The myth of the Chinese New Year festival tells of a demon, Nian, who lived in the mountains. On the first day of the year, Nian would come into the village, steal the children, and eat livestock and grain. One day, an old man visited the village and gave the horrified people a solution. They were to hang red signs on their doors and make loud music—things the demon didn’t like. The Chinese word for New Year Guo Nian (过年) literally means “pass over Nian” or “overcome Nian.”
At the height of an African government’s struggle with a terrorist rebel group, the president turned to the church for help. As people began to pray, an army chaplain declared that the war wouldn’t be won in battle, but through prayer. Thus began “Operation Gideon.” A team of intercessors gathered for several weeks of prayer and fasting. In time, a systematic breakdown of the rebel group’s influence occurred.
My friend Phil began chemo treatments in December 2016 for an aggressive form of lymphoma cancer. By God’s grace, he’d been prepared for this challenge in many ways. His wife had battled cancer several years before, and he had seen me go through several treatments in my own battle with an aggressive lymphoma. He had also just changed jobs, and the benefits and community support there were just what the doctor ordered. Most of all, he had been enjoying deep relationship with God.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true,” said philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The story of the Israelites illustrates how easy it is to be fooled into believing what’s false and to disbelieve the truth.
Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson has remarked. Yet fear is one of the most powerful and consistent forces in human behavior. Even outward obedience can be driven more by fear than love. What does it even mean, we might wonder, to live without being motivated by fear?
After walking into a sandwich shop, I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to reach out to the young man who took our order. Unsure of how to start, I gathered my food and followed my husband to the patio area. Shortly after we sat down, the same young man came outside to sweep the area. I set aside my fear and began an unscripted conversation. In this unexpected moment, God provided the opportunity for us to discuss how Jesus’ love and the power of the Holy Spirit could help the young man overcome the situations he was facing.
My friend was walking through a sculpture park when she saw the sculptor Rodin’s statue of Eve, which captures the moment Eve understood what she had done against God. My friend wept at Eve’s desperate, twisting figure, shattered by shame and fear, hanging her head and raising her hand in an attempt to block Him from smiting her.
A friend of mine grew up in a rural part of Hawaii where her family had no electricity. As a child, the dark hours of the night frightened her. Without streetlights or the occasional lamp-lit window, it was easy to imagine a scary ogre or hungry beast lurking around the corner. Eventually, my friend left Hawaii to attend college in another region of the US. Although modern lighting brightened the evening hours, her fear of the dark persisted. Finally, as a married adult with children, she began to ask God to help her overcome her fear, and He answered her prayers. She’s no longer afraid of the dark!
During the school holidays, we drove out to the seaside town of Scarborough on the northeast coast of England. As we walked along the beach, we were fascinated by the sight of all the boats stranded in the harbor. The tide was out and the boats stood upright in the sand. Anyone wanting to navigate one of them would have to wait for the powerful, surging waters of the tide to come in again.
The World in Crisis, and No Genius in Sight” read an editorial headline of The Wall Street Journal in July 2016. The article was written against the backdrop of a world watching to see who would win the presidential election in the US; investors and economists speculating the impact of Brexit (the UK’s exit from the European Union) on the world’s economy; the dark cloud of terrorism looming over Europe; and waves of refugees looking for safe haven.
Trust. Scripture reveals that we can trust God in all things (Proverbs 3:5), but it can still be difficult at times. We tell ourselves, Trust! But we lack hope. We tell ourselves, God will deal with it! But then we falter and engage in worry.
In the film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1, Katniss Everdeen, the face of the revolution against the evil Capitol, is attacked and strangled unconscious by her beloved friend, Peeta. When she comes to, Katniss’ friends inform her that the Capitol had brainwashed Peeta. Before letting him be rescued, they used fear conditioning to turn him into a weapon designed to kill her.
With her heart pounding, she leaned her back against the door. Her thoughts reeled as she thought through her next move. Accustomed to seeing men enter her doorway covertly, she wasn’t surprised by the stealthy moves of her two visitors (Joshua 2:1). After all, she was Rahab, a prostitute. But when the two men crossed the threshold of her home, their imposing figures indicated they were not there for business as usual. She now found herself face to face with two men of an altogether different kind.
An article in the business magazine Fast Company suggests that most people choose to spend time with people much like themselves. Why? Because life seems less complicated when we’re surrounded by people who agree with us, think like us, and possess similar values.
Whenever my boys feel shame or are uncomfortable, they’ll often look away or bury their head in their chest. If they’re wearing a hoodie, they’ll pull it over their head, as if trying to become invisible. I have a similar impulse. When I’m ashamed or feel vulnerable, defeated, or hopeless, it’s easy to try to hide. With my sons, I draw close to them and calmly say, “Look up at me. I need to see your eyes.”