because fears repeat

I made a list in the “Notes” part of my phone on the way to work yesterday.

I blush reading the words now, because they sound like a high schooler’s diary entry, or at least a college freshman. And that is embarrassing when you are 29, I think. I was grateful the strangers crowding my shoulders were strangers – because it would be inappropriate for them to point and laugh about things I should keep hidden. I was getting off at Fulton, anyway, so if they wanted to be inappropriate I wouldn’t have to know.

I am good at keeping fears secret. I publish my fears in blogposts (see here and here and here and here), but this week I realized electronic confessions keep a safe distance. After I write out all my wrestling, the fears feel “dealt with.”

Turns out, casting out fears (by way of perfect love) is more like turning away stray cats than some other more permanent banishment, like throwing heavy rocks in deep oceans. The fears keep showing up at my door and I keep telling them to go away, because truth says God’s love can do that (1 John 4:18).

I believe God’s word is true, which is why I end so many of my blogposts with paragraphs that preach back to the way I feel in the first lines. But knowing and believing truth sometimes (often) does not change the way you feel. Not always at least, not for me.

The fears will show up again even after the best, believing “casting out.” And when they do – when I open my door to find that same stray meow – my shock gives way to recognition and I start my internal scheming to get rid of it… again.

That’s why it feels like high school and college and 5th grade and right now. Because fears repeat. And no matter how many times I act surprised by the scratch at my door, I know I will recognize the meow on the other side.

So, I listed my fears on my phone and then fought back tears in the crowd of strangers trying not to look at me. Truth casted out fears (again) and truth made Friday life abundant.

But I am learning that fears are not “dealt with” … fears are lived through.

Believing perfect love casts out fear means looking up with the Israelites at that bronze serpent in the desert (Numbers 21) because God keeps His promises. There will always be serpents and stray cats, but there will also be God.

We are one week away from celebrating the way God raised up His Son on the cross so we could look up for an eternal casting out of every fear. This is the kind of freedom that doesn’t just “deal with” all the fear we have going on.

This freedom means you can live right through fears without being ruled by them.

stay and wait for the “yet”

I wiggled my way into a Tuesday night home group with no-bake cookies stashed in all the tupperware containers I own. I guess when you are new in town and trying to find the (horribly cliché) “place you fit in,” baked goods are never a bad idea (Let’s be honest, baked goods are always a good idea).

I added my no-bake cookies to the offerings on the coffee table and made a couple bad jokes so the small gathering knew I wasn’t trying to play it cool and the cookies really were just a shameless way to endear myself into the group.

Sometime after the awkward introductions, we got buried in a discussion over doubt. The sermon the previous week had been about the doubt of John the Baptist in Matthew 11. From prison, the most sold out of all Jesus’s followers sent messengers to ask if Jesus really was the One he had been waiting for, preaching about, and prophesying of – John the Baptist sent messengers to find out if Jesus really was the Messiah his entire existence had proclaimed He was.

What a curveball, to think about doubt in this way with this group of strangers and to arrive at the place we did. I don’t mean thinking about doubt is a curveball – especially here in hipster heavy Brooklyn where knowing anything for sure is very unhip. We all agreed that our generation doesn’t have a problem accepting/engaging/encouraging doubts. We are top heavy with them and at times paralyzed by the balancing act.

The curvy part of the doubt equation is the tension it takes to stay when doubt comes. Because doubt gives way to fear very quickly. Christians often run to the hills and stand beside pagans shouting doubts at the cold, black sky and then run away before ever an answer can be returned.

Where are you, God?
Where were you when my sister died? and when my heart got broken? and when I failed at work and life and love?
Where were you, God and why don’t you answer?
Are you even real?

And as quickly as the one-sided conversation began, it ends as we pull away with smug satisfaction that we got no reply – as if to say to the cold, black sky and everyone else, “See, I was right. He isn’t there.”

But, that’s not doubt. That’s fear.

Doubt is buried somewhere in the middle of belief. It’s a tension that trains us to believe better, stronger, and deeper in the truths we know. Thomas wasn’t the only doubter and neither was John the Baptist. David doubted too, and he doubted well… and he stayed. He wandered out (of his own volition and not) into the hills and deserts and shouted out his doubts at the cold, black sky.

And then he stayed.

He stayed until his heart preached these true words to him:
Yet you are holy.

David wrestled and John the Baptist wrestled and Thomas wrestled and now we wrestle the same and different mysteries – all those things just outside the reach of our minds and hearts. And if we stay, we will also say with David, “Yet you are holy.”

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of mygroaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
(Psalm 22:1-11, ESV, emphasis mine)

When John the Baptist sent the messenger to ask Jesus if He was really the One, Jesus responded with Truth. He responded with the only thing that could come from His lips and the only thing that can come back from the cold, black sky if we stay long enough to listen: the Word.

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.'” Matthew 11:4-6

Sometimes fear runs our footsteps away from the hills and the cold, black sky before Truth can set us free where we stand.

John the Baptist was locked up in prison without any hope of freedom and his doubt was mixing fear like a cocktail. He wanted some confirmation that his life had not been lived in vain and he was hoping the sign would appear in the form of loosed chains.

His belief was tenuous, his doubt building tension in between and around the solid rock foundation of his faith. But he stayed to hear Jesus say, “Look at the ways I fulfilled the prophesies. Remember?”

John the Baptist believed, but doubt was threatening to give way to fear when belief didn’t seem to be holding up inside a jail cell. And the first and best Jesus could give him to bolster his belief was the Word – Himself as the fulfillment to prophecy and evidence of His faithfulness.

Just as Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame for the joy set before him, our duels with doubts are not without joy because we are never without God. Though he may seem far from us and far from our generation and far from our shouting, fist-shaking nights under a cold, black sky, He is never not present.

And in His presence is fullness of joy.

This, I believe, is what David and John the Baptist and Thomas experienced in the middle and on the other side of their wrestling. Because they stayed to see that God is present and in His presence is fullness of joy.

If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, we will stay and our tension will give way to greater belief that God is who He claims to be and keeps all His promises. If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, our greater belief will meet more doubt and tension and joy because God is always the same. His claims are never untrue. His promises are always fulfilled. His Word can always speak straight into the cold questions.

And here is hope for a generation who hasn’t the courage to stay and wait to hear the word, “Yet…”

*NOTE: My mom has since pointed out the irony of my calling no-bake cookies “baked goods.” Two points for the mom team. She got me there.

same park, same path, different heart

The day was not more or less beautiful. The park was not more or less packed.

The children played soccer under the same sun’s evening glow, the same moving mass of strangers ran in circles around the same lake, the same warmth burst out from the tips of trees and into the same cool, autumn air.

Everything about my run was the same, except that it was different.

I rounded the curve last night on the East side when it starts to slope down and I realized a smile had stretched across my face. It was a facial expression that defines stupid grin and it was amplified by my oogly eyes marveling at the sky. For the entire steady slope, I grinned and oogled the sky.

I smiled at all the strangers who had made me feel uneasy and emotional a few days before, but I thought my delight might be entertaining (if they create stories in their minds about strangers like I do). I befriended one lady, in a runner’s world kind of way. She was about my height with a similar stride and a purple headband. We ran comfortably side by side and I imagined her story until she sped on ahead around the south curve (confirming my prediction after seeing her serious running tight/skirt combo and determined arm swing).

Everything was the same, but my heart was different.

I was not afraid.

I felt like Kevin from Home Alone when he opens the front door to his empty home and yells to the Christmas darkness, “Hey! I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I’m not afraid anymore!”

To get empty of fear is liberating, but only if I am getting filled up with something else. Otherwise I’m just yelling at darkness and hoping my endorphins will keep pumping boldness into my blood. The emptiness has to be displaced – the fear has to be replaced by something strong enough to shove it beyond the bounds of influence.

Christ got empty. He emptied Himself so that we could be emptied of emptiness – emptied of that vacancy we feel when fear screams out from our insides.

My salvation has pushed emptiness out and fear with it. Hope has displaced strife and faith has removed worry. I am not afraid anymore because I believe the fullness of Christ is pushing against and spilling beyond my boundaries.

I am not afraid of missing out. I am not afraid of being a stranger. I am not afraid of hugging this city when it doesn’t hug me back. I am not afraid of being unknown. I am not afraid.

I am not afraid because Christ emptied my fear when He got empty.

get wisdom

When I read it in Proverbs 4, it sounds like something I should add to the grocery list – like it’s one of those things I can just pick up on the way home from work and in between stops on my hour-long commute.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” (Proverbs 4:7-9, ESV)

The beginning of wisdom is to get wisdom. Hm.

It’s a rough and tumble struggle when it comes to ironing out the practicalities of Proverbs. But this past Sunday and in recent conversations, the Lord has been so good to remind my heart why practicalities are as much a good gift as wooey-wooey, spiritual moments.

Practical is not a word I would use to describe myself. Two days ago there was a Blueberry Crisp cooling on my kitchen counter while various “extra” and “oops” leftover ingredients cooled in the fridge. I have taken a different train route to work every day and have a different very impractical story about each journey. While still in the process of moving in, baking ingredients are among the highest on my priority list and (though I stop often at the corner store) I rarely come home with more than a few items.

I am not naturally very practical, but I made peace with that a long time ago.

So, when Tim Keller said the new sermon series was on wisdom from the book of Proverbs, my ears perked up. Though a very impractical person about many ordinary things, I desperately want to be practically wise about the most important things. And God’s directive is very clear: get wisdom. God says to go get wisdom – actively and certainly. Get wisdom.

Okay, Lord. You have commanded this and I will obey, but how? Part of believing God for His promises is believing that He will never ask anything of me that is impossible. I do believe I can grow in wisdom. I believe that He will show me how and that He will make me able.

The possibility of His promises depends on His faithfulness because I cannot do anything He asks without His help.

Now, back to last Sunday in those plush, uncomfortable theatre seats at the Salvation Army downtown. As we read through Proverbs 1 and Keller started to outline the importance of wisdom and what it means to acquire it, this little gem rolled out:

You get wisdom through paradoxical fear and the foolishness of grace.

The paradoxical fear is reference to Proverbs 9:10 (fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom) and the foolishness of grace references 1 Corinthians 1:18 (the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing). How do you get wisdom? By a righteous and reverent fear of the Lord and through the unbelievable work of Christ on the cross. Keller gave an analogy that is helpful here. He described the fear one might have if he were holding a very valuable, very rare and very breakable vase. He does not fear the vase – that it will harm him – but, instead he fears that he will drop the vase because he values it so much.

This is where we start when we determine to “get wisdom” – the fear of the Lord. And how do we have a right fear of the Lord? The foolishness of the cross. This, more than anything else, speaks a spiritual language of value. The beauty of this language is that it translates into the practicalities of everyday questions and doubts.

I better get to “getting” … maybe along the way I’ll gain some knowledge that will make my life less like Amelia Bedelia.

Well, maybe not. But there is grace for Amelia too.
 

oh, hey fear. welcome to the party.

My friend Nicole wrote recently in an email,

“let’s chat soon! which party of nyc are you moving to?”

I don’t think it was intentional, the party part, but I loved it because I’ll be moving to the party in Brooklyn very soon. I spoke to my future roommate again on the phone a couple nights ago and God could not have orchestrated a more beautiful combination (we’re both planning to use hammocks as beds and our phone convo ended in prayer). But I’ll tell you something that might surprise you – fear is moving with me.

bat-crazy-mad-fear

Yes, bat-crazy-mad-fear is a real thing and when it comes, I either bury or break it because those are the only two options. I can bury it in the proverbial luggage I carry around and hope it stays hidden or I can break it with the sword of Truth. Bury or break the bat-crazy-mad-fear, those are my options.

And then there are times like now when it all gets so woven in I don’t know where to swing the sword. The joy and the bat-crazy-mad-fear and the contentment happen all at once. I know because it happened to me this week – like my affections were marbles and some sticky-fingered kid threw them out on the cement where they all ended scattered in asymmetrical, haphazard fashion.

I guess this is some strange sort of confession (more personal than my previous posts on fear here and here). It’s good to be honest about this sort of thing – not having “it together” and not being able to muster the bravery all my fear requires.

It’s good to be honest because bat-crazy-mad-fear is not something you can ignore or bury. Not for me, anyway.

It’s all the bold questions about saying goodbye to my cases and buying a plane ticket to the Big Apple and feeling so small under the starry Midwestern night sky. It’s the realization that I may never be as adult as the world requires and I may never be the kind of success that makes sense. It’s the rumbling in my belly that I’m not sure where I’m going, even though I’m moving in a very specific direction. It’s big questions about significance and little questions about insecurities. It’s the reason I spent hours agonizing over my packing list before visiting Patrick in NYC. It’s sometimes the conversation when I stand on a scale and the voice in my head that lectures me on finances.

My bat-crazy-mad-fear is a real thing and I’m sure it’ll get packed in my bags when I move to the party in Brooklyn. I won’t pretend that I can master it or banish it from my days. That just sets me up for unnecessary, epic battles in the future. Bat-crazy-mad-fear is a thing that will keep showing up in my life, but I’m learning.

I’m learning that the fight is not so much about coming out swinging – not so much about the grip I’ve got on the sword. Instead of trying to strategize fear out of my life with the knowledge I have of the Word, I am learning to just love the Word more.

That’s it.

Just love the Word more.

“Fear not, for I am with you. . . . I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

When I read this, I don’t want to fight fear. I just love that God promises to strengthen, help, and uphold me with His righteous hand. He’ll do the fighting, I’ll do the believing. Because fear is coming to the party in Brooklyn and I need to believe God’s presence is always going to be a bigger deal.

Perfect love (not perfect people) will cast out fear.

So, I will stand in my imperfection and I will admit that fear is always lurking somewhere. I will get honest and broken about the bad-crazy-mad-fear that threatens my hope and then I’ll surrender to the love that can cast it out. Oh, and then I’ll pray that God will help my unbelief when I start thinking my sword-wielding is more important than the sword.

fighting fear with freedom when seeking pleasure

You only live once.

Better hurry, then. Better take all the pleasure in with big gulps and big gasps until you’re stuffed with it because soon you might be dead. Better see everything and do everything and say everything and be everything because there will be a moment when it is all over. Life, I mean.

If I can wade through the hedonism of this cultural phenomenon (YOLO), what really remains is fear. That simple monster scares us into believing this is all there is – that “wasting this life” means missing out on late nights and roller coasters and fishing trips. Fear is that big, ugly giant in our closets and under our beds who reminds us we are mortal and convinces us pleasure is mortal, too. Fear.

It looks like freedom, to hurry and hustle and chase pleasures. But even the best of pleasures, the seemingly good and unselfish ones (like conversations with your son or marrying your best friend or traveling to every wonder of the world) are never meant to be sought in fear. We were never meant to chase pleasures as the unknown date of our mortality inches closer – to think we would lie more pleasantly in our graves knowing that we enjoyed bar scenes on all seven continents.

We were not made to seek pleasure out of fear. We were made to seek pleasure out of freedom.

Pleasure is not bad. If that were so, God would never be pleased. But He is pleased. He delights daily in His creation and He has made us in His image to delight and enjoy pleasures as well. Every day, more pleasures.

Isn’t that splendid? We are made with pleasure-seeking in our veins! But God does not seek pleasure out of fear. He does not hurry and hustle to store up treasures… it sounds silly to even suggest it. Our God is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). He is not constrained by a timeline – by a mortal death that inches closer every time the sun rises in the east.

When we are united with Christ, mortal life is no longer the timeline for our pleasures. We need not fear the minutes that have already passed this morning and how we haven’t seized the YOLO anthem in every breath.

The Christian’s pleasure-seeking is rooted in the security of eternity.

When we are secure about eternity, seeking pleasure looks different. It looks like joining in God’s pleasure, pursuing holiness, and enjoying every good thing without fear. Instead of chasing and grasping and gulping in pleasures, we join God as He delights in the beauty of creation.

As we delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4), we are conformed to be pleased by what pleases Him. My pastor used to say that God changes our “wanter” – our desire is no longer to chase fulfillment and worth in pleasure, but to seek fulfillment and worth in God. Our delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1) and on this law we meditate day and night. The source of our delight is an otherworldly and eternal spring, welling up to give profound pleasure.

In Christ we live twice, and one of those times is forever. It takes the pressure off pleasure-seeking in this life because we have the assurance of eternity (and pleasures forevermore).

And this is freedom.

 

when fear meets perfect love

It finds us at corporate desks and backyard barbecues, at county jails and beaches at sunset. It paralyzes us with doubt and bursts with frenetic energy. It is irrational and rational, trivial and monumental, tangible and unseen.

Fear is crazy persistent.

Fear is on my brain today for a lot of reasons, but something else is casting it out – something that curls the corners of my mouth when they should be stuck in an anxious frown. The Lord has made an eternally significant introduction that breaks all the ways fear might bind me. Because perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18) and I know perfect love through Christ, my fear is cast out from me like the sun casts out the dark in the morning.

Fear of rejection? Cast out.

Fear of failure? Cast out.

Fear of the future? Cast out.

Fear of death? Cast out.

Fear of loss? Cast out.

Fear of sadness? Cast out.

Fear of darkness? Cast out.

Fear of deadlines? Cast out.

Fear of missed opportunities? Cast out.

After all this casting out, what does the light of Perfect Love leave us with? Freedom. When fear is cast out by perfect love, freedom is what remains. And we can not “get better” at being free. Christ accomplished our freedom and cast out all fear when He secured our sanctification.

What does it look like to work out of freedom? To have relationships out of freedom? To start a family out of freedom? To meet your neighbors, serve your brothers, and bless your enemies out of freedom?

What does it look like to live out of freedom instead of fear? Well, you won’t hold your breath for the response, for one thing. Your acts of kindness and grace and toil in the workplace or in the living room do not depend on being accepted, affirmed, or approved.

When you live out of a place of freedom, you are accepted, affirmed, and approved already in Christ.

And our freedom is not temperamental or conditional – we need not be wary that our performance might effect our access to freedom. When Christ spoke the words, “It is finished,” He secured our freedom – forever. We know this is true because He has never made a promise He hasn’t kept.

This is a song I think a freed person might sing. Maybe you’ll sing along today. Is Christ your best thought, highest affection, and greatest inheritance? I pray I can sing these things in freedom with an honest heart!