Category Archives: Encouragement

Hope for a Year Unseen

I want to be like Lucy Pevensie when I grow up.

Always one of my favorite Chronicles of Narnia characters, Lucy lives with joy in the smallest of moments and hopeful appreciation of people—and any other kind of creatures—around her. Her relationship with Aslan often stands in contrast to her siblings’; as the first to find Narnia she seems to also consistently be the first to seek Aslan out and follow him. When the Pevensies return to Narnia in Prince Caspian, Lucy keeps looking for him—and is overjoyed to finally find him one night when the others are sleeping.

“‘Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘you’re bigger.’

‘That is because you are older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”

C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

An Uncharted Year

With less Lucy Pevensie and more of Wile E. Coyote’s frenetic running around, I turn the calendar to a year unknown and unconquered. Page after empty page holds exciting possibilities of things planned and done and accomplished and crossed off the list.

The future is ours, right? What do we want to do with it? The next twelve months hold incredible potential for reaching goals and learning new things and trying new directions and generally attempting self-improvement.

But where is Aslan?

Like Every Year Before It

About a year ago we were looking ahead to the year that is now behind us. Unbeknownst to us, there would be events and changes that we would have never seen coming: highs, lows, in-betweens, and plenty of surprises that popped up unexpected. These last twelve months have shown us more of God at work, whether we realized it at the time or not.

In all of this, have we sought Him out? Or just tried to get things done?

As we turn to face the coming year, even more question marks—more “unbeknownsts”—fill our empty calendars. We don’t know what we will face this year. If it’s anything like every year before it, there will be some big surprises. Maybe some good ones, maybe some life-changing ones, and probably some we would rather not face.

But like Lucy Pevensie, if Aslan is there—we’ll be okay.

With Us Always

On the heels of the recent Christmas season, we go into the rest of our lives with its message ringing in our ears. There is born for you—for you—this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

In ancient times, religious ideas mostly centered around elusive gods that existed somewhere far away from humanity. The gods of Greece and Rome, according to mythology, had their own problems and concerns and sometimes even wars with other gods. They were not very concerned with humans, but their attention could be bought with gifts and promises and sacrifices.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to believe in gods like that? To worry daily about which gods might be mad at you for your allegiance to one of their rival gods and what sacrifices you may need to offer to stay on everyone’s good side? To assume that bad things in your life came from an angry god or maybe just a disinterested one, intent on his own concerns somewhere else?

The Israelites’ God had always been different.

One God, not many. God All-Powerful, not one god warring with others for top-dog status. The God who writes all of history and brings His plans to pass and loves—truly loves—His people.

Even then, in the Old Testament, under the law, there was a sharp division between God and His people. When God came to speak with Moses, He warned the people to stay away from the mountain where they met. If they touched it, they would die. The temple itself illustrated this separation with heavy curtains dividing the people from God’s Most Holy Place.

But all that changed with Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John wrote (John 1:14). Emmanuel has come, and will never leave. God. Is. With. Us.

Hope in the Right Places

“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,” Martin Luther wrote. As we turn the calendar to 2018, we hope for lots of things. Better health, better habits, a more productive life, stronger relationships. We set goals and make resolutions that may start with some strength but will ultimately fizzle out long before we expected. If we hope that these resolutions and goals will make us better people, our dreams for the new year will be dashed long before Easter candy goes on clearance.

Hope.

Not in our own self-bettering strategies. Not in a world of progress.

Hope.

Well-placed hope—hope that God will walk through this next year with us as He did this past year and the year before that and every year into the past. Like Lucy Pevensie, waiting to see Aslan move, and trusting him to work out the details of the surprises that come our way.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

From the Bottom of the Ocean Floor

We could probably write a what-I’m-grateful-list for each other.

It seems we all start out with that same basic list of thanksgiving: we are thankful for our family, our friends, good food, and our warm home. And our job and our car. Maybe a couple of other things, but most lists of gratitude include these—and they should. These are things we should be grateful for.

But what if we don’t have them? Is our gratitude at the Thanksgiving table this year dependent on the people around us, the food we eat, and the roof over our table?

The People of Puny Hope?

Christians are different from other people. Like the ancient Jewish leaders who sized up Peter’s bravado and his unlikely eloquence and remembered he had “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13), people around us should be able to tell that we are different because of Christ’s work in and on us. They should ask us, Peter later wrote, about the hope that is in us—sensing that there is an anchor in our lives beyond what other religions or messages have to offer.

Paul wrote to early believers about the unquestionable truth that Jesus did rise from the dead, and will one day raise us, too. Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to our faith; without them, Paul asked, what hope do we have? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If all we can hope for is a good life here and now, we have a puny, pitiful hope.

Continue reading From the Bottom of the Ocean Floor

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Why Are We So Afraid?

“Hey, Erica! I was hoping to see you today.”

Erica turned to see Chloe coming up behind her in the church foyer. “Oh, hi, Chloe.”

“I wanted to show you something,” Chloe handed Erica a piece of paper.

Erica looked it over. “A piano contest?”

“It’s more than a recital; it’s a songwriting contest. You come up with a song and some lyrics and then play it and sing it at the contest. I showed it to Ashley and she thought you’d be perfect for it!”

“So there’d be people judging me?”

“I know it can be a little nerve-racking at first, but you’ll do great. I can help you practice, if you want.”

“I don’t know, Chloe. That sounds…” Erica hesitated.

Chloe smiled. “Think about it. You can let me know next Sunday if you want. I really think you’d be great at it, Erica!”

Erica re-read the paper as Chloe walked away. Singing one of my songs. In front of judges. And an audience.

She folded the paper and stuck it in her pocket. Not likely.

Good Enough?

We live in constant fear that others will see us for the frauds we feel we are. We’re afraid they’ll think we don’t measure up. That we’re not good enough.

News flash, friends. We don’t measure up. And we’ll never be good enough.

All the self-help books and feel-good motivational posters we can read will never bury this inescapable truth: You and I are not good enough. Whether the people around us tell us so or not, it’s true. We fail, make mistakes, and look ridiculous. Sometimes all in the same day. Even in our best moments we’re mired down by memories of past mistakes and fear of future ones.

It’s time to face the music. We’re scared of being found out.

But what if we already have been?

The Bible Says…

We spend so much time worrying about the thoughts going through other people’s minds. Other people. People just like us. What about the thoughts and plans of the God who made us?

Our mind-reading attempts on other people rarely land us anywhere productive (or even accurate), and it is even more ridiculous to think we could ever guess the thoughts of God. In an extraordinary gesture of kindness, God wrote His thoughts down, and gave them to us.

We don’t have to wonder.

God knows us and everything we try to hide.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

“And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts’” (Luke 16:15).

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10).

“For he knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21).

We have nothing good in us.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Can’t Get the Medicine Without the Diagnosis

The Bible seems to agree with our self-assessment on our bad days. We have so much we want to hide, but we can’t—God sees it all. Ironically, though, it is only through acknowledging these hard truths about ourselves that we begin to find a way out.

The secret to our fears of insufficiency is knowing they are true: We are messed up.

BUT.

It is one of the most hope-filled words in the Bible. But. Here those three letters remind us that our future isn’t determined by our past or even our present, but by the all-powerful God who is writing our stories.

“…[W]ash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).

Like a doctor who knows his patient’s only hope is through radical medical intervention, God tells us the truth about our hearts. And then He provides the antidote. Because of the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be whole and clean and perfect and complete.

God has seen our deepest, darkest secrets – even things no one else knows about – and knows just how dark and twisted and bad we are.

But He didn’t leave.

All of these fears we have that people will decide we aren’t worth their time and walk away?

We are not worth God’s time. But He isn’t leaving.

He paid the debt for our darkness by giving His own Son, and freely offers to accept us as His own. His adopted children.

All of those fears and insecurities have no basis anymore. We have been made alive! We have been given the perfect righteousness of Christ! We are loved by God!

And when God is for us, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

The thoughts and opinions of man hold no weight when we have been uber-generously given the acceptance of God. We have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 13-4). We are children of God (1 John 3:1).

We are free. Free from trying to measure up or resting on our own abilities to be enough. Free from bondage to others’ expectations or our own goals. Free to live for the God who rescued us—and for Him alone.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).