Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

Erbil International Airport

#Advent15: Somewhere Between Here and There

We’re on the plane now. According to my watch, we’re probably about halfway.

It’s strange knowing that when the wheels of this plane touch the runway, I will have to redefine–again–the concept of safety. Yet, I also know that this is the right place at the right time with the right people.

Safety. This is a word that I have come to define and redefine a number of times in the course of the last four years. A word that I have spent many occasions discussing–arguing–with God about. That day on that plane was one of those occasions.

Vicar Andrew White says that the Kingdom life is a risky one. That it’s a life where we shouldn’t urge one another to take care, but rather to take risks.

Risk. Risks are a bit like faith. You step out into the unknown. Trusting that God knows what He’s doing in calling you out there. But, to take a risk means that your definition of safety can’t be one grounded in fear.

Fear. It’s real. It’s also not the opposite of faith. Faith and fear carry the same definition: a belief in something unknown. The difference is what you do with it. Faith is pressing forward in spite of that which is unknown. Fear is isolating yourself against that thing that is unknown.

Isolation. Hiding from that which is unknown. A citizen of the Kingdom who lives in isolation will NEVER bring about the purposes of the Kingdom. They will only ever seek out their own survival. They will only ever take care. They will never take risks.

The Kingdom life is a risky life.

I somehow think it’s appropriate that I’m on this trip during Advent. So many people longing for rescue and redemption and renewal. So many people yearning for something in which they can hope. And, the truth of it all is that there is hope. Yet, proclaiming hope means that the one proclaiming it must take risks.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. We proclaim hope not to the hopeful, but to the hopeless. And, they are hopeless because they are in the middle of the situations against which our definitions of safety often keep us isolated.

For us to proclaim hope means that we must step outside of our isolation. We cannot proclaim hope unless we abandon fear and step out in faith.

The United Nations tells us that 1 in 123 people on the earth today are living a refugees. They have fled home and gone to somewhere else–somewhere deemed to be “more safe.” In order to proclaim hope to these millions of people, we must step out of our “safety”–our isolation–and step into this risky Kingdom Life.

Advent means coming. God coming. Coming into the midst of war and famine and pain and hurt and struggle. God coming to be with us. To dwell. To tabernacle.

And, in His coming, He invites us to come along. To see what He sees. To hear what He hears.

Immanuel. God is with us. In the middle. He has come. He is coming. He will come again. Into our pain. Into our suffering. Into our hopelessness.

And, He calls to us to board the plane. To be somewhere between here and there. Leaving behind our isolation. Leaving behind our fear. Moving forward in faith.

The opposite of fear is Love–not faith. “Perfect love,” the beloved Apostle writes, “drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Perfect love moves us out of isolation and into the middle of the hopelessness to proclaim hope.

Perfect love moves us out of fear and into faith.

Perfect love moves us out of our definitions of safety and into God’s definitions of safety.

“The name of the LORD,” the Proverbs tells us, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Safety. It can either be based in fear or in faith. If it drives you into isolation, then it’s based in fear and isn’t God’s definition of safety. If it drives you to take Kingdom risks, then it’s based in faith and is God’s definition of safety.

So, we take risks.

Not long after that line was written the wheels of the Airbus 321 touched the runway. I had arrived in a place that I never dreamt I would be. I didn’t know what the next week would bring. I didn’t know what I would encounter. I only knew that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

“Don’t take care,” the dear Vicar says, “Take risks.”

Erbil International Airport

Erbil International Airport

[All block quotes are taken directly from my journal entry from 3 December 2014.]

#Lent14 — Overcoming Temptation

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.

Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  Jesus fasted for forty days and nights.  After this, he was very hungry.  The devil came to Jesus to tempt him, saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these rocks to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written in the Scriptures, ‘A person lives not on bread alone, but by everything God says.’”

Then the devil led Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem and put him on a high place of the Temple.  The devil said, “If you are the Son of God, jump down, because it is written in the Scriptures: ‘He has put his angels in charge of you.  They will catch you in their hands so that you will not hit your foot on a rock.’”

Jesus answered him, “It also says in the Scriptures, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”

Then the devil led Jesus to the top of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor.  The devil said, “If you will bow down and worship me, I will give you all these things.”

Jesus said to the devil, “God away from me, Satan!  It is written in the Scriptures, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”

So the devil left Jesus, and angels came and took care of him.

Matthew 4:1-11 (NCV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Temptation.  We are all faced with it.  We all have to deal with it.  We all have to learn how to say, “No.”  But, it’s hard to do.

I wish that overcoming temptation was as easy as just ignoring it.  You know, the whole “ignore-it-and-it’ll-go-away” idea.  But, alas, that doesn’t work.  Temptation still shows up.  Still hangs around.  Still, well, tempts.

Or, maybe, we could just walk away from that which tempts us.  Just turn off the television when that racy show comes on, or log off the internet when that picture pops up on Facebook.  Easy, right?  Yet, again, it doesn’t work.  The television still sits in the room.  The internet is still accessible.  Temptation still waits in the shadows.

Jesus shows us a different way.  When He was faced with temptation, He turned to Scripture.  He combatted the desires of His flesh with the Word of God.  Staring temptation square in the eyes, He quoted Scripture.  Reminding His flesh of what God has said about who He is and Whose He is.

Jesus’ response to temptation is the model for how we should respond.

The reality is that no other method of overcoming temptation will be successful.  We must turn to the Word of God, and find out what He says about the situation.  No matter what the temptation is.  Whether it’s eating that fifteenth piece of chocolate or looking at the photo of that scantily clad person, God has something to say about it.

There’s a verse in Psalm 119 that says this:

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” — Psalm 119:11 (ESV)

Dealing with temptation isn’t something that you wait until you are tempted to do.  It’s something that you do long before the temptation ever shows up.  Store up the Word of God in your heart.  Then, when you are tempted, use the Word of God to overcome it.

If there is something by which you find yourself repeatedly tempted, then find the Scriptures that address that and memorize them.  Meditate on them.  Pray them.  Let them soak deep into your heart and mind and spirit.

When you have the Word deep in you, then when temptation comes, you have a weapon.  You have an exit strategy.  You have a way to overcome temptation.

What is it that God has to say about your particular temptation?  Find out.  Memorize it.  Meditate on it.  Pray it.

Below are a few temptations with which we are faced or things with which we struggle.  Below them are Scripture references dealing with each.  These are just a start, and are by no means comprehensive (the search feature over at BibleGateway can be used to help you find more).  Yet, memorizing, meditating on, and praying these will be a good start to overcoming temptation.


Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 10:12; 14:16, 17, 29; 15:1, 18; 16:32; 19:11; 29:22; Matthew 5:22-24; Romans 12:19; Ephesians 4:1-3, 26, 31-32; Colossians 3:8, 21; 2 Timothy 2:24; James 1:19-20


Deuteronomy 6:5; Proverbs 13:12; Galatians 6:8-9; Ephesians 4:18-24; Philippians 3:13-14; 1 Peter 1:3; Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3


Proverbs 23:17-18; Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 23:24; Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14; 12:14-21; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:24-26; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8-9; Hebrews 12:15; James 3:14; 1 Peter 2:23


Psalm 23:4; 71:21; 119:50, 52, 76; Isaiah 40:1; 51:3; 61:1-2; Jeremiah 31:13; Matthew 5:4; 1 Corinthians 14:3; Philippians 2:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Revelation 21:4


Deuteronomy 32:36; 2 Chronicles 30:9; Psalm 51:1; 77:9; 102:13; 103:4, 13; 116:5; 145:9; Isaiah 54:7-8, 10; Lamentations 3:22-23, 32; Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Luke 15:20; Romans 9:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Colossians 3:12


John 15:5; Galatians 5:22-25; Philippians 4:6-8; 2 Peter 1:5-8


Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37-42; John 7:24; Romans 2:1; 14:1-15, 19; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 3:8-14; 4:6


1 Kings 19:4; Psalm 38; 42:3-6, 11; Proverbs 13:12; Isaiah 26:3-4; Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 11:25; Luke 10:19; Romans 8:28, 31, 37; Philippians 4:4-13; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 4:14-16; 12:1-2, 28; James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 2 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 4:9


Deuteronomy 11:26-28; 1 Samuel 12:15; Isaiah 1:18-20; Malachi 4:6; Luke 6:46; John 14:15, 21; Ephesians 6:1-2; 1 John 5:2-4


Psalm 34:10; 37:3; 63:1-5; 103:1-5; Proverbs 12:14; Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:26-27; Matthew 5:6; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Peter 1:3; Philippians 4:11-13, 19


Proverbs 3:5; Matthew 14:31; Mark 9:24; 11:23-25; Luke 12:29-31; Colossians 1:23; Romans 10:17; 14:22-23; Hebrews 11:1, 6; James 1:5-8


Proverbs 14:30; 23:17; 24:1-2; Mark 7:20-23; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 13:4; Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:3-6; James 3:14-16


1 Chronicles 28:20; Psalm 89:28; Proverbs 15:22; 1 Corinthians 3:8a; Lamentations 3:22-24; 1 Peter 1:6-7

Fear of Man/Things

Exodus 14:13-14; Joshua 1:5-9; Psalm 23:4; 27:1-3; 34:1-4; 46:1-2; Isaiah 41:10; Luke 8:50; John 16:33; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 13:5-6; 1 John 4:18


Psalm 32:1-3; 103:2-3, 12; 130:4; Isaiah 1:18; 43:25; Mark 11:25; Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-22; John 20:22-23; Acts 13:38; Ephesians 1:7; 4:32; 1 John 1:9; Colossians 3:12-14


Psalm 19:14; 34:13; Proverbs 11:13; 17:9; 18:21; 20:19; 26:20; Matthew 12:34; James 1:26; 4:11-12


Deuteronomy 15:7; Proverbs 1:19; 15:16, 27; Ecclesiastes 5:10; Jeremiah 17:11; Acts 20:35; Galatians 6:10; Philippians 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:9-11


2 Chronicles 30:9; Isaiah 43:25; 55:7; 1 John 1:7, 9; 2:12; 4:18


Proverbs 10:12; 1 John 2:9-11


Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:35-36; Isaiah 33:15-16; Colossians 3:9-10


Psalm 139; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 5:17; Ephesians 1:5-7; James 4:10; 1 John 4:4


Joshua 1:9; Psalm 34:18; 91; 139; 145:18; Proverbs 3:5; 1 John 3:1; Isaiah 26:3-4; 43:1-3a; 1 John 5:14; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Philippians 1:6


Romans 12:11; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12


Genesis 28:15; Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 31:6; 33:26; Joshua 1:9; Psalm 34:18; 139; Isaiah 41:10; 43:2; 54:10; John 14:16, 18; Romans 8:35-39; Hebrews 13:5-6


Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:11-14; 13:14; 1 John 2:17; 2 Timothy 2:22; Titus 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Jude 20-21


Ecclesiastes 7:8; Isaiah 25:9; 26:8; 33:2; Luke 21:19; Romans 12:12; Hebrews 10:36; James 1:4; 2 Peter 1:6-9


1 Samuel 2:3; Proverbs 8:13; 11:2; Jeremiah 9:23-24; Matthew 23:12; Mark 9:35; Romans 12:3; Galatians 6:3; Revelation 3:17-18; 2 Corinthians 10:5, 17-18


Exodus 34:6-7; Deuteronomy 28:15; 30;15-19; 1 Samuel 12:14; 15:22-23; Ezekiel 12:2; Matthew 26:39; Ephesians 5:21; James 4:7-8; 1 Peter 5:5-6


Psalm 18:28, 35; 27:19; 34:18; 42:11; 91:14-16; 94:14; Isaiah 42:16; 54:10; John 14:18; Hebrews 13:5-6


Leviticus 19:18; Ephesians 4:1-3, 31-32; James 3:14-18; 1 Peter 3:8-9


Proverbs 28:27; Matthew 19:21-22; Romans 15:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:24; Galatians 6:2; 1 John 4:17-18


Psalm 119:6, 80; Proverbs 3:35; 11:2; Isaiah 50:7; Romans 10:11; Philippians 1:20; 1 John 2:28


Psalm 30:5; 126:5-6; Isaiah 25:8; 60:20; Matthew 5:4; John 14:1, 18; 16:33


Matthew 6:13; 26:41; James 1:2-3, 12; 1 Corinthians 10:13


Joshua 1:9; 10:25; 1 Kings 8:56; Psalm 34:14-17; 55:22; 91; Proverbs 3:24-26; 12:25; 16:3-4; Isaiah 26:3-4; 43:1-2; Matthew 6:25-34; 11:28-30; Luke 12:34-36; John 14:1, 27; 16:33; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:6-13; Hebrews 13:5-6; 1 Peter 5:7


Gutenberg Bible, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Gutenberg Bible, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.