Therefore, We Will Not Fear

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God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
–Psalm 46:1-3

Broken mirror, fear“Therefore, we will not fear…”

I don’t know why so many Christians today live in fear. But then again, I do know.

It is American to want to be in control. Our national psyche reflects maintaining what we have accumulated for ourselves. Protecting. Guaranteeing.

You see it on days that celebrate our soldiers, both those living and those dead. We console ourslves by saying they made the sacrifice to ensure freedom. The oddity in this is that ensuring freedom is also ensuring control.

It is also true that one man’s freedom is another man’s control, and nothing drives fear into our hearts more than to see our control give way to what another man considers his freedom.

And then the mountains begin to move, and both men realize that control is an illusion. And now both fear.

I don’t know when Christians in America began to fear so much, but I think the postmillennialistic triumphalism that was the hallmark of the American Church of the 19th century was disabused by the events of World War I. That the world could descend into such madness despite all our positive work to better ourselves! We lost control and failed most inhumanly. I think that nothing has been the same for us as a Church ever since.

Here’s the thing: Christians, more than anyone, should be sober people. We understand the nature of fallen men. We understand evil. We have a Gospel that tells us that we were incapable of controlling ourselves in a way that could save us. Only God in Christ had that level of control. Our salvation, even though He looked like us, came from outside of us. We could not save ourselves. We are not in control.

There is something about the American Church of the last 50-60 years that has been loathe to admit that we are not in control, even though we should understand this better than others. The Culture Wars we waged were always more about maintaining control than they were about actual sin.

Even today, as we see God’s symbol of the rainbow co-opted by those who rail against Him, their victories portrayed as our supposed losses, we are as fearful about what this loss of control means as we are about the sin that fuels it.

Into this, God speaks to the Christian soul and reminds us that even moving mountains should not be a cause for fear. His perfect love casts out all fear. He reminds us that fear is, indeed, the opposite of love.

Christian, never fear.

I can tell you that with words, but what is true is that drawing closer to God is they only way to live without fear. Draw close and trust. God is never surprised, and He is in control. Only He remains unmoveable, and when we abide in Him, we are as well.

The Communion of Apprentice Jugglers

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Over the course of 34 years on the Internet (that’s no typo, either), I’ve acquired a set of Internet friends, people with whom I’ve interacted regularly but I’ve also never met in person. It’s a phenomenon of our age.

A common thread among those folks is their contrarian natures. They don’t think like the crowd. They plunge deeper than others into deep topics. They ask harder questions. They don’t settle for simple. By being  this way, they rankle the complacent. As a result, the majority of them have struggled to fit in, whether in their local church or in what we consider “normal” life. Their work lives are almost always more challenging than the norm, and almost all have fought for years to find a place that suits their differentness.

The Apprentice Juggler, from _Tales of the Kingdom_ by David and Karen Mains, illustration by Jack StockmanMany years ago, I was asked to read a children’s book, Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains, as part of a job I had taken working with children. The book consists of a series of vignettes in the life of a young teen who flees a dystopian city of fire to find refuge among a rebel group living in the forest outside the city’s gates. Along the way, he meets a series of unusual people who are preparing for a great feast.

Based on The Story, Tales of the Kingdom is filled with biblical allusions and continues the tradition of Christian books such as Pilgrim’s Progress. My task was not only to read the book, but to find myself in it. Not surprisingly, I identified with the apprentice juggler.

Part of a troupe that entertained the king in the forest kingdom, the apprentice juggler hid a secret: his inner juggling count was off. He would throw at the wrong time. Tense catches didn’t happen according to expectations. When he performed the way that felt natural to him, his act teetered on disaster because it wasn’t smooth and didn’t conform to the standards of the troupe.

As a result, the apprentice juggler fell into despair and exhaustion at trying to hide his “broken” inner count and to please others.

In a performance before the king one day, fighting to act like his fellow performers, the apprentice juggler succumbed to his off-ness. Instead of jeering, though, both the king and the troupe master recognized him for having an unusual and rare gift as a clown juggler. He indeed lost his place within the troupe, but he took on another, more specialized role, one only he could fill.

At the time, I figured I was one of the few on staff who identified with the apprentice juggler. At almost 30 years later, I now understand that most people will see themselves in him. We all have our ways in which we fight to appear normal. We all have an inner count that’s offbeat, even if only by a fraction.

For some people, though, that unusual inner count comes by them naturally and defines them.  The square peg in the round hole, no matter where they are or what they do, their lives–in thought, emotion, and soul–are not like the crowd. And despite the truth that all of us have a count that doesn’t perfectly conform, for these folks the difference is all the more glaring, especially when they are on the stage of life, beanbags in hand, ready to throw.

But it is one thing to be the contrarian in the human. Being one in spirit is quite another.

In the story, the king recognized the distinctiveness of the apprentice juggler’s inner count. He could because he does not conform either.

Jesus Christ came to us with an inner count we could not recognize in any way. It manifested in a manner we could not comprehend. For this, and for how He made us feel about our own inner count, we nailed Him to a cross. Even the apprentice jugglers of that age, who had waved palms at his arrival, stood among the crowd later that same week and demanded death.

The way of Christ means taking on His inner count. Not simply by being a contrarian in natural practice or thought, but in the way we engage Christ’s life and manifest it in our spirits. To be one with this King–and to be for His Kingdom–our inner spiritual count must be at odds with the world. By necessity. To try to be normal by the standards of the world is to concede. To force the traditional inner count of the rest of the jugglers is to deny the King.

Some of us are apprentice jugglers by the very nature of who God made us. In truth, though, His remaking us by His Spirit should always lead to an inner count that causes tension in the complacent, joy in those expecting the unexpected, and peace for all who struggle to find what is true and who long to see it reign. For this reason grace exists, that we can walk in that Kingdom count without fear, to be the men and women Christ is making us, without a care as to what the world thinks or what it might costs us to be like Him in His inner count.

Some apprentice jugglers are born, but all who desire to be in the Kingdom must be born again to experience the natural rhythm of living in Christ. In this, we all must be apprentice jugglers in the Spirit.

Free to Be the Person God Is Making Us

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A woman known to be her town’s “crazy cat lady” walks into the local pet store and makes a request of the owner.

“You want to buy a bird?” the man asked, shocked. “You have a lot of cats.”

“I know,” said the woman, “but the variety would be nice. A songbird, with a melody in its heart and lovely plumage. I really want a bird.”

“Birds fly. They don’t use a litter box. No ‘nine lives’ with a bird,” the pet shop owner shot back. “They demand attention.”

“Yes, yes,” the woman replied, “I know all that. A bird, please. How about that lovely yellow one.”

“The canary.” The owner gave a baleful look toward the bird on its perch nearby. He really liked that bird.

“It sings, right?”

The owner paused a moment, then he nodded.

A cage later and a few supplies, and the woman left with her bird.

Six weeks later, the woman was back in the store. And the owner could tell something was wrong. When he saw her pull out a paper bag and heard a faint peep, his heart sank.

The woman upended the bag on the pet shop counter and something yellow slid out.

The canary lay there, dazed. Two rubber bands wrapped around its wings and its barely there belly. Feathers were frayed and missing, and the pet shop owner noticed remnants of what might be masking tape on its beak. The bird had a distinct eye twitch and wheeze.

“Heavens!” the man cried. “What happened?”

“Well, for one,” the woman began, “it likes to sing at the crack of dawn and I’m not an early riser, so I had to deal with that. Then I let it out of the cage to exercise, and it got caught in the flypaper, so no more flying.”

She pointed to the rubber bands.

“It’s a terrible mouser and turns up its beak at my tuna,” she added. “Snotty little thing…as if the tuna I give my kitties is not good enough for it. A terrible playmate for them too.”

The pet shop owner could only stare, eyes traveling from the bedraggled bird to the woman.

“In summation, sir, I want my money back, because this is clearly not a cat.”

***

Free to BeI think it is the scourge of our times that no one is grateful for what he or she has. This extends to how we are perceived by other people, sadly, as it seems also that no one is satisfied with us as we are either.

A spouse who now isn’t good-looking enough or as fit as society demands.

A worker who works differently or doesn’t fit within the culture.

A child with unusual skills or ideas that aren’t like ours.

A church member with a few character flaws and one of those “out there” spiritual gifts.

The truth is, everyone wants us to be something–or someone–else. Too many people have a personal ideal in their heads they want to apply universally, standards and restrictions that while reasonable for them might be totally unreasonable when applied to someone else. The world wants a cat, and yet you and I may be birds.

In short, many of us are forced into being someone we’re not.

Where this proves heartbreaking is when a Christian is not good enough for his or her church.

Every church has some legalistic conformity lurking within it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Calvinist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Evangelical Free, or whatever. Somewhere in your church is this idea that whomever it is that God has made you, that person you are is not good enough, not right enough, not conformed enough, or not gifted enough. You simply are not the person you should be.

And the only way to get out of that inadequacy is to ___________.

Now you can fill that blank with countless legalistic demands, but the fact remains: None of that is of God.

I can say that with some confidence because this is how God sees you (as written by the Apostle Paul):

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
–Philippians 1:6

If you are a born-again Christian, who began the work of making you to be the best you? God.

Who is currently doing that work in you? God.

Who is responsible for the timing of that work in your life? God.

So who on earth can say that the you you are right now is inadequate, not right, broken, unmanageable, incapable, lacking, ungifted, gifted wrongly, or any of a million other accusatory statements?

No one.

Actually, I’m wrong about that. There is one entity whose sole role is to go around telling you and me all those terrible things. Care to guess who? Hint: Think an entity Jesus vanquished utterly.

Tragically, people aren’t supposed to usurp the job of Satan, yet we do it all the time.

Now we would have to be optimistic fools to think that the world isn’t going to play accuser. The world’s in the grip of Satan.

But what excuses Christians to denigrate another Christian? When we act that way, aren’t we saying to God that He isn’t working so-and-so’s sanctification the right way? Aren’t we putting God on our timetable for His work in another’s life? Aren’t we simultaneously playing the role of both God and Satan? How totally messed up is that?

Folks, there’s wisdom in saying that God is working His way His way in the lives of every Christian on this planet. Sometimes we can help bolster that work when God asks us to, and sometimes He may ask us to be the voice of Truth in another’s life, but more often than not we give too much power to our efforts to remake people in our own image and not allow God the right to better them as He sees fit and in His timetable. We look at Philippians 1:6 and just blow it off, because deep down inside, we don’t believe it. We think we know better.

And that’s the oldest mistake in the Book.