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Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Do Not Be Afraid

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark 4:40

When we are afraid it is often because we have lost a sense of control, we are in an unfamiliar situation, or darkness has made our surroundings strange and threatening. We can be frightened because we feel our life, or the life of a loved one is in danger. Fear is a common reaction whenever something out of our comfort zone is occurring. On the one hand, we are told to fear God, as in Leviticus 19:14, and on the other hand, sprinkled throughout scripture, is the directive not to fear God’s messengers.

Biblical encounters with a divine being – God, Jesus, or an angel – is often preceded with the directive to have no fear. For example, in Genesis 15:1, God visits Abraham in a dream and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield.” In Matthew 1:20, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” In Luke 1:13, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” In Luke 1:30, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” It is as if the message is, “Do not allow your fear to prevent you from receiving the message contained in your discomfort.”

About 25 times in the four Gospels, Jesus says not to be afraid or not to fear. In the passage from Mark 4:40, the disciples are on a boat crossing the sea. Jesus is asleep when a strong storm hits and threatens to sink the ship. The disciples are in fear of their lives when they wake up Jesus. He calms the sea with a word and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” What is so interesting about this story is the connection Jesus draws between fear and faith. Is Jesus suggesting that a person with sufficient faith should have no fear?

The night before Jesus was crucified, as he prayed, he asked, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me…” (Luke 22:42). Was that an expression of fear? Personally, I think there is an important distinction to draw between fear and dread. The human part of Jesus dreaded the pain, suffering, and humiliation that was before him in a similar way to how we might dread an upcoming Calculus final or a course of chemotherapy. The divine part of Jesus knew there was a greater purpose for his suffering, and so he relented, “…yet, not my will but yours be done.”

Perhaps the type of fear Jesus warns against is the type that manifests as worry. We fear many things because we suspect they may negatively impact our current or future states of being. Of course, the vast majority of what we worry about does not happen. Invariably, the outcomes of that which does happen are seldom as disastrous as our worry leads us to believe. Worry shows a significant lack of trust in God’s care and hinders our ability to be fully present to whatever is going on.

Anyone who has believed in the goodness of God over a significant period knows that faith does not prevent tragic things from happening. Certainly, there are events and circumstances on earth where fear is a rational reaction. Our faith, however, can help put our suffering into a meaningful context. God does not promise bad things will not happen, only that we will not have to carry the burden alone. In addition, God assures us that, over time, all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) in ways we simply cannot imagine. God always transforms suffering into blessing.

In Luke 12:22, Jesus is explicit: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.” We are in good, albeit invisible hands worthy of our trust. Fear of God, as in an awe-inspired reverence for God’s incomprehensible presence, is good. Worry and speculation about future possibilities reveals a faith deficit and only saps our strength. God may be speaking to us through our fear-inducing events, but succumbing to our fear will inhibit our ability to receive God’s message. Why are we so afraid? Have we still no faith?

This is the 5th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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The Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. Psalm 23:1-4

Some may believe the image of God as a shepherd is trite or out of date. I disagree. In fact, I believe God taking on the face and role of a shepherd is one of the most meaningful and insightful analogies about God’s relationship to us. The first line of the 23rd Psalm says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” As we better understand God and God’s workings with and through us, we realize that most of us seldom lack anything we actually need, certainly not for extended periods. We often desire more than we have, but that is another issue entirely. Obviously, there are parts of the world, including in the United States, where there are people who lack necessities like sufficient food and shelter. I believe God, the good shepherd, attempts to take care of those needs by encouraging the rest of us to share our abundance to help meet those needs. A shepherd does not feed the sheep; a shepherd assures there is food available for the sheep to eat.

My mother raised sheep as a teenager, and I remember her telling me how dumb they were. Her experience was that if they were not watched constantly, they would invent trouble to fall into. It was as if the sheep simply trusted that a shepherd was watching over them at all times, protecting them from life’s perils, regardless of what they did. (Perhaps sheep are not dumb, just faithful.) The third verse of the 23rd Psalm comes to mind, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me…” According to mom, her sheep would mindlessly wander into any dark valley available.

I tend to think of shepherds as necessary in open fields, where there is no fencing to keep the sheep contained within a certain area. Of course, it is still possible for sheep to find themselves in trouble in a confined area, but it limits the possibilities. The point is that the days of the shepherd being physically present with the sheep 24 hours a day, at least on modern farms, are probably over.

Even contained within a fenced field, and even with regular access to food and water, sheep can find themselves in danger. Coyotes and other predatory animals love nothing better than fresh lamb chops, and fences alone will not keep predators from easy access to the sheep. This is perhaps where the image of God as our shepherd becomes more meaningful. A shepherd does not create the dangers for the sheep, any more than God creates dangers for us. Danger is inherent in the world around us. A shepherd seeks to protect the sheep from the dangers that are naturally present. When danger cannot be avoided, however, a good shepherd stands with the sheep so they do not have to face the danger alone. While God may not physically intervene between us and threats, God does remain with us throughout the danger. As I hinted earlier, God also relies on us to help care for God’s sheep. In John 21, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus’ answer? “Tend my sheep.” Understanding God as our shepherd does not imply that God is or needs to be physically present with us. It does mean, however, that God inspires others to help in our time of need, just as God encourages us to help others in our times of abundance. We are, after all, the hands and feet of a very good shepherd.

Note: this is the fifteenth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

 

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Life Notes

Love Believes All Things

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things… 1 Corinthians 13:4-7b

In my late teens I dreamed of being a solo performer. Folksingers who told stories, played guitar, and sang astounded me. I was certain that was my destiny. I spent countless hours learning my favorite songs and practicing them repeatedly. When I felt ready, I met with the owner of the club I had chosen for my debut. Her name was Elizabeth Dring, and her club was The Windjammer. She booked me for a single night. To say my performance was terrible that night is a vast understatement. I was embarrassed, and I decided to give up on my folksinger dreams. Three days later, Elizabeth called to schedule more dates. I was stunned. I told her I was awful and was quitting. She said, “You were nervous, but you have talent. You’ll get over the nervousness.” She believed in me, and I have performed with my guitar – alone and with bands – for over four decades now.

There is no value we can place on one who believes in us. There are few gifts more loving than our belief in another’s inherent goodness and ability. Those who see through the surface to the core of a person have an amazing skill. Elizabeth Dring believed in me, and my life changed as a result. Paul writes that love believes all things. Goethe says our beliefs shape us. In a similar way, our expressed beliefs about others shape them, in both positive and negative ways. We shape others not in our own likeness, but in a way most becoming of who they truly are. In many accounts of Jesus’ healings, he explains, “Your faith (belief) has made you well.” Belief has power. When we believe in another, when we see beyond their uncertainty, we give a gift of love they may never receive from anybody else. It is as if God uses us to speak truth to another.

Of course, the realist in me feels obliged to add that no matter how strongly others and I believe I will become a professional sports star, it simply is not going to happen. That belief is incongruous with who and what I am. It also serves no ideal other than my own ego. Desiring to become something inconsistent with our inner nature is like trying to trim a plant created to grow round into a square shrub – we may force it into an uneasy square for a time, but it will always strive to regain its roundness. It is when our belief in ourselves, and the belief of others, meshes with the way we were wired at birth that magic will manifest. Believing in another is a vital part of any loving relationship.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes

Puppy Love

He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

puppyRecently, I spent part of an afternoon in the kingdom of heaven. Our friends have two, nine-week old Great Pyrenees puppies, and my family was invited to share their company. What do puppies have to do with the kingdom of heaven? Quite a lot, I believe. Although there are no references in the Bible to puppies, Jesus refers to children many times in the Gospels, and often in the context of how we need to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, the parallel I am drawing is between puppies and children, in that both have simpler, more inclusive concepts of love that they express with greater enthusiasm than their adult counterparts do. To the extent I am correct, we may need to become like puppies to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the presence of these adorable little fur balls, I felt heaven had come to earth.

Never having seen (or smelled) us before, these puppies greeted us with their entire being. We were loved and accepted from the instant they saw us coming. Their enthusiasm and longing for our presence was palpable, as they jumped, licked, wagged, and pawed with everything they had. There was no inhibition on their part, just pure joy in their fellowship with us. They did not care about the color of our skin, how we were dressed, the sins of our past, our religious affiliation, or our sexual orientation. They were simply thrilled that we chose to spend time with them. And isn’t that what God wants from us? Pure, uninhibited longing to be in God’s presence? Why would God’s joy in such a reaction from us be any less than our joy in the reaction of these pups?

Donny Osmond recorded an earworm of a song in the 1970’s called, “Puppy Love.”

 And they called it puppy love, oh, I guess they’ll never know,

How a young heart really feels, and why I love (her) so.

How does a “young heart really feel”? Do we remember? Those of us hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven, whether during or after the present life, might want to spend time remembering. It is easy to forget the pure and innocent love and trust our hearts once had. According to Jesus, we should find our way back to that sort of love. How can we restore that uninhibited, unconditional, overly excitable puppy love? By stripping away the judgmental, biased, exclusive, and hard-hearted assessments we too quickly place upon others. Once gone, our hearts fill with the simple love and joy of children (and puppies).

Come home to church this Sunday. Woof, woof!

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