By / Dec 8

I’ve dealt with fear my whole life as a mom. 

I was so excited about the process, but fear spoke to me constantly, telling me lies about my capability, my circumstances, and God’s faithfulness. Listening to fear caused a loss of joy as I believed these lies. I read lots of parenting books in an effort to overcome my negative thoughts and be a good mom, but the thing that really made an impact was literature.

I read The Hiding Place while we lived through the pandemic and knew that the God who kept Corrie ten Boom alive through the holocaust could keep us safe. I also read Endurance, about a feat of survival in Antarctica, and I knew that I could survive and thrive in my own circumstances. By fighting fear with literature and letting the truth of Scripture hammer it home, I recaptured the magic of motherhood. 

In Mothering by the Book, I share the lessons I learned from these books but one of the key steps that helped me overcome was simply speaking life.

My second child had problems focusing, forgot information easily, had seizures, and was a delayed talker. All of these issues opened the door to fear as I tried to figure out how to help her. In the long search for answers, when I was comparing my child to the “normal” children around her, I felt afraid and worried.

This fear led to believing and speaking the worst. My tone would convey my frustration and fear. Busyness in itself can lead to fear as we push ourselves to exhaustion, but sometimes in our lives as mothers, we are up against a wall. Babies are crying, toddlers need help finding their shoes, and school-aged kids have to finish their homework. We are pushed to the edge of our endurance.

The read-aloud that helped me overcome fear was about a runty little pig who wanted to live. In the book Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Wilbur comes to the terrifying awareness that he is destined for the Christmas dinner table. Fear grips him, but Charlotte, a mere spider, intervenes in a most unusual way. She decides to endow Wilbur with greatness through her words. She blesses Wilbur with words like “radiant,” “humble,” and “some pig,” and she convinces the world around him that he is indeed special. When Mr. Zuckerman, the owner of the farm, first encounters Charlotte’s words in the web he says, “There can be no mistake about it. A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.”1White, E. B. 1899-1985,, and Garth Williams. Charlotte’s Web. First edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952.p.80

Wilbur tries to live up to her expectations. When Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur tried to be terrific. As I read Charlotte’s Web, I realized that I was letting fear speak to me instead of words of life. Charlotte could have agreed with the barnyard animals that Wilbur was just a piece of meat, but rather, she changed his identity and his destiny through her words. The words of literature helped me encounter the truths of Scripture in real life situations.

Research confirms this power of words. In the book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman say, “And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain…. A positive view of yourself will (then) bias you toward seeing the good in others.”2Newberg, Andrew, M.D. and Waldman, Mark Robert, Words Can Change Your Brain, Avery/Penguin Random House, New York, 2012, p.34

As Wilbur received the words spoken to him by Charlotte and believed those words, his life began to change. He felt radiant and terrific, and he started behaving like a radiant and terrific pig. People around him began to believe he was special as well, and it changed the course of his life.

Similarly, as I read, I realized that fear had caused me to speak fearful words over myself and my child. I whispered worst-case scenarios, “Maybe she will never learn to read,” “What if I can’t help her?”, “I can’t do this,” and these whispered words began to steal my confidence and lead me to criticize my daughter.

Perhaps you have been letting fear speak to you, letting fear shape your perspective? Perhaps in an effort to be honest, you’ve cursed yourself and your children, predicting future doom based on current behavior. Some of you might even have been under the impression that to speak blessings, to speak life over yourself and your children is new age mumbo jumbo. 

But is this truly what we learn from the Bible? Is speaking life over ourselves and our children somehow ungodly and uttering curses over ourselves and our children the holy thing to do? I make no claims of being a Bible scholar, but it’s imperative to understand that speaking words of life is biblical. 

Our children pick up on our attitudes and perceptions about them, and if we let fear cripple us and cause us to curse ourselves and our children, we are perpetuating pain into the next generation. In Romans 12:14, we are told to, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” so even when we feel persecuted by our children, we still need to speak life over them. Even when we hate ourselves and feel like we are our own worst enemies, we still need to speak life over ourselves.

When I realized this, I started speaking life in a new way over my family. I prayed the word of God over my children, and I was careful not to speak unkind or disrespectful words to them. If I needed to correct them, I would use words that separated the behavior from the child. “Your attitude isn’t very kind. I love you; you can do better.” Instead of saying, “You are a whiny brat!” Better to say “Please clean your room,” than “ You are such a little pig!”

Early in the book Charlotte’s Web, when Wilbur arrives at the farm and has to be away from his first friend Fern, Charlotte notices him and chooses him, “I’ll be a friend to you. I’ve watched you all day and I like you.”3White, E. B. 1899-1985,, and Garth Williams. Charlotte’s Web. First edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952, p31 Right from the beginning, her words convey blessing, identity, and life. 

I believe that God is saying the same thing to us, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV) God loves us, celebrates us, calls us his own, and when we agree with God and start speaking life over ourselves and our children, fear has nowhere to land.

  • 1
    White, E. B. 1899-1985,, and Garth Williams. Charlotte’s Web. First edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952.p.80
  • 2
    Newberg, Andrew, M.D. and Waldman, Mark Robert, Words Can Change Your Brain, Avery/Penguin Random House, New York, 2012, p.34
  • 3
    White, E. B. 1899-1985,, and Garth Williams. Charlotte’s Web. First edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952, p31
By / Aug 8

A new school year brings an array of feelings for kids returning to the school building. While some kids look with excitement toward a new year, others kids may feel nervous or anxious. There are a variety of reasons that kids may be hesitant to return to school; bullying, school shootings, learning disabilities, negative school experiences, being a new student, or simply fear of missing mom and dad. For these reasons and others, the start of school may weigh heavy on your child. What can parents do to help their children reduce school nerves? Here are a few pointers: 

1. Have appropriate expectations.

Parents may find themselves feeling frustrated when their child is anxious. Why? Because anxious kids often think illogically and have meltdowns or negative behaviors. Parents must recognize and prepare themselves for their child’s first day of school. Expect that your child may cry, whine, or not be as happy and easy going when he feels nervous. Expect that it may take a couple days or weeks for your child to feel comfortable in the new school year. Anxious feelings don’t always pass quickly. Understanding your child’s behavior can help reduce a parent’s own frustration.

2. Identify and discuss feelings.

One simple action for parents is to help their children identify and learn about feelings. Help your child identify a feeling by giving them the language for how they feel (i.e., angry, frustrated, mad), and help them describe what they are experiencing (i.e., being nervous feels like my tummy has butterflies). Talk about feelings and provide examples of times that you, as the parent, have felt the same way. 

Another great way to help kids identify feelings and problem solve is through reading age-appropriate books. Utilize books that discuss feelings or place characters in situations that provoke similar feelings that your child is experiencing. As you read, ask questions such as, “How do you think that person feels?” “What could the person do in that situation?” “What would you do in that situation?” or “Tell me a time that you have felt that same way.” It’s easier for kids to talk about tough feelings when 1) There are elements of play involved (i.e., reading), 2) When they are talking about the feelings of someone else, and 3) When there is ample time to process their thoughts.

Here are a few book suggestions for preschool and elementary school kids that will help them express how they feel:

  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
  • Zoe’s Hiding Place by David Powlison
  • Everyone Feels Anxious at Times by Dr. Daniela Owen
  • What Am I Feeling? By Dr. Josh Straub
  • What Do I Do With Worry? by Dr. Josh Straub

3. Make a worry list.

Ask your child to identify her worries. Also ask if you can write them down. Listen as your child speaks. Once the list is completed, you and your child can tackle one worry at a time. Stick with open-ended questions, like “Tell me about a time when you were worried about this,” and, “Help me understand what happens right before and after you have that worry.” Lastly, discuss with your child the likelihood of those events occurring, and have your child problem solve what she can do if that situation occurs. These actions help your child feel understood, while also helping your child recognize her ability to handle these tough situations and worries.

4. Prepare for the first day.

Help your child reduce her worries by talking about the first day and by planning ahead.  Preparing ahead of time can help reduce nerves or stress associated with the morning routine. Make sure your child goes to bed on time, eats a healthy breakfast, and lays out his school items and outfit the night before. Anxious feelings can also arise when a child doesn’t know what to expect. Eliminate some of those feelings by detailing the first day of school so your child knows what to expect: Start with waking up, the car ride there, the school schedule, pickup times, and what he can look forward to after the school day ends. Providing predictability can reduce anxious feelings.

5. Practice coping skills. 

When kids feel anxious or stressed, they can retreat into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Their behavior looks defiant when it is actually a reaction to being scared. Talk openly with your child about their reactions and healthy coping skills. Practice deep breathing, journaling, looking around for a favorite color, reciting Bible verses, or any other helpful coping strategies. Have your child practice the skills in preparation for moments she will need them. 

6. Use examples from Scripture.

Scripture is packed with examples of anxiety-provoking situations, fearful individuals, and a faithful God that provides for his people. Utilize biblical examples to point your kids to God’s faithfulness, provision, and grace. Some of my favorite stories include: Peter walking on water, Jesus’ disciples hiding after the crucifixion, Moses not wanting to go to Pharaoh, and Joseph in prison.

7. Memorize Scripture.

There are over 360 verses in Scripture that deal with anxiety or fear. Help your child memorize some of the verses, so he can recall them during times of worry. Remembering Scripture also helps your child fight worried thoughts with truth. I would encourage you to do this yourself so that you can quote the verses together in preparation for the school day. Model this priority in your own life, and share with your children when you have quoted these affirmations to yourself in times of anxiety.

8. Pray. 

Utilize the opportunity to teach your child about praying for their worries. Kids’s prayers can sometimes sound rehearsed or repetitive, and that’s OK. But praying in the midst of a struggle can help them talk to God more candidly. Pray with your children, and pray for your children.

While most children experience jitters on the first day of school, other kids experience more than that. They experience anxiety.  If your child’s anxiety is negatively impacting his life, don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified counselor. God has gifted some believers in the body of Christ to counsel others. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom. Not sure where to start? Often insurance plans cover some mental health benefits, so check with your plan. I would also recommend these sites: 

As you navigate school worries with your children, remember God himself is available to and present with your children, and he has given them you to support and encourage them. Don’t negate the special role you play in helping your children in the midst of their struggles, and ask the Lord to help you in the journey.

By / Apr 13

How we face death, whether in fear or in hope, is a reflection of how we have lived. Back in February, I was asked by an elderly church member to visit her neighbor who was dying. The neighbor was in her 70s, and hospice began visiting to help her in her final days. This was the end. I was told the woman was a believer in Jesus, but had not been to church in some time and didn’t have a pastor. Of course, I was happy to go visit her.

As I drove up to her little mobile home to see her, I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.”

Will we face death’s reality? 

Visiting with this woman was a very powerful experience for me. Her mobile home was small and crowded with items collected over a lifetime. I was welcomed in by a care nurse who was there to tend to her needs. He pointed me down the short hallway, and I could hear the television blaring with sounds from an old game show rerun. As I walked into the room, she was sitting up in bed halfway. Medical supplies, blankets, and other items took up the space around her. She heard I was coming from the neighbor who called me, so when I introduced myself, she was prepared.

In these situations, you don’t always know what to expect. Sometimes, people don’t want to see a pastor that they’ve never met before. They’re angry about dying. They know what the visit means. And their fear can turn into dismissal or lead them to lash out. The reaction can range from mild politeness to indifference to rudeness to anger. So, the short walk down the hall found me bracing myself for the possibilities of the exchange. 

When it comes to dying in the American context — one that seeks to hold on to this life with every drop of strength we have — we often reflect the first lines of the Dylan Thomas poem, 

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

We rightly see death as the final act of this physical life. As we fear it, we may try to put it out of our minds, loudly declaring all talk of it as unnecessarily morbid. Or, we fight it with everything we can muster, viewing the surrender to death’s inevitability as some kind of defeat. We are taught to uphold youth as the ideal, to do all we can to push away the effects of aging, and to see those who are close to dying as those who have little to contribute to our lives of production and self-fulfillment. The dying are to be cared for as an act of compassion from the living, but that final act of life giving way to death is often shunned by those of us who don’t want to face what is coming. This fear is described in Hebrews 2:14-15 as being manufactured by the devil, who holds the power of death and keeps all people in slavery to the fear of death. 

Met by God’s grace

So, I didn’t quite know what I would face as I walked down the dark hall to meet this woman who lay dying. Would she welcome my words and prayers? Would she be raging against the death closing in? I prayed that God would help me prepare her for her death and the journey to eternal life. 

In my visits with her over the next 10 days or so, I encountered a remarkable manifestation of God’s grace. After my first visit, I went out to my car and tweeted out some thoughts of reflection. I don’t normally do this after a time of ministry, but tears filled my eyes as I met with her, and I sensed the profound presence of God already there, helping prepare her for her final journey. I wanted to remember the holy:

I just sat with a dying woman. She was going down a list making calls to old friends to say goodbye. We talked about life, hurts, and her faith in Jesus and forgiveness. She said God is a fisherman and He caught her, and even though she tried to swim away, He reels her back in.

She was very peaceful. As we talked, she would cry at times. She isn’t a church member. A lady in our church knew her and asked if I could visit with her. We held hands and prayed. I read Scripture to her. As we talked about God’s love for her, tears fell from her eyes. Grace.

The doctors only give her a few days. They sent her home to die. She says she gets scared sometimes, but then she prays and the peace returns. As she is calling her friends all across the country to tell them that she’s dying, they cry, but she says, “Let’s share some memories together.”

Before I left, I hugged her. She thanked me for stopping by, but really, I was the one who was grateful. Her body is failing but her mind and spirit are clear. It was an honor to sit with her and hear her talk about her life. I told her I would see her soon on the other side.

It’s the most real thing there is, to sit with someone dying. Just to be with them, with their mind firing and laughter and tears and words and stories and to know that in just a short time the flicker of life will be gone. But, we hope in the God who raises the dead.

I went back to visit her a couple more times. She was so grateful. We talked and prayed, and she told me stories. She said she didn’t want to die, but, as I mentioned in my tweet, that Jesus was a fisherman and though she tried to wiggle off his hook, he caught her and was now reeling her in. She decided to pass that on to the pastor who would do her funeral that was already planned by her extended family back home in the Midwest. She never married and had no children, but she spoke of her nieces and nephews and the times they had together years ago. She continued to work down the list of people to call to say her goodbyes and remember the good times they’d had together. I sat there with her while she had one call and heard her congested laughter through the fluid building up in her lungs.

I told her that these days were a great gift to her and that she was dying well. She cried a lot, but would immediately say that her hope was in Jesus. We talked about how Jesus raises the dead and how she would live again. She believed that. With each visit, she was being prepared for burial and her spirit was growing in hope for the resurrection to come.

I visited her the last time the night before she died. Her physical light was dying, but an inner light was emerging. The list of friends to call was put away. All the calls had been made. She had trouble talking now as the fluid filled her lungs and she couldn’t cough it out. But, she thanked me with tears welling up in her eyes. She thanked me for being there with her, for talking with her and praying with her. She said again that Jesus caught her and was bringing her home. 

This woman who had not been to church in many years was experiencing God’s presence and hope in a profound way as she lay dying, even as Jesus overcame her fear. The full text of Hebrews 2:14-15 is, “Now since the children have flesh and blood, He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” I saw that happening before my eyes.

As they lay dying 

“As I Lay Dying” is a Southern gothic novel by William Faulkner that I haven’t read, but like most Southerners (especially if you are from Mississippi, as I am) do with Faulkner, I have pretended to know about it. The title comes from a line in Homer’s “Odyssey,” Book XI. Odysseus travels to the Underworld and meets Agamémnon, who tells how he was killed by the hands of his adulterous wife who would not close his eyes as he lay dying: “As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.”

Now, Agamemnon is angry about the betrayal of his wife. He’s descended into hell, but he also expresses anger over her not even closing his eyes in death. Not only did she kill him, but she didn’t even give him the courtesy of helping him die the right way. Faulkner’s use of this line for the title of the book — that I haven’t read — has served as a bit of a warning to me that when death comes (and it’s coming for us all), running from it doesn’t help. And not helping someone die well with mercy, grace, and care by ministering to them in Jesus’ name doesn’t really empower them to rage against the dying light as though they themselves had power over death. This approach of denial can often just distance them from the hope they really need.

But, as we now encounter Holy Week culminating in Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are reminded with force that Jesus, through dying, defeated the power of death and the grave. He rose from the empty tomb and gives new life to all who believe. We need neither run from death in fear nor fight it in our own strength. Instead, we can persevere in hope as long as God gives us breath and then prepare for the new life to come. That isn’t a morbid surrender to death in defeat, but rather, it is true hope in the one who values and sanctifies our lives. He is with us all the way to death, and then carries us beyond into eternity and the resurrection of the dead. 

I now realize that as I was helping my friend prepare to meet with Jesus upon death, she was helping me meet with him now. He was there with her as she lay dying, and by being with her in her suffering and figuratively helping her to close her eyes in death, my eyes were more fully opened to the power of the resurrection of Jesus for this life — and for the life to come.

By / Feb 14

One obstacle to receiving care for current victims and survivors of past abuse is the tensions that emerge in the public discourse about abuse. While this obstacle exists in almost every setting, it is uniquely present within the church and Christian communities. 

Many factors contribute to the difficulty talking about abuse. In this article, we will look at two or three. If an obstacle you face is not discussed, please do not take that to mean the obstacle is not real. In a brief article, there is a limit to how much can be covered.

Questions framing the conversation

One challenge is that people often don’t start with the same question guiding the conversation. Two questions can frame conversations about responding to a report of abuse.

  1. How would I want an abuse claim handled if I were accused?
  2. How would I want an abuse claim handled if I were the person disclosing my abuse?

These questions lead conversations in different directions. 

  • Question one frames the conversation from the perspective of the accused. Therefore, it views the report as a potential threat. 
  • Question two frames the conversation from the perspective of a victim. Therefore, it views the report as a cry for help. 

When conversations devolve into arguments between leaders of an institution (such as a church) and victims or advocates, the difference in these two questions captures much of the tension.

For a variety of reasons, institutional leaders have far less fear of being the victim of abuse than being accused of abuse. A false accusation is how they could be most negatively affected by abuse. A false accusation would be damaging to their life, family, and vocation. They frame the conversation to try to ensure false accusations do not happen.

By contrast, victims, survivors, and advocates approach the subject of abuse with question two at the forefront of their minds. For them, the conversation is not based on what might happen. It is based on what has already happened in their life. Hence, they frame the conversation to try to ensure their experience is believed and doesn’t happen to anyone else.

The starting point for these two questions is so different that each side begins to view the other with suspicion as soon as the conversation begins. A debate emerges as each side tries to get the other side to start with their question. Whether these are public discourses in social media or private conversations about how an institution will be governed, these two questions result in what feels like an unnavigable impasse. 

When these two questions are put side by side, most people agree that question two is the proper starting point. I agree. We should prioritize the most vulnerable. If that position is taken, it also seems reasonable to most people to then ask, “If we prioritize the most vulnerable, how do we protect against damage from false accusations?” Being for question two doesn’t mean being against question one.

The legal system and the court of public opinion

This is where another dichotomy emerges. 

1. In the legal system, where “innocent until proven guilty” guides the process, the burden of proof is on the victim. Because abuse almost always occurs in private, this is a high bar to clear. It is exceedingly difficult for victims to establish their case by a legal standard. Even the more casual standard often used in the church of “giving the benefit of the doubt” favors the aggressor over the oppressed. The benefit of the doubt is given to the one accused (i.e., presumed innocence), not the one claiming to have been harmed (i.e., presumed truthfulness).

2. By contrast, in the court of public opinion, where people are strongly prone to interpret new claims based on a myriad of factors unrelated to evidence, confirmation bias dominates. There is a group that defaults to assuming the claim is true and a group that defaults to assuming the claim is false. We can usually identify these “teams” before a claim is presented.

The problem is, both systems are flawed; as any human system inevitably will be. In the legal system, “not guilty” verdicts don’t always mean “innocent.” Frequently, “not guilty” means there was not enough evidence to clear the threshold of establishing guilt or that too much time transpired for the legal complaint to remain valid. Many abusers have been declared “not guilty” because of a technicality. That does not make the initial claim false.

In the court of public opinion, far more people hear and give weight to the initial accusation than hear the outcome of an investigation (if one occurs) and change their opinion accordingly. The attention span of our modern culture means that accusations are headlines, and the results of investigations are too often back-page news. 

Here again, we see the tension between the two “sides” (I put sides in quotations because I wish this conversation was not as teamed as it has become). One side says, “Can’t you see how hard it is for those who have been abused to prove what happened and get any kind of justice? The person who has been abused is not usually the person who can afford the better attorney.” This is an important question that needs to be heard.

The other side replies, “Can’t you see that if falsely accused my reputation would be gone and the damage would be done long before the results of any investigation occurred? I don’t fear unnecessarily going to jail. I fear unnecessarily losing the ability to do what I love and feel called to do.” This is an understandable fear. We need to know the probability of the “if” to vet the concern properly.

This is the point in most articles where an author proposes to remedy the tension that has been defined. Some “third way” is articulated to avoid the weaknesses of the other two options. I’m afraid, at least to my awareness, there is no easy third way here. Even when we prioritize the vulnerable (as I believe we should), we will not make the uphill journey of abuse victims level ground. The difference between the legal system and the court of public opinion means that significant damage can be done to leaders who are proven innocent (not just “not guilty”).

Two proposals for these conversations

So, where do we go from here? I would make two proposals. 

First, we need to weigh the concern about false accusations of abuse against the prevalence of false claims. Where data can be found, we shouldn’t regulate our emotions based on hypotheticals. Reputable studies on this indicate that only between 2-7% of abuse claims are false. Further, those familiar with the process of investigating abuse claims indicate that false claims fall apart early in the investigative process. It is far more likely to have a true claim of abuse that is unprovable than a false claim that results in legal consequences.

This does not eliminate the concern of church leaders who fear they could lose their opportunity to do ministry based on a false accusation. For the 2-7% of individuals who are falsely accused, that is 100% of their experience and what determines their future. But we should also recognize that for the 93-98% of valid claims, their only hope for justice is if their claim is taken seriously. 

What does that mean? It means we should hear the person reporting abuse and care for them as if their report was true. We should take steps to ensure their safety. If what is being reported is criminal, we should trust the appropriate Romans 13:1-6 authority to vet the claim. The weight of the claim, not the role or reputation of the accused, should determine who vets the claim and how.

This isn’t declaring the accused “guilty.” It is deferring to the people God gave jurisdiction over criminal claims. As we ask people to trust church leadership to handle something well when God places that matter under our jurisdiction, we should trust the appropriate Romans 13 authority to handle well what God has placed under their jurisdiction. 

If we, as church leaders, are the accused we should cooperate with the appropriate legal process in the 2-7% of false claims for the sake of the 93-98% of victims that will not have access to care or justice if we do not. As a matter of faith in the biblical division of jurisdictions, we should trust that doing so will, in the end, increase (not decrease) our credibility. Those who abuse, protect their power; those who are true shepherds, prioritize protecting the vulnerable. 

Second, we need to “de-team” the conversation. As long as there are “sides” in this conversation, like political parties, mistrust will exacerbate the tensions described in this article. Pastors and church leaders must stop viewing victims and advocates as threats. We should repent whenever this posture is present. Those who have been abused are not “potential liabilities.” They are people, made in God’s image, who have been hurt and people for whom God intends the church to be a place of refuge.

As long as victims and advocates must demand to be heard a combative atmosphere will remain. That is not the fault of those who have not been heard. It is not the fault of social media, which has (sadly) done more to give survivors and advocates a voice than the church. 

In the same vein, the concerns of pastors and church leaders should not be dismissed as if these concerns are only an excuse for passivity and maintaining the status quo. Most of us, if we were faced with a choice that had a 7% chance of costing us our livelihood, would be hesitant to make that choice; especially if we did not understand the choice better than most ministry leaders understand the experience of abuse and the challenges of seeking justice after abuse.

If we are going to have a fruitful conversation about abuse, which is what I believe that most people who would take the time to read this article want, both question one and two, and the implications of the legal system and the court of public opinion must be taken into account. If either side dismisses the other, then trust will be broken, and the tone of an adversarial debate will reign over what must eventually become a hard-but-needed profitable conversation. 

If the debate remains adversarial, who loses? Answer: everyone, but especially current victims who are considering whether they can trust the church to help. If the concerns of the 2-7% reign over the concerns of the 93-98%, current victims realize the church is not prioritizing their care and safety. When this happens, the church is not the refuge for the vulnerable that God intends his church to be. 

By / Jun 8

We live in a culture that is anxious and fearful about all kinds of things. Lack of control, loss, and a million “what-ifs” plague our thinking and grip us with fear almost daily. And though we like to think the defensive posture we take against these fears will allay our phobias and amend the dangers lurking around every corner, it leads us toward a more resolute posture of misdirected fear and moral confusion. All this, says Michael Reeves, is a “consequence of a prior loss: the fear of God.”

In his latest book, Rejoice & Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord, Reeves addresses this idea of fear head-on, and he calls the church to a retrieval of the doctrine of the fear of the Lord. And, contrary to what many may assume, doing so leads not to “morose and stuffy” disciples, but to a deep, abiding happiness and “delight in God.” 

Reeves recently spent time answering some of our questions about his excellent book. Read our interview below.

You do a lot of work in the book ensuring that the reader arrives at a proper, biblical definition of the word “fear.” How does modern culture define fear?

Our culture is a deeply anxious one. From Twitter to television we fret about global terrorism, extreme weather, pandemics, and political turmoil. Though we are more prosperous and secure, though we have more safety than almost any society in history, we are constantly looking for ways to eradicate our fears. And this should be no surprise: when your culture is hedonistic, your religion therapeutic, and your goal a feeling of personal well-being, fear will be the ever-present headache. 

But the real reason for our anxiety is our loss of the fear of God. Having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming ever more neurotic, ever more anxious about anything and everything. Without a kind and fatherly God’s providential care, we are left utterly uncertain about the shifting sands of both morality and reality. In ousting God from our culture, we feel helplessly fragile. No longer anchored, society fills with free-floating anxieties.

When the Bible uses the phrase “fear of God,” what does it mean by that?

The right fear of God is a blessing of the new covenant (Jer. 32:39–40). The Lord promises: “They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide” (Jer. 33:9). This is not a fear of punishment. Quite the opposite: in Jeremiah 33, the Lord reeled off a catalogue of pure blessing. He would cleanse them, forgive them, and do great good for them. And they fear and tremble precisely because of all the good he does for them.

In fact, it is Jesus’ own filial fear that believers are brought to share. Jesus fears the Lord his wonderful Father (Isa. 11:3). Now it is not that he loves God and has joy in God, but finds (unfortunately) that to fulfill all righteousness he also must fear God. Quite the opposite: the Spirit who rests on him is the Spirit of the fear of the Lord, and his delight is in the fear of the Lord. This filial fear is part of the Son’s pleasurable adoration of his Father; indeed, it is the very emotional extremity of that wonder.

You say part of society’s confusion about fear and its larger moral confusion is a consequence of our collective loss of this fear of God. How does a proper fear of God calm the fears and anxieties that our culture is perpetually plagued by?

The fear of the Lord acts like Aaron’s staff, which ate up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians. As the fear of the Lord grows, it outgrows, eclipses, consumes, and destroys all rival fears. So the Lord could advise Isaiah, ‘do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread’ (Isa. 8:12-13). When the fear of the Lord becomes central and more important, other fears subside. 

To be clear, the fear of the Lord does not eclipse and consume other fears simply because it sees God is bigger than the other things I fear, though there certainly is that. It is beauty that kills the raging beast of anxiety. See, for example, how in Psalm 27 David speaks of the Lord’s ‘light’ and ‘salvation’ as the balm for his fears. Here is truth for every Christian who needs the strength to rise above their anxieties, or who needs the strength to pursue an unpopular but righteous course. The fear of the Lord is the only fear that imparts strength.

You distinguish in the book “between wrong fear and right fear.” Can you describe why, at the root of “wrong fear,” we’re likely to find unbelief? How does unbelief contribute to a confused or wrong fear?

Yes, this wrong fear of God is at odds with love for God. Where a right fear falls down in worship leaning toward God in love, a wrong fear dreads, opposes, and retreats from God. This is the fear which generates the doubt which rationalizes unbelief. It arises in good part from a misunderstanding of God. The unfaithful servant in Jesus’s parable of the 10 minas displays exactly this problem when he unfairly complains to his master, “I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man” (Luke 19:20; also Matt. 25:24, 25). He sees nothing of his master’s kindness: in his shortsighted eyes the great man is all parsimonious severity, and therefore the servant is simply afraid. He is just like Adam who, though once convinced of God’s goodness, becomes tempted by his own sin to think of God as mean-spirited and uncharitably restrictive. When people, through misunderstanding, become simply afraid of God, they will never entrust themselves to him, but must turn elsewhere for their security.

In contrast, you state that “faith is fertilized by the (right) fear of God.” How is it that a proper fear of God bolsters our faith in God?

Right fear is part of the make-up of the heart that trusts God, which is why we read in Scripture of this fear moving or giving birth to faith. The Israelites, for example, “saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31). In fact, saving faith cannot be separated from the right fear of God, for we will only trust in God to the extent that we have this fear that leans toward him. Right, wondering fear prompts us to trust in God. Only a God-fearing heart will ever be a God-trusting heart.

Is there a connection between the fear of God and our love for God?

Absolutely! Sometimes fear of God and love of God are put in parallel, as in Psalm 145:19-20. Similarly, Moses equates fear and love in his summary of the law (Deut. 6:1–5). The living God is infinitely perfect and quintessentially, overwhelmingly beautiful in every way: his righteousness, his graciousness, his majesty, his mercy, his all. As such, we do not love him aright if our love is not a trembling, overwhelmed, and fearful love. In a sense, then, the trembling “fear of God” is a way of speaking about the intensity of the saints’ love for and enjoyment of all that God is. It is love for God as God.

When we have a proper fear of God, what is the result? What kind of person does this right fear form us to be?

You naturally expect that the fear of God would make you morose and stuffy, but quite the opposite. Unlike our sinful fears, which make us twitchy and gloomy, the fear of God has a profoundly uplifting effect: it makes us happy as we share Christ’s own pleasure and delight in God. 

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,’ wrote Solomon (Prov 1:7). In the fear of God we know God. Any ‘knowledge of God’ that is devoid of such fearful and overwhelmed wondering is actually blind and barren. The living God is so wonderful he is not truly known where he is not worshipped and heartily adored. We who love theology need to remember that there is no true knowledge of God where there is no right fear of him. In the fear of God we also know ourselves: it is when we are most thrilled with God and his redemption that our masks slip and we see ourselves for what we really are: as creatures, as sinners, as forgiven, as adopted.

The fear of the Lord is also — and most famous for being — the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Mere intelligence is not a safe guide to walking through life wisely. We need the fear of God to steer our abilities, and without it, all our abilities are a liability. Take the brilliant young theological thug online: he may just be as bright as he thinks he is, but his untempered ability only makes him more dangerous. 

How can followers of Jesus cultivate a biblical fear of God?

Psalm 130:4 teaches us that forgiveness is the most fertile soil for growing a right fear of God. Without God’s forgiveness we could never approach him or want to. Without the cross, God would be only a dreadful judge of whom we would be afraid. It is divine forgiveness and our justification by faith alone that turns our natural dread of God as sinners into the fearful, trembling adoration of beloved children. ‘Oh! that a great God should be a good God,’ wrote John Bunyan, ‘a good God to an unworthy, to an undeserving, and to a people that continually do what they can to provoke the eyes of his glory; this should make us tremble.’1John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 14.

For those who sincerely desire to fear God aright but find that “right fear” elusive, what words of encouragement do you have for them? 

Know that the filial fears of Christians are the firstfruits of heaven. For when we rejoice in God so intensely that we quake and tremble, then are we being most heavenly, like the angels who fall on their faces in ecstatic wonder. But for now, Christians see in part and so we only love and rejoice in part. We hang our heads, knowing that moments of filial, trembling wonder are all too faint and all too few. But when we see him as he is, that ecstasy will be unimpaired and absolute. Now our fearful wondering at God is partial; then it will be unconfined.

Yet as we wait, the answer to our spiritual lethargy comes at the foot of the cross. At the cross you simultaneously repent and rejoice. His mercy accentuates your wickedness, and your very wickedness accentuates his grace, leading you to a deeper and more fearfully happy worship of the Savior. It is there that our resisting dread of God turns to fearful adoration.

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    John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 14.
By / Apr 2

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript from Russell Moore’s engaging conversation with prolific author and pastor, Tim Keller. They discuss fear, suffering, and how the resurrection of Jesus infuses us with a real and living hope.

Russell Moore: Hello, this is Russell Moore, and you’re listening to Signposts. And here on Signposts, I invite you every time to pull up a chair and to listen as I talk to thinkers and leaders about a whole range of issues, always looking for what Walker Percy used to call “signposts in a strange land.” And I’m really, really honored to have my friend Tim Keller on today to talk about his new book called Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. Tim, thanks for being on Signpost today.

Tim Keller: Well, it’s an honor to be here. Thanks.

Moore: I was finishing your book last night, and as I was doing so, I was thinking about the article that you wrote for The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago that really resonated with a lot of people, talking about, sort of, the things that you learned as you were being treated for cancer. And one of the things that really struck me the most in that article, and it showed up many times in this book as well, is how you learned through this time that you could find much more joy if you didn’t try to make a heaven out of the things that could bring joy. Could you explain a little bit about what you meant by that?

Keller: Well, yes, I can. I’ll do it existentially and then also maybe a little theologically. It, basically, my wife and I, Kathy and I, recognize the fact that we set our, we rested so much of our joy in pretty material things, and they were fairly different. I tended to, in some ways, we were a little bit a little bit like gender stereotypes here. I really did rest in ministry accomplishments. Maybe a better word would be, new institutions getting started, new organizations. New, I’m a starter, I like that. And I would just find that that’s what made life meaningful. My wife actually found, a lot of different places we lived there were certain places we, especially as we got older, we went to for certain weeks of every year that were extraordinarily important to her, and also certain aspects of the actual physical environment we were in. Sights and sounds and things that we could do. And we realized that when the cancer diagnosis came that these things were being taken away from us. Not only on my side, I can read and write and do things and I can actually talk on podcasts like this. But it’s not the same thing as starting a church or starting. I can’t I can’t do those things in a way. And I shouldn’t, actually, now. 

Now, Kathy also realized that we had to sort of die to the possibility of ever going to some of the places that we have gone to every year for many years. A place where she would get respite, where she would feel like she was getting her soul renewed. And we realized it was not God, it was God’s gifts that we were really looking to. And that when you make, when you try to make God’s gifts into God, you actually don’t get as much out of them. We realized in some ways we were never really satisfied by them. And when we, we said we died to all that last summer when we first heard about the cancer, we sort of died to that, we said we may never see these things again. And we started to go really after God in prayer, we came to realize we actually did enjoy what we were getting. A lovely day. We, I do see water here. There are many things about where we live that are lovely, and we realized we were enjoying life more than we had before. Now, theologically, what Augustine means by that is you reorder your loves. And what Augustine would say, contrary to the Buddhist or the stoic, which says you detach your heart from these things so they won’t hurt you when you lose them. Or, the modern person, who says you go out and, you know, you only go around once in life, so you grab for all the gusto you can. Remember that beer commercial, Are you old enough to remember that beer commercial? But what Augustine would say is you don’t want to love anything here less because these are God’s good gifts. You don’t want to harden your heart or detach your heart from them. But your problem is you you need to love God more in relation to them. And if you do that, then, if you love first things first, you’ll love second thing second, third things third. If you love second things first or third things first, you actually lose them. They don’t give you what you want. So we were, in a way, talking about something very old, something that Augustine talked about in the Confessions 1500 years ago. But I was able to turn it into an Atlantic article, basically.

Moore: I suppose there are probably many people who haven’t yet grappled with mortality, but who might wonder, how do I know if I’m putting second things first? How do I compare love for God, which often seems sort of unquantifiable and intangible, with my loves for these secondary things?

Keller: Ok, that’s a great question. I would say that if you even ask that question, you are making progress. If you even doubt yourself, you make progress. But I do think the reality is that there are some progress that you don’t make until something goes wrong in your life. There’s some of it you can do without trouble and difficulty. 

So, for example, I can, if I’m making an idol out of my career, can I really de-idolize it without something going wrong in my career? Can I actually say I’m working too hard, I’m too driven, and maybe you see some other friend of yours life blow up, perhaps, over the same thing and you say, I don’t want to go there. I see what he did, you know. He started to lie. He started to do things because it was more important that he be successful then he be honest or be virtuous. I don’t want to do that. I’m afraid of that. So is it possible for you to actually de-idolize your career without there being some big problem in your career? Maybe. Give it a shot. Because if it’s not sufficient, God will give you some problem that will force it on you

Moore: When you face those times of sort of forcing it, whether it’s mortality or something else, what about regrets? Often people will talk about looking back and seeing regrets. And I’m not talking about sins here. I’m just talking about in terms of, say, ministry accomplishments, you look back and you say, I wish I had done this or I wish I had not done that. Do you think that an experience like this clarifies those regrets in a way that it heightens them or does it does it, for you anyway, put them into perspective?

Keller: Oh, that’s a great question. I think, certainly, the perspective. I mean, I think, what I get from C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and people like that is that heaven will make amends for all. In other words, there will be no regrets when you get there. Or, another way to put it, is anything that you were actually trying to accomplish or reach in this life is just an echo of what you’re going to get in heaven. You’re going to eat it and drink it and it’ll be there. So, in a sense, there should be no regrets. Because anything you were hoping to attain you will attain. Nevertheless, it’s actually a good, I mean, Kathy and I both look back, we actually experienced quite a bit of it regrets in the situation where, in light of our mortality, which finally hit us, we look back and see all the opportunities and things that we didn’t make use of. Now, you console yourself with what I just said. That heaven will make amends for everything. And anything that you didn’t accomplish, well in God’s plan, and “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose,” in God’s plan that wasn’t something that was part of his plan for human history. But in the end, everything’s going to be made right. Everything’s going to be made right. 

I mean, I’ll give you a quick example, I’ll be real granular here. Is that I see other people, people my age and people I know pretty well, who have been much better at mentoring a younger generation of leaders than me. And I realize, and here’s my excuse, I realize the ministry that I was running here, we got so big, that I really, it took everything I could. I mean, had a hundred full-time people reporting up to you. And when your institutions get that big, you spend so much of your time running the institution. So actually, just an example, somebody like Mark Dever. You know, Mark has almost deliberately kept their church, because it hasn’t gone to multiple services and videos and all that, I don’t know whether he had the foresight to do this, but he’s just basically kept the church kind of the size it’s been. For a long time. Which enables him to put enormous amount of capital and time over the years into raising up other leaders and putting them out there. And he’s far more, far better at that than I ever was. And it’s because my church got bigger. So you look back and you say, OK, on the other hand, out of Redeemer spun all kinds of things. City to City, which is a church planting network around the world, has worked in now thousands of churches around the world. There would be no City to City if Redeemer hadn’t gotten big. There would be no Hope for New York. There would be no Redeemer counseling services. There would be no, you know, there’s all these things that have happened. And so you look back and say, God, he knows. And yet there are times where both Kathy and I look back quite a bit and say, in light of eternity, there won’t be regrets. But right now we have quite a few.

Moore: You mention in the book subtitle fear, or well, in the actual title Hope in Times of Fear, and I was kind of surprised when I linked to your Atlantic piece in my newsletter, I was hearing back from a lot of people for whom it sort of hit home. Who were in their early 20s and people that you would think wouldn’t ordinarily be thinking about long perspective sorts of things now. But I wonder if this year of COVID has not, to some degree, forced everyone to grapple with mortality and shortness of life and so forth, and with fear. And I wonder what you would say. Hebrews 2 says that we’ve been freed from captivity to fear of death, and yet, we’re all afraid of death. We’re not in slavery to fear of death, the Bible says, but why would those of us who know Christ, who follow Christ, still have this sense of fear when we’re thinking about death?

Keller: Oh, well, OK, there’s two levels, to answer your question. The first level is, I’ll talk about the Christians in a second, I think the first level is the pandemic was a little bit like, it broke through the denial. I mean, I’ll get to you, in one second I’m going to say, all people basically live in denial of their mortality. And, by the way, I quoted John Calvin in the article, in The Atlantic, which hasn’t happened recently in The Atlantic, I’m sure, where he actually says when you see a dead body, you philosophize about mortality but then you go off and you basically believe in your own perpetuity. In his little section in The Institutes where he talks about, you know, he has got a section on, which has been pulled out and it’s called The Little Book on the Christian Life, and Calvin actually says that meditating on your future mortality is extremely important. And that we’re all living in denial. And as a result, we make bad choices. We don’t turn to God in the right way. We actually make bad life choices. It’s very, very interesting. I think the pandemic, in a way, was a cultural moment in which people said, wait a minute, all those dystopian movies where a plague comes and wipes out a third of the world or where somebody hacks the into the infrastructure somehow and all the, you know, there’s a there’s a complete depression because the bank, all the banking system around the world collapses and nobody knows what anybody’s worth. Or somebody sets off a dirty bomb and destroys half of a country and, wait a minute, those things can actually happen. 

Because actually the pandemic is a very, as you know, it’s a very close shave. This is nothing compared to what could happen. And we really aren’t in very good position to say, oh, OK, we’ve got things set up so this isn’t going to happen again. Nobody’s saying that. And so I think in a way, for the whole world, especially younger people, there’s been a cultural shattering of your denial about our mortality as a human race, as a civilization, that is very similar to what happens when you’re told on May 14, 2020, you know what, you have pancreatic cancer. And most pancreatic cancer people die within a year and a year and a half once they’re diagnosed. It’s the same thing. So that’s why I said you can talk at two levels about why the pandemic has created a basically an attitude of fear, in general, out there. 

Moore: And, why, I think a lot of Christians, when they do come up against that sense of fear, wonder, does this mean that I’m inadequate in faith? Shouldn’t I, if I know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, shouldn’t I have this sense of rushing, rushing onward toward heaven without this sense of trepidation?

Keller: Sure you should. By the way, if you believed with all your heart, everything you profess with your mouth and your head, you’d be perfect. Just keep that in mind. In other words, if I fully trusted in Jesus, why would. What I always thought was fascinating about Martin Luther’s exposition of the Ten Commandments, Luther says you never break Commandments two through ten without first breaking commandment one. What he means is, he says, you would not ever lie unless you were making something more of a god than Jesus at the moment. So I lied because, oh, you know what, if I lie here, I could make a million dollars. OK, well, then money is your true God, your true security, your true success. And that means you’re breaking commandment one, which is have no other gods before me. And the reason you break commandment one all the time is because the fact is the love of God is not as real to my heart. It is not as real to, my faith is weak. My, the love of God is not as real to my heart as the love of popularity or the love of being considered a successful person. And so if I really did believe the things I profess, that I’m going to die and that I’m going to be resurrected and that Jesus’ love is what matters and all that, I’d be perfect and you’d be perfect. You would never sin, you wouldn’t have any reason to sin. So, yeah, of course. Of course, you should. Of course you should believe this, but we don’t. And that God continues to work with very broken people and people that need grace every day, every minute, every second.

Moore: I think about, often, I don’t know if you’ve ever said this or written this anywhere publicly, but in the book club that we’re in, one night, you happened to mention about, I think we were talking about Ecclesiastes, and you said if all that we had was Ecclesiastes, we would be tempted to just a sort of nihilism. Nothing matters. And if all that we had were Proverbs, we would be tempted to almost a prosperity gospel. I can do it. If I just do these things I get these results. But you need the interplay between the two that God, in his wisdom, put both of these words in the canon and they inform one another. I wonder if the same thing is true in terms of our sense of mortality. If we had a sense only that life is a vapor, we might think nothing really matters that I do. And if all that we had is redeem the day, redeem the time we might think this is all that matters is what I’m doing right now. But we have to sort of hold those things in tension. Do you think I’m on the right path there with that?

Keller: Yeah. Yeah, not only are you on the right path and that, by the way, that idea from the Old Testament came from my friend Tremper Longman, who, you know, is an Old Testament professor who actually said that the canon was put together by God so that we would have these balancing acts. But in the New Testament, the balance comes between, which is a big part of my book, by the way, is that when Jesus rose from the dead, he brought the future kingdom into the present partially, but not fully. And I think that already, but not yet, that we are redeemed, but we’re not fully redeemed, that we should not be cynical and think that we can’t see great things happening, but at the same time, we shouldn’t be naive and utopian. And so I think that balance what, you’re talking about, is not only in the New Testament, but it’s right in the centre of the New Testament, because the kingdom of God is already, but not yet.

Moore: One of the things you emphasized in the book is that by resurrection you’re not talking about metaphor. This isn’t wellness. It isn’t, sort of, the cycles of renewal in nature, but bodily historical resurrection from the dead. You interact with N.T. Wright’s great The Resurrection of the Son of God book a little bit at the beginning. And I’m wondering, if you’re talking to a skeptic, to someone who’s an unbeliever who doesn’t accept the claims of Christianity, would you start there with the historical reality of the resurrection and work outward? Or would you make that decision sort of case by case as you’re talking to the person?

Keller: Yeah, the second. Skepticism, you know, I was just talking to my sister, who’s got a grandson who’s, I guess 16, 17, who’s starting to go into skepticism. But his mother just died last year. And so he’s talking a lot about, the resurrection can’t really happen. He’s talking to his grandmother, and my sister is a Christian. He’s trying to say, oh, you know what, the resurrection just can’t happen. So, this is a pretty obvious example. No, I don’t think you give this guy, you don’t go after him too much on the intellectual side. You do some work, but you also realize his mom died last year and he’s having real questions about those things. And so I do think you have to be careful. If I see somebody who’s just pretty, pretty confident. It does look like the skepticism is pretty much just intellectual, mostly. That they’ve been around a lot of smart skeptics, but they haven’t been around a lot of smart believers. And it doesn’t look like their skepticism is being fueled by abuse in the past or bad church experiences and things like that, I would probably, yes, I would go, I think the resurrection is, especially in light of not only Tom Wright, but other people, there’s an awful lot of interesting stuff to give thoughtful folks right now. So if the person seems to be kind of fair minded and not being driven in their doubts by other things, yes, I would go there.

Moore: You mentioned the already not yet tension. And one of the things that you said in the book is explaining what regeneration is as a fundamental, I’m trying to think of how you worded it, a radical reorientation of life. And one of the things that I’ve sort of noticed anecdotally, at the beginning of my ministry, I think I met more people who were skeptical of the possibility of regeneration because they couldn’t believe in the resurrection. And now I tend to meet more people who are the reverse. They have trouble believing in the resurrection of Jesus because they’ve lost faith that regeneration could be true, for some of the reasons that you mentioned a few minutes ago. They’ve seen institutions fail that they trusted. They’ve seen people that they really trusted as spiritual leaders fall. And then they look at themselves and they say, how do I have newness of life when I seem to be so unchanged. What word would you have to someone who’s having difficulty there?

Keller: Yeah, that’s good. I mean, there’s no doubt that, Russ, I would always say to people that faith is a mixture of reason and experience. That, I say, for example, if somebody, let’s say I’m hiring an assistant and, mainly the way I hire somebody is I interview them. I look at their references. I see what everybody else is saying about them. And there’s a sense in which my decision to choose a candidate B over A and C is pretty rational. It’s baseless. But it’s mainly a probability, frankly. It’s like saying, well, it’s likely that this is the right person. But then I actually have to, I have to actually have faith enough to hire the person. And then in a year or two, if the person really works out, then I’m actually totally sure this was the right person. Though I have an experience that takes the kind of risk, of course, and commitment. Now, Tom Wright actually says that that outside of things you can you can prove in a laboratory, you know, like, you know, compound A boils at this temperature, at this, you know, barometric pressure and that kind of thing, is that apart from that, we really can’t prove anything. We can’t prove anything in history at all, if you want to talk about proof like that. But, he says, when it comes to the resurrection, there are, there’s tons of great evidence, as much evidence to believe in it as any other historical event.

But then, he would agree, that it’s putting your faith in it and going to Jesus Christ on the basis of it that creates that commitment and experience where you go from, I really think there’s really good reasons to believe this to, I know it’s true. I just absolutely know it’s true. And so I do think that when people are finding that their experience of the resurrected life is not very strong in them, in a way, Russ, when I was told I had pancreatic cancer, I would say I did feel a certain wavering in my faith. Why wouldn’t I? And at that point, I did go back to the, you might say, the rational and reread a lot of what Tom Wright said. And it was hugely helpful. So I guess I would say, you know, if the existential is flagging a little bit, shore up the rational. If the rational doesn’t take you all the way there, it can’t, take up the existential. But I really do want to say, by the way, I want to say and I have done this, I’ve had people say to me that I’ve walked away from Christianity because I had this very, I had these, you know, I was going to this church and I found out that the pastor who I really looked up to was having an affair, and was a total hypocrite, and was abusive, and I just walked away. And I said, look, I don’t want to be a, you know, I have to be careful here, if the person himself or herself was a victim of abuse, then I wouldn’t say this. But if the person was just disillusioned, I would say, OK, let me ask you a question. Does that person’s adultery mean that Jesus Christ couldn’t have been raised from the dead? And they’ll say, well, no. I said no, of course not. I mean, in other words, that’s a non sequitur to say, well, because my pastor was a hypocrite, Jesus couldn’t have been raised from the dead. The reasons for Jesus being raised from the dead are not ultimately, you know, the quality of life of every one of his followers. And I said, you really do have to go and ask yourself the question, why was I a Christian or why did I go to that church? Did I say, did you do the hard work of thinking these things out or were you just taken up with the social, you know, the social community? And so I think you have to go back and forth and it depends. Again, like, I’m glad you’re pointing this out, case by case

Moore: When we’re talking about fear, one of the things that comes up, of course, is just cultural sorts of fear. And I’m sure you saw yesterday Gallup released a survey showing that for the first time in their recorded polling, church membership is less than 50 percent of the American public, or in any house of worship, membership down to 47 percent. And that’s a dramatic fall over over 20 years. Things seem to be kind of cracking apart for a lot of Christians when they’re looking at this. If you had to predict, sort of, where this is going in terms of secularization and what is the church in America going to look like, say, 20 years from now? Of course, you’re not psychic, we know that. But what would you guess?

Keller: Ok, you know what, I, I really feel like you need to get Ross Douthat or somebody like that on to talk about the future of the Catholic Church. I just don’t feel like I can speak to that. And they are a pretty major part. You know, when we talk about Christianity in America, sorry, they are, they’re a big piece of it. But when it comes to Protestantism, here’s what I think is going to happen over the next 20 or 30 years. First of all, the number of nominal believers, that is, people who believe and are part of churches, mainly through cultural and social pressure or benefit. Which is how an awful lot of people in this country have been part of the church, In other words, there was either social pressure or social benefit to just being part of the church or family tradition. What happens is more nominal believers, they are being shed. And we’re going to get down to people who, basically, the religion is not inherited but chosen and it’s thought out. Now, when you get down to that group, you can have attrition there, too, but there’s much more retention. So a kind of a nominal Methodist who, family, who goes to the Methodist church every so often and they were historically Methodist, but nobody’s really all that strong in their beliefs. The idea that their children will grow up and say, I’m not Methodist, I’m not a Christian, the chances of that are very high. So the retention rate of a nominal is not very high. The retention rate of more conservative and orthodox of their children is way, way, way higher. So first of all, you’re going to shrink. Secondly, white people are far more secular and individualistic than non white people. Non white people are more religious and they’re more communitarian or communal. And non-white people’s birth rates are lower, immigration is going to come in and you’re going to see, I think, a shrinking of the church down to I don’t know where it’s going to be. It could be down to like 20 to 30 percent. And then it’ll start to grow again. It’ll be far more multiethnic and it’ll be far more orthodox. 

So, when I was growing up, there was a kind of evangelical conservative sliver. The majority of people who went to church were mainline Protestant. That mainline Protestant will be the sliver and the majority of people will be evangelical or Pentecostal or something like that, and it’ll be at least more than half non-white. My guess is, if the population is, say, 50 percent white 20 years from now or forty five percent white, the church will be more like 60 or 70 percent non-white and 30 percent white. That’s like it is in New York. If you come to New York, we’ve been planting churches. I mean, literally, the evangelical church in New York City has grown from about one hundred churches to over two hundred and fifty churches in the center part in the last twenty five years, which is amazing. But probably no more than a third of the people in those churches are white. So, my guess is that what I’m seeing in New York will be the future here. You’ll shrink down. You’re not going to see 75 percent, 50 percent church membership or church attendance and that sort of thing. But it’ll get down to like, it’ll get down to twenty five to thirty five percent. It’ll be, largely, it’ll start growing again. Secularization will actually bottom out in about 20 or 30 years. Islam will grow here too. So, because, for a lot of reasons. I don’t know if you find that interesting.

Moore: Yeah. But not to this inevitable sense of secularizing everything, the future is disenchanted.

Keller: No, no, no. As a matter of fact, I mean, ask anybody in demographics, the world is actually going to get less secular as time goes on. A lot of that has to do with birth rate and things like that. But also evangelism, you know, and that sort of thing.

Moore: If you were going to give a word to, I mentioned a few minutes ago how surprised I was at all the 21, 22 year olds who really resonated with with The Atlantic article, if you had to give a word of advice to that 22 year old Christian who’s a little scared, a little nervous about the future. And you said, here’s one thing you should really concentrate on as you go forward, what would you advise?

Keller: Well, you know what, this entire podcast I’ve sort of dodged all of your questions by saying case by case. I don’t know I can quite do that on this one. Well, OK, let me just say something that Kathy and I have talked to each other about in the last year. If Jesus Christ was actually raised from the dead, if he really got up, walked out, was seen by hundreds of people, talked to them. If he was raised from the dead, then you know what? Everything’s going to be all right. Whatever you’re worried about right now, whatever you’re afraid of, everything is actually going to be OK. Because you got to remember, we’re not just talking about resurrected people. Jesus Christ is, and this is where Christianity is unique, we’re talking about a resurrected world. Meaning, there’s plenty of other religions that talk about a future afterlife, which is a nonmaterial world. In other words, you get a consolation for the world we’ve lost. Christianity says it’s not just your bodies are being resurrected, but the world is actually going to be a material world that’s cleansed from all evil and suffering and sin. If Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, then the whole world is going to be, in a sense, resurrected and everything is going to be OK. Everything. You don’t know how. I don’t know how, but it will be. So, and you know what? Actually, right now, I couldn’t possibly be convinced that Jesus was not raised from the dead, either intellectually or existentially. So whenever, and by the way, Kathy and I, listen, we cry. We cried a lot last night. Sometimes the reality of the shortness of what we have left here just overwhelms us. And we were just weeping together and crying. And then you say, if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, it is going to be OK. And then you can wipe your tears, but you don’t stop crying. It’s like salt in the wound that keeps the wound from going bad. That keeps the wound from getting infected. But it doesn’t mean that until the end of, you know, until we actually meet Jesus Christ we still have our wounds. So they are going to be healed, but they’ll be healed by his. So, I think, I still could, yeah, I would still go back to if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and he was, you’re going to be OK.

Moore: Well, that’s a good word on which to end. The book is called Hope in Times of Fear by Tim Keller. And I’m really thankful for you, Tim, and for the way that God uses you in my life. And I encourage everybody to read this book in a time of fear. Thanks for being with us today.

Keller: It was great to be with you, Russ.

Moore: And I would encourage you, if you would like more information on this book or other resources, just tap the cover art here or swipe it up. And there will be some show notes on that. And be sure also to send me your ethical questions that you’re grappling with, maybe something in your family or your church, and we’ll deal with it over on the solo podcast. And also be sure to send this along to someone you think would benefit from. This is Russell Moore and you’re listening to Signposts.

By / Dec 2

As a young woman, I felt the call to serve God overseas in a Muslim country. Like many students in a thriving college ministry in the early 2000s, the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth was heard often and taken seriously. I remember being faced, for the first time, with the reality that God did not exist to bless me and make my life better, but that he blessed me so that his name would be glorified among the nations. 

I signed up to spend six weeks in a Central Asian country where my team and I would teach English at universities and build relationships with students outside of class. Our hopes were that God would allow us to share the gospel with them. Prior to leaving on this trip, I was actually quite terrified. I felt anything but courageous. I was leaving the comfort and safety of my Midwest existence and heading to a country whose religion caused fear in the hearts of many post-9/11 Americans. However, I was not scared of being in a Muslim country or being with Muslims; I was scared of God. 

Learning to rest in the gospel 

During my college years and for several years afterward, I had a poor understanding of the gospel. I thought I needed Jesus to get to the cross, but after I received salvation, it was up to me to be good and perfect and holy. This meant that I pursued the “most holy” thing I could do, which was going overseas for the sake of the gospel. And when I was there and struggling with a lack of desire to do what I’d been sent to do, I became fearful of what God thought of me. Surely, he would not love me unless I committed right then and there to spend the rest of my life living in the Middle East. 

Later on in life, my husband, 8-month-old daughter, and I headed overseas again. This time we were spending two years with the IMB working with a Muslim people group in Europe. I was less fearful this time, but I still held onto a low-level fear that God was somehow inexplicably disappointed in me each day. It wasn’t until I read a parenting book on grace that I finally understood that I was the heathen, not just those I was going to share the gospel with. Once I realized that I was in need of grace and understood that God had already freely given me grace for my sins, I was set free from the fear that had caused me to keep God at arm’s length. 

Today, we are living in time that causes a lot of fear for many Christians. I think many of us have either assumed or been taught, albeit subconsciously, that it’s up to us to be holy and prove our righteousness before men and God. Scripture even tells us to be holy as God is holy. But if we look at the whole Bible, we see how much emphasis is placed on God’s saving work on our behalf. 

Responding to the fears of our day

As we near the end of 2020, you may be feeling that the world has completely turned upside down. You could be fearful of a pandemic or a new government in the United States. You may be worried about job loss and the economic future of our country. Our subconscious Christian culture may have told us that these things should cause us to fight for our rights. But, I would like to suggest a different way to react to these things that, for many, are truly scary. 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God.

When I look back on my time overseas, I remember how scary it felt to share the gospel with a post-modern European who believed that all truth was relative and anyone who believes in a Middle Eastern carpenter who walked the Earth 2000 years ago is crazy. The largest mosque in Europe was just a few blocks from our apartment, and every Friday I saw droves of North Africans fill the neighboring streets so they could attend Friday prayers. At times, the spiritual lostness was so overwhelming I felt paralyzed to even know what to say.

I can even look to my life here in the states and see when fear has crept into my heart. I pray for my neighbors and the friends of my children. But what if God gives me an opportunity to really talk about my faith? Will I freeze up in fear, or will I trust that God can give me words to say?

What I’ve learned most about fear and courage in my 37 years of life is best defined by my friend Lori McDaniel who says there are four ways to deal with fear: 

  1. Pretend I have none: denial
  2. Remain in it: paralyzed
  3. Hand letter it and post on social media: facade
  4. Absorb God’s Word and move forward: trust 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God. Tell God what you are fearful about, not social media. Instead of getting angry and attacking someone on the other aisle of your beliefs, take your anger and frustration to God. He wants to hear what you have to say, and he wants to show you in his Word how he will take care of you. God can and will give us all the courage to be salt and light in this broken world. No matter what happens in the remainder of 2020, 2021, and the rest of our lives, we can be sure that God is on his throne, completely in control of everything happening. Be strong and courageous in the truth that God is God and you are not. 

Russell Moore’s latest book, “Courage to Stand,” is about how courage means embracing your fears. Check out his book here

We encourage you to consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board

By / Nov 17

Jeff Pickering and Chelsea Patterson Sobolik welcome back ERLC president, Russell Moore, to the podcast to talk about his new book, The Courage To Stand, and what we can learn about truth and tribalism from the 2020 presidential election. The message of Dr. Moore’s newest book is timely for this fearful and anxious year as he helps readers see where Christ-empowered courage comes from, from the way of the cross.

This episode is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of the advent family devotional, A Better Than Anything Christmas. Find out more about this book at

Resources from the Conversation

By / Nov 5

Do you feel the world is broken?
(We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
(We do)

These opening lines from Andrew Peterson’s song “Is He Worthy?” leave many of us wanting to shout “We do!” We do feel the world is broken. We do feel the shadows deepen. We feel it as a pandemic rages around us. We feel it as natural disasters ravage our lives. We feel it as political tensions dominate our communities. And we eventually find ourselves living in fear. 

According to a Pew Research study, 69% of Americans fear that state governments have eased restrictions too soon amid the pandemic. In May, 83% of Americans said they were concerned that lifting restrictions in their area would lead to additional COVID-19 infections. Fear of this virus is real, and it rages all around us. Is it okay to go to the grocery store or give a friend a hug or travel for the holidays? The things that so many of us used to do without worry are now sources of sometimes intense fear.

On top of the pandemic that seems to keep dragging on is a U.S. presidential election that has consumed media and conversation and been the source of high tensions across the country. A report from the American Psychological Association last month found that 68% of adults said that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was a significant source of stress. This is driven not only by fears of whether their candidate will win but also by fears surrounding filling out absentee ballots correctly, intimidation at the polls, and election violence in the days following the election. 

How should the church respond to such fear?

We should be reminded that Scripture speaks to our fears. Fear should not be a taboo subject in the church. Jesus is not intimidated by our fear. Instead, he recognizes our fear (Matt. 10:28) and invites us to come to him (Matt. 11:28). And Paul reminds Timothy regarding his calling as Christ’s ambassador, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Our fears are real, but we are not alone. As followers of Christ, we are equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever you’re afraid of in this moment, remember that Jesus is bigger (1 John 4:4), and he will sustain you. 

In our battle against fear, we should be honest in acknowledging that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:2). The enemy wants to use fear to lead us away from trusting in Christ, but fear is not the victor of this story. Those who are in Christ are no longer slaves to sin or fear. Instead, we are children of God called to righteousness (Rom. 6:16-18).

But what do we do with the very real fear we are experiencing right now? What does it look like for us to surrender our fears to the Lord and rest in him? How do we live in the righteousness God has called us to when we can find reasons to fear all around us? Perhaps this could be a starting place for us:

  1. Stop doomscrolling. Doomscrolling is “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.” Set up app limits on your phone to help you cut back on the time that you spend on social media, or set aside periods of the day to do something you enjoy without checking social media or the news. 
  2. Live in community. As members of the body of Christ, we are called to live in community. For some, that may look different in this season of COVID-19, but nonetheless, we should be faithful in seeking biblical community for the building up of the body of Christ. In community, we find diversity in thought and giftings, which God uses to bring hope and healing and ultimately his own glory (Eph. 4:1-16).
  3. Delight in the Lord. Be faithful to spend some time each day reading Scripture and praying. We were created for relationship with our Creator. Delight in him, and allow him to shape the desires of your heart (Psa. 37:4).
  4. Be still. And know that he is God. He will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth (Ps. 46:10). Trust that the sovereign creator of heaven and earth is still on the throne. None of our fears change who God is. He will be glorified even if our worst fears come true. 
  5. Seek counseling. As we navigate fear, we sometimes experience hurting that we don’t know how to navigate alone but that we know we want to grow through. Seeking a professional counselor can be a step toward light and restoration.

As believers we are called to know Christ, trust in him, and make him known. Any fear—whether that be COVID-19 or a political election or anything else—that is stopping us from pursuing Christ and living to glorify him can be used by the enemy to dishonor our faithful God. Instead, cling to the Father (Psa. 91). Whatever you’re afraid of in this moment, remember that Jesus is bigger (1 John 4:4), and he will sustain you. 

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah with a message about his character that is still true today, saying, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10). The fear that we may be experiencing is real, but it has no power over us. God calls us to rest in him. He is the one who is our refuge and strength in the midst of uncertainty (Psa. 46:1). Even though we feel that the world is broken and see the shadows deepen, we will not fear because we know that our God will be exalted (Psa. 46:10).