Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Fear seems to be built into us. Even in the best of times, it lurks deep in our being. Like a stranger hiding in the bushes, it could leap out at any moment and snatch our predictable lives away. Well, in a sense, that’s what’s happened. In little more than an eye blink, we find ourselves facing a rapidly spreading, fear-inducing new virus, one that's flung our everyday expectations into an existential abyss while medical experts develop schemes to retard its spread, governments struggle to explain it and change continues to engulf nations, cities, neighborhoods, homes and lives.
Your favorite restaurant closes without warning, and the folks who worked there--people we knew and liked--stand on the sidewalk bewildered, without a job; families get quarantined; flights get cancelled; cruise ships can’t find a port that will take their passengers while churches close their doors, sports figures stand idle and governments grapple with economies that have fallen into a tailspin. People suffer. So we practice “social distancing” to "flatten the curve" and relieve the suffering, although we aren't quite sure if social distancing includes our parents, grandchildren and kindly Aunt Esther, who lives by herself on the far side of town. What’s more, the kids are housebound, bored with their digital babysitters and threatening to go over the wall (as we consider for a wild moment whether to let them). Overarching all of this, of course, is a word that heretofore had remained quietly in the background, except for its occasional appearance in history books, research studies, science fiction and chilling apocalyptic movies. Until now:
Pandemic. And there are so many questions!
Will there be work? Will there be school? Will there be travel? Will there be groceries? Will I get the virus? Or my family? Will there be toilet paper, for heaven’s sake?!
Even normal fears can upend our world--accidents, sickness, money problems, shattered relationships and other personal tragedies. But when something truly abnormal comes along, a turn of events so unlikely that it seems practically impossible (like a black swan), we can be stunned into becoming even more fearful.
It's fascinating to note that the word fear appears almost 400 times in Scripture (KJV). And, as if to punctuate that fact, Jesus promised his followers that they would see trouble. Yet, here’s something even more fascinating, pointed out by noted theologian R.C. Sproul in a radio broadcast shortly before his death in December of 2017: “The number one negative prohibition in the New Testament is ‘Don’t be afraid, fear not.'” Christ says it so often that “we miss it,” Sproul says. “It’s like hello and goodbye. Every time Jesus shows up it’s ‘Fear not’.”
Jesus knew all about fear. Picture him splayed on the ground, face down in the dirt of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion, abandoned by his sleep-besotted friends and in anguish to the point of sweating blood. Jesus knew the cross was coming and, in his humanity, was still afraid. His disciples had no hint of the cruelties that soon would beset their Teacher, but neither could they see the new Truth glimmering unseen over the horizon, a Light that eventually would comfort them and, in time, reach through the centuries to comfort us, as well: "… the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding." (Philippians 4:6-7)
I experienced several emergency hospital stays during 2019. As I lay there connected to one medical device and then another, I felt unusually calm as the peace of God expressed in Philippians made its home in my heart. Isaiah also has spoken of peace to me over the years, especially during difficult times (26:3-4), so I knew that if I kept my thoughts on God instead of dwelling on my immediate circumstances, I likely (although not certainly) would be home from the hospital and recuperating within a few days.
Charles H. Spurgeon, the acclaimed Reformed Baptist preacher, told Londoners in his New Year’s message of 1884 that “If we will believe our God as he deserves to be believed … we shall be prepared for trials, and shall even welcome them as black ships laden with bright treasures.” When fear comes in the night its presence can batter our faith against the rocks. Yet, we know morning will come at last and spill its welcoming light over the horizon, pouring it into our lives, extinguishing the chill of night and banishing the darkness--just as Christ’s divine Light has done in the past, does now and promises to do in the future. It is this Light, this Bright Treasure, that gives believers the confidence to say with our Lord, even in the time of coronavirus,
As I was working on this essay, Pandora presented me with Natalie Cole’s version of one of the most recorded songs in American musical history, George and Ira Gershwin's “Love is Here to Stay”, written in 1937 during the waning years of the Depression. These lines caught my ear:
The more I read the papers
The less I comprehend
The world and all its capers
And how it all will end.
Nothing seems to be lasting …
(It all sounds so familiar here in the Spring of 2020 …)
The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies
And in time may go!
But our love is here to stay.
Sure, it’s a love song. Yet here we are in a situation where love is very much in order, a time when so much of what we’ve come to know as “normal” has flown far afield--so much so that it’s no stretch to suggest that at least some of the change being stirred up today will blend into a "new normal" that may in itself prove discomforting. But there is a Truth that never changes. Come what may, Light undiminished also reigns, an unchanging Gospel Truth anchored in a Love that over arches plagues and pandemics, failed businesses, fractured families or even diminishing freedoms.
“These things I have spoken to you,” Jesus tells his disciples at the end of John 16, “that in Me you may have peace (despite the world’s) tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
A friend emailed me a goose story not long ago that hung around my inbox for a good while before I opened it. It was a CBS Sunday Morning story from Lake Oswego, Oregon. The piece opens as a Canada goose lifts up from the lake and lands on the seat of a slowly moving speedboat, as if such a thing is perfectly normal. The man in the boat, Mike, picks the goose up, tosses it back in the water and then guns the boat, leaving the bird behind. Undeterred at this rudeness, the goose takes to the air in pursuit. Matching its speed to the boat through a deft combination of flaps, glides and stalls, it touches down on the seat in front of Mike and folds its wings - while the boat keeps moving. This time, the goose is allowed to remain.
Turns out the bird and the man are old friends. Mike found her as a fuzzy gosling struggling in the lake, no parent in sight. He named her Kyle and proceeded to raise her at his lakeside home. Two years later, the goose had grown and it was more than time for her to return to the wild. Except that she wouldn’t go.
“I tried to get rid of her,” Mike says. “I’ve driven her miles away and then left her in the middle of nowhere, and when I come back she’s already home before me."
Which reminds me of another “coming home” story.
Going on thirty years ago, I slipped into a church sanctuary one day, more out of curiosity than anything. After decades away from religion, God had been trying to get my attention, using hard times as a tool. There were hints of his presence woven through my difficulties, and as much as I could have used the help, I struggled with the idea of handing my troubles, my life, over to Someone I could barely comprehend. The sanctuary was still. Votive candles winked their welcome down in front by the altar, while a thin shaft of morning light filtering through stained glass reflected off the pews and made the place seem a bit less intimidating. I slipped into a back pew, like my mother did when she took us kids to church (she got woozy in crowds and needed to be close to the door).
A card on the back of the next pew caught my eye right away. “You did not choose me,” it read in bold type, “but I chose you.” What an astonishing declaration! I can’t say I knew that God had reached out and chosen me at that moment – or had chosen me before I born, especially after my having tossed him aside those many years back, but his words stuck and became one of the faith building blocks that led eventually to my acquiescence to Christ as Lord of my life.
The notion of God as a Lover who pursues – even woos - us with passion has always been mildly disturbing to me, perhaps because of my overall unease with romantic expression. But then along comes a story about a bird named Kyle and a man named Mike. Is it love or merely an imprint? Does it matter? Simply put, Kyle has chosen Mike and never gives up on him – even when he rejects her. And, for whatever reason and by whatever mechanism, the Lord appears to choose us in much the same way.
Now that’s a story worth telling!
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit--fruit that will last--and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16 NIV