(I recorded this as a podcast episode in November 2021, a full year before I decided I had to come out as LGBTQ-affirming. But it applies to much more than just that. For some reason, I never added it as a blog post, and I felt it was due time for that. So here it is, 18 months late.)
Today’s episode is about fear. I grew up afraid of a lot of things. I didn’t realize that it was fear. It was fear of intangibles, not fear of actual things. Of things that would happen if I behaved wrong or actually, thinking back on it, it was fear of what would happen if I mis-believed. One particular class of those fears was of having my mind changed. I was implicitly taught to fear being corrupted. So I found myself fearing any questioning of my firm beliefs about God. Things like how the end times was going to go. What the Rapture was all about. Even more basic down-to-earth things like how the church is organized or how the church treats people who sin. I was also afraid of understanding political things, for example, socialism and Marxism and fascism. I think I was afraid that if I studied them too hard and really got conversant on the topics, that something I learned would become attractive to me and that I’d find myself not afraid of them anymore.
I feared confronting my beliefs about homosexuals. Looking back on it, I really do think (even though I denied it) that I was homophobic in the sense that I was afraid that if I actually was conversant with and friends with someone who was homosexual, I’d start to see things from their point of view. So while I wasn’t afraid of them personally, I was afraid of actually knowing them. For a while, as a mentor, I had a transgender individual as a mentee, and I was deeply uncomfortable with that relationship. I never wanted to even think about the fact that the person was transgender because I was afraid it might make me have to understand them better.
I was afraid of confronting my thoughts about racism. In particular, I really didn’t want to know what my Black friends thought about their experiences, about their culture, about their politics. I knew what was “right” when it came to racism from my political beliefs, and that was that. I didn’t need to understand it. And so I was afraid of talking to Democrats about why they believed what they did. They must be wrong. After all, I knew I was right. My political views were the best way for things to go, and it didn’t make any sense to me to understand how a Democrat or a liberal thought about the world.
For example, I was afraid to discuss welfare at any length. I knew what was right about how things should go in welfare, what the goods and bads were, and why we shouldn’t support it the way that the culture seemed to have done so. Similarly, I was afraid to discuss abortion. I knew it was wrong. I knew there was no excuse and there was no way that talking to anybody about it could do anything other than weaken my resolve. I was afraid to consider my views on, say, law and order. It had to be good for the police to do what they did and for society to treat people who chose to break the law the way that we treated them.
So basically, I was afraid to confront anything political or anything moral or anything religious. In other words, I was essentially afraid to challenge myself on anything important. Looking back on it, I think really what I feared was having my mind changed. Well, why was that? I don’t think anyone explicitly taught me to fear like that. But I think seeing people around me being treated in response to their questioning of any of these fundamental tenets of my culture taught me to avoid those questions at all costs. Nothing good could ever come from questioning those fundamental beliefs. Maybe that was a fear of man, perhaps a fear of being judged by my peers who had the same expressed beliefs that I did, or maybe being judged by those in authority over me.
Fundamentally, I think it was a fear of becoming wrong and not BEING wrong, but BECOMING wrong. Basically for my thinking, it was fear of becoming evil or accepting sin or accepting weakness. I was afraid of becoming incorrect or wrong in those areas. And so it was safer for me not to confront what I thought. In 1st John 4:18, the Apostle John says that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” John was the closest disciple to Jesus heart. And he must have remembered Jesus statement that all the law and the prophets hang on two commandments. One of those was about love, and the other was about love. One was “love God.” The other was “love one another.” Fundamentally, everything was about love. And then John wrote later “there’s no fear in that love. Perfect love casts out fear.” In retrospect, I think being afraid made me unable to love. But then, being unloving made me afraid. It’s a very nasty cycle and it’s seemingly impossible to break.
Well, let’s fast forward a little bit. About two years ago, I went through a major life change; being confronted with some things about my character that were deficient forced me to reexamine myself. And in that process and in some counseling and in going before the Lord, I found brokenness being healed in my heart.
And as a consequence of that, my ability to love and to accept and to understand others expanded. And as a result of that, I gave God my explicit “yes” to change me. I discovered how much good came from addressing that brokenness in my life. And I realized that it needed to go further. So I gave God that explicit “yes.” And what I found was that suddenly all those fears became much less relevant. If I were going to love, I needed to cast out fear and I needed to take on those very things that I had avoided for so long.
So I questioned. And what I had feared is exactly what happened. My bedrock beliefs began to shift beneath me. But what I found was that what I thought was bedrock wasn’t. It was not rock at all. It was unstable sand, but it had only been frozen in place by my fear. I was unwilling to accept the fact that it wasn’t bedrock. It HAD to be bedrock. It’s what I’ve been taught. It’s what I’d accepted for decades. So when that fear began to thaw, I discovered that love, that living active love in the person of Jesus Himself, had a very different view of so many of those things that I’d been unwilling to consider for decades.
In Hebrews 12:26-27, Paul quotes the Old Testament saying “once more, I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. The words once more indicate the removing of what can be shaken that is created things so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” In a lot of ways, that’s become one of my fundamental verses lately. Lord, shake me. Shake who I am, shake my beliefs, and take away everything that can be shaken so that only what cannot be shaken will remain in me. And in the process of that, I saw the inadequacy of so many things that I believed. They had good foundations. They were based on scripture. They were based on good principles, but they were completely inadequate. And I needed to go so much further than them. So what I’ve found is that in a very short season of time, I’ve been forever changed. Like I said, what I was afraid would happen did happen. But I’m deeply grateful. I never would want to go back to what I was before. What I’m finding is that the warmth of Christ’s love for everybody – for the good, for the evil, for the righteous, the unrighteous, the poor, the rich – His love infuses my views increasingly, and I’m beginning to understand that so many of the positions I took were deeply unloving.
Now, I’m not done changing. Many things remain in my heart to be settled. I constantly am encountering new things. My list is growing longer day by day as I wrestle with the things that I once believed and uncomfortably find myself drawn to consider, is that really the heart of the Lord? Or is that what I was choosing to believe to protect myself from fear? Nothing is simple. It used to be very simple. I believed it. That was the end of it. It was far easier. But I’ve become very confident in the Lord’s direction for me in this season. This is who He wanted me to be all along. And if it took Him confronting me with my inadequacies, my deficiencies to break through to the point where I could begin to understand these issues across my life from His perspective, from a point of view of love and not of fear, then I welcome that. It’s it’s who God wanted me to be. He wants me to be someone soft and flexible and adaptable. To follow the spirit and not the law. To follow Grace. And I think it’s really who He wants others to be. But I know that I can’t force that. So I’m extending my hand to you. I share my journey here to let you know that you too can let go of your fear and encounter Love in a way that you never thought possible.
I feel like the unique experience that God’s taken me through from one extreme to the other, or at least to a middle ground that’s healthier with a rich awareness of both extremes, is God-given. He’s given me the opportunity to see and talk to both sides of things. So because of that, I can talk to anyone about my journey, no matter which side of the fence they find themselves on, on any given issue. And I can encourage them and I can love them.
Beyond just me, though I see this as a season of God’s grace for change. It’s not just personal change. It’s across His people. It’s across the world. Clearly, the pandemic upended our routine, but so did a lot of the social changes that we saw, which honestly were worldwide in many cases. Last year, many, many prophetic voices spoke about this topic that the Lord was calling his people to adapt, to morph, to shift, pivot to embrace flexibility.
But I think it’s clear that as a whole, the church and many people just really wanted to get back to church life as usual. But there are very many Christians who clearly felt that call. And when faced with churches that didn’t want to change, are now walking out the door. As a result. And they’re not rejecting God. They’re not rejecting religion. They’re not rejecting their own spirituality. What they’re rejecting in their own words is an institution that they believe won’t respond to God’s calling in this season. You’ve probably heard of the term reconstructing or evangelical. Those are very current terms because there’s a lot of people who are doing that. It doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t think we have to lose people from our churches, but I think it’s pretty clear that God is tugging on the routine, the normal, the traditional, and He’s asking us to be flexible, to follow the Spirit and to hear His heart of love and not of the law.
So I invite you to come along with me. Give God your “yes” to be changed. I can tell you it’s a scary journey. Everything that I was afraid would happen did happen. All those ways in which I was afraid that if I questioned these things, I’d understand differently – it took place. But I’m so deeply thankful that it did happen, because looking back on it, I can see that I was not anywhere near as right as I thought I was. I’m convinced that both intellectual and spiritual humility are a cornerstone of this season. Not just for me, but for all of God’s people. So I invite you to come with me and let’s pursue God’s future for His people together.