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Fear or Faith?

I’ve watched the news reports on the Coronavirus over the past several weeks, and I’ve watched the fear growing in our communities and the world. I think it’s great that we have highly educated, highly intelligent people at the World Health Organization and our own Center for Disease Control working on containment and a cure. It’s also great that there are so many resources out on the Internet giving us information about how to prevent getting it ourselves. But I don’t see very much Spiritual information to keep us healthy, so let’s explore that in this blog titled, “Fear and Faith.”

Okay, at its most basic level, faith is complete trust, belief, or confidence. Fear, on the other hand, is the emotion caused when you think something is dangerous. Theoretically, you could have complete faith in something really bad, such as the possibility that a virus will attack you, and then it would be compatible with fear. But when I talk about faith, I’m talking about faith in God. And when I talk about faith in God, then I just don’t think we can operate out of faith and fear at the same time. That’d be like saying that it’s day and night at the same time (it just doesn’t happen, and don’t be trying to argue about eclipses and whatnot). Trust in God means that we fear nothing except being apart from God.

Fear

While God certainly created the emotion of fear, it’s used most often as a tool of the enemy to distract our focus from our worship of our Lord. I lump ordinary worry into this toolbox, too, because fearfulness causes us to worry about what might happen. Once I read where someone said that FEAR means, “False Evidence Appearing Real,” and that’s a pretty good way to look at it. Usually, once we’ve had time to reflect, we can see that what we feared is actually false. But for some reason, we have a tendency to at least initially believe and fear the false evidence. God knows this, which is why In the Bible, virtually every time an angel of the Lord appears to someone (like when the angel appeared to Mary) the first thing the angel says is “do not be afraid.” God knows how powerful fear can be if it’s not used for its proper purpose, and so He wants us to keep it in perspective.

There are several verses in scripture telling us not to fear. Most of us have heard the familiar 23rd Psalm, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for you are with me.” Similarly, Psalm 46:1-2 states, “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give away and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Psalm 91:4-5 states that with trust in God, “you will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” Isaiah 41:10 states not to fear simply because God is with us, and in Romans 8:15, Paul writes that as believers we didn’t receive a spirit that makes us “slaves” to fear.

The Bible speaks of the “fear of the Lord,” but don’t take that the wrong way. As Pope Francis correctly stated, “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us,…[It] is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.” It’s a reverential respect for our Lord and a fear of displeasing Him so that we strive to walk more intentionally in obedience and repentance.

Faith

Like fear, the Bible has a lot to say about faith and belief – with hundreds of references to both terms. By the way, as a rule of thumb in the Bible (and in life), if something is important enough to mention more than a few times in must be really important. That’s certainly true of faith and belief.

Our entire relationship with our Lord is birthed out of faith and belief and grows from these foundations. If the enemy wants to get us off track, all he really needs to do is to plant a bit of fear, doubt, or unbelief, and that automatically starts to erode our faith. He did it in the garden with Eve when he said, “You will not surely die.” Just a little bit of doubt, and suddenly everything changes. Fear is especially potent because it’s such a strong emotion. “Sure, I believe in God,” one might say, “but I’m really afraid that I might lose my job (or house, or health).” That sentence, and others exactly like it, requires a “but” in the middle of it simply because deep down we know that the two things – fear and faith – are foundationally incompatible.

So, how do we combat fear? Through our recognition of faith. And there are lots of ways to do that. I know from personal experience that the only way I can have a measure of peace in this tumultuous world is to constantly feed my faith through the Word of God. I’m routinely assaulted by outside influences, so I have to remind myself of God’s Word, and I have to be in the Word daily. Reading the Bible strengthens my faith, just as playing a lot of video games might strengthen my thumbs. It’s just a natural byproduct of the action.

But there are other ways to recognize and build faith. My husband spends a lot of time looking up answers to thorny theological/philosophical questions. The more he knows, he says, the stronger his faith becomes. You don’t have to start with such complex topics, though; you can build your faith intellectually by reading other authors’ books, articles, and blogs about faith or their stories of how they built their faith. Other, more “spirit walking” ways include prayer, meditating on the attributes of God, and talking with other followers of Jesus. That fact is – as I wrote before in my book – the more you go looking for God, the more you’ll see God at work. And seeing God at work automatically increases your faith. These days, I look at a car driving down the street and marvel at God’s creation.

Paul talks about faith being a shield (Eph. 6:14) that can deflect all of the arrows of satan, so it’s defensive in the sense that it blocks the lies and fear thrown at us daily to take us out of alignment with God. But faith can also be offensive, giving us the foundation to confidently wield the sword of the Word and spirit-filled prayer. That’s why Jesus said if we have faith even as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains. (Matt. 17:20) It’s faith that heals, faith that raises the dead, and faith that protects.

And that’s why our faith in God should cause us to look at this virus – or any virus – differently. Remember, saints, that although we are in the world, we are not of the world, and we are indwelled with the Spirit of the God who created the universe. So, bottom line, is that our faith should erase any fear of disease. Now here’s the hard part: that doesn’t mean that we won’t get a disease. And it doesn’t mean that we won’t die from a disease. It means that we shouldn’t fear it.

Throughout my book, I talk about understanding the supernatural world, but not forgetting to do the natural world things. So, yes, wash your hands! Cover your cough! Don’t sneeze on your friend! Sure, go ahead and buy supplies – you ought to do this anyway, by the way – and try to limit your exposure to places and things that can give you an illness. Do all this “world” stuff. But don’t worry, because your life in this world is only a prelude to the eternal.

Last week our pastor said that he had zero fear of the coronavirus, simply because if he got it, he’d either come through it on this side, surrounded by nurses giving credit to doctors and drugs, or the other side, surrounded by the angels of heaven singing praises to God. Either way, fear simply shouldn’t enter into it.

Faith Not Fear

This isn’t the first big virus, and it won’t be the last. And yes, one day it will be this or something else that takes you home. My personal belief is that God keeps us alive so long as we are completing our calling – the thing that God wanted us to do to grow the Kingdom. I call this a sort-of “spiritual immunity,” and it keeps me constantly working, making sure that when I do get called home I haven’t been called because I gave up. There’s really no time for fear in a life like that.

So, continue using your own spiritual immunity by helping others to see what a follower of Jesus looks like when he or she presented with something people think is fearful. Show them a life without fear. A life with faith. A life walking in the Spirit of God.

Romans 10:17 states, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” And the word of Christ, in this instance, is saying “do not fear.”

Priorities

This is a moment of truth. Denise has been so busy that she asked me to take over writing about God. Then I became so busy myself that I had a hard time doing it, too. But that’s unacceptable.

I was recently reminded of what really matters when I was out of town at yet another gathering to talk about criminal justice reform. It’s what I do for my day job (piano just doesn’t always pay the bills), and so I travel around the country trying to get justice leaders to take more of a compassionate look at how they treat people who get wrapped up in the criminal justice system.

At that particular gathering, a prosecutor – clearly upset at having someone like me questioning how he does his job – asked me (in a tone that only a prosecutor can take), “How do you define ‘justice’”?

He interrupted me to ask it, and the question clearly was designed to throw me off, because that’s a tricky term for anyone to define. There are regular dictionary definitions, legal definitions, famous people definitions, and collaborative definitions, but I asked him, and he made it clear that he wanted my personal definition of the word justice.

And for a second, it did throw me off. But at that moment a small voice inside me (quite obviously the Holy Spirit) said, “Just tell him the truth.” And so I did. I said that I was a Christian, and because I had a biblical worldview, I defined justice in a way that would honor God. I told them that perhaps the best way to encapsulate it would be through an articulation of the Golden Rule.

Well, a few things happened because of that. First, it silenced the prosecutor. It’s hard to argue against the Golden Rule, right? Second, several people came up to me afterward and said, essentially, that they were followers of Jesus, too, but they thought that I’d been brave to say it out loud. I hadn’t thought it as brave – I just figured it was what the HS wanted me to say. Third, I started getting some flak from people who didn’t think I should have said it at all. I fretted about that last thing a bit, but then I quickly remembered Matthew 10:32, which says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father.” It was then that I realized that I had done a bit of ministry that night, and that it was worth any negative consequences.

It turns out that the ministry was primarily for me. When I came home, I told Denise that I was sick of being too busy to talk about God, sick of being too busy to learn about God, and sick of being too busy to worship God. Long story only somewhat shorter, I’m taking six months off starting in June to focus on God. I’m going to complete my fourth album, read and write about God, and basically get my priorities straightened out. I’d tell you to wish me luck, but we all know luck has nothing to do with any of it. Instead, pray that I can set aside all the trappings of the natural world to do what I think God really wants me to do.

God bless all of you!

Salvation Seed Planting

Salvation Seed Planting

I apologize for my lengthy absence, but I just emerged from a one-year “valley of grief” in which six of my loved ones left this world to be with the Lord. A couple of times I felt a little nervous when my loved ones passed on, and I realized that I may not have done a good job of sharing the good news of the saving grace of our Lord. But, praise God, in both cases I found out from other people that those who had died had definitely come to the Lord before their journey. I was so relieved to know that each one had their heavenly ticket in hand on the day of their departure! I feel like I really dodged a spiritual bullet, so to speak, because I personally hadn’t made sure that they were ready to go. So I was convicted that I had better step up my game because I can’t live with the idea that someone might miss out on heaven just because of some petty excuses I had not to share. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and so here are a few tips that I found helpful for getting past those excuses and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with other people simply by planting seeds.

Seed planting for the Lord is very easy, and when we do it with love and diligence it’s very effective! There are some who might say that you should just get to the point, lay out the Gospel, and ask for the commitment. But I’ve been in sales for many years and I learned that the first principle of sales is this: people love to buy but hate to be sold. People like to mull information over, make their own decisions, and feel like those decisions are their ideas. That’s why I like seed planting. It might not be as quick for getting overt results, but I feel like it presents information with love, lets God do His work in each person, and lets that person come to God in his or her own time. This method is especially good for friends and family because your credibility with them might not be as sound as with new friends and acquaintances. Remember that friends and family have seen you at your fleshly worst and knew you before you were seriously born again (and remember “a prophet in his own home . . .”).

Seed planting for salvation mirrors seed planting in your garden because first you prepare the ground, then you plant the seed, and finally you nurture and water the seed for harvest. Actually planting the seed can be as simple and indirect as saying, “God bless you,” or “I’ll pray for you,” but can be a bit more direct, such as mentioning how God led you in something you have just done. Still, the planting itself will go a lot further when you’ve prepared the person to whom you’re going to speak. In every case, always pray about each word, encounter, and opportunity to share.

1. Preparing the ground. This step is very important and involves developing a bit of a relationship and trust, which can take some time. Mainly, preparing the ground is letting people know who you are and that you stand for the Truth of our Lord. It’s developing a friendly and loving relationship with people. Just think about it – this step might take a lifetime with some people. But if it takes that long to get a person to hear the seed without recoiling, then the time is worth it. People will listen to what you’re doing only when they don’t feel criticized, convicted, or force-fed, so take your time. If you sense resistance or the person closing up, then back off immediately and change the subject.

2. Planting the seeds involve prayer, patience, and love.

Prayer – I always ask the Lord what He would like me to say and when to speak – remember that His timing is always perfect. I try to be mindful of His promptings and act accordingly. Remember to pray to cover the people you talk to from the lies the enemy will try to plant during your time with them.

Patience – Sometimes I find that it’s best to let the other people vent their objections or show me their wounds before I plant any seeds. Remember that Paul gained a common ground with the people he encountered before he presented the good news. There’s no need to refute every word they say at this beginning point. People in the world are naturally skeptical – thinking that you will be pushy and unkind – so you’ll automatically build rapport with them when you are quiet, kind, and listening.

Love – I guard my words and attitude so that I don’t provoke some argument. Honestly, arguing is like putting superglue on the pinhole of opportunity, and one little argument might mean that you won’t get another chance to show God’s love. I try to remember that I might be the only ambassador of our Lord that this person meets. I might be their only hope to hear the Gospel and know Jesus. So I try to be respectful, polite, loving.

Here’s how I plant seeds with different people in my life!

A. Family members and close friends – I like to sprinkle the Word and the work of the Lord in my life into conversations any chance I get. I allow my family to be who they are, and I also try not to shock them by always showing them I’m the Jesus freak that I am. For example, I have one family member who I have been praying about for salvation for quite some time. I try to mention how the Lord is working in my life – especially when there are miracles happening that the world might label as “lucky.” People like my family member usually have a woundedness that you might never even know about. They need to know that the Lord loves them and is interested in their success and wellbeing. So I often pray about difficulties that they might be having and ask the Lord for a result. I tell them that the Lord is going to take care of this problem so that when it gets solved easily, inexpensively, etc they will know that the Lord is at work. This allows me to let them see the hand of God at work in their life.

B. Work people – I don’t hide who I am at work. I do need to be careful because I work for a governmental agency and people get all uptight about the “separation of church and state” (which, by way, is not the interpretation that our forefathers intended – but that’s another blog). But people do know that I am a follower of Jesus. Now the downside to being so transparent is that I KNOW that I am under a magnifying glass and that I have to always be on my best behavior. Once again, I let people know how the Lord is working in my life without trying to convict them or act like I am special or perfect. I offer to pray for them when life is difficult. I listen to them and try to be a friend. Once again, I love to share how God is working in my life. I recently had major surgery and was back at work 22 days afterward. People were amazed that I was back so quickly and working full days, so I let everyone know that I asked God for a supernatural recovery and that is what they are witnessing!

C. Acquaintances – I don’t believe in coincidences; instead, I believe that every human encounter is from God and is purposeful. When it comes to acquaintances, I don’t always know what I am supposed to do, but I at least try to encourage and uplift people. It might be as simple as a kind word, a smile, a few dollars, or a shoulder to cry on and some Godly wisdom. I try to work God into the conversation, even if it’s just a comment that He loves them and wants to bless them. When people have a need, such as hunger, it’s best to try to meet that need first and then share our Lord with them. When I pray for people, I ask the Lord to show His hand at work in their life and then I let the people know what to look for. Once again, sharing out of the blessings in your life and your testimony is always great.

I always tell people, whoever they are, that I’m happy to pray for and with them and that I’m available to talk with them about Jesus anytime. I might not know all the answers, but I know that the Holy Spirit and the Bible will guide me. I try to be open and available. Just being present is a big deal. I’ve had people tell other people to call me to pray with them not only because they knew I was a follower of Jesus, but also simply because I was around and willing to do it.

3. Nurturing and watering the seeds involves more relationship building and showing more loving proof of the Lord working in your life. Just because someone doesn’t commit to God in the seed planting phase doesn’t mean that I should stop encouraging and loving them, so I keep trying to build our relationship whenever possible. If I see that the person is becoming uncomfortable around me, I back way off and try to talk to them only about what they are interested in for a while. I try not to only meet with people to tell them about God. I’ve found, instead, that if I earn their trust over time, they will slowly be open to hearing more about God on their own terms. The time is coming when we will need to be bold and direct, but the seed planting method is a good place to start fine tuning your evangelism skills and practicing sharing the word.

4. The Harvest is the end goal – the person’s commitment to our Lord. I don’t always assume that I will be the actual harvester, but I am pleased to be used in this capacity when it arises. I know that often seeds that are planted take time to germinate and sprout.

When someone fully commits to Jesus Christ, it is likely due to seeds that were planted by others sometimes many years ago. So when somebody comes into my life, I not only like to look for fertile soil to plant my own seeds, but also for existing seeds that I can water and nurture. One of these days, one of those seeds will take root! In the parable of the sower, Jesus said: “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” That’s the goal – a harvest that produces another follower of Jesus Christ, shining one more glorious light in the world. You can’t get there without a seed, so start sowing and planting today!

Seed Planting

Last night at a banquet I watched someone receive an award. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about her faith, God, and even treasures in heaven. At the end of her speech, everyone applauded, but perhaps only a few knew that they had just witnessed the simplest form of evangelizing – planting a seed.

In the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4, 26-29) Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is like a seed that, once planted, grows on its own whether the planter knows it or not, whether he is sleeping or awake. Jesus was the master of planting seeds. The Bible is full of instances where Jesus does something, sometimes something miraculous, and then plants a seed by saying “your faith has healed you,” or “I am here to do the will of him who sent me.” Really, that’s all that the lady had said to the banquet audience last night. She had done a lifetime of good works for which she was being recognized, and she basically said, “I’m just doing God’s will.” That’s a seed that will take root and grow within each person at that event. It will grow on its own, gradually and mysteriously, but it will grow nonetheless.

So the next time you think you weren’t called to evangelize, or don’t have the ability to spread God’s word, just remember that planting seeds can be as effective as a three hour sermon. When someone compliments your looks, tell them you were made in God’s image. When someone praises your good works, tell them you are doing God’s work. When you part ways, tell them “God bless you.” Then watch those seeds grow!


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