Category Archives: Change

So Much Grace to Share: Why We Never Have to Be Afraid Again

Welcome to the conclusion of the Facing Fear of People series! For earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Part 5: What If We Are Still Afraid?

“I wanna do it!” The two-year-old jerked away as her mom tried to steer the miniature shopping cart. The cart bumped into the freezer display.

Kelsie sighed before answering. “You can do it, Sara, but I am here to help you sometimes.” She held the cart still.

“No!” Sara yelled.

“I’m waiting for you to listen. When you’re ready to listen, you can do it by yourself.”

Sara stood quietly, but still glaring a little. Close enough. Kelsie let go of the cart. “Okay. Let’s go find the apple juice.”

She rolled her eyes as she followed her toddler down the next aisle. April’s offer of keeping both children for a couple of hours had been tempting, but Kelsie eventually decided to take Sara with her in the hopes that this one-on-one time would be helpful long-term.

Sara got to the end of the aisle and Kelsie reached out to stop the cart. “Watch out, honey—there are other carts here.” They waited a minute, then a woman smiled at them and waited for them to go first. “Thanks,” Kelsie smiled. She realized as they walked on that she was still holding onto the little cart—and Sara hadn’t yelled at her once. Small victories. I’ll take it, she thought.

“Mommy, look! We had those at Gigi’s house!” Sara pointed to the blueberry waffles in the frozen section.

“Those were yummy,” Kelsie agreed. “Look, they have strawberry waffles, too. Do you want to take some blueberry waffles home, or try the strawberry ones?” Sara looked hard at the waffle display as she tried to decide.

“Why, hello there—it’s nice to see you!”

Kelsie turned to see Rebecca Peters walking up. For a minute she froze. She thought about the chocolate-chocolate pie from the bakery now sitting conspicuously in the cart, and about the mismatched outfit Sara had insisted on wearing. She remembered Noah’s loud screaming in church the day before, and how she had forgotten to bring back the book she was going to return to Rebecca. The book she hadn’t read.

But in the next instant she remembered what she had been able to catch of yesterday’s sermon. We aren’t sitting here today because we earned our seats, Pastor Wilkes had said. We can only walk into the presence of God because Jesus bled and died to make us His. And if God has welcomed us, we will never be unwelcome.

Kelsie turned with a smile to Rebecca Peters. “Hi, Rebecca! It’s good to see you, too.”

Never Afraid Again

We don’t have to be afraid of each other. Not anymore. When Jesus paid our eternal debt and bought our freedom, He forever broke the hold anyone or anything else can ever have on us. Only He can call us His, and only in His love and grace and power and forgiveness will we ever find our worth and meaning for our lives.

Over the last few weeks, we have explored several different areas of fear of people and how it can sneakily hide out in the crevices of our lives. For me, it has been an exercise of looking deeper into my own life and finding new and deeper areas that need change, and I so hope that you have been encouraged and strengthened through thinking through this topic.

As we live in light of our eternal freedom and the security that comes with that, we may find that people don’t think as lowly of us as we expected. Or we may find that they do. Whichever the case may be, it doesn’t matter anymore: we have the assurance that our standing hasn’t changed because of our latest faux pas and will never be based on our popularity or current social standing.

Eventually, we will probably find others who are still trapped in fear of people. They may not know it. They may not even really show it. In fact, they might act so confident and callous to others that the real insecurities are almost too deep to see. Some of them might try—unintentionally, perhaps—to disguise their fear of not measuring up by pointing out to us how we have missed the mark.

But we don’t have to play like that anymore.

We know we have missed the mark. We know we still fail to measure up every day. But we also know that our lives are based on Jesus’ perfection, not ours, and we can rest in His grace and love and joy even in the most imperfect of days.

When we meet someone who still has that same fear we know so well, we can show them how free they can be. We can extend that same grace we have so undeservedly been given and welcome them, despite the reasons they may give us not to. They are invited and welcomed into this grace, too—into freedom forever.

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Four minutes was a long time for Sara to wait as the adults talked. She tried to open the freezer door to reach the waffles herself, but she was too short.

She looked up at Kelsie. “Mommy?” she said quietly. No answer. Sara looked back at her cart, then back up at the door handle. She pulled the crackers out and put them on the floor. When there was enough room, she swung her leg into the cart and began to climb in. She balanced carefully and stood up. She had almost reached the handle—

“Sara!” Kelsie barely had time to catch her daughter as the cart dropped to its side under Sara’s weight. Chicken nugget packages fell on top of each other, Noah’s baby food jars—thankfully unbroken—rolled all over the aisle, and the chocolate-chocolate cake was smashed upside down in its container.

Kelsie hugged her daughter while a stranger righted the cart and another one set the chicken nuggets back in and a teenage boy started collecting the baby food jars. She smiled her thanks and laughed when someone handed her the smeared chocolate-chocolate pie. She set Sara down. “Okay, girlie,” she said. “I’m glad you’re okay. Next time let’s wait for Mommy’s help, okay? We’ll get the waffles in just a minute.” She held Sara’s hand as she turned back to Rebecca. “Sorry about that. Where were we?”

Rebecca paused. “That was neat, Kelsie,” she said quietly.

Kelsie looked around. “What was neat? How far the baby food jars could roll?” She smiled.

“No, the way you responded.” Rebecca sighed. “When my kids were Sara’s age, I would have been really mad at them for that—especially the pie,” she smiled.

Kelsie looked at Sara. “Oh, I get mad sometimes, too,” she said. “And pie is kind of a big deal.”

“But you were so patient there, so—” Rebecca tried to find the right word. “So full of grace.” She looked away. “I don’t show my kids grace very well.”

Kelsie nodded. “It can be hard,” she agreed. “But then, I’ve been given so much grace, I guess I have a lot to share.”

 

What If We Are Still Afraid?

For earlier posts in the Fear of People series, check out the following links:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Kelsie took a deep breath as she watched her toddler try to blow bubbles while she played on the neighbor’s driveway. “Here, let me show you,” the neighbor boy said, slowly taking the bubble wand from Sara.

“Your kids are so great, April,” Kelsie said as she watched the teenager help Sara try again. “Sara loves Carson and Makenna.”

“I like them,” April smiled. “But I remember those early years, too—not for the faint of heart, girl.”

Kelsie rolled her eyes. “Maybe that’s my problem.”

“What, faint of heart?”

“I don’t know. I just know other moms who have had their devotions and fed their kids a three-course breakfast and trained for a 5K by this time of day—and we can’t even make it to the grocery store.” Kelsie turned Noah around in her arms so he could see his sister playing.

“That’s great for them, but ‘other moms’ don’t define what you or your kids should be doing. You are not them, you know.”

Sara squealed with happiness as she finally propelled a bubble into the air. She stared up into the sky with Carson as it drifted away on the wind.

“I just need to get it together,” Kelsie said quietly.

“Good luck with that, girl,” April said. “And let me know when you figure it out.”

So, So Hard

So we know our problem. We know it is there and that it is deeply rooted, and we worry (ironically) about how other people probably don’t have to struggle with this. It is discouraging to think others might have a handle on this when we never seem to figure it out.

As Christians, we know we are called to become more and more like Jesus, with the understanding that we will never live up to His example. Even Jesus’ opponents knew He didn’t “care about anyone’s opinion. For You are not swayed by appearances,” they told Him, likely trying to flatter Him into being tricked (Mark 12:14).

Paul adamantly declared he was free of this kind of fear. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” he wrote to an early church. “Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

It is easy to conclude that only weak Christians struggle with fearing people, and to live with an even greater condemnation than we were already giving ourselves. For shame, us—struggling with this problem that greater Christians left in the dust behind them. We just need to get our acts together and follow those who have gone before us, right? If we only try hard enough we can be better, like Paul.

But then there’s Peter.

Oh, Peter.

Afraid

“‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times,’” Jesus told Peter as they had the Last Supper together (Mark 14:30). True to form, Peter denied that prophecy, too.

But just hours later, he did deny Him—vehemently.

“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:66-72

He lied to cover his fear, lied to a servant girl—a servant of the high priest. He had been with Jesus in person for years, hearing the speeches to swelling crowds, seeing miracles of every kind, watching the daily patience and kindness and love and righteousness of the Son of God. And he denied it all. Would rather pretend he had seen none of it than admit his identity to a servant girl.

It was a low point in Peter’s life, to be sure, but redemption was coming. In a striking gesture of love and forgiveness, Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection, asking Peter three times if he loved Him. Despite his blunders, Peter was reconciled to a relationship with the Son of God even stronger than he had known when he walked with him in person day after day. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, Peter now had saving faith and the promise of forever with God.

Take Courage, Peter

The book of Acts opens with excitement. During a major Jewish holiday, when Jews from the world over convened in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, prompting miraculous speaking in tongues and Peter’s delivery of a bold speech to the gathered masses. The early church had begun, and would grow and grow—exponentially.

Not long after this conspicuous start, the high priest put Peter and other apostles in jail, but an angel freed them and told them to continue preaching. So they preached some more. Again, the high priest arrested them and now called them to stand before him, accusing them of ignoring earlier instructions to stop this telling of good news.

We’re not sure who exactly said what, but since Peter is the only disciple named we can be fairly sure he at least did some of the talking, culminating with a bold stand: “‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

And the man who had cowered and lied to the high priest’s servant girl now stood tall and spoke clearly to the high priest himself.

Can Anyone Ever Really Change?

How we would love, in our human fascination with success stories and self-betterment, to assume that Peter had forever conquered his fear of people. After all, he had just spoken boldly and fearlessly to one of the most powerful people in his world.

But unlike a picture-perfect movie ending, the change didn’t last. Not completely, anyway.

Paul shared a story with the Galatian church. In the same letter where he shared his own victory over fear of people, he told them of someone else who had acted in that fear.

Peter.

Paul tells the Galatians that at a gathering of believers he had scolded Peter in front of others. Why? Because Peter had been “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12)—he cared more about what people thought than about what God thought.

What was up? Hadn’t Peter left this behind him? Does this mean we never really change? Will our true colors always bleed through no matter how hard we try?

Have No Fear

Peter’s second recorded fall into fear reminds us that we are not the only Christians to keep struggling with this, and his later victories spur us on to keep seeking growth—and victory—in our own lives.

Years later, Peter wrote to early Christians about persecution, urging them not to trouble themselves about it. “Have no fear of them,” he counseled, “nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

Have no fear, Peter said.

In the same letter, Peter encouraged the women in the church to “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6).

Says the guy who used to be afraid of a servant girl.

The Story Isn’t Over

So it would seem there is hope for those of us who falter, who go back and forth in fearing and not fearing. The battle for fear of God over fear of people is not something we will completely conquer while we live on earth, and we will have days we struggle more than others.

Just like Peter.

If there’s anything Peter’s story shows us, it is that past mistakes don’t destine us to future failure. Not with Jesus. Through the power and grace of God—and maybe the rebuke of a Paul in our lives—we don’t have to be afraid any longer.

We have been freed from that.

When a Princess Meets Reality

I grew up watching Beauty and the Beast. The yellow-wearing princess has always been my favorite of the Disney lineup, and songs like “Be Our Guest” or “Tale as Old as Time” bring back nostalgic childhood memories like few others.

There’s just something about princess stories. We have pulled application from them before, and preschoolers aren’t the only girls drawn to them, as evidenced by The Princess Diaries and even William and Kate’s televised wedding.

So a Disney live-action remake? Count me in.

Sad, Sad Story

I finally watched it recently, and was not disappointed. The music, the animation, the effects—all blew me away right down memory lane.

There were a few things I didn’t remember. (For sure, this Disney remake had more controversy than Cinderella, but this post is neither a review nor an endorsement. Everyone needs to make their own decisions on movie choices, and if you would like more information before making yours, please check reviews like this one by Focus on the Family.) There were a handful of scenes and songs that I don’t recall from the animated version, but then I haven’t watched it in awhile.

In one memorable scene, Belle is beginning to realize the hopelessness of the castle residents as they live under the spell. Will anything change for them? Mrs. Potts firmly tells her not to worry about them, and the housewares calmly—but a bit sadly—begin to walk away.

In Disney fashion, a song breaks out, begun by the Beast as a child and joined in by Maestro Cadenza, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and others. They sing of days gone by that they wish they could see again, and wonder if they will ever see the end of this spell.

Then the focus returns to Belle. “How in the midst of all this sorrow, can so much hope and love endure?” she asks. No one answers.

“I was innocent and certain, now I’m wiser but unsure. I can’t go back into my childhood, one that my father made secure; I can feel a change in me, I’m stronger now, but still not free.”

Belle and the Beast had already begun to experience the love the enchantress spoke of, but still the effects of the spell bound everyone in the house. It was sad—really sad. But hopeful.

We know another story like that.

Spells and Curses

Just days after I finally watched the Disney remake, and not far from where I live, a young bride and groom were in a car accident the day after their wedding. Both passed away within forty-eight hours.

How does hope still live with something like this?

In less traumatic ways, every single one of us knows that life is hard. There are griefs and regrets, hard and draining things that sap our energy and—sometimes—make us wish for that childhood we remember as so carefree.

All of creation groans under a spell of its own, a curse (Romans 8:22-23), wondering if it will ever be broken. Love has come and broken it, sacrificing Himself for our freedom, but still we live here. We are different, for sure, but still here in this mess, and still not experiencing in full the freedom Jesus gave us.

How do we live in this dark world when we know we are made for and set free for a greater one? How do we keep our hope and love one other when we’re constantly surrounded by sadness that only seems to get worse?

“How in the midst of all this sorrow, can so much hope and love endure?”

Real Hope for Real Pain

We are in the midst of so much sorrow. But it is temporary sorrow—still very, very real, and oh so hard, but temporary. “Take heart,” Jesus told us. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And all the sorrow in it.

Our hope doesn’t ignore or deny any of this pain. If anything, as followers of the God whose own Son died a horrific death, we know that pain and suffering and grief and trouble are undeniable and painful. But in our grief and trouble, we remember that the Son who died also rose again; He is now living victorious and extends that victory—and life—to us.

We know the spell is already broken.

This pain is real, yes. But so is hope—an unshakeable hope founded in God who promised that there is an eternity of life and love waiting for those who are His children. We can bank on it.

We can know that every tear will be wiped away.

We can know that there is something so beyond our belief waiting for us—and for those we love who love God, too.

We can know that the purpose of our lives goes beyond our time on earth, and that at the end of that time we will not be absorbed into soulless oblivion—or turned into inanimate objects (“Rubbish,” Cogsworth insists).“This world is a great sculptor’s shop,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “We are the statues and there’s a rumor going around the shop that some of us are someday going to come to life.” It’s not just a rumor: it’s real, and it’s coming.

The sorrow is still here. It will be for awhile. But hope and love endure with it, and one day we will fully, completely, finally come to life.

Image source: Disney

The Love of a Father

I didn’t mean to think of Him like that. I didn’t realize how lacking my view of God was, how off-course it was.

Growing up, I had – unconsciously – always thought of God as more of a wishy-washy Someone who “asked” to be “let into” my heart, and who only intervened in human problems when we asked Him to.

But that’s different now. I have come to a deeper understanding of the grandeur and big-ness of God—the One who created the world with a word and who sustains it day after day, molecule by tiny atom, without ever becoming tired or changing His mind or dropping the ball, so to speak.

The “Sunday School God” ideas I remember have given way to an all-knowing, unstoppable God. But at the same time, I wonder…maybe there are some things from Sunday School I shouldn’t forget.

Strong Views

I am truly, honestly, deeply grateful for reformed theology. In the last few years as I have come to (slowly) understand more of these doctrines, it has grown in me a trust in God’s ability over a reliance on my own lack of ability. I have found assurance that He is able to do the work in me that I can’t produce on my own, and I have found rest in doctrines that are well-supported biblically. Salvation is through His work and not mine. There is great peace in that.

But I have also learned to be careful. In swinging from one extreme (wishy-washy Sunday School God) to the other side (sovereign, all-powerful God), I have to remember to follow Biblical truth and not just doctrines organized by man—however Scripturally supported they are. I have to remember that “[s]uch is the human tendency to overcorrect,” as one historian noted.

Reformed theology can have a somewhat negative reputation. Absolute sovereignty, if referenced out of proportion to other doctrines, begins to sound like a power-crazy king who rules without tenderness or any concern for others. We hear phrases (and sermons) like “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” and remind ourselves constantly of the total depravity of man.

All of which are true, but they aren’t the whole story. Continue reading The Love of a Father

Growing Like a Baby

I remember holding him as he slept in my arms. Carrying him around the house, taking countless pictures of him doing the same thing, changing his clothes—all as he kept sleeping.

When my little brother was an infant, I loved giving him a bottle, trying to get him to smile, and taking him on walks in his stroller. He was just a couple of days old when my grandma reminded me that, quick as a flash, he would soon be a one-month-old. That’s forever away, I thought, and couldn’t imagine it coming so fast.

Now he is speeding around on his bike (sans training wheels) and using words like “stoked” and “insane” and “nevertheless.” It happened. Quicker than she said it would. How did that sleepy little baby turn into a funny and sarcastic eight-year-old?

It Seems to Happen By Accident

At what point does a baby become a toddler, or a toddler join the ranks of preschoolers? We say they are “growing right before our eyes,” but we don’t really mean it. Our vision can’t pick up the imperceptible growth that happens every second.

My two-day-old baby brother did not decide to grow. He didn’t choose to grow, or pursue growth as some kind of major life goal or something to check off his baby bucket list. He just grew.

Not Really By Accident

We feed the children and water the plants, clothe the children and fertilize the garden. But all of the things we do only encourage what is already there—we don’t give them life. They already have that.

The life bestowed on every boy, girl, man, woman, dog, cat, elephant, flower, tree, starfish, and sea anemone comes from God – the “Author of Life” (Acts 3:15). Not from anything we do. Not from anything we invent or create or try to come up with alone.

With all the care we give, we help to keep that child or flower healthy, but its growth ultimately comes from the life God infused within it. We are freely given the life, and we are freely given the growth.

Like a Baby

Our spiritual growth—like our physical growth—can be tough to measure, but God has provided an example for us in Scripture and in life.

“Like newborn infants,” Peter wrote, “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

All my baby brother did was sleep and eat and repeat ad nauseam. Somehow he grew. When Paul wrote to first-century Christians, he didn’t tell them to grow. He told them to eat, knowing that spiritual food and nourishment would supply the growth they needed through the life God gives.

Like plants and children, our spiritual lives need nurturing. And like physical life, we can’t create spiritual life—God does that. We are given the life and we are given the growth. Freely.

Just like a baby.

Never an Accident

Ultimately, the favor of the Father shines on us like the blazing star that warms our gardens from light-years away. We can feed and clothe and water, but “God…gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We don’t have to “make” our children grow. We can’t even keep them from growing.

Similarly, the spiritual life breathed by God courses through us, growing us from the inside out in ways we don’t realize until much farther down the road. With healthy conditions—food, water, love, the favor of God—it just happens, like a miraculous accident. Which, of course, is no accident at all.