Tag Archives: Fear

Everyday Idolatry: Security

“Jesus said ‘go into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ he didn’t say anything about coming back.” -my missionary friend before going to Sudan

Temple in Chennai, India

A few months ago I took Samuel (our 2 year old) on our first trip together, we called it a man-cation, and it was a blast, which isn’t to say that it was easy. I told Leslie, I will never again complain about you being late anywhere.

We had total strangers helping us get around in the airport, they took pity on us when they saw the whining and melt downs and temper tantrums (Samuel was doing okay though). And this was before the plane had left Abilene. We were delayed for like 4 hours, and at one point, Samuel heard Leslie coming back to give us some snacks, and he runs right past the security rope at the airport…and they don’t like that

So the TSA agent pins Samuel against the wall like he’s Bin Laden. And Samuel is trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

Now the TSA lady is just trying to do her job, but one of the things that happened later, was that I was trying to explain what happened to Samuel and Eden.

Because kids have that annoying habit of asking Why.

So Eden, who saw this, happen, and Samuel were wondering why he got form tackled. And have you ever tried explaining the TSA to a kid?

And I told them that the TSA people help to keep us safe.

And they said why? I said, because we want to be safe.

And they said why? I said, because security is a really big deal, and they said why?

And I said, I guess because we are really afraid.

And then I didn’t have any more questions, because fear, that’s something that we all get.Trade Center Ads

The Language of Fear

Last week I saw an article on NPR that talked about the way that our language has changed over the past several decades. It was a fascinating look at the way we’ve described our world. When the researches first started looking, they thought what they would find was that we would have constant emotions. But they found that each period had words that were much more emphasized. So in the 20’s we talked about joy and happiness. At the beginning of World War II, we were overwhelmed with language of sadness. And ever since the early 80’s we’ve been terrrified.

Think about the language we hear and use consistently. We are so very afraid about everything. Last month, the Teneesseean ran an article about how some Tennessee lawmakers had proposed a new bill because they had confused a mop-washing sink for a Muslim foot-washing sink.

Jonathan Edwards the famous preacher once preached on the book of Job. And he made the point that the story of Job is all of our story. Job lost everything in one day, his family, his wealth, his health, Most of us experience our losses more slowly, over the span of a lifetime, until we find ourselves on the door of death, leaving everything behind.

The question isn’t whether or not we will lose the things we love, but how we will do it.

The Idols We Riot For

In Acts 19, there is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. Paul has gone to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus, which seems innocent enough, but he actually winds up inciting a riot.

Actually the people who started a riot were the ones who had a vested interest in the dominant religion of the day. They were silversmiths and craftsmen who made shrines for Artemis. They worked for the system and the system worked for them. And they certainly didn’t need some punk Christian coming in and saying that those idols were just decorative, powerless trinkets.

So they gathered a group of people, got ‘em all riled up and for two hours these people shouted, “Great is Artemis, God of the Ephesians.”

Now before you write this story off as some weird, ancient religion you need to know something else.

The name for Artemis is based on the root Greek word for Safety or health.

Artemis sounds like some ancient religion, but the truth is she is worshipped by millions everyday.

And standing juxtaposed against this mob chanting for safety, but acting dangerously, is this guy named Paul, who wants to go into the assembly that has basically gathered just to kill him. Everyone else is out of their mind wanting security, but Paul is willing to risk everything.

Because Paul doesn’t worship Artemis.

What Wouldn't Jesus Do?A few years ago I had a college student sitting in my office with a problem. He had signed up on a mission trip to go to a country that was now experiencing some political unrest. What was once just a routine summer missions trip was now potentially dangerous.

And his parents were forbidding him to go.

But he’s reading his Bible, he’s drinking deeply from this Jesus story about men and women who are willing to risk their lives for the Gospel, and he’s reading all the stories about not letting fear have the last word. And he’s asking me what should he do?

What would you tell him?

What have you told him? Because this college student isn’t just sitting in my office. He’s in churches and living rooms all over the country, and he’s paying attention not just to the lip-service of what we say we believe, he’s paying attention to what we really worship.

Because the way of Jesus isn’t the way of Artemis.

Because the real risk of security is that you might be worshipping a god who is no god at all.

Ash Wednesday: When Darkness Reigns

“It is appointed once for a person to die. After this the judgment.” -Hebrews 9:27

“But this is the hour—when darkness reigns.” -Jesus

The Orvillecopter by Dutch artist Jansen flies in central Amsterdam as part as the KunstRAI art festivalIf you haven’t already seen this story from last year, then I’m sorry to do this to you. Because you can’t unknow this.

Last year, Bart Jansen woke up to find his long-time pet cat “Wilbur” was dead. And that was unacceptable for Mr. Jansen. So he did what anyone of us would do: He turned his dead pet into a helicopter.

He combined the fine art of taxidermy and small engine motors. And now Wilbur had been given wings…

As a preacher, I’ve done a lot of funerals and one of the things that I’ve noticed is how uncomfortable most people are during these times. I think it’s the same reason Bart put wings on his dead cat, or why the taxidermy industry exists at all. We don’t like to be reminded of death, and funerals are the reminder of the ultimate reality that we can’t escape.

And this is precisely why we need moments like Ash Wednesday.

Now I know for some of the readers of this blog, Ash Wednesday may sound like something just for Catholics. And I get that. Growing up, I was under the impression that all things Catholic were suspect.

But Ash Wednesday was going on long before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed every year, for thousands of years It’s when we remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.  It is profoundly ancient and biblical.

Think about Job for a second. Do you remember what Job does when he hears the news about his family tragically dying? He covers himself in ashes.

We are all Job

In his famous sermon on the book of Job, Jonathan Edwards pointed out that all of our stories will one day be like his. Sure Job lost everything in one day while most of us experience these losses more slowly. But rest assured one day each of us will be on the door of death, leaving everything behind.

James Stockdale was a war-hero and POW during the Vietnam war. He had lived through the underbelly of the human condition and wound up becoming an admiral, and eventually ran with Ross Perot for the Vice-President. When they asked him about the other POW’s who didn’t survive he always said the same thing:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.  They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’  And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.  Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter’ And then Easter would come and Easter would go.  And then Thanksgiving and then it would be Christmas again.  One by one, they died of a broken heart.”

I understand why we want to ignore death, why we pretend it’s something that just happens to other people. But there is a reason that the church has practiced Ash Wednesday for so long. Because eventually optimism is really hard to keep someone’s faith going.Funny Tombstone

Eventually, even the most die-hard of optimist is going to realize that the world is too broken, and too evil to just be more positive. And the worst part, is that in our more honest moments we know that evil is in our own hearts as well.

Our biggest Temptation is to try and withdraw from the suffering of the world, and most of us are “fortunate” enough to  have enough money and resources to do it. We can get a botox here and a tuck there to make it look as if we aren’t really dying. But this goes against the grain of the Gospel.

There’s a time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus has been arrested, he’s headed to die, and one of the only phrases he says is “Now is the hour When Darkness Reigns.” I like that sentence. Because Jesus could have stopped this whole thing, and skipped the pain.  He could have ignored the suffering of the world, but instead he acknowledged that there was darkness in the world, and there are days when it seems like the darkness is winning.

This is at the heart of Ash Wednesday. It’s when the Church willingly enters into and acknowledges that All is not right with the World.

The End of The Story

You know, we hear stories about guys so attached to their cat that they put wings on them and pretend they didn’t die, and we think they’re crazy. But I would argue we do the same thing everyday. Our country spends over $20 Billion dollars a year on cosmetic surgery. We pretend death is just a dream.

Which is a bit like putting wings on a stuffed cat, and pretending it can fly.

So back to James Stockdale, he said the optimist never made it in the POW camps, but then they would ask about him. How did you survive? And he said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into a defining event of my life, which, in retrospect I would not trade.”

There is a difference between moping and mourning. There is a difference between whining and bearing in the suffering of the world, and there is a difference between optimism and hope.

Hope is looking darkness squarely in the face and saying Now may be your hour, but you will not rule the day.

Hope is choosing to have faith that the end of the story is going to make all the loss make sense.

Optimism wants to avoid the funeral, Hope can’t wait for Easter.

It is from dust we came, and to dust we will return.

But if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that God can do a lot with dust.