This is not what I had in mind. My original intent was to pick up where I had left off when I returned after a summer break. Then last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally stumbled into President Biden’s address regarding the chaos in Afghanistan, and then it happened; I strayed into waters I usually don’t swim in by sharing some political thoughts in social media outlets.
While I have my opinions, my point here is not to offer political commentary. Partly because I recognize I am not all that brilliant in this realm, but mostly because I am convinced that the hope for humanity lies in a changed heart by Jesus and not a political debate. Instead, the significant angst and cause for my concern had to do with the most botched Biblical connection I’ve seen used by a President for political gain.
The past few years, I saw several people blast President Trump for his use and misuse of scriptural passages, holding up a Bible, and then infer his insertion of the sacred text was merely a political stunt. They may be correct. While I have seen a sprinkling of responses to President Biden’s complete disconnect of Biblical context, such as here, most of the media waves have been silent or focused on the political.
Biden likened God’s call of the prophet Isaiah to the American Servicemen and women responding to the nation’s call of sacrificial service for those who missed the blunder. You can read the text here or watch it here. As I heard those words, which were inserted probably by a speechwriter, I was not only shocked but wondered how in the world anyone beyond a pre-school education could believe that such a disconnected interpretation would fly.
Does Biden or his staff not see this? Do they not actually grasp the error themselves, or maybe believe no one will check up on them? I assume that someone merely inserted the phrase for Biden with the hope that his address would pull some Christian or Hebrew religious people to his side.
In short, the context of Isaiah 6 is that of God sitting above the throne of human affairs when Isaiah is confronted with God’s holiness. In this exchange, Isaiah sees the evil of his nation and his own sin and responds with fear and trembling. The Steve Hinton interpretation? – “Wow – You’re big and Holy, and I’m small and sinful – I’m dead, please have mercy on me.” From here, God extends grace and mercy toward Isaiah’s heart of repentance. God then calls for someone to carry this message of repentance and hope to the nation, and Isaiah responds. You can read the entire text here.
So why do I bring this up? To merely point out the error of those in public leadership? I have done that before. However, my drive here is to show that we will find hope for today if we correctly receive God’s Word.
As noted, the immediate context was God’s coming judgment on Israel and his prophet, Isaiah, extending an offer for grace to those who would repent of their sin. If we are to make an application today, then we must do what Isaiah did. Instead of blaming others, we must humbly acknowledge our own sin. Therein lies the big rub; we don’t like the words repent or sin when they must be applied to ourselves. But yet, repentance is what we must do.
God is indeed full of awe, and the mere insertion of the Bible periodically in our lives does not impress him. If we are going to do business with the divine, then we must come on his terms. God is both perfect in his holiness and his love, and for us to genuinely grasp grace, we must see the seriousness of our sin. We must own it and confess it.
The call of repentance also reminds me of another passage that is superficially quoted from time to time by many Christians and Jews in America and the West. In the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14, as Solomon dedicated the ancient Hebrew temple, God promised him that if “my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The immediate context for this passage was for Israel, but if we are to apply it today, it would be for the Church and not the nation of America. Prayer is often the main thought here. However, an attitude of humility and turning from our wicked ways must accompany that prayer for deliverance. Hope for America, for any land, begins first by a revival among those who know God and then an awakening among the populace to see their need for God’s grace and respond accordingly.
That is why I have jumped back into a season of writing today on this topic. There may indeed be hope for our confusing time, but it will only come in restoration from God, not our politics. The mercy which God extended personally to Isaiah came right after his confession and repentance. For us, God’s greatest act of mercy and grace came in the sacrifice that Jesus gave us on the cross in his death, burial and resurrection. That healing grace is available for all who would come to God. For that grace to mean anything, though, we must first see our need for it.
I have no problem with politicians using scripture as long as it is in the appropriate context. In truth, I do not know their most inner motive. But when the disconnect of scripture is so apparent, it is clear that abuse of God’s word has taken place. On the other hand, healing can happen when God’s word is properly expounded to the world, and an appropriate response is realized.
Interestingly enough, while clearing out some old files in the garage yesterday, I came across some notes from my first preaching class in college that seemed so relevant. I glanced at a quote given by my professor and immediately took the providential cue from the statement knowing its application for our day. The topic dealt with clear teaching from scripture in times of need, and the quote came from the German theologian Karl Barth as he was being forced out of his home in 1935. In a final address to his students, he noted that the only hope their country had was proper “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!” The theological term exegesis is simply the study of appropriate interpretation and application of scripture, which is needed today.
So the call here is not merely for President Biden or other politicians, though that would be good, but rather for all of us to take up and read and head the word of God and follow Jesus with all our hearts.
One of the reasons I pray and ask God to spare America is not actually for my comfort, but that we might continue to send out missionaries to those across the waters that need Jesus and the Bible. So, yes, I do pray for awakening and revival. Yes, I believe it can happen.
It’s been said so many times; “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over with!” I can feel the pain. But I’m also a realist on this occasion. The truth is that many of the issues that cause us angst may not simply go away with turning the calendar page. Yes, there are some promising signs with COVID vaccines. The political drama is really up for grabs depending on what your bent is on that one. Regardless of present feelings of hope, we just do not know the certainty of the next 12 months.
Along these lines, I am reminded of an outstanding documentary about the Civil War by Ken Burns. The connection here is with the narrator highlighting hope-filled words in late December of 1863 from people looking forward to the new year. But we know now that the war tarried on until May of 1865 with horrendous days they could not have imagined in those quiet closing moments of 1863.
Sure, it’s not a bad idea to pause and consider the journey into a new year. However, if we entrust our hope to external circumstances, we have no complete assurance that anything will be different. So how do we move forward?
Coming not only to the conclusion of 2020, but also to this study on fear, I want to give some hope. The starting block for the race begins in our hearts and minds – in our thinking. For those in Christ, we can and must choose to think differently. Those who are still circling the field on Jesus, consider how God has called us to live differently in His eternal Kingdom and ask yourself if that’s not how you would truly desire to live. While there are more, here are five quick pro-active ways we can shift our thinking from fear to faith and courage.
1. We must Remember Past Victories
It’s easy to fall into despair when surrounded with sorrow. The problem is our focus, though. The antidote to the fear pandemic begins when we deliberately turn our attention from the worldly situation to something above. The first step is to remember what God has already done in the past. We can take courage when we remember the past victories that God has already carried us through. David noted in Psalm 77:11 that, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” In seasons of anguish, the psalmist encouraged himself by recounting and thanking God for his past provisions.
Praising God for past victories is also something Paul picked up on in Philippians 4:6, where he urged the first Christians to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” It is so easy to forget and come to God only with our asking. Yet, in our deliberate remembrance of God’s past faithfulness and thankfulness for them, we are encouraged to keep on going forward.
There is an old appropriate church hymn that carries a refrain of, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings and see what God has done.”
2. We must Reprogram our Thinking
At first, this may seem redundant. But the point is to purposefully and regularly monitor what is going through our hearts and minds. Paul notes that we must not “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” We are constantly bombarded by the “pattern of this world” due to the 24/7 news feeds available to us through our modern media. The constant negative feed from these sources is a superb breeding ground for fear.
By contrast, the call is to pursue the positive deliberately. Again we can learn from the scriptures which, state that, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” One practical option here would be to daily write out 5 to 10 things that are indeed grand and glorious in our lives whether that be something in nature to the simple smile of someone who loves us.
3. We Must Rely on the Team
The blessing I have in life, next to Jesus, is that of being committed to a local church family and some brothers in Christ, all of whom are committed to me. God created us for community, and we need each other. The answer in this mix, though, is not so much what encouragement we can get from others, but what encouragement we can give. Again, going back to the old apostle Paul, he urged the first church to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing.”
By team, I mean the local church family. A great example of how this plays out is a football team. The difference between a football team and a track team is their interdependence on one another. Regardless of how well a quarterback throws the ball and how fast the wide receiver catches the ball and runs, they are doomed to defeat unless they unite with the other players who are all working together. When they function as a team and encourage each other, they run the ball down the field together and win the victory — kind of unlike what the Dallas Cowboys did this year.
4. We must Resolve to Do
Action is the principle here. It is easy to clinch one’s fist and shout at other people, policies, and forces that stand against us in this life. It is quite another thing to get up and do something to help others. This is especially true when no one sees what we are doing. Serving with no attention. One verse that I have submitted to memory this year is Romans 12:21, in which we are urged to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Imagine what 2021 would look like when more people are concerned with helping others rather than expecting others to serve them.
5. We must Recognize the Big Picture of Eternity
I don’t want to come across flippant on this one, but the harsh truth is that we will all die sometime. The ancient scriptures noted in Hebrews 9:27 that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” The text tells us two firm facts. The first is that death is inevitable and we need to face it, and the second is that there is something after death. Yes, Heaven and Hell are realities. What we do now has eternal ramifications when our hearts stop beating.
So the better question deals with the manner of our life rather than preserving more time on the planet. If there is no eternity, then people rightly should fear death, dangers, and dreads of this world. After all, there is nothing left. Paul got that and even noted that if there is no resurrection, then Christians are to be pitied above all people. Yet, because Jesus did rise from the grave proving not only his divinity, but the veracity of all he said, we can cling to what the Bible shouts about eternity as well.
So many times this past year, I have been drawn back to the first followers of Jesus. The original Christians in the book of Acts and those in the early centuries come to mind. Quite often in the Roman Empire, while others fled the plagues of death, many Christians remained behind to serve those who suffered. They physically and practically overcame the evil around them by doing good.
Is that not what we need more of today? Regardless of what 2021 brings, how can life not be better when regular folks, like you and me, live with faith above fear in our sphere of influence?
For me, yes, I am looking forward to 2021 and am attempting to map things out on my wall calendar with hope. However, real hope is with Christ ruling in our hearts regardless of what is unfurloughing around us. Yes, there have been many reasons for fear in 2020, and there will probably be many more to come. But we can live differently, and that is my hope for you and me.
As we wind down this study on fear, I am reminded of another Civil War illustration. While fear reigned in so many during those years, one General stood out as an example of courage. His troops began to refer to him as Stonewall after one early battle because he would not flinch in the face of danger. Thomas Jackson was from the south though not a supporter of slavery. He was a man of deep faith, which influenced every area of his life. Shortly after the battle of Bull Run, where his courage shined, an adjutant asked him for this source of bravery. The short exchange went as such:
“General, how is it that you can keep so serene with a storm of shells and bullets raining about your head?”
Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all men would be equally brave.”
Wow – that is the way all Christians should live. When our hope is placed first in Christ, we can live differently from the world around us. The Bible notes that perfect love casts out all fear. There is no greater love than what Jesus did for us on the Cross. Because of that, we can indeed journey into 2021, turning our fear into faith. That is my hope for the new year. So be strong, my friend, be strong!
On the verge of a historic election and review of a painful year, I came across another article depicting the adverse effects of overzealous societal lockdowns due to COVID concerns. On this occasion, senior adults in Colorado were demonstrating because the authorities had prolonged their separation from loved ones. Many stated that they would rather die of the disease than loneliness. For them, the emotional pain of being so rigidly separated from family is worse than the fear of catching COVID and dying from it.
From the very beginning of this threat, I have said that we need to live with a balance between courage and concern. We don’t want to live in fear on the one hand, and, on the other, we want to be aware of just not doing stupid things. A slew of young adults thrashing around in an indoor rave party? Yep, that’s a stupid decision. We need to be wise. On the flip side, allowing fear to dictate our lives’ details will drive us to make poor decisions and lead us into slavery. The wise Solomon noted that the “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
As we’re progressing in this discussion over fear, we’ve noted that when we no longer have the right reverence of God, we begin to embrace a wrong fear of man and the situations of mankind. These fears may be a physical threat, such as something in nature or harm from another human being. This human harm may be an actual attack or their withholding something good from us that we desire. When we live with these fears controlling us, we begin to make poor choices and eventually pay the consequences of those choices. Like many pieces of life, the Bible is chuck full of people who gave into fear, even great people of faith at times, and had to deal with the ripple effects of their choice. While there are countless illustrations of this principle of the wrong fear leading to failure, here are three quick ones that almost immediately come to mind.
1. Abraham lied about his wife to save his life. That’s right, and he actually did it twice. The history tells us that the patriarch was a friend of God and the model of faith by taking God at His word and stepping out to follow him. But shortly after his call of faith, Abraham went down to Egypt because of a famine, even though God told him to go to another place. He then told the Egyptians that his wife, Sarah, was his sister because he feared they would kill him to take her. He did the same thing years later in Genesis chapter 20, and his son, Isaac, learned the lesson of fear and likewise lied about his wife, Rebekah, as well in Genesis 26:7. They were afraid of physical death and thus chose to sin against the closest person to them to save their lives.
Fear of physical danger from the elements or what someone might physically do to us can trap us and tempt us to do what we know is wrong. It can also prevent us from doing what we know is right such as when Peter in the New Testament refused to acknowledge his allegiance to Jesus because of fear. Fear can also be what others will withhold from us or say to us if we do not give in to their demands. Thus, anxiety can lead to unhealthy broken boundaries and dysfunctional relationships because people are afraid to say no.
2. In Israel’s history, King Saul found himself in a tight situation with the Philistine army closing around him. 1 Samuel 13 records that out of fear, Saul offered up the burnt offering to God, which was a task reserved for the priests and prophets to do. On this occasion, Samuel was the prophet and the one responsible for the sacrifice. A keyword here is probably panic. Saul surveyed his situation through the eyes of men and saw the threat with no sign of Samuel being around, so he made the sacrificed himself. Immediately after Saul’s actions, Samuel showed up and informed him that his kingship would not endure because of his lack of faith and falling to fear.
Fear can also drive us to a controlling mentality when we fail to trust in God’s time and reason. A controlling attitude may result in all kinds of dysfunctional relationships and missing out on God’s best because we took matters into our own hands.
Thinking of Abraham again, we see that he chose this path when he took Hagar in Genesis 16 in addition to Sarah with the hopes of producing the promised son through her. Hagar’s son was Ishmael, and to this day, we still experience tension in the world between the offspring nations that came from him and Isaac. Islam and Israel.
3. Another reality is that when we give in to fear, we can also miss out on the great victories that God may have for us. Going again to Israel’s history, we see that the first generation that came out of Egypt mostly missed the promised land as they feared the present inhabitants even though God told them they would be victorious. Generations later, we see that Gideon is about to go into war, and shortly before the battle took place, he announced to the army that “anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.” Every time I read those numbers, I wonder what the 22 thousand men thought years later. I wonder if they kicked themselves for their decision to turn back and to miss out on the victory that God brought to his people.
The truth is that when God calls us into something, it will most usually mean stepping out of our comfort zone and bring risk. It may mean we might actually suffer or even die. On the other hand, when we know that we are his children and made for eternity, we can be at rest regardless of what happens in this realm, knowing what lies ahead in Heaven. Then there is, of course, the reality that there are times when God brings us glorious results in the here and now, such as David’s victory over Goliath, which we noted in the first post over fear.
In thinking again about the tensions of COVID and everything else in 2020, the reality is that a whole lot of folks will wake up discouraged and possibly fighting fear Wednesday morning following the Presidential election. Regardless of who wins, half the country will experience a propensity to panic. But for the child of God, we know that we do not have to live like the rest of the world does. We do not have to be driven by dread and fear. We do not have to allow fear to rule us. So how do we move from fear to faith? Well, that will be the subject of our next post.
Like many Americans I’ve been frustrated by the attitudes and actions of my fellow citizens since Donald Trump was elected and took office. But yet my somberness is not the same as the political angst being flooded throughout the media waves and coffee houses across the land. My frustration has to do with the body of Christ. (more…)