Fear not

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I was given some magazines this week put out by a prominent evangelical organization. The covers of each of them (accompanied by full cover photos of explosions, fire, and swords read):

“Is Islam really a religion of peace?” (Photo of a bloody sword)

“Crisis After Crisis, who can save us?- Pestilence as Ebola Spreads, Oppression of Christians in USA”

“Destined for the Lake of Fire : Cowards”

It seems, no matter what the content of these magazines might be, that their sale strategy is one of fear.

It’s the same in South Africa. For some reason, people seem to get a morbid satisfaction out of telling each other horrific stories of hijackings and robberies. Maybe we think telling the stories out loud will keep them from haunting our dreams– or maybe we secretly like hearing our worst fears confirmed. I know of a woman who kept a scrapbook of every horrific incident of violent crime in the South African newspaper for the year before her family immigrated to Australia. Like something from the movie The Village, she took the book with her to show her children why they felt forced to leave South Africa.

As opposed to this, the Christmas story is full of Fear Nots.

Mary, fear not, you’ve found favor with God. 

Joseph, fear not to take Mary as your wife. 

Zachariah, fear not, God has heard your prayer, your wife is pregnant. 

Shepherds, fear not, we’re bringing good tidings of great joy for everyone. 

It seems the message God wanted to spread through his messengers at the birth of Christ was that we should not be afraid.

We don’t have to be afraid of evil, even in the valley of the shadow of Death, because God is with us. We don’t have to be afraid of God’s holiness anymore, because of Christ our sin won’t bring us death. We won’t die in the holiest of holies. We can walk right in and approach it.

And we don’t have to fear death. The birth of Jesus is the beginning of death’s defeat.

Perfect love casts out fear. We have no fear of judgement, we have no fear of death– Christians should be the most joyful, confident, self-giving people on the planet.

In “Tales of the Kingdom” people play a game called “Sight the King”. It’s like a giant game of hide and seek, that is always being played, all the time. The king wears different disguises, and shows up in the most unexpected places. Sometimes he looks like a nurse at the healing house. Sometimes he is sweeping the streets of the mud that people sling at each other. Sometimes he is hunting for lost children hiding in dark places. Sometimes he looks like a beggar. Sometimes he looks like a taxi-driver. The king is everywhere– you just have to look for him. Princess Amanda tells Little Child, the orphan who escaped from the Enchanter and still struggles with fear, that “Sighters are not afraid.”

Sighters are not afraid. 

The people who see the King everywhere fear not. There is no fear where the King is. And the King is here.

Maybe you know someone like that?

Someone generous, because they’re not afraid their money is going to run out tomorrow.

Someone who lovingly welcomes new people, because they’re not afraid of saying goodbye.

Someone who is quick to honor other people’s gifts and talents, and finds ways to make others shine, because they’re not afraid of losing the spotlight.

Someone who wears their comfy sweaters, because they’re not afraid of what people think.

Someone who lives in the inner city, because they know God is still there, and God is good and their life belongs to him.

Someone who is willing to really listen to, and befriend a Muslim, a lesbian, an atheist, because they’re not afraid. They know these are people. They know they are loved. They are not opponents anymore, they are lost friends.

They are confident that all truth is God’s truth, and there is nothing they can discover that will change that, so they are free to listen and learn from those who are different.

Someone who has children, even though there is radiation poisoning and Ebola and revolutions and nuclear bombs.

Someone who knows how to laugh.

Those are Christmas people. Those are sighters.

“There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4:18

How goes the world?

The Enchanter and the King have a face-off in book 2
The Enchanter and the King have a face-off in book 2

The Tales of the Kingdom trilogy has probably shaped my view of the world more profoundly than any other series (aside from maybe Chronicles of Narnia). You should read them. All of them. There’s a king, who has been exiled from the city (which is now ruled by an evil Enchanter, who makes night day and day night). The King and his people live in a forest called Great Park. But he is coming back to reclaim the city for his own, to hunt out all the dark places, to bring light by telling stories, to bring restoration.

The Ranger watch cry, a call and response that echoes from tower to tower throughout the forest has been ringing in my head lately:

“How goes the world?”

“The world goes not well.”

“But the Kingdom comes!”

“The Kingdom comes!”

It goes not well. Very many days, it goes not well. Very many days there is brokenness, and rape, and loneliness, and hunger, and people trapped by sickness and death, and dying from Ebola in pools of their own blood, and drugs in Sweetwaters made from rat poison and ARVs, and abandonment, and people who just don’t really care, and rich people who throw parties so they don’t have to think about it all.

The world goes not well. And sometimes I stop there. But I have to remind myself:

The Kingdom comes.

The king has come and he will come again, the restoration has begun. It’s slow but it’s there. There are people carrying light into the dark places, the places no one else wants to go. So if you ever feel like the world goes not well, here are a few things you can join me in doing to remind yourself that the kingdom comes– and you can join the restoration.

iThemba Teens camp: Three days of fun for teenagers from Sweetwaters. A chance to just hang out, be silly, and be loved by the iThemba mentors. A chance for teens to process their problems in a safe space, to share about what’s really going on at home, and a chance for them to engage more fully in conversations about Jesus. We want to take 50 teens this December, and we can’t do that unless we have friends from all over the world partnering with us to sponsor them. Here’s some information on how to do that. 

Donate to NGO’s fighting Ebola. The governments in west Africa don’t have the infrastructure to cope with this crisis. They desperately need NGOs who can help them save lives and stop the spread of this disease. Here’s a list of organizations working in the area. Join me and donate to one of them.

Celebrate Advent. Advent means arrival- it’s the time in the Christian tradition when we look forward to the celebration of the arrival of Jesus (the first time he came, and the time he’s coming again). So if you’re one of those social justice people like me who ever feels the world goes not well, and want to remember again that the Kingdom comes, join me. I’m going to try to write a reflection every day of advent- sometimes gathering good things others have written, sometimes writing my own, probably looking at social justice things, but maybe not… it will be an adventure. I don’t want to spam all of my followers who don’t have time to read things or aren’t into the whole Jesus thing. So if you want daily Advent reflections, email me at steph.ebert17(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll sign you up. Otherwise, once a week I’ll post something on the blog, that’s kind of a summary.

“So, how goes the world?” you ask.

“It goes not well,” I say. “But the Kingdom comes,” I add.

The Kingdom comes.