Cure for Fear What's the solution to our fear problem?

Is there anything more debilitating than fear?  I don’t think there is.  And, friends, we need to find a cure for fear and fast!

Fear can stop us in our tracks physically, causing us to freeze up like a deer in the headlights.  Fear can cause us to loop into unhelpful cycles of thinking and feeling that keep us from reaching our potentials.  And fear can kill us spiritually by preventing us from fully accepting the love of God.

And perhaps most importantly, fear can prevent us from obeying the Greatest Commandment(s) (to love God and others) and the Great Commission (making disciples) by causing us to discount and judge people before we ever get to know them.

So what’s the answer?  What’s the cure for fear?

The Causes of Fear

Before we can talk about a cure for fear, we have to wrap our minds around the things that cause us fear in the first place.  What’s so scary out there?

A recent blog on Psychology Today’s website highlights the five fears that we all have.  Here they are:

  1. Extinction – This is the fear of death an it’s like a program that runs in the background of our minds.  When we get a little too close to something that could possibly cause us to die, this fear alerts us.  Most of us have a pretty reasonable threshold.  While it’s true that there’s a chance (however small) that germs on a door handle could kill us, most of us don’t run away from door handles kicking and screaming!  Others of us have a much lower threshold for this kind of fear.  We fear almost everything that could potentially harm us, including people (and especially people different than us whom we have a hard time understanding and identifying with).
  2. Mutilation – This is the fear of serious but not deadly bodily harm.  Here’s a great example: when my wife was young, her brother broke his arm while riding his bike.  Since this caused her great fear, she put off learning to ride a bike until she was in her 30s!  This fear of mutilation can immobilize us altogether because there’s always something or someone that could harm us, especially when we are surrounded by places, things, and people that are new and different.
  3. Loss of Autonomy – This fear rests on the natural human desire to be in control.  And the loss of autonomy here could be physical (such as becoming paralyzed) or non-physical (such as being demoted from a position with freedoms at work to one without them).  This fear can cause us to be defensive and very selective about what we do and who we surround ourselves with.  We begin to view everything and everyone as a threat to our freedoms, and more so if we are unfamiliar with them.
  4. Separation – This is the fear that we’ll lose contact with the people and things (but especially people) that we love.  We’re scared that they’ll die and we’ll be left alone.  We’re afraid that they’ll find out our deepest, darkest secrets and hate us for them.  We’re afraid that they’ll find people who are better than us and leave us for them.  This can cause us to try too hard to keep the people and things we love, turning us into Scrooges.  Or, rather sadly, this fear can cause us to prematurely push everyone and everything away so that we are the ones who control the separation and it doesn’t come as a surprise.  And, this fear can cause us to shelter people whom we love from others because we don’t want them to get hurt (which can be especially true with regard to our children and spouses).
  5. Ego-death – Lastly is the fear of shame and humiliation.  This is the fear that who we are on the inside, in the most secret place, will be snuffed out through the bullying of others, our own self doubts and depression, or the guilt and pain that we carry into our present from the past.  We’re scared that we’ll lose who we are, our identity.  Maybe we’ll get subsumed into someone else.  Maybe will get squashed.  Maybe we’ll be found out.  Pick your poison, the result is the same — this fear can cause us to become shells of who we’re meant to be!

And these fears trip us up in any number of ways.  I’ve written about a few of those ways before, so I won’t do so here.  But suffice it to say that fear can really put a hamper on our ability to live well, to be meaningful people to others, and to follow Jesus well in the real world.  We need a cure for fear!

cure for fear

by: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images; accessed at LATimes.com

A Cure for Fear

At his last National Prayer Breakfast, on February 4, 2016, President Barack Obama talked about how damaging fear can be and said this:

Fear does funny things. Fear can lead us to lash out against those who are different. Or lead us to try to get some sinister other under control. Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.  [SOURCE]

President Obama, like him or leave him, made a great point here.  Fear can cause us to do things we wouldn’t do otherwise.  Think about the types of fears we listed above.  Each one of them can lead us to hurt ourselves or others.  Each one of them cause us to distance ourselves from the “sinister other,” to quote the President.

The President’s words are self-evident.  All we have to do is look into our own lives and analyze, even briefly, some of the choices we’ve made.  Many times those choices have been heavily influenced by fear and as a result we and others were likely hurt.

And this need for a cure for fear is evident in our public discourse as well.  Think back to a little while ago when the Syrian refugee crisis first hit the news.  A little boy drowned as his family tried to escape their war-torn country and all of our hearts were ripped in two.

Then a little while after that fear took over.

Paris was attacked by a terror group and then San Bernadino, CA a short time after that.  The fear that these two terror attacks created made us lose our minds in the United States!  Our broken hearts over the little Syrian boy who drowned became dark with fear-induced hate, causing us to say all sorts of crazy and untrue things about the Syrian refugees.  I mean, just look at some of the comments on this post of mine on Facebook and judge for yourself!  The fearful hate is palpable.

Fear causes us all kinds of problems, including saying and doing hateful things to the very people God may be calling us to be and share the good news with!

We need a cure for fear!

I like how the President ended his quote above: “Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear.”  While I agree in principle with him, I will quibble just a bit.  Here’s how I would say it:

Jesus and the ways of Jesus are the best cure for ear. While faith, generally speaking, is a good cure for fear.

What we need now, especially those of us who follow Jesus, is to emulate Jesus and his ways.  If we want a cure for fear, we have it!  It’s called love.  And not the love that we think we should share and to whom we think we should share it.  No!

It’s the love that Jesus had, a love that extended to the most vulnerable and to the privileged.  It’ the love that, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, always puts the interest of the other before our own.

The cure for fear is Jesus and his ways.  And Jesus and his ways are best encapsulated by one word: LOVE.  1 John 4.18 says this:

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.

Love and fear are like oil and water, they just don’t mix well.

But let’s be honest for a second — we all still have fear and our fears cause us harm and move us to harm others.  This is a continual problem for us all.  Fear is something that will be with us until we shuffle off this mortal coil.

So what do we do?

Well, since we’ll always need the cure for fear, namely love as expressed by Jesus, then we’ll always need to reapply this cure for fear by constantly re-exposing ourselves to Jesus and his gospel.  I talk some more about this need for persistent exposure to the gospel in this the New Wine Podcast #016; give it a listen!

 

What do you think?  How big of a deal is fear?  And what’s the cure for fear?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Jesus Was a Refugee Would we have not accepted him?

“Given the tragic attacks in Jerusalem and the threats we have already seen, Egypt cannot participate in any program that will result in Jewish refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Egypt,” Prefect Gaius Turranius said in the letter [to Caesar Augustus]. “Effective today, I am directing the Egypt Health & Human Services Commission’s Refugee Resettlement Program to not participate in the resettlement of any Jewish refugees in the State of Egypt. And I urge you, as Caesar, to halt your plans to allow Jews to be resettled anywhere in the Roman Empire.” [Adapted from Gov. Abbot’s letter to Presidnt Obama, found in this press release]

Thankfully this letter was never sent by Prefect Gaius Turranius, the person who served as Egypt’s governor when Jesus’ family fled Israel after Herod the Great went on a killing rampage in Jerusalem (Matthew 2.13-18).  Instead, it appears that Jesus and his family were able to find safety in Egypt for some time (estimates vary from a few months to three years).

refugee

“Escape to Egypt” by Sebastiano Ricci

But this letter (with the modern names, etc. added back in, of course) was sent in recent days from Texas’ governor to the US’s president, along with 30 other similar letters and declarations from other US governors.

That’s more than half of the states in the US!  More than half of the states in the US won’t accept people fleeing from the very threat is also feared within the US — ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Of course, ISIS is a horrible group that has committed numerous atrocities all over the world, one of which I’ve written about before.  And there is fear that some of those who are fleeing Syria are or will become a threat to America due to being radicalized.  And this fear may not be unfounded, since one of the suicide bombers in Paris was carrying a fake Syrian passport and apparently was himself on the run from the violence in the Middle East.

But none of this changes the fact that the Bible says some clear things about how to treat those who are refugees.  Let’s look at some of those passages (as found in this article at relevant.com):

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. (1 Kings 8:41-44)

No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

And add to all of these passages this passage from Matthew 2 that I referenced at the beginning of this blog:

When they [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2.13-21)

 

Jesus Was a Refugee…So What?

What does all of this mean?  For those of us who follow Jesus, what are we to do with the clear injunctions from Scripture to care for those who seek asylum in the places where we life?  And what does it say to us that our savior and his family were people that were shown compassion when they became refugees themselves?

First, I’m not going to pretend that governing a city, state, or nation is simple.  Let’s be honest, I have a difficult time governing my own life sometimes!

I understand that there’s a balance to be struck between compassion and protection and that where politicians fall on that spectrum is based, in my opinion at least, on whatever may help them get re-elected to their current gig or help them position themselves well for their next gig.  Let’s not fool ourselves.  Politicians on both sides play to the emotions of their constituents in order to remain relevant, popular, and electable.

So, for a little while at least, let’s leave governing cities, states, and nations to one side and look at our lives as followers of Jesus instead.  We aren’t called to balance safety and compassion.  Nope.  Look back at the passages above and search for others that talk about how we are to treat foreigners.  The Scriptures are clear that God expects love and provision to be extended to refugees from those who claim him as their God.

On a personal level, as followers of Jesus, we have no other option, other than disobedience, of course.

So let’s not let fear, misinformation, possible ethnic prejudice, and political posturing prevent us from obeying God’s call to love the refugee.

But what does the fact that Jesus was a refugee add to this picture?

Here’s what I think: The fact that our savior was a refugee himself shows that he understands completely what it is like to leave everything behind because of terror.  He knows the long and hard roads that refugees face — roads full of danger, pain, and suffering.

And since Jesus was a refugee himself, as he leads his people to care for the refugees in their midst through the indwelling of the Spirit, he will know how to direct them to show true compassion.  It’s our job as followers of Jesus to respond to the Spirit: listening to him, learning from him, and obeying him.

I’m about to use a word I don’t use all that often: duty.  Caring for the refugees in our midst is our duty as followers of Jesus.  Leaving this duty undone is a grave disservice to current refugees and a slap in the face of our once-a-refugee-himself savior.

 

What about US History?

What role does caring for refugees have in American history?

Here are some brief highlights:

  • Many European settlers in the US were refugees themselves, fleeing persecution, natural disasters, poor economic situations, and war.
  • All throughout our history the US has been a beacon for the lost and the hurting in the world, even in very difficult and complicated times, such as in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War.  During that time around 125,000 Vietnamese made their way to the US [SOURCE], one of whom is a personal friend of mine!  And during the height of the Cold War, there must have been great fear about communism spreading in the US due to Vietnamese refugees, not to mention the potential security risk.  (Sound familiar?)
  • And for many years the US has had federal policies allowing for the migration of thousand of refugees into our country each year, many of whom are/were fleeing similar situations to that found in Syria.

It appears that the history of the US supports allowing for Syrian refugees to seek asylum here — plain and simple.

 

Now What?

The US is likely to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, who will be placed all throughout our country, including in the states whose governors don’t want them.

So, what are we to do as followers of Jesus?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give.  Just think about it…currently half of Syria’s population has fled their homes.  That’s crazy!  So those of us who claim to follow Jesus can help by giving to one of the many organizations who are helping with the Syrian refugee crisis.  Here’s one I recommend: Texas Baptists Refugee Relief.  The Texas Baptists are giving aid to a network of churches in Lebanon, where 1.5 million Syrian refugees have resettled.  Many other groups are offering aid.  Research one that you like and give.
  2. Advocate.  If you are a follower of Jesus and are convicted by the truths of the Scriptures about how to treat the foreigners among us, write to your state and national politicians, asking them to enact policies to help bring aid and compassion to those seeking asylum in our land (especially if you happen to live in a state whose governor has tried to close its doors).
  3. Act.  There’s a good chance that some Syrian refugees are already living near you, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area.  Whether that’s true for you or not, talk with your pastor, community outreach person, and/or your missions person at your local church.  Ask them if your church has a plan to care for the refugees entering our country and potentially our cities.  Ask if they’d be willing for your church to serve as a host church for refugees.  Have them ask your church’s denomination or wider church network about next steps.  And, if the Lord is leading you, perhaps open your home, cook some food, or offer whatever other acts of love and hospitality that you can.
  4. Pray.  Pray for those who are fleeing the continuing war in Syria.  Pray for the health and safety of the refugees.  Pray for the followers of Jesus all over the face of the earth to rise up to this great challenge.  Pray that this crisis can be used by God in order for his church to share and embody the good news with and among people desperate for it.  And pray for God to use you as he sees fit.

 

Thanks so much for reading this!  You may not agree with me on every point, and that’s fine.  Either way, let’s follow our savior who was once a refugee as he leads us to love everyone, especially those who are most in need.

 

ISIS: A Response

I don’t even know where to begin other than with sorrow.

My heart is full to the brim with sorrow over the deaths of 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach at the hands of ISIS militants.

And where there is sorrow, many other emotions can quickly follow.  I know for me there’s an indignation that wells up in response to this extreme persecution.  I want these ISIS militants to pay for what they’ve done.

But almost at the same time a real feeling of helplessness arises too, since I know that violence almost always only results in more violence.

So how should I, a follower of Jesus, respond?  What’s a gospel-centered reaction?

 

ISIS

ISIS Militant leading their Egyptian captives to the place where they would be beheaded.

Initial Reaction to ISIS

It’s hard, if not impossible, to control one’s first response to something.  It just happens.

And my first response to the news out of Libya was sadness.  My heart fell for the families of the slain.  I was deeply saddened by inevitable damage done to Christian-Muslim relations.  And I was heartbroken at the way that so many would surely talk about God, violence, and retribution, whether Christians or otherwise.

In fact, as I first heard this news one line of Scripture continued to run through my head: “Darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88.18b).  This must be the sentiment of so many right now: the family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased; most people living in Egypt and Libya; many of my friends here in the US who originate from Egypt; most Muslims; most Christians; all Coptic Christians; and, frankly, most people in the world.

 

Now What?

The sorrow caused by the actions taken by ISIS is real and can’t be minimized.  No words or actions will mitigate it.  Time will not erode it.  It will just be there — to be sure, more acute at some times than others.

But sorrow can’t be the last word of this story.  Sorrow can’t win the day.  There has to be a broader response — a reaction that will embrace the darkness but prepare us for God’s glorious light.

And that response is trust.

Don’t get me wrong, trust is probably the hardest thing to do right now.  Who can we trust if people are capable of this sort of evil?  What government can we trust to keep us safe if buildings in the USA, offices in France, and beaches in Libya are all compromised?  And how can we trust God if he allowed this atrocity (and ones like it) to happen?

This is my contention: We must trust or the only choice we have is to give in to the darkness.  And I, for one, will not give in to the darkness!  I refuse to let the shadows of this life cause me to forget that the light that’s on the other side of the thing casting the shadow.

And this is no pie-in-the-sky kind of hope I’m talking about.  No.  What I have in mind is a level-headed, open-eyed trust.

This is what it might look like…

Trust in the Wake of ISIS

How can I trust anything or anyone, much less God, in the wake of the horrific crimes committed by ISIS? Here are a few initial ideas that might help.  However, I fully realize my limited perspective and expertise and I am fully willing to listen to any other ideas that you might have.  Please share them in the comments below.

  1. Don’t be surprised.  When something awful happens we’re always surprised.  What’s up with that?  It’s as if we’ve forgotten the reality of what it means to be human.  We’re horrible to one another.  Horrible.  People have always done disgusting, inhuman things to one another. And yet we’re always surprised.  And it seems that Christians might be the most surprised group of all.  Why?  Have we not read our Bibles?  Have we not read the words of Jesus himself?  Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15.20).  He also said that with blessings come persecutions (Mark 10.30).  Jesus knew that his message of the good news of the kingdom of God will butt heads with the kingdoms of this world.  He knew that danger and drama could be real possibilities for his followers.  And this has come true in each generation of followers of Jesus.  Persecution is a reality that we must deal with until Jesus brings his kingdom to fruition when he comes again.  So, friends, let’s not be surprised when it comes!  Instead, let’s prepare for it, trusting in the goodness of God in the face of the greatest evil humanity can muster!
  2. Pray.  There’s no way to move forward through this mess without prayer.  What ISIS has done (and will likely continue to do) is horrible.  And our chief response shouldn’t be warmongering, hatred, and wide-sweeping generalizations about all Muslims.  No.  Our chief response to the horror brought on by ISIS should be prayer.  Let’s turn to God with our complaints, pains, and confusion.  Let’s seek his wisdom during this volatile time.  Let’s pray like Nehemiah, the Psalmist, and others, begging God to deliver vengeance on behalf of his people.  Through prayer we are reminded of our place in this world — and that place is certainly not on the seat of judgment and revenge.  That is God’s seat alone.  But our prayers should also be for peace, the comfort of those who are mourning, and a swift resolution to this crisis.  Moreover, our prayers should also be for our enemies.  Jesus couldn’t be clearer about this: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5.44).  Could there be a harder command to fulfill right now?  How are we, am I, supposed to love and pray for ISIS?  I’m not sure exactly, but here’s a starting place.  I need to remember that I am a sinner, through and through.  I’m worse than I know that I am.  I’ve done more wrong that I can recall, I’ve left more good undone than could ever be recounted, and I’ve consciously and subconsciously participated in systemic sin from the moment I was born.  I’m a wretch.  And if it wasn’t for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I would be far, far from God right now.  I’m in no place to judge anyone.  Is what the ISIS militants did wrong?  Of course.   Unequivocally.  But I’ve done so much wrong in my life too.  Only God can judge us.  So what can I do if not judge ISIS?  I can love them by praying for them.  I can pray for God to intervene in their lives.  I can pray for God to give them dreams of his love and beauty and healing.  I can pray that they will experience the same life-giving grace that I have in my life.  I must pray for them.  Why?  Because otherwise I will hate them and not love them, which is in direct violation of Jesus command to love my enemies.  In order to trust God through this ordeal, I must turn to him in prayer.
  3. Embrace the mystery, the unknown, the scary, and the awkwardness. In order to move forward and to trust again, I must simply embrace the fact that this world is messed up.  There are many things that are beyond my comprehension and control.  I can’t understand how ISIS could do this heinous act.  I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that God did not intervene.  I can’t deny the fact that I have experience some truly illogical fear over the last few days.  And I can’t get over the frustrations I feel regarding each of these things.  But, if I’m honest, there is so much of life that is mysterious, unknowable, scary, and awkward.  I shouldn’t be surprised that these events have reminded me of this reality.  Friends, we must admit that we can’t figure everything out.  There is a God, and not one of us is him.

 

Well, that’s all I have.  We must learn to trust God again.  We can’t let time-bound circumstances influence our eternal relationship with God.  We have no choice by to turn to him, to place our full faith in him, and to continue to follow him.

 

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below.

 

(Just FYI, I will be moderating the comments carefully, so please abstain from hate speech, racist remarks, bad language, and the like.  Thanks!)