Monday, September 28, 2009

What Are You Afraid Of?

"Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear." (Job 41:33)

I read somewhere, "Some of us are defined by our fears." I considered this to be a discerning observation at first. Then I realized, all of us are defined by our fears in one way or another, depending on our response. According to this verse, there was only one creature on earth completely devoid of fear: something called "leviathan." And if you read the chapter, you'll understand why! All the rest of us, says the Psalmist, are subject to the foul feeling of fear.

The only exception to its negativity is the fear of righteous judgment, whether from a human instrument (Rom.13; Heb.12:9) or Divine edict (Psl.33:8); and the healthy fear of pain or harm that keeps us from doing foolish things like putting our hand on a hot stove. But either way, good or bad, fear is a given with all of us.

Individual fears are part of our default setting. Not our temperament, but our tendency; our immediate response to sudden or threatening circumstances. Some fears fall into the category of phobias, but that's not where I'm going here. To me, fears do not have to be unreasonable to be intolerable. They come in all shapes and sizes, and carry their own personal legitimacy for us. Here are a few of the more subtle ones:

Fear of failure ~ This is the dread that keeps us from trying something new or difficult. I've seen it in all ages; and undealt with, it only becomes more pronounced with age. In its modified version, it gives up after one or two tries at anything, assuming further attempts are too risky. We could say, it is an indication of poor self-esteem; but in the case of a child of God with all the power of God Himself at his or her disposal, it looks more like poor God-esteem. Everyone fails at some things. It's simply a matter of trying—really trying—till we find the thing or things in which we can excel. But fear of failure will rob us of this achievement every time.

Fear of embarrassment ~ This probably goes along with fear of failure, because if one has an overinflated idea of success, failure can seem unbearable. But the truth is, embarrassment is relative. What may cause me untold chagrin might only bring a good-natured chuckle from you. In today's permissive society, what made our grandparents blush is sometimes considered only natural. What made Ezra blush—iniquity—hardly draws a headshake (Ezra 9:6). Still, when you or I respond awkwardly, or commit a social blunder, or appear inept, it is easy to choose not to speak or act at all. This keeps many of us from speaking out against wrong or sharing our Faith with others. But we should realize that sometimes it's a matter of choosing whether we want to be ashamed before this world or ashamed before God (1 John 2:28).

Fear of rejection ~ This is an especially devastating fear because it strangles and sometimes even excludes relationships. Tennyson wrote, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." But this concept would be foreign to an individual whose confidence is dependent upon the acceptance of others. It can manifest itself in different ways, such as refusal to engage in conversation with someone we are unsure of, suspicion of being snubbed, or a constant need for reassurance. But if we can grasp the concept of our unconditional acceptance by God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, surely the prospect of real, or only imagined, rejection by anyone else will cause us little concern.

There are more I could mention, and some fear(s) of your own will come to mind, no doubt. The point is, debilitating fears like these are all prime prospects for 1 John 4:18. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." When you and I suffer inordinately from fears like the ones mentioned, it's not because we're emotionally deficient; it's because we're spiritually deficient, when it comes to love. When we are more fearful of how we look before others or how accepting they are of us, we are unconsciously saying to God that their regard is more important to us than His.

We sometimes say of someone who seems to show few signs of these irksome fears that he or she is "comfortable in their own skin"; but in the case of the Believer, it can be said they're confidence lies far beyond their skin and goes all the way to their souls. They have learned to bask in the assurance of God's love and are allowing Him to perfect their own love.

I want to be "made perfect in love," because I agree with the apostle; fear is an awful torment. I speak from experience.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who But Thee?

"Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee."  (Psl. 73:25)

I don't think these are words of resignation but, rather, ones of realization. They were not said with a deep sigh; they were uttered from an abiding certainty. David didn't say them because he had no one else, but because he had discovered he didn't need anyone else. When it comes to Heaven, we may have loved ones and friends there, and the roll call of saints may be illustrious, but you will not find a savior or mediator among their ranks. Don't expect help from the Virgin Mary, as blessed as she may be. Nor can Abraham or Moses, whose petitions were so powerful on earth, gain you any leverage at the throne of God. No, when push comes to shove, and when there is eternal business at hand, we, like the Psalmist, have no one in Heaven but Jesus Christ.

The first half of the verse is true for all of us, but the second part cuts the number down sizably. We may realize and even rejoice in the fact that we have One in Heaven to represent us before the Father, but only you can say whether you desire Him above all others on earth. For many of us, we want Jesus and...

I once heard a woman, whose husband was having heart problems, remark that as long as she had her husband and the Lord, it would be all she needed. Perhaps I chose an inopportune time to speak, but, nevertheless, I made the comment that it was good to know, when all is said and done, we only need the Lord. At this, the woman quickly spun on me and replied, "No, I need my husband, too!" Frankly, I was a little taken back. I'd like to think I love my husband every bit as much as she loves hers, but I'd also like to think that the God Who gave him to me in the first place would be sufficient enough for me should He choose to call him home to Heaven.

No one on this earth can satisfy us like the God who created us. And the sooner we learn this, the sooner we'll stop looking for others to be what only He can be, and do what only He can do. If Jesus Christ is our only hope in Heaven, it seems to me He should be our only requirement on earth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seeing is...Accountability

Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth."  (John 9:41)

Two little words: "I see." We say them often, and with hardly any appreciation of their significance and consequence. Jesus had just healed a blind man; and the Pharisees, with their usual flair, had managed to turn an occasion for rejoicing into one of interrogation and intimidation. They were like many today who are so hung up on delving into the "why" of behavior, they can't seem to find the time to simply change (v.2).

The subject of blindness turns from the physical to the spiritual in the last few verses of the chapter, when Jesus says to these nit-picking Pharisees, "For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and they which see might be made blind" (v.39). This declaration evoked an immediate reaction from the Pharisees that seems to drip with sarcasm: "Are we blind also?" (emphasis supplied)

And at this point, Jesus gives them (and us) a principle that is found over and over in the Word of God: Illumination adds both advantage and accountability.

Make no mistake; this is serious business.

In a verse in Luke that begins with a concept, whether taken literally or spiritually that is sobering, to say the least, our Lord adds these ominous words: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required..." (Luke 12:48). By insisting, "We see," Jesus said, these Pharisees could be assured that their failure to give Christ the recognition of Lordship He was entitled to, meant that their sin was far greater than the sin of those whom they would have considered to be inferior, when it came to spiritual matters. Claiming 20/20 vision only emphasized the enormity of their blunders.

Someone once said to me, referring to a mutual friend, "He is way too accountable." And I'm afraid the same thing could be said of many of God's children who chronically make poor decisions, enter into unhealthy relationships, or come to unbiblical conclusions. If you are one who falls into this category, be aware that you cannot claim either ignorance or blindness; and therefore, as Jesus said, "Your sin remains."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Walk With the King

"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3)

The Christian life, in its simplest form, is a walk (Micah 6:8). And like any walk, it has a beginning and a destination. From our standpoint, it begins when a man, woman, boy, or girl takes responsibility for his or her sin, receives forgiveness through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, and takes Him and Lord of their life. From then on, it becomes a walk of faith that culminates in the very Presence of God. It is not characterized by aimless ambling, but, rather, purposeful progression. Amos gives us the one overriding requirement: agreement.

How can you and I determine if we are truly walking with the Lord? Here are two prerequisites for companionable walking, I think:

1. You both have to be walking in the same direction. Jesus claimed to be the only Way to God (John 14:6); therefore, the notion that all roads lead to Heaven makes about as much sense as saying all roads lead to Canada. No, some roads lead to Mexico; just the opposite. And, as believers, it is possible to be stuck in one pet doctrinal rut or always in the same gear when it comes to our service to God, perhaps only moving in circles, as Israel did for forty years. And it goes without saying (though I will), if we knowingly defy plain, Biblical directives, we are wandering solo down potentially treacherous trails. Here's the thing: When two people are going in the same direction, they see that same things.

2. Not only that, you both have to be going at the same speed. Here's where it can get a little tricky. Sometimes my husband and I walk together, and unless he purposely paces himself, or I purposely take longer strides, it's not long before he says something to me that I miss, because I'm lagging behind. In order for two people to actually walk together, one must automatically set the pace and the other gauge his or her steps accordingly. This second requirement is nearly as important as the first one. If you or I purpose to walk with God, we will have to decide which of us is going to set the pace. (Hint: This is where we find out who is actually Lord in the relationship.) It would seem that the will of God not only has a framework, but also a time frame; and in order to stay within it, we must gauge our steps to His. If we are not allowing God to set the pace, as well as the path, in our lives, we run the real risk of walking alone, for all practical purposes.

You and I have the glorious privilege of walking with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We should make sure we're walking in the same direction, at the same speed, always allowing Him to set the pace. I used to listen to a wonderful Bible teacher on the radio, who is now in Heaven, and who always ended each program with these words, good advice for all of us:

"Be a blessing today, and walk with the King!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Eat What's On Your Plate

“And there came a voice to him saying, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:13-14)

Obedience to God almost always means accepting change. Granted, it may sometimes require adherence to the status quo; but, more often, it means breaking rank. In Peter’s case, God’s drop-down smorgasbord of “common or unclean” animals (vv.11-12) was not really meant to change the way Peter ate but the way he thought. As we know from the preceding verses, Cornelius, a Gentile, was, at that very minute, on his way to see Peter. So God was working on both ends. Not only did Cornelius need a change of heart; so did Peter.

I see in this chapter several steps we may need to go through as believers in order to come to a change in thinking about a previously held conviction, idea, or (as in Peter's case) prejudice. First, there is a sense that something is not right—a restlessness, if you will. For Peter, it was hunger (v.10), and that is often the way. We become hungry for more than the narrow experience our nominal Christian life provides us, and we wonder, “Are there greener pastures of fellowship with God and clearer paths of righteousness?”

Then into this restlessness, God, in His mercy, seems to open to us opportunities down trails we would not have thought to venture onto otherwise (v.11). It is nothing short of a revelation. And here is where our previously undisturbed self-righteousness comes face to face with something we had always considered to be “common and unclean." And, alas, we, like Peter, protest, “Not so, Lord!” Rejection. We are like the bride in Song of Solomon, who hesitates to open the door for her Beloved, because, as she says, “I have washed my feet: how shall I defile them” (5:3). To Peter’s squeamishness God answers, “Hey, if I say someone, or something, is clean, it’s clean!" (v.15)

Peter’s initial rejection (and God’s vehement counter argument) is followed by one more stage, before he finally submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in this matter (v.34-25). It is indecision: “Now while Peter doubted in himself…” (v.17). For Peter, this would be one giant step of faith, nearly as hard as the one that took him out of the boat and onto the water (Matt.14:29). In the end, he was able to see beyond the threat of change, and he was better for it. And so was Cornelius, I might add.

Now, let's bring this truth home. If you and I are able to see some of the changes we are presented with for what they truly are—nudges from God, we will realize the will of God in a way we never could have otherwise. But for that to happen, we’re going to have to be willing to eat what God puts on our plates…no matter how hard it may be to swallow!

"Not so, Lord." The first two words cancel out the last one; you can't have it both ways.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Light of the Body

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light."  (Matthew 6:22)

A few years ago, I was given a compliment that cheered my heart for more than the obvious reason. It came from an unassuming young girl who happened to be sitting next to me in an English class I was part of that term. "I love your eyes," she said. Then she thought a minute and said, "They're young eyes." I thanked her sincerely. When you're not really young, anything young-looking about you is a plus!

Later, when I (smugly) related the incident to my husband, he reminded me of this verse in Matthew six. As you may or may not know, the eye is not really a disperser of light, but a receiver. Yet God calls it "the light of the body." Not because it originates there, but because it accumulates there.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "single-eyed" person as one who is "sincere, honest, or straight-forward." This would be in contrast to the one in verse twenty-three who has an "evil eye," rendering their whole body "full of darkness." The way we see things has much to do with the way we look at them, if you catch my meaning.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29); but others said of Him, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber..." (Matt. 11:19). Same Man—two completely different visions. The former saw Him with a "single" eye, but the latter, with an "evil" one. And make no mistake; the way we see Him is the way we will portray Him to others. If He is vague, limited, unfair, or harsh in our own eyes, that is the way He will come across to those with whom we interact. But on the other hand, if He is all-powerful, fair, merciful, and most important, real, to our way of seeing, He will veritably shine through us, like the Sun through a window (Malachi 4:2).

If my eyes looked young to that young woman, it must have been because they reflect the eternal life that lives within me. Beside this verse in Matthew, you will find these words, in my Bible: "A single eye steadily fixed upon one object will make the path luminous." And as long as my eyes are "steadily fixed" upon the Eternal Son of God, the Light of the World, they will shine a clear path before me...and they will never cease to be young.

As you know, we are often able to see our own reflection in the eyes of another; and my desire is that this world will be able to see a reflection of Jesus Christ in mine, till they close in death.