Faith over Fear.
That is what we have heard a lot about these last several weeks.
We’ve encouraged it as a church, you’ve probably seen it in a
social media post from another Christian outlet, or maybe you have
even encouraged someone else with that same truth. And for good
reason, it is a good reminder during times like these. It is a good
reminder that faith is what should be produced in us as we seek the
Lord in this season. Pressing into the Lord during this time is
important for us all to do. Seeking refuge in the Lord is right.
But what if the Lord
is asking more of us? What if it is not just a simple equation of
replacing fear with faith. Or having faith, instead of fear. What if
the Lord wants to use this season for something much more?, What if
He wants to remove that which stands in our way of faith most often,
something that is actually at the root of the fear we often have?
What if before the Lord can increase our faith He has to do a much
deeper work; a much more inconvenient work in our life?
What am I talking
about? Well let me lead you there by way of describing first how the
Lord showed me this work just this week.
I was reading Exodus
14. Now this isn’t so much about what I was reading. It is more
about how, deep down in my heart, I was reading it.
It is a familiar story. Moses has led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness. The people have watched over time how God has shown up through plaques and miracles, signs and wonders, and now as a pillar of dust and fire. To say that these people have seen some amazing acts of God would be an understatement. He is literally leading them day and night in a pillar of dust and a pillar of fire by night.
But now they have come to the Red Sea, a geographical dead-end. And here comes Pharaoh, hard-hearted and ready to destroy the Israelites. Imagine you are an Israelite, you’ve seen God literally send an angel of death to fight for you. You have seen God overthrow and bring to his knees the super-power political leader of your day. You have spent the last several days watching as God manifest himself in your midst through dust and fire. And at the first sign of trouble you want to run back to Egypt. I mean, I can get you being afraid. I can get there being some trepidation in your voice and heart at this moment. I can even expect the question: “Lord this looks like a pretty tough situation. Not sure how you are going to get us out of this one.” I can understand all that, but No! The Israelites sarcastically mock Moses, basically saying, “Oh so you brought us out here to die. We told you so. We had it better in Egypt.” (Exodus 14:11-12)
And if I am honest
as I have told that story to kids, as I have read about it over and
over, there are times that, I may not have shaken my head, but deep
down in me, I was shaking my heart at least. I was scoffing at the
Israelites. “Oh yea of little faith! You’ve just witnessed God
fighting for you. And now you doubt him?”, my heart would say.
But this time,
during this season, reading that story in the midst of COVID-19
exposed my pride, arrogance, and vanity. I didn’t shake my heart at
the Israelites, I sadly identified with them. I asked myself, “How
many of your prayers sound like those Israelites?” I may not be
staring at the Red Sea, but take a second and look at your calendar
for April. Think about the prospect of employment if this season
continues. Look into the abyss of what is now our unknown situation
and see if you don’t feel a little bit of what the Israelites felt
Which leads me to
the inconvenient work the Lord is up to in my own life, maybe your
life, and maybe the church as a whole. We have talked a lot these
last few weeks about having faith and believing in the goodness of
the Lord. But what I have forgotten and maybe you have too, is that
belief and faith is a two-step process. Faith’s biggest obstacle is
not fear, it is what lies as the source of that fear, sin and
John the Baptist comes on the scene and his ministry can be summed up in three words, “Repent and Believe.” Jesus comes on the scene and begins his ministry in Mark 1:14 and his first recorded words in that gospel are this, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus first “sermon” in Mark is to call people to repentance and then belief. “Root out the sin, recognize where you have believed in opposition to my good news, and then believe in the gospel,” Jesus says. Repentance is always the first step in the process of deepening faith. Moving towards God is always accompanied by moving away from and acknowledging false beliefs, false gods, and insufficient idols.
I don’t say this
from an ivory tower or some emotionally distant vantage point. I
realize our current situation has already seen people lose their
jobs. Families are making or will begin to have to make tough
choices. Much of what lies ahead of us is unknown. That is why I
called what the Lord is wanting to do, such an inconvenient work.
Not an insensitive work, but an inconvenient one. In the midst of
all this unknown, in the midst of this Red Sea of questions and
worry, in midst of this diseases and hurt, the fact that the Lord may
want us to repent so that our faith could be made stronger is
inconvenient, from our human perspective at best.
But if we want more of God. If what we really seek is to be transformed into the likeness of His Son in the midst of this trial, then it would be foolish for us as a church not to recognize that the greater work of deepening faith may have to come through the road of repentance. We want to be comforted by God, but realizing areas where we have first made God small is often the first step in His comforting work.
Think back 6 months ago. Would you ever have believed, in the midst of your work and toil, your leisure and spare time, your business and money-making endeavors, that out there in the world somewhere there was lurking a little tiny virus, no bigger then 1/1000th of an eye lash that could bring the world to its knees? Our biggest weapons, all our money, and all our power have yet to stop this thing. At best right now all we hope to do is contain it. Oh but how powerful, whether we realize it or not, did we feel at that time. How little thought did we give of the millions of ways God’s good grace was maintaining our world and keeping us going. How much of our days did we think that we, in our own power and might, happened because of our ability to make it so?
And yet a tiny virus
has shown us that we aren’t as in control as we thought we were.
One tiny virus has shown up and once again reminded us how fragile,
how needy, and how vulnerable we are. And we would be worse off if
we simply hunkered down during this time, thought nothing of the
different ways, known and unknown, that we have forgotten God in the
midst of our everyday lives.
God brought his people to the Red Sea because he loved them. It was easy for God to get them out of Egypt, but it took a much longer time to get Egypt out of them. The same is true for us. We are living a similar exodus story. The Israelites were brought to the Red Sea so that they would feel their need of God. And God has brought us to this point because we need the same. And neediness’ companion on this wilderness journey is often repentance. God may not part every figurative “Red Sea” for us. What God did for the Israelites in the wilderness that day, is not prescriptive for what God will do for you in your family, with your health, or with your job in this season. Not because God doesn’t care about those things, but because God has already parted this sea. He did it when His Son came to this virus infected earth and died on the cross for our redemption. He did it when he raised His Son from the dead because death had no claim on his sinless and perfect life, and he does it today because he is still ruling and reigning in the midst of the pandemic. God has not been dethroned by COVID-19. And as you look to an unknown future, acknowledge the ways in which you are stilled pulled to want to go back to Egypt. Acknowledge where you heart is prone to despair. Stare at the Red Sea of your future and be reminded of Moses words to the people at that day, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.”
Do you have any
Christmas traditions? Did your family have them when you were
growing up? What were they? Take a moment to think about them. Are
your memories of them fond? I bet you have more traditions then you
think. Sometimes that which is normal to us becomes invisible.
I will give you
one example from my own life. If you are a part of the Van Dyke
family, then Christmas day had a very important tradition. It
actually started the night before. My brothers and I would all sleep
in the same room. We weren’t allowed to exit that room until the
next day when we heard Christmas music – It always seemed to be
Bing Crosby. When the music started playing, we would run down the
hall towards the kitchen – it became a full contact sport as we got
older and older- and there in the kitchen we would find glasses of
orange juice. We would race to drink the glasses of orange juice and
sit down. The first one finished and seated was the victor and the
first to get to open a gift. No one quite knows how this tradition
got started. It proceeded my brothers and me. And yet we all
continue it with our own children to this day. You can say that in a
weird and funny way, it marks us as a family.
season is full of opportunities to make traditions, renew old ones,
or borrow from others.
can be really important markers in our life. They can mark us as a
family, a culture, or even as Christians. Within the church, these
traditions have a special name – liturgy. A liturgy refers
to the structure and ritual of a church service with a purpose to
point us and others to God. Liturgies are the structures we use to
formalize our worship. They are structures that are meant to teach
us something, express something to others, and lead us into deeper
worship. Some churches are more “liturgical” than others. Some
denominations and churches have highly structured ways of worship.
If you grew up in a highly structured church or “high” church, as
it is sometimes called, then you will know what I am talking about.
You may even balk at my mentioning them because all that form and
structure stifled your worship.
But here is the
problem. As James K.A. Smith talks frequently about, the problem is
not in the form, structure, or liturgies themselves. The problem is
how we use them.
Think about the
Christmas traditions that we just talked about. I don’t think many
of us would say that those rituals or traditions have stifled
Christmas. Just the opposite. Those traditions marked us. They
give us an identity as a family, part of an ongoing story. They form
and inform our worship. As Paul David Tripp says, “worship is an
identity before it is an activity.” We are made to worship, and we
will worship something, and we will create structures for our
worship, whether we know it or not.
Which brings me
to my ultimate point: Advent. We are in the middle of this Advent
season. You may or may not have noticed the candles upfront of the
church, the special prayer, and the lighting of those candles these
past two Sundays, but those are a part of the way we, as a church,
recognize that we are in the Advent season. Advent means coming.
Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. It starts 4 weeks
before Christmas, so we already in the 2nd week of Advent.
Each week is
marked by a different word – Hope, Love, Joy, Peace – or Bible
reading. There have been more traditional ways of celebrating Advent
with specific Bible readings, an Advent wreath, etc. Advent is a
liturgy/tradition of the church and hopefully will be a liturgy in
your family and your life.
Advent is a
season of looking back- of remembering what God has done. Advent is
about placing ourselves, as a community and family, in that part of
history that looked towards the coming of Jesus, not back at it.
It’s about connecting to what is being sung when we hear Come
Thou Long Expected Jesus. Ponder these words from that great
thou long expected Jesus
to set Thy people free;
our fears and sins release us,
us find our rest in Thee.
Have you ever
been to a jewelry store? If you have you know that they always
display the diamonds on black velvet. They do that so that the
brilliance and beauty of that diamond can be seen in its entirety.
Advent is like that. It is about remembering the black velvet of
Ephesians 2:1-3 (you were dead in your sins and trespasses…) so the
diamond of Ephesians 2:4-10 (But God, being rich in mercy…) can
That is Advent.
A season of remembering the bad news so we can fully appreciate the
glad tidings of great joy. We need Christmas. We need to celebrate
better and with more joy than the world does. But we shouldn’t
rush to the 25th without taking some time to remember what
we are celebrating and why we are celebrating it. Advent is one of
those liturgies, traditions, rituals, whatever word you like, that
helps us see the weight.
times I will read an article or a blog that makes me realize I don’t have to
write on that subject because someone has already done a better job than I
could have done. The below articles are
from Chap Bettis, a pastor, speaker, and author on
biblical parenting, and Tim Challies, pastor and Christian blogger.
both write about a phenomenon they notice in today’s churches. The phenomenon
of parents that are resistant or
reluctant to receive and be given parenting advice in the church. I am thankful
and honored every time a parent asks me for wisdom, for many reasons, but many
times because I know that it is a rare gift to speak into someone’s life. It is a rare gift that shouldn’t be that rare
in the church. Bettis and Challies give explanations for why they think this is
and I think both are right.
highly recommend that we all read these articles. They aren’t just for parents. They are for those whose kids are now out of
the home. Our young parents need those
that have gone before them. If we want
our next generation to be equipped and supported so that they know and love
Jesus Christ, then we need to know how to disciple them in both a formative and
corrective way. Which means we need
parents that know how to form and correct their children as they disciple them,
which means our parents need someone to form and correct their parenting. We
aren’t meant to do this Christian life thing alone. This is actually one area that our some of
our parents can learn from our single parents.
Our single parents are usually much better at asking for wisdom and
advice from older people in the church.
will end by saying this. I don’t know how much Sarah and I have done right in our
life, but I do know that one of the things that we did right was to ask older people
to speak into our lives about our marriage and parenting. And when they did, we
promised to receive what they had to say knowing they were people that loved
us. We decided to be unoffendable in our
pursuit of discipleship. Sarah and I are eternally grateful for people that
came into our lives that were able to guide us in our parenting. People who I can still name and call on. I will continue to be grateful for those
people that the Lord puts in our life that will help us through the next
season. We need each other. We need the
covenant-community-of-the-unoffendable-because-they-are secure-in-Christ. Parenting is hard enough that we shouldn’t
try to do it without our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the Lord.
this article. And then read this article about that article. And then you will
better understand my article about an article about an article.
My favorite part of being a Family
Pastor at Community Bible Church is when parents trust me enough on their
journey to becoming the primary-discipleship maker in the life of their
children, to ask for my advice. It is
something I always take seriously and never want to be flippant about the
wisdom that I give them – I pray it is wisdom a majority of the time. I want to point them to Jesus, the good news
of the gospel, how to apply that good news, and the Bible.
There are times that I get questions that my answer actually surprises parents. Sometimes Biblical wisdom goes against the natural reaction to protect our children that all parents have. Which is why I say that we have to be careful not to save our children from things that Jesus doesn’t save them from.
Here are 3 areas that I see parents
try to save their children:
It is back to school time and we
all know what that means. School drama. Rejection of some sort. We have all
felt the sting of rejection, some more than others. We remember what it was like to get picked
last on the team, or wear the wrong brand of shoes, or simply not fit it. We have all probably been laughed at by
someone we thought was our friend. Truth
is that we all know the sting of rejection.
And when our kids come home from school with that sting of rejection
causing a spiritual anaphylactic shock, we too often reach for our emotional
epi-pens to try to calm and protect the hearts of our children. Maybe we try to build our kids up in telling
them how great we think they are and how lame we think the other kids are for
making fun of them. But protecting our
children from rejection won’t help them.
As Christians we know we will face rejection. It is promised to us; even more so as the
days get darker. So instead of trying to
put a self-esteem bubble around our children, we need to help them learn how to
walk through rejection with confidence in the Lord and confidence of his
presence. The good news of the gospel assures us of God’s presence in the midst
of rejection and that he sees us.
“If the world hates you, know that
it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18
“More than that, we rejoice in our
sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces
character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3
Another area that I see parents trying
to protect their children from is by minimizing their children’s sin. This is how I typically hear or see a parent
describe it to me:
Parent of a 5-year-old: “My
son/daughter has a real hard time when we call them out for something that they
have done. They usually get really sad
and sullen and start crying out that they are “So bad. I am so bad, mommy.”
Me: “How do you respond?”
Parent: “I try to comfort my
child that what they did was wrong, but it wasn’t that bad and they don’t need
to be crushed by it.”
This is where I usually try to
tip-toe into a massive truth that we all need to grasp, and it is this:
We are all worse/more bad/more
sinful than we realize.
Now, a child could be communicating
this for a couple of reasons. One is
that they actually feel bad about what they’ve done, and they are expressing
it. Or they are trying to manipulate the
situation. They are trying to get you,
the parent, to focus more on consoling them and less about their offense.
The truth is this: your children
are worse than you think. They are worse
than they think. So when they are
expressing their “badness”, don’t try to make them feel better by minimizing
their offense or by protecting them from feeling guilt or shame. Instead, agree with them about their sin,
without any tone of rebuke, and then introduce them once again to the good news
of Jesus Christ. Jesus, of course, saves
our children from their own sin. That is
the beauty of the gospel, but he doesn’t save them from understanding their
need for the gospel. He doesn’t shy away
from showing us our need for Him comes out of our own rebellion to the Father.
We are all bad. They are actually
expressing a biblical truth, one that is fundamental to the gospel.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have
turned – everyone- to his own way” Isaiah 53:6
“If you, O Lord, should mark
iniquity, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you
may be feared.” Psalm 130:3-4
“but God shows his love for us
in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans5:8
Every so often, maybe at the death
of a loved one or even the death of a family pet, children may begin to ask
about death. “What does it mean that we
die?” “What happened to grandpa?” “Will I die?”
For so much of their life, children
live with an invincible view of themselves and the world. They don’t think about death because it
doesn’t enter their mind. Their life is
often too busy or, frankly, self-absorbed to think about death.
At some point, though, children
might begin to ask about death and too often parents don’t want their children
to worry or be anxious. So, parents will tell them “Don’t worry about
that. You have a long time until you
have to worry about death. Grandpa was old and lived a good life. It was his time.”
But in reality, it is not until our
children begin to think deeply about the consequence of being mortal that they
can begin to understand the deeper scope of the good news. Death makes the gospel more real, even to a
child. And besides, none of us can
promise our children a long life. That’s
not in our power to promise.
Instead, we can give our children a
taste of an ever-expanding view of the beauty of the gospel.
“Daddy, will I die?”
“Yes, son. You will.
I don’t know when. But it will happen. Does that make you afraid?”
“It makes me afraid sometimes
too. But that is why I have to remind
myself of what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
And that he tells me that I will have an everlasting life with him. That if I have faith in Him that nothing can
separate me from him. Not even death.”
“Even though I walk though the
valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm
“For I am sure that neither
death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be
able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
To summarize all of these examples
in one statement: Try not to protect your children from things the Bible asks
you to help them walk through, not around.
And the way we walk through it with our children is by showing them how
the good news applies in all areas of our life, even rejection, sin, and death.
Do you remember the Charlie Brown
character Pig-Pen from the famous Peanuts
cartoon strip? He was Charlie Brown’s friend, who always seemed to have a cloud
of dust following him where ever he went.
He could never get clean. There
was one time he was able to get clean, but as soon as he went outside, he
instantly became dirty, declaring himself “A dust magnet.”
Most days as a father to 4
children, I think that we might have given birth to 4 Pig-Pens. Often it is not dust that seems to be
radiating and originating from my children, although that will change as Summer
gets closer. No, my children seem to be swirled in a dust cloud of their own
things. Crayons and Legos, empty juice
boxes and used sucker sticks, goldfish crackers and socks.
You might suspect that my wife and
I have never taught our children what and where trash bins are in our house. Or
you might think that we prefer dirty clothes to sit for days in the first spot
they land, not in the dirty hamper. Or
you might suspect that we prefer our children to take off their shoes and to
make getting anywhere on time more fun by playing that stress-free game of
“Where did my other shoe end up?” You would be wrong. We really try to teach our kids about trash
bins, clothes hampers, and how to put their shoes away. Alas, somedays it feels like our kids our Pig-Pen. They are just “dust, Lego, crayon, empty
juice box, goldfish crackers in the couch cushion” magnets.
A few weeks I came home to some creation
sitting on our side table. It was a
penny and peppermint glued inside a small coin box that I got my children on my
last trip to Costa Rica. The box was
held up by a Lego man. When I asked my
kids what in the world this thing was, my youngest told me, as if I was crazy
for not recognizing it at first sight, that it was clearly, a “Leprechaun
Trap”. Of course, a Leprechaun trap! How could I not have known?
Or this last week, as the weather
was getting warmer, I came home to my kids outside with craft supplies making
something. All I could think about at
the time was how much of that stuff will I have to pick up. Who is going to leave the glue out? How
many-colored pencils will be left out and how many will be put back in the box?
Why do they have tape, and will they not ever make a mess?
It was later that night however
that I went into our master bathroom and there on the mirror was taped a piece
of paper from one of my kids. It read:
Mom and Dad, I love you guys.
(I+ drawn heart+ drawn stick figures to represent my wife and I)
Here (Heres) some flowers for good luck.
And taped to the paper where two flowers (probably weeds)
That paper is still up in our
bathroom today. And it reminded me of an
interesting verse in Proverbs.
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”Proverbs 14:4
This may seem like an interesting
verse to think about, but I think it has a lot to do with family life and
ministry to the family.
Oxen are dirty, they are expensive,
and they are time consuming. But if you
want a harvest you must have them. There
was no getting around this for the ancient Israelites. You can have a clean feeding trough (manger)
or you can have abundant crops. But you
really can’t have both.
We live in a world that continually
tries to tell families that they can have it all. That you can have the perfect house, the perfect
kids, the perfect vacation, the perfect on and on and on. And we are constantly bombarded by these
images through entertainment, commercials, and social media. It even has a name online, it’s called the
“curated life”. Curated means selected, organized,
and presented using professional or expert knowledge. People have even started posting about their
curated messy-life, which is just a form of emotional showmanship that
masquerades itself as vulnerability. God’s wisdom tells us this. Life is messy. You can’t avoid it. But there is a harvest that can come with the
The glorious thing is that God cares
so much for us. He cares about the small
things in life and he cares about the big things. He knew ancient farmers would worry about
barns and troughs that never could get cleaned.
He cares about moms and dads, at work and at home, caring for their
families in 1,000 different ways.
Life is messy and Life is beautiful,
and life is somehow beautiful because it is messy. And that sentence wouldn’t make any sense if
it weren’t for the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who makes something
beautiful out our of mess.
Because every so often, out of the mess, you might get something like this: