Faith Without Fear – An Allegory

Our relationship with Jesus is often likened to a journey. We say we “follow” Him. This is an appropriate analogy for many reasons. An important one is that we will never actually “arrive” at our destination while our feet tread this earth.  It is a continuing journey that should last our entire lives.  The path is ever-changing and requires determination and focus. Too often we allow fear or distraction to alter our path or inhibit our journey.

I find it helpful to think of this “following” as an actual hike on a rugged trail. Some parts are smooth and flat. There are hills – some low and easily navigated and others steep and sometimes treacherous. There is a creek bed with a peaceful flow of water but also slippery rocks to navigate. Along the way you may encounter wildlife and spiders and snakes.

What is Jesus came to lead us to something more than away from sin?

As we begin our hike, with Jesus as our Guide, we stay close to Him as he points out the obvious pitfalls and side trails that detour us off of our intended path. Watch out! There’s a tree root sticking up that might trip you.  Be careful. There are cockleburs in this area that will stick to you and cause aggravation. As He points out these hazards, He is also continually directing us to look at the beautiful view. We glance at the beauty and freedom we long for and then quickly return to concentrating on net making a misstep or allowing a cocklebur or tick to attach to us.

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We move along and reach the edge of a small cliff. He has provided a railing to keep us from falling over the edge so we can look down into the valley of beautiful wildflowers. We appreciate the protection the fence provides but still stand back from it so afraid of falling that we only see a small part of the magnificent beauty He is trying to show us. We look on with worry at our friend who is leaning hard on the fence to take in all there is to see. Be careful! You might fall!

We are relieved to move on and busy ourselves with watching for spiders, snakes, roots, and drop offs. We not only are on the lookout for ourselves but also our friends – pointing out things that the Guide has quit mentioning knowing that either the followers are aware of the potential missteps or that some will have to make those missteps in order to fully learn and understand and appreciate the beauty.

We go forward, slowly & cautiously, not realizing that in being so busy protecting ourselves or trying to be a guide to others that we have lost sight of the Guide! Suddenly, frantically, we look around trying to catch sight of the Him. Finally, we glimpse the back of Him in the distance and are relieved to know that He is still there. However, instead of rushing ahead to catch up – trusting that He has cleared the way back to Him – we raise our stress level trying to continue over-cautious while at the same time trying to keep Him in sight… in the distance. We question every footfall – torn between wanting to be nearer the Guide and our fear of a mistaken step.  We exhaust ourselves to the point that we lack the energy and mindfulness necessary to catch up to the Guide no matter how much we want to do so.

The GOOD NEWS is that He will always come back for us if we ask Him. We can always start again. He will come back and meet us where we are as many times as we’ll ask.

Here’s the thing. If we start down the path again still guided more by fear than by the Guide – panicked that we may step out of line or run face first into a cobweb – we won’t get any closer to our destination. Our walking in fear results in us remaining far from Him and where He is trying to lead us. Our path becomes a continuous loop that never takes us past the one mile marker.

On the other hand, what if we trusted Him enough to let go of the fear?  What if we really believed He wants what is best for us while at the same time acknowledging that His ways are not our ways?

We start down the path again but, this time, we appreciate the “rules” for what they are – cautions that we might be entering dangerous territory. What if we realize that, in order to follow Him closely enough to get near the destination, we’ll have to walk thru some cobwebs (where He may have already removed the spider), steep over a snake or two and possibly even fall down on the slippery rocks? What if we need to be confident that the Guide will always be close enough to help us up, often without us even needing to yell for help?

As we become less distracted by the “what ifs”, the self-protection, and the fear, we become more reliant on Him and no longer need the warnings and railings to separate us from a clear view of this messy, hurt-filled world. We can begin to see the beauty He is showing us in both the safe and the scary places. We can move further down the path knowing that it is worth risking the weeds to see the flowers.  We learn that regardless of the scenery, He is urging us to see the actual people – their stories, their personalities, their difficulties – and to see the image of God in each of them.

The Guide wants us to release our reliance on the rules and precautions that separate us from Him and from others. If we’re following Him without fear, He may lead us into the briars so we can help someone else, lovingly, back onto the path. When we aren’t concerning ourselves with what our hike looks like to other hikers, we can point to the path, wet from wading into the creek to help someone up, and allow them to – in their own way and in their own time – make their way with the Guide (who is not us). Our path will rarely look like a straight line. It will not be without missteps, hazards, and some bumps and bruises along the way. It will often be difficult but it will be equally fulfilling and purposeful.

Walk bravely!

Trust the Guide!

Stop to notice the beauty!

 

“To join the fray of loving like Jesus loved requires a radical shift of heart and mind, and a practical shift in expectations and plans. Any hope of remaining safe, predictable, and clean must be traded for the expectation of uncertainty, instability, and perhaps danger. The path of love we are called to walk is not a broad road with clear markings devoid of any potholes or pitfalls; it is a narrow road, a road splattered with mud and sometimes blood. I know it sounds a bit messy, love always is.” – Jamie Snyder from Like Jesus

 

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Faith Without Fear – Changing Our Foundation

Many of us, through no intentional misleading of our parents or even our churches, were raised in a faith whose underlying foundation is fear.  We were presented with a God to fear and then given Jesus to be our protector from that God.  God was the sometimes benevolent, but often angry, ultimate power that has to be mitigated by a loving, kind Jesus. We accepted Jesus to save us from ourselves, from hell, and from God’s wrath.

The relationship with Jesus that was meant to “break the chains” unintentionally becomes a different kind of captivity – a cell of bars made from all the rules and requirements.  As we encounter other Christians and denominations with more and different rules we add more bars.  When we change churches, even within a denomination, there are more rules and expectations – more bars.  At some point the bars become so close together that it is nearly impossible for Light to reach through.

Additionally, as we begin to interact with the larger world and become more aware of different faiths, of science, and of the culture we live in, we find it harder to follow the rules and teachings and sometime even begin to question them.  This often leads to a cycle of guilt (for questioning) and fear (having been told that questioning is sin not faith) leading to more guilt, more fear, guilt, fear.  Alternatively, we try harder to follow all the rules even though it seems impossible (because it is) and exhausting. We fight the underlying fear by trying to control, not only our own behavior but the behavior of others.

We’ve been taught that a “Christian life” looks like one fairly specific thing.  Fear of not being that drives us. Way too often the fear of making a mistake (sinning), losing control, or even not being able to maintain a comfort level we were never actually promised, freezes us leaving us unable to take a step without fear – even if that step moves us closer to Jesus.

This is not Good News!

 Jesus said, “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” (Matthew 11:28-30 TPT)

We will never escape a fear based faith until we find a way to see ourselves and others as God actually does. In Unafraid, Benjamin L. Corey explains it like this:

“…in this story we are not God’s enemies. We are God’s image-bearers and the most precious thing he created. We are not sin but are oppressed by the force of sin. We need saving but not from God or even ourselves – we need saving from all of those many things that interfere with our ability to perfectly reflect and receive love.”

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20 NIV)

What if we acknowledged that Jesus came to guide us to a way of living rather than just to save us from our sin?

What if we focused a little less on what we (or others) shouldn’t do and more on doing what Jesus told us to do?

What if we accepted the role we were given and actually strived to be ambassadors of His Kingdom?

Jesus is inviting us to pursue a faith based on God’s love for all people.

This is the Good News!

I love what Corey says later in his book:

“The world doesn’t need any more skeptics, knee-jerk critics, pessimists, or general downers. It needs dreamers, thinkers, and co-conspirators who are dedicated to bringing a bit more of heaven to earth here and now – and who don’t let fear get in the way”

I want to be someone who dreams, thinks, and conspires to love others like Jesus did.  I want us all to live with the goal of making “earth as it is in Heaven”.

Wrecked – I Choose Love

In February of 2008 we were in a horrible wreck.  My pregnant daughter and I were taken by ambulance to the hospital while emergency workers continued trying to get my husband out of our vehicle. We were taken to our state’s top trauma hospital because they knew that was where they would be taking my husband. My daughter and I were both released later in the day.  My husband remained in the hospital for a week with multiple injuries. Once released, he remained in a wheelchair for a few months. Several other vehicles were involved in the incident and other people were also injured.

It was bad.

We learned later that the driver of the painting truck who caused the wreck (hitting us first) did not have a license and had an expired work permit, thus making him an illegal immigrant.

We were angry.

As more details came out and as we began to heal, we became less angry and more amazed at God’s provision, protection, and purposes.  Family and friends surrounded us with care. The more we talked about everything that happened, the more obvious all the ways God had his hand on the situation became.  The biggest detail was that we were not sitting in our “normal” spots in the car that day which meant my daughter ended up in the least impacted area of the car rather than the most directly hit.  There are also dozens of details surrounding the time in the hospital where we knew God was near and was providing for our care physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There was the conversation with an accident reconstruction specialist who after hearing the details for the third time just shook his head and said “that was a God thing because all my training says the car would have rolled over.”

We were amazed.

While my husband and I have some lasting physical effects, we are fine. The injuries that still trouble us serve as a reminder of our weakness and how little we actually control; they are equally a reminder of God’s faithfulness.  While we couldn’t control the physical impact, we learned every day that we could control much of the mental and emotional part of healing.  We could have become bitter and vengeful and this post would be about how bad illegal immigrants are, or a certain race is, or that we should build walls – all deluding ourselves into thinking that any of those factors could have prevented the wreck.

But, here’s the thing.

God didn’t prevent this! He knew it was going to happen and He allowed it – for His purposes. We don’t know what those purposes were for anyone else involved but we figured out what some of them were for us.

We learned lots of other things too. We found out that the painting company this young man worked for tried to tell the insurance companies that “some guy” stole the truck. Investigators disproved this rather quickly finding that he was not only employed by the company but they had sent him to go get lunch while they finished up at the paint store.  They likely knew he had no license and also that his work visa had expired.  They seem to have mostly been interested in maintaining cheap labor and then trying to cover up after the wreck.

As part of processing and working toward empathy and finally forgiveness, I asked myself many questions about that part of the situation:

How often are companies complicit in maintaining workers as illegals? Clearly this company had limited ethical standards so it isn’t hard to imagine them choosing to benefit from not paying taxes, benefits, unemployment, and other things required for a legal employee. The profitability must have seemed worth the risk.

How bad was it where this young man came from – how poor, how dangerous – that he was willing to stay on illegally to work?

Further, how complicated and inaccessible is the system to renew a work visa or apply for legal status? If the government offices were only open during the hours he worked, it doesn’t seem likely his employer would have been inclined to let him have time off, let alone encourage him to take care of it. It’s possible, if it was financially beneficial to them for employees to remain “illegal”, that they even purposely made it difficult to get the time and information needed for the process.

We just don’t know.

I choose to believe the best about this man – that he was just trying to follow directions and earn a living from an unscrupulous employer.  We don’t know exactly what happened to him after the wreck. We know he served several months under house arrest. It is likely he was fired and then in an even more difficult financial spot.  I truly hope someone helped him to attain legal status whether temporary or permanent.  I pray that if he was deported back to Mexico that he is in a safe area and was able to find work there.  I believe God was intervening in his life in an ultimately positive way just as he was in ours.

I chose to forgive.

For us, the wreck changed everything. My husband couldn’t take the high paying job he’d planned to after he retired because he was still in the wheelchair when the job became available.

God opened our eyes to our love of money and the false sense of security it brings.

While he recuperated, we had months of almost 24/7 contact with each other forcing us to deal with relational issues we had been actively ignoring and ones we’d remained too busy or distracted to notice. It isn’t an overstatement to say that we likely wouldn’t still be married if the wreck hadn’t happened.

God forced us to slow down and made a path for us back to each other and also back to Him on a much deeper level.

The losses dominoed as no comparable job came for my husband and I was picked for permanent layoff when the housing industry declined. The six weeks I was off work recovering and taking care of my husband as he recovered during the busy Spring season meant my sales figures were the lowest for that year.  All this and a few other factors forced us to leave the home we had built, mostly with our own hands, for something we could afford now.

God tore down the idol of a dream home that had become a nightmare and provided a home in the inner city where we learned and grew more than we ever could have in our house in the woods.

Mostly, we learned that there are multiple facets to all of our stories – the beautiful ones and the seemingly ugly ones. It is easiest to judge and misjudge others when we avoid learning the details of their story.

We can choose to look for and believe the best in the situation, in other people, and in God, or we can choose anger, bitterness, and fear.  But fear and love cannot occupy the same space. So, even if the anger or fear is “justified”, the result is the same – a heart shut down to empathy, mercy, and love.

I choose love.

A Complacent and Fearful People

As Christians, we are to be disciples of Jesus.  Simply put, this means we are to try to be like Him.  We are told we are sons & daughters of the King, a royal priesthood, representatives of Christ, and implementers of His kingdom – here, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”.

Yet in our day to day lives few of us aspire to, or even act like we have, this high calling.

Just like the Israelites who would doubt God time and time again, we doubt that the teachings of Jesus will actually work in this world.

Instead of being a bold witness to His ways, we have become a complacent and fearful people.

We refuse to take the personal risk of living out what He said.  We want laws and government to do the job for us so we can feel safe and comfortable even though that is the exact opposite of what Jesus said his followers would experience.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33

He is not promising us an earthly peace, but His peace which passes understanding. Peace in the midst of fear, of disaster, of violence around us.

Empires, powers, and principalities of this world make laws and rules to protect those empires and to protect their power.  They are “of this world”.

For decades now, we Christians have been colluding with the enemy instead of working against it. To what end? It hasn’t gained us anything! In fact, it has only made those powers stronger and us more reliant on them – sometimes to the point of idolatry. This partnership has not, and will not, do what it promised.  It will not end abortion. It will not make the world safer.  It will definitely not protect our “Christian values” – many of which we have already sacrificed on its alter.

Sleeping with the enemy has left us impotent in the ways of Kingdom living.

We are not living the peacemaking way of Jesus, we are promoting wars and buying guns to protect ourselves.

We are not welcoming the immigrant, we are trying to keep them out or send them back – even to places they have never known or lived or to regimes that will likely kill them because they are fellow Christians.  Apparently we think it is worth it for our own false sense of security.

We are not loving our neighbors. We are allowing divisiveness and prejudice to run rampant in our world and even within the church.

We are not caring for the poor and for the widow.  We sometimes make a show of helping in the way we think is best for them but we are not listening to them, we are not willing to support programs that help them if it might cost us a few more dollars in taxes that we could spend on ourselves.

We seem to have completely forgotten, or have just chosen to ignore, that Jesus never said follow me and you will be happy, safe, and comfortable.  What He did say is:

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 *

Until we can honestly admit that the American dream of more money, more power, and more success is in opposition to the Kingdom of God where all are welcome, where we are our brother’s keeper, and where we are not ruled by fear but by love, we will never be able to grasp living as a true disciple of Jesus.

 

I’ve been asking myself these questions for a while now.  I invite you to ask them too.

  1. What did I do this week to bring Kingdom here, now?
  2. What did I do this week that required courage – that caused me to risk my reputation, my safety, or even just my comfort for the benefit of “the least of these”?
  3. Where am I relying on the things or the powers of this world instead of relying on God?

 

* I love The Message version of this full verse in context:

31-33 Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

 

 

When Fake News Becomes Real

Fake News, Fake News, read all about it!

Over ten years ago conservative religious groups began talking about a “war on Christmas” that didn’t actually exist. They called for boycotts over the years on stores and restaurants whose advertising wasn’t “Christmassy” enough to suit them. There were numerous stories and memes and social media comments.  One of the well known ones was that __________ department store told employees not to say Merry Christmas to customers.  While this may have been true of some individual store manager somewhere, there is no evidence nor is it even likely that it was anyone’s corporate policy.  I actually worked for a large national retailer for a number of Christmas seasons during this time under two different store managers.  Neither directed anyone in what they could or could not say.  One did suggest that we be observant of our customers and choose our responses accordingly.  His suggestion had no religious overtones.  His example was that the holidays were often difficult for people who had lost someone during the year or for families who were missing someone serving our country overseas. His idea that we be thoughtful of, and kind to, our customers rather than mindlessly offering a greeting seemed to me like the more “Christian” thing to do.

Some groups and some people, even ten years ago, seemed to want to be offended.  I don’t know what motivated these people. I wonder if it might not have to do with a need to feel persecuted.  Across the world there are places where Christians are actually persecuted.  We are told in the Bible that followers will be persecuted and the disciples are examples of that truth.  American Christians seem to have felt the need to create some kind of situation so they could claim to be persecuted. They created the fake news of a “war on Christmas”.

These claims, more political in intent than religious, have continued to come up over the years. In 2015-2016 the President made it part of his campaign.  “If I become president, we’re going to be saying Merry Christmas at every store”, Trump stated.  He has continued to bring it up at his post-election rallies. (It should be noted, of course, that he doesn’t have the power to make people or companies say certain things.)

So here we are, Christmas 2017.  The President has an abysmally low approval rating so he’s spouting off about Christmas in an attempt to placate his far right evangelical base.

This is where it happens – when fake news becomes real. 

I have been in way too many retail and food establishments over the last few weeks. I began noticing that hardly anyone was giving a seasonal greeting.  I have had a total of three people actually say “Merry Christmas” to me. Further, they aren’t saying “Happy Holidays” either.  They’re saying “thank you” or the standard “have a nice day”.   I considered that maybe it was just my personal feelings influencing what I thought was happening so I ask some friends about their experiences.  Many of their interactions echoed mine.  Then I saw this tweet and responses about it from people who likely live in an entirely different part of the country.

So, at the very least, less people are actually saying Merry Christmas than in years past.  Further, when I said Merry Christmas to a clerk as I checked out earlier this month she was unsure how to respond.  She looked at me a little funny and said, “Uh, thank you?”  That’s when I started paying attention everywhere I went.  I realized, unfortunately, “Merry Christmas” has been turned into a political statement and most people don’t want to be associated with it.  The truth is, I don’t either. Sadly, I’ve quit saying Merry Christmas to salespeople and waitresses I don’t know.

The fake war on Christmas has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thoughts & Prayers

Another tragedy in America. A mass shooting after three devastating hurricanes and acres of fires, after a car attack after a shooting on a baseball field after a shooting in a nightclub after…

Each time we offer our thoughts and prayers to the victim’s families.  We post “Praying for _________” on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.  Again and again.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

Sure, we say this initially because we don’t know what else to do.  We say it because we want victim’s families or towns or islands that have been devastated to know we care.  Thinking with sympathy or empathy for those who are hurting is good.  And some of us do actually pray. Prayer is important after a tragedy. It is.

BUT, IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

Especially in the last couple months things have come at us so fast that even if we haven’t been directly affected, we feel the tension.  Tension is a sign that something needs to give.  We need to start DOING something more and doing some things differently. And, what I need to do and what you need to do may be different things. Maybe we need to be donating to organizations that provide services. Maybe we need to donate blood. Maybe we need to volunteer to cook, to clean, to sit with victims. Maybe we need to write to our representatives in Congress to plead for more gun restrictions. (Why does anyone not actively employed by the government need an assault style rifle or a silencer?) Maybe we need to be creating organizations with less overhead to respond to the natural disasters that seem to be coming more frequently and more forcefully. We each need to use our own time and talents and resources and lean into these situations.  Mr. Rogers famously said to tell children “look for the helpers”.  As adults, we, too, need to look for the helpers and then help the helpers or just plain BE the helpers.

BUT, IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

As Christians, we have a further responsibility. We come back to prayer.  We need to be praying and lamenting the tragedies, absolutely.  Further we need to be intervening ahead of the tragedy. We need to at least have the “faith of a mustard seed” and be praying against the storm and praying ahead of time for those being evacuated to have a safe place to go.  We need to be praying against the “roaring lion looking to devour” that he will not find a willing accomplice among us to carry out violence and evil. We need to keep praying and keep helping and keep loving…

UNTIL IT IS ENOUGH.

 

It’s All in the Translation

Amidst the books I’m reading, the Bible studies I’m participating in, and the research I’ve been doing for a future blog post, I have run across things in the Bible that make me stop and say, “Hmmm, I need to think about that.”

I’m discovering that some of the assumptions and conclusions I have from growing up in church are more of a cultural or translational understanding than a purely biblical one. I’m not offering resolutions here, just my thought processes.

Below are one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament in case you want to ponder them too.

In Genesis 9:15 God makes a covenant with Noah to never destroy all flesh, or all life, again with a flood.  Whether it is all flesh or all life depends on the translation but those are, technically, two different things.  Further, translations on who else the covenant is made with vary even more.

Many translations say “every living creature of all flesh” (KJV, etc.).

Others are “each soul living that nourisheth flesh” (WYC), “every living soul that beareth flesh” (DRA), “all living creatures” (HCSB & NLT), “all living creatures of every kind” (NIV), “every living thing” (NCV).

Obviously I’m focusing on semantics but I am fascinated by the nuance.  There is a difference between flesh bearing souls and every living thing.

It would seem that since God declared that each part of creation was “good”, it is all important to Him.  His intention seems to be to redeem everything. Think about the overly familiar John 3:16 –“For God so loved the world…”  Doesn’t the world include everything?  Otherwise, wouldn’t it say, for God so loved the people He created?  I understand that “whosoever believeth in Him” comes next strengthening the idea that it refers only to people. However, in Luke 19:40 Jesus himself says “the stones will cry out”. So there’s that.

 

Did you know that the last verses in the Gospel of Mark are most likely not even written by him?  While most translations make some notation about this, I hadn’t really thought much about it before.  Two alternative endings have been found, neither of which is included in the oldest manuscripts.  Mark’s actual writing seems to end with verse eight.  From a literary perspective, it is fairly obvious that the last 12 verses of chapter 16 have a different “voice” that the rest of the book.

Within those verses, translational variations of Mark 16:15 can also mean significantly different things. The meaning of the beginning of the verse is virtually the same although different words are used. It is a directive to go to the whole world and tell, preach, announce, proclaim the Good News (Gospel).  Who, exactly, to tell it to is a little less clear. Is it “everyone” (ISV, TLB, etc.), “every creature” (KJV, TLV, etc.), “all creation” (CSB, CJB, NASB, NIV, etc.) or “the whole creation” (ASV, ESV, NRSV, WEB, etc.)?

St. Francis of Assisi took this quite literally and preached to the animals. Maybe he was right in doing so.

For me choosing between these differences start with thinking through what the Good News really means.  The Good News is not just the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about the purpose of his life, of his sacrifice, so that we and the whole creation can be redeemed and restored to relationship with God.

It is another reminder that God’s intention is not an evacuation plan but one of restoring His creation, all of it, right here.  That, however, is a whole other blog post…