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Hope in Anxious times

“Do not worry about your life.”

Who said that rubbish? It’s the day after the election, I’ve hardly felt more anxious. I asked six people today how they feel and they all said worried, or anxious. That seems to be the common denominator today, “One Nation, Under Worry.” This week I’ve wanted nothing more than to take a big nap and wake up three days after Tuesday. Instead I hardly slept.

“Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying?”

westheimer don't stop
Location shapes mission

Perhaps not, but what about through binging season 2 of my favorite show (Longmire, BTW)? Of course I know better, escape is not the answer to worry. But it does make me feel better for an hour. The problems are too many and big to wrap our souls around. In the face of such a cultural and psychological storm denial isn’t a political statement, its survival. We just can’t cope.

Author and psychologist Mary Pipher even talks about MTSD, Mid Traumatic Stress Disorder, acknowledging that our society is collectively living in the midst of constant trauma. But that may not even be the worst of it. She says, “As a species we are engaged in suicidal behavior that we cannot even discuss.”

The opposite is to go all in and place all bets on democracy – which, if you think about it, is belief in the sanity of our neighbors. Everything depends on it. Everything depends on us. So get out and vote early and often, then be prepared to lick your wounds and sing Kumbaya.

“You of little faith! Why do you worry?”

I’ll tell you why I worry. I worry about my kids’ futures not being better than our past. I’m worried for those specifically named as deserving a less-than status: immigrants, women, queer folk, black lives. I’m worried the church’s reputation will receive a knock-out blow; or that it already has. These desperate crises don’t have an easy answer or obvious scapegoat; but they do twist us psychologically.

OK, I wasn’t very authentic with you there. I told you a couple of things on a long list I’m worried about; but I didn’t tell you why I worry. To do that I’ve got to dig deeper into myself, not in to my culture.

Why do I worry? I worry because I don’t have the resources I need to adequately cope with my profound reality of alienation. My emotions, faith, and culture aren’t resilient enough to move me from trauma to hopeful action. Yet.

That’s not me wearing my slobbery mid-life emotions all over my red white and blue sleeves. “Alienation” is a term shared by theologians, psychologists, and scientists that describes the human condition today. We are – until we aren’t – all alienated from ourselves, God, and others. We’re all children of Eve and Adam after they ate that damned fruit: feeling naked and ashamed for the first time, hiding from God, blaming others. No one needed to kick me out of that garden; I ran from it of my own free will.

And there it is, a kind of Short-Theory-of-Almost-Everything, including why I worry. It’s not just that I am alienated from self, God, and others – it’s that I’ve chosen to live that way. And worry is as innate to that lifestyle as corporate financing is to democracy.

“It is the Gentiles who strive for these things.”

Yep. I have met the enemy and it is I. (Hold on friends, we’ll get to the part about hope).

If I believed in original sin I’d probably say that’s got to be it, a belief in separateness. ‘Us’ against ‘Them.’ Right versus left. Citizens not migrants. Black lives or cop lives? Your President is not my President. God above creation. It is everywhere. And it’s all crap.

Problem is I can’t help myself, and I’m not alone. Even Paul said “For I do the things I hate, and that which I want to do I cannot do.”

“Do not worry about tomorrow. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Yep, nailed it. One day at a time. When public trauma hollows you out it’s imperative to take a day to grieve. But then what? What kind of person would I have to become to not worry about tomorrow?

Whole-hearted people, non-anxious people have three things going for them. They are those with a profound sense of who they are, are deeply connected to a specific community of people, and have a shared mission.

In other words:

  • Whole-hearted people disbelieve the lie of separateness.
  • Non-anxious people have overcome the experience of alienation.
  • Those who move past worry get in to action.

All of us have work to do. None of us live in a united country; none of us live in neighborhoods that are flourishing as they can; none of us live in a world without war; none of us are 100% supportive of President-elect Trump.

“Strive more than anything else for God’s kingdom and God’s justice. If you do, everything  else will be given as well.”

That’s the mandate folks. Not putting our hope in government or free markets. Anabaptist Christians have never believed an ideal super-state is the solution. Nor is our hope in passive prayer. As I say in my book The Gospel Next Door:

God is not keen on finger-snapping miracles or waving a magic fix-it wand… Instead of miracles and messages, God shows up in an even more surprising way: us. We are the evangelists invited to stoke the hope that God’s restoring justice can come to Houston as it is in heaven.

Black theologian Howard Thurman said it like this: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Our hope is in the kingdom and those who strive for it. Our hope is not in princes, but in people who will courageously protect the poor and pushed out. Our hope is not in Caesar, but citizens committed to the common good shalom of our cities.

Friends, the gospel of peace has survived Constantine and the Crusades. It has survived the Doctrine of discovery and Dacau, It has survived the Inquisition and the bomb of Nagasaki. It has survived the Bush wars and the Obama Presidency. It has survived the open carry of guns and the open hatred of outsiders.

Why do you think this is so? It has survived our worst because it is God’s best.

And it will survive this too. Because we will strive for it.

So who was it who said all those rubbish statements above about not worrying? The same man who said we’d be unshakable if only we’d do what he asked. (Matthew 6:25-34, 7:24-27)

There is much work to be done. I will find out what it is. And I will do it.

This is my faith.
This is my hope.

Marty

 

 

 

 

 

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Failure can twist your soul

Failure can twist your soul.

And there are a lot of ways to fail; even more ways to perceive that you’ve failed. Painful examples include failure at work, in relationships, and in the Christian life.

At first when you fail your soul feels anger, shame, or guilt. It may depend on where you fail – at work, in public, or spiritually. In the beginning you may feel those emotions, but they push you to pick up and try again.

Further along failure feels like being pushed against he wall. You might respond through self-preservation, or adjusting your expectations. You will tell yourself it’s unrealistic to shoot for the moon, and that you never should have tried. Or perhaps you will point the finger of blame, moving the responsibility to another, “It’s not my fault.”

When your soul has been twisted so tightly by failure it can no longer breathe you’ve come to the end of your struggle. Here failure feels like cynicism and resignation; which is to say, it feels like nothing. Church pews are filled with resigned cynics.

Our culture (and seemingly even our God) puts pressure on you to succeed, produce, and compete, and then slaps you in the face with trite remarks like “Just Do It.” As if you haven’t tried that already.

If you wonder at the effects of failure on the human psyche look no further than the homeless man on the street, or the German response to the Weimar Republic after WWI. I’ve personally got a front row seat right now to how failure is twisting a friend’s life; and it is ugly.

I said failure can twist your soul. But it doesn’t have to. You have other options available.

You can immerse yourself in the gospel. You can allow yourself to be defined by God and God alone. You can allow your mind to lead your heart back to a true understanding of yourself. Then go there again and again. For it’s there, where quiet waters feed lush green pastures where your soul is renewed (Psalm 23).Image result for image look for christ and you will find him

This is why you must go beyond merely singing to actually worship, you’ve got to make the gospel your gospel. You’ve got to get out of your head and into Christ.

Ephesians tries to explain the Truth that “Christ loves us” with a flood of metaphors. You are God’s adopted children, made alive not dead, you’re part of the life-giving body of believers, limitless boundless love, given a new self, Christ gave himself up for you; & a ton of others you should check out.

If one of these images sticks, hold on to it dearly. If one doesn’t then drop it, and move on to one that does. They are each only rough attempts to point to the deepest reality of your existence: God loves you.

I’m not telling you to stop working hard. But I’m also not telling you to go back to the beginning, to push again, and pick up to try harder still. I’m inviting you to give up, and let Christ live inside you. Christ isn’t there to help you move from failure to success in the rat race of life. He’s there to free you from the race altogether. In the end this is where success comes from – in giving up.

Give up the illusion of control, so God can become more in control (at least for a season).

Here’s two wise examples of what that means. CS Lewis said it like this, “Look for yourself and you will find loneliness and despair. But look for Christ and you will get him and everything else.”

And Jesus said, “The person who wants to save his life must lose it, and she who loses her life for Me will find it.”*

Christ is alive in you. And whatever that may mean it means you are NOT a failure. And you’re not alone. Sure, maybe you have failed. But that’s not who you are. Your identity lies elsewhere. Please listen to his voice, not the voice of failure. One is the truth, and the other is a lie.

 Pastor Marty
Author: The Gospel Next Door
(Buy your copy of my book today by clicking here.)

*Matthew 16:25

Donate to Charity – Get a Free Book!

giveaway pic for blogDonate to a Houston charity and my church will give you a free copy of The Gospel Next Door!
Seriously. God’s doing some incredible things in Houston these days. We think that’s worth celebrating… and joining. No doubt you agree!
The first 70 people who donate get a thank you gift we believe will inspire you to see and join what God is doing in Houston, and beyond.
Why is Houston Mennonite giving away 65 books to raise money for someone else’s charity? This is just who we are. Well, that, and because these charities are amazing, and above reproach, and giving God a great reputation, and…. you get the idea.
The folks in these ministries do exactly what I celebrate in The Gospel Next Door – they’re following Jesus right where they are, doing the kinds of things that Jesus would do if he were living our life. And they’re making a difference.
Will you join us in giving them a boost and letting them know they’re doing great things in Jesus’ name?
HERE’S OUR CHARITIES:
  • Living Hope Wheelchair Association ministers to some of our most vulnerable Houston neighbors: Uninsured immigrants with spinal chord injuries. They provide hope, community, and medical supplies to those without access.
    giveaway living hope charity
  • Free the Captives does just that – they free women caught in the chains of human trafficking. How? Through prevention, public partnerships, rescuing women from captivity, and providing jobs for them. They are one of the Christian ministries in Houston leading the charge against modern day slavery.
    giveaway free the captives
HERE’S HOW THIS WORKS: 
  1. Donate $25 or more online to Living Hope or Free the Captives.
  2. Let me know you did. (Comment below, forward your confirmation email or screenshot to houstonmennonite@gmail.com, or message me at facebook.com/ThePeacePastor/)
  3. Let me know if you want a digital copy or where to send your paperback. (Offer applies to US only)
  4. My church will mail you a book via Amazon. It should come in a couple days.
Let’s do this together! 
Here’s another great idea. Why not have your book study group all donate together! We’ve put together a great study guide for groups that we’re hearing really good things about. You can find it here, then dig in deeper with the people you already know.
Thanks friends! I hope that I will be sending you something soon!
Marty Troyer
Author, The Gospel Next Door
Pastor, Houston Mennonite Church
houstonmennonite@gmail.com
PS. Houston Menno is also giving 30+ books to partners outside of Houston!

the miracle of faith for gay christians

My mom writes us kids the moment she hears results from her annual cancer test. I was terrified when we found out she had cancer, and each test holds within it the seeds of the same terror. My dad has annual tests too, though not to ensure remission but for early detection. More than one of his nine siblings has died by cancer, which makes his tests feel like a waiting game.
Cancer is awful, a great equalizer, proving perhaps we humans aren’t so bad off after all since no one would wish it on their enemies. My wife tries to wade through the supermarket fog and shop cancer-free. Hotdogs without nitrates, kids’ products minus everything that makes them recognizably a kid’s product, fruit sans Monsanto.
I always thank my mom after her reports because it means she’s taking care of her health. So far she’s 6-0 and a thankful member of the cancer survivors club.
Despite the horror of this modern plague, Haley’s mom wished she had terminal cancer. Haley was gay, and her mom thought cancer was preferable to having a gay daughter. That’s what she said, and not on the day Haley first shared, a day Haley remembers as being her day of freedom. Her mom wished cancer on herself months later, when every other metaphor she mustered felt stale and threats fell lifeless to the floor.
Can you imagine how much time and negativity it took to come up with such devastating words?
People had a relentless belief in the power of guilt to effect change, but it didn’t.Displaying
The church’s promise of hell hadn’t changed Haley. Friends turning their backs hadn’t cured her. Her best friend loved her, she had said, which was why she could never talk to her again. Haley was to them evil, misguided, a victim of Ellen DeGeneres’ world gay takeover. Her youth group asked her not to come back and Christmas was off limits at grandma’s. She’d been prayed for, exorcized, sent to therapy.
Her mother’s words weren’t a threat; they were her hope. “I’d rather die than have you as a daughter.” To Haley these words were as terrifying as an actual diagnosis of terminal cancer. And in that moment, in the most spiritually healthy decision she had ever made, she walked away from church and the faith that had been used to abuse her.
She anguished alone, unable to reconcile the choice she’d been forced to make between faith and identity. Until, that is, she discovered The Gay Christian Network and was told that being gay and Christian is NOT a contradiction. Once again, her faith began to soar.
I heard Haley’s story at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in January. And I’ve tried to tell it like I heard it, without interpreting it. It speaks on its on. Perhaps what makes me the most sad about it is how normal her story is – how painful families’ and churches’ behavior can be. Even how spiritually devastating.
It’s a wonder people like Haley ever open themselves to church at all. God, yes. But the church?lgbtq flag meme
All of us are created in the image of God, beautiful just the way we are. In fact, as I’ve said elsewhere, one of the least controversial things you could ever say is that gays and lesbians are created in the image of God.
It’s Christian Theology 101 topics like this that unmask Haley’s spiritually abusive actions. Affirming that lesbians and gays are created in the image of God is the foundation of faithful Christian action.
Let’s not ever loose sight of the beautiful truth that God lives in lesbians and gays just like Haley – and daughters like her everywhere. Stand firm in good theology – stand firm in this good theology – and Christian behavior will follow.

Marty Troyer

#TheGospelNextDoor
Purchase the book today! Read a free chapter here.

 

creation care is neighbor care

I’ve got this neighbor who’s really struggling. Will you pray for them?

The change in climate is completely screwing them over, and they need help. They’ve been flooded out; and burned out. Drought has wiped them out. Conflict is killing them. They happen to live half a planet away, but I’ve helped cause their crisis. And it’s not getting better anytime soon. Thanks for caring!

#thegospelnextdoor

Learn how creation care is neighbor care in my new book The Gospel Next Door.

Marty Troyer

Church is not a building

They say I’m building a church.

I know what those words mean, even if I don’t agree. What they mean to say is that we are building abuilding, a facility.

A “church” is something far more than a place and something radically more beautiful than a building. Church is us, flesh and blood, a group of Christians committed to living life together in the presence of God. It’s easy to build a building. What is infinitely more essential is building up the body of Christ.

Building the church, as Anabaptism has always insisted, is about spiritual growth, daily discipleship lived publicly, & authentic community. Building the church is NOT about making good church members. It’s about having Jesus as the center of our faith, community as the center of our lives, and reconciliation as the center of our work.

We don’t need a building or a budget to do any of those things. Religion says we do, but not Christianity.

I can lead you in singing but I can’t make you worship or move you from your head to your heart.

I can inform you about faith but I can’t form you, that’s your choice not mine.

I can build you a labyrinth but I can’t make you use it, let alone walk prayerfully into God’s presence.

I can appoint you to a leadership position but I can’t make you lead.

I can pass the microphone each Sunday but I can’t make you get out of passive mode and give us an encouraging word.

I can preach at you (I figure I’ve preached about 100 hours in my time here) about daily living but I can’t make you love your neighbor.

You get the idea. I think we’d benefit from seeing our building project as an apt metaphor for the true work of building the church. Building a new facility is not our agenda and it’s not our top priority. At its best it is a means to an end. Important work all the same.

Let’s not lose sight of that end, or the reasons we’re on that journey.

That shame voice in my head

Lately I’ve wondered if there’s time to become cool before June 20

I’ve never really had a sense of fashion, and no one’s ever labeled me hip. I’m a khaki with polo shirt kind of guy, no beard, no piercings; nothing that really stands out. For the most part I know my wife loves me and that’s enough.
But lately this little shame-voice inside my heart whispers that it’snot enough.
Yesterday I tried to read a book on Anabaptist spirituality while surrounded by about 600 magazine covers, and in particular about 80 magazines with men staring back at me. None of them wore a polo, and man were they attractive. (Talk about an unspiritual reading spot.)
Closer to home check out how cool my author friend Nate is; or this guy whose books I love and who has the perfect website. I’m a small drip coffee to their Triple, Venti, Half-Sweet, Non-Fat, salted caramel Macchiato with soy milk.
I know I know – who cares, right? I certainly don’t, and I doubt you do either. But that little bully voice apparently does, and I can’t turn him off.
“Authors are cool! Who do you think you are?”
“You’re still the same dork you were in Middle School; no one cares what you have to say!”
“Are you wearing hand-me-downs?”
Pathetic – absolutely pathetic.
That bully voice resonated with some deeply sensitive soul-wound still waiting to be healed. And I hate to say it, but every single one of us has our own shame voice that whispers lies into our heart of hearts. And every single one of us has some deep vulnerability clamoring for attention.
“All have fallen short,” says Paul – a truth I don’t think anyone has ever once needed to be taught. And so we pursue sports, success, or affluence (or apparently hipster fashion) to fit in and feel good.
All of which are dirty band aids we put on to treat the symptoms of what amounts to cancer of the soul.
As my June 20 book launch comes closer I’m committed to have these hard conversations with myself. In particular I want to continue the practice of solitude I started in Lent.
Todd Wynward believes that solitude is where we find freedomfrom the poisonous lies of culture and power to silence our shame voice. Where else but far away from those 80 photo-shopped faces, can we hear God’s voice of grace? He says in his book in our library, Rewilding the Way, “From solitude emerges identity and connection to the divine, assets unshaken by trends or shifting public opinion.”
Who doesn’t want more of that?
Let’s face it; it’s too late for me to upgrade my cool in a couple weeks.  And you’ll likely never make enough money to satisfy your want; or find the perfect job. But there is time – and it’s likely right now – to respond to God’s grace with faith. You can drag that voice into the light with some unusual self-honesty, then let God’s voice inside you tell you the truth about your identity and connection to the divine, “God’s Spirit tells our spirits again and again that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
Success or failure, cool or polo-proud, I am a child of God. And no one can take that away from me. Today I choose, and I invite you to choose, to ignore the shame voice. Instead trust God’s voice – you are lovable just the way you are.
This is our hope. This is our faith.
Pastor Marty Troyer

fully present, fully alive

I ate my best apple several years ago. It was a large mottled Gala, and juice ran down my chin. It deserves the title of ‘best’ not for its quality, but because more than any meal I’ve eaten that apple had my full and total attention.

Most of us aren’t present to life that deeply.

We eat distractedly, pray with an agenda rather than intimacy in mind, and listen to plan our response rather than understand. We can’t even watch TV anymore without a second screen in front of us.

How eager we are to hide from the present! How easy to assume that’s just what it means to be human.

At the heart of the Christian faith is openness to presence. When asked God’s name the response came back “I am,” not I was or I will be. Emmanuel God is found in the sound of sheer silence, in our willingness to “be still and know that I am God.” The incarnation of Jesus was the most profound way God revealed divinity to us – here and now, in a particular person that longs for our full attention.

Being fully present means we’re fully honest about who we are in that moment. It means we set aside our ego, our defense mechanisms, and the masks we use to hide our wounds and show up as-is. It means we must tell the truth about being unwell and about our spiritual weakness. It means we can freely and without condemnation drag our unevangelized zones into the loving presence of a God who already knows they exist.

Being fully present means we’re willing to believe in the God that promises us that “power is made perfect in weakness.” (1 Cor 12:9)

Our personal healing is inextricably linked to vulnerability. And when we’re courageous enough to practice the presence of God, we find ourselves more OK in our own presence.

It’s out of this presence, this core truth in the depth of our being that our true self is dusted off and free to live without shame.

This spring I have found healing and hope as I’ve intentionally practiced being present with my senses and soul for a specified time each day. As I have become attentive to God I have found a new openness to being Marty, warts and worries and all.

And the more present I am with myself, the more open I find myself to the inverted truth that our soul’s greatest wounds will become our life’s greatest strength.

Presence in Ministry

The most sacred times in life are times I am the most present. This is certainly true of diapers, daughter-dance-parties, and date nights.

It’s equally true of ministry. The sacredness of ministry is always in the specifics, the more human the more sacred. One of the greatest gifts we can give is our presence. Ministry happens right where you are; whether at the corner in your neighborhood or at a friend’s death bed, in your classroom or delivering a casserole to a depressed friend.

It’s easy to forget the spiritual component of ministry – of presence – in our complex and busy world. There’s so much going on around us and inside us to pause and simply be. And yet that’s what our world needs more than anything. Not our perfection and programs – our presence.

And a surprising thing happens when we decide to show up with our full attention. We find ourselves less and less in control. The more rooted in the present, the freer we are to move into the future in a more genuine and healing way than we could have imagined.

For me this week that’s proved true numerous times:

I was present with my son in his sadness, and he became more capable to allow his story to unfold. I was present at my friend’s death bed, and opportunity opened to minister to his care givers.

I take the time to dwell in God’s presence, and healing is opened I didn’t know I even needed.

I’m thankful that there are folks in my life that challenge me to think about presence in the hyper-local; to dare to attend to the presence of God right where I already am.

I think that’s exactly what I meant by titling my book The Gospel Next Door. Because God is already there living and loving and wanting passionately for us show up and just be. To be with God, to be with our neighbors and family. And perhaps most daring of all – to be fully present with ourselves just as we are. There might not be anything more sacred than that.

I hope you find healing presence today. Open yourself to the presence of God. Embrace the you you find inside. God longs to be fully present with you. Perhaps there is no better time than the present to take Jesus up on his invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourself and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Maybe there you’ll also find your best apple.

I talk more about soul healing in my upcoming book #TheGospelNextDoor. Where do you feel most at home in the presence of God?

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