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.

Your Best Purpose Now?

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Who are you? Do you believe you were created for a purpose or was it all just chance? This week on Let My People Think, Ravi Zacharias looks at how we were created for significance and what our purpose really is…

Ravi Zacharias is one of the few contemporary radio preachers I still listen to, primarily by podcast. We need more like him.

Work and life in a cubicleStill, in my listening to his two-part series recently rerun, I feel even philosopher/ apologist Zacharias seems ill-equipped to explain purpose amid our societal/cultural norms. The “how to live out that purpose practically” eludes even him. (Perhaps it’s because the talk was from 1992. I wonder how Zacharaias might speak about purpose in a more digital age.)

Purpose in life is an issue that I think bubbles under the surface of everyone’s thoughts, yet it is a question the contemporary Church in America fumbles.

Here’s what I see:

  • By reflex, many Christians will state their purpose in life is to glorify God in everything they do, but then they wonder why it is that what they do seems so insignificant and self-serving.
  • Many Christians struggle to make any sense of their own mission within the Church when they compare it against their actual day-to-day living.
  • Many Christians have been taught that God has a perfect purpose for their lives, what He created them to do that comprises part of “the abundant life,” yet this purpose eludes them, which means the abundant life does also.
  • That disconnect causes many to reason that if the life they have now reflects God’s purposes for them perfectly, it casts doubt on how faithful God has been to bring them into that promised life of fulfilling purpose. This leads to much of our modern angst in the Church.

Let’s be honest here. It’s hard to believe that assembling widgets on a factory line, going home exhausted after 10 hours, rushing perpetually here to there, and always having some expectation on you that you can’t fulfill is in any way reflecting the love of God for you through meaningful purpose.

Nothing saddens me more than to hear Christian leaders not only concede to this kind of industrial-revolution-inspired life but actually laud it. Doing so renders terms such as underemployed meaningless. I believe depression is rampant for the very reason that people are not finding any purpose to their lives. They labor, they consume, and then they die, having contributed little to the world.

How is it that the Church here concedes to that kind of drudge life and often holds it in high regard? Why are Christian thinkers and leaders not FIGHTING against the thinking, the systems, that create purposelessness?

Strangely, instead of working to change the way the system works, all we can do is point out that it’s broken. Then we teach some anemic coping mechanisms that we hope will work, at least until the next Sunday, when we will offer different, “better” ones. But we deceive ourselves, because men and women cannot keep adding tricks to deal with a purposelessness that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Does a person doused in gasoline and set ablaze want to receive either spiritual or secular suggestions on how to cope with being on fire? No, they need the flames extinguished, folllowed by emergency medical care. Yet most people are being burned by expectations and sociocultural conceptions of what their purpose should be. Who is calling out and saying that this experiment has failed? Shouldn’t that be the Church? Shouldn’t we be actively extinguishing false ways of living that create purposelessness and tending to the needs of those burned by the system?

The Church today in the West seems incapable of taking on systems of any kind. We simply are not up for that battle. But we should be. Instead, we tend to settle and make peace. Perhaps we, as a whole, have forgotten our purpose.

Can we at least start small? Just as each person in a church has God-given spiritual gifts that church leaders should be partnering to identify, I believe that each of us has not only a general purpose in life but a specific one. We used to name that a “calling.” If a person’s spiritual gifts are given by God to encourage and strengthn the Body, is not that person’s calling in line with those gifts? And is not the Holy Spirit able to help others to help us discover what God would have for us post-conversion?

I believe life in 2015 needs an infusion of purpose. If God has a wonderful plan for our lives, are we really living that way? Or are we lost at sea, hoping to crash on the shore of some future island oasis that seems so very far away?

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.