A Fondness for Fear…

Over the last few days the newspaper has been filled with Halloween events all over the Chicagoland area. A few towns are actually closing off some streets to everything but walking traffic so you mingle and shop with zombies and monsters. There are haunted pumpkin patches, haunted wagon rides on haunted trails, haunted corn mazes, you can even get married in a haunted wedding venue.

I remember the days when church youth groups sponsored haunted houses, spook walks, and horror nights for evangelistic outreach. There was no intention of scaring people into the Kingdom of God, but using it as an opportunity to get teenagers to come for the scary event and then stay for a meeting where they would hear the gospel. It was based on the premise that fear attracts. Our culture recognizes that people pay good money to get scared at Halloween; the scarier the better.

All of this raises the obvious question as to why this is true—certainly not for everybody, but for a significant number of us, we just like getting scared. I trolled a number of articles on the subject, which all said about the same thing. So, I added some of my own reasons (I like haunted houses- just ask my kids) and came up with this list:

  1. People like to be afraid when it is a controlled fear as opposed to the kind of fear which make them feel out of control.
  2. People like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having pushed the envelope of their own cautionary nature and survived the anxiety and fear which usually makes them stay within their comfort zones. Remember the feeling you had after you finished riding the scariest roller coaster, seeing the scariest movie, making it through the scariest haunted house “in the world?” After you finished throwing up, you probably felt like you could do anything.
  3. Of course, a part of that “high” is due to the endorphins and other chemicals released in your brain because of the body’s fear/risk reaction. Scientist call it a “biochemical rush” which results in an opioid-like sense of euphoria. Perhaps this was part of the reason why Eve Knievel kept going (after he had fractured 433 bones) in his dare-devil career of motor cycle jumping—that and the money, of course.
  4. People also find that controlled fear creates a sense of bonding with others. We usually don’t go to a haunted house or to a scary movie alone. We go with a group or a date. Thus, being with others in a deeply emotional but “safe” environment can create deeper ties of friendship. By the way, research shows that younger men (under 25) are more likely to go to scary things than any other age group. I remember when I was in college and took a date into Chicago to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Wait until Dark. The advertising for this movie had to be targeted toward college-age guys because it dared you to see the movie. (Guys love to be double-dogged dared to do anything). The advertising also claimed to have a scene guaranteed to make you scream. (Guys respond to this as well—”There’s no way I’m gonna scream dude…) Anyway, the movie started and we all anxiously awaited the scene. My date was clutching my arm like a tourniquet—another thing guys like. And then it happened… WOW! It came out of nowhere and the whole theatre erupted in a collective SCREAM! Not me of course, at least not on the outside…just in my bladder. Suddenly, I realized my date had disappeared. I searched and found her under the seat in front of me. I couldn’t believe that she could actually fit in that small a space so quickly- no joke. Poor kid, she wasn’t quite the same after that. I don’t think we ever went out again. She ran away every time she saw me on campus (just kidding). Guess my story doesn’t help to prove the point about fear creating deeper emotional relationships, does it? But it was fun to tell it.
  5. People also find that controlled fear is a distraction from the other things in life that really do concern or terrify us. In other words, it functions as an escape from our problems. This distraction, combined with a little alcohol and being with friends, makes Halloween a fun time for a lot of adults. But then, there’s the next day…

I realize that many Christians struggle with Halloween because they see it as glorifying evil and the diabolical. They might be having a hard time with what I’ve been saying. However, this raises a whole other subject and not the point of my blog. I merely wanted to explore why many people in our culture like getting scared in a safe and controlled way. And I also want to make the observation that even though it serves as a feel good, self-satisfying, relationship-building, escape from life event, it doesn’t last. Unless we choose to medicate, we eventually have to come back to the reality of living our lonely and unsatisfying lives that often do not feel very good. We also have to face the anxieties and fears that are not safe or controlled. So, how do you do that?

Cancer has been the scariest thing I’ve ever had to face in my life. I thought I knew fear in college when I had to wrestle or play football against 500 pound gorillas posing as large humans. With cancer, there is little that is under your control and there is nothing that is safe—not even the treatment, which is sometimes worse than the disease. Scary movies can get your blood pounding, athletic opponents can hurt you, but cancer can, and in many cases will, kill you.

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but not kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Jesus wanted his disciples to know that if they were going to be afraid, then they needed to be afraid of the right thing. They should fear the One who can destroy both body and soul—God. It should be the scariest thing you could ever imagine to stand before the God of the Universe at Judgment Day and have him take you and your sin and cast you into the pit of hell for all eternity.

Perhaps it is hard to imagine that Jesus would say such a harsh thing, but it must be remembered that he also personified the very way by which we can escape such judgment. Since cancer can only kill my body and can’t touch my soul, then I should not fear it. Believe it or not, that brings great comfort to me. I can thumb my nose at cancer because while it’s taking a toll on my body, it cannot destroy who I am. In fact, having cancer has developed me as a person and made me stronger in my faith and in my relational ties.

Jesus has become the Shepherd of my soul through his death and resurrection. He has transacted the forgiveness of my sins and made the promise of eternal life to me and to all who would trust in him as Savior. He has also pledged that no one or nothing could ever snatch me out of his care and that God would never cast me away. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and no one shall ever snatch them out of my hand. And my Father who has given them to me and is greater than all, no one shall snatch them out of his hand.” (John 10:27-29)

For the believer, and I hope that term describes you, fear will always be a controlled fear. It will always be bounded by the love of God, who has us safely in his grip and will not allow anything to touch our lives without first passing through his Fatherly hand.

So we can keep having our jollies getting scared at Halloween, but we no longer need to be slaves of fear, especially the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15) Enjoy the link below:


A Soul in Turmoil…

I have been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah and came across the account of King Zedekiah’s request to have a private meeting with the prophet Jeremiah, with whom he had an ambivalent relationship. Zedekiah had not paid attention to God’s Word spoken through the prophet (37:2) and wasn’t quite sure what to do with him; alternately, having him thrown in prison for advocating surrender to the Babylonians and then rescuing him from death. At one time, he even reached out to Jeremiah and asked for prayer (37:3).

This ambivalence continued and in chapter 38 we read that the king asked for a private meeting with Jeremiah. He had the beleaguered prophet released from prison and secretly brought before him so he could ask him a question. Jeremiah, who certainly did not have a martyr complex and had quite enough of all this persecution stuff, immediately responded by asking the king if he could speak freely without risking his life. Zedekiah swore an oath that he would not harm the prophet. Zedekiah wanted the truth.

So with the stage set, the king asked Jeremiah whether he should surrender to the King of Babylon, who at this time was besieging the city of Jerusalem. Jeremiah had already prophesied that such surrender would be equivalent to obeying the Word of the Lord. This would be the first step of repentance because it would be the very opposite of the direction in which the king was headed and would contradict the counsel he was receiving from everyone else surrounding him. It would also vindicate Jeremiah who was regarded as a traitor for advocating surrender to the enemy.

Jeremiah boldly declared that he should definitely surrender or else he would face total destruction of his family and nation. The king hesitated for fear that if he did surrender the Babylonians would abuse him and his family. After all, it was Zedekiah who had chosen to rebel against the King of Babylon and brought this whole situation on himself. (2 Kings 24:20) Jeremiah responded, “Obey the Lord! Do what I tell you. You will be spared. If you don’t surrender you and your family will be destroyed!” The meeting ended at that point and the king asked Jeremiah not to tell anyone what they discussed. (This narrative seems so reminiscent of Nicodemus coming to interview Jesus by night– John 3:1–6.)

Zedekiah is a picture of a soul in turmoil—not willing to follow God, but not ready to totally dismiss God. There is something deep within that soul which draws it to the truth. “What should I do? I’m afraid if I go God’s way, I’ll suffer. I’m also afraid that if I go the way I want, it will bring further disaster. What should I do? To whom should I turn? To whom should I listen?”

Such a troubled soul does not need coddling. It needs the electric shock of truth, and nothing but the truth. Jeremiah’s abrupt counsel was exactly what Zedekiah needed to hear. It was one of those moments when he couldn’t pussyfoot around: “Obey the Lord! Just do it! He will deliver you!”

So what did the Zedekiah do? In chapter 39, we read that he chose to go his own way and listen to the “fake news” of his prophets. Instead of surrender, he tried to escape Jerusalem, but was captured along with his entire family. The Babylonians killed his family while he was forced to watch and then gouged out his eyes so their deaths were the last thing he saw! He was then dragged off into captivity.

Remember I mentioned Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who came secretly to Jesus by night? He was also a soul in turmoil, but he chose to believe Jesus rather than all that he had been trained to believe as a Pharisee. He was “born again from above” and became a Christ-follower—at first a secret one, but later an outspoken one at the risk of his own life. (John 7:50–5; 19:39–42)

Are you a troubled soul? Are you clinging to your own truth even though you know it’s not working out very well. You also know there is another way—God’s way, but you find yourself hesitating because you are not sure what it will cost you. Stop your foolishness! You are in no position to bargain. Obey God! Choose Christ, for Heaven’s sake!

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25 NIV).

Has God Revealed Himself Differently in Different Cultures?

The Bible says, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Darwin’s theory of evolution has not only presumed an alternative view of the origin of life, but also stated that religion is evolutionary, moving from primitive to complex; from the worship of many gods (polytheism) to the worship of one God (monotheism). However, the Bible declares just the opposite; that the belief in one God is humanity’s basic presupposition.

God allowed nations to go their own way (disintegrate into polytheism), “yet He did not leave Himself without a witness” (Acts 14:16, 17). God revealed himself in different ways to successive cultures. He revealed himself as Yahweh (the Lord of the covenant) to a polytheist by the name of Abram in Ur. God revealed himself to the mysterious Melchizedek (Genesis 14), who did not worship the gods of Canaan, but was called a priest of the God Most High (El Elyon). Later in the Old Testament we read that God revealed himself through dreams to the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41) and to Abimelech, a Philistine King (Genesis 20:6).

He revealed himself more directly to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius (Daniel 4-6). All of these were from different cultures and time periods. God also used the stars and planets (general revelation) to lead the Wise Men from the East to Christ (special revelation).

In the same way, God is at work today in the darkest corners of the world revealing himself through dreams and visions, and preparing people of different cultures for the gospel. Don Richardson once said that the God who has prepared the Gospel for the world has prepared the world for the Gospel. Richardson details this using a number of very interesting examples from the history of missions in his book “Eternity in Their Hearts.” Here is one of my favorites:

Scattered through the mountains rising between the Kachin and Lahu tribes [of Burma] lived another 100,000 tribesman called the Wa people. The Wa were headhunters [and spirit worshippers] . . . A benign influence was at work within the folk religion of the Wa people. From time to time, the prophets of the true God, whom the Wa called “Siyeh,” arose to condemn the headhunting and spirit-appeasement! One such prophet appeared during the 1880’s. He was called Pu Chan [and he] persuaded several thousand Wa tribesman in Pong Lai village . . . to abandon headhunting and spirit-appeasement. On what grounds? “Siyeh,” the true God, was about to send a long awaited white brother with a copy of the lost book. If he came close to Wa territory and heard that the Wa were practicing these evil things, he might think them unworthy of the true God’s book and draw away again!

One morning Pu Chan saddled a pony and told some of his disciples to follow it. “Siyeh told me last night that the brother has finally come near! Siyeh will cause this pony to lead you to him” . . . . While Pu Chan’s disciples gaped in astonishment, the pony started walking . . . and they followed it. The pony led those amazed disciples over approximately 200 miles of mountainous trails and down into the city of Kengtung. Then it turned into the gate of a mission compound and headed straight for a well. . . . They looked inside it and saw no water, but . . . a bearded white face. William Marcus Young climbed out of the well (he was digging) and faced them. “Have you brought a book of God,” they asked. “This pony is saddled for you. Our people are all waiting. Fetch the book! We must be on our way!” 

The Youngs and the Karen [people] colleagues—in addition to recently baptizing about 60,000 Lahu people—soon found themselves with another 10,000 baptized Wa converts, who in turn spread the gospel still further in eastern Burma and southwestern China! Does anyone doubt that God could cause a pony to lead those Wa men so unerringly over so great a distance? Surely the God who used a star to lead the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem could use a mere pony to find a certain well in Kengtung.

The Church has not always been faithful to its mission, but there should be no doubt that God is a Missionary God who has “pre-tuned” the world for the gospel by placing a witness to himself in every culture. (Acts 14:17)

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less…

This note was sent to me by Wes Ross, a dear friend of mine from Massachusetts. Wes is a musician-scholar-pastor and he recently responded to one of my blogs in which I quoted a portion of the famous hymn by Edward Mote, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” Listen to the hymn as you read the blog.

Check out this video on YouTube:

Hi Dave,

Thank you for these devotionals. They are often just what I need to hear. The hymn that you quoted at the end [of your blog] has always been one of my favorites. A few years ago, on one of our England trips (2017), I decided to try to find the church where Edward Mote was pastor in the town of Horsham. You may know that Mote was a cabinet-maker in London and would have been well-known to many of the leading evangelical leaders in the city.

Interestingly, he had been born (like George Whitefield) the son of parents who ran a pub. Apparently, young Edward did not have the benefit of a Christian upbringing and instead had to fend for himself on the streets while mom and dad ran the pub. At the age of 55, he left his career as a cabinet-maker (and the Christian community in London) and took the pastorate of the Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham. He was there for the next 21 years until his death in 1874. With just that to go on, Suzanne and I began our search by foot for the church. We found the local TIC and a lady there had heard of the Rehoboth Baptist Church and gave us directions.

When we got there, sadly it was locked, but peering through the glass door, I could see a plaque that celebrated this as the church where Edward Mote had written the hymn “My Hope Is Built.” I was ecstatic and insisted on walking around the church to see if there was another entrance. There was not, but soon the present pastor emerged from the church (he may have thought that I was casing the place!) and when he discovered our motive for being there, he invited us inside to see the small sanctuary where Mote would have preached. Then he said, “ He is buried out back, would you like to see?” Of course, I was thrilled.

The best news is that after all these years, the church is still healthy ( about 70-80 believers) and functioning with several strong elders and this young pastor who obviously had a heart for the community. In the short time that we talked, it became apparent that this man was Reformed in his thinking as well. I believe that Mote would be pleased to know that all these years after his death, this group is still reaching out with the gospel to the folk of Horsham.

We do not know the lasting influence of our ordinary lives, do we? Sometimes, it seems as if we are having no impact at all. May this story be an encouragement to all believers; just be faithful, my friend, just be faithful to serve the Lord in your little corner of the vineyard. Remember, your Hope in life is not in your success but in Christ.