Relax, God’s Got It

Recently I drove past a church that had the following message out front on their sign:

If you worry, then you are not sure God will get it right.

That truth really hit home with me, as I have struggled with worry for most of my life, even as a child.

I believe that many of us could stand to meditate on this church’s message. After all, if we trust God, we really have no need to worry or feel anxious.

There are many verses in the Bible that assure us God is taking care of everything in our lives. One of the best known and often quoted verses is found in Romans:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Rom. 8:28

Here we find that God is working ALL things out—not some, or even most things, but everything—for our good. Every trial, every circumstance falls under His control. There is nothing that He does not use for our eventual good when we seek to serve Him.

Another verse we can rely on when we’re tempted to worry is found in Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phil. 4:6-7

God actually commands us not to worry. Do you think He would tell us to do something that is impossible to do?

If you’re one of the people who says, “Well, I’m just a born worrier. I can’t not worry,” then you need to focus on these verses in Philippians and make them an integral part of your everyday life.

Remember that God has everything under control and there’s nothing that catches Him by surprise. 

Besides, even if you do worry, most of the things you worry about you can’t change anyway. Just leave it up to God to take care of. 

Pray and listen to His instruction. He’ll speak to you through the Holy Spirit in a still, small voice, giving you direction in your life as you focus on Him.

In Luke, once again we’re told not to worry, as God will surely take care of us, just as He does the birds:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on… Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

Luke 12:22,24

Mankind is God’s most prized creation; He even sacrificed His son for our salvation! He will surely take care of all our needs if we will only trust Him.

So, don’t worry. God is more than able to handle anything that’s going on in your life. Just give Him all your cares and focus on serving Him each day.

Church Depresses Me

DISCLAIMER/WARNING:  You have probably heard everything in this post somewhere else before, maybe several times.

Church is hard for me. Not the worship experience itself, but being around the other worshipers.

If your parents were like mine, when you were a little kid they probably made you dress up in your best clothes for church. When I was 4 or 5 I had a solid white suit that I wore with a solid white shirt, solid white tie, and solid white shoes. I don’t know why, but I loved wearing it. Too bad I kept growing.

Even though many people wear casual clothes to church these days, it seems they still try to look their best and act their best when they show up for church.

Here’s where the hard part comes in for me. It begins when I drive into the parking lot and see streams of people headed toward the door.

Wow! They look really good! Nice clothes, nice shoes, nice hair, nice makeup (on the ladies).

Then I look across the parking lot at all the cars.

Nice new SUV’s, nice clean minivans. Hey, that’s a nice BMW!

And then I look at myself.

OK, I guess I look alright on the outside. Not too bad I suppose. But look at my old Toyota. It’s got dents, a few scratches, and it could definitely use a bath.

I go inside the church to the huge auditorium. All around me are smiles and laughter as people reunite with friends after a week’s absence. Everybody looks so happy.

I don’t feel so happy myself. How am I going to make my mortgage payment next week? My wife and I had a huge fight this morning. The kids are sick. I stepped in cat puke on my way out the door. I’ve got to go back to work tomorrow for another long week. All I really want to do right now is go home and go back to bed.

Do you see the difference in the two approaches? I’m not in any way being fair to myself. I can only see the outside of the guy sitting next to me, but I know everything going wrong in my own life. I’m comparing his outer best with my inner worst. There’s no way I’m going to feel like I measure up to others taking that approach. It’s no wonder that most Sundays I feel depressed within a few minutes after getting to church.

I can’t continue these kinds of thought patterns if I hope to approach church in the right frame of mind. If I truly want to be there to worship God, then I must change the way I think.

Realistically, the way these people look may be the best they look all week. Today, they’ve got nice clothes on and are all shiny, smiley, and happy. Tomorrow morning at 9:00, they may be wearing a drab uniform or a business suit and tie they hate, have a scowl on their face and be dreading dealing with their awful boss all day.

I have no idea what is going on in the lives of all the other people seated around me at church. Logically, I know that every single person in the room has some sort of struggle that they’re dealing with. Nobody has a perfect life. The following quote is sometimes attributed to Plato, but nobody seems to know for sure who first said it:   “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I applaud whoever came up with it, because it certainly makes sense. We never really know what pain somebody may be hiding just to keep up appearances on the outside. When it’s all said and done, we’ll all in the same boat.


Assume Nothing

ImageI had been enjoying talking to Pete; he is a very friendly kind of guy. Then I happened to glance down at the chest area of his button-down shirt. There is was — the little horse and rider. Polo. Because I was in mid-conversation I didn’t spend too much timing analyzing the significance of the emblem. I do remember thinking, however, that wearing that icon seemed rather uppity of him. My impression of him immediately changed to a perceptible degree. Gone was the approachable middle class image I had of him, replaced by an upper middle class image of someone who was well to do and didn’t mind showing it. At first take I wouldn’t have picked him as needing to display this on his shirt. All these thoughts went whirling through my mind and in a couple of seconds they were gone.

I went downstairs to sit in on the lesson part of my son’s high school church youth group. The lesson this evening happened to center on materialism and possessions, not placing “stuff” over God. As images of techie gadgets popped up on the big screen TV, text across the screen reminded us that our new car will someday be a pile of rust, our iPhone’s days are surely numbered, and even our designer jeans will be out of fashion this time next year.

My mind went back several years to the day the realization struck me that the brand new PS2 my wife had stood in line outside Wal-Mart to buy for our son was no longer brand new; it had become somewhat iffy and hanging onto life by a thread. After pouting a few minutes that day I began to realize that no matter what it is, if it’s man-made and money can buy it, sooner or later it will be old and maybe even worn out or broken.

I looked over at Pete and again the little horse and rider image popped into my head. Polo. Again. Ostentatious by any means. For some reason I glanced down at the shirt I had quickly slipped on to come here. What was I wearing anyway?  As my eyes landed on the blue of my shirt, reality sunk in. I cautiously glanced slightly to the left at that part of the fabric covering my heart. There it was in dark blue, almost imperceptible against the medium blue cloth. A horse and rider. Polo.

How could I have been so dull in the head not to realize this before I had judged Pete so critically? Am I a hypocrite? Yes, I guess that makes me a hypocrite. I must frame this by saying that that was my one and only Polo shirt, PLUS (and much more importantly), it was bought by my wife (not me) at the Goodwill store for $3.

At any rate, by wearing this shirt — no matter where it was bought — I have placed myself in position to be judged just as I judged Pete. Maybe people were imagining me to be vain and showy by wearing such a shirt that night. How far from the truth that is, I would have to correct them. If they only knew that I originally had on a $5 Old Navy T-shirt, but I thought I would try to look a bit nicer. After examining the Polo shirt for any obvious stains, I decided that the one or two small ones would not be too noticeable, so I slipped it on instead. Obviously, I need to be more careful in judging others. Nobody can ever know the whole story of another person’s life, especially what struggles that person faces day in and day out.

While experiencing mixed emotions of humbleness (at my quickness in judgment) and pride (interestingly, because of the realization my own clothes status), my gaze fell on a teenager seated directly across from me.  As I sized up his attire, even at 20 feet away it would have been hard to miss the bright blue emblem on his orange shirt. The familiar horse and rider. Oh how wonderful it must be to be 17 and supplied with gorgeous, fashionable clothes by your parents, I thought. Life must be simply grand for this lad! I envisioned a wonderful home life, full of joy and love, plenty of discretionary fun money, lots of gadgets, new cars, and plush furniture.

Then, then it hit me again —  I was this kid 25 years ago. I was the one wearing the pale pink Polo shirt in my tiny high school of 300 students. I was the one other kids thought had it all:  new clothes, nice cars, big house, family-owned business, plenty of money to go around, a sort of protected existence. In our rural area with a high poverty rate, perhaps their parents looked at me, just as I looked at this boy, and thought, Man it must be nice to have what his family has.  Maybe I just don’t measure up since I’m not able to provide my kids with those kinds of clothes. It’s tough feeling like you’re on the outside looking in, and even tougher to imagine your kids feeling this way.


The next night my wife and I had plans to go to dinner with some other people who were graduating from the same college program as she was. I was meeting most of these friends of hers for the first time, so I wanted to look halfway decent. That morning as I was about to head out the door for work, she reminded me of the dinner and asked if I had taken clothes with me to change into after work. I made a mad dash back to my closet and finally decided on the trusty blue Polo I’d worn the previous night. A quick glance revealed no new stains from the few hours I’d worn it the previous night, so I thought it would be fine. She wasn’t keen on my choice, so she tells me she’ll go look for me a shirt that day while she’s out. Fine I say.

Later in the day she shows up at my work with her purchase for me to try on. As I pull the shirt out of the bag, I immediately notice the plush softness of the cotton. Then I notice something else. The horse and rider strike again (though only $29.99 at TJ Maxx). Not just any horse and rider emblem however. A bright orange emblem set again sky blue cloth — the exact opposite of the teenage guy’s blue-on-orange design from last night. So now I have two Polo shirts, for a total investment of $33. Not bad I’d say. But what image does this present to others? Did my wife’s classmates judge me as “uppity”, a “show-off” because of my attire that night? Some probably did.

More importantly, however, what does all this say about me? Am I too judgmental for my own good? I like to believe that I am shrewd, able to peg others to a tee with a minimum of given information. I’ve known of many instances over the years where my hasty assumptions have been completely inaccurate, but for whatever reason I continue to persist in assuming and judging. It seems that no matter how many times I am taught the lesson that I should not judge either myself or others by material possessions, I continue to do so. It’s hard to me not to consider my mistakes aberrations. To me it’s just natural to put those people around me into neat little categories based on their clothes, cars, houses, and even skin color and age. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid.

Nonetheless, it is a character flaw I must continue to work on. As Jesus tells me in Matthew’s account of His life, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Memories of a Wonderful Old Building

The huge doors creaked as if squealing for mercy every time they swung open. Once passing through the old doors into the dim foyer, the darkness seemed almost comforting. How many times did I cross that threshold? I could probably do some quick calculations and come up with an answer, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the old Methodist church was a significant part of my childhood, playing host for many wonderful experiences of the first 15 years of my life. These memories will remain with me the rest of my life.

I don’t know with certainty how old that building really is, however, I believe it dates back to the late 1800’s. It always was dark and musty-smelling, especially in the basement. The familiar “chonk” every time the old basement door from the outside would open or close still rings fresh in my memory.

When I was very young, maybe four or five years old, the church sometimes held potluck dinners in the basement. Specific memories of the food have faded over the years, but I do remember having a great deal of fun playing with my friend Dana. In fact, at that time she and I were the only kids our age who attended the church. While the adults were gathered in the fellowship hall, we would sequester ourselves in one of the Sunday school rooms down a short hallway. We alternated eating and playing with the assortment of toys stashed in a toy box.

One dinner in particular never fails to give me a chuckle every time I think about it. Dana and I were playing with a fire station with a crank handle on top that produced a very loud fire engine noise. It was my favorite of all the toys. I loved grabbing hold and spinning it for all I was worth. During this particular dinner I chose to do just that during the pastor’s prayer to bless the food. I’ll never forget the almost total quiet of the building, all except for the pastor’s gentle voice, being broken by the wail of the fire engine. I couldn’t help but start giggling. I’m sure Dana was laughing as well, although she at least attempted to shush me so that we wouldn’t get into trouble. I don’t remember if any adults came in to scold us, but it would have been worth it just imagining the startled reactions on their faces as their quiet thanksgiving was interrupted by a shrieking siren from the next room over.

When you’re not even 10 years old, it is difficult to imagine that whatever environment you find yourself in is not only typical of its kind, but is actually the best there is. This was the case with that dank old church. It was a tiny congregation; we had maybe 20 or 30 people on any given Sunday morning service. The attendees took up but a fraction of the huge sanctuary upstairs.  We tended to spread out over the rear half of it. For me, it was as natural as anything to have three or four empty rows of pews between you and the next person.

For all its dark mustiness, both in the basement and up in the sanctuary, it was a beautiful old building. The high ceiling of the upstairs foyer supported a large chandelier that helped light the otherwise dim entryway. Rows of large, colorful stained glass windows adorned both sides of the sanctuary, filling the room with the natural light of each Sunday morning.


Two gently sloping aisles led down to the front of the sanctuary to a table with a candelabra in the center. Just as worship service would begin, two people would slowly walk simultaneously down either aisle with brass candle lighters in hand to light its two candles. At the end of the service, the same two individuals were responsible for extinguishing the candles. Dana and I had this privilege on a number of occasions.

Behind the pulpit and the choir loft, in the very front of the sanctuary, hung a picture of a long-haired man in a white robe. I remember one of his hands was lifted slightly as if making a point. One Sunday I asked my mother, as only a small child can do, if that was a picture of God, or of Jesus. I guess she told me Jesus, because from then on it was clear to me that Jesus looked like any other man.

Two sets of creaky stairs, mirror images of each other,  ascended from the basement to either side of the foyer. When going upstairs for the worship service, I usually chose the set on the left, the ones just past the only restrooms in the church. They felt more homey, more like they were “mine”. Maybe this was become they emerged nearest the side of the sanctuary that my family always sat on. Dana and her family generally used the stairs on the right, which were situated over the top of a storage room. As one might guess, her family sat on the opposite side of the sanctuary, almost directly across from us. I suppose we’re all creatures of habit; I seldom used the stairs on the right. Even at that young age, something about it just didn’t seem right. Those stairs were foreign to me in a way, not comfortable like “mine” were.


A balcony sat above the rearmost part of the sanctuary. From my earliest memories of the church, I recall that my older brothers played in the band that perched themselves in the balcony during worship. One brother played the trombone, while the other played the trumpet. One of Dana’s older brothers was also in the band, as were a few of the other older kids in the church. My sister often played the organ downstairs in the front, behind the pulpit. I guess after a while interest in the band waned, because in later years, the only instruments we had were the piano and organ. Sometimes I would take the stairs leading up to the balcony, just to see what treasure I might discover up there. The only things I ever remember seeing were a few stands to hold sheet music, and maybe various other odds and ends. No treasure was to be found anywhere.

About 13 years ago, when my wife and I were visiting my mom, I borrowed a key to the church so I could reminisce for a while. Everything seemed smaller than I had remembered it, but much was still the same: the beautiful stained glass, the old Sunday school rooms, and of course, that old musty smell. One Sunday school room looked like it was being used as a catch-all for whatever didn’t have a place. In it I discovered a few of the old toys I remembered playing with (alas, the fire station was nowhere to be found); that truly took me back to preschool days. Then I glanced up at a cork bulletin board hanging on the wall. On it was scrawled my name just as I had written it long ago, and judging by the way it looked, not long after learning to write in cursive. I ran my fingers across the letters, amazed that it was still there.

All these elements of the old Methodist church– the Sunday school rooms, the stairways, the sanctuary, the balcony, as well as the members of the congregation — still make regular appearances in my dreams. Of course, the dreams don’t recreate the exact church experience as it was back then. The time frame is almost always in the present, often with people or elements from my adult life overlaid on those old childhood memories inside the church. What does this say about me as an adult? Is my subconscious brain hopelessly nested in the distant past?

I was sad when my sister told me recently that the church is closing its doors. I guess as members of the small congregation aged and died, without many (if any) new members coming in, it just became a matter of economics. I wonder what will become of the old building now.