It’s a Trap: Defining Fear of People

He pushed hard on the pencil to get the darkest shades of green he could. This was his best tree yet. He set down his pencil and studied his work. He might even need to add black to made the foliage really seem dark enough. He squinted at it, then reached for his black pencil.

“This is truly marvelous, Matthew!”

He nearly dropped his pencil. “Oh, uh, thanks.” She usually didn’t sneak up on him like that.

“This is exactly what I was talking about,” she picked up his paper. “See, class? May I borrow this, Matthew?” He didn’t answer because she was already holding it up.

“Notice how Matthew used light and shading in his work here. On the side of the tree that faces the streetlight, he added lighter colors of green. On the opposite side of the tree, we seem some of the darkest greens there are. Well done, Matthew!”

She set the paper back down on his desk. “Would you like to put it on the display board?”

Matt looked around. Everyone else was either looking back at their papers or pretending not to talk to their neighbors. Just as he turned back to Mrs. Ludstrom, he noticed the seventh-graders walking down the hall outside the classroom. The basketball players walked by last, seemingly unconcerned about being late.

“Um, no thanks, Mrs. Ludstrom. I think I’ll take it home.”

What is Fear of People?

When we think of fear, we usually think of physical danger or harm. Sometimes that can be true of our fear of people; sometimes we’re afraid of what people can actually do to us. We worry about increasing street violence or North Korean missiles instead of trusting in the God who holds all people and their lives in His hands.

But there is another kind of fear of people that is more common for most of us. We might think we’re not afraid. But ask someone to get on a stage and speak to an audience and you’ll see just who is fearful…which will be most of us (it will certainly be me).

Some polls say that 25% of Americans are afraid of speaking in front of an audience, a fear that tops fears of snakes, drowning, and needles (and clowns, by the way). We are more afraid of standing in front of people just like us and talking to them than we are of suffocating underwater. What?

We can’t handle it when one person thinks less of us, much less a large group of them all at once. And they would think less of us, wouldn’t they, if they saw us as we are?

People scare us. Their opinions scare us.

When we fear people, we base our worth on their acceptance, then live in fear that they will take away their acceptance—and take our worth right along with it. We fear others through relationships, and refuse to show our true selves out of a fear that we might be rejected for it. “We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (a fear of God),” Edward Welch writes in When People are Big and God is Small.

Why is Fear of People a Problem?

The exact phrase “fear of people” is not found in Scripture and the similar term “fear of man” is only found once: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). What kind of snare does fear of man put in our path?

Meet Herod. There were several Herods in the Bible, and this is not the one who met the wise men after Jesus’ birth. This Herod executed the apostle James not long after after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven; when he saw that James’ death pleased the people, he decided it was a good thing. So he imprisoned Peter, intending to do the same to him.

But Herod forgot something. He forgot that God is sovereign, not Herod. An angel walked right into Peter’s cell that night, woke him up (the guy never could stay awake), and escorted him to safety. Peter would not die that night.

But Herod’s days were numbered. Shortly after this attempted execution, Herod gave a speech in all his political glory to subjects who, ironically, wanted to please him. The people began chanting that Herod the king was actually a god. He liked that praise and glory from the people who stood before him, and he prided himself in their chant. And he died.

What kind of snare does fear of man lay for us? The trap of looking to frail, fallible people instead of the conquering, incredible God. We forget to follow God and instead start following people like us.

Herod was an extreme example, but an example nonetheless. When we rest our faith and joy in people and glory in their praise, we forget that God alone has any right to that praise. It’s a trap.

Not Alone

This is serious stuff. It seems to be a universal human experience to struggle through this heart-problem: Who will we look to for acceptance, for our worth?

Israel’s first king (provided, by the way, because the Israelites wanted to be like all the peoples around them) was chosen by God and began his reign as a humble and wise leader. Yet eventually, Saul’s fear of the people he ruled drove him to break God’s direct command in order to do what would command their respect. “Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice'” (1 Samuel 15:24).

In the New Testament, we find the Pharisees lived in constant fear of people. For a bunch of bossy holier-than-thous, they were surprisingly scared. The Bible tells us they feared the Romans and their hold on the Pharisees’ authority (John 11:48), but they also feared the people (Luke 22:2), and inspired fear in others (John 12:42).

And then there is what might be darkest example of fear of people. The night cocky Peter fell to fear and didn’t acknowledge that he even knew the One who was giving His life for Peter’s soul (Mark 14:66-72). How low fear of people can take us.

Hope

But perhaps it is this darkest example that brings our deepest hope. Because Peter’s story didn’t end that night in Jerusalem, not far from the hill Golgotha where the cross was raised.

When Jesus conquered death and rose again just three days later, the story wasn’t finished. Peter now had the unending power of God, the unshakeable hope, and the steadfast love he could base all of his life on. And because of this hope and love and power, Peter would not always be afraid.

We don’t have to be, either.

We All Do It

He shaded this tree with three shades of green. Last time he had only used two shades. Setting down his coloring pencil, he squinted at his paper. They would be so surprised. He smiled as he pictured it framed in his grandparents’ living room, then picked up one more shade of green. Real talent, Mrs. Ludstrom had said last week as she posted his latest work on the bulletin board.

“Hey, Matt.”

He looked up quickly. Two of the guys from seventh grade swaggered to his table and sat down. He watched them while quietly covering his drawing with his math book.

“Saw you in P.E. today,” one of the guys said. “That was a great three-pointer.”

“Um, thanks.” He wiped his hands on his pants. He wondered how long they would stay at his table.

“Maybe you could be on our team again next time,” the other guy said. It didn’t sound like a question.

“Yeah,” Matt said.

“If only we didn’t have to end that scrimmage game there,” the first guy said. “Stupid art class. We would have won if Mrs. Ludstrom wasn’t so picky about making us go color like preschoolers.”

Matt pushed the box of coloring pencils further into his backpack.

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

Of all the days for her sister to cancel the playdate. Kelsie clicked her three-month-old’s carrier into place. “Sara, let’s buckle you in, honey,” she held apart the straps of her two-year-old’s carseat.

“Nope,” Sara insisted as she kept playing in the back of the van.

Kelsie tried logic. “Sara, we need to go get some food from the grocery store so we can eat dinner with Daddy tonight.”

Aa-roof!

Kelsie turned around just in time to see Baxter come jumping into the car. “Baxter, no!”

Aa-roof! The baby started crying.

Kelsie sighed. “Come here, boy,” she called to Baxter while the baby cried louder.

“Here’s your paci, Baby,” Kelsie heard her toddler say behind her while she wrestled Baxter to the backyard. So much for weaning him off that like Jenna suggested, Kelsie thought, remembering her friend’s cautions about pacifiers.

“Stay back here, crazy,” Kelsie shoved Baxter in and shut the gate. She hurried back to the van just as Sara dumped the diaper bag out on the van floor. “Sara, what are you doing?”

“Finding Noah’s paci,” Sara informed her.

“It’s right here by your foot. See, here? Okay, we’ll clean that up later. Let’s get in your carseat.”

“Nope.”

“Sara, we need to …”

Sara stood up to go back into the back of the van. Kelsie reached out just in time to grab her.

“NO!” Sara yelled, kicking her legs. Kelsie put her screaming daughter into her carseat. The baby’s paci fell out of his carseat and he started screaming again, too.

“Let’s sing a song for Noah,” Kelsie suggested as Sara kept yelling. “Twinkle, twinkle—” Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out to see if her sister answered her text about childcare and saw a name: Rebecca Peters. Kelsie raised her eyebrows. No way, she thought. Mrs. Perfect does not need to hear this chorus right now.

Just as she started to cancel the call, Sara kicked again, knocking the phone out of her hand. “Sara!” Kelsie scolded. “You need to stop it right now.”

Sara crossed her arms and glared at Kelsie, but Kelsie had stopped caring—as long as a certain two-year-old quit kicking and screaming. She re-inserted Noah’s paci. “You can get out when we get to the store,” she told Sara firmly then picked up her phone and looked at the screen.

Oh, no! The clock was counting up—Sara’s kick had made her answer the call instead of decline it. Kelsie swallowed and wondered if she should hang up or not. Timidly she put the phone to her ear. Not knowing what else to say, she softly said, “Hello?”

“Oh, hi, Kelsie, how are you?” Rebecca asked smoothly.

“Good,” Kelsie answered and slammed the van’s sliding door. “We’re doing good,” Kelsie climbed into her seat, wondering what all Rebecca had heard. “How are you?” she mumbled.

“Oh, we’re doing wonderful. My kids and I have had so much fun this summer! Anyway, I was calling to see if you wanted to help us out with a thank-you project for the church staff…”

Kelsie rolled her eyes as she pulled her door shut. She put the key in the ignition as Rebecca droned on about the project. She would have backed out the driveway with the phone stuck to her ear, except two things happened at the same time.

The first thing Kelsie noticed was that Sara started kicking and screaming again. Then she looked up and saw her next-door neighbor standing on her driveway, holding Baxter by the collar.

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

“And that’s where you’ll find me/Farther than I ever hoped to be.” She smiled as the last notes on the piano died away.

“Oh my goodness! That was so pretty!”

Erica smiled at the praise.

“You wrote that? That sounds like it could be on the radio.”

“Thanks, Ashley,” Erica said. She paused then grinned. “It would be fun to hear it on the radio.”

“I know, right?! Play another one.”

Erica looked at the ceiling while she thought. “Um, okay, there is this other one I really like, but it’s not quite finished yet. Tell me what you think,” she took her place at the piano bench again. Gently, she fingered the keys and began playing a melody. She took a deep breath to sing the first line.

“Hi, girls!”

Erica looked up. “Oh, hi, Chloe,” she said slowly.

“Hi!” Ashley grinned. “You should hear what Erica wrote—it’s amazing! Play the first one again, Erica.”

“Oh, I don’t have to play that. It’s really not that good. I know a lot of people who could do a lot better,” Erica started to get up from the piano.

“But you just said you wanted to hear it on the radio,” Ashley reminded her.

“I’d love to hear it,” Chloe added. “I heard you’re playing for church in a couple weeks.”

“Maybe,” Erica smiled and looked away.

“Come on, just do it,” Ashley said.

“Please?” Chloe asked.

Erica sighed and sat back down at the piano bench. She paused as she thought through the first few notes again. She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking.

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

It almost seems that to be human is to be afraid of the opinions of others. How many of our decisions and thought processes are wrapped around what other people think of us—or what we are afraid they will think of us?

Stories like Kelsie’s and Matt’s and Erica’s feel familiar—because they are our stories, too. We relate to these and many similar predicaments we find ourselves in. Ever fumbled over someone’s name (or your own) during an introduction, or completely flop a handshake? Then think about it for hours and mentally replay what you wish you had done?

Why are we so afraid of each other?!? Do we realize how crazy it is that we give so much power to those who are human just like us?

Fear of people holds sway over most of us to some degree or another, and it has long directed much of my own life. Over the next few weeks I hope to explore this topic here on the blog—not as someone who has conquered and moved on from this fear, but as a traveler working through it. May we all find something to encourage us in leaving these silly fears behind. Come join me! See you here next Tuesday – or you can sign up for updates and new content will land in your inbox as it is posted.

There is no reason to be afraid. Not anymore.

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.

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

we are not yet where we will be