The Equal and Opposite Forces of Faith and Fear

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law of Motion

What if faith and fear are equal and opposite forces?
What if faith and fear are equal and opposite forces?

I only took physics because of a pretty redhead. You should know up front in this post that I wasn’t really paying attention in that class. If on the off-chance you read something physics related in the post below and it is wrong let’s follow standard internet protocol where you leave me a nasty comment, I call you a troll, and we all move on.

End credibility-destroying rant.

As mind-numbing as the mathematical aspect of physics is there is actually value in understanding the subject. Physics tells us that there are forces in the world. For instance, forces within your car’s engine allow you to go and other forces in your brakes allow you to bring the car to a complete stop at a stop sign. Or in my case a “California stop.”

As humanity has learned to harness, use, and overcome those forces we have taken great strides forward. I mean, have you ever stopped to consider the wonder of a metal can defying gravity to carry you to a palm-studded beach? Physics makes that possible.

So it makes sense that if we understand a few basic rules of physics we can really do some good.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Above is Newton’s Third Law of Motion which, as it turns out, I completely misunderstood until today. For the longest time, I assumed that “equal and opposite reaction” meant something more like cause and effect. That is, one action happened and then something else happened because of it. This is not what Newton meant.

The Third Law of Motion actually means this: one action happens and at the same time another action counteracts it.

It’s probably easier if I just quote someone here so check out this explanation I found:

“The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object. The direction of the force on the first object is opposite to the direction of the force on the second object. Forces always come in pairs – equal and opposite action-reaction force pairs.”

That last part should catch your attention. Forces come in pairs. Consider for a moment how this law about physical forces also applies to the movements of your heart. Physics teaches something about following a God who asks us to believe and not doubt.

What if faith and fear are equal and opposite forces?

I have these experiences from time to time – maybe you do too – of believing that God called me to something special so I get involved, hit publish, or reach out to someone. Within minutes fear washes through my being and regret lays its icy grip on my heart. No matter how good or profitable the experience was I fear it was a failure. Or, more specifically, that I was a failure. Does this happen to you, too?

That feeling is fear’s equal and opposite push against your step of faith and you may as well get used to it because laws of physics almost never go away. You can expect fear to stalk you every step of faith you take. Fear is mentioned over 400 times in the Bible because God knows that the biggest impediment to our faith is fear.

By now you might be wondering if this strange application of Newton’s Third Law applies in the other direction. What about those times when you let fear take the lead? Is there an equal and opposite reaction by faith? This one is harder to answer but I believe faith pushes back, too.

I have this theory that deep down all of us are seeking our true selves in Christ. Some people’s true selves are buried under pain and brokenness so they flail about trying to find it. Others bury it under discipline. Still others are too lazy to ever look at all. But, eventually, a moment comes when you have to risk and if you choose fear a twinge of remorse hits in the back of your spirit. I call that twinge faith. It knows who God made you to be and pushes back against fearful decisions. Faith is subtler than fear but pushes back anyway.

So, fear is not going away.

Faith isn’t either.

I’ll leave you with this question: In the thing that matters to you most, are you acting in faith or fear? Are you going to let fear stop you even if you step out in faith? Or will fear get the upper hand? The choice is yours.

Why I Stopped Believing in Myself

I remember the moment fear took over. In high school I was a drama nerd who acted in plays and even did a commercial that played in a local movie theater. The job paid so I fancied myself a professional.

One day sometime senior year I wanted to audition at the local playhouse and on the appointed day drove there with my girlfriend and best friend. Butterfly flutters tickled my stomach as we drove which only grew worse as we approached the theater. When we got there I was surprised at how many people were there. The parking lot was crowded but we found a spot eventually.

We exited the car and took a few strides toward the playhouse when I was overwhelmed with fear. The butterflies were getting serious now. I suggested that we did not have to audition and after small debate everyone agreed the audition was off. When the car doors slammed it was like the jaw of fear sinking into my heart.

That day, I gave up believing in myself.

My 20 year high school reunion is in 2015. (Hold on…had to catch my breath a second. Okay, let’s keep going.) How many fear-based decisions is that? Too many.

What I Believe in Now

I could point to a number of Scripture passages that encourage us to believe and not be afraid. As much as I’d like to do that none of them speak deeply into my spirit.

Instead, I want to share a passage with you today that gets overshadowed by its more famous context but if you are making decisions from fear like I have it might be the most important thing you read this year.

The famous passage is Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

You probably know this one. What a beautiful truth it contains, too! You and I do not have to try to earn God’s love, prove our faith, or somehow obtain our salvation. It’s all been given to us because of His grace. Amazing!

But the gift is even deeper.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The gift is more than God wanting you while you were a sinner. It’s why He wanted you. He wanted you because He created you to do something. Something good.

You are His “handiwork,” which literally means poetry. Have you ever written poetry?

The only piece of poetry I ever published was in a high school journal which I probably still have around here somewhere. I worked for days on that piece. How did I want it to read? What feelings did I want to convey? What words would best express this feeling?

Friend, when God created you He did the same thing. He intentionally created you to do something. Lean into that truth and fear disappears.

All those years ago I started believing fear and stopped believing in myself. In light of Ephesians 2:10 I think I also stopped trusting God. The way back to self-respect is not through fear but faith that what God says about you is true. That’s why I keep writing about trusting Him even when He doesn’t make sense.

The picture above is of me holding a framed quote given to me by my son. It says “Let your faith be bigger than your fears. – The Bible.” I love so much about this picture. It now hangs in my office to remind me to stop believing in my fear and start believing God.

Happy New Year, my friends! And here’s to a faith larger than your fears in 2015!

The Gift is Him

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Each year Christmas has a different theme for me. Some years it is gratitude for reaching Christmas again. Some years it is sorrow left over from the year’s grief. Others, it is just a blur of busyness.

I want to share with you my theme for this Christmas because I think it just might change your life.

Braggadocios?

Keep reading and let me know in the comments.

Christmas can be about many things depending on your disposition, upbringing, and faith. Children are notoriously interested in the presents and toys they receive. Growing older the meaning changes to giving generously. People of Christian faith point to the birth of Jesus as the “reason for the season” while people without faith avoid the holiday altogether or use it to celebrate family and thankfulness.

This year, for me, the significance is God. That may seem trite but hear me out.

The other day I spent an hour trying to remember enough Hebrew to look up a word used in Lamentations 3:24 used for “portion.” I had to use Strong’s to find the right word then looked it up in BDB (for the uninitiated, BDB is a Hebrew lexicon…language nerd stuff).

It turns out the Hebrew word for “portion” means “portion.” Learning that the word means exactly what you think it means happens in word studies sometimes. But this was not a total loss because seeing the other uses of the word sparked a question.

The other uses refer to land, food, booty (the spoil of war kind not that other kind) and people. And, of course, God. This is where it gets interesting.

In each case one’s “portion” is what they receive, possess, or own. Your portion is your piece of the proverbial pie. It’s what you get out of life.

Like the sun rising over the Eastern plains, this question dawned on me slowly:

What if God is what I get out of life?

The light is dim at first but suddenly shines in your eyes too brightly to let you see anything else for awhile.

Man Delivering Christmas Presents
Everyone you know is trying to get something from life. You probably know a shallow person who insists life is merely about sex, drugs, and rock and roll or however people are putting it these days. You probably also know a wise person who tells you that relationships are most important.

People pursue many things in life but they fall into three categories:

  • Money – Poor and rich alike pursue money. One to make ends meet; the other to make their mark.
  • Relationships – Everyone desires to love and be loved. Sometimes it’s the absence of love that drives people to craft unhealthy relationships.
  • Power – Some people just want influence. They want to control and they are not satisfied with anything until they get it. They manipulate. They lie. They ruin anyone in their way. This probably does not describe you, though, because most of these people are in Congress.

Christmas is the perfect time to consider what you want out of life. No other holiday has the dynamic of Christmas with it’s strange blend of malls-to-the-wall materialism, don’t-want-to-be-there family gatherings, and that-one-relative-who-just-won’t-be-satisfied power plays.

Contrast it all with the meekness of a baby-burrito in a common feeding trough and you may wonder if it is enough.

Seems easy enough. If you’re like me you know the “right” answer but deep down you prefer the other stuff.

Still, the question burrows into your heart and makes you wonder. How would your life be different if all you wanted out of it was God? What decisions would you make differently?

This brings us back to that baby. He was born to bring us back to God. He was born to restore a relationship between God and humankind.

He was born to make God your portion, the best gift of all.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Finding Joy at the Holidays in Spite of Pain

christmas decoration

Stores are playing Christmas carols and songs now. The decorations have appeared exponentially and even your neighbor down the street who never bothered to take his lights down finally lit them up with pride. People are getting into the Christmas spirit everywhere.

As I drive past the LED-lit trees at the entrance to my neighborhood, I wonder how this season sits with some of my friends for whom 2014 was full of pain and loss.

The holidays are hard for so many reasons. Too many friends had a death in the family in the past year. Some had marriages fall apart. Others just have tough relationships with their families. A season about family only makes it worse.

In times like these, the holidays feel like a bucket with a hole in the bottom; you can pour in as much Christmas cheer as you’d like but it still leaks.

I’m not sure that hole can ever be filled. But there is hope for the brokenhearted. In fact, that might be the whole point of Christmas. If so, then maybe there is a way our pain and suffering can draw us into the season, deepening our experience of God in it.

Lament and be Happy

Jeremiah is known as the Weeping Prophet. If anyone in the Bible was clinically depressed it was him so on our hunt for finding joy in the midst of pain Jeremiah seems like a good lead.

Like many of us do when life’s waves crash over us, Jeremiah looked to God for help and rescue. At first all he finds is sorrow. Let’s pick up with Jeremiah in Lamentations 3.

“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath,” he writes.

Jeremiah does not pretend that God has nothing to do with his suffering. He places it directly at God’s feet. And he’s not shy about describing it, either.

Jeremiah says God did things like this to him:

Indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long (v. 3).

And this:

He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship (v. 5).

And this:

He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows (v. 12).

And my personal favorite:

He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust (v. 16)

Imagine feeling that way about God. Maybe you don’t have to imagine too much this Christmas season.

I used to have this weird idea that the point of the Bible – and therefore God – was to make my life perfect. Silly, I know, but that’s what I thought. And that perfection looked like an absence of the deep sorrow described by Jeremiah and sometimes felt in my heart and probably yours, too. It was an immature view. The Bible’s point is quite different as Jeremiah is about to show us.

After all of this Jeremiah summarizes:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

See? Depressed.

But then Jeremiah surprises us by doing something different.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Notice how Jeremiah addresses God directly for the first time in this passage.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion therefore I will wait for him.”

From this point in the chapter on Jeremiah’s perspective changed.

Seeing New Compassions in Christmas

Jeremiah’s turning point came when he reflected on God’s goodness to him. What would happen if you followed his example and remembered the goodness of God in Christmas? I’m not suggesting it will alleviate your pain or change anything in your circumstances. But I am suggesting that like Jeremiah remembering the incredible goodness and mercy of God in the Christmas story will lend perspective to your pain.

What are the graces in the Christmas story that deepen our understanding of God through pain and suffering?

God’s plan is greater than we can imagine. So much of this story of Jesus’ birth was surprising. A virgin? Angels all over the place? The greatness of royalty laid in a common animal trough? Not what you expect. Yet, this is the way God chose to come to His people. Your story may not be what you expected either. Your sorrow might be greater than you dreamed possible. Keep watch, friend. You never know what things God will use to bring greatness from you.

God keeps His promises. When Jesus was born, the Jewish people had been over 400 years waiting for God to speak again. It was somewhere around 1000 years since God promised a descendant of David would rule in Jerusalem forever. It was about 1200 years since their ancestors took over the land promised some 800 years before that. This child fulfilled all the promises of God through millennia.

Here’s why I think this matters if you are in pain this Christmas: God has promised that Jesus is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). We may suffer in the meantime but God will make it right in the end. You can trust Him in this because of a baby laid in a manger.

God has tremendous love and compassion for you. Jesus is proof God loves you. It’s based on something in Him not something about you. The fact that God went to such great lengths to acquire you from the kingdom of darkness means you are valuable to Him.

If the holidays are hard this year, I encourage you not to run from it. Take your cares to the Lord and then count the ways He has blessed you and remember His mercies.

Do you see any other graces in the Christmas story? What did I miss? What speaks to you? Share in the comments below.

3 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy Christmas

Does December feel like this to you, too?
Does December feel like this to you, too?

The holidays are now in full swing which means I am constantly asking myself “Am I as busy as I feel?” The second week in December packs in rehearsals, performances, school programs, dinner requests, Christmas parties, and anxiety over undone shopping that need done eventually.

No matter how hard I try every year gets busier. Some of it is a function of the number of people in our house. With four kids and two active, involved parents (my wife and I) we are guaranteed to be busy. Parents of older children assure me it will only get worse before it gets better.

In my honest moments I admit that I do not mind being busy. It makes me feel important, needed, and necessary. (Someone wanted me at a show, event, or party. Yeah!) But during Advent, the preparation period for celebrating the great gift of God in Jesus, busyness is distraction. It takes my mind off the waiting and speeds everything up so that I am surprised Christmas is here already. Busyness siphons the joy out of the season producing the opposite effect it should have.

So what can you and I do to let go of the busyness of the season?

Give it a Rest

God’s answer to busyness is rest. I know. I’m thinking that too: How can I rest when there is so much to do, so many places to be? But rest was so important to God it made the top 10 (Exodus 20:8-11).

Why? There were at least two reasons:

  • God knew that people tend to rely on themselves. Rest requires us to admit that we cannot do it all, we are finite, we are dependent on Him.
  • God knew that humans need rejuvenation. We would work ourselves to death if given the chance. With rest enshrined in our week then we have the chance to unwind and get back in touch with our spirit and His.

There is an interesting passage in Hebrews 4 about Sabbath (the Hebrew word for rest) that gives us some insight into how to reclaim our lives from the cult of Christmas busyness.

In case you were inclined to think that Sabbath was an Old Testament thing that no longer applies to you the author of Hebrews says this:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.

The writer means rest in both a literal and spiritual sense. The letter to the Hebrews is full of this theme about how the benefits of Jesus are much greater than under the previous covenant. The rest that we’re looking for, then, is in our hearts not only our bodies which sounds great at a reflective time like Christmas.

And then s/he says this:

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

Effort. Work. In other words, rest does not just happen. It takes intention to get to rest. This is useful to us as we try to find some Sabbath time in the next few weeks.

One more:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

When I saw that this rather famous passage of Scripture about Scripture was in a section on Sabbath it surprised me. Surely that has some significance.

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Christmas Sabbath Slowdown

Let’s put all of this together into a steaming pot of Christmas/Sabbath stew and see what it tastes like.

Here are three practical ideas inspired by Hebrews 4 to help you slow down and rest this Christmas:

  • Choose meaningful participation – Here is the effort of Sabbath-taking. This one is hard for me because I like saying yes to people but when the commitments pile up with programs here, rehearsals there, and parties next week, it contributes to the chaos. The only way out is to choose. If you had to choose right now the top three life-giving activities you’ll do in the next three weeks, what would they be? Can you choose not to participate in something that you otherwise would feel obligated to do? Give yourself permission and say no.
  • Choose Scripture meaningful to you – The fact that Scripture is part of rest means that it needs to be here. To keep from being overwhelmed, choose one passage to read repeatedly. One year I preached in Matthew 1 which turned out very meaningful. Genealogy doesn’t exactly scream Christmas spirit but as I reflected on God in those lives and saw the larger narrative of God’s work over thousands of years, my faith strengthened. You might choose Hebrews 4, Luke 2, or another passage you like.
  • Choose to create a tradition of peaceful moments – One of my favorite moments during the Christmas season is when we make some cider or hot chocolate, turn off the lights, maybe light up a fire, and sit with the Christmas tree lit up, snuggling under a blanket. In many ways those moments define peace to me. So what about choosing one night a week to create this miracle moment while the tree is up? Or find something else that infuses peace into your soul. The point is to choose peace during a time of busyness.

What do you do to try to keep some balance – and therefore joy – during December?