Hello Fear

What do we do when we are afraid? To answer that question, we need to know what is scaring us. Different fears create different reactions. For instance, if we are afraid of…

  • The dark, we turn on a light.
  • Losing our job, we look for another one.
  • A stalker, we get a restraining order.
  • Confrontation, we try to please everyone.
  • Flying, we take the train.
  • Not having enough, we don’t share.
  • Our stuff being stolen, we lock the door.
  • Someone getting mad, we avoid them.

So, what do we do if we afraid of contracting COVID-19? What do we do if we fear someone we love is going to die? What do we do if we fear death? These are legitimate questions.

Removing fear from our world is not an option. Jesus was pretty clear. He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He did not say, “Don’t worry. If you believe in me you have nothing to fear.” Until He returns, we will face fear. It is unreasonable to think anything different.

The issue is not facing fear. It is responding to it. Not all responses to fear are necessarily a hinderance to our faith and obedience to God. It is possible to possess a healthy fear that motivates us to take the good, safe, caring, and responsible action. But, it is also possible to have an unhealthy fear that influences us to be selfish, uncaring, nasty, and foolish. It is the unhealthy fear we must recognize and push back against.

The Psalmist wrote…

But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? (Psalm 56:3-4)

Overcoming fear, the kind that causes us to be self-centered or unkind or negligent toward others, requires us to…

  1. Acknowledge fear is in our heart. The Psalmist said, “When I am afraid.” He is admitting fear has taken residence within him.
  2. Choose to trust God in the face of our fear. It is illogical, but we must do the opposite of what fear wants us to do because we trust obedience to God is the right course of action.
  3. Praise God because of His promises. Our trust is not blind. It is in One who has made  promises. We declare those promises in thought and words, and act on the promises with our behavior.
  4. Let trust overcome our fear. The writer comes to a logical conclusion. If he is going to trust God, then why should he be afraid?

I hate fear. I hate what it does to me. I hate what it does to the people I love. I hate what it is doing to our country. But I cannot make fear go away, I can only respond to it. You are in the same boat.

Let’s be found overcoming our fears. Would you join me?

Here is a song I’ve been listening to. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Yr48Berkqc

Floaties & Strangers

One day, when my oldest son was 4 years old, we were playing together at a pool. He still did not know how to swim, but as long as he had Floaties on his arms, he was fearless. He would jump into the water no matter what depth.

On this day, one of his Floaties deflated and would not hold air. One deflated Floatie sucked all the joy out of the moment. He felt his fun was over. I told him not to worry. I explained I would stand in the water and catch him when he jumped. It took a little persuasion, but he finally agreed to remove the other Floatie. He took his position on the side of the pool, and I took my post in the water just a few feet from him.

I told him I was ready. He could jump whenever he wanted. To my surprise, he would not jump. I pleaded with him. I promised him. I even tried bribing him, but he would not jump. I could see it in his eyes. He did not trust me. It stung.

Another man, a total stranger, had been watching this unfold. He waded down into the pool and stood right beside me. He looked at my son, held out his arms, and told him to jump. I thought to myself, “Who is this guy? My son will never jump into his arms. This is just some weirdo who has overstepped his boundaries!”

I was shocked. My son jumped into his arms. The pain I felt when my son did not trust me paled into comparison to the betrayal I felt when he left the sidewalk to leap into the arms of a stranger. I was crushed. I was embarrassed.  I did not know if I should cry or rage. My son trusted a stranger more than he trusted me.

I did not understand. My son had a history with me. I loved him. I provided for him. I took care of him. Heck! I was the one who bought him Floaties in the first place. How could he trust a stranger? How could he jump into arms of a random person?

You need to know something. I just made that story up. It never happened.

But let’s imagine for a moment that it had. Imagine how I would have felt. I think that is small taste of what our Heavenly Father must experience when we choose to not trust Him.

The Bible speaks of trusting the Lord, or choosing not to trust Him, in 96 different passages. Trusting God is a big deal. When we do it, there are benefits. When we don’t, there are consequences.

If you have placed your faith in Christ, you have a history with God. You have a past with Him. He has already proven Himself trustworthy to you.

I get that some of our Floaties have deflated in this Coronavirus crisis, but He provided those Floaties. Now He stands ready to prove just how trustworthy He really is. You and I must be willing to leap into His arms. Our joy does not have to disappear with our Floaties. We can still play in the water. It will look different. In fact, He may teach us to swim. It all starts with trusting Him enough to jump.

Let’s jump!

Here is a fun song. I hope you enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHXwcN2_hpI

Blinded

I have people in my circle of influence who do not understand the relationship I have with Jesus Christ. It burdens me. It actually makes my heart sad. I want them to know the spiritual truths that have set me free. I want them to experience their Creator, and discover as I have, the wonderful plan He has for their life. I want them to know what it feels like to have God’s joy and peace snuff out their worries. I want them to be born-again.

Why cannot they not see Jesus in my life? Why cannot they not understand my explanations? Why are my prayers for them still unanswered? Is it my fault? Am I doing something wrong? Are my moral inconsistencies to blame?

Without a doubt, I do have many faults, but I also have grace. I share that grace…not perfectly…but I do share it. Isn’t it greater than my sins? Can’t God’s grace be bigger, better, brighter and more wonderful than my blunders? Can’t His grace flowing through me be more persuasive than my bone-headed moments? What habits or moral inconsistencies in my life are keeping them from knowing Christ?

It is a heavy load to carry—believing that someone doesn’t know Christ because of my shortcomings. Perhaps it is a load I am not meant to carry. I know I am capable of committing great sins that would produce immense pain and unforgettable harm, but if that hasn’t happened, should I believe their unbelief is tied to my spiritual failures? It is one thing to feel burdened because someone is lost. It is another thing to believe it is my fault.

While wrestling with these thoughts, I came across these words…

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

I can’t blame Satan for my sins, but I can blame him for blinding the minds of those who still don’t believe. Knowing this relieves some of my burden. It’s not me. I’m not doing something wrong. I’m right where I am suppose to be. I need to stay the course. I need to keep caring…keep trying…keep praying. 

Lord, please cure the blindness that keeps people close to me from seeing you. Free their minds so they can believe. Let them see, receive and accept the light of Your Good News. Save them. Please.

May you see the people close to you who are blind. May you long for their salvation. May God answer your prayers and empower your efforts to reach them for Christ. Don’t give up.

Here is a song someone shared with me. I hope it encourages you like it did me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BhTAJ49MQ0

Is it Safe?

Have you heard the chatter? There is talk that our nation is preparing to reopen. The lifting or modification of some of the Stay at Home orders is creating both excitement and anxiety. Isn’t it interesting how the news brings both hope and worry? We hope because it makes us feel there is  a light at the end of the tunnel. We worry because we fear a resurgence of the virus and the ramifications of another shut down. We humans…we are both fickle and fragile. We hate to admit it, but it is true.

As we start thinking about getting a haircut or maybe visiting our favorite store, I want you to think about something else. When will you feel safe to attend a public worship service?

I know that is a specific question, but I don’t think it is too soon to start thinking about it. As restrictions get lifted, this will be the first time in our lives that going to a worship service in America will actually have some risk to it. Before we were introduced to the Coronavirus, attending a weekly worship service was a freedom that costs us nothing. No one lost their job, was arrested, or harassed because they went to their local church. Fortunately, I don’t think any of those things will happen when restrictions are lifted. The risk you and I will face is not political, legal or social. The risk will be exposing ourselves to a virus we have been working hard to avoid. In the face of that fear, when will you feel safe enough to gather with God’s people at your place of worship? Would you feel safe if it was less than 75 people? How about if everyone wears a mask? What if we are all sitting 6 feet apart? When would it be okay?

In another time and in another place, there was a group of believers in a city named Corinth. It was the location of a local church the Apostle Paul planted in what is now modern day Greece. The church was encountering internal strife as well as external persecution. It was not a comfortable place to worship. To attend worship at that church cost something. The cost could be as little as being laughed at or as painful as physical harm. It was complicated and those complications created fear.

Paul, in an effort to encourage those people wrote…

[I do] not mean…to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. [I] want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Returning to a weekly worship service will be complicated. For some people there will be no risk to their health. For others, it could be life threatening. Everyone falls somewhere between those two parameters. In other words, there will be a potential cost to attend a worship service. How comfortable are you with that?

The church in Corinth wanted some answers for the troubles they were facing, and Paul did provide some specific instruction for some of their questions. However, he made it clear that some questions could only be answered by each person fleshing out their own faith in Christ. He was not there to boss them into practicing their faith. He desired to work with them so they could experience joy and stand firm in a faith built on biblical convictions.

Attending church in a post-pandemic culture is not going to be fun or easy. I do believe, with all of my heart, it will be good. It is no one’s place to tell you when you should go back to a public worship service. However, I encourage you to go to a place that is committed to working with you so you can be full of joy and stand firm in the faith. By the power of God’s Spirit and the grace He abundantly supplies, we will figure all of this out in a way that pleases Him and encourages us.

Here is a song I’ve been enjoying. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU0P19V_EFs

Light for Today

Isaiah was an Old Testament prophet. He served the Lord through some of the most uncertain times in Israel’s history. Politically the nation was in constant turmoil. Economically the people were suffering. Public safety was at an all time low because of threats from enemies. It was a difficult time to live in Israel. It was even more challenging if you were a follower of Yahweh. Political leaders and social culture had turned their back on God.

It was under these circumstances Isaiah received these words from the Lord:

The Lord has said to me in the strongest terms: “Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind closed doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else. He will keep you safe. (Isaiah 8:11-14a)

Ironically, there are some similarities between Isaiah’s time and our current world. Our nation has been punched in the gut. Politically, financially, and socially our part of the world is hunched over trying to catch its breath. Spiritually, our nation and culture are rapidly moving farther from God. But amazingly, we can find hope and instruction from God’s Word.

I see three things God told Isaiah that give us light for the times in which we live.

Do not think like everyone else does. Well…this is just hard to do. We live in an information world. Information drives the way we think. When we watch the news or open our search engines, networks and journalists are sharing information formatted to shape the way we think. The only way I know to not think like everyone else is to incorporate a steady flow of God’s Word into our minds. Read or listen to God’s Word daily. God’s truth always outshines the information coming from society and will change the way we think.

Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind closed doors will be the end of you. In the midst of this crisis, government leaders and medical professionals have been making decisions that impact almost every detail of our lives. The routines of my life today look nothing like the routines that existed 3 weeks ago. Is it that way for you? It creates a sense of powerlessness…and that is uncomfortable. Powerlessness, mixed with a lack of trust for people in power, is a breeding ground for conspiracies, conjecture, fear, and anger. To overcome those toxic influences, we must trust that God is in control. We must trust that He is using the authorities and systems of the world (with all their faults) to accomplish his redemptive plan.

Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty…He will keep you safe. We have options when it comes to being afraid. Your fear may not be getting sick. No, you fear keeping your job. Your job might be secure, but someone you love is in a high risk group. You fear for their health. Maybe you fear the social changes that will be made moving forward. Perhaps your pet peeve is the lack of respect some have for social distancing, and therefore, you fear their insensitivity endangers your well-being. I could go on because we have many options of things to fear. God says we only need to fear one thing: HIM. Fear of God does not create fright. Proper fear of God is respect and awe. We should revere him to the point of submitting our lives to his authority. If we fear him that way, we have nothing else to fear and he will take care of us.

I don’t know about you, but when I read this guidance from God’s Word, I feel hope. I feel as though someone before me has been where I am today. God helped them. He will help me. He will help you.

Here is a song that has encouraged me. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA9kSBv1QrI

I Can’t Hear

Sometimes, the hardest voice to hear is God’s. People think I never have a problem hearing from God, but that’s not true. I can think of three reasons why I can’t hear God’s voice sometimes:

  1. God does not scream. His voice does not drown out all the other sounds in my life. Worries explode to get my attention. Fear roars attempting to intimidate me. Lies can be deafening as they strive to deceive me. Temptation flatters me with bells and whistles trying to entice me. While all of these noises are seeking center stage in my life, God is whispering hope, love, and truth in the background. I just don’t choose to listen to Him.
  2. God does not speak to me until I am ready to listen. God is not the obnoxious person who gives advice when I could care less. His personal words to me are too valuable to be wasted when I have an arrogant attitude. It has been my experience that He speaks specific instructions to calm my soul when I am humble. I don’t know about you, but humility does not come natural to me.
  3. God chooses to remain silent. I can’t make Him speak to me. All I can do is place myself in a position to hear from Him. When this happens, it is important that I remember who He is. I can’t get bitter because He is not responding to me. It is important for me to continue doing the things I have heard Him say in the past as I wait on Him. It is vital that I practice faith when God is being silent.

Fortunately, I have moments when God speaks. It is intoxicating!

The first time I remember sensing God speaking to me (not with an audible voice…that has never happened to me) was when I was 12. I remember sitting in a metal folding chair becoming aware of my sinfulness. I felt guilt, but I also felt certain God would forgive me if I trusted that Jesus died for my sins. I remember clearly thinking/hearing “Just trust Christ.” I did. Instantly, there was a warm presence that entered my heart. I knew God had spoken to me and I believed what He said. He forgave my sins.

Ever since then, I have wanted to hear God’s voice. I must be honest. I have not always liked what He had to say. At times I have argued, doubted, and flat out not believed. But each time, He has remained patient with me.

I am still learning to listen. It is a skill I have gotten better at, but still have a long way to go. I am learning to respond as the psalmist when he wrote…

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8)

I am not special. You can talk with God too. Choose to listen to Him. Humble yourself and be willing to wait. When you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.

Here is a song that encourages me. May it encourage you too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq5URsXbKXs

Marathon Fear

Fear can paralyze us. I remember watching a video of the bombs exploding at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. I was amazed as I watched the people’s reactions near the explosions.

Most people ran away from the explosions. A loud boom…smoke…sirens…yelling. A natural response would be to run away. People sought safety as far away from danger as their legs would take them.

Not everyone was running away from danger. Several people ran to the explosion. Most of them were in uniform. Policeman, firemen, a handful of marathon participants, and some from the crowd ran into the fray. They were either trained for the situation or had a surge of courage that overtook them. They began helping the hurting, calling for back-up, using their shirts or whatever they could find to apply pressure to the wounds of the hurting.

It is the third group of people that caught my attention. They were not running from danger. They were not running to help someone. They were not running at all. They were paralyzed with fear. They heard the same noises, encountered the same smells, and saw the same carnage; yet, they froze.

Fear can do that. Fear can paralyze us. It  can render us incapable of helping ourselves or anyone else.

COVID-19 exploded and has scared us. The same responses listed above are happening on a national scale. The vast majority of people responded by seeking safety from the virus. They ran home. Nothing wrong with this response. It was the safe thing to do. 

Others, like doctors, nurses, and first responders ran into the fray. They are courageous. They are trained for this. They are making sacrifices and helping the hurting.

Unfortunately, some froze.

We are a few weeks into this crisis. The threat is not over, but the smoke is beginning to clear. Hopefully, fear is losing its grip. If that is not the case for you, I do not think less of you. Instead, I would like to encourage you. Look at what God’s word promises:

The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? (Psalm 27:1)

David wrote these words. He was hiding in a cave. That’s right, the guy who killed the giant was hiding in a cave because someone was trying to kill him. He ran to a safe place, he gathered himself, and put his focus on God. He remembered who the Lord was…his light and his salvation. He goes on to write…

My heart will not be afraid…I remain confident…(Psalm 27:3)

There is nothing wrong with running to safety when afraid. There is no shame in being paralyzed by fear. The only thing we should aim to avoid is staying afraid. Put your focus on God. The same God that strengthened David’s heart and restored his confidence is available to you.

Here is a song that has been encouraging me. May it do the same for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtiUjNT_vAM

The Uninvited Guest

I received a nasty email last week. Don’t feel sorry for me. I get disagreeable emails occasionally. It comes with the privilege of being a pastor. I only bring this one up because of the circumstances going on in our world.

The person who sent the email knows me from a distance, and what I mean by that is, they only know me as a person who gives a public speech each week. What irritated them is not important and their words are not worth sharing, but the timing in which it came…that is what I find interesting.

We are facing more systemic uncertainty right now than at any other time in my life. No one alive today has been through a pandemic. It is a new challenge, not just for our local communities, but for the entire world. During this time of social distancing, financial fallout, and personal anxiety; a person has expressed their wish to distance themselves even farther. It causes me to scratch my head and feel genuine sorrow.

As I was reading God’s Word, I came across this verse and thought of the person who sent me that email.

The Lord says, “I made myself known to those who were not asking for me. I was found by those who were not trying to find me. I spoke to a nation that did not pray to me. ‘Here I am,’ I said. ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 65:1)

God has made it his priority to reveal Himself to people who are not looking for Him. Once that happens, the person is thrown into the crucible of decision. Will they receive the God they were not seeking? Or, will they reject the God they now know is pursuing them? I think this is happening with more frequency during the COVID-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, people are being pushed into isolation, finding the end of their entertainment sources, facing the fears uncertainty creates, and discovering God is right there. He is the uninvited guest. What a wonderful encounter! Unless, it’s not.

As we move through this challenge scores of people will find the God of Heaven; the One who has always been chasing them. Some will embrace Him with all of their fears, doubts, and reservations. Others will push Him away.

Now is the time to pray for your neighbor who stands across the street and waves. Now is the time lift up the co-worker you only see on Zoom. Today is the day bring the name of that family member you can only call on the phone to your Father. God is busy making Himself known to people who are not looking for Him. Pray they will receive Him.

Here is song I’ve found encouraging. May it encourage you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1-l0awKd8k

Empty Churches

As we approach Easter Sunday, my faith celebrates, but I am sad. I’m not sad because Christ left something undone. I’m sad because I will not be able to celebrate His resurrection with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I wish my faith was strong enough to squash my sense of loss at not being able to worship with other believers at church this weekend. Because of this, I am sad.

I took this to the Lord. As I grieved this loss before Him, this verse came to my mind:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…(Psalm 46:1-2a)

Do you know what struck me as I recalled the verse? I wasn’t feeling fear; I was feeling sadness. At least that is what I thought. But as I let the verse roll through my mind, I began to second guess my own feelings. Was I sad or afraid?…Or both?

The word “refuge” means shelter. In this verse, it is a shelter made of rock. A place where one could insulate themselves from harmful weather or find safety from an enemy. The word describes God as a dependable, safe place to find shelter when everything around you seems to be falling apart.

When I can’t go to church on Easter Sunday and worship with others, my world is falling apart. That makes me sad; but as I think about it, it also makes me afraid. I’m afraid because the world has changed in such a short period of time. What I thought would never happen has happened. It’s not because of terrorists, legal action, or the fall of democracy. It is because of a virus. That stokes fear in me and you.

The word “trouble” paints the image of people squeezed into tight places, pushed into a corner, unable to get out. It kind of sounds like Stay-at-Home orders. It refers to being confined because it is not wise to move around. It is not sheltering because one wants too. It is sheltering because one has too. It is the trouble that comes from being in danger. Eerily, that describes what is happening this weekend. Hence, we are not worshipping together on Easter.

I am taking my sadness and fear to the Lord. He is my refuge. He is my dependable, safe shelter. He will take my sadness and turn it into joy. He will snuff out my fear and replace it with His presence. I will not be afraid.

God has promised to be your refuge to. Go to Him. He is available.

Here is a song I’ve been enjoying. I hope it encourages you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91iXRMkmFbs

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret

A few days ago I finished reading a biography titled Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. Hudson Taylor was an English doctor who accepted the call to become a missionary to China in the second half of the 18th Century.

He was 21 years old when he sailed to China to become one of only a handful of missionaries committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in China. Hudson used his medical skills as a doctor to build bridges and share Christ. There is no way I can share with you all God did through this man in this blog, but let me just say this, millions of Chinese Christians over the last 150 years can trace their spiritual awakening back to work God did through Hudson Taylor.

To fulfill this call God had placed on his life, Taylor endured many hardships. His life was in danger more than once as he endured the Boxer Rebellion which was an anti-foreigner, anti-Christian movement. His first wife and one of his children died from health complications. He faced starvation, lack of support, and periods of poor health. Several times family and friends pleaded with him to come back to England and serve God in a safer environment.

In one of the stories told in the book, Taylor and the band of missionaries that were working with him, had only enough food for one more meal. It was written that Hudson himself was in a cheerful mood even though food was scarce. He was asked, “Hudson, how can you be confident God will meet our needs?” He responded, “Does not everything that is in the right hand also belong to the left hand?”

Taylor believed that God owned it all, and if God owned it, then it must belong to him too. He knew God had food, and therefore, he would have food when it was needed. The next day Taylor received a note with enough money to purchase the needed supplies. We may applaud Taylor’s faith, but we have no desire to face the same kind of trial.

COVID-19 has brought fear, economic hardship, illness, and death; but its greatest detriment is the uncertainty it has ushered into the stability of our lives. We hate uncertainty. Uncertainty fuels questions like: Will I have enough? Will I be okay? Will my family stay healthy? Will my job last? Will I find another job?….I could go on, but I think you get the point.

My life, just like yours, has been impacted by uncertainty. I don’t know that I have the faith of Hudson Taylor. I do know that I have the promises of God (by the way…that is what Hudson Taylor based his faith on).

I read this promise yesterday. It triggered my memory about Hudson Taylor’s comment.

And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. (Galatians 4:7b)

If you are a child of God, everything God has belongs to you. We can trust that God will give to us what we need when we need it? I am not saying I have all of this figured out, but I do believe God is faithful. Does not everything that is in the right hand also belong to the left hand?

Here is a song I’ve been enjoying. May you enjoy it too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyMYl_nQ8Xs

%d bloggers like this: