Sunday, September 21, 2008

Learning to Love Jesus

The Sunday activities have come and gone for this week. I have gone to the Divine Service, Bible study, even partook of the ever needful coffee hour without feeling too uncomfortable about being in my own skin. This morning, there was a helicopter crash not to far away from our pastor's house. The family in the house was saved, but the passengers in the chopper were killed. What a tragic way to begin a Sunday, I thought to myself. I wasn't the only one. Another member asked Pastor during Bible class, "I know that there is sin in the world which is the cause of the horrible things that happen, but why does God allow it in the first place?"

When I ask Tim this, sometimes I get a long answer. One that causes me to think deeply but I usually arrive at the same place that he does in the end through his gentle guiding. Pastor wasn't so kind. His response: "So you can learn to love Jesus." Honestly, (sorry, Pastor, if you are reading this!) I had a hard time listening to the rest of the response as he explained this. My first thought was, "What type of a God do we have that makes us struggle and bleed and hurt to make us love Him? Surely Pastor couldn't have meant that!" What about my anxiety disorder? The one that causes me to doubt Him so severely it makes me tremble with panic; the one that causes me to doubt my own salvation- can that be the cross I bear that causes me to love Him more? My fears make me feel like I love Him less than others because I can't simply trust him unwavering like the Bible states!

Writing this blog has caused me to speak more boldly about my disorder in the context of church. I asked very point blankly how God could use my disorder to cause me to love him more, when the fears and doubts don't just annoy me, at times they consume me. Pastor guided me (yes, I paid more attention this time) to remember something that I had either forgotten or never learned completely. All to often, Christians forget their relationship to God. It's more like, "Let's Make a Deal". "Well, God, I know I have messed up and stuff, but if you will just save me, I promise I'll do better." Figuring that we have to give something to get something, we try to barter our way into God's good graces. The bartering also has our best interest at heart. What is the minimum we can do that will allow us to be in God's graces and still allow us to retain some dignity? After all, we don't want to come out as beggars.

That is all I am, though. A beggar. If I ever try to forget that, my anxiety disorder will bring it to the front of my mind. I can just hear the thoughts now. "Do better, you said? Yeah. That pet sin right there, if you were going to do better, it wouldn't be an issue. Look at you! In that muck again! Yeah, see if God will save you now after that. You thought you were really smart making that deal. You couldn't hold up your end of the bargain if your life depended on it. Oh, wait, it does! Game over, you're damned."

I got nothing to offer God. I can't stop sinning, no matter how much I want to. I've tried. I failed. It was not a pretty sight. Even if I did have something to offer God, it would be worthless. The moment I offered it to God, I'd be putting myself before God, which then breaks the First Commandment, and there I go again, not upholding my end of the bargain. Game over.

In the midst of a panic attack or even an anxiety attack, when I just cannot calm down, I have this cute little pill. It's maybe a millimeter across. Swallowing that will calm me down in twenty to thirty minutes. How interesting that it takes something outside of myself to calm me down. In the middle of the attack, I can do nothing. Sometimes I cannot even get my own medication! I become a beggar. Looking to my husband to give me what I need, something outside of myself has to swoop down to my rescue. I have got nothing to offer.

In the muck of my sin, there is nothing that I can do to make me holy. In the fullness of time, Christ died on the cross for me for the forgiveness of my sins. When there was nothing I could do, Christ came down and did it for me. I look to Christ for what I need and He provides it; the Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine, the washing and rebirth in my Baptism back in June of 1980, the forgiveness of sins through my pastor speaking the words of Absolution. These aren't things I do! These are things that are outside of myself being given to me just like those times when I need the medication for my anxiety.

I guess Pastor was right. God gave me personally a picture of how Christ moves to save His creation in my disorder- tailor made for me while I bear the cross given to me in this veil of tears that points me back to Word and Sacrament. My disorder helps me learn to love Jesus even more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pastors Bleed, Too

All too often parishioners see pastors as nothing less than a Superman in a chasuble. They are supposed to be able to deal with anything, handle anything, and remain calm in any situation. With almost a childlike innocence, they are to deal with the problems of their world with gentleness, dignity, and never ending patience. A crisis counselor on demand, the pastor is too often seen as the calm in the storm that walks away untouched by the encounter.

But is this really realistic? Hardly! Not even Christ our Lord could walk the road of this life untouched by what He experienced. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. When the money changers were in the Temple, Jesus chased them out. That speaks of emotion and reaction to situations that ruin too many people's image of Jesus as the young benevolent "sugar daddy", ready to fill our every felt need. Jesus saw our sin, took on the consequences in His own body for our sake, bled, and died. That is a far cry from being untouched.

Your pastor is a far cry from being Christ. He is a sinner. He lies, puts false gods in front of the One True God, curses, covets, and is subject to every sin that is found in his parishioners. But, like you, he is forgiven because of the saving work of Christ on the cross. A slave to the Gospel, despite his failings and yours, the reason why he has the image of a Superman is that he puts the cross first in the midst of a crisis. This is a great example for us as we should be doing the same in our lives.

However, the pastor doesn't go home after staying by the deathbed of a parishioner, sip a cup of coffee, and think to himself, "I wonder if it will be a pleasant day tomorrow" with no regard for what he has just been through. Death caused Christ to weep and it causes pastors to weep, too. Life can do things to them, too. Depression, anxiety, physical ailments, even spiritual anguish are not foreign to pastors. This is why pastors need pastors! By building each other up in the faith, your pastor is ready to take on what is going on in your congregational life as well as can be expected. But, they will make mistakes. Pastors can bleed, too.

So what then? Since your pastor is not perfect can you just get rid of him? Nope! Not any more than you can get rid of your parents, spouse, or children because they are imperfect. Forgive them, love them, and help them. Mirror the love they showed you in your crisis. Mirror what Christ has done for you- forgive them and move on. Just like you, they are doing the best that they can, and they deserve your honor and respect.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Should be updating this more...

I have been on a steady diet of Word and Sacrament through the Divine Service, Bible study, and Issues, Etc. that I have theological thoughts flowing freely in my head, and seem to have nothing to say on this blog. Don't ask me why, I have learned plenty in the last month especially, but it's as if it is more internally churning and being mulled over in my brain and is not ready to be put into words, yet. Perhaps that doesn't make sense, I'm not sure it does to me, but I will tell you what I do know about it.

God is the Giver of good gifts. It's not just one or two sparsely here and there. It is abundant, perhaps even overwhelming, as God points us to Himself. God gives us all we need to support this body and life in the form of food, clothing, family, government, and the like. He gives us not just general "standard issue" gifts either, but things tailor made for us, knowing just what we need at any given time. God also gives us the gifts of salvation. There was nothing we could do to save ourselves, and seeing our deadly plight, God swoops down and plucks us from death's hand by the death of Christ on the cross. "Paid in full" is on our bill of debt for sin, written in the blood of the Lamb. Christ died and rose again for me- for you. That's a life raft in the midst of a hungry drowning sea of sin and death, piloted by the One who calms the storm, Jesus Christ.