Posts tagged ‘fear’

Are You Afraid of God?

I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.  Luke 19:21

I was a sophomore in high school when Tim’s dad drove us to school early one morning. Tim was my best friend who lived next door to me. We did everything together. And usually Tim would drive us to school, but his car was in the shop. His dad drove up a ramp to take us to the back door. What he didn’t realize is that there was a staircase next to the ramp. As he drove away, Tim’s dad drive down the staircase rather than the ramp. We heard a sound of grinding metal as he got stuck on the landing halfway down the stairs. As you can imagine, this drew lots of attention in addition to taunts and laughter. I was embarrassed. I did not want anyone to know that I had anything to do with that car or Tim’s dad. As silly as it sounds to me today, I was afraid of what others would think of me. I stood just inside the school doors frozen in fear. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. I watched a group of guys lift the car and move it far enough to be able to drive away.

Fear is a crazy thing. It can paralyze us and cloud our judgment. And so when we have not experienced God’s love and mercy, we can become afraid of His law and judgment. Jesus tells a story of how we can look at God the wrong way. He described three servants who were given silver by their king before he was to be crowned king in a distant empire. He entrusted them with his riches and instructed them to invest for him while he was gone. He would return one day to see what they had done with the silver. The first two servants invested well, but the third was afraid of the king. His fear caused him to hide the silver in the ground rather than invest it. He was so afraid of the king that he became paralyzed to inaction. He hid his silver. He acted as though the king did not exist and hoped for the best.

As I think about it, there is no difference between my fear of what others would think of me and the servant’s fear of his king. Both fears cause inaction. Both fears prevent loving action to invest our talents in the lives of others. There is a fear of God we are to have in our lives that is an awe of His love and mercy prompting us to action. We read of this fear in Psalm 89:6-7, For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?

You know you have the proper fear of God when you want to be in His presence each morning rather than hiding from Him. You have the right fear of God when you move toward others to lend a helping hand. You know you fear God in a way that gives life when you can think clearly in the midst of temptation. Every time I want my own way, succumb to my own desires, and refuse to take up my cross and follow Jesus, I become afraid of God. This fear always paralyzes. It always prevents us from living freely in God’s kingdom. 

So what’s the solution? Focus on God’s love. Accept His love. Seek His love because we read in 1 John 4:18 , There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

The Paralysis of Fear

Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  Luke 8:35

When I entered private medical practice after serving as an OBGYN physician in the US Navy, I was concerned about being busy enough to earn a good living. In other words, I was worried about money. In retrospect, my practice grew quickly and the money flowed freely. But money remained a major concern of mine throughout the years I was in private practice. And my concern about money was a major factor that prevented me from making a transition into pastoral ministry earlier than I did. I wondered what life would be like making so much less money. I worried about my future, my retirement, my lifestyle. That’s right, I was focused on ME.

This focus robbed me of the joy that only comes from recognizing God’s activity in and around us. We can become so focused on our own issues, our own struggles, our own pleasures, and our own desires that we prevent ourselves from seeing the joy found in God’s miracles that happen every day. When this happens, we become afraid of losing what we have, whatever it is we have focused upon, and will do anything to keep it. My primary issue was making enough money. So I feared anything that might reduce my income. When we are afraid, we become paralyzed and cannot see life clearly. We cannot see the struggles of others clearly because we are living in fear of our own issues. Fear magnifies our own struggles while minimizing the struggles of others.

That’s what we see in the story of Jesus healing the demon possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes in Luke 8. This man was homeless and naked before he met Jesus. He had been thrown out of town because his behavior was too unpredictable. He frightened people. Then Jesus came to town. Jesus didn’t ignore the man because Jesus was not afraid. In fact, Jesus engaged with the man and then cast out the demons into a herd of pigs. Once entering the pigs, the demons drove them off the cliff into the lake to drown. Imagine losing your herd of pigs. Those pigs represented a lot of money. And just like that, they were gone. This struck fear in the hearts of the people in town.

When the people from the town confronted Jesus about this incident, they saw this man who had been wild, homeless, and naked now sitting at the feet of Jesus with peace, a sense of belonging, and nicely dressed. But they couldn’t see the miracle in this man’s life that brought joy and happiness because of their focus on their own issues and concerns. They were no longer afraid of the once demon possessed man. They were now afraid of Jesus. That fear prevented them from seeing the obvious miracle sitting right in front of them.

But I can understand that fear. From the outside looking in Jesus’ way doesn’t always make sense. It’s hard to see how making less money can improve your lifestyle. It’s hard to see you how giving up control to Him can help you get control of your life. It’s hard to see that sacrificially helping others actually helps yourself. But that’s exactly what happens when you step out in faith to follow Jesus. He cast the demons out of the man in the region of the Gerasenes. I encourage you to allow Him to cast out your fear in the region of your heart. When you focus on Him, life comes into focus for you.

Are You Afraid?

“But I am afraid to surrender,” the king said, “for the Babylonians may hand me over to the Judeans who have defected to them. And who knows what they will do to me!”  Jeremiah 38:19

Jeremiah had told anyone who would listen that the only way to save their lives would be to surrender to the king of Babylon. Jeremiah had been imprisoned and tortured at the order of the king of Judah, Zedekiah, for proclaiming this God-given message to anyone who would listen. Now the Babylonian army was at Judah’s border and Zedekiah had no one else to turn to for truth other than Jeremiah. So he secretly called for Jeremiah one last time to ask what he needed to do in light of the advancing Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s message was the same, Surrender! Surrender to the king of Babylon and live! But this was unthinkable, impossible!

Have you ever had a message from God that you didn’t like, that was unthinkable, or even impossible? Perhaps He is telling you to forgive a person who has hurt you deeply. Or maybe you have a co-worker who has been scheming to take your job, but the clear word you hear from God every time you pray is, “Love your enemy.” Or maybe God has called you to another state, another job, or to go back to school, but you are afraid to leave your current situation.

The specific word from God doesn’t matter. It only matters what we do with His Word, the Word made flesh. The only strength we have to accomplish the word of God in our lives is to invite the Word into our lives. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He took your sins and mine, nailed them to the cross, buried them in the grave, and was resurrected to be with YOU and ME! He gives us strength to do His word. But like Zedekiah, we cannot imagine how we could surrender to the kings of Babylon in our lives. Like Zedekiah, we focus on the earthly challenge and the temporal foe. 

But the Word became flesh so you and I could not only focus on Him, but live in Him. When you choose to live IN Him, He lives IN you! What God is asking of you today may seem unthinkable, unimaginable, even impossible. But when Jesus is in you, all things become possible. When you commune with Jesus, earthly challenges become opportunities. When you have supper with Jesus, temporal foes become agents of God to unite your heart with His. 

Zedekiah was afraid to surrender to the king of Babylon because he had not surrendered to the King of the Universe. So he ran from the king because he ran from the King. When we run from the King, we are overcome by our fears and will be conquered by them. But God offers us another path, His path. It’s a path paved with love by the blood of Jesus who walks with you every step of the way.

No matter what your struggle happens to be, how impossible it seems, Jesus is with you. Focus on Him. Listen to Him. Abide in Him. Surrender to Him. And then you will be able to proclaim with Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13

Is Your Faith Firm?

“…Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” Isaiah 7:9

King Ahaz of Judah “trembled with fear” when he heard that Israel and Syria had joined forces to attack Judah. He assessed the situation and knew that he could not win the battle. Judah was doomed. There was no hope in the heart of King Ahaz. This is when God told Ahaz that “the invasion will never happen.” God is more powerful than any force in the universe, let alone on earth. There is no king, ruler, army, or insurgency that can defeat God. 

I don’t know about you, but I often focus on the threatened invasions in my life. They come in the form of temptations, selfish desires, discouragement, and self-doubt to name just a few. When I focus on the invaders alone, I tremble in fear just like Ahaz did of old. But God promises us victory. He does not leave us alone to fight the battles of life. No matter what you or I face, we are not alone. The God of Angel Armies will defeat any foe that comes our way. He only requires one thing from us: faith.

Just as He told Ahaz, He tells us today, “Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” In other words, God cannot do what we will not allow. Above all else, God respects our freedom to choose. The Good News is that we only need the faith the size of a mustard seed to move the mountains of sin and invasions from our life. (see Matthew 17:20)  A “firm faith” simply means that I focus on Him rather than my problems and trust His path for my life rather than my own. I don’t even need to open the door to my heart as Jesus knocks, I simply need to whisper, “Come in.” That’s the faith the size of a mustard seed. 

I have a friend who was attacked by a pack of dogs as she was on a long distance training run. The dogs were mauling her as she was flat on her back next to a pile of garbage. She had given up hope of coming out of this situation alive when she saw a car approaching. She picked up an umbrella from the garbage pile and held it up as the car passed. The gentleman in the car noticed the umbrella and realized a person was being attacked. He came back to rescue her. She received expert care and had a full recovery.

God is in the rescue business. Your situation may seem hopeless, you may be under fierce attack, but God is more powerful than anything you are facing. May your faith stand firm and hold up the umbrella in the trash pile next to you. God will do the rest. 

 

The Cure – 2 Gods

As an OB/GYN resident I would meet for rounds in the conference room at the hospital with the The Cure Coverhead of the gynecologic department and the other residents every weekday morning. The head of our department was a slight man no more than 5’6″ tall. I’ll call him Dr. Jones to protect his privacy. As residents, we were responsible for examining our hospitalized patients, developing a plan, and making recommendations for further treatment as necessary. We were to be ready for questions about our patients’ diagnoses and any related medical issues. It was intense as Dr. Jones would ask searing questions and demand complete, but concise answers. If a resident’s answer did not satisfy him, there were always consequences.

One morning I described the actions of the nurses taking care of my patient a day after her surgery.  Dr. Jones became so angry with my description of events that he stood up, grabbed his chair, and tossed it across the room. He then slammed the door as he left the room. We all sat there in stunned silence and fear. If we left and he returned, we would be in trouble. But how long should we wait for him? Well, 15 minutes later Dr. Jones returned to continue rounds as if nothing had happened.

What is it about sinning that makes us see God as an angry Dr. Jones? The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 depicts a creative God of love. He not only has created the world as a place of beauty for their pleasure, but He visits and walks with them. And then in Genesis 3 after they have disobeyed God they hid from Him. But like a parent whose child has ran to her/his room after doing something wrong, God goes looking for Adam and Eve to be with them. God calls out to them and asks, “Where are you?” Adam answers with this response recorded in Genesis 3:10, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Shame drives us to hide from God and be afraid of Him. We put on a mask because we don’t think we will be loved. We too often see God as a Dr. Jones whose response to us cannot be trusted. So we hide in fear. But this is not the God we read about in the Bible, but rather the god the devil wants us to believe is in charge of the universe. We are afraid of this god because he is all-powerful and unpredictable at the same time. This god does not love, but rather has arbitrary rules the he enforces at his whim. This god is a dictator, not a loving Father.

No wonder Jesus told the story of the father who patiently waited for his son to return home after leaving with his inheritance. We see a picture of a father who daily hopes and looks for his son’s return. And then one day after his son has spent every dime and ended up destitute, he decides to return home. And when he was still a long distance off, the father goes to meet him with open arms and cover his shame with his own glorious robe. This is the truth about God. This is the God the Psalmist describes we are to fear that is described as awe of His unfailing love. We read, 

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103:10-12)

One fear causes us to hide in shame as we are afraid God is unloving and unfair. The other fear drives us to God in guilt as we stand in awe (fear) of His unending love and forgiveness. Which God do you see today? 

Where Does Prayer Fit In?

Have you ever been afraid to talk someone? A few years ago we were seated in one of our favorite Italian restaurantswebsite graphic in Chicago when I saw Jesse Jackson seated at the next table. His table was located a few feet behind my wife, Pam, who was seated across from me. No matter what I think of his political views, the fact that he was famous gave me pause. I sat with Pam trying to focus on our conversation, but I found myself preoccupied with Mr. Jackson; what he ordered for dinner, who he was talking with, and how he interacted with the waiter. In all of my preoccupation, I never seriously considered walking over to his table, introducing myself, and having a conversation with him. After all, he didn’t know or care about me.

When I completed my bicycle ride across America last summer to raise money and awareness for diapers, I had several visits in Washington D.C. that were arranged by Allison, program director for the National Diaper Bank Network. Our first appointment was with the president of the National Women’s Law Center. It quickly became obvious that she was more amused by my ride than interested in talking with me. Her demeanor changed, however, when I explained how I discovered the number one request of young mothers across the country was for diapers. She became engaged as she strategized with Allison for over an hour on ways to help these young mothers. What made the difference in her attitude? I believe it was when she realized I was there to talk about an issue close to her heart. 

It is difficult to talk with someone who is more influential, intelligent, and powerful than you… unless they know and care about you. It can be difficult for some people to believe that God actually wants to talk with them. After all, He is the most influential, intelligent, and powerful Being in the universe! But what makes Him approachable is His love for us. He invites us to talk with Him. In fact, He has a word for it: PRAYER. We are told in the Bible that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to take the punishment of our mistakes so we could talk with Him today and live with Him tomorrow. In the book, “Steps to Christ” page 93 we read that “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.” I believe this is true because in Revelation 3:20 we read that Jesus invites us to sit at His table to eat with Him. What a difference from my experience with the rich and famous on this earth! Jesus doesn’t just happen to sit next to me at a restaurant, but He invites me to HIS restaurant and wants me to sit with Him at His table. Unbelievable!

So where does prayer fit in? Well, let me say it this way… If you want a life fully committed to God, pray. If you want to know His calling in your life, pray. If you want to live the adventure God has planned for you, pray. If you want to love your enemies, pray. If you want to overcome temptation, pray. If you want to receive God’s grace, pray. If you want to be happy, pray. If life doesn’t seem fair, pray. If you’re happy, pray. If everything is going right for you, pray. If you have a great marriage, pray. If you have super parents, pray. If you love Jesus, pray. Ultimately, let’s pray because we all need an influential, intelligent, and powerful friend.

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