the opposite of fear

We live in a culture fundamentally marked by, even ordered around, fear. As Paul told Timothy, the Lord doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. Instead, the Lord gives us a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind. Fear is the opposite of all those things. Fear robs us of love. Fear disempowers us. Fear muddles our thinking. As ministers of the Gospel, how do we combat this spirit of fear pervading our culture and infecting our people? How do we promote love, empowerment, and clear thinking? These are questions we should be ever mindful of.

And these three go together: love, power, and sound thinking. I can only love someone to the extent that I know them, that I understand them, think clearly about them. And I can only love someone to the extent that I empower them. Fear disrupts thinking and causes misunderstanding. We take power away from people we’re afraid of and the unjust dynamic that ensues makes love between us impossible. Fear destroys community. Fear breaks fellowship. Fear kills relationships.

Specific to our present context, we’re irrationally afraid of gay people, people of different ethnicities, and people not where we are on the gender spectrum. We don’t understand people who aren’t oriented like us, whose culture varies from ours, who don’t experience the world from our gender perspective. Too often, we don’t even understand that we ourselves have an orientation, a culture, a gender. This is especially true for those of us among the subset we call dominant, the white, male, heterosexuals who have somehow managed to disempower the rest. We need to work to understand gay, non-white, not (or not so) male. We need to work on empowering others, which is the opposite of disempowering them, the opposite of shaming them (the opposite of making it hard for them to even use the toilet). We need to work on loving them and receiving love from them, by which I mean being in relationship with each other as persons.

All that begins by not being afraid. The ridiculous bathroom law here in North Carolina is the easiest example I can give of the muddled thinking that comes from fear mongering. We have no reason to be afraid of transgender people. Gay people aren’t scary. Brown and black people are not thugs. We are steeped in a spirit of fear but it is not from the Holy Spirit. Quite the opposite.

Don’t be afraid. Refuse the fear. Have courage. Express that courage by risking to enter into a deeper relationship with someone you know in one of these misunderstood categories. There are already gay, trans, brown people in your life. Get to know them better. Listen to their stories. Seek to understand them, to really know their heart and their experience. Then you’ll have clear thinking and a sound mind. You will also find that you like them, that you care about them, that you love them. Once you get to know them, you will love them. Then you won’t allow them to be disempowered or shamed or have their lives made difficult by those who are still afraid. We always empower those we love. When we are present to each other, the Presence of God always attends us, enabling us to love, empowering us to empower, helping us see and understand each other. These are the gifts the Lord gives us. If we will only receive them in the gift of each other.

do we want a career or Jesus?

In 1994, John Wimber gave an interview to the British magazine Worship Together. Here is an excerpt that really spoke to me:

Over the last six months I’ve spent time re-reading some of the evangelical classics, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. I was given a copy the third week after I became a Christian, and it gave me a context for spirituality, and a foundation for trust in and obedience to God. Books like that have taught me that seeking God for experiences and gifts is superficial: we are simply called to seek God! I’ve preached many times that we are called to a reverential serving of God with our whole heart and being, stressing that if anything except God is your portion in life, I can’t guarantee it; I can’t guarantee that your children will be happy, or that your spouse will love you forever… but I can guarantee that if your desire is Jesus, you’ll get Jesus, and you can walk with Him all the days of your life.

When I went through this cancer a year or so ago, I was astounded when people from my own church asked me, “Weren’t you afraid you were going to die?” After about the fiftieth person, I realized that I hadn’t really taught my congregation the truth of the word. I had to get before them and say, “In June 1963 this man died. And everything from that time to this has been Jesus.” I’m not trying to hold on to my life; I gave my life up.

When I became a Christian, I was a musician with two albums I had produced in the U.S. Top Ten; it was the establishment of my career after  thirteen years of hard work. But God spoke to me in the two-line parable of the pearl of great price: “I want it. Give it to me.” He didn’t say, “give it to me and then I will give you a career as a pastor, or a music ministry that will go to many nations of the world.” He said, “give everything. Liquidate all your assets, and I’ll give you the pearl.”

Now the pearl isn’t a new career, or the opportunity to make a name for yourself as a worship writer or leader. It isn’t even the ability to sustain yourself in that profession. If your readers’ motivation in being involved in their local church worship is to make a full-time career of it, they’ll probably be disappointed.

The pearl is Jesus. And if He is their focus, they’ll go right through this revival unscathed. Oh, they’ll have to face things, but they will come through in godly fashion, and they will stand unashamed before the Lord, having been used to refresh a nation – and through that nation, probably a whole continent.