Faith and Fear

faith and fearI’ve been going through a particularly stressful situation lately and I’ve felt my blood pressure rising with my anxiety. In the midst of it all, I’ve been intentional about carving out time to seek the wisdom of God and to meditate and pray.

The other day, while I was driving, I remembered a verse that had struck me which I had memorized while our church was going through a study of the book of 1st John in the Bible. The verse is 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” It was as if that verse had just been implanted in my brain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Within just a few short hours, I encountered two additional references to that very same verse, one in a phone conversation with a friend and church member whose small group had discussed the verse during their study the night before, the other from a friend on social media who mentioned that Bono, the lead singer for the band U2, had quoted it during the band’s concert in Paris the night before.

As I went throughout the day, continuing rolling the words of the verse over in my head, I made it part of my prayer and I eventually encountered it again as my brother-in-law shared it on social media as well.

Now, I have a tendency to be stubborn and sometimes thick headed, but not so much so that I would miss a message that was being given to me over and over again, especially all within the same day. I felt like there was a reason why that verse had come to my mind and that was just confirmed when it was mentioned no less than three more times as I went through the day.

When we come to decisions, situations, or crises in our lives, we have a choice in our decision making. We can either choose to be led by faith or led by fear. That was the truth that seemed to strike me between the eyes as I pondered and meditated on that verse the other day.

As I thought more about it, I thought that the leap from faith to fear doesn’t seem to be so large. Somehow, it seems so much easier for me to make that leap, almost effortless. On the other hand, the leap from fear to faith can sometimes feel like a leap from the earth to the moon, it feels like it’s the longest distance that I’ve ever traversed in my life.

But God…

That’s a phrase that we see in the Bible repeated numerous times, and I think it applies here. We often may find ourselves leaping from faith to fear and needing to find our way back to faith again, but God reminds us that he is love, he is not fear. While there is a way for us to think about God in a fearful way, that is more of a reverential approach rather than a trembling and cowering approach, especially when we’re being obedient to him.

There is no fear in love because perfect love casts our fear. People use fear to punish, to control, to manipulate, and to push. Fear has nothing to do with God and those of us who use fear as a means for getting our way as well as those of us who embrace fear as a way of life need to find ways to make that leap back to faith.

Over and over again, as I’ve been ruminating on this verse, I’ve realized how easily I can fall into the fear-filled trap rather than living in the faith-filled moments. God calls us to live lives full of faith, it’s the essence of who we are as we follow Christ. We are not called to be led by fear.

In the midst of a world that has a lot of scary things, it doesn’t mean that we don’t concern ourselves with those things, it just means that we still trust that our faith isn’t in those things and the people behind those things, our faith is in the One who is the very definition of love, perfect love. We do not fear because HE is with us. We pray, we fight, we move, we stumble, but our faith is not based on any of the things that WE control.

As we journey through a fear-filled world, may we find hope, peace, joy, and perfect love for the journey.


2015-09-21 12.20.48We’re in the thick of Fall birthday season at my house. With the exception of me, the other four immediate members of my family have birthdays within a three and a half week time span. It makes for a fairly harried Fall season when you also factor in back to school, Fall activities, and church activities.

Of course, when you have multiple children, you begin to learn some lessons the first and second time around so that by the time you get to the third time, you’ve stockpiled some tips and wisdom, enough to help you through.

My wife and I learned after the first two kids that pre-school birthday parties can easily be described as “herding cats.” If there’s ever a time for someone to spike the punch bowl, it’s probably the one that the parents are drinking from at a pre-school birthday party.

To be honest, my wife is the one who drives this train, I’m just along for the ride. That’s mostly because she knows what she’s doing, or at least gives the illusion that she does. She finds ways to make things simpler and I simply stand in awe of how she manages to pull all of these ideas together to actually make birthday parties…..dare I say…!?

We celebrated my daughter’s birthday party the other day and my wife had the brilliant idea of having it at the playground in our neighborhood right after pre-school. We ordered some pizzas, she made cupcakes, we prayed that the rain would hold off just long enough, and then we jumped in.

Early in the party, my daughter and her friends (there were only four others, because we’re just a little crazy, not stupid) decided that they wanted to play on the monkey bars.

Now, we’ve already endured one cast on a broken arm for our middle child and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to endure my little princess/drama queen with a cast. So, I ran over to the monkey bars to help my daughter across.

As I grabbed her legs and let her grab onto the bars above, she said to her friends, “Look! My daddy won’t let me go, he’ll hold on to me!”

I stopped in my tracks for a second as I thought about that for a moment…..

What incredible trust!

She had full confidence that I wouldn’t let her go, that I wouldn’t drop her.

At that moment, I kind of panicked and thought to myself, “That’s an awful lot of pressure to endure.” But I kept holding on and avoided any disaster. One of her friends even trusted me enough to let me do the same for him.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 when he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I stopped in my tracks because I wondered how recklessly I trusted my Father. I wondered how often I had put myself so fully and wholly into his hands and trusted that he had me. I wondered how childlike I was and had been in my faith and trust.

What a lesson for me, to be trusted and to learn to trust. I don’t think I’ll ever look at monkey bars the same way again!

Cheaters Never Win?

patriots deflated ballsThere are two things in my life that I’ve really never been able to stomach very well: bullies and cheaters.

I was a bigger kid when I was younger, so I didn’t get bullied around very much, but I bore witness to bullying here and there. I was generally the kid who would befriend the kid who was being bullied. I just never liked to see kids who were a little different get bullied by other kids. Occasionally, I was made fun of for something or other like my clothes or my hair or my ears. I just tried to never let it get to me.

As far removed as I am from my childhood, it hasn’t changed my view of bullies. In fact, I think God’s taught me an awful lot about the need to find out the back story of someone before I really think I can understand why they are as they are and why they do what they do.

Cheaters are a different story and before I come across sounding “holier than thou” let me say that I am not without sin in this case. Although I can only count the times on one hand, there have been times when I have cheated. So, my frustration with cheaters could be a frustration at myself for those times.

But the cheating that I am talking about now pertains to sports.

In light of the recent allegations and investigations into the New England Patriots, I’m feeling incredibly conflicted. As a New England boy, I’ve rooted for the Patriots for a number of years. I haven’t been a fair-weather fan, liking them only when they play well. So, it troubles me greatly that their success might be attributed in any way at all with cheating.

Let’s face it, when you rise above others, you will have haters. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong. You may be doing everything above board and be completely above reproach and still garner your fair share of haters, but that knowledge should drive you to operate even more in zone of “above reproach.”

More and more news will be shared in the days to come about what the finding of the NFL investigation into the Patriots’ deflated balls in this past Sunday’s 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. But it’s frustrating to think that a team that you root for, YOUR team broke the rules.

No, it’s nothing new. During baseball season the headlines will inevitably break to another player using illegal substances to their advantage. Even in the world of NASCAR, there are stories of alterations to cars to make them more aerodynamically efficient in order to win. When it comes to sports, it seems that the rules were meant to be stretched, at best, and broken, at worst.

But why? Why has this become the norm?

Yes, we talk about cheating in sports here, but it extends so much further than this. When President Obama was elected and the names of his potential cabinet members were made public, conservatives everywhere were crying “foul” because of the numbers of them who had not paid taxes in years. Of course, what would have happened had those same conservatives been questioned about their own taxes.

It’s a frustrating world when everywhere you look you see cheaters. Sports. Politics. Education. Everywhere.

But we need to live differently. We need to be different. We need to be the exception to the rule. We need to live above reproach. We need to do our best to not all into the flow of the stream.

All of this news of deflated balls sours my mood towards the Super Bowl. How do I root for a team that breaks the rules? Can I, in good conscience, still root for them? Like any other kind of cheating, there’s a breach of trust that takes place. No matter how far you come from an incident, there will always be that doubt in the back of your mind that says, “They’ve done it before, are they doing it again?”

I’ve got to spend some time thinking and doing some soul-searching about this. No one’s perfect, no one is immune to the temptations of this world. But giving in to those temptations is another story all together. Right now, I can only change myself and I need to make sure that I don’t cheat. What to do with the cheaters that I’ve been rooting for is something I’ll think long and hard about.

While I get the idea of the old adage that “Cheaters never win,” it seems that the Patriots have proven that the contrary may be true.

Trust the Process?

broken-process1I’ll be honest, I’m a cynic. I don’t trust easily because I’ve been burned before. I am a firm believer in the fact that our past experiences dictate our responses to the things that we face. When we have faced situations where we’ve been hurt by others or where we have trusted others and they have disappointed us, we all have a tendency to be somewhat skittish about jumping into things head first the next time around.

Throughout my adult life, I have seen different processes that were put in place to protect or to ensure that outcomes would not be skewed. Some of those processes have been political processes. Some of those processes have been within educational systems. Some of those processes have been within the church.

Over and over again, I was told to trust the process. The processes were put into place by people smarter than me (at least, that’s what I’m told). The processes were supposed to be foolproof. Is that really possible? If a process is put into place by fools, can it really be foolproof?

I watched my dad fall victim to a process that was faulty and fallible. I watched friends as they were burned within systems that were ruled and governed by processes. I have watched processes be manipulated by people who had agendas, somehow skewing the processes to result in their desired results.

The other day, I was reminded of a process that was supposed to be trusted. It was a process that was supposed to flesh out truth. Over and over again, people said to trust the process, but as the process went on, many realized that the process wasn’t the problem, it was the people who had put the process into place. Processes may be trusted when they are static and unchanging or when the rules of that process are defined and maintained. But in this process, the rules were changing and many of them were undefined or fluid. How does one operate in a system where the rules continue to change and where they are constantly in motion and fluid?

It was amazing how I could feel the tension rise within me as I answered questions about a process with which I had been involved nearly two years ago. I always find that somewhat startling, how one can be removed from something for a long period of time only to be ushered right back to that moment when something suddenly triggers your memory.

Processes are only as good as the people behind them. It’s a reminder to me to constantly lean on the wisdom that God gives rather than my own. It’s also a reminder to be praying for all of the people behind processes, be they politicians or judges or pastors or teachers or whomever. We are all fallible people with the ability to subjectively usurp power and steer things to be the way that we want them to be. If we aren’t careful, we can hijack processes that were meant for good and cause people evil.

It’s just a humble reminder where I need to go for guidance and who I need to rely on. If any of us lacks wisdom, we can ask of the Father above who gives generously. He knows how much I need that.

I Doubt It

Anyone who knows me and has spent any significant time with me would not hesitate to label me a “cynic.” While I’m not sure that I would say that I wear the label proudly, I certainly don’t avoid or evade it either. I am not easily convinced but I would define myself as loyal, once you gain my trust and respect, I will go to the mat for you.

In preparation for a message that I gave this past weekend at my church, I read some statistics from David Kinnaman’s book, “You Lost Me.” As president of the Barna Group, a leading research organization, Kinnaman has focused much on what keeps people from engaging in church. He has written a book with Gabe Lyons about what the younger generations really think about Christianity. In “You Lost Me,” Kinnaman talks about the exodus out of the church of young people in the 18-29 age group who have grown tired of many things that the church does (and doesn’t) offer.

One striking statistic for me was that nearly 40% of young people who were polled for the Barna study admitted a period of significant doubting of their faith during their short life. Kinnaman says that a large number of those that doubted did not feel that their faith community was open to this kind of doubting and even made some feel uncomfortable that they would even entertain thoughts of doubt. To that, I say, “What a shame!”

Whenever I meet someone with an overconfidence and self-assuredness in their beliefs, I am suspicious. I am mostly suspicious as to whether or not his person has experienced any real difficulties in their lives. I wonder if they have really had their faith challenged, questioned, and even tested. While faith challenges can lead to a strengthening of one’s faith, they more often than not will result in a crisis of faith, a questioning and doubting of one’s long held beliefs and philosophies.

I certainly don’t think that doubt is disrespectful to God. After all, if he is sovereign as many Christ followers claim that he is, than this kind of doubt should come as no surprise to him at all. The Bible is full of those who have expressed their doubts, who have questioned even the sovereign hand of God in the midst of their struggles and crises. The psalmist, David, was renowned for expressing his doubt and disbelief, but he always came back to the place where he remembered what God had promised, where he was able to see God’s hand at work on a larger scale than the immediate and current.

It’s no wonder to me that so many young people would be turned off to the idea or notion of church when they suddenly find themselves in a season of “question everything” and the church will have nothing at all to do with it.

My hope and prayer is that the church would be open to skeptics. Jesus met many skeptics, but he never left them where they were, he always brought them along, invited the along on the journey. I hope that the church can do the same thing and invite others into the journey and dialogue, allowing for healthy doubt and wrestling. There are so many people that I know who would have benefited from such an environment and I hope and pray that I can be part of something that can create that kind of culture and atmosphere.


Let Your Yes Be Yes

Like what seems to be half of the country (at least) my family was waiting for our copy of the latest Disney animated movie to arrive at our house today.  Having pre-ordered it, we had been guaranteed that it would arrive at our house on the release date.  In fact, one of the reasons that I had ordered online was that I was guaranteed a delivery date of the release date.

My five year old was counting down the days by the end of last week.  Every day, he would ask how many more days it was until we would get our movie.  The excitement was building and when the day finally arrived, he would run to the door any time he thought he heard a truck pass by.  Dinner time came and still no package.  I had to run off to a rehearsal, and the package was still not there.  Finally, during my rehearsal, I got a text from my wife telling me that I had a heartbroken boy at home because the movie had not arrived.

I was determined to do something at that point.  When I finally arrived home, I looked through my emails from the online retailer to find that the confirmation email that I had received for the order said that I had a “Guaranteed Delivery Date.”  Well, that seemed odd to me.  Usually, when something is guaranteed, there is something to back it up.  With technology being as it is today, I decided to chat with someone from the retailer online.

After getting nowhere with the initial representative, I asked for a supervisor.  I was not getting the answers that I was looking for.  In fact, I asked the representative multiple times why this retailer would send out an email with a “Guaranteed Delivery Date” listed and then not fulfill that guarantee.  Instead, I continued to get excuses as to why the package hadn’t arrived.

Now, before you accuse me of being a completely arrogant and spoiled brat, let me explain my real issue.  It wasn’t so much that the package hadn’t come, packages come late all the time.  My frustration was that I had ordered something with a “guarantee” on it and that guarantee was not fulfilled.

I spoke with the supervisor and got the satisfaction that I was looking for and politely offered to her the advice that they might consider rewording their emails with the phrase “Estimated” rather than “Guaranteed.”  Say what you mean, mean what you say.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”

In fact, in the Book of James in the Bible, the writer uses that last phrase.  In James 5:12, the Message paraphrase puts it like this, “And since you know that he cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.”  Say what you mean, mean what you say.

It’s a valuable lesson for me to learn.  Do I make promises that I can’t keep?  Worse than that, do I make promises that I have no intention of keeping?  Do I make unreasonable promises?  Words are powerful tools and our words tell a lot about us.  If we flippantly make promises that we can’t keep, what will happen to our reputation, our sense of integrity?  Will people be able to trust what we say if we consistently make promises that are never fulfilled?

I strive to be a man of my word, but I need to be kept in check.  I need people around me to hold me accountable, making sure that I really am who I think that I am and say that I am.  This online retailer came through for me with compensation for their broken guarantee.  I wonder how many times I come through for people when I don’t keep my word.  Sometimes, all it takes is an acknowledgement that we dropped the ball, and that’s enough.  I would have been satisfied with less than what this retailer had given me but I did feel it was important for them to clarify their words in the future.

Take that to heart.  How do you use your words?  What kind of promises do you make?  How well do you keep those promises?  This whole thing gives me cause to stop and think the next time that I am making a promise to someone.  Is my word my bond or am I just filling the air with empty promises?


conflictAs part of my job (and probably most people’s jobs) I have to sit through a fair share of meetings.  In order to stay engaged during those meetings, it’s important for me to pay attention and take part in discussions, otherwise, I find myself distracted and distracting.  Meetings become much more pleasurable to me when they include people who are smarter and wiser than I am, which happens frequently.  As a learner, I am always intrigued by discussions that push my own envelope a bit.

The other night, I was sitting in a meeting and I was partially engaged.  It probably helped that some of us had taken part in a healthy and competitive game of cornhole before the meeting.  I am finding more and more how important it is to not just be serious with one another, but also to have fun with one another, especially when you work closely together.  As we sat talking about the future and where God was leading us, someone said something which struck a chord with me.  We began to talk about conflict and someone uttered the phrase, “lack of conflict equals lack of trust.”

I sat there astounded and intrigued at this phrase.  Did I agree with it?  Was it true for me?  Did it seem true in the experiences that I had with others?  As I expounded upon it in my own mind, the conversation around the room also allowed for it to expound and I began to see the truth behind it.

We often treat conflict as if it is a bad thing.  Conflict and tension are often things that are to be neatly disposed of with as much expediency as possible.  But there is value to both when they stretch us and cause us to think in ways that are different than we would normally think.  Conflict and tension can cause us to break out of unhealthy patterns which may have lulled us to sleep or complacency.  They can shake us out of that slumber and cause us to reevaluate our approach.

To the phrase that was uttered though, a lack of conflict equals a lack of trust.  A further explanation of it prevents misunderstanding.  My own interpretation, and I think the intent of the speaker, is that if there is a lack of conflict, it may be because we are afraid to voice dissent to something.  A lack of trust can cause that fear and results in our inability or unwillingness to share the conflict that we have.  If we feel that trust has not been established, why would we be willing to share the things that conflict with our own opinions or desires?

There are certain settings where this might not seem as significant as others.  In families, this is important.  What happens when we disagree with the decisions of our spouse or children or parents or siblings?  How do we respond when we feel that inner conflict?  Do we voice our opinion or do we sweep that conflict under the rug, assuming that it will stay there, out of the way and unobtrusive?  If there is trust between us, we will feel safe to express that conflict, to be honest about our feelings, and to allow that conflict not to divide but to unite.

I grew up in a family where we would lay things on the table.  Family meetings during times of conflict were fairly commonplace.  I appreciate that my parents were willing to face things head on rather than sweep issues under the rug.  I am who I am because of the approach that I learned and have now embraced.  It was never comfortable, but it was worthwhile.

Lack of conflict equals lack of trust.  Think about the places where you have conflict, and the places where you don’t.  Are they places where trust has been established?  Do you feel open to share your opinions, especially those that might be in opposition to the majority?  Are you afraid to allow the conflict to come to the top and be dealt with?  If so, why is that the case?

No, I don’t particularly care for conflict, but I see its benefit.  Many of my life lessons have been learned through conflict and I can safely say that had those conflicts not occurred, I might be lacking in some of my valuable experience.  Think about it next time you face conflict.  Will you face it head on or sweep it under the rug?