They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I beg to differ. Candace Flynn-Fletcher said it best when she told her mom, “…that’s why books have covers – to judge them.” (That’s for all you Phineas and Ferb fans).
Anyway, there’s a children’s Bible story book that I have loved since the second I read the cover. It’s Bill Ross’ Hey, That’s Not What the Bible Says! It’s a collection of ten well-known Bible stories that Ross turns on their collective ears, prompting children to exclaim the book’s title, “Hey, that’s not what the Bible says!” and then Ross includes the actual Biblical text, setting the stage for great conversations about life, God, and what He wants for our lives. One of my favorites stars Jesus Christ…
…Jesus grew up, and He began to teach people about God. One evening, after teaching all day, Jesus got into a boat with His closes friends and He took a nap.
A wild storm came, and waves crashed against the boat. Jesus’ friends were frightened. They woke Jesus up. “Save us, Jesus! Or we’ll drown!” they screamed.
Jesus quickly reached down, found the secret control panel, and flipped the secret power switch. Instantly the little fishing boat was transformed into a watertight, nuclear-powered, New Testament submarine!
(say it with me) Hey, that’s not what the Bible says!
Jesus simply spoke to the storm. He said, “Be still,” and all was calm. His friends were amazed when they saw that Jesus could control the weather.
Mark’s Gospel lays out this story, and after the wind stopped, Jesus asked His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you have no faith?” (Mark 4:35-41)
So, why am I bringing up this book? Do I believe we need more nuclear-powered, New Testament submarines? No. Do I enjoy yanking my kids’ chains when I read bedtime stories to them… well, maybe.
But, the real impetus behind me harkening back to Bob Ross’ inspirational work of art… is recent historical events. News headlines that will certainly become chapters of future history books.
I’m talking about the terrorist attacks in Boston, Brussels, Paris, Orlando, San Bernardino, Istanbul, and Nice among hundreds of others across the globe, persecution of Christians, Jews and Shia Muslims by ISIS, Al Queda and Boko Haram, attacks on our nation’s police officers in Dallas, senseless profiling and attacks on people of color, riots in the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, Black Lives Matter, our vicious 2016 Presidential election cycle… and this is just the tip of the iceberg!
Collectively, we are living in the midst of a sociological storm that makes the tempest that Jesus and His Disciples sailed in look like a light drizzle.
People are afraid.
My black friends are afraid of police officers. My Democrat friends are afraid of Republicans. My Republican friends are afraid of Democrats… and some of them are afraid of Trump. People are afraid of traveling. They’re afraid of large crowds. They’re afraid of driving at night.
I remember hearing repeatedly, in the immediate days after September 11th, that if we live in fear then we allow the terrorists to win. Well, here we are 15 years later… and if not them, then somebody else has us collectively scared enough to be on the losing end.
I can’t help but wonder…
If Jesus were to come onto the scene, would he look around at all of us who call ourselves Christians and ask if we have any faith.
Do we have enough faith that we KNOW with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that, if we follow God’s calling on our lives, we will be protected? And even if we are not protected, do we have the kind of faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had when they faced certain death yet said to King Nebuchadnezzar,
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power… But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
Did you catch that? They basically proclaimed, “God is able to keep us safe! BUT, even if He decides NOT to keep us safe, we’re not afraid!”
Did you know that the phrase, “Do not be afraid” or others carrying the same meaning are written 365 times throughout the Bible? Ironically (or perhaps purposefully) that’s a reminder for every single day of the year… with the exception of leap year, I guess, so maybe we’re supposed to go crazy with fear ever four years on February 29th. But, HEY, THAT’S NOT WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!
Here’s my point…
There is a place in this world for healthy fear. We tell our kids all the time that they must have a healthy fear of the ocean and its waves if they ever want to enjoy a day at the beach. Without an understanding that the waves are bigger than you and they keep on coming so you better be ready, then you can have fun riding them instead of being rolled by them.
We also need to have a healthy fear of our parents. Now, of course, this brand of “fear”, is an honoring. It’s a “fear” (for lack of a better word) that pops into a teenager’s brain when they are about to go do something stupid that says, “HEY! Would your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles approve of this?” It’s a fear that brings about respect for our parents, even after we become parents ourselves because we now have a clue of what we put our moms and dads through.
We need to have a healthy fear of our authorities. Yes, we have the right to free speech in this nation, but I promise that if you cuss out your boss, your free speech will land you in the unemployment line real fast. I have friends whose homes are adjacent to giant fields that were ablaze a few years ago; and you can bet they had a healthy fear of the firefighters who pounded on their door and told them to get the heck out of Dodge. If they blew off the firemen and didn’t respect their urgent message immediately, not only was it likely that their homes and belongings would have been scorched, but so would all their neighbor’s homes as the flames were likely to bounce from house to house. A healthy fear of the flames and those trained to fight them saved a lot of people that day.
And, yes… we need to have a healthy fear of the police. All of us do. Even as a white/pacific islander, when I see a cop in my rear view, I turn down the radio, slide my hands to 10 and 2 on the wheel and behave as politely as humanly possible when I get pulled over. And that’s neither me being afraid that I’m going to be shot, nor is it me trying to manipulate my way out of a ticket. It’s me having the due respect for the EXTREMELY high percentage of cops out there who stand where I don’t stand every day – between the bad guys and the good guys, keeping the good guys safe, as we saw in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
And then, the Bible tells us over and over again that we ought to fear God. Because the truth is that fearing God saves us from caving into our own desires that go against His will. As Christians – and if it’s not clear enough already, I am addressing all those who call themselves “Christ Followers” – our life’s goal is to live according to God’s will for our lives… not our own. Given to our own whims, none of us would stay married, or stick around and be faithful parents, or file our taxes honestly, or be honest in anything. It’s simply too costly and too much of a pain in the neck to remain in these relationships and be loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and full of self-control at all times. In fact, only by “fearing” God is this even possible. But, oh are the rewards worth it!
Now, In light of the crazy violent and almost inexplicable events of recent months, weeks and even days, I have heard many people ask: “How are we supposed to react to this? How do we explain this to our children? What do we do now?”
I find God’s answer right there in black and white. It’s in a verse that I sang at church as a kid, and that rings in my heart and my head whenever I wonder what on earth I’m supposed to do. The answer is found in Micah 6:8,
He has shown you, Oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Another translation puts it in more colloquial terms:
This is what God wants from you:
Be fair to other people.
Love kindness and loyalty,
and humbly obey your God.
And when we live like this, it makes it that much easier to live according to the words the Bible repeats over and over and over again: Do not be afraid!