I started a new phase of my life yesterday: I am back at seminary, this time at Azusa Pacific University, taking a couple of courses in order to get the extra units needed to start another graduate degree in Fall 2013. It is wonderful to be back in school again. I am a lifelong learner, and simply enjoy the entire process of lecture, reading, discussion, and application. So my Inner (Outer?!) Nerd was blissfully happy.
The course is Pastoral Counseling for Adolescents, and it is remarkable to take this course after so many years already logged in youth ministry. My first seminary courses were taken in 1984, and it is incredible to me what has ensued in those intervening years in terms of learning, experience, mistakes, joys, sorrows. Naturally, I wish I had known then what I know now, but that is what life is all about, right?
I am beginning to reflect on all the things that have changed in youth ministry in this long season of experience. There are simple things like going from using dittos to promote events in 1984 to creating Facebook events! But there are deeper, more profound issues as well, and the one that comes to mind on this anniversary of 9/11 is fear. Many horrifying events occurred well before 9/11 in our history -- two World Wars, AIDS, Vietnam, assassinations, atom bombs, nuclear threat, racism to name a few... but I would say there are two significant game-changers in the way we work emotionally in the United States: Columbine on April 20, 1999 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
I am challenged to come up with words adequate to describe the level of fear I now sense with parents in comparison to the ways I related to parents at the beginning of my career. The intriguing part is that in the mid-eighties, it's not as if parents had lived in a world of puppies and rainbows. The decades of drugs and free love in the 60's, along with the cynicism coming out of Vietnam, Watergate and Jonestown in the 70's were not exactly a walk in the park!
But 9/11 and Columbine feel different. The fear and unimagined terror hit so close to home, and feel so tangible and invasive. How can we allay such paralyzing concerns? I look to scripture and there are some fundamentals that keep me anchored:
11 The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said,
12 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.
13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
14 He will keep you safe.
But to Israel and Judah
he will be a stone that makes people stumble,
a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem
he will be a trap and a snare.
15 Many will stumble and fall,
never to rise again.
They will be snared and captured.”
16 Preserve the teaching of God;
entrust his instructions to those who follow me.
17 I will wait for the Lord,
who has turned away from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my hope in him.
I have had countless conversations with students over the years of what it means to "fear the Lord." But I think this passage begins to capture it. It is an issue of whom we give power to ~ someone utterly trustworthy, or someone who seeks to destroy us? Fear can be positive, believe it or not, according to whom we fear.
I do not mean to oversimplify or trivialize. Fear can be a dreadful thing, and I know it well. But I am seeking to understand the reality of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight: to not look at immediate circumstances and to what I can see as the final answer. That is to think like everyone else does. Instead, I yearn to wait for the Lord... (and) put my hope in him. My fear becomes one of healthy respect and awe.
May we not be a people of anxious fear, but ones of sober reality who live anchored in the One who keeps us safe in the truest, most reliable and eternal way. If you continue to read in Isaiah (and I encourage you to do so) we find unbelievable promises. Here's the teaser, and with this I conclude; from Isaiah 9:2,
The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.