Keynote speaker Rev. Kirstie Garnes brought the theme of The OneEvent to life with her insight on dealing with fear. Her strategy has three steps: name it, face it, and defeat it. She prepared for The OneEvent months in advance by asking dozens of youth to identify their fears. She compiled their answers into a list of twenty main fears which she went through during the first general session, asking youth to point their two thumbs up for every fear that hit a chord for them. If they weren’t sure yes or no, they could point their thumbs to the side. If the fear didn’t plague them, they were to point their thumbs down.
The fears ran the gamut from “someone I love may die” to “I feel all alone, like no one understands me and no one ever will.” Rev. Garnes noted many thumbs went up with the fear related to not being able to talk to one’s parents and the fear of making the wrong choice about one’s life and it being too late to fix the mistake.
According to the world, fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil or pain, whether the threat is real or imagined. The Bible refers to fear as a spirit that Christians are to overcome. Garnes said, “I’m here to tell you that you and I need to recognize that the spirit of fearfulness and timidity does not come from God.” She quoted 2 Timothy 1:7. “For God did not give us a spirit of fearfulness, but of power and love and a sound mind.” While the spirit of fear comes, Christians can defeat it through God only after they recognize it and face it.
The primary Scripture for the 2015 OneEvent was 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Garnes said, “Because I want us to live this Scripture, breathe this Scripture and become this Scripture, we’re going to look at a different translation.” She quoted the same verse from The Message: “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”
Garnes explained, “When you and I know who we are – a child of God – and who we belong to – we belong to Jesus Christ – then our salvation should automatically conquer any fear we have because Jesus paid it all on the cross. With God’s love we are protected and covered as a child of The Most High. The fact Jesus conquered death lets us know that Jesus conquers fear as well.” She then asked the audience, “If Jesus can defeat death, can Jesus defeat bullies?” A few people answered, “Yes.” Garnes asked, “Can Jesus defeat depression?” The youth responded with increasing confidence, “Yes.” Garnes underscored her point: “Jesus can defeat all things. Nothing is too hard for God.”
After going through the list of fears and giving the youth an opportunity to identify the ones with which they struggle, Garnes promised, “I’m going to be here all weekend so if you want to talk more about those, I’ll definitely make sure you get the right connections.” She thanked the youth for their honesty and courage in naming their fears.
Garnes acknowledged that the number of fears was more than 20 and it makes one wonder how love can drive out so many fears. How can God’s love defeat all those fears? Garnes asserted that as everyone knows $500 is more than $5, believers know that God’s love is greater than fear. Noting John 10:10 which says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Garnes said, “Fear is used by the enemy to block out anything God is trying to do in our lives.”
Just as fear is learned, so fearlessness can be learned. Fear is learned from parents, siblings and friends. Learning to be fearless comes from studying God’s Word, staying connected to youth group and through worship, and attending events like The OneEvent. “We learn to become fearless through God’s love,” said Garnes.
At the end of her first talk, Garnes introduced the Believer’s Anthem and had everyone read it aloud with boldness:
I’m a believer, not a doubter.
I am a winner, not a whiner.
I am victorious, not victimized.
I am the head and not the tail.
I am above and shall never be beneath.
I am blessed and highly favored!
This is the Word of the Lord:
I can do what it says I can do.
I can have what it says I can have.
I can be who it says I can be.
All of this is brought to me in the name of Jesus,
AMEN and HALLLELUJAH!
The Rev. Garnes opened her talk on Saturday evening with everyone reading the Believer’s Anthem again. She then dove right into the second step for dealing with fear. “The two ways to deal with fear are to forget everything and run, or face everything and rise,” said Garnes. (Note that each of the ways uses the four letters that spell fear.) “I’m here to tell you from life experience that no matter what you do, you cannot run away from your fears. Adults, can you say amen with me?” Amen!
Running from fear becomes paralyzing as fear takes over and spreads like a cancer. New fears build off of fear which is already entrenched from choosing not to face it. Garnes shared personal stories of her fears in childhood and the mean kids in school, the toll it took on her self-confidence and the ways she tried to deal with it.
“Looking back I realize one of the main reasons my marriage did not work out was because I didn’t see how someone could love me,” she said. “I wasn’t privileged like you guys with youth leaders taking you to youth group and exposing you to the Gospel. I didn’t hear about the Gospel until I was 20 years old. Once I realized how much God loves me, I started to love myself. That’s when I began to embrace my unique style. That’s when I began to walk on faith, face my fears and rise. I began to walk with confidence. I knew I was a child of God and He was filling me up. Suddenly people who had wanted to ostracize me wanted to be my friend.”
How does perfect love fill up God’s children? “God’s love is not that sometimes kind of love of ‘I love you today but I don’t love you tomorrow.’ God’s love is agape love where He was stretched out wide and hung high, and He died because He knew our humanity was going to kill us. He loved us so much that He died for our sins. That perfect love is complete love, without condition. It is love that is whole. It satisfies, gratifies, and takes us to the next level of who we are created to be in Christ Jesus,” said Garnes.
Three youth climbed on stage and Garnes handed each a balloon. One person was instructed to blow up his balloon as much as he could. A second youth held a balloon which was partially filled, while the third person had a completely deflated balloon. Garnes demonstrated how being hit by one difficult situation such as depression, the deflated balloon has no way to resist being knocked to the floor. The partially inflated balloon symbolized someone who engages with God a little but not consistently, so when hit by a fear, the balloon is easily overcome and falls to the ground. The third balloon illustrated being full of God’s love because even when hit by fear after fear, it can rise above any circumstance.
“No matter where you are right now, you have your whole lives ahead of you. You are the future. Look around at the people who brought you here.” Garnes illustrated this by saying, “Youth leaders, sponsors, pastors, parents are the tool God is using to help you get from here,” holding up the deflated balloon, “To here,” holding up the fully inflated balloon. “I implore you to allow God to fill you up with the tools God is using. I just can’t wait to see what God has in store for you because the best is yet to come.”
Garnes noted that after the first message, a lot of youth came to her, sharing their fears face-to-face for hours. She noted that part of naming those fears is being fearless and part of facing those fears is having the courage to show up and be attentive. She then encouraged the youth to “think about what you miss out on that God wants to give you when you don’t face your fears. Before we became the Great Plains Conference, there were a lot of fears. I shudder to think if we weren’t the Great Plains Conference, what would happen. I wouldn’t have met all these Nebraska youth. If we had let fear keep us separated, we wouldn’t even be here. This OneEvent is just one example of what happens when we face our fears.”
Turning her attention to the adults in the audience, she advised, “If we are telling kids to be fearless, adults need to let the kids be fearless. We have to empower them. If we want our kids be fearless, we have to break out of our comfort zones and find a way to let God navigate us through merging tradition with new ideas from young people. If we let our kids be fearless, what a church we would be!”
In her final talk, the Rev. Garnes cited Ephesians 6:16: “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Her third step of defeating fear once and for all requires a shield of faith. She described the evil one as “that voice putting doubts in your head, that influence you to think you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, that you’ll fail, that you’ll never be anything, and on and on.” Those arrows of doubt, fear, despair and hopelessness are normal emotions that can be overcome with faith.
The shield of knowledge and love confronts fear as a liar. She demonstrated how she confronts fear by affirming, “I know who I am. I am a child of God. I know I am victorious. I know I am not victimized. I know that I am not my fear. My fear does not define me. God defines me. God created me in your image so it must be good.”
The shield of faith is developed by participating in events, fellowship with other believers, and staying filled up with God’s love. For an illustration on what the shield of faith looks like, Garnes had the youth come up to the stage. She singled out one person and supposed she could be struggling with a fear that she finds difficult to face alone. Garnes had another person come up and link arms with the first person, expressing support and encouragement. However Garnes supposed that second youth also has fears, so she pulled up a third person to link arms.
Eventually she had every youth on the stage and in front of the stage, linked together, arm in arm. “As children of God we don’t have to deal with fears alone. We have our brothers and sisters and we are going to link up, stand together, and not let the evil one’s arrows get through. That’s how you make a shield of faith,” she explained.
Looking around the arena as all youth and adults stood with their arms linked, Garnes concluded, “Standing together in faith and solidarity, we are standing as representatives of God’s perfect and whole love. God made each and every one of us in his image.” She continued, “Through this OneEvent, we have become one.”