Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fear Factor

Several years ago I spent about six months working in an assisted living facility.  One of the residents, who still had a house he had not sold yet, admitted to me that he had nearly $100,000 dollars in cash in his house.  It was well hidden, he assured me, within every door jamb of the house!  Having experienced the run on the banks that began the Great Depression, this man had no trust for institutions and was afraid to invest his money.

            Investment is only as good as our level of trust.  When Jesus told his story about three servants whom he gave a pile of money, he was saying something about the servants’ level of trust (Matthew 25:14-30). Two of the servants saw the master as gracious and generous and freely took their talents and confidently used them to create even more money.  They took risks, they invested, they worked, and they acted all with the idea that they were secure in their relationship with their master.  However, the third servant’s view of his master was different.  This servant saw his master as stern and serious and angry, and, so this is why he did nothing with his money because he was afraid.

He was afraid because his view of the master was not accurate.  If we see God as primarily being angry all the time, then we will not use the incredible gifts he has given us for fear of messing up and bringing his wrath upon us.  The truth is:  God is a gracious and generous God.  He has generously and graciously gifted each and every one of us, and he expects us to use those gifts and not hide them away in a door jamb!  He wants us to be like Him:  generous and gracious.  We must address this fear if we want to hear the saying:  “well done, good and faithful servant.”

            Fear is maybe the devil’s greatest tool to prevent God’s people from being productive Christians in serving the church and the world.  Beneath that fear are powerful feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and a low view of self which is really born of a low view of God.  Fear paralyzes a person’s potential to serve God’s kingdom.  Being afraid wastes what impact a person could have for God, and waters-down life so that it is ineffective.

Fear destroys dreams and godly desires.  Psalm 37:4 encourages us to delight ourselves in the LORD, and he will give us the desires of our hearts.  We are to enjoy the gracious and generous God, and in our enjoyment of Him He will place within us godly dreams that He will absolutely delight to fulfill.  Our enjoyment of God gives us the security and confidence to act upon those godly desires and produce a wonderful harvest that we can turn right around and give back to God.  

But put fear in the mix, and it dilutes and destroys everything.  It makes you do nothing.    Not only did the third servant do nothing, like his ancestor Adam he went into hiding and didn’t put his life to work.  One of the things that church leaders need to understand is that Christian discipleship is not primarily about getting parishioners to have the answers right on some bible study workbook; it is about action and service and that will only rightly happen as we have a solid robust view of God instead of a wrong view of God that leads to us being immobilized by fear.

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, the Israelites were immobilized by fear.  God had a grand vision and a big dream for his people to enter the Promised Land.  But ten of the twelve spies who came back after checking out the land were paralyzed by fear.  “The land has giants, and we are like grasshoppers” they said.  Caleb and Joshua, however, had a different view of taking the land because they had a different view of God.  They didn’t see giants – they saw a gracious and generous God who could easily take care of whoever might be in the land, and they wanted to act on the faith they had in a mighty and merciful God.  The God of the other spies wasn’t big enough to handle the giants.  Their low view of themselves as grasshoppers betrayed their low view of God.

Pastor David Seamands has rightly observed that “we wrap a lot of our fears in morbidly sanctified self-belittling.  We piously cover this self-despising and call it consecration and self-crucifixion.”  In other words, we feel good about feeling bad.  We use those feelings to make spiritual excuses for not exploring what God’s dreams and vision is for us.  It is high time we have bold God-sized dreams!  It is time for us to get into the world with our witness in a far greater way because we serve a God who sees giants as gnats, and we will, too, if we have a high view of God.

What holds us back?  Fear of criticism; fear of taking a risk; fear of going outside of the way we’ve always done it; and, the crippling fear of what others may think or say.  If you once dreamed something and you think your dream is dead because you destroyed it by your sins and bad habits, you are wrong.  Dreams are destroyed by fear, by being tricked into thinking that we are nothing but grasshoppers and God doesn’t care, and so we do nothing.

Fear ruins relationships, with both God and others.  Seeing God as angry and belittling is right where Satan wants all of us.  Fear ends up isolating us from people.  The most common way of coping with feelings of fear, insecurity, and inferiority is by withdrawing from other people.  You cannot give yourself fully to your spouse, your kids, your church, and to the world without a healthy robust view of and relationship with God. 
Fear sabotages Christian service.  “I can’t!” is the cry of the person locked in fear.  Perhaps you have noticed that God isn’t typically in the business of using superstars to do His work.  Moses was tongue-tied, Abraham was really a wimp, Matthew a lowly tax-collector, and the disciple Mark was a momma’s boy.  The less talented a person is the more God gets to show off His power and His ability through him or her.

            So, give God a chance.  Give him a chance to work in and through your life.  Explore the dimensions of church ministry because you have a God behind you that is gracious and generous.  May your mustard seed of faith grow to produce a harvest of righteousness.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Are You Ready?

Satan once called to him some demons of hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls. He asked which one would want to go. One creature came forward and said, "I will go." Satan said, "If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?" He said, "I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven." Satan said, "They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go."  Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, "If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?" He said, "I will tell them there is no hell." Satan looked at him and said, "Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there's a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go."  Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, "And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?" He said, "I will tell them there is no hurry." Satan said, "Go!"

Most people’s crime in not gross sin, but just indifference without much thought to a coming judgment.  After all, why do today what we can put off till tomorrow?  We need to be deeply concerned for the Day of the Lord which may come sooner than we think.  The question for us is not “when will Christ return?” because no one knows the answer to that question (Matthew 24:36).  Rather, the question for us is:  “are you ready for Christ’s return?”  We are to remain constantly vigilant.  We are to live every moment of our lives in light of the promise of Christ’s coming.  We are to be faithful because we don’t know the day or hour it will occur.

            We are to be faithful and busy, like Noah, building the ark of the church instead of being just like the world and indulging in our lives as if Jesus weren’t coming, nor wasting our time trying to connect current events to signs in scripture as if making prophecy charts is God’s will for us.  We are to be faithful by being servants in God’s household (Matthew 24:45-51).  We are not to be like the unfaithful teenager who, when given the responsibility of watching over the house while the parents are gone for the weekend, has a big party and trashes the house.  But the parents will come home at a time when the teenager does not expect, and then there will certainly be weeping and gnashing of teeth!  

            The faithful and wise steward should be busy doing the master’s business – the often mundane work of taking care of the master’s house.  Are we being faithful to our household responsibilities?  How are we caring for the people in our lives?  Preparing for Christ’s return leads to down-to-earth acts of love and care, and not just sitting around and waiting passively.  

            As we wait for the Lord’s return we are not to become impatient and simply get caught up in our petty day to day problems to the point of losing sight of what is really important.  One day a man named Denis Waitley was trying to catch a flight but was running late so he literally ran through the airport terminal.  He got to the gate the split second the gate agent closed the door.  Denis explained his situation that he had a speaking engagement to get to, but the agent didn’t budge.  That’s when his frustration turned into fuming.  Denis stormed out of the boarding area and back to the ticket counter to register a complaint and reschedule his flight.  The anger intensified as he waited for more than twenty minutes in a line that barely moved.  Just before he got to the counter an announcement over the intercom changed his life.  The flight he missed, flight 191 from Chicago to Los Angeles, crashed on takeoff and killed every person on board the plane.  Denis Waitley never registered his complaint.  In fact, he never returned his invalidated ticket.  He took it home and pinned it on a bulletin board in his office to remind him whenever he got frustrated or upset that life is more than day to day impatience and worry and complaints.  It is about serving a lost world destined to slide away from God apart from the grace that can turn judgment into blessing.

            We are to keep watch because the Lord’s return could be today.  In the meantime, we are to be faithful servants of God by serving a world that is in tremendous need of getting on the ark and being saved from the judgment that will come.  What does God want you to do?  How does he want you to be a faithful servant in his world?  The best way to overcome our own chronic unhappiness and struggles is to serve the world and be the servant God’s wants us to be.

            So, live with the end in mind.  Live without regret and without procrastinating.  Jesus himself has said, “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.