Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

(Warner Brothers)

(Warner Brothers)

We got a GPS this past Christmas. We call it Mildred. If we’re going somewhere and we need directions, we just type our destination and hit “Go.” And Mildred sets to work, bouncing signals off a satellite and back, calculating the perfect route (usually) and then – the best part – speaking that route to us, turn by turn.

My friend Lincoln and I took Mildred to Southern California a few weeks ago, where she performed like a champ, guiding us through the freeway system. A few times when we couldn’t get to the exit ramp because of heavy traffic, we’d miss a turn. And Mildred would simply gather herself, recalibrate and tell us the new directions. Once in a while, she would get confused momentarily – especially on cloverleafs, where one road was directly above another – but we could always count on her to figure things out.

Sometimes I wish my life had a GPS, where I could plug in a destination and receive turn-by-turn instructions from Mildred’s firm, confident computer voice. Instead, life usually seems like I’m stuck in a tunnel and Mildred can’t find the satellite. I’m left to take my best guess about the next turn. Sometimes that proves to be the right path. Sometimes I have to recalibrate.

That can be frustrating when all I want is clarity. But then I remember: No great adventure was ever a sure thing. What makes it an adventure is risk – risk of getting lost, risk of failure, risk of letting a lot of people down, even risk of death. The bad thing about a GPS is, it can turn a journey into a boring list of instructions. Sure, you don’t get lost. But in the process, the adventure gets lost with it.

I tend to wander, and I tend not to follow instructions (just ask my wife). I’ve been lost many times, without a map or GPS: In a forest preserve two miles from our house. On a remote national park trail as the sun was setting. In a ridiculously bad neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, where I could only think of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold character. Even in Beirut, Lebanon, where we’d wandered much too close to a Hezbollah rally.

Each of those situations became a good story we still talk about – usually in the context of how dumb I was for not carrying a map or GPS. Point taken, if we’re talking about a hike or a drive.

But when we’re talking about life decisions, then I’m back to that adventure thing – how it requires an ever-growing trust in someone I can’t see. Brennan Manning writes in “Ruthless Trust” that he believes that trusting God is, in fact, what it means to love him.

“Why does our trust offer such immense pleasure to God?” Manning writes. “Because trust is the pre-eminent expression of love. Thus, it may mean more to Jesus when we say, ‘I trust you,’ than when we say, ‘I love you.’”

Those words help. I wrestle with doubts about my faith all the time. The bottom line, though, is that my wife and I have loved God enough to trust him, and to take a big risk, not knowing where the road leads. We’ve sold our nice home and I’ve left a comfortable career – certainties in life – in order to pursue something crazy, something great. We have no idea how this story will turn out.

I watched “Argo” last night, the Oscar-winning film about the rescue of six American diplomats from Iran in 1979. Ben Affleck’s character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, is laying out his crazy-sounding plan to the diplomats: They’ll pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie. The six are less than convinced. Mendez tells them it’s their best hope.

That’s why I’m here,” he says. “I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. I get people out and I’ve never left anyone behind. I’m asking you to trust me.”

Sometimes, a film that has nothing to do with God can bowl me over with a God moment. Right now, if our lives were a movie, we’d be at that critical point where the audience isn’t sure whether the heroes are going to make it.

And I can sense God saying to me the exact words Mendez used.

I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. … I’m asking you to trust me.

We want an airtight plan with guarantees. Or at least we think we do. God says, “Trust me.”

Do I love him enough to do that? I want to.

Manning writes:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

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No, It Doesn’t Make Sense — And That’s OK

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in doubt, fear, missional living
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Acts 10 tells an earth-shaking story — angels, terror, visions of animals moving up and down on a big sheet like a linen dumbwaiter from heaven. Maybe you’ve read it.

It’s trippy stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s just about two guys obeying God when it makes no sense to do so. And it ends up changing the world.

On the one end, you have Peter, the head of the first Christian church, being told to kill animals clearly labeled unclean in the Law of Moses — and then to stop labeling things “unclean” that God has made. It’s clear later on that Peter understands this to mean people; but for the moment, that’s all he’s got.

On the other end, you have a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius being commanded by an angel to send for a Jewish guy named Simon Peter who was staying at some leather worker’s house in the city of Joppa. OK … Peter. Simon the Tanner. Joppa. Got it.

So the Roman official sends for the Jew to come before him. Peter’s seen this game before.

But this time, Peter’s gotten a sneak preview. God’s calling an audible, and Peter understands the new route. This isn’t Jesus before Pilate. And it won’t be a Roman handing down death this time — it’ll be a Roman accepting new life.

This is the first short-term cross-cultural missions trip. Paul gets all the props with the whole Antioch-to-Cyprus adventure — he did have to take a boat, after all. However, Peter was the true pioneer with his Joppa-to-Caesarea trip — a distance of only about 30 miles by land, but the distance traveled was far more than Peter had to walk. There was no precedent for this, no doctrinal basis by which to measure actions. There was just God telling Peter and Cornelius to trust Him.

On parchment, it made no sense — a Jew visiting a Gentile, and a Roman at that. But God had chosen his players carefully, two men willing to obey at the drop of a hat, sensible edict or not. And even then, he had to shock them into it. To one he sent an angel which frankly scared the pants off him. To the other he sent an acid-trip vision of animals he was supposed to kill and eat on the spot. “Paging Hunter S. Thompson … report to the killing floor immediately.”

No, God wasn’t messing around on this one, because too much was at stake. The gospel was sequestered within the Jewish community. It had to get out. Jesus had tipped his hand right before the ascension, and now he was putting legs under His game plan — Peter’s legs, to be specific. “Go, Peter, and don’t call them unclean. I made them. Got it?”

So Peter goes, tells them the story, preaches the gospel, and Cornelius and all his household get saved. Just like that. Even the die-hard skeptics back in Jerusalem, when they got Peter’s report, couldn’t do anything but praise God for the beauty of what happened that night at Cornelius’ place. What started out sounding crazy ended up looking amazing and wonderful — kind of like the gospel itself.

So if you find yourself being led to do something for God that sounds nuts to the people around you, even to yourself, don’t listen to conventional wisdom — listen to the voice telling you to do it. If it sounds like the same voice that’s comforted you in pain, answered you when you’ve called out to Him in the past, and led you to where you are now, ask yourself:

Is it crazier to do this, or to not do it?

 

Faith in a Drought

Posted: October 9, 2012 by Jim Killam in disillusionment, doubt, fear, missions, nature

A stiff, cold wind blew in yesterday. It took our spectacular fall color and whipped most of it to the ground. That’s a harsh reminder of one season ending and a long, cold Illinois winter perhaps starting early.

The cold wind also bookends a terrible drought year, when it was tough for anything to grow and thrive, and when dirt and dust covered just about everything around here.

For my wife and me, the drought extended into most of life. It’s been an especially dry season of raising support for our upcoming missions work. With a couple of notable exceptions, possibilities that had looked promising simply dried up and blew away. I worked hard all summer and, like the farmers around here, I saw little payoff for all of that toil. Just a lot of indifference, outright rejection or simply being ignored. Plus, unlike the farmers, we didn’t have crop insurance. If God doesn’t come through, we are sunk.

Didn’t I just sacrifice a career? Didn’t we just sacrifice our home and comfort, to follow God’s clear calling on our lives? Aren’t we living in a shed? And the result so far is … frustration and disappointment? Really?

A drought becomes a vivid reminder that so much of life, and even our ability to sustain life, is beyond our control and incredibly fragile. A dry season turns us to God in a way that abundance does not. It’s human nature to tell God “please” a lot more than “thank you.” Our need for him, and the fallacy of self-reliance, becomes so much more obvious in a drought.

A drought favors plants with deep and healthy root systems. It favors good soil rather than shallow, rocky soil (Matthew 13:6, the Parable of the Sower – “But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”) Things that we relied on, but were far more fragile than we realized, get stripped away. Only those things with the deepest roots survive – and even they sustain some damage.

So, what was stripped away for us in this year of spiritual drought? First, our nice home. Then our comfortable income. Both of those were voluntary steps of faith, and though we didn’t say it, I think we expected a reward. Instead, our modest savings dwindled. We lost comfort and convenience – the ability to simply take a shower, or cook a meal, without planning. We lost confidence in our abilities to restore that comfort and convenience. Pride in accomplishments evaporated. All of that admiration received when I quit my job to follow a calling? A distant memory now. Ultimately, we lost confidence that, in response to our steps of faith, God would act when and how we wanted him to act.

And now, 10 months into our spiritual drought, what remains? What has grown improbably?

Our faith looks different today. Tired of comfort and safety, we willingly (if not always enthusiastically) ceded those things. There is no more predictability to life, and that can be frustrating. That sense of adventure and excitement we were counting on does show up more, but it isn’t constant. It’s sometimes punctuated by serious doubt, as in “What did we just do?” And this after some previous dark seasons where hope seemed only a hollow promise.

We have learned, far more vividly than ever before, what it looks like to rely on God for absolutely everything – how, when comfort and convenience are stripped away, God becomes more visible.

But, while visible, God also can be frustratingly silent in a drought. Often, our cries for help seem to go no further than the ceiling. We found ourselves with the unspoken feeling that God owed us success in raising our support after we took such a big step of faith. And the “reward” was … days and weeks where no one – and I do mean no one – responded to my letters, phone calls and emails about the calling God has given me. (Do you know how discouraging it is for missionaries when people won’t even return a phone call or a personal email? Even a “no” is better than being ignored.) Meanwhile, bugs, vermin and bad smells remind us that we are indeed living in a farm shed. What once felt like an adventure is now a lot harder and less fun.

But we cling to God anyway, because we’ve received a calling and we have nowhere else to go. Like the Spanish explorer Cortez, we have burned the ships. There is no turning back, and there are no guarantees of safety ahead. I think of a line from Pete Sommer’s book, “Getting Sent”: “The road we are sent on is not smooth, but it goes Godward.”

And I start to realize … maybe this is what faith really looks like.

Living a Real Life

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Christ's example, fear, missional living, missions

photo by Chensiyuan

I just got off the phone with one of the most courageous men I’ve ever met.

This guy — I tell you what. Talk about guts. He’s a pastor, and he walks into favelas (slums) in Rio de Janeiro that are ruled by drug lords and patrolled by traffickers toting machine guns, and he talks to them about Jesus. And he often goes at midnight, to their block parties, when they are most likely to be out on the street.

And here’s the kicker — he’s not alone. Dozens of people from his church go with him, singing and praying and breaking up into small groups that go out and evangelize the dealers and their customers.

And they do this regularly. This is inner-city ministry at its best, and its riskiest. Just the other day, one of these midnight care envoys got caught in the crossfire between a drug gang and one of the special forces police squads that hunts traffickers down and kills them. They were right in the middle of the whole thing. Not one of them got hurt, praise God, though many of them easily could have gotten shot.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this guy’s church has grown from four people, including him and his wife, to more than 700 in four years. Why? Well, there’s probably lots of reasons why, beginning with the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives, followed by the church’s insistence that Christian faith means discipleship — which means going out and reproducing believers. But how do they bring themselves to carry that out? Courage.

I think it’s plain and simple courage that drives this church forward and upward. They walk with courage born of a deep belief that Jesus has their backs and will empower them to go reach lost people, even in crime-ridden slums. Especially in crime-ridden slums.

This is a faith worth having. These are lives worth living. Scared? Sure they are. But being scared isn’t an excuse for a Christian not to do something. For Christians, courage means obeying the God who says “yes” despite the fears that say “no.”  We can trust God’s “yes” over Fear’s “no” any day.

I love hearing stories and watching movies about people who overcome fear to do something that they know they must do. Donald Miller talks a lot about this in his fantastic book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (easily his best, I believe). Think of a movie worth watching — I can almost guarantee that the story is basically about someone fighting through or overcoming some fear or obstacle on their way to getting something worth having. In fact, a story really isn’t a story without that.

That’s what made my hourlong interview with this guy seem like 10 minutes. It was the constant feeling I had that this guy’s life is going to make a great story — that this guy is living a real life. (Look for the article soon on reachglobalnews.org).

I feel bigger after I talk to someone like this pastor. It’s a feeling of “If he can do that, surely I can (fill in the blank with a much safer task).”

Living a real life means doing what you know you have to do despite your fears. In other words, living with courage. I’m really looking forward to meeting this guy someday. And I sincerely hope it’s in Rio before heaven.

Hiking Toward Our Fears

Posted: June 28, 2012 by Jim Killam in fear, fortress, nature

Montana’s Glacier National Park is my favorite place to hike — largely because of the stunning natural beauty everywhere you look. But it’s also because you never know what you’re going to see – maybe mountain goats, or a bull moose, or a herd of bighorn sheep, or a black bear or even a grizzly.

There’s a certain risk to hiking in Glacier: You could die. People do die, in fact. You could fall off a cliff, or drown in a raging stream. You could get hopelessly lost and freeze to death on the side of a mountain. Or, most prominently, you could get mauled and eaten by the aforementioned grizzly.

My wife, Lauren, and I were talking the other day about some of our hiking experiences in Glacier. We’ve had to get past some fears just to set out on those trails. But oh, the rewards. We’ve stood atop the Continental Divide, looking down at a chain of lakes stretching all the way to the plains. We’ve hiked alongside glaciers, their summer melt cascading ribbon-like waterfalls thousands of feet below. We’ve witnessed the most stunning sunsets we’ll ever see this side of heaven.

Sometimes we were genuinely scared. Once we spotted a huge grizzly about 300 yards below us and near the trail, which followed a dry creek bed. We’d have to cross that spot, and no one else was around. So we waited a few minutes, hoping the bear would pass. Then we said a quick prayer for safety, made lots of noise and readied our can of bear spray — super-powerful pepper spray that has been proven effective at preventing attacks when used properly.

Thankfully we didn’t see the bear again as we hiked along the creek bed. It might have been a hundred yards away by then … or just on the other side of the next willow bush. We’ll never know.

Just a year ago, we were hiking the Grinnell Lake trail, passing through a narrow, wooded area with a lake on one side and a mountainside on the other. Suddenly we heard people yelling about 50 yards ahead. That likely meant one thing.

As we approached, a group of seniors stood on the trail facing a mother grizzly and her two yearling cubs, which were almost as large as she was. The bears were about 20 yards from the people, making their way down the trail toward them.

We and the others moved as far as we could off the trail and against the mountainside to clear a way for the bears to pass. We made as much noise as we could – shouting, banging stuff, blowing whistles – because that’s what the rangers tell you to do to deter bears.

I’d like to say I stood courageously in front of Lauren, bear spray ready, protecting her and the rest of the group. That would have been very noble. Actually I was shooting pictures while Lauren blew her whistle and aimed the bear spray. The bears lumbered past, coming within about 20 feet of us and not appearing to care that a group of hikers stood nearby making a racket not unlike my high school marching band.

We would never knowingly approach bears. There’s calculated risk of hiking in a place like Glacier, and then there’s full-on idiocy (for a good example, watch the film, “Grizzly Man”). But encountering those three wondrous creatures up close, by chance, was the experience of a lifetime.

The hike itself was stunningly beautiful – at the end, you reach Grinnell Lake, where dozens of waterfalls cascade into it from the glacier above. Had I given in to my fears, I would have missed all of that while kneeling at the altar of safety and security.

It’s not that we would go into a potentially dangerous situation blindly – like the hikers I saw wearing flipflops and listening to their iPods. You assess the risks, equip yourself with protective items you might need, and you set out. Sometimes you go with a group. Sometimes you go with an experienced guide.

This summer, Lauren and I are in the midst of taking the biggest risk of our lives. I’ve left a safe and secure job in order to follow a calling to full-time missions work as a journalist. Trusting God has taken on a whole new meaning. We’ve sold our house and are living temporarily in a 250-square-foot, converted shed. Even when our financial support is finally raised, life is going to be hard. And now, out of the blue, we’ve been presented with the opportunity to move to Costa Rica and base our new ministry from there.

No guarantees. Just one step of faith after another, each one larger than the last. Safety? It’s overrated and over-prayed for. Predictability? Gone. This is simply about following our trusted Guide’s directions. It’s about stepping onto a trail, knowing danger could lurk just around the next bend, and being OK with that.

Trails like that often lead you to a place more beautiful than you could ever imagine.