Ukraine? How do we respond to the Russian invasion that has gone on for almost two weeks now? By this, I do not mean governmental, political, or economic responses. Instead, the question has to do with our own hearts. Maybe it depends on the generation or location. Since the war began, I’ve not heard too much from younger adults in their early 20s. Perhaps this is because it is occurring on the other side of the globe. Out of sight, out of mind to our present context some would say.
For me though, I grew up in the latter part of the Cold War, so my connection is a bit heightened. I remember being in college when the Berlin wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. So, the knowledge of an aggressive Russia triggers emotions.
More importantly, during a ten-week foreign internship in 1993, I spent just over a week in Ukraine, so I have personal connections there. In addition, through other ministry contacts, I am aware of Christian leaders in the country. On the other end of the storyline, I lived in Moscow, Russia, from 1994 to 1996, helping establish a Bible college, and have many beautiful memories from that time and know people in Russia who do not support the actions of Putin and other Soviet-era leaders who want to take over Ukraine.
But across the world, the public chatter is growing much more vocal. Maybe it’s the constant media. One of the differences between the Viet Nam war and all previous wars is the amount of continuous media coverage that comes into American homes on the nightly news with more graphic images than ever before. Today, with our media technology, anyone with a cell phone can record and shoot to the world at any time. So, these videos and reports from Ukraine are sometimes happening in real-time, which conveys raw information and sometimes very intense emotions.
So, for us, who are not actually on the ground there, how can we respond? There are some great and growing options to send humanitarian aid. Two of those are with Impact Ministry Group and Marked Men For Christ in which you can go to the site and click to designate for Ukraine. Physically, though, there is little more. On the other hand, as a child of God, there is indeed so much more we can and must do. In truth, for those who call themselves followers of Christ, there is the essential thing that can and must be done, we must pray.
When I think of prayers in the Bible, one of the first appeals that come to my mind is a prayer we know as the 23rd Psalm. Psalm 23 is one of the most widely referenced and partially quoted prayers within and without the church. With a bolt, it flies out of the shoot with the opening line of, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . .” and is further carried with the powerful image of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
The text is a recording of prayer deep within the soul of King David as he acknowledged that despite everything, God will bring deliverance. We don’t know if the context was one of him fleeing the mad King Saul, or possibly, this was even more personal as some believe that David offered up this praise and plea when his son, Absalom, tried to usurp the Kingdom from David and take his life. Whatever the historical specifics may be, we see in this prayer David reaching up to God and finding hope despite what was quaking around him in the present.
Yes, we can still today reach back some three thousand years and find hope for today. But the real and ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is found in John 10:11 where Jesus addresses all our tensions with the proclamation that he indeed is the one and only Good Shepherd. It was Jesus who faced the final and greatest enemy, death, and triumphed over it and Satan on the cross and his resurrection on the third day. His resurrection demands proof of his divinity and thus we have assurance of His future return with the final judgment, and reward. As David trusted in the God of all creation, we too, lift our voices with praise and prayer today knowing that Jesus, the Divine Son of God, will hear us.
-Like so many occasions in so many places of the past, I recite in faith, David’s prayer of Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
-From David’s prayer, I offer up my brief personal and present additions . . .
“Lord, I declare before all creation that you, and you alone, are the true shepherd. Putin, Zelensky, Biden, Trump, and other governmental leaders are not the true shepherd and the power they wield is only given by you. To you, and you alone, I ask that you bring divine help to the suffering not only in Ukraine but to all who call out to you.
Jesus, the valley of the shadow of death is very real in Ukraine today. I ask that you use your rod and staff to confuse and confront those who are set against you and set toward evil and violence. As David prayed for the confusing of the enemy in 2 Samuel 15:31, we pray that you will bring to nothing those who are bent on violence. I ask that you bring miracles and wisdom to those standing against evil.
Lord, David spoke of hope, of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. He spoke that even though he was separated from the tabernacle, from the Arc of the Covenant, which was still in Jerusalem. David spoke of hope because his hope was in you.
I pray for those in Ukraine suffering in ways I cannot imagine. I pray for those in Russia who do not agree with the aggressive actions of Putin. I pray for those who live near the DMZ in North and South Korea, for those in Cuba, for those in China and Taiwan. I pray for the people of Honduras who are now under communist rule. I pray for the poor in Mexico, Central America, Africa, and in the lower reaches of rural America and the slums of US and international cities.
I pray that you will bring the final and ultimate victory. As we wait for your complete judgment and renewal of all things, give us strength to carry on in trust. Above all, I pray for open hearts and that they will see your grace and power. I pray that through the chaos right now, you might be glorified, and people might come to know you.
Yes, Jesus, I pray that you would be the shepherd to those who call upon your name.
In Your Holy Name, Amen”
I’ve heard it a lot over the years and even more so of late. Divine name dropping. Jesus is referenced. The Bible is quoted. The god of our making is inserted into conversation so that all will know the divine endorsement of our position. After all, how can you argue with God?
When it comes to the person of Jesus, people usually bring Him into a discussion when they believe He can lend added weight to their argument. Socially and politically speaking, conservatives will bring Jesus up regarding a pro-life position, and liberals will enter the Jesus card to support their call for immigration reform or taking care of the down and out. Good Samaritan type talk. Sure, it’s easy to like Jesus when he does what we want him to do and say. But what about the passages where Jesus doesn’t always comply with our wishes? Do we cherry-pick the verses we like and find tools to rationalize away passages that make us uncomfortable?
Therein lies the tension. Are we willing to take all of Jesus or only what makes us feel good? This is the ultimate question. Are we going to follow him totally, or not? Are we going to force Jesus to fit into our worldview, or will we allow Him to change us and mold us into his Kingdom worldview?
In launching this question and series of posts, I’m thinking of one occasion where Jesus connected both the past and the future for a present truth we must all wrestle with. In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus drew up Old Testament history and connected it to the future judgment of those who refuse to repent of their sin. Noah and the ark are the object of Jesus’ teaching, and he spoke of the account as though it was just as authentic as Caesar Augustus.
In teaching on the end times and final judgment, Jesus went back to the Old Testament book of Genesis, treating it with the same authority of an actual history lesson. Jesus taught that the flood account was the real deal. In this context, Jesus was responding to the disciples who had asked about the end times and possible signs that might accompany them. Jesus noted that just as people in Noah’s day had heard the message of God and rejected it, thus bringing judgment upon themselves, so people would similarly respond today and likewise perish.
People don’t talk about judgment these days. The implication is personal sin and accountability to a Holy God, which is uncomfortable and inconvenient to our egos. No, we like the gentle and gracious Jesus. The God of which we must bow down to, well, that’s another story.
Yes, Jesus came full of grace. However, he came full of truth as well. Jesus also spoke of eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46, and Luke 21:27 records Jesus speaking of His second coming on the clouds with power and great glory. In describing the word picture of a grand banquet in Matthew 22:13, Jesus noted that there would be those on the outside being cast into darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In a crescendo of conviction, the apostle John shares the end of all things when those who have rejected the grace of Christ are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
If we examine the facts of his resurrection and choose to call him Lord, we must also acknowledge the day of judgment. To deny Noah and the coming judgment is essentially denying Jesus. The ramifications are enormous. Those who are outside Christ must wrestle with their need in great humility. For those who know the grace of Christ, the call to share his love with the world is paramount. For the child of God, there is peace in knowing the day of judgment will finally bring an end to evil. The day will indeed come when the King of Glory will settle the score and finally bring justice for those who have followed Him.
Yes, Jesus is love, gracious and kind. He is also Lord and we must reckon with this reality. Because he is Lord, we have this assurance that he will come again someday for his children. His lordship is both a convicting and an encouraging promise to take to the bank.
It’s been said so many times; “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over with!” I can feel the pain. But I’m also a realist on this occasion. The truth is that many of the issues that cause us angst may not simply go away with turning the calendar page. Yes, there are some promising signs with COVID vaccines. The political drama is really up for grabs depending on what your bent is on that one. Regardless of present feelings of hope, we just do not know the certainty of the next 12 months.
Along these lines, I am reminded of an outstanding documentary about the Civil War by Ken Burns. The connection here is with the narrator highlighting hope-filled words in late December of 1863 from people looking forward to the new year. But we know now that the war tarried on until May of 1865 with horrendous days they could not have imagined in those quiet closing moments of 1863.
Sure, it’s not a bad idea to pause and consider the journey into a new year. However, if we entrust our hope to external circumstances, we have no complete assurance that anything will be different. So how do we move forward?
Coming not only to the conclusion of 2020, but also to this study on fear, I want to give some hope. The starting block for the race begins in our hearts and minds – in our thinking. For those in Christ, we can and must choose to think differently. Those who are still circling the field on Jesus, consider how God has called us to live differently in His eternal Kingdom and ask yourself if that’s not how you would truly desire to live. While there are more, here are five quick pro-active ways we can shift our thinking from fear to faith and courage.
1. We must Remember Past Victories
It’s easy to fall into despair when surrounded with sorrow. The problem is our focus, though. The antidote to the fear pandemic begins when we deliberately turn our attention from the worldly situation to something above. The first step is to remember what God has already done in the past. We can take courage when we remember the past victories that God has already carried us through. David noted in Psalm 77:11 that, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” In seasons of anguish, the psalmist encouraged himself by recounting and thanking God for his past provisions.
Praising God for past victories is also something Paul picked up on in Philippians 4:6, where he urged the first Christians to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It is so easy to forget and come to God only with our asking. Yet, in our deliberate remembrance of God’s past faithfulness and thankfulness for them, we are encouraged to keep on going forward.
There is an old appropriate church hymn that carries a refrain of, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings and see what God has done.”
2. We must Reprogram our Thinking
At first, this may seem redundant. But the point is to purposefully and regularly monitor what is going through our hearts and minds. Paul notes that we must not “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We are constantly bombarded by the “pattern of this world” due to the 24/7 news feeds available to us through our modern media. The constant negative feed from these sources is a superb breeding ground for fear.
By contrast, the call is to pursue the positive deliberately. Again we can learn from the scriptures which, state that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” One practical option here would be to daily write out 5 to 10 things that are indeed grand and glorious in our lives whether that be something in nature to the simple smile of someone who loves us.
3. We Must Rely on the Team
The blessing I have in life, next to Jesus, is that of being committed to a local church family and some brothers in Christ, all of whom are committed to me. God created us for community, and we need each other. The answer in this mix, though, is not so much what encouragement we can get from others, but what encouragement we can give. Again, going back to the old apostle Paul, he urged the first church to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing.”
By team, I mean the local church family. A great example of how this plays out is a football team. The difference between a football team and a track team is their interdependence on one another. Regardless of how well a quarterback throws the ball and how fast the wide receiver catches the ball and runs, they are doomed to defeat unless they unite with the other players who are all working together. When they function as a team and encourage each other, they run the ball down the field together and win the victory — kind of unlike what the Dallas Cowboys did this year.
4. We must Resolve to Do
Action is the principle here. It is easy to clinch one’s fist and shout at other people, policies, and forces that stand against us in this life. It is quite another thing to get up and do something to help others. This is especially true when no one sees what we are doing. Serving with no attention. One verse that I have submitted to memory this year is Romans 12:21, in which we are urged to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Imagine what 2021 would look like when more people are concerned with helping others rather than expecting others to serve them.
5. We must Recognize the Big Picture of Eternity
I don’t want to come across flippant on this one, but the harsh truth is that we will all die sometime. The ancient scriptures noted in Hebrews 9:27 that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” The text tells us two firm facts. The first is that death is inevitable and we need to face it, and the second is that there is something after death. Yes, Heaven and Hell are realities. What we do now has eternal ramifications when our hearts stop beating.
So the better question deals with the manner of our life rather than preserving more time on the planet. If there is no eternity, then people rightly should fear death, dangers, and dreads of this world. After all, there is nothing left. Paul got that and even noted that if there is no resurrection, then Christians are to be pitied above all people. Yet, because Jesus did rise from the grave proving not only his divinity, but the veracity of all he said, we can cling to what the Bible shouts about eternity as well.
So many times this past year, I have been drawn back to the first followers of Jesus. The original Christians in the book of Acts and those in the early centuries come to mind. Quite often in the Roman Empire, while others fled the plagues of death, many Christians remained behind to serve those who suffered. They physically and practically overcame the evil around them by doing good.
Is that not what we need more of today? Regardless of what 2021 brings, how can life not be better when regular folks, like you and me, live with faith above fear in our sphere of influence?
For me, yes, I am looking forward to 2021 and am attempting to map things out on my wall calendar with hope. However, real hope is with Christ ruling in our hearts regardless of what is unfurloughing around us. Yes, there have been many reasons for fear in 2020, and there will probably be many more to come. But we can live differently, and that is my hope for you and me.
As we wind down this study on fear, I am reminded of another Civil War illustration. While fear reigned in so many during those years, one General stood out as an example of courage. His troops began to refer to him as Stonewall after one early battle because he would not flinch in the face of danger. Thomas Jackson was from the south though not a supporter of slavery. He was a man of deep faith, which influenced every area of his life. Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, where his courage shined, an adjutant asked him for this source of bravery. The short exchange went as such:
“General, how is it that you can keep so serene with a storm of shells and bullets raining about your head?”
Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all men would be equally brave.”
Wow – that is the way all Christians should live. When our hope is placed first in Christ, we can live differently from the world around us. The Bible notes that perfect love casts out all fear. There is no greater love than what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Because of that, we can indeed journey into 2021, turning our fear into faith. That is my hope for the new year. So be strong, my friend, be strong!
On the verge of a historic election and review of a painful year, I came across another article depicting the adverse effects of overzealous societal lockdowns due to COVID concerns. On this occasion, senior adults in Colorado were demonstrating because the authorities had prolonged their separation from loved ones. Many stated that they would rather die of the disease than loneliness. For them, the emotional pain of being so rigidly separated from family is worse than the fear of catching COVID and dying from it.
From the very beginning of this threat, I have said that we need to live with a balance between courage and concern. We don’t want to live in fear on the one hand, and, on the other, we want to be aware of just not doing stupid things. A slew of young adults thrashing around in an indoor rave party? Yep, that’s a stupid decision. We need to be wise. On the flip side, allowing fear to dictate our lives’ details will drive us to make poor decisions and lead us into slavery. The wise Solomon noted that the “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
As we’re progressing in this discussion over fear, we’ve noted that when we no longer have the right reverence of God, we begin to embrace a wrong fear of man and the situations of mankind. These fears may be a physical threat, such as something in nature or harm from another human being. This human harm may be an actual attack or their withholding something good from us that we desire. When we live with these fears controlling us, we begin to make poor choices and eventually pay the consequences of those choices. Like many pieces of life, the Bible is chuck full of people who gave into fear, even great people of faith at times, and had to deal with the ripple effects of their choice. While there are countless illustrations of this principle of the wrong fear leading to failure, here are three quick ones that almost immediately come to mind.
1. Abraham lied about his wife to save his life. That’s right, and he actually did it twice. The history tells us that the patriarch was a friend of God and the model of faith by taking God at His word and stepping out to follow him. But shortly after his call of faith, Abraham went down to Egypt because of a famine, even though God told him to go to another place. He then told the Egyptians that his wife, Sarah, was his sister because he feared they would kill him to take her. He did the same thing years later in Genesis chapter 20, and his son, Isaac, learned the lesson of fear and likewise lied about his wife, Rebekah, as well in Genesis 26:7. They were afraid of physical death and thus chose to sin against the closest person to them to save their lives.
Fear of physical danger from the elements or what someone might physically do to us can trap us and tempt us to do what we know is wrong. It can also prevent us from doing what we know is right such as when Peter in the New Testament refused to acknowledge his allegiance to Jesus because of fear. Fear can also be what others will withhold from us or say to us if we do not give in to their demands. Thus, anxiety can lead to unhealthy broken boundaries and dysfunctional relationships because people are afraid to say no.
2. In Israel’s history, King Saul found himself in a tight situation with the Philistine army closing around him. 1 Samuel 13 records that out of fear, Saul offered up the burnt offering to God, which was a task reserved for the priests and prophets to do. On this occasion, Samuel was the prophet and the one responsible for the sacrifice. A keyword here is probably panic. Saul surveyed his situation through the eyes of men and saw the threat with no sign of Samuel being around, so he made the sacrificed himself. Immediately after Saul’s actions, Samuel showed up and informed him that his kingship would not endure because of his lack of faith and falling to fear.
Fear can also drive us to a controlling mentality when we fail to trust in God’s time and reason. A controlling attitude may result in all kinds of dysfunctional relationships and missing out on God’s best because we took matters into our own hands.
Thinking of Abraham again, we see that he chose this path when he took Hagar in Genesis 16 in addition to Sarah with the hopes of producing the promised son through her. Hagar’s son was Ishmael, and to this day, we still experience tension in the world between the offspring nations that came from him and Isaac. Islam and Israel.
3. Another reality is that when we give in to fear, we can also miss out on the great victories that God may have for us. Going again to Israel’s history, we see that the first generation that came out of Egypt mostly missed the promised land as they feared the present inhabitants even though God told them they would be victorious. Generations later, we see that Gideon is about to go into war, and shortly before the battle took place, he announced to the army that “anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.” Every time I read those numbers, I wonder what the 22 thousand men thought years later. I wonder if they kicked themselves for their decision to turn back and to miss out on the victory that God brought to his people.
The truth is that when God calls us into something, it will most usually mean stepping out of our comfort zone and bring risk. It may mean we might actually suffer or even die. On the other hand, when we know that we are his children and made for eternity, we can be at rest regardless of what happens in this realm, knowing what lies ahead in Heaven. Then there is, of course, the reality that there are times when God brings us glorious results in the here and now, such as David’s victory over Goliath, which we noted in the first post over fear.
In thinking again about the tensions of COVID and everything else in 2020, the reality is that a whole lot of folks will wake up discouraged and possibly fighting fear Wednesday morning following the Presidential election. Regardless of who wins, half the country will experience a propensity to panic. But for the child of God, we know that we do not have to live like the rest of the world does. We do not have to be driven by dread and fear. We do not have to allow fear to rule us. So how do we move from fear to faith? Well, that will be the subject of our next post.