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Pastoral Care

anxiety

My barber had a sign in his barber shop, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll keep you busy, but it won’t get you anywhere.” In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 4, Paul gives the best remedy to worry: prayer.

Most of the time when we come to verses like Philippians 4:6, we see anxiety/worry as a completely negative thing. However, I think Paul would argue that anxiety/worry can be a good thing. That is, anxiety/worry can be a good thing if it reminds us to pray. But if we don’t use anxiety/worry as a reminder to pray, it can quickly become paralyzing.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across a blog post that pointed out that not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. You can care a great deal, and yet not worry. And that’s what we’re called to do. (Romans 12:15)

Philippians 4:6-9 could be summed up, “Instead of worrying, pray and let God handle it.” Verses 6-7 are the main statement about turning our worry focus onto prayer focus: Don’t worry, but pray. And God promises to give incomprehensible peace.

But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 7. He gives us tangible things to think about as we shift our focus from worry to prayer.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9, CSB)

Paul says that if we’ll turn our focus from worry to prayer and think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of moral excellence and praiseworthy, not only will God give us His peace (Philippians 4:7). God will give us Himself! (Philippians 4:9) The peace of God and the God of peace!

Application

I know. I know. Not worrying is difficult. Turning your focus from anxiety/worry to prayer is hard. I know.

Most of the things you worry about will probably never come to pass. And anxiety/worry takes your eyes off the One Who can actually do something about what you’re worried about.

It’s OK to tell God you’re having problems obeying his command to not worry. (Mark 9:24) We’ve all been there way more often than we’d like to admit.

Note: There is a clinical condition called anxiety. If you’ve been diagnosed with this mental illness, follow Paul’s instructions: Pray. At the same time, don’t be ashamed to take your prescribed medications. God can heal you of your anxiety: Sometimes He chooses to do it miraculously, and sometimes He chooses to use doctors and meds. Acts 28:8–9 records both ways God healed people through Paul and Dr. Luke. A few months ago, I commented on this passage. You might want to check it out. Someone you know may need these words of encouragement.

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.

Just about every day, I read posts from several pastor groups on Facebook. Many of the groups are very supportive, providing a “safe place” for pastors to air their frustrations without worrying that their comments will be seen by mean-spirited church members. Other pastors will add a “praying for you” comment or a “Praying Hands” emoji. Sometimes other pastors will point out errors in someone’s thinking, bringing them back to a Biblical foundation for discussion.

And then there are others.

It seems that some people feel they are God’s gift to pastors, someone whose divine destiny is to correct everything that’s wrong with everyone else’s theology. Rarely does such hard-worded rebuke — in the absence of a relationship with the other person — accomplish anything substantive. And then other people (with no relationship with each other) chime in and the “flame wars” begin.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul says it shouldn’t be like this. He says that if someone falls into temptation (or wrong theology or practice), they should be gently corrected and restored. (Galatians 6:1) This gentle correction is only possible in the context of a relationship between people. And this gentle correction is almost impossible when using Social Media.

The bigger context of Paul’s remarks is that we should be about encouraging each other, bearing each other’s burdens, humbly remembering that at any time, any of us could make some bad choices.

Application

Humility is a scarce character trait. But developing it will keep a check on your mouth and on your behavior. When someone steps up and either offers to correct a wrong belief you have or exposes a sin you’re involved in, listen. They could be completely wrong in what they’re saying. Or they could be correct and you could be wrong. Don’t “get your panties in a wad”, but listen. Ask them to help you (even if you’re right and they’re wrong).

God gave us two eyes and two ears and only one mouth. Perhaps He designed us to look and listen more than speak. (see James 1:19)

When you speak and when you listen, do it with a humble attitude.

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In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 5, the writer concludes the chapter with,

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:12–14 (CSB)

delicious steak meal

I remember when our kids were little. Their first meals were milk. As they grew, we began to introduce formula, then rice, and then baby food as they were ready at each step. As they continued to grow, they began to eat other foods. No longer were they relying on us to prepare their food; they could slap together a nourishing, delicious PB&J sandwich in no time! Today, they are completely self-sufficient. They can buy their own food with their own money and prepare that food in a variety of ways. Their food oftentimes tastes better than mine!

But what would happen if they never prepared their own food? What if they never fed themselves? What if they were completely dependent on us to prepare and feed them? Obviously, something would be wrong!

The same is true in the Spiritual realm. One of the things we did as the kids grew was to prepare them to feed themselves. When a person becomes a believer and is born again, they are completely dependent on other people to feed them spiritually. The goal is to get people to feed themselves from God’s Word. Unfortunately, like many other pastors, I’ve heard, “Pastor, we’re leaving the church. We just don’t think we’re being fed.”

I remember wanting to say, “Well, if you aren’t being fed, it isn’t my fault. I spend hours preparing the meal and setting the table. I do all I can to present the meal that the Master Chef wants me to deliver. Am I supposed to put it on a spoon and stick it in your mouth for you? ‘Open the hangar so the airplane can fly in!’ If you aren’t being fed, it’s your own fault!” But I didn’t say that.

Application

So, what about you? When you go to church, do you feel that you’re being fed a nutritious meal? Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t! A lot of pastors don’t prepare. A lot of pastors don’t know how to feed themselves from God’s Word. A lot of pastors just like to make people feel nice and comfortable. The bottom line is, if your pastor isn’t delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, maybe you need to prayerfully consider looking elsewhere!

But isn’t it also possible that the pastor is delivering God’s Message from God’s Word, but you aren’t benefiting from the prepared meal? Perhaps you aren’t ready for the meat. Maybe you’re just not mature enough. Maybe you need to go back and eat more basic foods.

If you’ve been a believer for more than a few months, you need to begin feeding yourself from God’s Word. No pastor is able to feed a well-balanced diet of what each person needs to everyone in every church.

So how do you start to feed yourself? This is a good place. Read along in your Bible from a translation you can understand, asking God to speak to you. Don’t use an “inspired finger” approach to your Bible reading; read your Bible like you would any other book. Look at a verse in its context within a paragraph and within a chapter.

Yes, it will take time to get used to feeding yourself from God’s Word. But as you read and study, comparing what you’re learning with what other people are learning, you’ll find it easier, more fun, and more nourishing.

You are what you eat.
Are you eating mature food you prepared yourself
or baby food prepared by other people?

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Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

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