Tag Archives: fear

What are You Afraid of?

As we start another week, what is it that you are afraid of? What is keeping you from doing the miraculous, the amazing, the incredible for the Kingdom of God?

Peter could step out of the boat and take a few steps, until he became fearful – even when Our Lord was right there in his presence doing the impossible!

There are always scary stories on the news. There will always be uncertainty and plans gone awry, especially on Mondays. There are always waves, big and small.

But what you fear is what you worship. When you hesitate, catch yourself and ask, “Am I afraid of falling short of what Christ called me to do, or am I more afraid of _______?” If the answer is ever the latter, do everything you can to switch your focus to your King!

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Fear is a Terrible Teacher

It seems to be a common refrain: religion is all about using fear to control and educate people.

Fear is the worst way to teach people. It is a last resort of the desperate, bad teacher. Pay attention, or doom on you. Remember this, or doom on you.

It is certainly true that we ourselves, our parents, and our grandparents have been met with some terrible fear-based religious teachers, at home, in school, and in church.

But generally we fear our permanent records, our loss of careers, and falling behind on the track of the American dream – even more than hell – based on fears taught by our elders and educators.

So if we are to write of the Church and religion because of some lousy teachers that only knew how to use fear to teach, we had better write off education and public schools too. Because they haven’t softened or changed tactics in the last 60 or more years.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Christians as the Soul of the World

Sometime in the second century after Christ, a letter to Diognetus was written explaining Christianity. The author is unknown, and it is not known if the Diognetus that it was addressed to was the Diognetus that tutored Marcus Aurelius – but those details are unrelated to the importance of the letter, now known as the Epistle to Diognetus.

It begins thus:

To His Excellency, Diognetus:

I understand, sir, that you are really interested in learning about the religion of the Christians, and that you are making an accurate and careful investigation of the subject. You want to know, for instance, what God they believe in and how they worship him, while at the same time they disregard the world and look down on death, and how it is that they do not treat the divinities of the Greeks as gods at all, although on the other hand they do not follow the superstition of the Jews. You would also like to know the source of the loving affection that they have for each other.

After some discussion of idolatry and the faith and practices of the Jews, the letter turns to describe Christians:

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity.

To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognised when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen. The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them. The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together. The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven. The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more. It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.

There is more to the letter, but just these two paragraphs give plenty of food for thought. Hopefully the recipient saw the things that the author described.

Today, though, if such a letter was written to describe Christianity, would the response be positive, or would the recipient respond as Gandhi did: “I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.”

If you live as Christ taught, the first paragraph is a testament to Christianity; if you do not, the first paragraph is a condemnation.

The full weight of this injustice we do to the world by our hypocrisy is spelled out in the second paragraph. We Christians are to the world as the soul is to the body. If the soul is corrupt, hypocritical, fearful of poverty, hunger, loneliness and death – then the sickness of the world is made worse by our failure.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

What Does Religious Freedom Look Like?

It is a tenet of this blog to avoid current events. This post will push the limit, since there are current events that inspired it and will be mentioned; however the purpose is for more persistent.

Christian persecution is again making world headlines. A woman in the Sudan has been sentenced to death for refusing to convert from Christianity to Islam. Amnesty International and other human rights groups are calling for intervention to protect religious freedom.

It seems good to hear that these secular organizations are stepping up and speaking out against this injustice, but what does religious freedom actually look like?

This sort of persecution is not uncommon, is not a relic of the past, but a reality that has faced Christians throughout our history, in one region of the world or another. Wherever you are, this choice of your faith or your inalienable right to life could be face by you, your children, or your children’s children.

Here in America, we hold that it is self-evident that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The first right enumerated in the Bill of Rights was written to ensure for freedom of religion.

But what does freedom of religion look like?

As of yet, we are not denied life, as Americans, for our religious beliefs. But what about those other two self-evident, inalienable rights?

Consider the following:

  • Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, resigned under public pressure over a $1,000 contribution made years ago in opposition to same-sex marriage. Regardless of whether his support of Proposition 8 was motivated by a Christian worldview, this is a position many Christians hold, and with a lot less status in the companies for which they work.
  • The state of the Health Care Mandate forcing conscientious objectors to pay for insurance that covers contraception, including religious institutions for which such things are considered gravely wrong.
  • Numerous anecdotes from elementary students punished for praying to people being fired or asked to resign for their beliefs.

To these I can even add personal experience. Once when inquiring about a job in computer repair, the owner looked me up online and  noticed my writings for LifeNews.com and other websites. With a smirk he said, “You are quite the activist, aren’t you?” And with that, any chance of working there died.

What does religious freedom look like? I don’t know. I know we haven’t got it, and I know Sudan does not have it. I’m not sure anywhere in world has it or will ever have it.

Religious freedom is an ideal that is impossible in a world to which the power of the kingdoms of God are in the hands of our Enemy (Matthew 4:9). Religious persecution is the reality we will face – from the Roman Empire, to the modern world, and ever after until kingdom come.

Do not be afraid if your life is asked of you; do not be afraid if your career, your employment, your livelihood is threatened. It may be your boss, your governor, your family – or as Brendan Eich experienced, a mob of sodomites (see also Genesis 19:5  and Judges 19:22).

Our Lord said: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19) James writes in his epistle: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

We should not expect religious freedom, nor should we conform to the world’s expectations. Our Lord’s expectation is that we persevere in spite of the injustices we are to suffer for His sake. 

And if that were not radical enough, He taught and set the example that we are to love, forgive, and do good to those who wrong us, persecute us, and hate us. To do otherwise is to fail to live up to the standards you profess to defend.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Already Dead: The Samurai and Fear of Death

If there is a single factor for why the samurai were such incredible warriors, it is probably the fact that they viewed themselves as already dead.

As it is written in the Hagakure, Book 1:

“The way of the Samurai is found in death…This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”

Without the burden of thoughts of self-preservation, assuming one’s self as already dead allowed the samurai to dedicate themselves single-mindedly to the task at hand. As soldiers for hire, that task was martial skills in service of their lord.

Christians, too are called to take up the instrument of their execution daily and to die to themselves. Whoever seeks his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it. This sentiment is not found in just one place in the Gospels, but rather repeated throughout all four in several places. Finally, there is the example of our Lord, who laid down His life for His friends, His sheep.

Why then are samurai so widely regarded, with so many tales of their bloody feats of service told and and retold to this day, while exemplary Christian examples seem to be relatively few – despite the fact that there are millions of us acting in Christ’s name?

If you are a Christian, you cannot be living for yourself. The best servants of their lord live as though they were dead. If the samurai can do it, so can today’s Christians.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

How to Defeat Fear

 

We are called as Christians to be fearless, and to not fear men, the world, or evil.

And yet we are still afraid of many things.

How do we conquer our fears? That’s probably the wrong question.

How do you work through the fear, persevere through the fear, resist letting the fear paralyze you.

The surest way is to hurry up and succumb to it. To face the fear regularly, instead of avoiding it.

Otherwise, you could simply stop doing anything, which is most certainly not an option for a follower of Christ.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Interrupting the Impossible

 

While reading a book on business strategies, I came across an expression credited as “an ancient Chinese proverb.”

The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.
In the context I found it, the expression was an answer to naysayers who criticize a project or goal while the yet-impossible task is being accomplished. As mankind’s creativity, communication, and knowledge grows, things that were impossible are becoming reality every day.
The proverb has meaning in the Christian experience too. God does the impossible, has done the impossible, and will do the impossible. The scriptures are full of stories of impossible things happening, such as Moses striking a rock and water coming forth. Jesus worked miracles. His disciples worked miracles in His name after his ascension.
What impossible things have you undertaken? What impossible things does God ask of us that we cannot see working out or happening?
If we believe the Gospel, if we accept the Bible’s teachings as true (hence using the title of Christian) then we should expect the impossible to happen – even big miracles. But it seems we have even lost the faith and the hope for small miracles and wonders. We fear tithing because we may not have enough money to pay our bills, when it is God, not our own labor, that provides for our families (Psalm 127). We fear to speak out against wrongdoings and evil, because we fear reprisals. But we have been given power even over evil spirits in the name of Christ (Luke 10:17).
What are we missing out on – what are we denying the world because we think something God asks is too much, too impossible to be real?
We should not interrupt He who is doing the impossible.
Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

10 Things Christians Fear That They Should Not

 

It is human to be afraid. Everyone is afraid of something (or somethings). Several fears are in fact common to a lot of people. 

Fear motivates us to change. Whether it is some learned trait for survival or a psychological reflex to avoid danger, when we act on our fears we make a choice to change our behavior, our circumstances, and even our lives.

In other words, what you fear, determines what you worship.

If you are afraid of being poor, you tend to idealize financial security. You worry about not having enough. You stress over unexpected costs. You feel more comfortable, more secure, with a certain dollar amount in your bank account. Your mood is a function of how much money you have and how much you feel you need at any given time. This is what the idolization of money looks like – you need not be wealthy to be a miser.

As Christians, we are told over and over in the Bible to not have fear. To put it more positively, we are told to have “fear of the Lord.” Not necessarily or solely fear of punishment from God, but a respectful fear that drowns out all other worldly fears. A fear of separation from He who is your security, and your foundation.

Here are just a few common fears that we Christians need to eliminate in ourselves, for they are symptoms of putting some other worldly good above our faith in God. There is a single verse I have associated with each one, but of course there are many more that could fit each, and some verses address more than one type of fear.

Financial Loss

Poverty. Job loss. Financial hardship. Not having enough money for college for your kids. Not having enough money for retirement. Not having enough for any reason. 

The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 1 Samuel 2:7

Pain

Suffering. Loss of Comfort.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Illness

Sickness. Fatigue. Poor health. Cancer. Obesity. Disease. Germs.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

Death

Dying. Death of yourself. Death of a loved one. The dead.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15

The Future

What will be or will not be. Being prepared. Change.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

The Past

Mistakes catching up with you. Family shame being exposed. Loss of time.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16

Judgement
Of others. Of God.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Separation
Loss of friends. Loss of family. Loneliness.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Evil

Bad things. People that mean you harm. Injustice. Evil spirits.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

The Devil

And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Luke 10:18-19

 

Why then do you continue to be afraid? Seek to root out your fears, lest they drive you away from your relationship with God and weaken your faith.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Sacrifice of Lent – More than Giving Up Good Stuff

 

The season of Lent is almost upon us – 40 days prior to Easter (excluding Sundays) that are a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ passion and resurrection.

The early Christian church marked the 40 days of preparation for Easter as far back as 325, and it was established formally in the 600’s. While today it is most often observed by Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican and Lutheran denominations, there has been a revival of late in other Christian denominations.

In modern times, the practice of a Lenten sacrifice of something you liked for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (again, excepting Sundays) has been the most common form. “So what did you give up for Lent?” becomes a conversation starter in some congregations this week, and for the next six as well.

Sometimes these sacrifices are meant to be times to break bad habits – giving up smoking for 6 weeks put you pretty solidly on the path to breaking an unhealthy and expensive habit. Other recent sacrifices include Facebook, Netflix, video games, and even caffeine. Growing up, sweets and desserts were an automatic family-wide sacrifice, to which each person added their own sacrifice.

These neo-traditional sacrifices of goods in order to be better are great, but they are not the only option for a 40 day preparation for Easter. There is even a danger that such a practice gives the wrong idea of the sacrifice; it is not to make you a better person, but to offer up something of this world in expectation of the glorious promise of eternal life we believe, and will celebrate especially at Easter.

I have heard some people who practiced a Lenten sacrifice for most of their life say that they had nothing left to give up, for they (in their own words) saw nothing in themselves they could improve. This is not a New Year’s resolution. You cannot make yourself more worth for God’s gifts. This is a sacrifice of something you like or love.

Here are some ideas for Lenten preparations you can make for this coming season of Lent.

Sacrifice of Time 

Prayer is one of the three traditional activities associated with Lent. Set aside 40 minutes a day for prayer or Scripture reading. We are all given the same 24 hours a day, so this is a sacrifice of the most precious and limited commodity you have.

Sacrifice of Treasure

Almsgiving is the second traditional Lenten activity. Tithe extra, or pledge to give more than you usually do to charitable causes. Donate your time to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other services in need of volunteers. Make and pack lunches to hand out to people on the street.

I heard of a family that changed their food budget to what their family would receive if they were on food stamps, and donated the rest of the grocery budget to the local food bank. This was an act of empathy, charity, and sacrifice.

Fasting

Fasting is the third traditional activity for Lent. While it does not mean going completely without food, you can drastically alter your diet for the next six weeks.

Note that this should NOT be done only with the intention of losing weight. The sacrifice should be a sacrifice, not a new resolution.

Facing Your Fears

My Lenten preparation falls into this category. I have set an aggressive goal to tackle something mundane, but that has terrified me for as long as I can remember.  We are called to fear nothing in this life, and yet I have been afraid of this thing. 

Accepting God’s Will

Over the past several years my family has face several personal tragedies that fell just before or during Lent. Sometimes the best sacrifice you can make during Lent is the one God chooses for you. PRay for the strength to accept, bear, and even choose it.

Final Note on Attitude

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in  heaven. “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received  their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward  you.

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread;  And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;  And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.  For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;  but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I  say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:1-18

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Why Our Faith Must Grow With Our Fears

 

My kids were watching VeggieTales again, and as I walked into the room I heard Junior Asparagus explaining to his father why he was no longer afraid of the ‘monsterous fears’ he was having earlier in the episode of “Where’s God When I’m Scared.”

As Junior explained that not only was God bigger than the bogeyman, but that Frankencelery was really an actor named Phil from Toledo.

It dawned on me then that there may be something wrong with the approach to fear and trust in God when we talk to our children.

I very much enjoy Big Ideas’ all-audiences approach to humor and education with Veggie Tales, and this particular episode was their very first. I’m not picking on the veggies in particular, but on a larger issue that this is just a particular example.

As Christian parents, we want to encourage our children to trust God, and at the same time soothe their fears. Most of the time, these two objectives are one and the same. In the case of childhood’s fears of the unexplained and monsters, however, they don’t necessarily compliment each other.

In the case of Junior Asparagus overcoming his fear of monsters, he gives two reasons – that he trusts God is greater than anything that could scare him, and that the monsters were nothing to be afraid of anyway.

Think that through for a moment. Restated, the point of the scene is that God is bigger than a nonsense fear. Not much of a lesson there, if at once the fear is belittled as the idea that ‘God is greater’ is taught.

We are called to have faith like a child, and yet there are studies finding that youth and child-oriented religious instruction is driving those same youth to abandon the Christian faith as they become adults. Belittling childhood fears while trying to teach that God is bigger than your fears is one of those age-appropriate techniques that can backfire.

Instructing youth and children in the faith typically is more intense and regular at a young age. By the time they enter high school, the vast majority are no longer attending a regular Sunday School program, and youth groups become more oriented on fun than instruction in understanding the gospel.

By high school, and into college, the childhood fears that we are taught that ‘God is bigger than’ seem silly and ridiculous. Without further development and growth, through counsel and instruction from our elders, God becomes as silly and ridiculous as those fears He was supposed to help us overcome.

After all, we are only afraid of the things in which we believe exist and can do us harm. Faith is a necessary component of childhood fears. If God’s protection is taught only to those fears we will outgrow, in time we outgrow that faith in a childish god. If we belittle the fears of childhood, we in the same stroke belittle the faith of the child.

Now, I don’t suggest the answer is to teach your five year old about real monsters of which they should be afraid, such as demonic powers, or the worst of mankind’s inhumanity to man. Do not, for instance, belittle the monster under the bed by informing them that real demons – very real fallen angels – want to destroy their relationship with God and their soul. Trying to replace their childhood fears with mature fears will do a great deal of harm.

Do instruct them to trust God will protect them. Build up their faith in God’s protection to be stronger than their faith the monster under the bed can harm them. Teach them to pray when they are afraid, regardless of the fear.

As they get older, communicate with them about their current fears. Go ahead and laugh about being afraid of monsters under the bed when they are a teen, but use it to develop their faith in God to overcome their fears of failure, of being left out or rejected, or of the future. At some point, you will be able to talk to them about your own adult fears and how God’s gift of faith is helping you overcome and work through those fears.

And by all means, do not think that something so intimate will be developed by your pastor, a teacher, or a youth group leader. Our fears are deeply personal, and family are the best people to properly help with that aspect of a growing faith. After all, it is our parents and family that can do the most to foul it up as well.

God is, of course, bigger than the bogeyman. But He is also bigger than the IRS, the terrorists, the future, the past, your financial woes, cancer, and death. Even our fear that our children might abandon their faith. Make sure your children’s faith grows as their fears mature.

Most of all, make sure your faith in God’s protection grows to eliminate your grown-up fears.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 6, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.