Tag Archives: Fear

Shift Focus

 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt….
Deuteronomy 7:17-18 (NRSV)

There is a technical term used in movie making called “shift focus.” It’s when the camera is focused on one object while another object in the shot is blurry, then then camera shifts the focus so that the other object is in focus and the first object blurs out.  Filmmakers use this technique to transition the audience’s attention and to move the story along.

When things in life go wrong and times are tough, it’s easy to get myopically focused on our present circumstances. Our brains zero in on what’s happening in the moment and, as a result, our hearts can drive all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. These emotions can be spiritually crippling and paralyzing.

In today’s chapter, Moses anticipates that his people may find themselves in such circumstances. He instructs them to do a mental and spiritual shift focus as an antidote to their fears: remember.

  • Remember when you were slaves in Egypt and God delivered you.
  • Remember when the plagues hit and you remained safe.
  • Remember when the Egyptian army was chasing you and God miraculously saved you and gave you victory.

He could have gone on:

  • Remember when you thirsty and God provided water from a rock.
  • Remember when you were hungry and God sent bread from heaven.
  • Remember when you wandered and God sent both cloud and fire to lead you.

The shift focus from our present circumstances to past situations reminds us that God has been faithful in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe He will be faithful in my current situation?), that we survived in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe I’ll get through this), and that things eventually worked out (So why shouldn’t I trust that my current situation will work out, too?). The result is that our faith begins to counter our fear and our paralysis gives way to us moving forward.

Today, I’m reminded of the many times God has provided and protected me through the years. Why then, should I fear present troubles?

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Patient Response

Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.
Ezra 5:17 (NIV)

In less than two weeks I’ll finish my decade long tenure as President of our local community theatre. We’re a small organization in a small town so our troubles and travails are of little importance in the grand scheme of life. Still, I find it ironic that in the last few months of my term I have experienced more stress and anxiety than ever.

Our stage home resides in a very old building owned by the community that has served us well, but it is in need of extensive repairs and updating. The city is investigating the facility’s use and exploring all of the options available. This has created anxiety and fear for some people, and there have been strong reactions to the situation.

This came to mind this morning as I read of the Hebrews rebuilding the temple while their enemies and neighbors actively petitioned the king and worked political channels to make them stop. I can only imagine the diverse and passionate reactions they must have had among their people to the situation. It makes me glad that I’m merely dealing with a small community theatre and not a national crisis.

In today’s chapter, I read how the political process continued to work itself out. Accusations were met with investigation and the investigation is unearthing the truth of the situation. It takes time, but the Hebrews did well to remain faithful in the task and to trust God to work things out through the process. It’s a great lesson.

Looking back, I see how my passionate reactions to situations in life, motivated by fear and anxiety, have led to unwarranted overreactions. I’ve come to believe that life situations are best handled through patient and thoughtful response. Remaining prayerfully engaged and letting the process play out is rarely a foolish choice.


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featured photo:  janicskovsky
via Flickr

Following and Fear

Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.
Ezra 3:3 (NIV)

Last night was family pizza and movie night. Taylor invited her friend Curtis over to join Suzanna, Wendy and me. Wendy made homemade pizza and breadsticks as we all gathered around the island in the kitchen to share in a glass of wine and conversation.

In the midst of the conversation Taylor recounted a significant point in her life as a teenager in which she made a conscious decision that she was going to follow Jesus. Hanging out with a couple of her best friends shortly thereafter, she explained to them her decision. She shared with them that she needed to start making some different life choices. Things that had been  producing spiritual death in her needed to pass away. She needed to choose into things that would be life giving.

As she spoke, it brought back similar memories for me. After I became a follower a Jesus, when I was still a very young man, there was a period of time in which my new found faith created an awkward fear in me. Those who knew me as one thing, were now going to experience me as another. Old things were passing away in me. New things were emerging. And, while I still loved my friends very much, I knew that I needed to change. Whenever Jesus called someone to follow, there was a requisite of leaving things behind and striking out on a path toward new things.

Perhaps it was Taylor’s story and my memories that resonated as I read this morning of the Hebrew exiles returning to their homes. The temple had been in ruins for years, so long that those living near could scarcely remember it being a center of worship. Now, a new thing was happening. Life was returning to a place of death. The worship of God was beginning once more and with it came that awkward fear of how their neighbors would react. And yet, they continued to obediently follow the plan.

I’ve learned along life’s journey that following Jesus sometimes means obediently following where He leads, despite my fears or my nagging concern about what others might think. On a few occasions, it has meant following Jesus down paths He was leading me despite even my fellow believers thinking me cracked and accusing me of going the wrong way.

Choosing Life requires making choices and moving my life in directions where increasing measures of Life will be found. This necessitates leaving behind parts of my life, and even people in my life, who are sucking the Life out of me. I do this not because I judge these other people as bad or evil. In fact, I have tremendous amounts of love for them. I do this because, in the moment, I am called to pursue Life. In doing so I ensure that I may someday have an over flowing abundance of Life; Life I might someday have a chance to share with those same loved ones from whom I needed to distance myself for a time.

photo : redvers via flickr

Out of Gas

On “Remember When Wednesdays” I look back at a post from yesteryear and re-blog one for newer readers. This was originally posted in August, 2006.  Note to reader: If you read my previous post today, I would like to point out that I have actually gotten somewhat better at this!

Yesterday Wendy and I headed to Des Moines in my new company car. I was low on gas, but the car’s computer told me I had 58 miles left. I did the mental calculations to figure out if I needed to stop before we got to the Doctor’s office and then kept my eye on the odometer. As we trucked down University Wendy asked if we needed to get gas. “Nope, we’ll make it!” I answered. The computer told me so.

As we got off the exit at 22nd street in West Des Moines I had 10 miles left and a half-mile to the doctor’s office.

That’s when I ran out of gas.

Don’t trust the computer – trust your wife when she tells you to stop!  :)

(Don’t) Be Afraid, (Don’t) Be Very, Very, Afraid

The Lord is good,
     a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him…
Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

The prophet Nahum lived and wrote his prophecy in troubled times. The kingdom of Israel had been split in two, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. When Nahum wrote his prophecy the northern kingdom had been attacked and decimated by the Assyrians.

The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. When they conquered a city, they would mercilessly hack the limbs off their victims and then leave the limbs and bodies stacked like a pyramid outside the city gates. It was their calling card, the sign that the Assyrians had been there. Now that the northern kingdom of Israel had experienced it, the southern kingdom of Judah feared a similar Assyrian attack.

Fear and anxiety are common emotions. Today I find it common for people to experience economic fear (When will the economy get moving again? Will we experience what happened in Greece? Is the stock market going to collapse?) and fear of terror-ism (When’s the next 9-11? Are ISIS terrorist cells on our soil just waiting to attack? ). There is anxiety about global politics (Will Iran get a bomb and attack Israel?) and climate change (Will global warming  create disastrous change in weather patterns?). When Wendy and I watch or read the news we will often observe to one another that there seems to be one major theme: “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Nahum also lived in a time of fear, and his prophetic message was to encourage his readers not to give into fear, but rather to trust in God. Nineveh (the capitol of the Assyrian empire), he prophesied, would be destroyed. His prophetic word was fulfilled. Assyria was destroyed by the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C.

It’s Monday morning as I write this post. The first Monday of a new month. For some of us, even the prospect of what the coming week holds brings anxiety. There is uncertainty about what we’re going to do in the coming month and how we’ll get through. Nahum’s message is a good one. Notice that he doesn’t promise freedom from trouble, but that we will find God a caring refuge in whatever comes our way.

Today, I’m choosing not to give into anxiety and fear, but to trust God to be a caring refuge for whatever comes my way.


Hope and Reality

What we hope life's road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).
What we hope life’s road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).

And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
Acts 20:22-23 (NRSV)

One of the things that Wendy and I found fascinating about our time in Edinburgh a few weeks ago was that there’s hardly a straight, level street in the entire city. There are steep inclines, winding roads, angled streets, narrow alleys, and stairs upon stairs. We felt like we were constantly going up a steep hill or down a sharp incline. Our calves were killing us.

That came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. I’m reminded that life’s path is not always easy, and the way does not always meander through pleasant, level places. The theme of Dr. Luke’s account of the first generation of Jesus followers if filled with difficulties, persecutions, executions, imprisonments, riots, shipwrecks, and floggings. And, time and time again Luke says that the Message flourished and daily the number of believers grew.

I found it interesting to bullet out Paul’s conversation with his fellow believers from Ephesus in today’s chapter:

  • I was a living example in my time with you. Follow it.
  • I’m going to Jerusalem and expect to be persecuted and imprisoned.
  • You’ll never see me again (I’m going to die before I can return)
  • Be on guard! Wolves are going to infiltrate your flock.
  • Give, and don’t expect anything in return.

The message was followed by weeping and grief.

It’s not exactly a Thomas Kinkade scene come to life. And, so it is with life’s journey. Sometimes the path leads through difficult terrain, but there is purpose in our pains and in the places God leads us. Paul wasn’t complaining about the road ahead. He may have felt fear and grief as he set out, but courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to press on in spite of fear.

Today, I’m thinking about the balance of hoping for the best while knowing that “the best” does not always look the way I want it to look.

Status Quo

source: pictoquotes via Flickr
source: pictoquotes via Flickr

They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” Acts 4:16-17 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey, I have had the opportunity of finding myself in leadership of different groups and organizations. As a leader, I am always looking for ways that things can be improved. I want to be effective and for whatever I’m involved in to have a positive and lasting impact. Often, this means I have to fight against the entrenched attitudes of others.

I have found that there will always be individuals who are motivated by a need for a sense of safety and stability. These individuals can easily equate sameness with safety. If things remain exactly the same then the anxiety produced in their spirits by the fear of change is reduced to acceptable levels. Sameness becomes tradition which is zealously protected. When personal authority and power is attached to the tradition, the desire to shun change and maintain the status quo becomes even stronger.

I was amazed reading today’s chapter that the priests and temple leaders gave little thought to the fact that a well known person in their community, a man who had been lame his entire life, was healed and dancing in the streets. They were not the least bit concerned about the miracles which were taking place or the thousands of individuals in whom God was working with life changing power. Their only concern appears to have been maintenance of the status quo and their vice grip hold on power.

Today, I’m praying that I never become one who fears change. Jesus said, “you don’t put new wine in old wineskins, otherwise the skins will burst and the wine is lost.” I want my heart and mind to remain fresh and pliable so that any new thing God is doing will fill me with Life rather than cracking and bursting my spirit because of some false sense of security to which I cling. I want to be part of whatever new thing God is doing in our midst.