Fear or Faith? Which is your better Vision?

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Fear or Faith?  Which is your better Vision?

Jesus told his followers that he would give them eternal life and that they ought to be known by their love.  Christ-followers, for millennia, have faced death with the comfort and conviction that they have already died in Christ, and they already live in him spiritually because of the resurrection.  This faith in life-in-Christ has fortified believers to physically suffer and die to follow Christ.  Christians have died daily for their faith knowing that their physical death means entrance into more life.  Additionally, Christ-followers have loved with a power and selflessness that is unparalleled in history.  It is easy to miss the depth and roots of this critical component in contemporary life, however, many of our most prominent educational and social services have their origins in the love of Christ.  Moreover, even though much secularization and popular culture surrounding these services obscures their origin, the impulse and ideas behind them actually originate and are still structured on the healing power of selfless love.  Because Christ-followers are not afraid to die, they have lived lives of love that have endured and offered help and hope to the most desperate during the most traumatic times.  

Historically Christians do not run from disaster, rather they run to offer healing aid in times of crisis.  It could even be said that their model has been adopted by many who serve with selfless conviction of care, not fully knowing the origin of the impulse to their methods.  Time and again in history Christ-followers have resisted the fear of death and loved their neighbors because of their faith in the life and love found in Jesus.  Example after historical example serve as reminders to those who would but see how Christ-followers have offered love even when their culture was in chaos and fear.  Ironically we often look back on the heroic love of Christians in the past and admire them, even prop them up as exemplars of faith, while today we would call people who actually practice their faith like them boldly with faith and love as “foolish”, ill advised, and socially reckless.  We can be confident of this if we were careful enough to look deeply.  Were not the “Christian” peers of Corrie ten Boom critical and suspicious of her and her family for risking and giving their lives to fight the fear of Nazi oppression?  No doubt they thought them foolish, rash, and perhaps dangerous to their community.  Looking back further, when believers risked their lives to care for pandemic victims (pick any plague from the Black Death to earlier plagues of the Roman Empire) as many literally ran for the hills of social separation, it was Christ-followers’ confidence in eternal life and conviction that Christ’s love was needed most critically in trauma of plagues that compelled them to stay and save untold numbers of lives and healed the wounds in their society.  They did not, when at their best, separate but fought fear with faith and love and engaged to connect and care for their community. 

Recently in Italy, we saw an example of the love of Christ that was in line with the historical engagement during times of traumatic and life threatening fears.  While doctors in Italian hospitals were overwhelmed with Covid19 victims, one man visited the sick and assisted the caregivers by reading Scriptures and praying with them.  He boldly connected in faith with the love of Christ.  The most remarkable thing to most was that he himself contracted the deadly virus and died, however, the fact that he gave his life in love is actually not the most remarkable part of the story.  It was his love and faith in the face of systemic fear to be with people who would have died alone that makes his story stand out.  The greatest need during a pandemic is people who will care for each other when others simply won’t because of fear and care for people who in their separation would die alone and without hope.  This mans’ boldness and “reckless” love helped people who were left to die and he empowered the medical caregivers to have hope to continue their care!  Rather than frame his thinking and actions on public policy or personal rights and safety, he engaged in loving people, knowing his life was secure.  He fought fear with faith and love.  

Today Christ-followers are being told to separate and stay safe to save lives.  This frames our thinking in fear.  Fear of getting a potentially deadly virus and fear of passing the virus on to others.  This “Frame of Fear” is far more powerful and damaging than we currently realize.  The initial response to this Frame of Fear usually runs along lines of individual rights pitted against corporate rights.  A battle of thinking ensues that is not only destroying the fabric of our society it is also crippling us to follow Jesus in love.  In democratic societies the greatest “fever” is the backlash against or support of this Frame of Fear.  Although this rights-based thinking is understandable, it is not able to fully comprehend its own limiting practices and potentially dangerous results.  A society framed in fear, that purports to be wise while undermining all people’s ability to connect and care, is pathological on a far deeper level than we currently realize.  Personal and corporate rights cannot solve the needs of the human condition and cannot connect us to the hope and love we have historically seen as successful among Christ-followers.  We need to ask: What do we really believe and how should that shape our behavior?  We also need to ask: What would a person who because of their faith in Jesus is not afraid to physically die and holds the hope of love do in the face of a pandemic and society gripped by fear?  Historically the answer of a Christ-follower is to selflessly engage, overcome fear, and give their lives in love.  

A greater vision and hope is needed to thrive during today’s health and social crisis.  Basing our actions on public policy, individual rights, or even a so-called-balance of social separation with measures to slowly re-engage simply cannot overcome the Frame of Fear, and it undermines the power of the life-giving love we have historically and successfully offered in times of crisis as Christ-followers.  We need the vision of life and love that will overcome fear and offer real help and hope in faith.  This vision is not foolish but far deeper, long-lasting, and rich.  Jesus knew and lived the power of his life and love, and he gave it to his followers.  Jesus’ followers have seen the most lasting impact for personal and corporate good when we frame our lives and actions in faith and love flowing from Jesus.  He is our ultimate frame.  Jesus boldly touched the unclean and sick.  Jesus faced the fear of social rejection and persecution to care.  Jesus faced the fear of death for us and gave us life.  His model and method of engaging in love is our deepest hope.  He is our way, truth, and life.  

Practically it feels daunting to apply Christ-like love.  Fear frames and even distorts our thinking and daily actions.  Seemingly simple questions, compounded by conflicting scientific and public advice, become paralyzingly difficult.  Should you stay home?  Should you wear a mask?  Should you visit the lonely, (everyone feels the loneliness and the damage of social separation) even if that is styled at best as a risk to yourself and others?  Should we gather for social events that mark and establish the rhythms and fabric of our community?  As long as we frame our thinking and actions on fear, especially during a crisis, and lack the vision of healing of Christ’s love that he clearly modeled, taught, and gave to us we are at an historical loss.  We must first see the vision of his love and life before we proceed with seemingly more “practical” questions of practice.  Fear is not a vision that can hold.  Faith and love should lead our hearts and behavior.  It is time we got back to the vision of eternal life and living out Christ’s love.  Only a vision of Christ can save us, and only his love can heal and lead us through this crisis.  Let us follow him in faith and love together.  

 

Never, Never, Never Give Up: God is not finished with you yet!

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Your life is full of trials and set backs. We spend so much of our energy just dealing with the problems, to stop the bleeding -so to speak, and never seem to get ahead. We feel our full-time job is dealing with the unexpected problems rather than getting to the things we feel are important. Many call this the “tyranny of the urgent” and this often requires a reset in our thinking and focus, but what happens when we have done everything we can and we still feel that the impossible problems of life are never going to be resolved? The question each of us asks when we face impossible circumstances of becomes less about what to do but rather if we should even keep trying. Maybe… Should we just give up?

Giving up is the first step away from the real solution, and it often is the best way to fail. Practically, giving up feels like it offers us a total solution, but in reality it often just creates more problems, and it guarantees that we will never succeed.

Do you want to succeed in life?

One hallmark of success is never giving up on your dream. Countless men and women who are now historically viewed as “successful” were viewed as failures in their greatest hour! Don’t believe this? Here are some examples of people who never gave up in the face of impossible circumstances: Walt Disney (went bankrupt and faced opposition to his dreams his whole life but revolutionized the entertainment industry), Thomas Edison (failed 10,000 times in his search for electrical power until he became wildly successful in electric power and world-changing inventions), Michael Jordan (was cut from his High School basketball team only to go on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time), Oprah Winfrey (was fired from her first job as “unfit for TV” but kept at her dream to become the greatest TV host of her generation), Albert Einstein (“flunked” the 5th grade, didn’t get into college, and failed at his first salesman job but kept at his dream and became of world-class physicists), Henry Ford (his first two companies went bankrupt but finally was successful in car production and changed industrial business practices and methodologies), Winston Churchill (considered past his peak for top leadership, rejected by his father, rejected by his own country and King, lead the world and Great Britain in the fight against racist and fascist Nazi Germany in the face of strong political opposition that worked to remove him and often questioned his strategy, and he was removed from office immediately after he “won the war” only to come back and become Prime Minister a second time! Churchill was famous for his power to express what was needed in the darkest hours, “Never, never, never give up!)

These examples of people who never gave up often did so without a spiritual anchor. What about people of faith?

William Tyndale (was run out of England and eventually captured and executed, but not before he produced the first English translation of the Bible).

Jeremiah the Prophet (faced opposition for his message from God, was imprisoned on false charges of desertion, his prophetic writings were literally cut up and burned in the fire by the King, and was left to die in a muddy cistern pit, only to be rescued and lived to see his prophecy fulfilled).

Paul the Apostle (faced opposition from Christian leaders his whole life, had only limited success in his missionary efforts during his lifetime, was falsely accused, imprisoned several times, and was ultimately executed for treason against the Roman Empire, but ignited a global missionary movement that has lead billions of people to salvation in Jesus).

Jesus the Messiah (initially his ministry was a huge success with a regional buzz but when people heard his real message his huge following dwindled, he was hounded and hunted down by the religious leaders of Jerusalem and was crucified on the basis of false charges, his core group of disciples abandoned him in his darkest hour, Peter denied him three times, and he was hung on a cross and executed letting the whole world know his mission was a failure while only his Mom, his best friend, John, and Mary Magdalene watched as soldiers, leaders, and the crowds that once followed his every move mocked him as he took his last breath and said, “It is finished.” He accomplished the impossible mission of living a life honorable to God and defeating the power of evil and brokenness of the whole world).

Why were these leaders successful? Didn’t they all die and not see their success? They were successful largely because they didn’t give up, but more importantly they held true to the calling God gave them in faith. They trusted that the mission God gave them and the purposes He had for them would not be stopped by the impossible circumstances they faced. The facts are indisputable that how we feel and how others view us is no true measure of our success. And the underlying truth is that the purposes of God for each person are not measured on a daily basis but in the final outcome of the mission He has for each of us. This is why we must “Never, never, never give up!” because God’s plan for you will succeed if we hold true to the calling and mission He has given us.

Do you feel like all the tires are falling off your vehicle at once and it might just be time to give up on your journey? Again, everyone, all the time, feels like they do not have the resources to keep going. The key is to find hope in God’s purposes for you and never give up. Every single person feels like all the tires are falling off most of the time! If you really knew how “successful” people feel, you would be in good company!

Do you want to quit the projects you desire to accomplish because they are just far more difficult than you ever imagined? Every single person who experienced success felt this way! No one ever did anything significant without hard work, discipline, and the truthful self-talk of never giving up.

Do you want to give up on your faith, your church, and your life? Many have doubted and wanted to die! Jeremiah, Elijah, Paul the Apostle all felt this way, but they were refreshed with new zeal when they re-engaged with the calling God gave them.

Do you want to stop fighting temptation and just “give in?” Giving up on following the path God has set for you is jumping from the frying pan into the fire – literally into the mouth of the Dragon (also known as the Devil, Satan, the Accuser, who wants to eat you alive and burn your life to the ground). The pain of spiritual separation from God is far worse than the trials of temptations. God will give you a place to stand. He will forgive and restore you, and He will keep you in Jesus till your final day. Never give up on fighting the good fight of faith.

Do you want to quit your job? Maybe God is calling you to a new position, but He might also being doing something great through your hardships that you just haven’t seen yet.

Do you want to quit your marriage? God might very well have something more beautiful for you through your trials and teach you the joy of repentance and selfless love.

Do you want to give up on your kids? Children are a gift from God and they have a long road to maturity. Our task is to train them and love them through every twist and turn of life so that they too can never give up and be successful.

The critical factor for your success is trusting in God’s purposes for you and never giving up despite how you may feel, how your circumstances appear, and what people say about you. God has something to say about you: Nothing can separate you from His loving purposes (Rom. 8:28ff). He will complete and keep you to the very end (Phil. 1:6). He daily helps those who trust in Him (Acts 26:22). He will wipe every tear from your eyes and make everything new (Rev. 21:4-5). Never, never, never give up!

Why Everyone Should See the Shack

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Why everyone should see The Shack

I was asleep to the ocean of pain in my own life, and The Shack woke me up.  My traditional upbringing rarely equipped me with models that adequately handled the pain in a healing way. Consequently truths about God were impressed on me that left me uncertain about a God that seemed far more interested in right behavior than relationship and a deep connection with Him. I was trained in biblical academics at some of the finest institutions, but I doubted God’s goodness, and I had invisible walls between myself and God. The pain of my experience clouded my mind and most importantly my heart.

What do we do with our pain in the face of a God we have been told through traditions is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving but allows so much pain and feelings of injustice? These are the questions The Shack addresses through a fictional story designed to help us see and know a very real side of God and relationships that are so desperately needed in our pain.

When the book, The Shack, was released there was a buzz, often negative but also some positive about its story. Theologians, bloggers, and spiritual people all weighed in on its so-called “heresy and flaws.”  My wife, Lisa, hosted a book discussion and several women read and digested the book deeply. It was, as of today, the largest gathering she has hosted. Why? It wasn’t because they were riding a wave of “pop-culture-heresy,” but because The Shack touched and addressed some of the deepest and most profound questions about our spiritual lives. And it provides an imaginative, yet accurate, story of how to understand God and process our pain.

To understand The Shack we have to consider its genre and purpose. Although it might be fair to say the story leaves out and challenges some classically held views on God and His nature, what it does present is a corrective balance through a picture of real aspects of God that bring healing and hope. The Shack presents, through imaginative storytelling, the power of a God that loves deeply and knows everything – far beyond our limited and quite judgmental vantage points. It highlights God’s profound wisdom in the face of our so often rash and inept ways of handling evil and the ocean of pain it brings. The Shack demonstrates a God that enters into our pain, handles evil in a far bigger and more glorious way than we my dream, and brings the wisdom of His grace and forgiveness to our hearts. Rather than focusing on wrath and punishment, we see in The Shack a real side of God and his immeasurable wisdom. In The Shack we see a glimpse of God’s truth and gracious love woven into a fictional story to bring help, hope, and healing to our broken hearts.

In the recent release of the film, The Shack, it has yet again stirred up a buzz. I’ve read several blogs and articles condemning the film as “heresy,” yet many of these articles miss the main point. We are designed for relationship with God and each other – His image bearers. Our brokenness, pain, and limited perspective cloud our ability to trust Him and His vast and patient love. We know that God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience leads us to healing through repentance and forgiveness (Romans 2:4), and that the depths of His loving and wise ways are beyond our limited imaginations and responses to pain (Romans 11:33-36). The Shack helps us enter into a deeper spiritual world and divine perspective that better define wisdom and forgiveness.

To be sure The Shack doesn’t cover all the aspects of God’s nature, and due to its genre it mainly highlights element so often missing in our thoughts about God. Christians need to watch the film and read the book with open eyes to discern what is missing, but I believe to also receive the elements that it was intended to present. If we receive The Shack this way, we just might find the God that is really there, really does have answers, really does provide help, hope, and healing for the pain and evil in our hearts.

For these reasons and so many more, I think everyone should see The Shack.

Just in Time or Just in Case? How God will deliver for you.

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Your life is full of needs. Many of these needs are acute and time sensitive. Will God give me a new job before the money runs out? Will God provide healing for the health of me and my loved ones? Will God provide rescue from the brokenness of my relationships personally, professionally, and socially?

When will He provide? Why does He seem to wait?

I used to cry out to God and ask Him to give me everything I thought I’d ever needed so that “Just in Case” I would be protected and have the comfort of knowing that I was resourced for the troubles of life.  God did NOT answer these prayers.

Inside I knew that my prayers actually lacked faith. I wanted God to give to me resources above what I needed or in advance so that I would not have to trust Him when times were tough!

God most often does not provide in advance, nor by the way is He late!  God provides “Just in Time.”

“Just in Time” is a shipping and inventory phrase that describes a revolutionary way to resource production.  Rather than order tons of parts or supplies in advance, a company will estimate how many parts they need and order the parts in exacting quantities to arrive just when they need it.  This saves time and money because they do not need to have warehousing for extra inventory.  Rather than hold on to supplies “Just in Case’ they move to the more powerful “Just in Time” system.

I am convinced that God works on “Just in Time” shipping!  

Whatever is going on in your life God knows about it and He knows with exacting quantities what and when you need it!  God wants you to trust Him and in prayer and active waiting rely on His Just in Time provision for you!

He will deliver for you not “Just in Case” but “Just in Time”!  

They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:31 ESV)