Fear That Makes Us Forget

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Fear That Makes Us Forget

Exodus 33:1–6

The Command to Leave Sinai

The Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’ ” Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

Philippians 3:13–4:1

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. “

Fear

When is it right for Christians to fear?

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With all the literature and Christian media out in the world that teaches us not to be afraid, and all of the media that strives to incite fear within us, it can be difficult to understand the relationship with fear that God intends us to have.

To begin with, we need to admit that fear is not inherently bad. It is a natural response to preserve life (typically our own). Here, natural does not automatically imply of the flesh or sinful. It means, God created us this way. One could argue that there was no fear until sin entered into the Garden of Eden, but you don’t find any eating (especially of meat), clothes, or even much communication between man and woman until after the fall. Basing the absence of fear on one passage here is a little shaky.

It becomes even more tenuous when faced with the number of times God Himself commands us to fear… usually Himself. But this is not really fear, it is actually a command to love, you might think. I’m not so sure. There are separate commands to love God, and these commands actually use the word translated as love as opposed to a separate word used for fear. Why use two separate words if you mean the same thing? Because fear is not a sin. It is not inherently wrong.

If I had to sum up what holy fear is, it would be the fear that keeps us humbly obedient to God. Let’s say we are on a cruise ship out in the middle of the ocean. Some of us can swim very well. Others cannot swim at all. Even those who are willing to dive into the ocean will keep to the water closest to the ship because they know, without the safety of that ship, they will eventually tire and drown. Or they might get eaten by sharks… who knows! Either way, fear keeps everyone connected to their source of life and safety. It is the same with God. Fear keeps us connected or at least close by Him. It prevents us from wandering off down wrong paths, on our own.

When is it wrong to fear?

Just because God commands us to fear Him, does not mean we should fear everything else too. Many forms of idolatry, in certain cases even the literal worship of idols was motivated by fear. I would suggest that much of the religious sacrifice of humans and infants, both in ancient times and today, was and is motivated by the fear of something other than God. Abortion is a social issue that is riddled with feelings of fear – both for those for and those against it.

There is a difference between fearing actual danger and simply fearing discomfort. Some people would rather die early than face the discomfort of getting a serious medical exam. Some people take their own lives rather than face the discomfort of shame. Have I blamed all the popular social evils on fear yet? Some people would rather join in with racist groups and propaganda rather than face the discomfort of losing friends and family, and possibly being persecuted themselves, for the sake of standing up for what is right. Some would rather fight because trying to reason makes them feel too vulnerable.1

Doing the right thing, following God’s will is often not the most comfortable or convenient choice. There would be no reason for salvation, redemption, and empowerment by the Holy Spirit if following God was easy. Most of the time, it feels more like the path less travelled. How do you tell the difference between holy fear about danger and faithless fear around discomfort?

Forgetting

Some of the answer is going to always be intuitive. Danger and discomfort are subjective concepts… not everything is dangerous for everyone all the time. Choosing whether something is dangerous or merely discomforting is not the difficult part. Being honest with ourselves about why we made that choice is where we sometimes get into trouble.

You see, the experience of fear sometimes makes us forget things accidentally. Put another way, the source of our fear distracts us from remembering certain things. Sometimes, they are things like appointments. A few days ago a pipe burst in my bathroom, flooding the room and pouring down into the basement. In all the excitement (and fear of plumbing bills) I completely forgot choir practice that evening, well after the plumbing problem was solved. The experience of fear caused me to forget. Sometimes this happens in more drastic ways, such as when people awake to a house on fire and get clear out into the street before remembering that they have children inside. Fear makes us forget.

Sometimes, under the oppression of fear, we intentionally forget things, or choose not to remember them. Many Christians, when faced with open hostility to their faith, intentionally forget the warning that Jesus gave us when he said:

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:28 NLT

We just don’t want to think about it, when we fear we might be in danger. We choose to stay back instead of stepping up in obedience. We choose to let fear lead us instead of walking by faith.

Remembering

Memory works both ways. Sometimes we accidentally forget. Other times we accidentally remember. We have moments when we get a chill, or we suddenly feel warm. We get goose pimples and shake, and many other symptoms that sometimes seem like the oncoming of illness… yet we know that is not it. We know that we have been in the presence of God, because He has reminded us of Himself, and sometimes a specific thing He has done.

Those moments, when God spontaneously enters our lives and reminds us, are powerful and important. Yet God does not intend to lead us around on a short leash of divine interventions. Intentional times, set aside to remember God’s love and power in our lives are not only more efficient… they are commanded. Indeed, the Last Supper, the Institution of Holy Communion, was given to us as a command to remember the mighty works of God in our world and in our lives.

Taking time each day to intentionally remember God is a way of choosing to go forward, choosing to let faith lead. We lose our reasons to fear when we let faith lead us, specifically our faith that God will be there for us every place He leads us. It is not faith in ourselves and getting our own way, it is a faith that wherever God commands us to go, He will be our guide and provider.

This is where Faith connects to Love. John tells us, there is no fear in love. We may begin our journey following God out of fear, because we are afraid of life without Him. As we grow however, we begin to follow Him out of love for what He has done and is doing in our lives.

What fears distract you today?

What love do you need to remember to help you choose faith?

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  1. That says something right there!

Prayer for personal discernment

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Prayer for personal discernment

John 8:31-38

True Disciples

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

The third prayer we pray is a prayer of personal discernment. As we listen to God’s guidance we begin to begin to compare our actions first, but eventually our very character with the truth that god speaks to us.

This prayer reaches from God, through our own spiritual ears, and into our hearts and leads us into what those following the 12 Steps refer to as a “moral inventory”. Jesus led His disciples in this practice routinely, often in debriefing moments after healing and teaching the crowds around Him. He tested them even as He led them to learn to test themselves.

Here in John’s gospel we are shown the important link between our disobedience and sin. We sin, not only out of rebellious choices, but perhaps even deeper, because we are slaves of sin. The popular song below reminds us that in Christ we have freedom from that slavery to sin and death, or more specifically as the song suggests, to fear. What does fear have to do with slavery to sin? Fear keeps us from looking at it.

From the bloody cinema classic, The Usual Suspects, we get the line: “The greatest trick the devil every pulled was convincing the works that he did not exist.” This article, from Heathwood Press examines the progression of such a notion, but ends up in a form of self-condemnation, tripping over the concept of the devil “myth”. Mythos does not mean make believe. It means does not describe the truth or falsity of a claim. It refers to the format it is communicated – specifically, as a story. (For example, any explanation of the creation of the works that begins “thousands of years ago, in a place far, far away” is told as myth whether it is followed by the story from Genisis, the Big Bang, or Star Wars. Scientific, verifiable evidence would be video footage of the actual event.) When we make an external evil non-existent, we lay the blame squarely on ourselves. While in one light, this provides motivation to change, it also begs the question: Why haven’t we learned to overcome evil as a society? if the answer to that is that we are unable, it logically determines something (or someone) holding a dominating power over our will. Hence, as Jesus says, if we win, we are slaves to it. Fear holds us back from confronting that fear – and our refusal to confront it leads to an inability to change.

One last example from the pagan works on the importance of naming the enslaving forces in our lives comes from Plato in his Allegory of a Cave. Truth that we cannot see has power over us. Truth that we will not see has just as much power, but it is more tragic. What Jesus gives US is the ability to see, little by little, that power that enslaves us, so that we, in turn, can return and ask Him for help.

What sin has enslaved you?

God’s War on Terror

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God’s War on Terror

Deuteronomy 7:17–26

17 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” 18 do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. The LORD your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20 Moreover, the LORD your God will send the pestilence against them, until even the survivors and the fugitives are destroyed. 21 Have no dread of them, for the LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. 22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you. 23 But the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great panic, until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand their kings over to you and you shall blot out their name from under heaven; no one will be able to stand against you, until you have destroyed them. 25 The images of their gods you shall burn with fire. Do not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, because you could be ensnared by it; for it is abhorrent to the LORD your God. 26 Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 7:17–26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Old Testament can be tricky for us to interpret and apply as Christians. It is hard to know which laws were canceled (or fulfilled) for us by Christ’s sacrificial death. It is often difficult to decipher which prophecies Jesus already fulfilled and which ones have yet to come. Here is a really quick over-generalized perspective on how to interpret these books:

  1. Genesis-Deuteronomy: The Torah, the Law of Israel was written like a combination of national history and constitution given to them by God. If you are not part of that people, and perhaps part of that land in the Middle East, these laws will not automatically apply to you. However, there is much to be learned about the nature of God and people in general, and you will not find a better example of what God’s desires for a holy nation are than within these stories and commandments.
  2. Joshua—Esther: These books are largely historical material about the rise and fall of Israel as a nation. Again, quite instructive about God’s character and the good and bad lessons we can learn from reading about another nation’s experience trying to be faithful to God, but not everything can be taken as directly applicable to ourselves.
  3. Job-Song of Solomon: It’s been debated whether Job is a historical book or not, but either way, it serves as an excellent example of how God’s people deal with suffering. Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes also deal with suffering, and many other parts of the human condition, but in the form of prayer or short teachings. Song of Solomon is a strange book compared to other biblical examples. It is a love poem that some have used as an example of God’s love for His people. For me personally, it may be the hardest book in the Bible to preach and teach well.
  4. The rest of the Old Testament, Isaiah-Malachi, are the prophets. These are collections of teachings by God’s messengers to the people of Israel, and occasionally their gentile neighbors, during the history of their nation and following their fall as they were taken into captivity. Their message could probably all be summarized as “Put your hope in God, not in yourselves and your own strength.” That is a message we can apply directly. The rest needs to be worked through contextually.

For more detailed info, check out some of these books

So, if you take all this into consideration when reading the passage above from Deuteronomy, I think we can understand this as a warning to God’s people (Israel), not to be led by fear, rather than a warning to everyone else, not to mess with Israel. It also says specifically that God would do the clearing ahead “little by little”, not that the people were to rush in and conquer everything overnight. Indeed, they would not be destroyed with weapons of war, but by their own fear and panic.

Moreover, this passage begins with a call to remember Egypt and the work God did there. The Hebrew people did not fight a war with Egypt, God did. Not only were the people kept out of it, but God gave the Egyptian leader(s) 10 chances to simply let their Hebrew slaves go to avoid any causalities. Each opportunity was met with miraculous signs. In the end, it was Pharaoh’s own stubbornness in fighting against God that led to his downfall and the release of the Hebrew people.

Does that mean we should never fight or defend ourselves? Probably not. But you won’t find justification for violence here unless it is in regard to cleaning out the idolatry from our own lives. That is one of the few things God appears to have little patience for in the Old Testament.

What enemies cause you fear?

What things in life to you fear to give up?

When should I fight? Part 1

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When should I fight? Part 1

This question is inspired by a blog post from Kevin Parido, a friend of mine and fellow writer.

I deeply desire to fight for the right things. I want to fight for the good, the right and whole things. I want fight the battle that needs to be fought not skirmishes that help no one.

But I need to be led to where the real battle lies.

We all know what it is to be angry. Some of us feel that emotion more often and at a deeper level than others. Your vision takes on a reddish tinge, your muscles contract, your heart races and your blood pressure rises. You are spoiling for a fight. Even if you never raise your fists, your verbal filters fall and your very communication takes on weaponized qualities. Men and women alike fall under the curse of our fight or flight instinct.

Anger is one of the easiest ways to manipulate people though. Stress is induced to push them into fight or flight mode in which flight (fear) causes them to run away from you while fight (anger) makes them run toward you. Scaring people can be used to try to herd people into a certain place or attitude, but it is unfocused and messy. Anger, on the other hand, is attractional and focused, so you can pinpoint the exact spot you want them to be and make them come there. Don’t believe me? Take a moment to watch this: (Warning! Violent content below!)

Ok, so that is a bit extreme and fictionall, but it makes the point. Kevin was able to lead Larry and Marv on through a series of painful experiences (literally lead them) through their anger. At any time, they could have turned away and gone home or picked another place to rob, or gone out for a pizza. Instead anger clouded their vision, leading them right to the next painful experience Kevin had prepared for them. Two grown men were outsmarted by a grade school kid because Kevin conquered the fight or flight instinct and they did not.

It is not just in fictional movies though. Leading through anger is one of the primary foundations of bullfighting.

The bull is lead to his death because the matador conquers his fight or flight response and the bull does not.

James 1:19–20 says this:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

It is a warning to avoid anger. So when should we fight? Not when the only reason is that we are angry.

Questions for a New Year

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I am convinced that we generally have more choices than we are aware of but often fewer than we wish. Last year was a strange year, and for some it was downright awful. Bouncing emotionally between killings between the police and rioters, to the Cubs winning the world series, to political upsets in the elections… There have been protests that ended in celebrations and protests that ended in tears. I saw an article that said for the first time Heroin killed more people than guns last year. It has been a crazy year for our nation – the kind of a year leaves my head and heart just spinning.

Rather than start the year off in a frenzy, I want to slow things down just a bit. Even if the world charges madly around me, I can at least find a way to settle myself. Do you remember what Jesus did in the storms? He slept. His faith in His Father was so secure that when others around Him thought they would all die, He was able to take a nap (Mark 4:35-41). When Jesus awoke, He calmed the storm with a two commands, “Silence” and “Be still”, and then He turned to His disciples with two questions.

“Why are you so afraid?” He asked. “Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus knew that storms happen on the inside as well as the outside. While the sky may have been clear, things were still cloudy in the hearts and minds of the disciples. He also knew that the storms on the inside are not settled by commands, but by questions. Why is this? I think it may be because God created us with the freedom to choose whether to follow Him or not, because He wanted us to work with Him in caring for our world (See Genesis 1-3). God doesn’t want to have to command us to follow Him. Instead He asks us and lets us decide for ourselves.

So let us begin this new year by dealing with the storms of 2016. Let us answer for ourselves the questions Jesus poses to us. Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? Remember, Jesus is right there in the boat with you. Once God’s questions calm us down, we are able to ask our own questions and see more clearly the choices we have ahead of us. It allows us to act with purpose rather than simply react to the chaos or bullying around us. I don’t want to be pushed into doing something I will regret. I want every action I make to be someething I can look back upon and say, “I did my best.” I want my deeds to be inspired by love and generosity, not fear and defensiveness. I want to live by faith, not by fright.

Fear

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The Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; against all the high mountains, and against all the lofty hills; against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. The haughtiness of people shall be humbled, and the pride of everyone shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day. The idols shall utterly pass away. Enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. On that day people will throw away to the moles and to the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts in the crags, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. Turn away from mortals, who have only breath in their nostrils, for of what account are they? Isaiah 2:12-22 (NRSV)

We worship the things we fear. Does that sound strange? Out of all the animal kingdom, all the beautiful creatures that abound, why would Israel create golden bats and moles as idols? Because those creatures represented the things that destroyed their livestock and crops and therefore were to be feared. Dagon, the fish god of the Philistines was not represented as a tame dolphin, but as a fearsome sea creature who wielded the potential to terrorize the fishermen out at sea. All these things were worshipped out of fear.

Making idols of these terrifying things was a way of trying to bed in control of them. Sacrifices offered to such idols was thought to appease these creatures and forces of nature, making the people feel safer. But this is an illusion of control that only created greater superstitious behavior. When small sacrifices did not seem to keep them safe and happy, instead of abandoning the idols, they made bigger sacrifices. It was the same kind of mindset that plagues gambling addicts today, willing to trade away anything for a “system” they have that they believe guarantees success.

God consistently sets Himself apart from these idols as the one from whom we really have reason to fear… and yet, the one whom comes to us gently. He is the Almighty who comes to us as an infant, lying in a manger-turned-cradle. He does not break idols with his fierceness, but merely by his gentle presence, for his kindness is stronger than any other spiritual force that can come against Him, or those He calls His own.

The Psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” He recognized that we have nothing to fear but God, and God does not desire our fear, but our love. God does not always rise up as a fearsome adversary, but sometimes he steps away and leaves us to our own devices.

Just look at the people of Israel during the time of the birth of Jesus. Those who were looking for God managed to find Him in the most unlikely of places – whether they came from near or far. Those who were not looking for God but were merely looking out for themselves never got to see Him at all and would suffer consequences on their own afterwards. It some cases it became a matter of life and death as those who had no room for the infant Jesus and who cowered in fear before King Herod lost their infant children as the king sent guards from house to house intending to kill the infant Jesus.

God wants us all to move beyond our fears of anything and everything. He wants us to find hope in Him. He wants us to worship Him, the only one who is truly in control and can change our lives for the better.

  • Where do you most experienced fear in your life?
  • What do you do when you experience fear?
  • How does worship bring you relief from fear?

I know who goes before me

I know who stands behind

The God of angel armies

Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever

He is a friend of mine

The God of angel armies

Is always by my side

Thursday December 1, 2016

Pumpkin Shells

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blue baby bonnets bursting

best bubbled better thirsting

yet covered over trusting

neither for the sake of hurting

bonnie babe in bubble wrapped

for fear of tremorous shaking clapped

infant in fetal face bereft

of feeling save of sickness sapped

 

palid glass into which staring

pride of Peter’s fate sat faring

fairly worn unborn endearing

unto garments others wearing

out with rampant rabid fever

rushing forth and back receiver

never more than silver severed

tongues for a faint believer

 

glib and guided down the shoot

into compacted soul to boot

a world away and lost on foot

left right as lure to loot

and pillage set atop unstable

shoddy pillar bent unable

to sustain a needing rabble

slavering to come to table

 

“FEED US FEED US ‘TIS YOUR WORTH”

“GRIND YOUR BONES TO STRETCH OUR GIRTH”

“DRESS YOUR DREAMS TO SUIT OUR SERVING”
“STEAM YOUR HOPES TO TEASE OUR MIRTH”

“LITTLE GIRL WHAT IS THE MATTER?”

“SET YOUR HEART UPON OUR PLATTER”
“LET HIM EAT FOR YOU A BETTER”
“HOME TO KEEP YOU EVER AFTER”

 

so in silence do I wonder

sitting yonder distant thunder

shocks of storms I sit and ponder

feeling heartstrings plucked asunder

there within my pumpkin shells

covered over very well

and painted with a fiendish grin

but knowing nothing smiles within