NORTHGATE Blog

SO WHERE IS GOD SENDING YOU?

Ever fear that God would send you somewhere or ask you to do far more than you could ever imagine? Well, that's part of my story. 

I remember when I first started out in ministry. I knew I wanted to help other people meet Jesus, grow to know Him better and to follow Him. But deep down, I thought to myself, "Please, Lord, I never want to go to Africa!" Why I chose to pray about Africa, I don't know. I really knew nothing about this far land or the people who called this continent "home". It just seemed far away and very different from what I was used to. 

For many years, He didn't send me there which worked quite well for me because I could say to others, "Don't be afraid to follow Jesus. I'm sure you think you'll have to pack your bags and off you go to a "mission" field far away. But, NO, God has a plan for you right where you are with your family and friends." 

That actually worked for quite awhile, but I realized a few years later, that my "mantra" was only a half-truth. God did use me at home and in my surrounding community for quite awhile until the day Pastor Steve asked me to co-lead a trip to Africa. 

You might suspect that I had a heart attack right on the spot, but I didn't. Immediately, I responded with a resounding, "YES!" I'm not quite sure when the transformation happened, but I had no fear and not a second of hesitation. God was calling ME to Africa. 

So there I went. In Ethiopia, I found parents who loved and cared for their children and hoped they could be educated so they could have a better life. There are families who lived together and took care of one another. AND, there were many people who were faithful, who loved Jesus and who trusted the same God that I do. Under our skin and without the burden of our circumstances, we had the same hearts that God created and loves.

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That was just the beginning and now He's paving a way for me, and for Northgaters, to experience the people of Haiti. I joined a Healing Haiti mission group from Albuquerque last June to begin the training process to share this experience with the youth and adults of Northgate. There I had the same experience as in Debre Zeit. Hope. Love. Pain. Courage. Joy. Men. Women. Children. All the same hopes and dreams that we have! Right after I got back, I heard the song, WHAT IF by Five for Fighting. Yeah, so true...lots can happen if we just take someone's hand...

So when did this "heart" change occur? I think slowly and step by step. Perhaps it started in my younger years when my parents showed respect and honor to the migrant workers who came through our city. Perhaps it was when I dove into poetry by people of color when I was in high school. Maybe taking the steps to sponsor children in the Dominican Republic, India, and Ethiopia has made a mark. Perhaps financially supporting efforts of micro businesses in other countries, most recently last year in Debre Zeit, have planted seeds of understanding and hope, replacing the fear that once occupied that space. All I know is that my world seems larger, my heart bigger and my curiosity and thirst for understanding people HERE, THERE, and EVERYWHERE has provided me with so much joy!

So where or what is the next step God is challenging you to take? How is He transforming YOUR heart? My hope is that in one way HE is asking you to be part of the current Northgate campaign to help build the fence for the newly purchased farm in Haiti. Working together, we can all have an impact, link by link, meter by meter, and in the processwe'll witness our love spread across the ocean in a very tangible way. 

7 Ways to Make Her Glad She Married You

On Saturday, October 7, Northgate is hosting a marriage seminar. We'll be talking about how good things can go bad--like marriages. You can register online here. My mentor, Paul Anderson, blogged about marriage a few years back. His website is: pastorpaulanderson.com. Guys, this one's especially for you!

1. KEEP PURSUING HER.

Many men quit. Creates lonely wives. Glad someone told me to date Karen. Even when we were having kids, lots of them, we managed to get away for a walk. One rule: no talking business. Now it’s a bigger deal. I am careful about spending money. Dates are an exception. Out of 52 weeks we manage 46 dates on the average. Helps to keep the fire burning. One guy described his marriage as a hot bath--just keeps cooling off. Hey Pardner, ever heard of romance?

2. LISTEN. SUPPORT.

Champion her cause, even if it’s not yours. She needs your vote. Let her know you are for her. She wants affirmation more than advice. The more you support her the more she will support you. Marriage is not two people doing their own thing. If she doesn’t feel your support, she will quit talking. Not a good thing. Everyone has a cause. Fight for hers. You’re on the same team.

3. ACCEPT. DON’T CHANGE.

I learned the hard way. I told engaged couples, “Don’t get hitched at the altar if you have the itch to alter.” Then I got married. I didn’t heed my own counsel. It doesn’t feel good for a wife to feel like his agenda is to change her. When I finally realized what I was doing, I acknowledged it, said I wouldn’t do it anymore--and I don’t. I married her to love her, not to change her. What an insult! God forgave me and so did she. Now I change me and love her.

4. DON’T CONTROL.

It is not the same as changing, but it feels similar. A lot of controlling people in marriages. I hope you’re not one of them. Even God doesn’t control me. He influences me through love. He is the most powerful person in the universe--and the least controlling. Satan wants to control us. Does that give you a clue?

5. DIE TO YOURSELF.

I finally learned this. It was the best advice I ever received. It came from Jesus to would-be disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” I take it seriously. I die to myself for my wife. Karen is grateful, because I have learned to serve her rather than expecting her to serve me. I have made it one of my highest goals--to lay down my life for my wife. I got a late start, but I’m getting there.

6. LIVE ABOVE OFFENSE.

Hard to do but worth learning. I needed to adjust and quit being defensive. It was getting me into difficulty way too often. In my old age I have come to the place where it is hard for Karen to offend me. Not a bad way to live. Can’t say that about the early years. Better than being touchy about everything and reacting rather than responding. To do it well, you need a good forgiver.

7. GIVE HER TIME.

Time says, “I love you.” Time says, “You’re worth every minute.” If you are rushing, she knows you are just waiting to get to your own special hobby, and she comes in second. Treat her as an equal and she’ll treat you with respect.  “The heart of her husband trust in her” (Prov. 31:11). So go home and be fun to live with.

Taking on Other People's Anxiety

Last week, I wrote about how I manage my anxiety. This week, I want to write about managing other people’s anxiety.

Warning! This post probably isn’t for you if you’ve said one of the following:

“I don’t want to be a doormat.”

“I have boundaries.”

“I have to take care of myself first.”

“I let too many people take advantage of me.”

In my experience, people who say things like that don’t really have a problem with this subject and they’re in very little danger of taking on other people’s anxiety.

This post is for those of you who cannot stop no matter how hard you try. You cannot break from caring, helping, or serving. . . And you get as anxious as the people you’re trying to save. In short, their problems become your problems.

People who are doormats don’t know it. They don’t talk about boundaries, because they don’t have any. And, they don’t take care of themselves first, because it never even crosses their minds.

In seminary, I remember one like-minded professor rebuking me for doing just that. I was an “orthodox” Christian in an increasingly “unorthodox” school. Future pastors were giving up on things like the virgin birth and the resurrection. Some were even giving up on Jesus. And I had a mission: I was going to save them! Their growing anxiety (their doubts and fears) became my anxiety. “I’ve got to fix this,” I said to myself. “I’ve got to champion Jesus to these overly impressionable students and get them back on course through my powers of persuasion.”

The only problem? It wasn’t working. I wasn’t getting anywhere—at all. Eyeing defeat, I became discouraged and frustrated, even depressed. “God, why can’t I save these people?” I’ll never forget my professor’s response—his rebuke: “You’re not the Savior! People change when they want to change and no one can do that for them.”

Edwin Friedman, in his classic “Friedman’s Fables,” tells the story of a man who ties himself to an unsuspecting passerby and then jumps off a bridge. The man left standing on the bridge, holding the rope, tries and tries to pull the now dangling man to the platform, but to no avail. He tries to save him, but he can’t. The man refuses to be saved. Still, that doesn’t stop him from sharing his anxiety.

The dangling man cries out, “If you let go, I will be lost!”

“But I cannot pull you up,” the other man cries. He is trying, but the man won’t cooperate. He won’t help.

“I am your responsibility. . . If you let go, I am lost,” the dangling man repeats.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” And while it’s a phrase I generally dislike, there is some truth in it—in particular when it comes to helping others.

Most of us don’t like taking responsibility for our own behaviors and poor decisions. We don’t like owning our actions and the consequences that come with them. “The devil made me do it!”

So, what we do instead is put as much anxiety as we can on the people around us. “It’s your fault I’m acting this way.” “If you had helped me just a little bit more, I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Like the man dangling from the bridge, we expect others to save us and then blame them when they don’t.

“Pastor, you’ve got to help save my marriage.”

“Pastor, if you don’t change this thing, I’m leaving the church.”

“Pastor, I reached out to you for help, but you were no help at all.”

Here’s what I’m learning:

I can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.

I can’t fix a marriage that doesn't want to be fixed.

I can’t prevent someone from leaving the church by changing some thing. If I did, someone else would be unhappy with the change to that thing. I’m not the reason they’re leaving. They’re the reason they’re leaving—their preferences, their desires, etc.

Bottom line: I can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. I can make suggestions. I can pray. I can make myself available, but I can’t "fix" them unless they want to be fixed themselves. Not even God will do that most days.

What did Jesus ask the man looking for healing? "Do you want to be made well?" As the old expression goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Another example: Sometimes a troubled adult child will say to his parents: “Mom and Dad, I need money.”

Your response, parents, if you’re not an enabler, will likely be: “I’m not going to give you any more money.”

“Well, if you don’t give me money, we’re done,” the child snaps back.

“Please don’t be done. I love you. I just can’t give you this money.”

“Well, then, Mom and Dad,” the child says, “You’re making the decision to end our relationship. Not me.”

Wrong! The parent (you) isn't making the decision to end the relationship. The child is.

Listen to me! LISTEN TO ME! Taking on other people’s anxiety isn’t your job. Care for them, love them, help them, but don’t carry them.

YOU ARE NOT THE SAVIOR. To quote our President, “YOU'RE FIRED!” You’re fired as the Savior.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He didn’t say, “Go to that person over there! They’ll give you rest. They’ll take on your anxiety for you.” No! He said, “Come to ME. . . Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus takes people’s burdens. . . not me and not you.

But Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens!” True enough. Carry those burdens right over to Jesus. He'll take it from there.

Are you gentle and humble? Very likely. Otherwise, people wouldn’t dump their anxiety on you. There’s a reason people come to you for help.

Are you finding rest? Is your yoke easy and your burden light? If not, you may be taking on other people’s anxiety a little too much. You think you’re doing them a favor, but you’re not. Instead of directing them toward Jesus, you’re directing them toward you. And they don’t need you like they need Jesus.

At the end of Friedman’s fable, the man left-standing on the bridge finally makes a choice. He lets go of the rope. Friedman doesn’t tell us what happens next to the man dangling in the air. We can only imagine.

The man standing on the bridge makes a decision and it’s a difficult one. It’s consequential. In letting go, the dangling man will likely fall to his death and blame the other on the way down.

However, the man standing on the bridge understands something many of us don’t (including me, many days). The anxiety isn’t his to carry. He lets God be God and he fires himself as the Savior.

Are you listening? Yes, I’m talking to you! YOU! The one with the Savior complex. “You’re fired!”

Jesus loves you and I love you. And, if this post makes you anxious, try reading the one below: Three Way to Conquer Anxiety.

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