 

In Genesis 12, Abraham and Sarah found themselves living under the authority of a pagan king. This king saw that Sarah was a beautiful woman and he wanted her. So he inquired of Abraham how she was related to him. Abraham knew that if the king desired Sarah badly enough, the king might kill him. To save his own neck, he said to the king, “She’s my sister.” He lied. Later, in Genesis 20, Abraham found himself in a similar situation and lied to yet another king, saying, “She’s my sister.” Whenever Abraham felt threatened, he lied.

Abraham and Sarah had a son named Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah, who was, like Sarah, a beautiful woman. In Genesis 26, Isaac settled in a territory ruled by a pagan king, who noticed Rebekah’s beauty. When asked about her, Isaac said . . . (You guessed it!), “She is my sister.”

Isaac and Rebekah later gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob. The story of Jacob is the story of a deceiver. He deceived his brother, he deceived his father (with the help of his mother), and he deceived his uncle. He fathered twelve boys, all liars—like their dad—except for Joseph. Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to his sons—each generation passed on the sin of lying to the next.

I’ll bet, if you examine your own heritage, you will see an ongoing pattern too. Addicted parents produce addicted children. Brutal parents rear brutal sons and daughters. Deceivers beget deceivers. It’s true in most families. It was true in mine.

I can trace impatience through my family tree. Cynthia can trace anger through hers. I remember discussing this issue with Cynthia while our children were young, sitting at a table long into the night. Finally I said to her, “We have some long-standing tendencies we need to break. They need to stop with us and we need to prevent them from taking root in our children.”

That’s my challenge to you. Examine your own family history and look for harmful tendencies that affected you. Determine today to break the cycle and keep them from becoming a problem for your children. This examination will give you the insight, the wisdom, and the compassion you need to rescue your children from the sins that plagued you, and your parents, and theirs.


A Word about the Emerging Church

When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and proclaimed the grace of God to the lost, he preached to a crowd of skeptics, critics, and those we might call “sophisticated eggheads.” Rather than beginning with the Scriptures, Paul began with the created world in which these unbelievers lived in order to introduce Jesus to them. He began with their spiritual hunger and pointed them to Jesus as the satisfaction for their longings . . . and the payment for their sins. Paul even quoted a well-known pagan poet as a means of building a bridge between the lost and the Lord (see Acts 17:16–33).

A number of ministries have adopted for their churches what I call a “Mars Hill philosophy of ministry.” Modeled after Paul’s message on Mars Hill, their goal is to connect with the unbeliever, or the postmodern, or any person they would call a “seeker.” In recent years the emerging church movement has attempted to “do church” (or be the church) in a new way amidst our postmodern world. Their purpose is “missional living,” that is, to get involved in the world in hopes of transforming it. This style of ministry engages the culture in a “conversation” rather than preaching to people like a prophet. A wide range of theologies and strategies exist within this current movement. Some individuals hold to orthodox beliefs but have adopted very unorthodox ways of communication. I have read of sermons that use language that would make most believers cringe . . . and cover their children’s ears. 

Are we to minister as those in the world? Absolutely. That’s an answer to Jesus’s own prayer for His followers (see John 17:14-16). But let’s be very discerning here. Does this mean we must minister as those of the world? Do we have to adopt postmodern thinking to minister to the postmodern mind? Absolutely not. Such behavior and words are not fitting in the life of a Christian (see Ephesians 5:4). They are obviously, then, not fitting in the context of worship.

Nowhere in the book of Acts or the Epistles do we see a church called to provide a subculture for unbelievers. The lost don’t need to find at church a world that’s like their world. We must relate to the world but not compromise biblical essentials for a church.

I need to make this clear: I don’t intend to erect an “emerging” straw man and then light him on fire. I realize that in the same way our culture unfairly pigeonholes evangelicals, there is a risk of stereotyping the emerging church—or any similar movement. The danger of a broad stroke of analysis is to fail to represent everyone fairly. Or to acknowledge the exceptions.

I’m certain that not all of those who number themselves among the “tribe” of the emerging church favor liberal theology with no belief in absolutes or traditional, orthodox convictions. However, my concern is for those churches in any movement that, in an attempt to connect with the culture, actually embrace a compromise of biblical truth. Paul had the same concern as he wrote with urgency to Timothy:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

It’s worth noticing that this exhortation is not addressed to the hearer; it’s for the speaker. The one who is to obey this command is the one proclaiming the message. That’s you. That’s me. That’s every elder who teaches. That’s all who are called to stand and deliver. It is to be the commitment of every church.

Let me urge you who are considering adopting the emerging church philosophy, or the “seeker church” strategies, to take a good look at what you are trying to do—and why. Be sure to look at it biblically. Be certain you can support any change you plan to implement from the Scriptures. Don’t look to Mars Hill in Acts 17 while ignoring the essentials of Acts 2:42. Instead of searching for justification in the Bible, search and pray for direction from the biblical text. When you find it . . . follow it.

I would say the same thing to any church—including my own.


The Church’s Need to Look in the Mirror

In late 2007, Pastor Bill Hybels and the leadership team of the Willow Creek Community Church shared the startling results of a study they conducted of their own church—as well as other so-called “seeker churches.”

The results, Hybels said, were “the greatest wake-up call of my adult life.” Among other findings, they discovered that their ministry to “seekers” was very effective for introducing Christ to those who were new to church. No big surprise.

But they had not been as successful in fulfilling their mission statement to turn “irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.” That is, they had not been as strong in developing the spiritual lives of those who had trusted Christ. As a result of a conversation Hybels had with his executive pastor, Greg Hawkins, they realized:

We should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders. . . . We should have taught people how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices. . . . What’s happening to these people [is that] the older they get, the more they’re expecting the church to feed them, when, in fact, the more mature a Christian becomes, a Christian should become more of a self-feeder. . . . We’re going to up the level of responsibility we put on the people themselves so that they can grow even if the church doesn’t meet all their needs.”1

I admire Bill for his vulnerability and candor. I applaud any church that takes spiritual growth seriously enough to evaluate its effectiveness and to modify its methods of discipleship to the biblical model. Would that all churches would periodically take a long look into the mirror of God’s Word!

In fact, if evaluation is not done on a regular basis, erosion will occur. It can happen anywhere. I know that for a fact.


1 Quote taken from videos accessed at Reveal.