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Do not be anxious

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In the last month I have used this passage a number of times as a benediction for a service and for opening devotions and teaching in meetings:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,

by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:4-7 NIV

The passage has the caution: “Do not be anxious about anything”

The teaching I did had to do with teaching leaders in the church how to “see” or notice anxiety at work in people and how to defuse, calm and de-escalate the excessive part of it.

Part of the discussion which came from this is about what the writer of the letter to the Philippians meant by “anxious.”

So I went back to the Greek to find out.

The word used is “μέριμνα” which in our lettering is mĕrimna, and pronounced as mer´-im-nah. The dictionary1 says it is related to it’s root word μερίζω mĕrizō, (mer-id´-zo) through the idea of distraction and solicitude2;-care.

The most straightforward definition I found is this: μεριμνάω (merimnaō): be anxious about, worry, have anxiety, be concerned3

If I get to exploring the deeper roots and history of the word, I come up with “having your attention divided/distracted by” and then a sense of “caring too much.” Our word Anxious fits that background meaning. Caring too much about some things generates unnecessary anxiety. I believe this is what the passage is warning against. Especially when you see that the warning follows encouragement to rejoice, to be obviously gentle (few are gentle when they are anxious) and be aware of the Lord’s nearness. The passage also encourages prayerful petitioning of God about those things, and encourages what I’ve called an “Attitude of Gratitude.” The passage clearly says a new kind of peace (literally “rest”) that is hard to explain will come over you.

We do not let anxiety or the anxious ones run the church. That is not healthy and it is not biblical. We seek restfulness, not anxiety. We present the things we do get anxious about to God in prayer, all the while grateful and deeply thankful for the good he gives.

1 Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 47). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

2 Full Definition of SOLICITUDE

a : the state of being concerned and anxious

b : attentive care and protectiveness;

3 Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT HOW ANXIETY IMPEDES RELATIONSHIPS IN CHURCHES

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and so then interferes with doing God’s work as well.

One of the books I am currently reading explains how a negative emotional dynamic in churches works. It has to do with unhealthy anxiety. Everything I read here fits both my experience and my theories about unresolved trauma in the CRC in Canada. By the way, I will start mentioning that the theory is not a blaming theory, in fact it is quite sympathetic. People at that time did not know what was happening, and they did not know how to deal with it.

By the point in the book these quotes are found, the author has explained there are two kinds of anxiety. Short term, or acute, and chronic, which is always there. Chimes or alarm bells are always going off for the chronically anxious. I will add that they seem to need to be fearful. He has also explained, simplistically put, that there are three areas of brain activity that regulate our behaviour, one is the part we have that is most in common with primitive, reptilian animals, it governs basic functions that keep us alive—survival processes. The next, more advanced part of the brain, which we have in common with mammals, is the part that deals with playing, nurturing, bonding, and emotional expression –relational processes (my term). The most advanced section of the human brain’s processing centres, consisting of about 85% of the brain matter, deals with analysis, concepts, symbols, reflection, observation and insights. The author refers to it as the “Thinking Cap.” Stress, or anxiety, tends to cut out the second and third level and have the lower one dominate.

In this section the author is talking about Jesus’ parable of the lost son, using the runaway as an example of acute anxiety, and the homeboy as an example of chronic.

Here is the quote:

“Acutely anxious people regain their perspective. There is a return to the Thinking Cap. They have the capacity to control their reactivity. But the chronically anxious have immense difficulty keeping their hands off their own chimes. They are not self-regulating. And they are not imaginative. Note how the father appeals to his oldest son’s thinking capacity: “It is fitting to rejoice and give thanks. After all, my son—your brother—was lost and is found. Son, everything I have is yours.” There is no response.

“Typical of chronically anxious people, the older son resorts to either/or, yes/no, or black/white thinking. It was either “favor me” or “favor your other son;” it was all these years of obedience versus the irresponsible behavior of the other son. Anxiety-driven reactivity inhibits the use of the Thinking Cap. With little capacity for discernment, the chronically anxious reduce everything to all or nothing. Lines are drawn. It is no wonder, then, that they overfocus on others and their weaknesses. They blame or falsely criticize. The older son, for example, diagnoses his brother—reckless, careless, foolish. By overfocusing on the riotous brother, he is no longer responsible for his own reactive position nor responsive to his brother. To the older brother, the trouble is external to himself. Obviously, the brother cannot think systemically. For when you see yourself as part of all relational transactions, you look in both directions. You understand that in emotional systems everything is mutually influenced.

“The parable of Jesus also clues us to another characteristic of chronic anxiety. There is willfulness. “If it’s not done my way, I’ll show you.” Thus the older son refuses to join the festive party. If the chronically anxious cannot diminish or eradicate their pain by blaming, they’ll rid themselves of it nonetheless through other means. “I’ll make you suffer yet.” If differences cannot be tolerated, they are likely to be persecuted.

“It is the chronically anxious individuals in the church family who are apt to conduct a “search and destroy mission.” They will not hesitate to impose their wills on others. They make hostages of their gifts, attendance, and participation. They employ their stewardship as brinkmanship. Their ultimate threat is to run away from home—transferring or terminating their membership if an action is not rescinded, a person is not removed, or a demand is not satisfied. These tactics are effective in church families that place a premium on peace and harmony. They will exchange integrity for tranquillity. They cannot free themselves from the bondage of others.

“Basically, chronically anxious people have a low threshold for pain. This is why they are in the forefront of the effort to secure immediate relief. They hanker for answers and comfort. Threatened, they make demands, spread rumors, exaggerate circumstances, claim injustice-whatever it takes to lessen their anxiety. Governed by instinct rather than insight, they cannot be stopped by reasoning or appeasing. Mistakenly, those who must deal with them think being “nice” to the chronically anxious will earn cooperation in return. Or that being reasonable will get the reactive forces to follow suit. But the reptilian brain does not respond to nice behavior, clear thought, or sugar and roses. Under the siege of the Automatic Pilot, thoughtful and careful approaches are ignored. For this reason, too, difference itself is not the cause of the friction. Differences are problematic in proportion to the automatic processes. With the chronically anxious, the contentious issue is not at the basis of their reactivity. Even if the issue changes, their chimes are still ringing. They keep adding emotional fuel to the fire.”

–Pg 24-25 How your Church Works

“At times a system becomes aware of the anxiety-generating forces, yet refuses to use its strengths and resources to deal with the agitation. Sweeping the anxious reactivity under the rug, the system proceeds as usual. But “benign neglect” only reinforces malignant processes. Moreover, ignoring is as reactive as placating or attacking. VICIOUS CIRCLES CAN ONLY BE DISABLED THROUGH EXPOSURE. They are enabled by secrecy and avoidance.

“The church family’s relationships are no exception to anxiety. It was as true in the early church as it is in the contemporary church.”

–Pg 27 “How your Church Works; Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems” by Peter Steinke

Pastor Pete’s Report on the Bests of the Past Interviews

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I wrote my own report on how the Interview process went and what I think the results indicate. Last night council encouraged me to share it with the congregation. It will make most sense if you’ve at least looked at the Transition Team’s report and numbered summary of things that were mentioned in the responses. Also, having a list of the questions asked: Simplequestionsheet-Noblefordedition will be helpful.

Here is my report: FinaldraftofPastorPetesreportontheInterviews

Printed copies will be put in your mailboxes if you have one.

Wrap- up reports from the Transition team.

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At the end of 2014 your Transition Team finished reviewing and compiling the outcome of the interview nights.

Final TT Report on the interview outcome for Congregation

An evil spirit from God? Really?

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I recently used the first part of 1 Samuel 16:14 in a message about the ebb and flow of the Spirit in people in the Old Testament. It shows that God even sometimes removed the Spirit. Someone later asked about the ending of that verse:

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.”

Does God really send evil spirits to torment and trouble people? It’s a good question.

I did some reading up on that this week, and find most explanations go toward God “giving permission” for an evil spirit to replace his Holy Spirit. So this would be somewhat like the arrangement between God and Satan in the account of Job. Some commentators simply say that if you do not allow the Holy Spirit, it is normal for some other spirit to replace it.

You can read some for yourself on this page, although these are rather old Commentaries that have a bent toward Judgement language rather than consequence language: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_samuel/16-14.htm

My own view would be that if you are given a gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing/calling for a particular special purpose in God’s Kingdom, you risk serious consequences if you do not respect and honour that Spiritual gift. Samson lost it for a time, and Saul lost it. Both for reasons of not respecting it enough. In Saul’s case God (or God’s creation order) allowed for something spiritually darker to come into it’s place. Note that it was ‘for a time’ and did not stay that way.

‘Here’s another place the question is addressed that is helpful, though not exactly in line with my view: http://www.gotquestions.org/evil-spirit-Saul.html

Inreach and Outreach revisted

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As you can see, my pace of producing blog posts has slowed. They will no longer come weekly but weakly, as in when I have an idea to share, rather than because the calendar says.

My thoughts last week moved to the question of inreach (connecting within the existing church) and outreach (connecting outside the church) again. I’ve learned that churches in Southern Alberta seem to not separate those two mandates. So the outreach or evangelism (bringing the gospel to people who don’t know it yet) team is responsible for organizing coffee serving and other fellowship functions in the church. I consider those inreach, not outreach. Other churches organize events which the community is invited to join. Some do a film night, for instance, or some kind of food event. That is closer to outreach, in that it attempts to make a connection with neighbours. But it is not really evangelism, though it may hope to get to that. All three: inreach, outreach and Evangelism, have a purpose in the church. I just don’t like confusing them.

Some churches have found it most effective to put relationship with neighbours as the top priority over against the thought so many of us have of putting more bodies in the pews by our outreach and evangelism efforts. Bodies in the pew are good, but that is not a Kingdom mission, bringing people who do not know God properly into relationship with the one true God of the Bible is. People will sense when you are more interested in turning them into a contributing member of your church than you are introducing them to the God you love and serve. And your sales pitch will not have good effectiveness.

So in Alberta a cutting edge movement is being tried. You can learn about it from a webinar on the CRC Network. It is a major change in approach, a change that came from adaptive thinking, created by people who saw that the way we have been trying to do evangelism was not very effective. We have been waiting in our churches for people to find us. This method goes out to them and meets them where they are:

http://network.crcna.org/community-engagement/7-reasons-live-among-and-your-neighbourhood

Between this webinar and two Sundays ago a buddy from Nanaimo and I having a chat which reminded me of the Men’s Bible Study I was part of there, a study group unlike any church group I’ve ever been part of, I also remembered this story, which is on my other blog. It shows how it is about connection, not church. The church can serve the connection, but is not the connector:

http://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/homeless-by-choice-george-holecz-and-his-journey-home/

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