Emptied

Attempting to write a blog after more than a year. A year that has been filled with severe health issues; from a near death stent in ICU, over 120 days in the hospital, and the daily struggle to breathe and have enough energy to move around.

I am emptied. Physically, mentally and yes, spiritually. Emptied of emotion, strength and fortitude.

I am emptied. Often times, emptied of thought, creativity, and desire.

I am in constant pain. And I constantly struggle for my next breath.

What I pray I will never be emptied of is hope. Not an earthly hope, one of a, “I hope this meeting goes well”, or “I hope I get a _________ for Christmas”, but a hope that is secured and anchored in Christ.

A heavenly hope. A hope that is anchored in God’s word, that doesn’t yield a “hope so”, but is bound to a “know so”.

Life is a struggle, and it is extremely difficult right now.

Perhaps being emptied is a good place to start.

It is when we are emptied that we can be filled.

Paul tied the two together this way.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Romans 15:13 ESV

Facebook Epiphany

Today I deactivated my Facebook account.  This wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, I put some time and prayer behind my decision and decided it was time to ‘cut the cord’ to what I realized had slowly been becoming a Facebook addiction.  For me however, it was more than an addiction, it was beginning to effect my thinking and shape my perspective.

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Facebook was becoming my source of identity.  I was gathering opinion and then spewing my own take on a thought or subject without a lot of thought or research.  It also gave me a platform from which I could speak my mind, and heart, with not much fear of recourse from anyone.  After all, I could ‘defriend’, or block anyone who disagreed with me or was rude, or ugly toward me.  Kind of cowardly, don’t you think?  I could hide behind my Facebook mask.  It was making me appear to be something I was not!

But the real crisis point came when I realized I was using Facebook to espouse some rather harsh views which were birthed out of my own fears.  Fears of the future, fears of the world’s upheaval, fears of the actions of certain individuals or groups, and the fear that others weren’t paying enough attention to all that is transpiring in the world today.  I guess I thought it was up to me to sound the alarm and expose the truth.

ISIS Men

You could say I was transferring my fear on everyone else through my posts and seeking out approval for the way I was thinking and responding.  I’ve come to realize this WAS NOT healthy for anyone, especially me. There was so much that had been swirling around in my mind lately, regarding the state of the world, eschatological events, terrorism and other things that were, in reality out of my control.  Yes, they were frightening and real to me,  and I took it upon myself to let everyone else know how real my fear was.  I was also expecting them to be just as alarmed, that wasn’t working either.

I desperately needed to find a better way to relieve this fear, angst, and inward turmoil.  I desperately needed to re-focus myself on what IS important.  I needed to learn to trust and keep quiet and listen.

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That’s when my mind was drawn immediately to Scripture, Philippians Chapter 4 to be exact.  Paul is writing to the church at Philippi which was experiencing persecution.  They were afraid, scared and in fear for their lives.  In an effort to encourage them to remain faithful to the faith, he offers this portion of his letter to help center them.  To help them battle unbelief and center their hearts and minds.

I needed this passage!  And what I’ve found to be so beautiful about what Paul writes is that it is a multi-stage process.  In verse 4 he exhorts them to rejoice.  Rejoice?  When fellow believers were being killed?  In verse 5 he exhorts them to be gentle.  Gentle?  When those who were persecuting their number were anything BUT gentle?

Then, in a two paragraph section (verses 6-9) he lays out how they are to accomplish all of the above.

First he tells them to not be anxious.  The words “be anxious” (Greek, merimnao), can refer to being unduly concerned about anything.  That was me!  I was concerned about things I could not control and fearful because I couldn’t.

Then he tells them to pray and through that, let the peace of God rule, or guard, their hearts and minds. (v. 7)  The term “guard” (Greek, phroureo) is a figure drawn from the arena of conflict and is frequently used to refer to the action of a military garrison stationed inside a city.  In other words, there wasn’t anything that was going to disturb their peace of mind!

Peace-of-God

And next the beautiful admonition;  “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

The impact of this admonition is probably best explained in an NIV commentary I read, which states;

He (Paul) tells the Philippians to look for the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy everywhere around them and to ponder the things in which these qualities are exemplified. Perhaps Paul knows that since the Philippians are being persecuted by the society around them, they will be tempted to reject everything outside the church as indelibly tainted with evil. If so, then this list, with its admonition to look for the virtue (arete; niv “excellent”) in the wider world, reminds the Philippians that, although society sometimes seems hostile and evil, it is still part of God’s world and contains much good that the believer can affirm.

I’ve decided to focus on things that reflect the above qualities and as the Psalmist said, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth!”  (emphasis added)

The Church and Cheers

If you grew up on TV in the 80’s and early 90’s you are most likely VERY well familiar with the sitcom Cheers.  You remember the lovable and quirky characters, Sam Malone, the bar’s owner, chief bartender, former baseball player and ladies’ man, who had an on-and-off again relationship with Diane, the grad student.  Then there was Rebecca, Cheers owner/manager after a buyout by the company she worked for.

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There many ‘wacky’, yet affable characters that filled the bar on a regular basis,  as both employees and patrons.  There was Carla, the sarcastic waitress, beer-loving accountant Norm, know-it-all postman Cliff.  Then there was small-town, and sometimes clueless, Woody Boyd,  Frasier Crane, the psychiatrist, Lillian Sternin, an incredibly cold and placid psychiatrist and Coach, who eventually dies.

Cheers was a microcosm of society.  Losers, ‘wannabes’, misfits, has-been’s and those who were in search of their true identity and place in life.  The theme song for Cheers expressed the feelings of everyone who was caught up in this fish bowl of a bar.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. 
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. 

Wouldn’t you like to get away? 

Sometimes you want to go 

Where everybody knows your name, 
and they’re always glad you came. 
You wanna be where you can see, 
our troubles are all the same 
You wanna be where everybody knows 
Your name. 

So, what can we learn from Cheers that we could apply in the church today?  What lessons could we take from the way the characters in the bar related to each other?  What might be missing in the church today that one kind readily find in a bar like Cheers?

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I think some of what we could take away is found in the lyric of the Cheers theme song.

Here are what will hopefully be some thought-provoking questions that you could ask of your church, or ministry.

Is the church really a place that folks go to escape the worries of this world, the pressures of every day life, or do people see the church as a place that is full of judgmental and even hateful individuals who are not accepting of someone that thinks differently, dresses differently, or is an outcast of society?

Is the church a place where ‘everybody knows your name’, or are you just a face in the crowd?  

Is the church a place where people are ‘really glad you came’?

Is the church a place where we sit down and talk about our troubles?  Or, do we come and go and never really dive into life with each other?

It seems that there is more of life that was shared around the bar in Cheers that EVER gets shared within the wall of our churches.  Sure, have fellowships, we have programs, we have events and BIG services, but we never just pull a chair, grab a drink, and make people feel like they’re glad they came.  We don’t seem to share life the way the characters in the Cheers bar did.  They loved each other, they got involved in one another’s lives.  When one person hurt, they all hurt.  When one person was down, everybody tried whatever they could to cheer them up.  They were a family, a close-know family that were well of each others faults and shortcomings, yet loved even still.  

They cried together, they celebrated together, and did as Scripture exhorts us to do in Galatians 6:2-3, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”  Or Romans 15:1-2 says, We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

One thing you quickly notice about the characters in Cheers, they do share in each others lives and are genuinely concerned for the welfare of others.  Do we do that in our churches today or do just shuffle in and out of our building never

You Gotta a Problem With That??

I have a problem, actually, I have lots of problems, but I learn to live with them. I pray each day that I’m not too big of a pain to live with. My normal is a new normal, my normal will never be the normal it used to be.

When asked, “How are doing?” I usually reply, “Good…considering, good overall.” Most people really don’t want to hear the WHOLE answer, it can take hours.

But I love what Ecclesiastes 7:10-14 says, and it pretty much wraps up my life. We live each day thinking the next one will be a carbon copy. Sure, our schedule might change a bit but as far as life goes, we tend to count on things remaining ‘normal’. Then, BOOM, our life explodes into tiny fragments and we’re left staring at the little pieces asking ourselves, “Why?”. Or perhaps, thinking it’s all over. How can we continue this journey?

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The wisdom of Solomon speaks to the heart of our world becoming ‘un-normal’ real fast. It speaks to our comfy little world shattering before our eyes. When that happens, you ask a LOT of questions. Is that wrong? No! And anyone who says it is, point them to the cross of Christ. Perhaps the greatest paradox in history. Jesus asked “why” so why shouldn’t we. 

And He even knew the answer!

Ecclesiastes 7, in fact the whole book, helps us know the answer as well, and IMO it is this, ‘in the middle of ALL your chaos, the debris of your life, the injustice of this world, the inequity that is around us, the moments of all we think unfair; there is One that NEVER changes and holds it ALL together.’

God has made things crooked for a purpose and a reason. You gotta problem? Did you ever think perhaps God gave it to you intentionally, just to remind you that you are NOT God.

10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.

12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.

13 Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.