Monthly Archives: December 2017

Worldly Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address to a nation in the throes of economic depression.  In this first speech FDR proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  From a spiritual perspective, his words are not entirely accurate.  There are some fears that are legitimate and necessary.  However, FDR did identify one of the greatest impediments to improving the human condition.  God commands His people over three hundred times to “fear not.”  The frequency of the command indicates the far-reaching consequences of a life led by improper fear, what one might call “worldly fear.”

The list of worldly fears is long.  We fear for our safety or the safety of those we love. Many of us fear how we will die and some fear what will happen after death.  The fear of a meaningless life drives some to overwork, destructive sacrifices and selfish ambition.  Some of us fear that we will be alone or unloved while others are afraid that they will fall in love and thereby increase the probability of pain.  Fear crops up when we want something, but we know we may not receive it.   When we realize that we cannot control an outcome for those that we love, our fear of losing them overwhelms good judgment.  Our politicians – both from the left and right – capitalize on fear to motivate their constituents.   In some families, fear is passed from generation to generation like blue eyes or curly hair.  Far too often, far too many of us are controlled by worldly fears.

No one wants to admit that they are afraid.   We prefer to think of ourselves as courageous, calm, and in control.  In what we would count as honest moments, we acknowledge our “insecurities.”   But is not “insecurity” simply a euphemism for fear?  Sometimes we say precisely what we mean in spite of ourselves.

A common thread connects worldly fears:  they reside in the unknown, nourished by an overactive imagination.  To put it another way, worldly fears fixate on what might happen.  Consider, for example, the children of Israel.  As the children of Israel were poised to invade the land of Canaan one year after their exodus from Egypt, they received an unfavorable report from ten of their twelve spies.  Formidable armies protected this abundant and rich land.  The inhabitants fortified their major cities.  The prospect of victory seemed slim; total annihilation seemed much more likely.  It was this story filled with worldly appraisals lacking faith that Israel chose to believe.  Israel forgot the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, and the terrifying glory of God on Mount Sinai.  Facts, you see, are the natural enemies of worldly fear.  Israel chose instead to accept the narrative of the ten spies and their resolve withered in the face of worldly fear.  If we allow it, worldly fear tells us wild stories about what might be happening now or what might happen in the future.

The first example of worldly fear in Scripture appears after Adam’s sin.  The father and mother of the human race hid themselves from God because they were afraid.  Their sin awakened fear which, in turn, compelled Adam and Eve to conceal themselves.  Worldly fear, you see, cowers behind secrecy.  We conceal because we fear what God, or others, might think about our transgressions or our faults or our flaws.  We also hide our sins because we fear the sacrifices that may be required to right our wrongs.  It hurts to change, so we bury the sin and practice it in secret.

Not only is worldly fear inclined to conceal, but it is also inclined to delay.  Adam and Eve did not seek out God to throw themselves on His mercy.  They attempted to avoid Him.  Like Felix’s reaction to Paul, worldly fear urges us to wait for a more convenient day: “I will do this one more time and then tomorrow I will fix it.”  Since it dwells in the realm of imagination, worldly fear always believes there is more time.  A delay might briefly release the grip of fear, but the relief is temporary.  With the next sin, fear awakens like a hibernating beast, waiting to be fed.

Worldly fear is an effective deceiver:  it cannot abide either the pain of public knowledge or the pain of personal sacrifice, yet our sin accumulates the pain of guilt and shame. In Psalm 38:1-11, David describes in poetic language the burden and consequences of hidden sin.  Harboring our sin out of worldly fear does not avoid pain, it increases our guilt and shame and thereby increases our suffering.

As we suffocate under the weight of unforgiven sin, a sense of hopelessness settles in.  Worldly fear tells us that we have wandered beyond hope.  The possibility for change seems unattainable.  Death looms like a specter and our fear of it ensnares, imprisons and enslaves.  Convinced there is no escape, we become spiritually incapacitated, overwhelmed by a sense of apathy and isolation.  Oh, wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Truth is our greatest weapon against the enemy of worldly fear: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).  Godly fear moved Noah to build an ark because he was persuaded that the consequences for disobedience were very real (Hebrews 11:7).  Even though he had never seen a drop of rain, Noah saw the rampant wickedness of his generation and trusted that the Creator was capable of the cataclysms He forecasted.  Unlike worldly fear, godly fear is grounded in truth.

Fear tells us stories and stories lead us to feel.  In moments when fear either begins to creep in or seizes control, analyze what those fears tell you.  Do they talk of what might happen or what might be happening?  How do your fears look in the light of cold, hard facts?  Do they stand up to the scrutiny of God’s word?

Godly fear, like godly sorrow, leads to action. Like Noah, we work out our salvation by godly fear, knowing that our God is both a consuming fire and an impartial judge (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:25-29, 1 Peter 1:17).  To conquer worldly fear, we must consider what we will gain with repentance.  Godly fear frees us from guilt and shame.  While temporary consequences for sin may remain, God’s mercy and grace empowers us to face them by faith.  Growing in our love for God and our brethren overwhelms and expels worldly fear, instilling confidence as we approach the day of judgment (see 1 John 4:7-21, especially verses 17-18).  As the biblical poets say, godly fear is clean, and it is the beginning of wisdom.

~ Wade Stanley

Laying Down Our Lives

From the moment God breathed into man’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7), it has been readily apparent that there is something sacred and precious about life.  This fact has been consistently reflected and protected in the laws, institutions and instructions that God has given His people.  Well before the Law of Moses, we find examples and commands highlighting this truth.  When God confronts Cain for murdering his brother, in Genesis 4, Cain seems to immediately grasp the implications of God telling him, “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”  Upon receiving his sentence, Cain states the following, in verses 13 and 14: “My punishment is greater than I can bear! … I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”  While capital punishment is never mentioned anywhere in God’s judgment, I find it interesting that Cain considers himself as good as dead.  Despite being the first recorded instance of a man taking the life of another; the inherent value of life, and the consequences for abusing it, seem to already be firmly understood and established.

A few chapters later, in Genesis 9, Noah and his family emerge from the ark after the flood to receive a blessing and enter into a covenant with God.  Included in this blessing is God giving mankind all things — every animal and every green herb, alike — for sustenance.  Then, in verse 4, God makes what seems to be a rather strange prohibition when He says, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  God goes on to say in subsequent verses: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning…Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”  Here is another clear indication of the value God has placed on man’s life and how seriously He views what’s done with it.

God included similar statutes in the law He delivered to Israel several hundred years later.  Leviticus 17 is largely focused on instilling in Israel an understanding of the sanctity of blood and, in turn, the sanctity of life.  God cared how Israel esteemed, valued, respected life.  It mattered to Him what they did with the life He gave them — to whom and what they devoted it.  Failure to bring a sacrifice and its blood to the proper place, to be presented by the proper person, for the proper purpose resulted in that person being cut off from the people.  To misuse or misappropriate the blood was serious business to God.  Verse 11 of Leviticus 17 seems to provide insight on why that was: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”  Not only does this passage foreshadow the atonement and propitiation provided by the blood of Christ, but it also seems to provide instruction as to what life is really all about.  God gives life for the good and benefit of the soul.  Based on what I can gather from God’s word, any other use is a misuse — and something God will demand a reckoning for.

Sadly, man’s inclination is often to expend and exhaust precious, God-given life pursuing our own pleasure and the gratification of our flesh.  Countless lives are absolutely wasted and consumed by selfish ambition.  Millions of others, each year, are simply snuffed out because they are deemed inconvenient or unwanted.  When God is not recognized and honored in His rightful place, life becomes just another commodity, something to consume at our own discretion and for our own pleasure.  This is a fact clearly demonstrated by Israel in the time of Ezekiel, where in chapter 34 we see just how far their idolatry had taken them from God by their corrupt and distorted view of life.  Their departure from the Lord wasn’t just evident in their participation in forbidden pagan rituals (drinking blood), but in how they treated one another.  It had made them blood-thirsty and brutal.  Even their shepherds — those who were supposed to be leaders, nurturers, and protectors — were exploiting the flock for their own profit: eating their fat, clothing themselves with their wool, ruling with force and cruelty.  All the while they neglected their responsibilities to feed the flock, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring back those driven away, and seek the lost.  As a result, precious lives were lost.  The sheep were scattered.  They became prey for the wild beasts.

That would be an extremely sad and depressing end to Israel/mankind’s story if God didn’t go on in that same chapter and promise the coming of the good shepherd who would seek out the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and heal the sick, who would lay down His life for the sheep.  How wonderful to know that God loves us and values our souls to the point of redeeming them with the precious blood of Christ!  And how sobering to know that we are called to love one another as He loved us, to follow His example in laying down our lives for one another.

Like Peter, our first impression of this concept may be jumping on the grenade or going down in a blaze of glory — some dramatic and heroic feat.  After Jesus commands his disciples, in John 13:34, to love one another as He had loved them, Peter is convinced he is ready to lay down his life for the sake of Christ and to die with him.  Not only does Peter soon learn he was not ready to follow through on that commitment, but that was not what Christ was asking him to do at all.  When Christ later appears to His disciples by the sea for breakfast in John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times (the same number of times he betrayed Him) “do you love me?”  When Peter answers in the affirmative each time, Jesus tells Him: “feed My sheep … tend My lambs.”  While Jesus later reveals that Peter would, indeed, glorify God by dying for Him when he is old, he was to prepare in the meantime by loving and laying down his life by caring for the flock.

This seems to be at the heart of what laying down our life is all about.  Laying down our lives is not merely a theoretical or theological concept with little room for application.  It’s as practical and important as it gets.  It’s sharing our worldly goods to meet brethren’s needs (1 John 3:16-18).  It’s a husband’s loving and caring for their wives as Christ does the church (Ephesians 5:25).  It’s mothers devoting enormous amounts of time, energy, and affection toward training and nurturing children to know and love the Lord.  It’s seeking to be a benefit and blessing to souls.  While the world may view such lives as wasted potential, unambitious, unfulfilling, and unsuccessful, a life laid down for the brethren and the wellbeing of souls is a life well spent.

~ Zach Crane