For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV

In this intro to a longer passage that ends at verse 14, Paul encourages Timothy to take the gospel out to the world, not being ashamed of it, or afraid of what might happen when he shares it. This leads me to believe that perhaps Timothy was having some fearful thoughts.

Fear permeates our culture. It’s mentioned everywhere. Much of what we do to protect our families and communities is driven by fear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t desire to protect…by all means we should.

Fear is nothing new. Using it to accomplish control isn’t either. Our enemy uses it against us daily. Some use fear as a tool to keep people in check; to convince them that they must constantly strive to attain God’s favor by right behavior, and if they don’t, they can lose their place in God’s family, or even face damnation. Even though I began this piece almost two months ago, I was reminded of its relevance in an exchange on a recent episode of “Young Sheldon” on CBS, where Sheldon’s mother is charged with overseeing her church’s annual “Hell House”:

Meemaw:  “Hang on…y’all are trying to scare people into joining the church?”

Mary Cooper: “Yeah, but people like gettin’ scared on Halloween anyway; why not make ‘em jump in the right direction.”

Sheldon Cooper: “Actually, fear has been a recruiting tactic used by organized religion for centuries. When you add guilt to keep people in line, it’s an extremely efficient form of crowd control.”

Bingo.

“Do not fear” is repeated throughout scripture, so when we fear, we realize our shortcomings and might think that because of said fear, we’re without hope.

But in thinking that, we do ourselves a disservice. Performance is expected, and fear of failure is amplified. Change, get better, or else. Been there, done that. Everything I ever thought I was doing to get better in God’s eyes was useless. It just made me look for a sense of what I did as being important, but it was always overshadowed by the fear of failure.

I wish I could say I have no fear, but that would be a blatant lie. To be completely honest, my fellow humans…you who read this…are what I fear most. But that isn’t what I’m called to do. What I’m called to do is love. Love my neighbor despite my fear of them. Easy? No. Fear gets in the way, always.

Over the last couple months, since before I wrote this, I have been living in a rather constant state of fear. Fear of my own failure and it being a continuing and constant part of my life. Fear that The Beggar’s Bread men’s ministry would tank. Fear that my struggle with depression and anxiety will take me to the edge again.

I only have one answer. Jesus. Only He can give me the ability to live and love, despite my fear. I can love the wretch I see when I look in the mirror, realizing that he lives for a purpose. I can love those who are treating my illness and trust that they know their job well enough to not cause me to fear. I can love whoever walks through the door to the church on Friday night, whether it be just one or many…and whether they believe what I do or not. And, I can get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, and love those who God has placed in my path in my day-to-day life, even though I know I am going to disappoint them, fail them, and quite possibly hurt them in ways that I don’t realize I am capable of.

My purpose in this post has one reason…I know that lots of folks believe the Bible is a manual for better or correct behavior. I’ve been “trained” to believe that conquering fear is something that must be done to make you more like Jesus. I’ll just leave you with this…He did the conquering. We’ll continue to try, but when we make ourselves believe that we’re free of fear, we’re exercising self-reliance, rather than trusting in the finished work of Jesus. When (not if) you fear, look to Him.

Blessings!

Today, I was overwhelmed.

But it isn’t what you think.

I awoke before 7:00 AM, on a weekend, ready to face the day. BEFORE 7:00 AM, ON A WEEKEND. I didn’t want to crawl back into bed.

Then I remembered that my Kindle was charged, so I decided to read a page from The Sinner/Saint Devotional: 60 Days in the Psalms. Day 12, by Cindy Koch: Don’t Ignore the Worm. It brought tears to my eyes. That’s something that hasn’t happened much lately.

Then, the praise songs at church. I knew them well, and sang (very quietly, because no one wants to hear that) with my eyes closed.

And finally, a sermon. “Be Done with Self-Reliance”, based on the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, Verses 1-5.

Reminders, one after another, of God’s unending love for me. The price that was paid on my behalf by Jesus, asking for nothing in return.

Overwhelmed is an understatement. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of what I experienced this morning. All I know is that it’s too good to keep to myself.

Blessings!

There are men all around us who are broken. With some, it’s obvious. The homeless man living on the street…the man in the liquor store who smells as though he sweats out alcohol…the guy you see walking along the road to get to some destination you don’t know about.

But just like these examples we consider obvious, there are just as many we don’t see. It might be your doctor, burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. He is expected to be professional, well put together, and able to shoulder great responsibility. He gets up and reads scripture at his church. Everyone there thinks he has no problems. They don’t know he’s addicted to prescription painkillers.

Maybe it’s the blue collar worker. He started at the plant right out of high school, making decent money. Now, 25 years in, there is talk of the plant closing. His wife works part-time at a daycare. Their high-school age kids are talking college. At your church every Sunday, he is an usher, smiling at you as he hands you the offering plate. But the things that his family faces wear on him. That bottle that he used to take a sip from on occasion has become a crutch, with a few shots every evening.

Perhaps it’s the owner of the coffee shop where you stop every day before work. He just learned that yet another worker stole money from the cash register and had to fire her. She’s got a baby on the way, and he suspects she has a drug problem. He thinks back 15 years to when he got out of rehab and someone gave him a chance. He feels horrible, and on his way home, stops at the bar.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s your pastor. The man who brings you the Good News week after week. This week, he buried a long-time parishioner, counseled a young couple who are getting married in a few weeks, and is weary from his time as the volunteer chaplain at the local hospital. The man who is supposed to look to God for help in times of trouble, instead tells his wife that he’s not done with his sermon on Saturday night. She goes to bed, and he begins to look at pornography. After watching video after video, he looks up at the clock and it’s 1:00 AM. He drags himself to bed, knowing that when he delivers that sermon on Sunday morning, he’ll do so burdened with the shame of what he’s just done.

You know him. Maybe he’s one of these guys. Maybe he’s you. Your dad, your brother, your son. Putting on that smile, telling you he’s good when he’s really not.

Broken, living in shame. Fear that those around us will find out who we really are, and point their fingers and yell “fraud!”

Then, you hear about a group. A group unlike one you’ve ever heard of before. Just a bunch of regular guys from your church who you always thought had it all together. They’re starting to meet because they’re at wits end. Life has gotten stressful, and they just need a place to share their troubles.

That’s what The Beggar’s Bread is. Broken men sitting around a table, watching a video, praying, eating, and just sharing the things that they hope they can get through this week. No one letting on that they’ve magically conquered life, but instead letting you know that He loves you, and wants what is best for you.

Consider joining us next time we meet at Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church at 851 Science Park Road, State College, PA. You don’t have to be Lutheran, or even a practicing Christian, but come expecting to be told about a Man who was broken for you.