FREEDOM FROM FEAR. PART III.

FREEDOM FROM FEAR. PART III.

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.

Rolling with the Punches!

Rolling with the Punches!

I’ve never been a boxer and the last time I was in a fist fight was in the spring of 1988 when I was actually trying to break up a brawl when one of the combatants jumped me.  But I’ve come to appreciate the phrase, roll with the punches, which is originally from the sport of boxing.  It is the practice of strategically moving one’s head back and forth away from the opponent’s glove to lessen the impacts of blows.  But there is a larger application to the statement than sports.

The first time I remember hearing the phrase was back in 1994 while serving as a missionary in Moscow, Russia. When I heard “we’ve got to roll with the punches, Steve” it came from a mentor who was advising me on how we needed to respond to an unexpected situation.  In daily life the battle phrase is often used as an encouragement to adjust with flexibility and thus withstand and even find victory amidst ever changing and even negative circumstances.

With all the changes going on these days, this phrase certainly seems appropriate.  Earlier today I was looking at my 2020 wall sized calendar on which I had sketched out a general path for the new year back in January.  Now we’re making plans for streaming Easter services online instead of logistically planning for people to gather in our church building.  Life has changed.  While the present COVID19 situation is certainly a unique example, the reality is that life seldom goes exactly as we would like. Accidents happen, people get sick or make choices we weren’t expecting, and often our plans are sidetracked by something or someone else.

But we don’t have to allow the blows of life to dictate our thinking and actions. We can roll with the punches.  As noted, I’m not a boxer and don’t know how long I’d last in the ring.  But here are three simple starting pointers that will help maneuver through the punches of life that come our way.

1.  Decide to take a deep breath and keep calm.

One verse that has continuously rung through my head over the past month is from 2 Timothy chapter 4 where the veteran apostle Paul is encouraging the young evangelist Timothy. After a charge to continue preaching Christ no matter what, Paul told Timothy to “keep his head in all situations.”  We don’t know everything that Timothy was facing in his day, but this exhortation would obviously apply for us now.  It’s so easy to let our imaginations run wild or to begin making judgement calls when we don’t have all the data. This is especially true when we are bombarded with a news media that thrives on fanning the negative while ignoring the positive.

2.  Deliberately look for good.

In thinking of Paul again, I’m reminded of the book of Philippians which was written when the apostle was in prison for Christ. Despite his bondage, Philippians is truly a book of encouragement in which Paul concludes toward the end; “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.” Yes, this season of COVID19 will bring pain.  But we can choose to look at the recovery cases which don’t always show up as headlines and the tiny pieces of good around the globe which are often swept under the rug of panic.  One example in this season of chaos, is that we are seeing people take stock of what is really important in their lives and that is a good thing.

3. Do what you can control.

Personally for me, fear has not been a big emotion in this season. Anger on the other hand has been something I’ve had to wrestle with. I know that there is usually something deeper at play with anger and I suppose that probably one underlying issue for me is just all the things that I simply cannot control.  This past fall a wise man rightfully encouraged me to leave most of the uncontrollable things alone and focus on what I do have control over.  This principle is something that made U.S. Grant such a great general in the Civil War.  While many Union officers were consumed with worry about what general Lee of the south was doing, Grant continued to push forward with what he could control and eventually brought the Army of Northern Virginia to it’s knees and a conclusion to the war.  So maybe a huge help for us would be to honestly admit that there are things in life we cannot control.  Then we can let them go and have the freedom to focus on what is in our power right now to change for the good.

Today, right now, I can . . .

-Own my own mistakes.

-Get up and keep fighting after a failure.

-Continue to readjust and plan for the future while all the while holding it gently in my hands.

-Make the most of the immediate and present relationships and opportunities right in front of me.

-Thank God for the small blessings around me each day.  Wow, I really do love hearing those birds early in the morning each day in my front yard.

-I can encourage someone else who is struggling and trust that God is still on the throne no matter what life brings.

What would you add?

It’s funny, as I actually recounted the “roll with the punches” phrase a few days ago to one of my children.  After I shared it, I had to stop and wonder if they even knew what I was talking about. It was a life lesson for them and I hope that it will be an encouraging pointer for you as well.