Fear and Hope Don’t Exist On A Spectrum

As I draft this, I can see a church sign blinking outside my window. One of the messages rolling on the sign is, “Hope, not fear.” A nice sentiment, but the more I’ve seen it flashing across the screen, the more it has bothered me.

Do hope and fear actually live at opposite ends of the spectrum? I don’t think so. 

First of all, the hope and fear pairing is not necessarily accurate. I would propose that the more accurate pairings are actually hope/despair and fear/trust.

But while I don’t think the ends of the spectrum are hope and fear, I think that things likely look a lot more like this: 

Fear and despair can certainly be friends, and hope and trust also go hand-in-hand. Thankfully, Scripture speaks to all of these things. I think a beautiful example is Isaiah 41:10: 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

You see the opposites on the grid play out here. Do not fear – trust that he is with you. Do not despair – hope that He is your God who WILL strengthen and help and uphold you. 

Knowing that fear and despair tend to plague me at the same time and that I should turn toward hope and trust help me understand my emotions and tendencies more. Maybe not the deepest train of thought prompted by a church sign, but one I appreciated today.

What Movies Point You Toward Jesus?

Christians have a particular problem when making choices about our film intake. Some proclaim that only the movies with a distinctly “Christian” label and plot are allowed – they will watch only films like “Facing the Giants” or the “God’s Not Dead” franchise. Others swing in the opposite direction and watch anything indiscriminately. 

While not quite indiscriminate, my film habits could use some finessing to follow the Phillippians 4:8 mandate – films that are lovely, true, just, commendable. Thus, the film-watching path I’m striving to walk centers around a question: What movies point me toward Jesus?

This doesn’t narrow my options to be just movies that may have sub-par cinematography, but at least the characters quote Scripture. In fact, this question points to a lot of films. And, not all of them are happy or allowable around children – some of them are gritty, hard to handle. 

I recently saw Liam Neeson’s “The Marksman” in theaters. This movie, while hard to stomach, made me think hard thoughts about how I as a Christian should approach our immigration system and how I should love my neighbor. It made me want to “do justice” like the call of Micah 6:8. It pointed toward the fact that God is just.

One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” While I don’t walk away from viewings of this movie with hard questions or grand thoughts, I walk away still thinking about Christ. That is because the cinematography of this film is astounding – beautiful shots, the perfect soundtrack, a creative plot. The visual storytelling makes me think of my creative God, the one who spoke into being the very places in nature the movie shows us. 

There are certainly movies that Christians should avoid – movies riddled with explicit sexual content, gratuitous violence for the sake of gratuitous violence, and that only exist to numb the soul and kill the brain cells. But that doesn’t mean that we are limited to Kirk Cameron movies for the rest of our lives. Even the gritty films that expose realities of mankind that we would prefer not to think about can point us to Christ. We should seek to watch stories that point to a better Storyteller in some way, shape, or form.

Read Boring Books of the Bible

Read Boring Books of the Bible

My Bible study plan had me read Leviticus this week. 

Yes, you all may cringe with me. 

This wasn’t my first time reading Leviticus before – I had done Bible in a year plans several times before. But it WAS the first time I was determined to truly digest the book. To not allow my eyes to glaze over while reading. 

And folks, the exhortation from 2 Timothy that ALL Scripture is God-breathed and useful remains true. 

To illustrate this, here are just a few things of note from my study: 

Illustrated The Protective Care of God 

Out of context, a lot of the rules laid out in Leviticus about cleanliness, eating, etc. seem restrictive. But context is key. This book wasn’t written in modern-day America – it was written to the ancient Israelites. 

This means there is one thing that needs to be hammered into us when reading these: Modern medicine and science didn’t exist. 

When you place it in context, you see the care and protection that God shows for the Israelites. I was talking about this with a family member earlier this week, and we were both wishing that we could see statistics about disease rates among the Israelites compared to nations around them. I’m guessing they were much, MUCH lower. 

Emphasized My Need For Jesus

Reading the law in Leviticus is overwhelming. Can you picture that way of life being our only means of salvation? Having that distance between us and God and constantly slaughtering innocent animals in an effort to bridge it?

I need Jesus. Constantly, continually. Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew, points out that he is the fulfillment of the law. He is the one who bridges the gap, he is the one who is the better sacrifice, he is the one that lived the law on our behalf. We all need him. 

Exhortation for Holy Living

Leviticus 20:7 captures a reoccurring theme in the book: 

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Life after salvation means we’re walking in a new way to be human. While the New Testament calls us to holy living over and over, Leviticus connects that holy living to the God who heads our lives. A much-needed exhortation.

I could continue, but I would rather just leave you with a simple exhortation: Read the boring books of the Bible. They are there for a reason, for your good, for God’s glory.

Here are tenets from Colson's life on how believers should treat one another in the political world.

The Chuck Colson Guide For Christians With Differing Political Stripes

Over the last few days, I have been digging into the life of Chuck Colson via his memoir, Born Again. The story of Nixon’s former hatchet man turned follower of Jesus has been extremely timely and a blessing during this contentious political era. 

Of particular note in the lessons one can learn from Born Again and Colson’s life is how believers of differing political stripes should treat each other. I don’t know if Colson would give this exact list or not, but looking at his life, I am being challenged by what I think is his guide for the life of politically inclined believers: 

Jesus Above State

And it’s not even close. If you are forced to pick between modeling Christ and upholding political parties or the state, you pick Christ, hands down, every time. I think there are leniencies when it comes to the majority of policy platforms (while there is a Biblical basis for certain things, I see Scripture twisted on both sides of the aisle constantly in an attempt to “get Jesus on their side”). But at the end of the day, you serve Christ, not government or partisanship. That is the foundation for how Christians must approach politics. 

Brothers and Sisters Above Party

You have more in common with a brother or sister in Christ that doesn’t share your politics than unsaved people who are in your political camp. We succumb to tribalism easily – the kingdom of God MUST come before the kingdom of American politics. One of the most inspiring things about Colson’s life was the bipartisan circle of men who set aside politics and agenda advancement for the sake of Christ. They differed in policy but fervently prayed for one another, prioritizing the good of the others, even if it hurt their political plans. THAT is the kinship that the body of Christ should cling to, politics be damned. 

Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

Unity within believers does not mean pretending like there are no personal disagreements (or in this case, political disagreement). The difference is in HOW you disagree. You stay kind, you stay compassionate, and you realize that policy is policy – people are much more important. 

Keep The Partisan and the Personal FAR Apart

And when you’re politically disagreeing, you NEVER combine the partisan with the personal. If you’re to attack a policy, you attack it on facts, you argue on merit – you do NOT attack the brother or sister advocating the policy. This is a good rule in general, but of utmost importance within the politically active body of Christ. 

Abandon Politics Before You Abandon Christ

Finally, you ALWAYS abandon politics before you abandon Christ. If you can’t avoid being sucked in by the tribalism, if something is damaging your witness, if it is becoming an uncontrollable idol, if it is separating you from Christ, you LEAVE. Abandon it for a week, a month, a season, forever. Whatever it takes. 

While Christians should be kind and Christlike towards everyone, believers who vote and advocate differently than us can present unique challenges. I have been very challenged by the life of Colson this week – will you wrestle through these tenets alongside me?

Fight For The Lovely, Now More Than Ever

At surface level, there’s not a lot that’s lovely or beautiful surrounding us as we begin 2021.

A global pandemic.

Well-documented racism and corruption. 

Seditious actions and a political sphere in turmoil. 

Division, anger, hostility. 

What’s lovely about that? 

It’s easy to succumb to the gloom and fury that are thrust upon us during this time by our friends and family, our digital landscape, and the media. But now more than ever is the time to resist succumbing to those things, and instead, to fight for the lovely. 

A well-known passage of Scripture, Philippians 4:8 (emphasis mine) outlines the things that should be sought out in this world: 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

It makes sense that these things are not easily seen – we live in a fallen world that is broken beyond belief and corrupted by sin. If we want the lovely, the true, the pure, the just, it must be FOUGHT for. 

Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) recently admonished, “Don’t let nihilists become your drug dealers.” His comment is spot on. This world wants to suck all the joy and meaning away from life, leaving nothing but brokenness. We must push back. 

Fighting for the lovely looks like being kind to your neighbor, even when (especially when) you disagree.

Fighting for the lovely looks like a refusal to allow the agenda of the political class and the media to dictate your life, your joy, your priorities. 

Fighting for the lovely looks like ordering your life according to what really matters – God and people. 

And yes, fighting for the lovely expands to include the grim fight against the abuses of people that break God’s heart. Fighting for the lovely is the fight for justice, for dignity, against abuse and corruption. But loveliness brings happy warriors to these fights, not bringers of gloom and doom.

We are not called to just lay down and accept the darkness of the situation. We are called to be light. We are called to seek the lovely. That is exactly what we must do – now, more than ever.

It's Not Too Late For Advent

It’s Not Too Late For Advent

Do you ever refuse to start something if you can’t start it from the very beginning? I’m like that in a lot of ways, and that list used to include Advent. 

I’d think about it about halfway through the season every year and set it aside. The liturgical element didn’t seem complete without the fullness of all the days leading up to Christmas. I figured I would try to get it next year. 

And then the next year. 

And the next. 

And the next…

Finally, the year I looked at my calendar in time and stepped into the season with an aim toward intention, thoughtfulness, and slowing, I realized what I missed out on for all those years. The fullness of Advent can be found in even a few days. 

Ann Voskamp writes in The Greatest Gift (my favorite Advent devotional), 

“If, just for a moment, you stand in the doorway, linger a bit in front of the tree, it’s strange how you can see it – how every Christmas tree is a ladder and Jesus is your ladder who hung on that Tree…so you can have the gift of rest. When you are wrung out, that is the sign you’ve been reaching for the rungs. The work at the very heart of salvation is the work of the very heart of Christmas: simply rest.” 

And later,

“Stars will come in the night sky, shimmer somewhere. Advent will keep coming, this love story that never stops coming. Love like this could make us wonder. Somewhere, carols play.”

If we refuse to let ourselves step into Advent imperfectly, we ignore the purpose of Advent. To come, be with our God. To slow for a season. To remember for a season. To see things through His eyes for a season. 

C.S. Lewis once said, 

“When the year dies in preparation for the birth 

Of other seasons, not the same, on the same earth, 

Then saving and calamity go together make

The Advent gospel, telling how the heart will break. 

Therefore it was in Advent that the Quest began.”

If you haven’t been remembering Advent, or if you have still been rushing through this season, it’s not too late. It’s not too late to read back through the Old Testament and everything it said about Jesus before his birth. It’s not too late to sit on the couch, stare at the Christmas lights, slowly sip a cup of coffee, and simply let yourself think. It’s not too late to embrace this season with intention. 

Because isn’t that the truth we cling to in Jesus? That even at our worst, his birth meant it wasn’t too late for humanity to return to and be saved their God? Advent is time dedicated to rest in that truth – lean in.

text with night highway

Out-of-Sorts Humility Is Spiritually Dangerous

“But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place.” 

Thus was G.K. Chesterton’s diagnosis in Orthodoxy, and it’s an odd one to be sure. For all of our letterboard worthy sayings about humility, we really don’t have a humble culture to start, much less one where humility seems to be in the wrong place. (Side note, “Stay humble,” is an odd saying – have you ever met a human who really needed to STAY humble? I’ve only met ones who need to humble themselves, self included) 

But following Chesterton’s train of thought for a little bit longer is illuminating: 

“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.” 

Oh. Wow. Isn’t that blunt truth? 

If we pull the curtains back and stare a little deeper into the darkest parts of society, we will recognize that humility lives in a home that we should have never let it move into. It now dwells in our convictions. 

We were designed to humble ourselves, to recognize our fallibility and neediness, to turn to One who is greater, and to deeply hold onto the truths and convictions that carry us. Instead, we now put deep faith in ourselves, our glory, and our ability, and we hold loosely to convictions. (And we loosen our grip even more when speaking them to others, as our wishy-washy disclaimers like, “That’s just what I think,” or, “Whatever works for you,” convey.)

Chesterton’s conclusion of where this road will lead is accurate: 

“We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.” 

This out-of-sorts humility is spiritually dangerous. Believing in self above all and holding firm to nothing will lead to our downfall. We must humble ourselves and hold deeply to well-rooted beliefs if we want to grow or see this world change. If we refuse to do so, we will lose anyone who is made strong through deep and guiding conviction as we gain those who have no foundation outside of their thoughts about their own self.

Would we give thanks for fleas?

Would We Give Thanks For Fleas?

I recently read a short biography about the ten Boom sisters, Betsie and Corrie. While these godly Dutch women and the way they lived, even in Nazi concentration camps, is wholeheartedly inspirational, there is one story about their faith that always blows me away. 

Corrie and Betsie were in their 50s when they were shipped off to concentration camps after hiding Jews in their home during World War II. While Corrie would eventually be released and live past 90, Betsie would later succumb to illness in the camp. But while they were there, the sisters were determined to make the most of their suffering, sharing the Gospel and the love of Christ as much as they possibly could. 

While Corrie and Betsie are both giants in the faith, the type of women I aspire to be, thankfulness and forgiveness came to Betsie very, very quickly, while for Corrie it often took more time. At one point when they had been moved into horrifying conditions, a rancid bunkhouse crammed full of hundreds more women than the capacity allowed for, Betsie encouraged Corrie to still give thanks for everything that was around them. For being kept together, for the proclamation of the Gospel, and for something unexpected: Betsie told Corrie to give thanks for the fleas. 

And give thanks for the little creatures that made their lives more miserable, they did. 

Weeks went by, and the ten Boom sisters wondered why the little worship services and Bible studies that they held in their bunkhouse were never broken up by guards who would certainly dole out even more brutal treatment as punishment. In fact, guards simply never stopped by during these times. 

Finally, the sisters learned what was keeping the guards out of the bunkhouse. The Nazis were worried about picking up fleas. 

The burden that they still gave thanks for became one of their greatest God-given blessings and defenses. 

Scripture calls us to have thankful and grateful hearts, praising the Father in all things. Am I the type of woman who would give thanks even for the fleas? I know I’m not right now, but that’s who I want to become.

shadowed photo with text

Groaning To Gratitude

A few nights ago, I pulled into a parking lot. I was on the phone with someone, listing my problems and groaning about how the day had gone. 

An hour later, I was driving out of that parking lot. I was struck with the sunset. The city lights starting to flicker on. The feeling of being ALIVE. 

A deeply rooted gratitude that just started flowing out into prayer. And that simple shift from groaning about my life to thanking God because of all the things that I could still be grateful for radically shifted the trajectory of my evening. 

A day or two later, a newsletter I’m subscribed to included this very timely quote from Maya Angelou: 

“Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. Sister, those who expected to rise did not, their beds became their cooling boards, and their blankets became their winding sheets. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this… So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

While Angelou’s words ring true, Scripture is even simpler: 

“Rejoice always…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:16-18).” 

Groaning and grumbling and complaining stacks up, but so does gratitude. They both impact our hearts, but only one turns our hearts toward joy, toward Christ. Shifting from groaning to gratitude is a choice – let’s choose it.

state of justice with text

The Place Where Perfect Justice Lives

Right now I’m angry, furious. 

Angry at injustice, angry at authoritarian policy, angry at the government, angry at the moments where I feel uncomfortable in the midst of all this, angry at people who inflict violence in their anger, angry at people who think that others have no right to be angry. It’s often not a righteous anger, but it feels good to hold onto it, like something steadfast in the midst of all this.

While preaching on Micah 6:8, my pastor defined injustice well: Injustice is sin with power. It’s taking something that already stands in defiance to the ways of God and layering more weight upon the victim through their powerlessness. And Micah 6:8 summarizes God’s direction for His people on their response to such injustice: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (emphasis added)”

The pursuit of justice in America is worthy. And the pursuit feels good. Every conversation, every written word, every bit of legislative advocacy, every moment spent processing how my heart needs to change on the subject of justice, especially justice for black Americans, feels like following through on the Phillippians 4:8 call to dwell on the true, noble, and right.

But in the midst of this, I’ve had the lyrics to Slain by Beautiful Eulogy running through my mind. You should listen to the full song, but this specific excerpt has dwelt side-by-side with Scripture in my heart lately:

Let’s also talk about the throne where perfect justice is /

It sounds insensitive and some will hate the stench of it /

But the church is not faithful if we fail to mention it /

We worship a God who can speak to the world’s pain /

Pure salvation for us came through the Lamb who was slain

Injustice exists because sin does. To be sure, I’m not using that line as an excuse to sit back and wash our hands over the push for social reform. Sin is the cause of every evil we see in society, and yet we still pursue legislative reform for things. 

But what you and I and all of us need to be reminded of is that there is only one place where perfect justice lives. There is only one place that will ever see injustice totally slain and righteousness falling like rain. There is only one place where perfect love and kindness dwell. 

That’s before the throne of God. As we pursue justice in America, let us also be faithful to declare the God who is perfectly just and the Savior who bore that justice so that we might be shown mercy.