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.  

 

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.

Resting in God Alone

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Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  (Psa 62:1 NIV)

Does my soul find rest?

If you’re anything like me these words have always sounded nice, but what does this actually look like? The picture David gives is one of finding rest in a unique place of safety, a “rock” or “fortress.” In Israel these kinds of places can be found on mountain tops, caves, and high rock formations. The problem is that in order to use these safe-houses you have to go up. The picture is going up to God spiritually and resting in Him alone, just the way one would go up to the fortress and stay there for safety from their enemies.

In all honesty, our biggest problem is that we do not go up, rather we stay down.  We stay down in all sorts of ways.  It is easier that way, but it really isn’t safe and it certainly doesn’t offer us any added security.  In order to have a soul that waits or finds rest in God we have to go to God, alone.  Staying down and trying to fight our battles alone simply will not do.  We often try to find help not in God alone but in something else, or we try to add a bit of God at the ground level or on the side.  We must leave behind our own sources of help and go to God alone.   Spiritually we need to go up to God and enter into His presence and wait.

The key is that in Christ we actually have access to God’s throne 24/7 but we must spiritually avail ourselves to Him.  We must spiritually enter God’s presence and allow Him to be our rock and fortress.  My desire is that we would hear the hope offered to us in Ps. 62 and respond by going up to God.