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!

No Room For Compromise

I had the opportunity to hang out yesterday with a couple of young adults whom I have great affection for and was able to hear from them what some of the general attitudes are regarding right and wrong and was is considered acceptable among their age-group. I wasn’t the least bit shocked, but still deeply troubled.

NoCompromiseI am convinced all over again of the need for disciples of Jesus to be rock solid on our commitment to Truth. I believe that if we compromise at all, we have compromised completely and the stakes are so high. I’m not talking about things that are left to the individual conscience (Romans 14, which, of course calls for limiting ourselves in certain circumstances even if our conscience doesn’t convict us!), but rather those things that are very clearly universally wrong for all people at all times.  Keep reading, I’m not calling for protests, militant take-overs, boycotts, or “take our Country back” rallies.

I’m neither a legalist nor a pharisee. I do not believe that being morally upright will get anyone to heaven. I believe that it is the work of the Spirit of God working in an individual to reveal the Son of God who provides salvation through grace alone apart from works of the Law. I believe that this justifying work brings a change in us that causes us to want to live a righteous life (not have to), because it is Christ’s righteous life in us.  Further, I do not believe that everything that has been called sin by the pharisees among us is necessarily sin. What I do believe, though, is that Scripture is very clear on what IS sin…on those things I am unwilling to compromise.

On that last point I should be clear: being unwilling to compromise on what is and is not sin is not to say that I am perfectly delivered from all that falls within that category. What I must never do is to change the category of that thing that I struggle with from sin to mere “preference” simply because I like it. I must still call it a sin.  Changing my mind on it doesn’t change God’s.  If I know that Scripture is clear and I take an “oh, well” attitude, I’M STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR IT because God is the judge, not me.  What is DEMANDED of me for forgiveness is to recognize it for what it is and repent of it (which involves turning away from it).

What I must also do is to unconditionally and authentically love those who are completely engulfed in sin without judgment or pride.  I must also never make the mistake of believing that loving them enough not to judge is the same thing as being unwilling to confront them regarding that sin.  Sin kills.  If sin kills and I am unwilling to address that with someone I love, the last thing I am really doing is loving them.  Confrontation peppered with grace is incredibly loving and strong…and difficult.  But important.

We are all victims of the same cancer called sin.  None of us can live perfect lives this side of heaven, but what we can do is live lives that are pleasing to God through acknowledging and repenting of those things that have offended His holiness and caused separation between us. Then forgiveness, healing and restoration comes.

With that at stake, there is no room for compromise.

A Pivotal Day: Gay Marriage Before the Supreme Court

supreme_courtToday is a big day in our Country.  The United States Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments regarding California’s “Prop 8” ban on same-sex marriage.  The suit that will be heard by the Court is being brought by one lesbian and one gay couple, challenging the voter-approved ban.

As I’ve listened to the rhetoric on both sides, there is one statement that I believe frames the crux of the argument.  It had to do with what is “right.”

What is right?

The statement was made by a cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts who reportedly “came out” as gay this past week.  Referring to Justice Roberts, he said, “I love my cousin. I hope he does the right thing.”

The “right” thing.  I thought about for a long while, contemplating how often that is used, not as an objective perspective, but as a personal preference, or judgment.  Certainly, those on both sides of the debate look at their position as the right one. So, is it simply as the postmodernists have argued that right is relative?  Is it really a matter of perspective so that right is determined by the winners of a debate?

I will concede that this is very clearly the way our world runs.  Certainly the United States and other western countries operate this way.  Of course, no one is consistent with this position.  If we were, then everything should be on the table for debate, and I suppose it is if someone wants to bring the argument.

To some, murder is right.  Stealing is right.  Gang attacks are right.  So far, though, there haven’t been large enough groups to bring serious challenges, but according to our standards, nothing is out of bounds.  Nothing can be called “right” and nothing can be called “wrong.”  It is simply based upon the decision of the masses.

Again, we’re not being consistent because most people who take this position believe that their positions are objectively right and moral.  For instance, those who take the stand that homosexuality is good, believe that it is good and right for everyone and to stand against it or at the very least, against redefining marriage, is universally WRONG.

In Need of a Standard

At some point, we have to decide that absolutely nothing is objective and, therefore, no one truly has “rights” (in that there is nothing objective to state universal rights. You only have rights so long as you can win the fight).  If we do this, the argument needs to change, since the Pro-gay camp is claiming it is their human right to marry.  Who determined this?  Is it claimed that this comes from the United States Constitution?  That document certainly doesn’t hold up to “universal” scrutiny as it only guides the people of a single country.  I understand that it’s their desire to marry, but a right?  That’s not possible from a position of moral relativity.

Who Needs the Bible?

I get the arguments on the other side.  If one does not believe in a Supreme Law-giver, they are certainly not going to willingly submit their lives and practices to the directives of some “religious book.”  They are not going to buy into the argument that in order for there to be objective truths and laws and rights, there must be an objective standard that declares what is objectively right and wrong.

As a result, I believe it is only a matter of time before the laws do, indeed, change.  That may not be this particular case, but it will come because the collective “we” are guided by what the masses determine is good and right.  Since public opinion is quickly shifting towards gay marriage, that will soon become the law of the land.  Do I agree with it?  No.  Does that mean I hate gay people?  Absolutely not!

Very few people have said that gay people do not have a right in this country to live together and act like married people.  Though I believe that it is objectively wrong, according to the One who makes those determinations, I think they have this right, just as heterosexuals have a right to co-habitat (which is also objectively wrong and destructive) according to the same standard.  I simply believe that changing the very definition of the only Institution that can actually produce natural families (i.e. a man and woman, through the natural act of sex, producing other human beings and raising them with both a father and a mother), we are rendering the very term meaningless.

There is no need for me to rehash the same arguments over again.  They have been made time and again and rejected time and again.  Personally, I will continue to stand on the Truth of Scripture, regardless of where that leads me in the future. I will continue loving and caring for all people, straight or gay, but out of love, I am compelled to declare the warning of Scripture (which I didn’t write, by the way!):

God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

If this is true (which is the basic issue that must be determined by the individual), then the reason why so many are buying into the arguments of the gay community must be attributed to God giving them over to sin.  I understand how harsh that sounds (and that’s not my intent), but is that not the straight-forward, logical conclusion to this?  That cannot be seen as God being OK with it, but the very wrath of God as He gives them over to be drawn into their own sinful desires.  That is not good news!  The only good news is that Christ can forgive.

Many in the Christian community will disagree with my position here, but I am not calling for gay people to simply “choose” not to be gay.  Personally, I doubt that is possible.  Due to the fall of man found in Genesis 3, I believe that we are born with all sorts of “bents” towards sinful desires (which are often wrongly judged to be “natural”).  So, I don’t necessarily believe homosexuality is a choice any more than I chose to be heterosexual.  What I do believe is a choice is what is done with it.  I have heterosexual friends who have never found “the one” whom they can marry.  Moral relativism says that’s no big deal, just find somebody to have sex with; play house together regardless of a love and a lifetime commitment.  However, they have taken Scripture seriously and remained celibate.

Biblically, my homosexual friends have no more right to give themselves over to their desires than my unmarried heterosexual friends.  That’s not good enough for them, though.  That means denying pleasure for righteousness.  Therefore, that type of righteousness cannot be right. It is redefined, then, as wrong.  After all, God would never call me to sacrifice my pleasure for His righteousness.  That whole thing about Jesus saying His followers must deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him was, well, just a joke. He was just teasing. He’d had a bad day when He said that.  Who knows, maybe He didn’t even say it at all.

The Heart of the Issue

Yeah, it all boils down to that.  What do you believe?  You either have to believe Scripture as it has been given to us or reject it completely.  I realize that many are redefining it as they are everything else, but that’s just dishonest.  I have much more respect for those who outright reject it than to play twister with it and make it into what it never said.  Just stop playing games with it.

To be honest, I don’t have a personal agenda in this.  If Scripture didn’t say it was wrong, I’d probably just take homosexual practice in stride and get used to it just like everything else. It would certainly be easier.  Heck, nobody wants to be called a bigot or hater or intolerant by all of the wildly tolerant people out there.  I prefer to be liked by everyone and, certainly, I could be liked by a whole lot more people if I compromised truth, too, but I’m bound by it.  I’m compelled by it. I simply can’t.

But I’m not a hater.

I’m not intolerant.

I think by peacefully stating my position and the position of Scripture while not engaging in dirty names or making threats but, instead, declaring that I will continue to live in peace with my homosexual friends, I am demonstrating exactly what “tolerance” truly means.  However, let it be known that I will do it with integrity and standing firm on my principles.  I will make it clear that, because I love people and believe that sin is not just “bad,” it is deadly, I will not redefine it away if the Bible says otherwise…but I will not do it with malice or disrespect or hatred or in a mean-spirited fashion.  As a minister of the God-breathed Word of Truth, I owe people that, regardless.

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

 That is, after all

…tolerance.

 

The Circle of Love – 1 John 5:1-5

If you can get past John’s mental gymnastics, you’ll find a pretty simple concept in 1 John 5:1-5:  The love of God and the love of others is so entwined that you cannot have one without the other.  To get a little more complex in my explanation (as does John to a further degree), as the Believers, we love God.  If we love God, we must keep His commandments.  His commandment is to love Him and love others.  To love others is necessarily to demonstrate love for God, which necessarily demonstrates we’re Believers.  See the circle?  I think God intended for that kind of circular reasoning so that we could not let ourselves out through a loophole (no pun intended) of loving others.

He tells us that this is not a burdensome task for those who are His because, through faith, He does the loving through us.  In spite of the fact that this is still difficult, at times, to love those who are tougher to love, we can be over-comers because He has overcome.

Even this morning, I have been dwelling (more than necessary) on an individual who is challenging to me.  I get annoyed rather quickly and find the word “obnoxious” pop to mind when I think about them.  What do I do with that?  I suppose there are many ways of handling it, some better than others, but for me I have to consciously put that aside.  I have to remember how obnoxious I can be, how imperfect I am, and try to have the same grace I want to be shown by others who may have similar feelings towards me. How do you handle similar situations?  What is the way that brings the most honor to Christ?

On another quick note, John makes an important doctrinal statement in verse 1 that we don’t need to miss:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

Look at how he phrases that: Everyone who believes (present tense)…has been born (past tense).  We sometimes think that our believing brings on the regeneration of our spirit.  What John says here is that our believing is evidence of our having been regenerated, which demonstrates how salvation is a work of God alone doing in us (who are dead in our trespasses) what we cannot do ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9, John 15:16, John 6:60-66, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 19).  This is great news since He took the initiative to rescue us from our path of destruction (having been born in sin) and made us new, giving us the ability (faith, again see Eph 2:8-9) to trust Him, and the obedience to place that faith in Him (what we refer to as asking Him to be Lord of our lives) and live according to the commandment He has given us.

Fear, Itself. – 1 John 4:18-21

I’ve really had to chew on this passage and, to some degree, am continuing to chew as I write to see if what I’m thinking makes sense.  John says in 1 John 4:18 that, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Honestly, I think that verse is often used divorced from the rest of the section and without context.  I often hear that used in reference to taking risks to love other people.  In the narrow context, I think that misses the point, though in the broader context, it is still applicable.  However, if we don’t look at the context, we can miss the central meaning.

This verse (and the entire section that we’re looking at today) must be taken together with the verses that we read yesterday.  John talked in 13-17 about the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us internal assurance of our place within the family of God.  In essence, he says that because of the love God has shown them (the apostles) through Christ, they have come to believe in the love of God which leads us (by extension through their testimony) to a confidence that we will not face judgment.  That is the verse leading into the section for today, so the context is that we need not fear judgment because of the love of God.  That is the central idea: Because of the perfect love of Christ, if we are abiding in Him (finding our hope, contentment, purpose, etc.), we will have no fear of the future because perfect(ed) love casts it out.

So, really, John is giving us yet another test of how we can be certain of our standing with God through the absence of fear for the future, knowing in our souls (because of that indwelling testimony of the Holy Spirit) that we have been made right with God.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  John goes back to the idea of loving others as being partnered with this indwelling testimony.  There must be an outward expression of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, loving others.

Sure, it’s great to feel the confidence of our eternal security by a lack of fear of death.  Yet, if that is not coupled with unconditional love for others (which is commanded–see verse 21), we are still dealing with emotionalism or religiosity (which can often mimic a real relationship with Christ).  THAT is the marker of a life having been transformed into the likeness of Christ, not that we simply love those who love us or who are easily lovable, but especially those whom we find it difficult to love: the least of these, the poor, the outcast, the obnoxious!  With these tests, we can certainly get a pretty accurate read on our standing with Christ.  This is John’s continued goal and mission from his Gospel:  “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

When Love Isn’t Love – 1 John 4:7-12

You know what I get tired of?  Religious people who go to church and do all the stuff they’re supposed to, but give them half a chance and they rail on somebody.  I get tired of people who talk about the love of God, but never seem to show it; never seem to demonstrate grace and unconditional acceptance.

On the one hand, I think it could have something to do with that last statement I made.  We sometimes fall victim to thinking that unconditional acceptance means of all a person does: their actions, choices, ideologies, etc.  Instead, I’m talking about unconditional acceptance of the person.  Then, of course, it’s easy to say that we love people unconditionally, but fail to realize that if our actions don’t back that up, we’re just offering religious platitudes.

On the other hand, it is too often that people are simply being religious, and not transformed. In verse 8, John says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  The translation is simple, isn’t it?  If your life is not characterized by the kind of unconditional, active love that God is, then we are not saved because we do not know Him.  That is a very serious indictment that we had better not dismiss.  Eternity rests on it.

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