Fear is not your friend

There’s a lot of fear going around the world today. This isn’t an exaggeration. Right now, the world is united in their fight against a virus that for 20% of the people who get it, can be devastating.

My wife speaks with people all around the world, teaching conversational English. The topic with every single person, whether in Japan, Saudi Arabia, or Brazil, is the same. There is fear. Probably rightfully so. After all, it is better safe than sorry. My kids’ school is cancelled for three weeks, and my church has done the same. People are going to the grocery stored and stocking up on their apocalypse supplies like it’s Y2K all over again. As my country has closed the border, it is like the country is singing as a choir, the David Bowie song that goes, “I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world.”

One of my favourite books is The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus. While speaking of fear, McManus writes,

“What we fear is what we’re subject to; our fears define our master. Where there is no fear, there is no control.”

Right now, who is our master?

Before you jump to conclusions, I am not talking about ignoring Health and Safety advice and running into the senior’s home because you have no fear, or walking into the home of an isolated individual. Fear and recklessness are different. The verse “no weapon formed against you shall stand” does not mean that you will never get sick, be hurt, or die, let alone what you might give to someone else.

Just because there is danger doesn’t mean we need to fear. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is speaking to his disciples about worrying when he says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-34

There are a lot of things you could worry about. However, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, life is but a vapour. Jesus came to show us that this life is merely the stepping stone into eternity. It is because of that we do not have to worry. After all, Jesus has come in perfect love, and as John tells us, perfect love drives out all fear.

When we open up our hearts to perfect love, we invite Jesus to be the master. Jesus drives out fear. Let’s confess our fear to Christ, allow him to squeeze it from our hearts, and choose to walk, not in fear but the life and hope of Christ. For we know that no matter what happens in this life, whether good or bad, that Jesus is still King, that his kingdom will come, that our present life isn’t all that there is, but there is an eternity ahead with the God of love.

It is because of this I can give that extra toilet paper roll away. It’s because of Jesus that I don’t have to be scared to go outside for a walk, while still being smart about my interaction with others. What it means is that even if I catch the virus, I can follow the steps, not getting all worked up, letting my mind going to the worst-case scenario. It means that we can hope and trust that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads by still waters, if not in this life, the next.

Be safe. Be smart. But do not live in fear.

Treating Symptoms; we forgot about the disease

The news, articles, blogs, reports, books diagnose symptoms. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Historical research has shown that humans have been content to treat behaviours and actions rather than the malady of the heart.

Whether it be pills or legislation, we think if we give people the upper and down or take away their tool or means of violence that we have solved the problem. We pat ourselves on the back for fewer suicides, murders, violent crime. Meanwhile, countries become national pharmacies and police states.

I’m not saying that treating symptoms is wrong. I hope we can all agree that fewer suicides are better, and if fewer automatic weapons lead to fewer mass shootings, then why not. However, don’t be confused; popping pills doesn’t cure the feelings of hopelessness and more police in rough neighbourhoods doesn’t cure the violence in human hearts. It delays, suppresses —which can be an excellent thing when it comes to human life.

It’s not that we should never treat symptoms; it is that we stop there. Like Dr. House trying to treat an unknown disease, we run from symptom to symptom, trying to make the patient healthy. The difference is Dr. House tries to find the disease underneath the symptoms, while we ignore the hard work of fixing broken lives.

In my book, Hidden Faces: Discovering our true identity in Christ, I begin by sharing about the lie from the serpent in Genesis 3. I write,

The serpent becomes the first advertiser.

Look more beautiful—Buy this.

Be stronger—Drink this.

Be envied—Wear this.

Be powerful—Eat this.

According to the serpent, Adam and Eve could finally find that fulfillment, all they had to do was have a little taste of the fruit, the fruit God had told them to refrain from eating. Genesis 3 tells us that Eve believed the serpent, ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and brought deadly consequences on us all.

What are these deadly consequences?

This deadly consequence is believing the lie. The lie that we aren’t who God says we are. That God’s lying to us—we aren’t very good—we aren’t made in the image of God. The lie is believing that somehow we can do something to fill up our life through our own devices to achieve this “very good” ideal that we seek.

We pick and prod at our faces.

We buy clothes we cannot afford.

We work hard to keep up appearances.

We strive for status and power.

We get rich or die trying.

We ignore broken homes and overworked parents. Turn a blind eye to materialism and vanity. The blatant disadvantages of the poor and the powerful people whose job it is to keep them there is the elephant in the room.

Maybe our hierarchy of needs says that we have to have these social constructs and possession to find basic fulfillment, and perhaps that’s right. However, so much of what consumes our life is an endless pursuit for meaning, fulfillment, and hope. Like the ancient Jewish wisdom literature says,

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

May I put this forward. Until we are willing to lay aside the perishable and put on the immortal—dare I say not seek fulfillment in the temporal things of this world and turn our gaze to the eternal Christ—we will not begin to find treatment for the disease.

Just as God deals with Adam and Eve’s shame, so Jesus comes to deal with ours. Adam and Eve’s shame is represented in their nakedness, but with the skin of an animal (Gen 3:21), representing the replacement of the perishable (fig leaves) with the imperishable (animal hide), it thus shows us that it’s only God who can deal with our shame.

For us, God does this through the work of His son, Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes, “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” Though we’re wrong to put on all the false identities and attempt with futility to cover our shame with our own merits, Jesus still comes to make us right.

Hidden Faces: Discovering our true identity in Christ

Let’s not be content with the pursuit of curing symptoms. Let’s look deep and try the cure the disease. Yes, let’s fix the apparent problems, but don’t ignore your soul. Look inside and be honest with yourself on why you do the things you do, what hole are you trying to fill, what are you trying to grasp? Today let’s strive to shed the imperishable and put on the immortal. Today, let’s put on Christ.

Hidden Faces — Are you defining yourself by possessions or Christ?

THE FOLLOWING IS A EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK HIDDEN FACES: DISCOVERING OUR TRUE IDENTITY IN CHRIST

If our base of who we are is the view of the Scriptures, we need to begin where it all started. I mean the very beginning: Genesis 1. It says that we were all made in the image of God: 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
So God created mankind in his own image, 
in the image of God he created them… 
male and female he created them.

I love the insight that John Sailhamer gives about this verse. He writes, “God’s command…is not an impersonal (third person) ‘Let there be,’ but rather the more personal (first person) ‘Let us make.’” If you read the whole of Genesis 1, you see the birds, trees, and unicorns (okay, it doesn’t say that one, but I’m still hoping they’re real) were all created with, as Sailhamer points out, “Let there be.” Adam and Eve’s creation, on the other hand, denotes something much more intimate. This passage reveals a personal God who does His creative works out of a community. Sailhamer continues, 

Whereas throughout the previous account the making of each creature is described as ‘according to its own kind,’ the account of humankind’s creation specifies that the man and the woman were made according to the likeness of God… The human likeness is not simply of himself and herself; they also share a likeness to their Creator.

God has sewn His divine image within us. As the Psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” God declared that this creation (that means you) is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We see in Genesis that this “very good” creation had a special relationship with God. 

We also see in Genesis that there was nothing that inhibited the relationship. Everyone was in right standing with each other. That’s when the enemy of God and humanity came to sew lies, attacking who we are. 

Genesis 3 records that the serpent came and put seeds of doubt in Eve’s head. The serpent begins to tell her that though God has told her that she’s “very good” and made in “their image,” the image of God, that she isn’t good enough. The serpent tells her that there is something else she needs. Something is missing.

The serpent is smart. The lie isn’t that we’re garbage, although often we often believe that. It’s much more subtle. The lie becomes that God’s holding out on them; that God didn’t give them everything that they need. Erwin McManus writes, “The serpent, of course, questions the truth of God’s story. He becomes a conflicting voice. He convinces the woman and the man that God isn’t telling them the whole story, that the voice of God isn’t the one who would guide them to life—that he is, in fact, holding out on them, keeping the best for himself.” 

The serpent becomes the first advertiser. 

Look more beautiful—Buy this. 

Be stronger—Drink this. 

Be envied—Wear this. 

Be powerful—Eat this.

According to the serpent, Adam and Eve could finally find that fulfillment, all they had to do was have a little taste of the fruit, the fruit God had told them to refrain from eating. Genesis 3 tells us that Eve believed the serpent, ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and brought deadly consequences on us all. 

What are these deadly consequences? 

This deadly consequence is believing the lie. The lie that we aren’t who God says we are. That God’s lying to us—we aren’t very good—we aren’t made in the image of God. The lie is believing that somehow we can do something to fill up our life through our own devices to achieve this “very good” ideal that we seek. 

We pick and prod at our faces.

We buy clothes we cannot afford.

We work hard to keep up appearances.

We strive for status and power.

We get rich or die trying. 

I believe that all the brokenness in the world stems from this one lie. I think that this lie is the root of it all. Whether we believe we’re worse than everyone else or better, this is the lie we believe; we’re not who God says we are. One of the first leaders in the church, the Apostle Paul wrote that the “wages of sin is death.” Paul was speaking of the whole fallout from our decisions, thoughts, actions, and words. 

The reason for the fallout? We‘ve rejected God’s truth and declared our own. When we believe we need something other than God’s love and grace, we begin to compensate emotionally, materially, and relationally. Instead of finding worth in the love of God that can never be lost and will never run out, we try and fill that void with perishable things. 

In the shadow of their choices, both Adam and Eve looked and saw they were naked. They tried to do what we all do, cover up what they now believe they are with perishable things. They tried to cover their shame and their guilt and their brokenness with fig leaves.

Just as Adam and Eve hid their brokenness with a fig leaf, something that will eventually decay, so we fill our lives, sometimes even unintentionally, with stuff. This stuff may be physical but often is emotional. The physical items are usually the compensation for our emotional depravity. It’s a longing to compensate in some way. There are times when this can be dangerous to both us and others. Whether it’s dangerous or not, it’s not healthy.

This compensation can be the most popular topic to talk about in church circles. Too often we side on moralism and doing the correct things. All the while we screech from our perch to not do bad things. Our moralism, in the meantime, turns a blind eye to our brokenness that manifests itself in more socially acceptable ways.

That’s the problem!

For most of us, what we try and cover our life with is what is deemed admirable, a  worthwhile pursuit, one might say even responsible. However, when we  allow our morality to define who we are, all we’re doing is trying to compensate for the brokenness we all have. These things should never form our identity, mainly because they’re all perishable. It’s only when we begin to cover ourselves with the imperishable that our identity begins to come into focus.

The Apostle Paul put it like this: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” The immortal/imperishable is what Adam and Eve forsook all because of a lie. Ever since we‘ve been trying to compensate for it.

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