Freedom From Fear. Part I.

Freedom From Fear. Part I.

If you’re looking around these days there is plenty to be afraid of.  We have experienced unprecedented circumstances with COVID19 which has caused fear of the actual virus and ripple effects to the economy and countless personal ramifications around the country and globe.  The past few weeks have brought news images of racism, riots, heightened political saber-rattling and the list goes on.

Looking beyond the present panic though, fear is something that has plagued many people as far back as they can remember which affects every part of their lives and those closest to them.  Why are some driven by fear while others can face it and rise above it?  Why are there times when even the bravest among us are stymied by inner struggles?

Throughout the Bible we hear the voice of God calling out to his people to not give in to fear somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 times.  One powerful occasion is the Lord speaking to the leader, Joshua, with the call to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Yes, when we look at the divine connection we can see the fear in a different light. On the other hand, if we are merely the accidental byproducts of evolution with no eternal and divine purpose, then people may be right to fear. After all, the honest conclusion is that it is all about the survival of the fittest in this life alone.

However you cut it though, there is an element of fear in the hearts of mankind that we must deal with.  Questions arise such as: Where does fear come from? How does fear affect us and how can we move past it?  Those are the questions that I will address over the next three posts.

In considering the plague of fear, I am reminded of the differences in how the first two kings of Israel faced evil and danger in 1 Samuel chapter 17 which occurred around 1000 BC.  At the time, Saul was king and he and his entire army faced off with the Philistines and their champion, Goliath.  The text tells us that Saul and the army of Israel were “dismayed and terrified” as they looked at the evil and danger.  David, who would later become king himself, focused his eyes and heart above the fray onto God and declared that it was not “by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”  With that, David charged the danger head-on and won the victory for Israel even though he was no match physically for the Philistine warrior. 

Instead of looking around at all the potential fears of this realm, David looked up to the creator of the world and overcame it.  I want you and me to live that way as well. God wants us to live that way.  Paul exhorted the young evangelists, Timothy to not fear because “God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.”  Because of Christ, we can move from a life of fear to a life of faith.

My Hope After Lockdown!

My Hope After Lockdown!

Dread is probably too tough of a word.  But I am a little concerned about my first day back at the gym when everything opens up again from the COVID19 lockdown.  I’m trying to do some exercise now, but it’s not the same and when I finally make it back to the weights and inclined treadmill – I think it’s going to kill me.

Anticipation is the right word though when I think about the first Sunday morning back with my church family.  Like many churches, we are doing what we can with technology to share my sermons and stay connected, but it’s not the same. Yes, life has been different the past six weeks and thus people have been forced to take stock of what’s important and remember deeper truths.   I hope that when we move out of this dark valley we will see central truths about the church as well.  Though there are more, here are five of those truths about the authentic church I hope people will see.

1. The True Church is the People.  

Are we closed or open for business?  If church is merely a Sunday morning gathering club, then yes, we’re quite closed right now.  Yet when we unpack the word, church, it identifies the people of God who are called out of the world to himself. The church is the people and not the building or program.  I hope we will see that while we may not be able to meet together in large numbers, we are still called to live out our mission for Christ and those around us.

2. The True Church is a Team

Christian work is not reserved for the professional leaders while everyone else does their worldly job and merely shows up on Sunday morning to be taught spiritual mysteries.  Rather, Paul notes in Ephesians 4:11 that the role of leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Coach and player might be the right feel here.  Every Christian is filled with gifts and talents needed to advance the ball down the field as we work together.  I hope that when this is done every follower of Jesus will see their unique and essential role in the Kingdom.

3. The True Church is a Family

“God’s Family” is the actual phrase Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 4:10 and I have loved seeing some of that play out in my local church.   I have seen our church family checking on and supporting each other, continuing to support the mission financially, and the numerous little acts of love like when a team of volunteers went out to sing from the sidewalk to seniors who cannot get out at all.  We are loving each other the way God intended for us to do and I hope that this will continue with an even greater fervency in the future.  People need a family and that is what the church is.

4. The True Church is a Life-Saving Station.

After the resurrection of Jesus, he gave the first believers what we now refer to as the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.  Here he called them to make disciples the world over.  Some will suggest that this commission was meant for the first disciples or professionals in ministry.  But the context of the New Testament does not lend itself to such an interpretation.  On the contrary, the apostle Paul referred to everyone in the church as “Ambassadors of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:20.  As an ambassador, our mission is the mission of our king.  Jesus declared his mission in Luke 19:10 as one of seeking and saving those who are lost. I hope that we will see that when Christians leave the church assembly on Sunday morning they are truly leaving the lifesaving station to go out into the world to reach the lost just like the Coast Guard leaves their shelter in a perilous storm to save drowning sailors.                                

5. The True Church is not to be Taken for Granted.

Historic closed door leading to Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens, Greece

The first gatherings will be exciting when the lockdown is lifted. The question though will be the following months as life yawns into routine.  It’s sad, but how often do we decide to attend, or not attend, the local assembly based on how we feel that day or what we may or may not get out of it for ourselves?  When we do this we forget the purposes of the true church.  When we do this it becomes less important and is eventually dropped to the bottom of our priority list. This has been the case many times in history dating back to the first century where the author of Hebrews exhorted the first Christians to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but to encourage one another.” In thinking about our time apart, maybe we can remember that in some countries, today and throughout history, Christians have been forbidden by atheistic or Muslim governments from gathering together. When this season passes, I hope we can see how much of a blessing the weekly gathering of the saints is and work to never take it for granted again.

At this writing, I don’t know when the restrictions will be lifted.  The opening may be gradual and I’m sure new safety efforts will be put into place.  But it is my hope that whenever and however we return, it will be with a renewed passion and energy for the body of Christ.  Jesus built the church and the church is his bride.  God’s heart is for the church and I hope that when this season begins to draw to a conclusion, your heart will be drawn closer to the church as well.

The Holy Next Step!

The Holy Next Step!

Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re at the end of the rope is to trust God and just do the next thing. A while back on a Sunday afternoon, I was physically exhausted and emotionally spent after preaching that morning. I was also handling a number of church projects and concerns that felt like a mountaineering backpack filled with lead, all the while knowing I had an important meeting that night. But after a short crash on my bed and watching my favorite football team get beat, I threw some water on my face, stood still for a moment, asked Jesus for physical help, and put one foot in front of the other. 

We don’t see that a lot in the Bible, but that’s pretty much what life is. We like the action stories of David whopping Goliath, but we silently ignore all the days that David was in the desert waiting on God. Eventually, God worked through that normal Hebrew teenager who was stepping out in faith on a daily basis.

It was a good meeting and teaching time that Sunday night. I was still physically beat when I got home, but there was more of a smile on my face than when I left. I’m not sure what caused the positive change in my demeanor that night. It could have been something as simple as the additional dopamine in my brain chemistry caused by the physical action of getting up and moving. Maybe it was a swath of encouragement from the Holy Spirit. Or maybe it was just a sense that if I kept climbing, I’d eventually reach the summit of the mountain, and that’s a good thought.

What is the next step before you today?  What will it cost you to take it?  What will it cost you if you do not take it?

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You can find more encouraging narratives in the book, Confessions: “Finding Hope Through One Pastor’s Doubt.”