Category Archives: Community

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.

Just Put It on My Card

People are tricky. Hurtful, even. We all have deep and painful memories of hurts caused by people.

And sometimes the sharpest arrows shot in our direction come from those we least expect: fellow Christians.

Christian Disagreement

Christian discord and disagreement can be hard to put a finger on. If we are all one family, adopted by God and redeemed by Him, how is it that we even have relationship difficulties with each other?

Sometimes we forget that we are still humans. Sinners. And so are they.

There will be friction between any people, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ. Sometimes it can even be harder to forgive a fellow Christian because our expectations for them are higher and the relationship is—or should be—deeper.

So what do we do when hurt happens?

Charge It to My Account

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).

After reading this passage, late theologian Jerry Bridges wrote in The Blessing of Humility: “In effect, Paul is saying that we don’t have a choice: Because we have been forgiven so much, we have an obligation to forgive those who sin against us. Yet our motive for forgiving should not be our obligation but the realization of how much we have been forgiven.”

Bridges goes on to share the story of Philemon, a friend of Paul’s. Philemon owned a slave. (That can be so hard for our 21st-century minds to wrap around, and there is no question that slavery is a dehumanizing practice. That being said, first-century slavery was not always as horrendous as the racist and genocidal slavery our American history is more familiar with. The Bible does not condone slavery, but does acknowledge its existence.)

Onesimus had run away from Philemon and likely stolen from him in the process, but then spent time with Paul and became a Christian—like Philemon. Now, Paul wrote, Philemon and Onesimus have more in common than they have different. He asked Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a brother. What’s more, Paul assured him, if he owes you anything, I will pay it.

“These are touching words,” Bridges wrote. “Paul, in prison, says, ‘charge that to my account.’ This is what Jesus says to the Father: ‘Charge Jerry’s sin to my account’—and He paid for it all through His death on the cross.”

It’s Paid

In full. In this world, we will sometimes have bones to pick with our fellow Christians—people “for whom Christ died” (see Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11). This doesn’t mean those hurts aren’t valid. But they’re already covered.

It’s as if, instead of meting out punishment and arbitrarily declaring winners and losers, He hands us His card with that pierced hand and says, “Charge it to My account.”

If someone is a Christian, all of their sins are paid for by the blood of Christ. All of them. Sins they already committed. Sins they will commit tomorrow. Sins they committed in secret. Sins they committed against us. There is no question those wrongs hurt—but they are already paid for. By the same God who paid for ours.

How can we argue with that?

For When It’s Hard…

Which is always, by the way. Forgiveness is hard. Sometimes the situations seems complicated and tricky to work through, and sometimes they actually are very complicated.

When we are in those hard situations, it will help us to remember that our God is the One who “sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18) and He knows how much that forgiveness costs us. It cost him, too.

Yes, it is hard, but we still push through it to reach out to our fellow believers. We still forgive.

As we have been forgiven.

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.

Neighborhood on a Hill

I left my house and walked down the street. A neighbor I’ve talked to many times was trimming her bushes. A teenage boy I have never talked to parked his car and went in his family’s house, closing the garage and locking the car as he went. I heard the beep as I walked by. Two women living together were working on their yard and preparing for errands. I waved at one as I passed by. When I came back around, the other turn to the first and asked something. Then she turned back to me, grinned and returned my wave.

I made a couple more laps through the main road in our neighborhood. A new neighbor was watering plants. I had briefly checked my phone to see what my Facebook notification was, and didn’t see that I had walked right by her until I had already passed. I called out a good morning, and she turned to see. Her response was eager but betrayed hesitant English. The two women drove by me and waved. A man and a woman were working in their yard and garage as I walked in their cul-de-sac. He looked up briefly but never said anything. I don’t think she ever knew I was there.

My family moved to a small town when I was eight. My mom still talks about when Mrs. Wingard first stopped by. An elderly widow with a severe heart condition, Mrs. Wingard had likely spent most of her day on the pie she handed to my mom. Over the few months we lived there, she showed us her birdhouses a few times and welcomed us into her home, always glad to see us talkative and noisy kids.

I can tell you so little about my neighbors now. So few of their names, occupations, likes, dislikes, or joys and heartaches. We are called to live as light that can’t be hidden (Matthew 5:14-15) and we have good news to share that every person on this earth needs to know (Mark 16:15). That responsibility doesn’t end with a wave and a cheery morning greeting. But perhaps it can start with no less.

 

Friends Like This

My family and I were late to the party when it came to smartphones. We weren’t into texting yet, and really only used phones for calling, so flip phones worked just fine.

During our flip phone days, we found ourselves traveling home from Texas under a cloudy sky. As we approached the Kansas border, rain started falling, eventually becoming a deafening presence on the roof of our van.

My mom fielded several calls from a friend back home, calling with updates about the storm and giving us information that helped us “see” through the blinding rain. It will get worse, they told us. It was just a hard rain then, but at their advice we pulled over at a rest stop and went inside to wait with other travelers. The rain came down harder, with pieces of hail even, and the winds were crazy. We couldn’t see anything.

Messy Beautiful Friendship

After reading Christine Hoover’s From Good to Grace, I was excited to launch into her newest book: Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As a church-planting pastor’s wife, Christine has many experiences with making new friends and working hard to make those relationships work. Her insights cover everything from our misconceptions about friends and friendship to healing from friendship hurts to learning to give and receive biblical friendship.

Through her book, Christine reminds us that friendship isn’t as easy as we think it is, and it will take work, but the encouragement of Christian friendship is worth the effort.

“May our friendships in the present day be received as gifts from God for us—but may they not be only for us. May they be signposts, guiding any who will stop and seek directions toward what our hearts innately crave most, pointing the seeker toward a Person and a place where all longings will be longings no more. For it is only in true Christian friendship that two people who are different in every way possible—race, background, language, personality, socioeconomic level—can love like this.”

Friends Going Somewhere

Friendship is a universally recognized gift. People from all walks of life, nationalities, worldviews, and life seasons find other people—typically like themselves—that they call “friends.”

What stands out about Christian friendship? How are our friendships different? Our sameness is found in our deepest convictions and our worship of the same God, though in our individual friendships, many of our other interests or passions can be very different. But what is it about Christian friendship itself that might be different from other friendships?

In the pages of Messy Beautiful Friendship, a quote from C.S. Lewis stopped me.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”

That’s it. That is how Christian friendship is different: our destination.

Friends as Traveling Companions

We may not think of our friends as traveling companions, but that is what we are, because while friendship can certainly include common interests and similar daily patterns, it is so much more than that. We are all going somewhere. As Christians, we know that friends are there to help us up when we fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) and remind us of truths we might forget (Hebrews 10:24-25) as we journey to Heaven.

“We’re not at the supper table yet,” Christine reminds us, “and it’s going to be a long, arduous journey to get there.” Friends come alongside us on this journey through life, and in a thousand different ways spur us on.

You may have heard the overused question If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?

How about this: If you were traveling on a long and sometimes difficult journey, what kind of friend would you choose to go with you? Are you that kind of friend to the travelers around you?

That Kind of Friend

Christine says it well. “When we sit side by side at the supper table, we will be celebrating that, by God’s grace, we made it to our destination. We made it because of Christ, we made it with the help of our friends, and we made it together.”

As we traveled home that torrentially rainy day, the dangers of flash floods and hail damage and being stranded on the side of the road were lessened because of a friend’s warning. A friend who knew where we were in our journey, shared with us resources we didn’t have (a weather radar map, primarily), and were quick to contact us to warn us of danger. A friend who, when hearing about potentially dangerous weather, thought about us, and spent time studying the weather radar to pass info on to my parents. As if they were traveling on the road with us.

Because, in a way, they are.