Tag Archives: fear

Will we still fear the “giants in the land”?

There are moments when I read a passage of Scripture and think, “how can this possibly apply to the real world?” Sometimes Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek,” his call to “release the captives,” or the Torah’s system of forgiving all debt feel like impossible dreams that couldn’t work in modern society. Other parts, like Jonah being swallowed by a fish, Balaam’s donkey speaking to him, all the water in Egypt turning to blood, or Paul reviving a man who fell out of a building push my understanding of how the world works, and feel more like the stuff of legend than history.

Then sometimes I read a passage of our story and it screams at me with its authenticity and timeliness. Numbers 13-14 is one of those stories that feels incredible because of how credible it is.

The people have fled Egypt. They have traveled through the wilderness. They have received the Law of God and are now on the brink of the Promised Land. Promises made to Abram 500 years ago are about to be fulfilled. They have lived through a series of signs that defy understanding. They have witnessed the destruction of the greatest army in the world. They have journeyed through a difficult terrain. Now on the borders of Canaan, they send out scouts into the land.

The report is mixed. The land is everything that had been promised. It is fertile—flowing with milk and honey. But it is occupied. There are people there, and they are strong. They have cities and fortifications. Occupying this land is not going to be easy. They have been through so much together and now they stand on the precipice of something new, and they are fearful.

There is no question that the task in front of them was daunting, but they brought back with them fruit of the land. A couple of the scouts reported that they should move into the Land despite the obstacles, knowing that God would be with them. Think, after all, of all they had seen God do for them up to this point. Caleb and Joshua believed that with God on their side, they would be able to move into Canaan, even with the difficulty that lie in front of them. And then the story gets real. Like, uncomfortably, unnervingly timely:

“But the men who went up with him said, “We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we.” 32 They started a rumor about the land that they had explored, telling the Israelites, “The land that we crossed over to explore is a land that devours its residents. All the people we saw in it are huge men. 33 We saw there the Nephilim … We saw ourselves as grasshoppers, and that’s how we appeared to them.”

They ignore the evidence (the fruit in their hands). They make up rumors. They say they saw Nephilim (a legendary people with an obscure reference in Genesis that talks of a race of giants who were related to angels. The stories of the Nephilim were much like ancient Greek stories of the cyclops or centaurs. They were a legend that most understood as fiction, but were still a source of cultural fear).

Instead of trusting the evidence—the land is fruitful, not terrible. Instead of trusting God who had delivered them already, the people were gripped by the fear of lies and rumor. Then this is the part that feels truly familiar. They decide they want to go back to Egypt.

Progress is scary. The unknown future of a new land and a changing people was too much for them to face, so they decided that they would rather go back to a simpler time. Nevermind that in that time they were slaves. Nevermind the struggle that they have overcome thus far. Nevermind the promise of God to lead them to a better place. The fear was too much and the people wanted to go back.

And here we stand. We have been through so much as a people. We have overcome. We have seen God do great things. We have been through the wilderness and have experienced God’s provision through the difficult times. There is still much to overcome. The future has real obstacles. We have real difficulties in front of us. Are we going to fall prey to a toxic sense of nostalgia? Are we going to listen to the rumors that destabilize our society? Are we going to believe the lies that there are “giants in the land?” Are we going to fear the boogeymen and regress back to Egypt? Are we going to submit ourselves to slavery again?

Or will we trust in God? God showed great signs and wonders and overcame Pharaoh. God delivered the  people from slavery and brought them to the brink of the Promise. Will we trust in the promise of God or the lies of the fearful? We face a turning point as a people.  Where will we place our trust?

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Five Reasons I celebrate Halloween

trick or treat jesus

Jesus doesn’t want pencils or Smarties either.

1. It is fun. Candy. Decorations. Costumes. What’s not to love? Why do we search for eggs on Easter?  Why do we watch fireworks on the Fourth of July? Why do we hang stockings on Christmas? It’s fun. Yes, there are pagan roots behind a lot of these traditions. That doesn’t make them evil. Halloween is a day to celebrate with friends, family, and neighbors. Kids love to play pretend.  They love to dress up as superheroes, cartoon characters, magical creatures, and yes – even monsters. Today I picked up my daughter from school, and you know what I saw?  Elsas. So many Elsas. And storm troopers, clowns, ninjas, jesters, Harry Potters, minecraft guys, princesses, and batmen. More than this though, I saw smiles. I saw kids running and playing and laughing.  I saw Dads holding little hands, asking “did you have fun?” and an exuberant, “Yes” in response. I saw teachers giving hugs and kids sharing candy. Halloween is fun, and in a world that is full of plenty of real-life monsters, a little bit of fun is a good thing.

2. It builds community. On my block, Halloween is a great community building experience. All the families come out and enjoy the evening together. We bring food. We have bonfires. The kids play, the adults talk. We get to know each other. The neighborhood I live in now is the first place I’ve lived since where I grew up that I know the names of everyone on my block. A big reason for that is that the neighborhood embraces Halloween.

Secret Reason #6 - Strangely warmed pumpkins. I carved this bad boy by hand at youth group.

Secret Reason #6 – Strangely warmed pumpkins. I carved this bad boy by hand at youth group.

3. It is a chance to mock death and evil, not celebrate it. OK, so now I’ll get a little deeper. At every graveside service I have ever officiated, I have read these words, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, o death, is your victory? Where, o death, is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I could make the argument that Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is an important Christian holiday. It comes on the eve of winter, when death is impending. Yet it is only through this death that we have a harvest. It is “when a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Death is something that is universally feared. Halloween is a chance to look straight into that death and laugh. It is on the brink of death, just as we enter the valley, that we can stand in the assurance that we shall fear no evil.

4. Reverse Trick or Treating. Halloween is a chance to raise awareness about fair trade chocolate. If you want to be upset about Halloween, then be upset about the part of it that really matters. Get upset that it is the most popular season for buying chocolate, and that most of the chocolate bought on Halloween is made by child slaves. I’ve written a lot about Fair Trade Chocolate. Every Halloween, I try to use it as a chance to teach people about the value of fair trade chocolate. We glue little chocolates from Equal Exchange to postcards explaining some bullet-points about the chocolate market, and hand them out to people as we go trick or treating. It is a small thing, but it is a way to connect a fun event to a real issue. and hopefully, some people learn something along the way.

Download this and use it as a quarter of a piece of paper. Print it on card stock, glue a piece of Equal Exchange candy to it, and you are ready to spread some justice this Halloween. Put some stuff about your church on the other side, and you're doing evangelism too.

Download this and use it as a quarter of a piece of paper. Print it on card stock, glue a piece of Equal Exchange candy to it, and you are ready to spread some justice this Halloween. Put some stuff about your church on the other side, and you’re doing evangelism too.

5. Jesus said, “Lighten up.” Ok, so he might not have said that, but stay with me for a second. In the Old Testament, God and the prophets tells the people over and over again to “fear the Lord.” Most modern readers of these texts bristle at the idea of a fearful God. They, and I count myself among them, remind people that biblical fear is more about reverence. “Revere and respect the Lord,” is fine translation.  Now, jump ahead to Jesus, who went around saying “fear not” or “don’t be afraid,” a lot.  If we look at the OT understanding of fear as reverence, is it possible that Jesus was saying, “Be irreverent.” In other words, “lighten up,” or “have a sense of humor.” So, maybe this is a stretch. I don’t have time to do the proper word study, but I do believe that Jesus appreciated life. He wants us to have it abundantly, and sometimes that means having a great time with friends, family, and even strangers.  So, Happy Halloween everybody.

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When I stopped teaching my daughter to fear

spider meme

I’ve killed my fair share of spiders.  I’ve never been one to consciously support stereotypical gender roles, but I fell easily into the role of family spider-getter.  There is a little kind of spider that seems to thrive in our bathroom.  They appear on a pretty regular basis.  With  legspan about the size of a nickel, they are harmless little creatures.  This week, something pretty amazing happened.

“Daddy!” my six-year-old daughter screamed.  “Come quick. There’s a spider.”

At hearing such a cry, most Dads would grab a magazine or tissue.  Instead, I wished I could remember where I had put my magnifying glass.

“It’s so cool,” she said, as she sat and watched it crawl along the wall and spin its web. Mesmerized by the work.

Not too long ago, this scenario would have played out much differently.  When my daughter was much littler, she had no particular fear of spiders, but by the time she was four or five, she was terrified.  Given where our spiders like to hang out, this posed a problem at some very inopportune times.

“Daddy!” She would scream. “I have to go to the bathroom!”  Long potty-trained, I wasn’t sure why she was screaming this at me with such ferocity.  “So?” I would ask.

“There’s a spider in here!”  So I would go in, armed with a tissue, and “take care” of the problem.  I would explain, “These spiders are harmless.  They won’t hurt you.  There’s no reason to be afraid,” as I squashed the little guy into oblivion.

Then I realized something.  My actions and my words were incongruous.  My words were saying, “Fear not.”  But my actions were saying, “This spider must die!”  She heard my actions much louder than my words.  By killing the spider every time I saw one, I was reinforcing the idea that the spider must be eradicated.  It must be feared.  So I did something strange.  I stopped killing them.

“Daddy!” she would scream, “There’s a spider.”  So I would go in, and explain to her that there was nothing to fear.  “That little guy is harmless, I would say.  He eats mosquitoes, which are annoying.  I’m not going hurt him, because he’s not hurting us.”  She was not happy with my decision, but eventually the power of nature’s call would overcome her fear.  As she did what she had to do, she wouldn’t take her eye off the little spider. 

This scenario repeated itself several times over the course of a few months.  Eventually the fear was gone, and it was replaced with curiosity.  Until one day she found herself excited to see a spider.  Well, maybe not excited, but at least intrigued.

Yes, this is a story about my daughter and spiders, but I feel like it is so much more.  Too often, when confronted with something different, our default reaction is fear.  What if, instead of fear, we respond with time, care, and compassion.  When curiosity or empathy replaces fear, maybe there is room for something more, like learning, relationship, and friendship.

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I’m scared

The music pounded out a beat.  The nine-piece band and two singers were really letting it go.  They sang of God’s goodness.  They sang of God’s providence, of God’s peace and God’s justice.  I stood there and allowed the music to envelope me.  I swayed a little, closed my eyes and prayed.  I tried to sing the words, but my voice faltered.  I gathered myself, tried to sing again, but nothing would come.

Tears came instead.  The music continued, and I could feel a great weight being lifted off of me.  I could feel myself letting go of so much tension.  Now the tears were flowing freely.  Still no words to sing, only a voice crying out, drowned out by the music and the singing – “I’m scared.”

A simple, two-word prayer.  Again, I cried, “I’m so scared.”  Now a three-word prayer, it was the limit of my ability to articulate what I was thinking and feeling. I reached over to grab my wife’s hand.  I squeezed it, held her close and said to her, “I’m so scared.”

It was a lamentation.  All I could do was cry out to God in lamentation.  I know God is with me.  I know that God is good.  I know that I can do all things through Christ.  I know that nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Yet in that moment the Holy Spirit was able to break into my heart and allowed me to simply lament.  Does it mean that I have any less faith?  I don’t think so.  It was a powerful and incredibly healing moment.

We’ll be spending most of our time in the capital city of Monrovia, building a school in the West Point section; and Ganta.

I’m scared.  I’m excited too, but in that moment all I could do was cry, “I’m scared.”  I’m scared of going to Liberia for two weeks.  I’m scared of 13 hours in a seat not designed for Fat Pastors.  I’m scared of leaving my girls.  I’m scared of missing their bedtime story.  I’m scared of missing their kisses.  I’m scared of mosquitoes and infected water.  I’m scared of sweltering heat.  I’m scared of fugitives and the desparately poor and the contagiously sick.  I’m scared of stories of evil and brutality for which my heart is not prepared.

I’m scared of moving to Moline a week after I get back from Liberia.  I’m scared of packing up all our junk.  I’m scared of getting it all done in time.  I’m scared of leaving Chenoa, my church, my friends.  I’m scared of leaving behind all that we have built.  I’m scared for ministries that might lose momentum.  I’m scared of not preaching every week.  I’m scared of not knowing every single person I worship with on Sunday.  I’m scared of getting lost – not just in a new city, but in the biggest church I’ve ever worked. I’m scared of starting from scratch.  Despite this fear, I believe.

I believe I’m going to have an amazing trip.  I believe I’m going to be transformed in ways I cannot even anticipate.  I believe I will hear stories of hope and redemption that will fill my heart with joy.  I believe I am going to build relationship with people that will last a lifetime.  I believe that when I get back to Chenoa we will pack up all our stuff on time. I believe that the church in Chenoa will go on strong without me.  I believe that the leadership will not lose sight of their mission.  I believe that there are tremendous people, opportunities and resources in Moline that will allign well with my talents and passion.  I believe that together we will do great work for Kingdom of God.  I believe these things, and yet I’m scared.

I sit here and feel both strong and scared at the same time. It is okay for me to be both excited and terrified.  It is right, and a good and joyful thing for me to wipe away tears one moment, and then smile wide the next.  I’m excited.  It doesn’t make me love my family or the people of Chenoa any less.  I’m sad.  That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy Liberia or Moline.

I’m scared.  It doesn’t make me any less of a  man.  It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God.  It doesn’t make me a worse pastor.  It just means that I’m human.  I’m scared, but I move on.  I move on with my family.  I move on with God.  I move on straight into my fear, and that is all that matters.

If you would like to donate to my trip to Liberia, all the money I collect between now and Saturday will be taken as cash and given DIRECTLY to churches and hosts.  Please click here to be taken to the donation page.


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