Some Quick Thoughts on Fear

Fear is one of the most crippling things in life. It causes us to fall back in the face of opposition or danger.  It prevents us from taking advantage of great opportunities that could alter our lives for the good.  It leads us to play it safe when anything worth having involves some level of risk.

Too much of life is dominated by fear.  Fear to move. Fear to try. Fear to love. Fear to hope. Fear to risk.  Sure there is room for a healthy dose of “fear” that, hopefully, causes us to pause and assess the risk-reward ratio before we do something completely foolish, but what I’m talking about is that level of fear that prevents us from even such an assessment.

2 Timothy 1:7 teaches that God hasn’t given a spirit of fear, but love, power and a sound mind.  Each of these things take something very important: boldness.  It takes great boldness to love, to exercise power and to think straight, putting behind us stifling thoughts and irrationality that prevents us from truly living; from fulfilling all that God has for us.  In this verse, Paul tells us that those things are provisions from God.  They are gifts given to us through the Holy Spirit of God to those who are His.

In whatever form fear may try to creep into your life, remember this verse of promise from God that has become very special to me as I engage in battle with my own fears:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will hold on to you with my righteous hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

If this is true and we determine to take God at His Word, how could fear ever have any power over God’s Children?  Today is the day to conquer fear in your own life, once and for all, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God who has already defeated it!

Shelved Blessings

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How happy are you right now?  Seriously, are you over-the-moon kind of crazy-happy in your life?  Blessed?  Certainly, better than you deserve, but do you experience real blessing in your life such that you are overwhelmed at how good life is…how good God has been to you?

Sometimes, the blessings of life seem to hide when I spend most of my time focused on the troubles.  I get caught up in the busyness of life and the overly full calendar, the relational trials, the bills, and on it goes, so that it crowds out time to focus on the blessings in life and even robs me of the time I need to even pursue real, lasting happiness.

I was revisiting one of my favorites in Scripture this morning: Psalm 1.  Kind of smooshing the English Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard version (my two faves), it starts off saying, “How blessed (or happy) is the man who does not…[and here I paraphrase heavily]…listen to ungodly advice, hang out with people who chase after ungodliness, or take part in conversation with people who criticize and put people down…[ok, I’m done paraphrasing], but his delight is in the [Word of God…yeah, I know, I paraphrased again] and on His Law he meditates day and night…”

So, if you caught that, Psalm 1 is saying that happiness and blessing in life is a result of delighting in the Lord’s instruction “day and night”, which is just another way of saying constantly.  It’s about taking the Bible down off of the shelf and setting aside time in the morning to read it.  It’s about reflecting on what was read throughout the day, and quite often means memorizing at least some portion of it so that it’s fresh in your mind at all times.  This is the life of a disciple who wants happiness in life and if I’m not experiencing that; if my life is crowded out with all sorts of things that don’t end in happiness or blessing, then I have to start by evaluating my time in the Word.  Now, that said, Scripture isn’t talking about a “giddy” kind of happiness that is all circumstantial, but a joy and contentment, or the ability to delight in even the most mundane part of life, realizing the blessing in even being able to do it or participate in it.

This changes the way we look at our crazy schedule, our less-than-satisfactory job, and our relational struggles so that we become grateful for opportunities, for steady work and people in our lives to interact with.  It changes our perspective!water

So, how much happiness and blessing do you want in your life?  No, really, how much do you want, because if the amount of time we spend in God’s Word is a “pound-for-pound” comparison to the amount of joy, contentment, blessing and happiness we experience, I wonder if we want all of these things as much as we say we do.  Saying we want blessing in life without going to the source of blessing for our lives is like saying we are thirsty but not realizing there’s a sink in the kitchen.  Sadly, in my own life, I often walk through the kitchen, notice the sink, but decide I’m too busy to put the glass under the faucet and turn the knob.  That’s short-sightedness and results in shelved blessings!

Then I walk out of the room, look around at my parched life and think, “Man, I wish I had something to drink.” crackedearth

Prone to Wander, Lord I Feel it

“How can I pardon you?

Your children have forsaken me

and have sworn by those who are no gods.

 When I fed them to the full,

they committed adultery

and trooped to the houses of whores.

Jeremiah 5:7

I am no one to throw stones or cast desparaging opinions on this people. I, too, am prone to wander. I, too, am quick to take the Lord’s provision for granted, receiving from Him, yet, strangely, turning to my own ways. Have mercy on me, a sinner! How grateful I am that God answered His own question in this verse: “How can I pardon them?” He has pardoned me through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son! Praise be to God who did not allow me to self-destruct, who has provided the way of escape through Himself. I am unworthy of such a sacrifice; unworthy of such grace. I praise You, Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, for You alone are worthy of Praise!

God’s Gift of People

supportI was studying in 2 Timothy 4 this morning where in verse 9, Paul tells Timothy to “do your best to come to me soon.”  Clearly, as Paul goes on in that passage, some things have not gone well. He has been abandoned by everyone, even having one guy, Alexander the Coppersmith,  doing him “great harm.”  I don’t know if he is speaking of harm ministerially or personally, but having gone through similar circumstances, I can tell you that it’s likely both.  It’s hard to be harmed ministerially without feeling it personally and visa-versa.

What Paul says demonstrates something very important: even though Paul says a few verses later that God’s presence and deliverance was all he ultimately needed, he greatly desired the personal touch of someone who would support and encourage him.  That being his dear son in the faith, Timothy.

During my first shoulder surgery two years ago, I felt very alone.  It was a really difficult time in my life when Karen couldn’t get off work and I was at the hospital going through surgery completely alone.  I remember how difficult that was for me.  I desired for there to be someone to “come to me soon.”

This time was very different.  Karen was able to get off work and I had so many people calling and posting messages of support, telling me that they were praying for me right then or had just prayed for me (which gives comfort even more than a simple “I will pray for you”.  Not that that’s in any way bad and much appreciated, but we know how often we say that and then unintentionally forget to actually pray).

At the end of the day, like Paul recognized, God’s presence and provision is all that we really need.  However, so much of His provision is channeled through human beings.  I don’t ever want to forget that.  I want to make every effort to be fully present in the lives of those around me that I’ve been privileged to have in my life.

What about you?  Can you remember a time in your life where you felt abandoned and alone or where you felt so blessed to be surrounded by those who cared and delivered God’s provision to you?   What was that like and what did you learn from that experience?  If you’d be willing to share your wisdom, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

The Equipping Work of God

Our folks at The Gathering have heard me say quite often, “What God calls you to, He equips you for.”  I thoroughly believe that.  Ephesians 2: 10 affirms that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  So, He’s definitely called us.  Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 that we would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon [us]…”.  Because that is followed by Jesus telling them that they would be His witnesses throughout the world, the power is what enables the witness.  The writer of Hebrews gives a benediction in Hebrews 13, where in verses 20-21, he speaks a blessing that his readers might be equipped to accomplish God’s will:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

It seems pretty clear, then, that God really will equip us for everything He calls us to. The question that remains is, “how?”

We have to say, first of all, that we may not be able to determine every way in which God may equip us.  Certainly, the act of the Holy Spirit abiding within the Believer means a supernatural and instantaneous equipping can happen at any moment He desires.  We know that in Luke 12, Jesus told his disciples that, “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Obviously, then, instant equipping can happen for specific tasks, but is that the primary method God uses?  Probably not.  I believe the way God’s equipping of His people happens most regularly and systematically is found in 2 Timothy 3.

In Paul’s instruction to his young son in the faith, he encourages him to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  So, Paul affirms that the systematic learning of Scripture over time leads to godly wisdom.  Then, in verses 16-17, we get the famous affirmation of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture:

 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

There it is!  How are we equipped? Through the Word of God. By regularly engaging with the Word, which is adequate for shaping us into what God wants us to be, we become equipped for every good work.  Whatever you are called to is wrapped up in that one little word, “every”. 

You want to be equipped for what God calls you to?  Do not forsake the Word.  Abide in it (John 15:5).  Read it every day, several times a day.  Memorize it. Meditate on it.  Pray it.  It is true: What God calls you to, He equips you for…and He does it primarily through His Word.
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Reflecting on a Purpose-filled Life

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

bowThere is something incredibly profound in the relationship Paul has with Timothy that speaks of Paul’s integrity as a follower of Christ. After warning Timothy about those who are not true followers of Jesus, he reminds him of what is true, encouraging him to remain steadfast because of what Timothy has seen in Paul. I find this incredibly challenging and convicting in my own life, desiring to be able to say this to my children and those I disciple. Paul seems to have gotten it all right:

Teaching – Paul is confident that all he has taught is right and completely in sync with all that Scripture reveals.

Conduct – This takes the teaching to the next level, because he’s confident to say that his conduct has matched up with his teaching. One never points this out unless it’s demonstrable.

Aim in life – Timothy can see what Paul sees as his purpose and what is valuable based on his priorities and goals. Again, this must match up with both teaching and conduct. If the teaching is not right, the conduct not in line with the teaching, then the priorities will be skewed.

My faith – Paul clearly believes what he says based on his actions. He truly trusts the Lord in all things as demonstrated by the way He lives His life. This is obviously more than lip-service.

My patience – Now he’s getting personal. If he believes and trusts Christ, he is content to wait on the Lord which includes showing patience for God’s work in others. Rather than trying to “fix” someone or manipulate a situation, Paul will speak the Truth, live the Truth, encourage growth, but leave the results to God.

My steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings – In the face of great suffering and challenges, Paul stays the course. His faith and belief in Christ and the Word of God motivates Him to persist regardless of the circumstances.In spite of the fact that evil will continue and even increase, Timothy is to continue to become more Christlike through what he has learned and seen and what he has read through Scripture, the very words of God. Because of his life and discipline, Paul has “street cred” and can encourage Timothy, with confidence, to persist. Paul need not depend on the “do as I say, not as I do” cop-out. Rather, he can simply say to Timothy, “Follow me.” What power that carries and what a difference it makes in a life!

Admittedly, it is so hard to live this kind of life.  Frankly, though, if Paul can do it, anyone can. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changed Saul, an enemy of Christ, into Paul, arguably the most influential of all of the apostles of Christ, and it is that same power of that same Holy Spirit that can do that in me!

When It’s Good to be in a Gang

Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered.  I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it.  The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well).  Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility.  Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen.  Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).

Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not.  Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed.  In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1).  That’s what is troubling.  I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.

I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a)  It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy.  Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence.  Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah.  He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.

Wow, that’s it right there.  Momentary pleasure.  Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives.  This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it.  Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over.  Clean knock-out.  As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)

In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”.  Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort.  One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it.  In other words, we should never be standing still!  The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing?  Which one do I focus on more?  The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of.  Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness.  It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness.  I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise.  So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!

The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice.  It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”.  However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.

This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”.  It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation.  If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.

Season After Season

FallTreeI’m sitting on my back porch looking out at the incredible colors of Fall all around me, taking in the fresh air and reflecting on just how good God really is in spite of what a punk I really am.  Humbling.

As the breeze blows through, I am thinking about how just one short month ago I was enjoying the warm sunshine in shorts and t-shirt, lamenting the fact that it would soon be coming to an end.  I always mourn the loss of Summer.  I try and hold onto every little ounce of “beach weather” whether I’m at the beach or not.  Now, I’m sitting in the cool shade, sweater on and heater burning, taking in the sites and thanking God for Fall.

It reminds me of how much I hold onto things…like Summer.  I don’t want to let go because, surely, whatever I have right now isn’t nearly as good as what’s coming.  I wonder if I ever hold on so tightly that I miss the next great thing that God has for me.  Of course, there is the opposite extreme of always looking for something better at the expense of what you have.  That’s discontentment, but I’m not talking about extremes here.  Just realizing how easy it is to miss the beauty and glory of what God has coming next when I’m not prepared to receive it.

Even now, I’m dreading the leaves turning from their fiery orange and yellows to the drab browns of death and the inevitable dropping to the ground so that my son can have the extreme joy of raking them up.  I know that what follows is winter…what is, generally, my least favorite time of the year.  Yet, when winter sets in, I find beauty and joy even in the cold mornings and the dark afternoons.

Truth is, that old saying is true:  God is good all the time.  All the time, God is good.  Season after season.

 

Holy Rebellion: Making the Determination to Stand

lighthouseI refuse to be defeated.

That statement sounds a bit absurd, if you think about it. I mean, if I’m standing in a boxing ring in front of a 230lb well-tuned fighting machine, I’m not sure that my attitude matters very much. I don’t think he cares what I refuse to do. He’s going to feed my rotting flesh to the dogs. I’m toast. Done. Kaput.

How can anyone simply refuse to be defeated?

The only way anyone can ever refuse to be defeated is if he has overwhelming power, knows how to use it, and uses it.

Having said that, I refuse to be defeated.

That’s just something I live by. I will not be defeated by any of the things that life throws my way. I will not be defeated by trials and difficulties. I will not be defeated by hurt or despair. I’m not being arrogant. I have nothing to be arrogant about. I’m not practicing the power of positive thinking, either, and I’m not delusional or naive. I simply believe. Believing I will not be defeated is something I have to remind myself of when things are going well, because when things get tough, sometimes it’s hard to remember that I don’t have to be defeated. Sometimes, I need people to help me remember that I must not be defeated…I don’t have to be.

James, the brother of Jesus, said this:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Earlier he said that we should embrace all the various kinds of trials because they make us stronger. How can things that defeat you make you stronger? Unless they don’t…defeat you, that is.

If you believe that the Bible is God’s Word, giving us instruction on how to live life, the purpose of it and who gave it, then you have to believe that what we are told to do, we can do. Now, some of you may not believe these things. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can offer you. My hope is that you can come to experience the grace that God has provided, but beyond that, the promises of hope in Scripture simply don’t apply to you. Unfortunately, promises of judgement do.

In Romans 8:28, Paul said, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The simple truth here is that, contrary to popular belief, “It’ll all work out” is a false statement. That’s delusional.

If you don’t love God (Jesus said to love God is to do what He says) and are called according to His purpose (i.e. coming to God on HIS terms and obeying) this promise isn’t for you. You can’t necessarily refuse to be defeated. I say this not out of a sense of superiority or pride in order to rub it in your face, but to encourage you to consider that maybe this hope and certainty can be for you, too, if you trust in Christ and repent of self-idolatry (ie calling your own shots, living according to your own standards and generally rebelling against God) as we all have to.

OK, enough of that for now. I’m not here to preach at you, but to tell you how and why I refuse to be defeated.

See, I have this shoulder problem (just by way of example). I’ve had it for well over a year and it has, at times, been nearly debilitating. It hurts…it always hurts, even though I’ve experienced some relief from time to time. They say that dealing with chronic pain over time can wear you down, leading to all sorts of mental and emotional issues to go along with the physical issues.

I may have to have surgery. Surgery might help. It might not. That doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because regardless of the pain, I have hope and comfort to know that shoulder issues or any other issues DO NOT HAVE TO DEFEAT ME. In places like Philippians 4:13, I’m told that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I’m told in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Then in verse 13, I’m told to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. In Romans 8, I’m reminded that, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9, I’m reminded of what God told Paul when he suffered pain, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Finally, Jesus, Himself, said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So, if Scripture is true (and for years I’ve seen evidence in my life and others that it is), then Christ in me is the hope of glory. This means that in me is a power that is overwhelming, at my disposal that I can use. I DO NOT HAVE TO BE DEFEATED.

I won’t be.

Whatever you are going through, if you are in Christ (having trusted Him to save you and forgive your rebellion), you do not have to be…you MUST NOT BE defeated.

So, take a rebellious stand. Determine that through the power of Christ in you, you will not be overcome by anything this world throws at you. You may grow weak and struggle. You may weep and mourn. You will probably need the support of others. But when all is said and done, you will stand.

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