It’s New Year’s Eve. But before you head out to celebrate, I have two words for you for 2016. Find out what they are.
Well, tonight we bid “farewell” to 2015. Some of us will go out and celebrate with friends. Others will spend the night at home with family. Still others will watch Oklahoma play Clemson and Michigan State play Alabama in the semifinals of the college football championship.
But whatever we do and whomever we do it with, most of us will have one thing in common: we'll be glad to see 2015 in the rear-view mirror. It was a year that gave many Americans a great deal to be concerned about both at home and abroad.
That being the case, here’s a phrase that I think should be our watchword in 2016: Fear Not.
Notice that I said “concerned” not “frightened.” It would be absurd to deny that, in many respects, 2015 had more than its share of distressing news. It was the year in which same-sex marriage, with all that it implies for the future of the traditional family, was imposed on us as the law of the land.
Along with this legal change, came an equally-precipitous deterioration in the state of religious freedom both here in the U.S. and especially abroad. Holding convictions about marriage and family that were mainstream just a few years ago, among liberals as well as conservatives, became impermissible bigotry when acted on outside the home.
Then of course there was the persecution of Christians, especially, but not only, by ISIS, including the beheading of twenty-one Christians in Libya. Closer to home, Islamist terrorism in Lebanon, Paris, and most recently, San Bernardino, has left Americans feeling that nowhere is safe, at least not as safe as it once was.
All of this is enough to make us want to, as the late writer Brennan Manning once put it, crawl up into a ball and hide inside our shoes. But that’s exactly what we cannot do.
As Eric and I have said before on “BreakPoint,” “fear not” and variations such as “be not afraid” are, by some estimates the most often-repeated commands in all of Scripture. God and His angelic messengers are quoted as saying these words at least 80 times in the Bible.
And yet, this command may be the most transgressed-against command in modern life. And make no mistake, it's a command, not a suggestion. Those who obey the command, especially in our cultural moment, greatly advance Christian witness.
So much of our culture is driven by two different but related things that are antithetical to a Christian worldview: fear and hype. Both derive their power from the underlying assumption that life is fully based in the here-and-now, that there's no larger story we're part of that secures our hope or significance. This practical atheism, as one writer has called it, leaves us vulnerable to pitches based in fear, whether from advertisers or politicians, and we fall for hype out of fear of being “left out” or seeming “out of step.”
But Christians are to remind themselves, and each other, that none of this is true. We are part of a grand story whose end is known to us: the restoration of all things through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as Catholic theologian William T. Cavanaugh has put it, we should insist on living as if we were acting in a comedy – in the original sense of that word which was a story with a happy ending – while the world insists on staging a tragedy.
We should stand out precisely because we're not afraid, and instead, rejoice in the Lord always. Remember, the original author of those words wasn’t a stranger to trouble. Paul saw past circumstances and the first century equivalent of the news, and told the Philippians “the Lord is near.” And, He still is.
So let us live as if this were true. Let us live out our God-assigned parts in the grandest comedy of them all.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Fear Not: He Has Overcome the World, and the News
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint.org | October 27, 2014