Fear Not

Fear not

In a culture where fear is ever-present and all-pervasive, we turn to almost anything to find comfort and to find help. There are a million things to be afraid of thanks to the internet and COVID; that number has tripled. 

One of the most repeated phrases in scripture is “fear not” “Do not be afraid.” It’s almost as if the God who created us knows us and knows that much of what we do is driven by the blasphemy of pessimism. This idea is that things are worse than we imagine that things will not end well and that the worst possible thing that can happen will happen. We are plagued by these doubts all the time. Daily we read of people who are being oppressed and killed around the world we know people around us who are struggling with addictions and sorrows. People we love dying of covid, cancer, and suicide takes a toll on our soul. 

The answer that we are given to combat this fear is false optimism. We are told to think happy thoughts, to avoid people with negative energy. In the church, it isn’t much better. Many famous churchmen say that positive confession changes things that our words create in the same way God created the world with his word. We are given the same false optimism the world offers only in attractive wrapping paper called faith. 

The problem with the false optimism the world offers us is that it avoids the difficulty through distraction. The problem with the false optimism the church offers as Chesterton says is that it tries “to prove that we fit in to the world.” We have an idea of how the world should be and to avoid the blasphemy of pessimism we settle for a cheap false optimism. We see the broken world needing mending a world and a life that if not cared for can be lost. We fail to see and understand that this world and this life were never ours they were never our possessions. They are signposts of another world. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins says it this way. 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Our world is filled with the grandeur of God, charged with his glory. It isn’t great because He created it but because it continues to carry the beauty and glory of who he is from beginning to end. Its job is to point us to what can really help us in the middle of pandemics and pain. We are not citizens of this world. We were made for another world. This world despite the evil that men have done that despite the world bearing the smell of man and his sinful self-inflicted pain. 

Hopkins finishes his poem this way:

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins says despite our best attempts to destroy the world we live in God’s creation is “never spent.” We have hope in two things. The first is that the God who created this world broods over it saturates it with his grace. God is watching over our world he is not distant he is close he is “bent over” not standing afar off and he ordains all things according to the counsel of his will. You are not your own and you are not alone.

Chesterton in Orthodoxy helps us from 100 years ago telling us that we were made for another world. 

 “The optimist’s pleasure was prosaic, for it dwelt on the naturalness of everything; the Christian pleasure was poetic, for it dwelt on the unnaturalness of everything in the light of the supernatural. The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring.”

The second is this world is not our home and our lives are not our own. When I heard I was in the wrong place my soul sang for joy. So powerful. If you have put your faith in Christ you are in the wrong place. So much of the fear we experience comes from a fear of losing was is temporal and failing to see that our lives are eternal. The revelation that this world is not our home and our lives are not our own should produce in us contentment in this life and at the same time discontented homesickness for the next. 

Why Your Kids Should Read Classics

We are at the start of summer, and each summer, I have my kids read a classic over the summer. Until five years ago, I had never read a work of classic literature. I recently graduated from Knox Seminary with a Masters Degree in Christian and Classical Studies. It was in the course of those studies that I have come to realize that everyone needs to read classics.

Why Should Kids Read Classics? 

  1. They are being taught less and less each year in our public institutions. 
  2. They cultivate imagination and foster a broader understanding of virtue. 

In public school, classics have diminished over time. There are two fronts to this fight, and the classics are losing on both fronts. One front is the excessive push toward STEM programs at the expense of the humanities. The second front is due to what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. When Lewis spoke of chronological snobbery in his day. He was speaking to the idea that people of his time would read modern books that fit their modern sensibilities, political ideals, and social ideas. We are blind to the problems in our day. We can’t see what we can’t see. Lewis argues, and I would agree we need writers from decades, even centuries ago, to show us what we can’t see. One fix Lewis argues for is that we read one old book for every new book we read. This would help us be better readers in general and help us see what we can’t see on our own. 

Our push for STEM programs has inadvertently lead to the diminishment of the humanities. We think we have evolved past those who came before us. We think we are wiser and more enlightened. What we can’t see through Bacon’s scientific method is our hearts have not evolved. Our hearts are sin-filled and desire the same things our great grandfathers and great grandmothers wanted. We see our world commit the same sins as our forefathers, only with a shiny new exterior. We think this is a new problem to be solved rather than an old sin to be repented of or an old heresy to be condemned. 

Children need classics because classics help cultivate imagination and module virtue and vice. Kids need to see the world through the eyes of another. An appetite for the good, the true, and the beautiful found in classical works of literature is something every child needs. Our children need to see what we mean when we say have patience, be brave, or love well. 

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes this is a big deal with grave consequences. 

“I see a lot of big issues facing the church today, but I think most of them result in one way or another from an impoverished imagination. For example, the division and polarization we are facing in the church and our larger culture owe in great part to our inability to imagine or empathize with opposing, or even simply different, perspectives. It’s not a stretch to see the lack of developed imaginations at play here.

Cognitive science shows that empathy increases among those who read literary fiction. Generally speaking, literature and other arts are not valued greatly in the contemporary church. Moreover, underdeveloped and unexercised imaginations make us more prone, ironically, to the lure of conspiracy theories. To be human is to have an imaginative capacity. Our imaginations will work, whether healthily or not. Imaginations that have been trained well in good, logical, well-constructed stories that make rational as well as aesthetic sense are less likely to be taken in by bad, false substitute stories.”

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior 

In our overvalued love of the empirical sciences, we have undervalued the humanities, which greatly matters. Do we need scientists? Yes, but we also need virtuous scientists and who do what should be done rather than what can be done. Do we need doctors? Yes! But we need doctors who can empathize with the losses of others and be human, not just right. This isn’t just true of the scientific professions. I would argue we need pastors, theologians who are not just theologically precise but who are also virtuous and empathetic. 

In the world we now live filled with information, and where everything is political, we need virtue, and we need empathy on levels never before seen. We need a generation of kids who can read a fairy tale and learn to see the world as it should be rather than blindly give in to the world as it is. The formation and catechism of our kids are taking place. If we are not intentional about their formation, someone will be. We have the privilege and responsibility to train our kids to see what is good, what is true, and beautiful. As Christians, we have the joy to show our children that every good thing we enjoy, including good books, is a fractured reflection of our perfect Heavenly Father. 

A Few Tips in Picking Classics for Kids

  1. Pick a classic to fit their interests. 
  2. Make sure the classic fit their reading level.
  3. Find a good classic. Not all classics are alike. Find one that has stood the test of time and one that promotes virtue. 
  4. Talk about the book with your kids. Dr. Prior has some great-looking classics with an introduction by her that will help you have a conversation with your kids about what they have read. Leland Ryken also has a few guides to classical works that would be helpful as well. 

The Fear of Death and Why You Should Stop Saying Stay Safe.

Fourteen years ago today, I was much younger and much more naive about life and God’s ways. I thought if I did the right thing, good things would happen every time. That if I said the right things, people would feel comfort and joy every time. I found out that God doesn’t work the way I think he should work. God is not tame, but he is good. I found out that the God we serve is not safe. All my life to that point, I thought he was safe, and the day I realized he was not safe was also the day I began to question if he was even good. 

How I have come to know God over the past decade and a half has changed the way I see him, the way I trust Him, and the way I see everything because of him. It is not an overstatement to say I was blind, but now I see. That day fourteen years ago, led to a chain of events that made me question the goodness of God; it led me to struggle with anxiety as a result of an overwhelming fear of dying. 

It was nearly two years of working through the implications of me thinking that if I pray enough, give enough and serve enough, good things will come from that as my payment from God because of my goodness. I had grown up in church my whole life, and I thought the gospel was for sinners, not for me. I thought God was in my debt because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was angry fourteen years ago because I didn’t think God heard the prayers of a sweet family suffering far more than I ever had. I was angry because I prayed for a boy filled with more faith than I had ever had. He didn’t rise. I was angry with God because he owed me and wasn’t coming through when I was calling in my favors, eared through years and years of good behavior. 

I was a Pharisee. People look at Pharisees in the Bible and say they are religious zealots who don’t love God they love themselves. That isn’t so. They were some of the most outwardly perfect people you could ever imagine. A pattern of good behavior marked their understanding of life. They encountered Jesus, and he was not the Messiah they imagined. They killed Jesus because he was not and could not have been the God they had long-awaited. I was one of those. I had an idea of God that he always answered my prayers in the way I prayed them, He always did what I thought was right, that he is more pleased with me because of my goodness. I knew God but not his ways. 

It changed one day reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to one of my babies. I read how a woman who was a sinner came to Jesus and took the most important and expensive thing; she had a jar of perfume she broke it, and poured it on the feet of Jesus. The religious people thought this was a waste. It smelled like the lilies in the summer field. It wasn’t a waste. They were mad at God’s kindness to this sinner. They thought Jesus should not be kind to her. “That woman is a sinner!” they grumbled. “We’re the good ones,” God spoke to me as I was reading that to my child and said, that’s you. I knew God but not the ways of God. 

Jesus Calms the Storm

My favorite artist is Rembrandt because of his story, his use of biblical imagery, and the fact he places himself in the paintings he paints. This is what good art does it envelopes you; it swallows you and emerges you into its story. My favorite painting of his is the Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s been the background on my iPhone for four or five years now. I put it on my phone because I wanted to be daily reminded that I am prone to wander like the son, that I growing up in the church and never leaving home left home on my heart, and lastly, I’m called to be the father who loves both those who have wandered far from home and those who have wandered while never leaving home. The gospel points out my sin points me to Christ, and redirects me to run toward sinners.

The Return Of The Prodigal Son

I recently replaced it for the time being with Christ calms the storm. A painting that depicts arguably the best depiction of God’s trust in His Father and our trust in ourselves in all of scripture.

The biblical scene pitches nature against human frailty – both physical and spiritual. The panic-stricken disciples struggle against a sudden storm, and fight to regain control of their fishing boat as a huge wave crashes over its bow, ripping the sail and drawing the craft perilously close to the rocks in the left foreground. One of the disciples succumbs to the sea’s violence by vomiting over the side. Amidst this chaos, only Christ, at the right, remains calm, like the eye of the storm. Awakened by the disciples’ desperate pleas for help, he rebukes them: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” and then rises to calm the fury of wind and waves. Nature’s upheaval is both cause and metaphor for the terror that grips the disciples, magnifying the emotional turbulence and thus the image’s dramatic impact.

Michael Zell
Jesus Calms The Sea of Galilee

There are many ironic elements of this masterpiece. The first is the fact it was stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Gardener Museum in Boston. Most experts believe it to be the work of organized crime to be used as ransom to free jailed crime bosses. The irony is that since it was taken, there has been wave after wave of stolen peace in our lives and in our countries collective experience. I do not believe that the theft precipitated our lack of collective peace. It is only a cultural artifact that points to our loss of peace by righting our ship on our terms.

Top 10 Books of 2020

In 2020 I read many books by people who have different views than I have, I read several books on CRT and Liberation Theology as well as some written by Progressive Theologians. I found it interesting to see the world as they see it. I also found it strengthen my resolve to fight for clarity in my thoughts and charity in my interactions with those with whom I disagree. As a result, my reading list was a bit more eclectic than most years. As I look forward to 2021 I do so with a mixture of excitement and sadness as I will be finishing my Seminary degrees. I don’t know if I disliked a book that was assigned to me and will miss the rigor of reading with a deadline. I am excited however to read what I want when I want. I plan on rereading some of my favorite books I read in obtaining my degree as well as much more fiction and hope to write a devotional for pre-teens before the year is out. That being said here are my top ten books for 2020.


The Trellis and the Vine
This book has been on my reading list for a while but had not had the time to get to it. It was required for school so I read it in November. Such a timely book for any pastor to read. If ever we needed the message and strategy of connection over programs it’s now. It ends with an eerie question of what we would do if we had to lead through a pandemic.

Imagine this… As we write, the first worrying signs of a swine-flu pandemic are making headlines around the world. Imagine that the pandemic swept through your part of the world and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for 18 months. How would your congregation of 120 members continue to function—with no regular church gatherings of any kind, and no home groups (except for groups of three)? If you were the pastor, what would you do?

ColinMarshall & Tony Payne


If that quote doesn’t make you want to read this book nothing will.


Live not by lies
Such a timely book. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by what Rod calls “soft totalitarianism” Live Not By Lies teaches American Christians a method for resistance:
    SEE: Acknowledge the reality of the situation.
    JUDGE: Assess reality in the light of what we as Christians know to be true.
    ACT: Take action to protect truth.
The most powerful weapon we have against the secularism of our age is seeing the truth and speaking the truth. Every Christian should read this book.


Atomic Habits
I haven’t read a ton of leadership books over the past few years but this one was recommended by everyone. I read it and was suprised by the simplicity and practical application of what Clear argues for. Also he likes baseball.


Christ Centered Preaching
I have read several books on expository preaching this one is one of the best in terms of explaining the importance of expository sermons as well as the practical examples that walk you through the process of doing so. I read this for a class Dr. Chapell taught at my Seminary. He is an equally gifted communicator and writer.


On Reading Well
One of my Master’s Degrees is in Christian and Classical Thought. My professors reinforced to us over and over again the importance of reading the great conversation in light of the Gospel because every little story we write points to the great story written for us. Dr. Prior highlights a classical work and the corresponding virtue it exemplifies. The result of her work is a more thoughtful reading of books, many of which were written by Christians, that was written with the desire to empower and inform a more virtuous public. Dr. Prior’s explanation of Flannery O’Connor was particularly helpful to me personally as I have read most of O’Connor’s work and missed most of the beauty within them because I was so taken back by the violence and tragedy I missed the redemptive nature of her stories.


Valley of Vision
I have used Valley of Vision to aid my daily times of prayer devotional for a couple of years. Going through this book slowly to meditate and processes its content fully. I found so many of these prayers directing my thoughts and strengthening my faith like few books I have ever read.

‘When used slowly, for meditation and prayer, these pages have often been used by God’s Spirit to kindle my dry heart.’ ——MARK DEVER

I can’t agree with Mark more. I encourage you to add this to your personal time of devotion. There is something so helpful and challenging about reading the prayers of others.


Scripture as Communication
Such a fantastic book. Dr. Brown addresses both of the extremes of Biblical interpretation. In our modern culture, the Bible is looked at as a set of rules to live by or stories to inspire. A prominent pastor in a recent book said that the Old Testament is for inspiration. Brown’s argument that the Bible is communication changes how we read, interpret, and interact with scripture. It is a much-needed vantage point in the present hermetical landscape of the evangelical church.



Deep Work
This is the second book by Newport I’ve read. He is very clear and extremely practical. I have been putting his simple yet profound ideas to the test and have experienced excellent results. We as a society are more distracted than ever we must fight for focus. I used to brag about how many things we can do at once. No longer. I join Newport in striving to do one thing at a time really really well.


Persuasion
Persuasion is a story of love and loss and patient endurance. In her excellent summary of the book which was my inspiration to read it in full Karen Swallow Prior says “The essence of patience is the willingness to endure suffering.” Patience is a lost virtue in our instant secular culture. We put it off till later so we can have it now. The result of this type of living is moral and spiritual bankruptcy. The story was a story of love that lost because of obedience to authority and refined and rekindled because of divine providence. It was my first Jane Austen novel and definitely not my last.

Patience is a virtue, not in overlooking wrong, but in refusing to do wrong in overcoming wrong.

Karen Swallow Prior



Black Rednecks & White Liberals
This year I read several books on race I found Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers and if you avoid the liberation theology at the end Cone’s work on lynching. The least helpful was White Fragility. Over the course of the past several months, I saw this title encouraged by several pastors. Pastor, please don’t do that. Out of all those titles, the reason I chose Thomas Sowell is that he addresses the topic of race in a way that is straightforward and hopeful. To say that being white makes you a racist and there is nothing you can do about it is not the answer to the real problem of racism. Sowell is thoughtful, hopeful, and clear. He is also African American as opposed to DiAngelo who is white. No matter where you fall on the political landscape it is helpful to understand issues of race and how to work toward speaking against real racism in our world today. I believe that Sowell’s work is a great asset in understanding the history of race and helpful solutions for today.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. Growth Groups by Colin Marshall
  2. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  3. Missions by Andy Johnson
  4. Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger
  5. The Science of Missions by J.H. Bavanick
  6. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
  7. Center Church by Tim Keller
  8. Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene Peterson
  9. I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
  10. Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
  11. The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
  12. Suffering and Joy by Henri Nouwen
  13. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  14. Leadership for the Time of a Pandemic by Tod Bolsinger
  15. Confronting Old Testament Controversies by Tremper Longman
  16. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William Webb
  17. The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
  18. The Bible Tells Me So…. by Peter Enns
  19. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
  20. George MacDonald by C.S. Lewis
  21. Evolution and the Fall by James K.A. Smith
  22. In the Year of Our Lord 1943 by Alan Jacobs
  23. Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
  24. American Sherlock by Kate Winkler Dawson
  25. Resilient by Valerie Bell and Matt Markins
  26. Christ-Centered Sermons by Bryan Chapell
  27. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
  28. Uncommon Ground by Timothy Keller
  29. Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
  30. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  31. Reading the Bible With Heart and Mind by Tremper Longman
  32. Lethal Agent by Vince Flynn
  33. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  34. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert Stein
  35. Hermeneutics by Henry Virkler
  36. Color of Compromise by Jamar Tisby
  37. Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson
  38. The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges
  39. A Theory of Everything by Alister McGrath
  40. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  41. Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson
  42. Red War by Vince Flynn