I just finished reading a great book written by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt entitled The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.
If you’re a Kindle reader, you can get it for $4.99 in the Kindle store. If not, you might have to spend more like $10 for a hard copy. But I’m telling you: You. Need. To. Read. This. Book.
I give this book my strongest recommendation. I really think it might be one of the most important books I’ve read in quite some time. If you have a child, you need to read this book. If you’re an educator or a school administrator, you need to read this book. Just in general, you need to read this book.
Lukianoff and Haidt identify three “Great Untruths” that are dominating college campuses in this country today:
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker
Always Trust Your Feelings
Life Is A Battle Between Good People and Evil People
These “untruths” have greatly impacted the worldview of not only the Millennial generation, but even more the “iGen” of current college students and teenagers. This is the “safetyism” generation, those who are being taught that every microagression could make them “unsafe” — thus producing our current “call out culture.”
I’ll have more to say about this book later this year — there’s a lot to process here — but I wish everyone would read this. It’s eye-opening and important stuff.
Like most people, we’ve been doing our best to abide by the recent quarantine orders. We’ve been staying home; we’ve been social distancing. We’ve cleaned up some things, worked in the yard, taken care of some things on the To-Do list. But I’ve also had a little time to listen to some of my favorite music. In particular, I’ve been going back and revisiting some of my “Best Of” music lists from the past few years.
I started compiling these lists about 15 years ago when I started this blog. Back then, blogs were all the rage and that’s just the sort of thing you did. At any rate, I wrote about my favorite album one year and then I started writing about my top five albums one year….and before I knew it, I was just doing this every year, along with my list of the best books I read in that particular year.
That prompted me to go back and retroactively “award” a “Best Of” album for every year going back to 1990 — when I first developed my own musical tastes. You can access that list through the sidebar tab, if you’re interested.
Anyway, as I’ve been listening to some of these old records, I’ve made some modifications to my “Best Of” list, beginning with a couple of albums from the 90s that I overlooked somehow. Here they are:
1998 – Mercury Rev, Deserter’s Songs
Some years, I struggle to find a definitive album. 1998 was one of those years. For a long time, I defaulted to Pearl Jam’s Yield record, which is good — but not great. Other contenders simply don’t hold up after twenty years. But I recently came across Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs…and I was completely blown away. I don’t know how I missed this one, but it’s greatness comes from the strength of the best four or five songs on the album. “Holes” is an absolute earworm of a song. I don’t know why this balloon video works, but it just does.
There’s something really bittersweet about the line, “How does that old song go?” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s heartbreaking.
And that’s just the opening song.
“Opus 40” is equally amazing. “Catskill mansions / buried screams / I’m alive she cried / but I don’t know what it means.” That’s one of the better descriptions of 90s paranoia you’ll hear this side of Radiohead. According to the story, the band struggled greatly in the years leading up to these sessions. In fact, they were so despondent that they went into the studio assuming that they would break up after this recording. So they put aside any premonition of commercial success and just recorded whatever they wanted. The result was a genre-defying album that not only won them commercial and critical acclaim (being named NME’s “Album of the Year”) but also influenced releases from The Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and My Morning Jacket for years to come.
By the time you reach the end of the album, “Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp” is cathartic in its jubilant release. I’ve retroactively named this quirky, brilliant, symphonic album my favorite album of 1998.
1999 – Sigur Ros, Agaetis byrjun (A Good Beginning)
1999 was another one of those years without a standout album for me. I went digging through Google to find some of the more critically acclaimed albums from that year and I was really loving Wilco’s Summerteeth. But on a whim, I decided to give Sigur Ros a listen. Hailed as “Icelandic post-rock”, I had no idea what to expect when I pulled them up on Spotify.
I have to say: not only is this the best piece of music recorded in 1999, it’s quickly become one of my favorite records ever. I have probably listened to it, start to finish, somewhere around 100 times in the last six or seven weeks. I’ve been listening to it while I’m working, when I’m on my afternoon walk, when I’m driving…basically all the time. It’s kind of hard to describe my affinity for this music, other than to say that it’s just beautiful.
I guess “post-rock” is sort of helpful — there are some guitars here, but this is really a strings record. The orchestration is lush and grand; the lyrics are sung completely in Icelandic and Vonlenska, a “gibberish language” according to Wikipedia.
Look, I get it — Icelandic post-rock gibberish music isn’t exactly Top 40 stuff. But I’m telling you: if you’ve never listened to this record, you’re missing out. Just listen to “Svefn-g-englar” and “Staralfur” and “Olsen olsen” (those are songs on this record) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s just beautiful music. I absolutely love this record. I just wish I’d found it sooner.
Next week, I plan to take a look at the music from the early 2000s.
Let’s face it: we’re spending a lot of time with our loved ones in close quarters these days. I’ve found myself saying this repeatedly over the past few weeks — to friends, to family members, to myself: “be gracious.” It has been my constant prayer this month. Chances are, most of the people in your life aren’t their healthiest selves right now. They’re wracked with fear and anxiety, which means they aren’t the best version of themselves right now.
Which means it’s really important for you to be gracious with them.
Because chances are, you’re not your healthiest self right now either.
“Gracious” is a word that bears much freight. To be gracious is to summon empathy, to be generous in assuming the best rather than assuming the worst. It almost always requires patience and gentleness. Graciousness is one of those qualities: a bit difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it.
One of my mentors always prefaces his prayers by addressing the Lord as, “Gracious God.” That’s always stood out to me. I think it’s because Gary knows the riches of God’s grace toward himself and toward others. He has proclaimed God’s good news of grace to countless people. But I’ve seen behind the curtain; I know that for him, it’s more than prayer jargon. He’s one of the most genuinely gracious people I know, a true gentleman in every sense of the word.
In the midst of quarantine, fear can easily do its worst in us. And that fear can come out “sideways” — as anger, as irritability, in children as disobedience or back-talking. But one way or another, that anxiety and fear will seep its way into our lives and spill out onto those around us.
When that happens, the people in your life need your mercy, not your wrath.
Full disclosure: I wasn’t very gracious toward my loved ones tonight. So when I talk about things coming out “sideways,” I speak from experience. But something beautiful happened afterward. As I apologized to each member of my family, I asked them to be gracious toward me. And in their responses, I was reminded of the image of God in each one of them as they turned toward me to show me grace.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
1 Peter 3:15
I’m writing this to my Christian sisters and brothers.
We have a unique opportunity to live out our calling. In the days of COVID-19 and quarantine, our interactions with neighbors and loved ones have been curtailed severely. But we still have contact — thanks to telecommunication and video conferencing technology. If you’re like me, most of those conversations with loved ones center on the current crisis we’re facing and speculation about when things will “go back to normal.”
And that’s to be expected. But I’m reminded of something I believe from the depths of my soul: followers of Christ are to be the most hopeful people of all. And these present circumstances provide us with an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of living hope that Simon Peter references in the opening lines of the letter we call 1 Peter. It’s living hope based upon the resurrection of Jesus.
And when Hope comes alive in us, people will inevitably notice and ask questions.
And we will have an opportunity to talk about the hope that we have.
What a tremendous moment of ministry for us! Lord, give us eyes to see the eternal significance of this moment we’ve been given.
One important distinction: hope is not the same thing as optimism. It’s easy to confuse the two, especially today. And optimism is en vogue. I mean, check out John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” posts if you don’t believe me — each one has garnered millions of views. But optimism alone tends to be sort of naive if you ask me — banal assumptions like “people are good” or “the world is good” may make for viral viewing, but that’s not really Christian hope.
Christian hope rejects simplistic positivity in favor of a more sobering view: people usually AREN’T good and neither is the world. The world is often a dark, cold place. It will hit you in the mouth and steal your lunch money. The way of Christian hope leads first to the cross, a recognition of all that is broken and messed up in this supposedly “good” world of ours.
But it’s precisely in the midst of such darkness that Christian hope flourishes. Philosophically, optimism posits that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Christian hope affirms that we do NOT live in the best of all possible worlds — but such a world is on its way through God’s Messiah, Jesus. This is the only thing that makes us good — the transforming power of a God who is capable of restoring all creation, including humanity, to His originally good purposes.
This is our living hope, the hope of glory.
God’s world is on the way.
Until it comes, may we hasten it’s arrival by living out our hope amid these hopeless days.
Bad news. It seems as if that’s all we hear these days. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over 20,000 American lives — and we’re told the worst is still yet to come. For many of us, the rhythm of life has been disrupted and we find ourselves in the midst of a new normal that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Now, “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” are phrases that will surely haunt us for decades to come.
As a church family, we will be celebrating Easter Sunday tomorrow — but that celebration isn’t quite what any of us anticipated. Instead of gathering together at 1095 Carl T. Jones Drive, we will be worshipping in our homes tomorrow. And while that creates some unique opportunities for us as families, this new reality can also be disappointing, especially on a morning like tomorrow. No Easter dresses; no egg hunts; no lunch at grandmother’s…those are just a few of the things we’ll be missing tomorrow.
And more importantly, we’ll be missing each other tomorrow, just as we have for the past several weeks. We miss our church family so much right now. We miss the joy of fellowship with our sisters and brothers; we miss hearing your laughter; we miss joining our voices together in praise; we miss our seat on the third row; we miss praying together with one heart; we miss communing together and studying together and sharing meals together….all of these things that are a part of our life together as a community.
We want you to know that our hearts ache with you and the unique challenges you’re facing in these days. Our hearts ache for the young parents who are working from home while also helping their children stay on task with their schoolwork. We ache for caregivers unable to be near their loved ones in hospitals and care facilities. We ache for the small business owner who faces some difficult financial decisions. We ache for the new Mommies whose playdates have been interrupted — we know those dates were as much for you as they were for your babies! We ache for those who are quarantined alone, whose homes are much quieter than they wish.
We weep with those who are weeping right now, just as you have always joined us in our own seasons of lament.
And yet, we remember that this is a season of hope, a season of Good News.
We remember that the resurrection of Jesus — the most glorious event in human history — burst forth in the midst of hopeless circumstances such as these. Good News audaciously announced in a graveyard, of all places.
We want you to know that just as surely as our hearts ache with you, our hearts also hope along with you. Our hearts are full of hope that someday soon, we will be gathered together again under one roof. And what a day of celebration that will be! Until that day comes, we take heart in the movements of the people of God. Day after day, we are blown away by the stories we are hearing about the things you are doing in your communities in the name of Jesus. So much ministry has taken place in the last month — more than we can even recount. It’s simply enough to say, “Thank you, Lord,” for the opportunities He’s given us to be the hands and feet of Christ through simple, everyday acts of kindness and compassion.
And we take heart in the actions of those in our community — those who continue to work and serve in spite of these circumstances. We give thanks for our health care professionals, our first responders, our police officers and fire and rescue crews and utility teams and countless others whose selflessness reminds us of the selfless character of Jesus — whether they profess His name or not.
We take heart that although we seem to have lost much in the last few weeks, what we have gained might be even greater. Many of us have a better perspective on what really matters as we’ve been forced to adapt to a simpler way of life. Our neighborhoods are filled with people walking and waving at each other — from a safe distance, for sure, but we seem to have returned to a spirit of neighborliness. Many families are sharing time around the table more often — perhaps as many as three times a day. At our home, our dishwasher has been running constantly and we are certainly grateful for that.
In this difficult time, we simply wanted to remind you that Easter has never been about pretty dresses and egg hunts and lunch at grandma’s — as great as those things might be. More than anything else, Easter is about hope — the hope of glory, Jesus Christ. It is about an empty grave laughably exposed by a man who wouldn’t stay dead. It is about the hope that even in this present darkness, God will find a way. Because the empty tomb declares that He always finds a way.
From the darkness of this Saturday night, we join in the refrain of all creation: Sunday is coming! For He is risen! And nothing in heaven above or hell below will ever change that. Therefore we keep hope alive. For this is the unchangeable truth of eternity: Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Lord who makes all things new — time without limit, world without end. Amen.
I have a confession to make: I am really struggling with a scarcity mindset right now.
A few nights ago, I went out to the store to get some bread. When I got there, this is what I found:
I’ve never been to the store and seen completely empty shelves! It reminded me of Who-ville after the Grinch has come through and taken the last can of Who-Hash! And it wasn’t just one store that was like this — I couldn’t find bread anywhere in town.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience this week. In times of uncertainty, the fear of scarcity — not having enough — can drive us to stock up and horde things. The scarcity mentality causes us to act in ways we wouldn’t normally act. A friend of mine mentioned that she saw people actually taking items out of other people’s shopping carts when they weren’t looking. Another friend told of someone who stole a pack of toilet paper out of their car in the parking lot of a grocery store. When we see empty shelves at the store, the scarcity mindset kicks in and fear does its worst in us.
At the beginning of 1 Kings 17, we learn that a severe drought has come upon the land of Israel. This is actually brought about by God and his prophet, Elijah.
We might ask why God would do such a thing. Well, the Canaanites believed Baal was the god of rain and fertility. Throughout the Old Testament, the children of Israel would be tempted to worship Baal — to ask him for rain, for healthy crops, for healthy children, etc. In the time of Elijah, the people were turning to Baal and asking for his blessing of rain upon the land. So Elijah’s announcement of the drought serves to demonstrate that it isn’t Baal but the LORD who controls the rain. HIS power is supreme.
God provides for His prophet by giving him water from this brook and directing the ravens to supply him with bread and meat, both in the morning and in the evening. We don’t have any other details, but this story shows God providing sustenance for Elijah. And this is a key point for what comes next: Elijah, in turn, will provide sustenance for someone else in a time of scarcity.
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread — only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it — and die.”
1 Kings 17:8-12
God sends Elijah to a place called Zarephath, north of Israel. This was a place where Baal worship was even more rampant. And it seems that the drought has extended to this region as well. But there is a widow in Zarephath and God directs Elijah to go to her. “She will supply you with food,” God says. But that’s only part of the plan. God intends for this widow to meet Elijah’s needs and for Elijah to meet the needs of the widow and her son. This is how the abundance of God is demonstrated in a time of scarcity.
Elijah asks the widow for some bread and her reply is heartbreaking: “I don’t have any bread — just a handful of flour and a little oil.” The shelves in her home pantry are barren. She tells Elijah that she’s gathering wood for a fire so she can go home and prepare one final meal — a last supper — for her and her son. They have no one looking out for them and they have nothing to spare. Scarcity has become a death sentence for the widow of Zarephath.
The widow says something interesting when she speaks with Elijah: As surely as the LORD your God lives. Even though she lives in the land of Baal, she knows something of Israel’s God — enough to refer to Him as “the Living God.” This sounds like an expression of faith. She’s lived long enough to know that all those prayers and sacrifices to Baal amount to nothing. “No graven image can help me,” she says. “Only a living God.” But she’s reached the end of the line — “I’m going to go home, fix a final meal for my son and myself, and then we’ll die.” Her deprivation has made her despondent. But this is precisely where God does His best work. He specializes in bringing abundance out of scarcity.
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ’The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.”
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.
1 Kings 17:13-16
Elijah replies to her by saying, “Don’t be afraid.” Those are the same words we talked about last week — words that are always spoken within the context of God’s presence. Elijah promises that God will be miraculously present to her and her son through the abundance of their flour and oil. Elijah tells her, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.” Elijah brings her in contact with the world of God’s great abundance.
Let’s look at the way God uses faithfulness in this little story:
God uses the widow to meet the needs of Elijah by faith. (It was an act of faith on her part to use her resources to make bread for Elijah.)
God uses Elijah to meet the needs of the widow and her son — also by faith. (It was an act of faith on Elijah’s part to journey where the LORD directed him to go.)
At any point, fear might have derailed these faithful actions. But trust in the active presence of the living God sustained these acts of faith.
This story teaches us some really important things that we need to remember in times like this:
First, in times of scarcity, it’s good for us to recognize that the scarcity mentality doesn’t come from God. Baal is the one who traffics in scarcity. The whole enterprise of Baal worship in the ancient world was predicated on the idea of scarcity. Baal declares, “Worship me or you won’t have enough.” And that prompts people to do crazy things — like steal toilet paper out of someone else’s car!
No, the scarcity mentality doesn’t come from God because (secondly) our God is a God of abundance. Even during this drought in Elijah’s day — which God brought about — the drought was intended to help Israel realize the abundance they already have in God. And faith is living out of God’s great abundance.
Finally, this story teaches us that the people of God can counter scarcity through sharing and through serving. According to the Scriptures, God sent Elijah to the widow and God sent the widow to Elijah. They overcome the scarcity of their circumstances by sharing with one another and by serving one another. That’s precisely where the miraculous power of God shows up in this story.
And I believe God has given us an opportunity to do the same thing right now. I believe this is an opportunity for us to be sent out to the people in our communities — much like God sent Elijah to the widow and God sent the widow to Elijah.
This is a great time to check on your neighbors; the people who live closest to you. There was a time when we knew our neighbors and we would rely on them if we needed to borrow a tool or a few ingredients. I can’t tell you how many times my Mom sent me to the Nortons next door to borrow some margarine or some brown sugar. And they would borrow from us all the time. That doesn’t happen very much anymore, but since we will be spending more time in our neighborhoods, this is a great opportunity to reach out to your neighbors, see what they need, and share out of your own abundance.
There might be someone just like this widow who is living on your street. Maybe he or she can’t get out and get some of the things they need right now. Maybe they haven’t been able to get out and get groceries. Could you share a bit out of your abundance? Or maybe they can’t get out and pick up their prescriptions. Could you serve them by making a trip to the pharmacy on their behalf? I’d ask you to be praying about that and see what God puts on your heart.
Scarcity impacts us in different ways. We’ve talked a lot about the run on food and supplies. But “social distancing” is a term that is being used now and although we understand why we’re being asked to take these precautions, there are some who are hurting emotionally as a result of this.
I’m thinking of a friend of mine who lives alone with no family nearby. Attending church is not only something they do out of obedience to God, but it’s also a social connection for my friend. So right now, her scarcity mindset is less about groceries and supplies — it’s emotional. My friend is just really, really lonely right now.
Maybe you know someone like that. During this time when our lives have slowed down a bit, would you make a note to reach out to that person? Could you help overcome the emotional scarcity he or she is feeling because of isolation and loneliness?
In times like this, I hope we can remember that our God is a God of abundance. We believe in a God of manna, a God of daily bread. Jesus tells us to ask for daily bread — and by sharing and serving, we can actually help to provide daily bread for the people around us — the hungry, the lonely, the overlooked. That seems to be God’s preferred way of countering the scarcity mentality — with His great abundance.
I just have a feeling that widow and her son found a way to share with the people in their community. Because that’s what happens when you experience God’s abundance.
And all of this points us to Jesus, who came years later declaring that the god of the scarcity mentality comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But Jesus says, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. Jesus explains this further by declaring, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
In Jesus we come to know the abundance of God, the only God who can meet our needs, both physically and spiritually. At His table, our cup runneth over — and we can dwell in the house of the LORD forever, time without limit and world without end.
What were the do’s and don’ts in your house when you were growing up? Around our house, the list of “do’s” was pretty standard: brush your teeth, make your bed, clean your room, etc. Those were the things I was repeatedly told to do. But I heard plenty of “don’ts” as well:
Don’t talk to strangers.
Don’t disrespect your teachers.
Don’t you raise your voice at me.
One of the most common “don’ts” I heard was, “Don’t say that.” She would overhear me saying something that I shouldn’t — something crude or mean-spirited — and she would say to me, “We. Do. Not. Talk. Like. That!” I don’t know how many times she threatened to wash out my mouth with soap. I guess that got my attention, because as far as I can remember, she never had to follow through on her threat.
One of the most common “don’ts” in the Bible is do not fear.
In his book Fearless, Max Lucado points out that there are 125 direct imperatives delivered by Jesus in the Gospels — these are the direct commands, the “do’s and don’ts” of Jesus. Of these 125 commands, the most common one is, “Do not be afraid. Take courage. Fear not.” Jesus says this kind of thing over 20 times in the Gospels. And you find it throughout the Bible, from cover to cover, throughout the Old Testament as well as the New.
Do not fear.
But what do you do when you are afraid? What about in times like the present, when there is so much to fear? Does it make me unfaithful if I find myself afraid? Does it make me unfaithful if I’m afraid of COVID-19? Or cancer? Or bankruptcy? Or the future? Or any of a million other things that presently terrorize us? What do you do about all of that?
See, we could still meet in our churches and have a big religious pep rally and I could say something like, “The Bible says, ’Thou shalt not fear!’ Therefore we are not afraid!” And that might garner thunderous applause from some people — because some think this whole thing is no big deal, it’s all overblown hysteria. And the implication is easily drawn, the connection that faithful necessarily means fearless.
But there are some of us who are legitimately fearful — and no religious pep rally is going to change that. In fact, the pep rally actually works negatively in their lives. The pep rally actually can be a tool of Satan in them, because it merely induces shame. These are good people who don’t want to be fearful, but they find themselves afraid anyway. And so telling them that they shouldn’t be afraid does nothing to allay those fears; it simply deep fries those fears in a layer of guilt and shame.
I have a friend; we’ll call him Vincent. For the first 11 years of his life, Vincent wet the bed. He didn’t mean to wet the bed, but it happened every night. His parents would tell him every night, “Vincent, don’t wet the bed,” and every morning he woke up to a wet bed. Eventually his parents would say, “If you loved us, you wouldn’t do this.” But Vincent couldn’t help it. He said he went to bed every night in fear and he woke up every morning in shame.
I think Vincent’s experience is similar to what some of my friends are experiencing. They’re fearful — really afraid right now — and the message they’re hearing in some corners is essentially, “If you loved God, you wouldn’t do this.” And they feel shame on top of fear.
Does it make me unfaithful if I am afraid?
It doesn’t make us unfaithful if we’re afraid. We don’t become bulletproof when we come to the Lord. We’re not made of spiritual Teflon. We have feelings — and fear is a legitimate feeling. There are times in life when we will most definitely be afraid. So it doesn’t make us unfaithful if we’re fearful.
It makes us unfaithful if we don’t take our fears to the Lord. When we take our fears to God, we find that He is faithful to be present with us in those fears. The Gospel writers describe the experience of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane by using the following words:
He was deeply distressed and troubled. (Mark 14:33)
His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. (Matthew 26:38)
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44).
But to whatever degree Jesus felt stress and overwhelming sorrow and agony and possibly even fear, He shows us the faithful way to deal with those fears. We take them to God. Jesus prays the ultimate prayer of humility when He says to the Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus also perfectly embodies one of the most well-known passages of Scripture, Psalm 23.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
We serve a God who promises to sit with us in our fears, to join us right there in the darkest points of our lives, the valleys of deepest darkness. In these moments, we come to know the abiding presence of God. How can David say, I will fear no evil? Because he has learned that thou art with me.
But what if I don’t feel as if God is present? The reality of God’s presence is not bound by our feelings. He is there, no matter what.
God chose to make Himself known most fully in an act of death — the cruel execution of Jesus, executed by the state as a felon, even though He had done no wrong.
And Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 as He hangs there — My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? — as a way of identifying with us when we don’t feel God’s presence. And yet, God was present — Jesus is God in the flesh right there, dying on our behalf.
What I’m trying to say today can be summarized this way:
Does fear control my faith?
Or does my faith control my fears?
Taking precaution is not the same thing as acting in fear. God tells that one of the most important things we can do is to love Him with all of our minds. That doesn’t just mean Bible study — it means using our rational function to the best of our ability to make the best decisions possible.
Loving God with all of our minds also means that we fall back on what we know. We can’t control the circumstances of our lives, but we can control what we know.
Three things to remember when fear is at its strongest:
God is with us.
Jesus — the Scriptures refer to him as Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
He came to earth to be God “in the flesh.” God with us and God among us.
In John 1, it says that Jesus put on flesh and became one of us. John says He does this in order to be light shining in the darkness.
God goes before us.
God leads His people — He goes before us.
In the book of Exodus, God led His people through a pillar of cloud by day, fire by night. No matter the circumstances — day or night, good or bad — His presence was always with His people.
God goes before us in times of wilderness just as surely as He goes before us as we enter the Promised Land.
Whether times or good or bad, we can count on the presence of the God who goes before us.
God is on our side.
This is the best news of all. God is for us; He is on our side.
Romans 8:31, What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
We also need a way of reminding ourselves of what we believe when we find ourselves dealing with fear. Here’s what I do — I pray. We can’t control the circumstances of life, but we can control what we pray.
That’s why I’m such an advocate for breath prayers — quick, regular reminders of God’s power and what He has done. The prayers in the Bible are filled with some of the same phrases over and over again — I’m thinking of the classic line, “Give thanks to the Lord; for He is good. His love endures forever.” I’ve found that repeating some of these lines from Scripture can be a source of strength when I’m fearful.
Here’s one example: Psalm 94:19, When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. I’ve started praying this when I feel fear beginning to creep in. I’ll shorten it to something like: “In my anxiety, console me with your joy.” The more I say that, I can feel the anxiety decrease, and I can feel God consoling me with His joyous Good News.
Other times, I simply pray, “Jesus Christ is my peace.” When I feel uneasy or when things seem to be spinning out of control in my life, I come back to this bedrock truth: “Jesus Christ is my peace.” That’s taken directly from the prophet Micah and the apostle Paul. But this prayer helps to remind me that even during times of chaos, I serve the One who commands the winds and the waves. Even the chaotic power of Death could not defeat King Jesus! He is our peace — the One who can calm our fears.
Psalm 27:1The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life — whom shall I dread?
It’s not as if we somehow become bulletproof when we come to know the Lord. We still have to deal with fears. But with Jesus as our Lord, we have One upon whom we can place our fears. He faithfully joins us in the midst of our fears and brings light and salvation.