Fear In The Face Of The Unknown

I spent a few minutes this evening looking over different definitions and explanations of what fear is and the most common explanations focus on the perceived thread of danger. Danger, of course, can present itself in many forms, from imminent and extreme danger (e.g., coming face to face with a large, angry bear while hiking) to perceived danger which may or may not actually be a threat (e.g., discovering a lump on your body is may or may not be cancer).

As humans we sometimes suffer under the tremendous weight of fear. On the other hand, we also seem to be addicted to the sensations that come by entertaining a small measure of fear and allowing our attention, emotions, and imagination to be carried away by stories, movies, and sports — when we invest our interest in a particular character or team and allow our emotions to rise and fall with the limited uncertainties of either a happy ending, a sad ending, a win, or a loss.

And that’s all fine and dandy as long as we know the movie will end or the game clock will wind down to zero and the stress will be gone. But, what about in our real lives? In reality we don’t necessarily know when or if the job demands will let up. We don’t know what the biopsy results will be or if therapy will be effective. We can’t be there for every challenge that our kids will face as the grow up to support them through to a safe and happy end.

Fear grips our hearts hardest when we don’t necessarily have any input on the outcome. The weight of burden becomes too much for our finite brains to process and we break down under the weight.

In the March 21, 1944 audio clip from the BBC Series “Beyond Personality,” C.S. Lewis entertains a question that many, apparently, asked him regarding how God could possibly give appropriate attention to millions of prayers being prayed to Him simultaneously:

…I’d like to deal with a difficulty some people find about the whole idea of prayer. Somebody put it to me by saying: “I can believe in God alright, but what I can’t swallow is this idea of Him listening to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment.”

And I find quite a lot of people feel that difficulty.

Well, the first thing to notice is that the whole sting of it comes in the words “at the same moment.” Most of us can imagine a God attending to any number of claimants if only they come one by one and He has an endless time to do it in. So what’s really at the back of the difficulty is this idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time.

Well that, of course, is what happens to us. Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along, and there’s room for precious little in each. That’s what Time is like. And, of course, you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series — this arrangement of past, present and future — isn’t simply the way life comes to us but is the way all things really exist. We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from a past to a future just as we are. But many learned men don’t agree with that. I think it was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all. Later, the Philosophers took it over. And now some of the scientists are doing the same.

Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life doesn’t consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He hasn’t got to listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call “ten-thirty.” Ten-thirty, and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world, is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has infinity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.

That’s difficult, I know. Can I try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I’m writing a novel. I write “Mary laid down her book; next moment came a knock at the door.” For Mary, who’s got to live in the imaginary time of the story, there’s no interval between putting down the book and hearing the knock. But I, her creator, between writing the first part of that sentence and the second, may have gone out for an hour’s walk and spent the whole hour thinking about Mary. I know that’s not a perfect example, but it may just give a glimpse of what I mean. The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, infinite leisure to spare for each one of us. He doesn’t have to take us in the line. You’re as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He’d ever created.

When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you’d been the only man in the world.

The human brain is a physical organ that is limited in it’s potential to comprehend just as much as it is limited in its mass and size. The notion of having every aspect of our lives and, particularly, our futures under control is an illusion that we will never be able to actually grasp in reality.

Consequently, the peace that we seek in security and control is also an illusion. We cannot achieve peace in our lives. We can’t know all that the future holds, but, we can know He that holds the future. We can’t acquire peace in our lives on our own accord, but, we can trust the One who, in His infinite existence, is able to attend to each one of us fully and at all times. He alone is peace. He alone is hope. He is love. He is infinite.

“Infinite” is a song from the forthcoming album Broken Temples by Kevin Max. In it Max celebrates the fact that God is so much larger than human thoughts can hope to conceive and so much greater than human words could ever hope to articulate. We must trust His word, but, should be wary in trying to limit Him to our own personal human conceptions and constructs. It is a perspective not often articulated in music, Christian or otherwise. Feel free to check out the Pledge Campaign purposed to aid in the release of his new project Broken Temples so that it, like his past projects, can serve as a beacon to those seeking peace and truth in an open manner so that we can all dig deeper and rest in the peace that can only come when we trust Him with the purpose and direction of our lives.

“I’m Not Afraid. No, I’m A Believer”

“I just don’t understand why it has to be this way.” Those were the most honest words my dad ever uttered to me with regards to the cancer that was, at the time, just a few short months away from finally robbing him of his life. My dad was a product of his generation: a man who worked hard and didn’t talk about his feelings. It was an extremely difficult pill for him to swallow. He had an amazing track record of getting the short end of the stick. He wouldn’t have been a good poster child for the notion that people get what they deserve. It was a horrible way for his life to end and anyone who reads this blog or who knows me at all, knows that the seventeen month journey that I endured, from the moment my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer until the midnight moment when he passed away as I sat with him in his bed, was a terribly dark, trying, and painful journey for me, too. It was like watching a fatal car crash happen in slow motion over the course of over a year’s time. As his main caretaker, I was there at every turn carrying a progressively heavier load as his condition worsened to the point where he couldn’t talk or do anything for himself. The description of those months as the darkest period in my life is, to say the least, an understatement.

As dark as it was, though, the backdrop of shadows revealed a thread that was just beginning to strengthen and glimmer intermittently, reflecting a faint, still, small hope that peace would be found, at some point, further down the road. It wasn’t, however, a hope that relieved my pain or a miracle that washed all of my stress and fear away. Nor was it a time machine that could beam me to some future point and time in my life when I would be stronger. It was, simply, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). I can’t remember exactly how or when, in the midst of that journey, I came across Psalms 18:16-19, but, when I did, it was immediately relevant and became the main security handle that I have held onto tightly ever since:

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me;he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

The identity and timing of “a spacious place,” however, remained a mystery to me until the naming of Kevin Max as the new lead singer of rock outfit Audio Adrenaline.  Heartfelt encouragement from Kevin to consider “the least of these” set off a series of events, one of which was an introduction to the work of The Hands and Feet Project. As described in a prior post titled, “How To Live Life,” I was inspired to step out in faith and commit to donating profit from the sale of my Dad’s house to The Hands and Feet Project. After making the donation and relaying my Dad’s story and an explanation of how the donation came about, Hands and Feet Project director Mark Stuart extended a generous gesture by asking if they could name the kitchen in a new building that is currently under construction in honor of my dad.

Without going into too much detail, the redeeming and burden-lightening effect that his gesture had on my family and I with regards to the memory of my dad, a guy who always worked hard and looked out for others, but, seldom received his due, was nothing short of monumentally life-changing. Almost instantly, the weight of several months of my life characterized by mourning and wondering how to navigate life without the man who was the best man in my wedding, my best friend, my Dad, started to lift and a new and inspired life swelling with purpose and hope began to emerge. With one kind gesture, my Dad’s legacy would be  shifted from one of loss and emptiness to one of eternal hope in a vocational school kitchen from which teenage Haitian orphans would be receiving their daily meals as they developed skills to become productive Haitian citizens.

I know that Audio Adrenaline’s (the band that started The Hands And Feet Project in 2006) new song “Believer” is being explained by the band as the story of blind surfer Derek Rabelo, but, it wasn’t long after the album’s release that I found my own story told in the lyrics of the song. From an adult life characterized at first by complacency, and then by utter darkness, to a life of purpose and meaning, learning how to step into places where Jesus wants those who are His to go,  mine has changed significantly. Now it is I who am finally “giving up, letting go of control,” not only as I make preparations for a January 2014 short term mission trip with The Hands and Feet Project to Haiti, but, also, in my daily life. I’m learning that my personal comfort and convenience are not a priority, but, that loving others as myself, and in doing so, honoring God above all, are the priorities that matter. In fact, I’m learning, now, about what living life more abundantly really feels like. Each moment spent in my classroom teaching fifth graders is more passionately invested. Each hug and kiss from my wife and kids is more distinctly savored.

Like Derek Rubelo, I can’t necessarily see the waves of life coming, but, learning to feel my way through, with faith,  “I can walk on the water with You, Lord.”

I want to live this live unsafe, unsure, but not afraidWhat I want is to give all I got somehow, giving up letting go of control right now‘Cause I’m already out here, blind but I can see, I see the way You’re movingGod how I believe that I can push back the mountains, can stand on the wavesI can see through the darkness, I’ll hold up the flameTake me to the ocean, I want to go deeper, I’m not afraid no, I’m a believerAnd so I lose this life to find my way and come aliveThey can try to deny what’s inside of me, but there is more, can’t ignore all the things unseenOh I believe I can walk on water with You, LordWhen I walk through the valley of the shadows, when I’m trapped in the middle of the battle, I will trust in You‘Cause trouble comes, but you never let it take me, I hold fast ‘cause I know that You will save meI will trust in You, I will trust in YouOh here I stand all alone waiting on you, Lord, waiting on You

Learn more about The Hands & Feet Project at http://www.handsandfeetproject.org/

Defined

The question

Cliché and worn

Like an out-of-style

What Would Jesus Do? bracelet

Dropped like a hat

Casually

In this equally-worn

Small southern town

Are you saved?

Yeah.

I got saved on…

The date so easily recalled

Like the day you earned

Your drivers license

Because

Like other rites of passage

That is what you do

When you grow up

Down here

Unlike what is brought by

The fire and brimstone

Ultimatum as written

On the inside cover of

A pocket-size Gideons’ Bible

Handed to you

On the way to recess

By suited men

Just beyond

Your public school door

I breath peace

Born by hope

A notion that

Like a loving parent

His grace is infinite

Even with the pain that I’ve caused

Lying out in full view

Before Him

He holds me close

Whispering good news

That these tears

Are not cried in vain

Brain Tissue

It feels like demons treading daintily on the tissue of my brain again. The truth about who I really am is that I sometimes doubt. My peace is rarely serene, but, instead a safety net spread below a troupe of frantic acrobats trying to keep from screwing up the act and putting their job in jeopardy. My flesh and my appetite for so many things ungodly restrain my momentum to a stumbling, fatigued pace. The truth is that while I can understand the variables involved intellectually, my emotions, my fears, and my groundless desires sabotage my own feet as I walk along a path that is seemingly blanketed by fog.

On the other hand, scripture does indicate that God is greatest when we are at our weakest. Author Brennan Manning warns against placing too much weight in our own abilities to accurately assess our own spiritual progress. Because the truth, I guess, is that there is nothing to progress to. I cannot will myself to right. I cannot save myself.

So, I can realize God’s grace at a surface level, but, it isn’t resonating with me at this moment. I am still left with demon foot prints on my brain tissue.

Fear and Forgetfulness

Fear and forgetfulness divert my steps causing me to stumble to my knees
Insecurity was the seed that bled my confidence dry
Teaching me to stay cowered in the trapping torment of the bars that I built

There are times, though, when I fly too high
Like Icarus, I think that the plan has gone off without a hitch and I soar
Until the heat of the sun melts my veneer revealing, through my own rancorous words, a startled and calloused soul

I forgot who I am, you see
My overinflated self-perception sent me flying high for a time
But, now my craft is tangled in the wires and I hang here helpless, but, to accept His grace