Random Dissonance 2 - The Storm I Should Have Seen Coming

[Jesus] said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is... You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?  Luke 12:54ff

"Planting a church isn't for wimps!"  That is what I would always say.  I still say it.  Only now, when I do I kind of feel like one of those wimps to whom I once gave such flippant reference.  Honestly, it stings to say it now.  It stings like a venomous puncture from the tail of one of those wasps that used to nest in the junipers that lined the street in front of my childhood home.  It stings because I sometimes wonder if I am talking about myself.  So I say it less.  But it's still true, so I do say it.

At the end of the second year of our church plant and more than a year before I would surrender to the imprisoning clouds of depression, we had a fantastic idea for a Good Friday worship gathering.  It seemed that is was not just our idea, but it seemed to be inspired by God Himself.  I was thrilled to see it coming.  If darkness describes my emotions those painful mornings in bed, then brilliant specter had to define my mood that Friday afternoon.  Albeit splendor punctuated with the panic of meeting our deadline and the anxiety of wondering if anyone would show up to the worship gathering to experience all that we were laboring to provide, our creative team was excited to both produce the event and participate.  The sense that God would meet people there and gift them liberally with His ample love and grace both compelled us forward like a tractor beam in a science fiction movie, and inspired our hopes like beams of light that extend from a single candle's flame, slowly and gently revealing unexpected treasures of increasing brilliance and value.  That titillating anticipation was a bloom sown in the soil of a lot of physical and mental effort. 

Physical and mental effort are definitely not uncommon to anyone who is part of a newly planted church.  Our church plant, like so many others, still does not have it's own facilities.  We meet in a school.  This situation is one that I love and one that I sometimes dread.  There are a few moments in the life of this small town boy, turned big city scholar, turned home town pastor that bring incredible joy.  Being with someone at the moment they are able to verbalize their faith in Christ, performing the marriage of two Christ-followers who have done all of the hard work to know and follow God's will in their relationship, offering up a child in prayerful dedication to God's purpose just to name a few.  But there are a couple of other moments that bring another kind of delight.  The kind of delight that my mother described to me once when she told me that she didn't experience any feeling better than the feeling of having all of her children sleeping under her roof: safe, close, together.  There is an unparalleled delight to seeing God's people together.  There are some moments when a gathering of Christ-followers seems to erupt into noisy and blissful friendship.  I love those moments when everyone truly enjoys one another.  And that same deep satisfaction comes when a group of Christ-followers join their efforts together in shared service and good ol' fashioned hard work; and they love the task for the blessing of sharing it.  There are times on Sunday mornings, when we set up church from a trailer, that those last two moments of pastoral glee converge.  And then, I LOVE being a church planter, meeting in a school.

As the Good Friday gathering began and people arrived, all appeared to be on track for a stunning fulfillment of all that we had anticipated.  Then, as if I was looking through a tunnel-like void, similar to Hollywood's rendition of a black hole in space, I saw something that I did not expect.  I saw a couple, new to our congregation.  This was not part of the portrait that I had meticulously painted for the event.  I had not overseen any strategy to make sure that new people were either welcomed properly or integrated into the collective experience.  And sure enough, as I kept my eye on them through the evening to track their engagement in the event, the moments when our congregation reached out to welcome them escaped my scrutiny.   I talked myself into calm for the sake of making it through the evening.  And that's about as far as I made it... through the evening.  By the time the event concluded and the gymnatorium was cleaned & reorganized for Sunday's Easter gathering, thoughts of failure attacked my brain like an infestation.  Dread put it's strangle hold on my heart.  And fear took my soul captive.  I was in so much agony, because I was convinced that my observation was an indication of looming failure for this mission to which I had sold my self.  After two years of life-hijacking focus on ministry, physical fatigue, mental strain, emotional exhaustion, and diminishing spiritual stamina had drained me of my defenses like a leach sucks blood.  I didn't see it happening, but the vision that once brought me vitality and focus had become strain, drain, and pain.  Clouds were engulfing me.  And like cataracts steal vision from a healthy eye beneath, this perfect storm of emotion was robbing me of the joy I had always had in ministry.  I should have seen the storm coming!

When the deepest part of night fell and I went to bed, sleep eluded me.  The darkness of night covered the sky but the the full moon's brilliant glow seemed to have the lumens of a WWII air strike search light with all of its beams focused on me.  My eyes wide-peeled, I succumbed to the multi-layered attack on my senses.  I got up out of bed and went to the computer to try to organize my thoughts...  OK, that's the white-washed version.  I got up and went to the computer to get it out, to unload.  And I dropped that load like a manifestation of the Manhattan Project.  What had begun as fatigue from believing that the success of our church plant relied on my leadership ability, my organization, my pastoral skill, my spiritual prowess, my personal charisma, and endless hours of dedication to prove my worth, was swirling inside my soul like a vat of nuclear activity, churned by a cartoon super-villain and nearing the point of critical mass. An explosion was on the very cusp of the horizon.  I sat down at the computer and typed out all my fears of failure and my anxiety.  And, I was not careful enough to protect the innocent.  Then, I did the most regrettable thing of my ministry life.  I posted that rant on a now-deleted blog.  The nuclear waste expelled, night came like a cozy comforter and wrapped me in wanton sleep.  But morning was coming, and the explosion of that blog post was about to reap destruction in more places than just my inner-life.

While I had never bothered to notice the dark dread-filled clouds of fatigue mounting in my sky, there was no missing the radiation cloud that followed that blog post.  It was the fallout that inevitably follows all such eruptions of nuclear poison.  It was harm, dropping like nuclear rain in the lives of so many of the people who surrounded me as faithful friends.  And it opened up the skies to an even greater storm that would eventually plunge me into depths of dark feelings I have never before known.


Garden of Eden: Not So Perfect?

I mentioned this topic in passing on Sunday morning, as we began our study of the blessed life.  I do intend to delve into it more on future Sundays, but may not be able to give it full attention in any case.  Here is, not necessarily a full treatise but a good starting essay.

Was the Garden of Eden perfect?  I don't think so.
1.  I'm not thinking that perfection is possible outside of Heaven.
2.  The serpent was present in the garden.  And with him must have come his killer, destructive instinct.

When Jesus taught us how to pray, He taught us to ask the Father that His will should be done... NOT "as it once was in the Garden of Eden."  Instead Jesus pointed to Heaven as the permanent residence of both God and the enactment of His unblemished will. 

Before we were introduced to the serpent in that undeniably splendid garden, Genesis portrays to us a very important fact about life in the garden.

  Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.  Genesis 2:19-20
I hope that you have noticed that the imperfect will of man has been allowed to affect the outcome of things in the garden of God's making.  Yes, even though the garden was a haven where God could apparently physically experience friendship with His creation, His willingness to give humanity a role, any role, in it's dominion doomed the sanctum to a state of less-than-perfection.  It certainly cannot be argued that Adam was in any form a perfect man.  Romans paints Adam as a literary and literal foil for the one truly perfect man - Jesus.  Adam's imperfection and the allowance of his will in the dominion of the garden therefore preclude perfection from defining the state of being in the original sanctuary of God with man.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned... if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ...  Romans 5:12 & 15
Additionally, the serpent's presence in the garden again calls into dispute any idea that the garden was perfect.  Let's point out that in our account of Eve's encounter with the serpent, Eve conversed with the creature quite confidently.  Perhaps talking snakes were commonplace then and there, but how many had the spiritual constitution to discuss the commands of God with the humans?  No, I don't think we can really assume that this conversation was the first interaction that the original humans had with the crafty beast.  Nor does it seem contextually fair to assume that the legged snake navigated one of the surrounding rivers moments before that conversation and slinked directly to the center of the garden for a 1-time interaction that would result in cataclysmic fall.

You see, I don't believe that Eden was designed to be perfect.  Or that it was the original "Heaven on Earth."  No, with just these two blows, the chance for perfection was beaten out of Eden with crushing strength.  I believe Eden was designed to be ideal.  And that is a far different goal than perfection.

Eden was the ideal location and environment for God to commune with the creation He so desperately loved.  Ideal for walking, talking, leading, correcting, affirming, teaching, loving.  Eden was created to embrace God's purpose for His creation: communing in close relationship and grace-filled love.  That does not, never has, and never will, require perfection.  The Garden of Eden was ideal: ideal for communing experience of friendship between God and humans.

Oh, let's not confuse righteousness with perfection... or the perfection of faith with human perfection.  Adam and Eve's righteousness was imparted to them in the covenant they had with God in the confines of the garden, like the righteousness of Israel was imparted to them by the covenant they had with God in the tabernacle & temple practices, and like our righteousness is imparted to us in the sacrifice of Christ.

Back to Eden.  Back to Ideal.  Back to practicing the communing presence of God, imperfect as we are.  Imperfect as our now-fallen world is.


Random Dissonance - Through the Clouds

"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

As I sit typing at my computer in the waning moments of this winter morning, I am enjoying brilliant sunlight and the shocking warmth of a 48 degree day.  It has been 3 weeks since the persistent clouds first cloistered the sun in their prison.  The light of the sun seems too bright for my fair eyes to withstand.  The warmth, shocking for my bare arms.  The revelations of daylight both painful and pleasurable at once.

I'm writing today from the light of day.  On the other side of dark clouds that once enshrouded my mind, my spirit, and my body.  For 18 months I was blanketed in depression, covered in shame, wrapped in fear, and lost in a fog that seemed to kidnap me from the truth that I know.  Depression stole from me the ability to connect truth and reality to spirit and mind.

It was Spring.  It was about 10AM.  The kids were already at school and I had not kissed their tender forehead or spoken words of love and affirmation to them to nourish their day.   I was cocooned in the blankets, blinds closed, pillow over my head when my bride came in to say her goodbyes as she set off on some errands for that day.  I heard the frustration in her voice as she unfolded her plans to me and ultimately asked me how long I was going to let this last.  (This was not the first morning which I had wasted, languishing in the darkness of a bedroom-turned-catacomb.) "People are asking me what's wrong with you and I don't know what to say."  She encouraged me to get some time with God while she was gone and to find someone I wanted to talk to about it.  But I followed neither of her suggestions.  Instead I embraced the fog, settled under the blankets and the clouds, and I allowed the numbness to engulf me.

There in the dark, numb fog of my soul, I thought about my despair.  I thought about it and wondered why I felt such despair.  I was angry that I was feeling it.  I was mad at myself, mad at the world, and perplexed by God.  I thought about my situation and I reasoned with myself that none of my reasons for such dark feelings were either reasonable or legitimate.  But there they were.  Then I tried to think of something else, but hidden under the camouflage of every other thought were thoughts of anxiety, darkness, dread, and despair.  They were becoming friends...  Perhaps that is not the word I wish to use of them.  Companions.  Fellows.  Always with me, they tainted every thought and activity.  They brought poison to my heart, mind, and soul.  Definitely not my friends, they remained ever with me none the less.  So I thought of how I felt, and I felt no better because of doing so.

When I finally showered and dressed that day, I made a critical decision.  I decided to not let anyone suffer with me.  I would keep my depression and anxiety to myself.  "After all, I'm a husband, father, and pastor.  People need me and I owe it to them to keep up a brave front while I work this out," I reasoned with myself under the drenching flood of the warm shower that could warm my skin but couldn't sooth my mind or my heart.  So, that was the last day I stayed in bed.  The last day I wore my dark emotions on my face.  I learned to put on my smile.  I created a new laugh.  One that was almost convincing.  I dug down deep for the words of truth that used to resonate with my mind and spirit, but that now only rung out of my memory and were spoken by shear will to do no more harm.  But of course I did do more harm...  Harm is the poisonous blossom that buds on the many branches of depression.

I am not a medical expert and have not undertaken to study all of the physiological ramifications of depression on the human mind.  I am not sure that I will even be able to illuminate any deep-reaching spiritual realities as related to depression.  But I do have a story to tell.  It is my story.  And I pray that by telling it I am able to walk more fully in the light of day, beyond the foggy veil of depression's dark clouds.  I pray that by reading it others may come closer to the break of day in their own struggle.  I pray that God will smile on us from His unbridled pleasure with the truth.  I pray that we will feel His smile and be warmed and renewed by His delight.


Window on a conversation with God

I was driving on Wednesday and fretting as I did...  This seemed a perfect time to unload my anxiety on God.  If you were looking through my windshield, here is the conversation you would have spied, with your spiritual eyes and ears, as you did.

I said:  "God, please God, please deliver me.  Take care of me.  Protect me.  I'm so worried that things will not work out and that we will fall flat."


Me:  "Should I pursue the financial help that epic needs from ____________________?"


Me:  "I know that if I asked him, he would agree.  Should I ask him?"


Me:  "Are you telling me not to do it, or are you telling me that I have the right idea and I don't need your further instructions?


Friday, I was driving again.  And again I was fretting.  And again it was about finances.  Here's how that conversation went.

Me:  God, I know that if I talk to him, the need will be fully met.

God:  Do you want to do that?

Me:  I don't know.  I mean, I don't mind doing it.  But I don't fell right about it yet.  I want you to make me feel right about it.

God:  If you want to do it... do it.

Me:  That doesn't make me feel right.

God:  If you want for feel right, let me do what I am already doing.

Me:  Why do I still feel worried then?

God:  You don't trust me.

Me:  How long do I have to wait to see the need met?


Me:  How long?


Me: So, should I call him?

God:  If you want what I can do... wait for what I do.  If you want what you can do... don't wait.


God:  You don't trust me.

Me:  God, thank you for this sun that is shining, this road that is paved, this car that starts and runs and stops, this comfortable pair of shoes.  Thank you for dimples on daughter, smiles on sons, warmth in my home...  I trust you.

God:  You trust me with you, but you need to trust me with the congregation.


God:  Will you?

Me:  God, thank you for faithful friends who pray when I am down, for servants who serve even when it's not fun, for lights and speakers, for bulletins and Bibles.  Thank you for cooks and servers.  Thank you for chairs and those who stack them.  Thank you for prayer warriors who make it all possible.  Thank you for partners who love their neighbors.  Thank you for life groups.  Thank you for givers...  Thank you for givers...

God:  You're welcome.


Me:   OK, so I shouldn't call him?


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