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Fear and Peace

When the sky is falling, to whom do we turn?

by Perry Engle

There’s a lot to be afraid of these days.

A family friend recently trimmed some hedges in our backyard when he lost his footing and fell next to the house. Hearing a loud bang from inside, my daughter rushed to the bedroom window to find him sprawled out on the pathway below. Certain that all her childhood fears were coming true, she immediately convinced herself that he was either attempting to invade our home or that he had fallen from the sky in some horrific air accident. Upon closer inspection, she was relieved to find it was someone she knew—a bit bruised, but not broken—and not the fulfillment of her worst nightmares.

But her immediate response was fear. And it doesn’t take much to realize that, in the midst of a world where terrorist shootings take place in San Bernardino less than 30 minutes from where we live, and where politicians promise to build walls across our borders to keep all the “bad” people out, and where we’re encouraged to view people of different religions and ethnicities through suspicious eyes, fear easily overwhelms us.

In a post last year, pastor and blogger John Pavlovitz referred to fear as “the greatest false idol of modern Christianity.”* Of course, fear isn’t anything new. But it takes on greater relevance in the midst of presidential elections and 24-hour news cycles. This pervasive fear confirms our need to live as a people of peace in a world seemingly bent on worshipping violence, revenge, and un-forgiveness.

Peace is the counterpoint to fear. It is the recognition that God is in control and not us or our external circumstances. As Brethren in Christ, our peace position is a direct result of our faith in God. It emanates from our relationship with Christ. We identify as a “peace church” not because we partake in some historic ecclesial stream, but because our Lord Jesus is the Prince of Peace and we are His followers.

Peace is the counterpoint to fear.

I get nervous when we or other denominations elevate peace above all other qualities that should inhabit the lives of Christ-followers. Peace is not a stand-alone doctrine that somehow makes us special in the eyes of Jesus. It is a sign of who we are in Christ. Peace is evidenced in our lives as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and is integrally tied to personal holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Like believing the Bible, belonging to the community of faith, witnessing to the world, and serving compassionately, our value of pursuing peace is a natural outgrowth of discipleship in Jesus Christ. As we grow in Christlikeness, we become more peaceable and, ultimately, less fearful.

There’s a lot to be afraid of these days. And fearful people tend to respond threateningly and violently to the world around them. But as followers of Jesus, we’re invited into an intimate relationship with the One who left us with these words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

This is a good reminder for us today, whether faced with acts of terror, home invasions, or strange men falling from the sky.

*johnpavlovitz.com/2015/01/15/the-greatest-false-idol-of-modern-christianity

This article originally appeared in the spring/summer 2016 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle's current fears include large, unleashed dogs and the U.S. presidential election. He serves as bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC U.S. He and his wife, Marta, and their family live in Ontario, Calif.

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