the fear factor

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[a]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:5b-11

1 Peter is referring to persecution suffered by Christians. To see a letter and passages (verses) in context is important. We will misinterpret them if we don’t. So I include some context here to the part I wish to highlight on this post.

Even though persecution is a main theme, and the reason for the fear here and whatever might be involved in the devouring, I think this applies across the board as one of the schemes of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Simply put, it’s the fear factor. The devil here is likened to a roaring lion, perhaps referring to an older lion which no longer has the spring of step, or agility it once had, so that in order to catch prey, it needs to rely on instilling a paralyzing fear. Then, in the spiritual realm, the enemy can take over and begin its destructive work. At least keeping us from being effective in our faith.

Just this realization is half the battle. But what the original readers faced, and what causes us to be afraid now are real problems, or at least we’re convinced they are. We’re told in the text that we’re to resist the devil (also James 4:7). Just how, we’re not told. We can gather from our Lord’s temptation, that a key element of that is to stand on God’s word, directed by the Spirit, and the gospel truth at the heart of it.

What this means in practical terms is that we best get on with life, and not allow ourselves to be overcome with fear, instead trusting in God. God will help us in the midst of all of this, to get beyond it. Something we will need to do again and again during this life. In and through Jesus.

 

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ignoring the sirens

I remember years ago at the Bible college I was at for a year, that a friend used to always pray whenever he heard a siren, probably for the people involved, particularly those in need, a good practice. My point is metaphorical, yet just as good, in fact quite important at least for me, in the walk of faith. I believe that there’s a sense in which we need to ignore the sirens that hit us off and on, sometimes repeatedly, over and over again for different reasons. The call is urgent and compelling; after all, I’m likening it to a siren.

Concern, even alarm, and urgent attention mark this call. Or maybe just plain dread. In biblical, and I would add, real life terms, we’re talking about what ultimately becomes a crippling fear, or an angst as in anxiousness, just plain, pure anxiety, which we cannot shake. These are all tell tale signs that something is wrong. And that these sirens in our head are getting us nowhere. If we respond to them, putting us on a never ending cycle of more and more of the same.

We simply need to ignore such siren calls, developing the discernment needed from God to tell the difference between the gentle, yet persistent promptings of the Spirit from the loud, edgy, restless, and ultimately accusatory, even condemning tones of what comes from the enemy. It might come from ourselves, and the way we have responded to life over the years, sometimes certain key factors or moments from childhood playing a part. Even so, in biblical terms the flesh and the devil, along with the world are all intertwined. I think of the world here as a system which does not acknowledge God, or God’s good rule. The flesh as our broken humanity which is set against God, even if religious, and trying to do what is well, right and good on our own. And the devil as the demonic element which while not at all equal to God, has full sway in both the world and the flesh, as depicted here.

There is no way we can simply get rid of fear and troubling thoughts from what we’ve taken in of the sirens that surround us, or come our way.  We simply have to turn our ears in a new direction, and get them in tune for a different sound all together, as well as learning to hear the other for what it really is, so that eventually we don’t hear it much at all, if at all, since we understand it’s actually a false alarm, not from God.

But in the meantime, we simply have to take the stand of faith, not letting such sirens move us. Instead, when we hear them, waiting for God’s direction, the still small voice, or gentle whispering of the Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). And accepting nothing less than God’s peace. And in that, finding God’s help to navigate all the questions, and difficult paths of life we encounter. In and through Jesus.

the Good Samaritan, and the refugee crisis

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

The Syrian crisis has raised a lot of questions and thoughts on how we should look at refugees coming from places which likely harbor terrorists. Some nations have done well in regard to taking them in, while others have not done as well, or nothing at all.

And then there is the Christian response to the refugee crisis. I’ve heard good things, but the problem might be in the silence. Here is a good article from a conservative Christian organization summing up what the Christian response should be.

I think too often we can let fear get in the way of what our response should be: to show mercy and love. Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us just how we ought to respond if we’re to live in obedience to the first and great commandment, and the second like it. The Samaritan was a foreigner who took care of an injured Jew, actually, in all probability saving his life. Jesus notes in his parable, interestingly enough, that while two Jewish religious leaders pass the poor man by, this Samaritan stops and helps him.

While we have to have wisdom nowadays, since there are scammers aplenty, we can help through agencies we trust, like World Vision or Compassion International. And we need to be proactive as churches in doing what we can, instead of relying on the government, or others to do it. Such often need help to know where to plug into government agencies, and other organizations which can help. And the church needs to have a open hand to do what it can, as well.

And all of us, really. The Samaritan was one man. We need to be prayerful and alert to what might be helpful in any given situation throughout the day. Note this series of good discussions on this very text and give it a listen. We should reach out in love to the stranger or foreigner among us. And allow for the cultural difference, again, helping where it’s needed.

According to Jesus, the question is who is a neighbor to someone in need. We need to answer that one, not with our lips, but with our lives, doing what we can in love, in and through Jesus.

mind games

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:3

Certainly a gnawing, paralyzing fear is a tip of the hand, dead give away that God is not behind it, but an enemy bent on destruction, or at least on making us lose our footing or even resolve.  Another sure sign is when we are troubled over something which is within our sight, but not troubled when it’s out of sight. Two signs there: Simply being troubled at all, when rather we can pray with thanksgiving, and act on it in an appropriate way at a good time. And the fact that when we’re occupied with other things, the fear is gone. If something is of God, we won’t be able to escape it. It will gently and lovingly persist, and move us in a helpful direction, not in the direction of paralyzing fear or even torment.

The bottom line for us everyday should be a desire to live in a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Whatever else we have to do and be occupied in, that should be where we live.

It is vitally important that we learn to recognize these things. Whether we like it or not, we are in a spiritual battle. We have to persist in the way of God whatever thoughts and fears might be bombarding us. Holding to faith, standing our ground (Ephesians 6:10-20) and not giving into the crafty deceptions of the enemy. In and through Christ we can do that, and we must.

trusting in the Lord when faced with difficulty

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

The Lord prayed the psalms, as is evident when he was on the cross. Perhaps this was one passage he prayed during the course of his life on earth. It is certainly apt for us, although our circumstances will likely be different than were that of the psalmist. But the crux of the matter, facing opposition, or something which threatens are well being can be the same.

Being afraid is a part of life. Our bodies when healthy feel pain through the nerve endings in place. That is protective. It’s not like all fear is bad. One evangelical evangelist said that to be afraid and trust in the Lord is good, but to trust in the Lord and not be afraid is better. Maybe so, but I don’t see the two that way myself. I do think we can go through them as stages, the first being the initial fear we naturally have over something overcome by trusting the Lord. The second simply being our disposition and choice, based on faith in God and God’s word, his promises to us.

How we face perceived danger might be the question. Faith insists that it will be alright in the end (see Psalm 23), no matter what we have to walk through. God is with us in Jesus, and will protect us.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

It may not be fun to walk through, but the Lord will be with us no matter what. The rod and staff in the Psalm was an instrument of the shepherd to gently guide the sheep, and to protect them from danger. We can gather from that thought that God will guide us and protect us from danger, from falling off the cliff, or going off by ourselves as if we can take care of it, or maybe simply out of fear. The Good Shepherd (John 10) will be present to keep us on track and comfort us.

Trusting in God must be our present and default position. I mean that whether things are okay, or not, we need to trust in the Lord. And at times we will need to renew that commitment, at other times simply grasp and hold on to it for dear life. But no matter what we face or ultimately have to walk through, we can know that God will be present with us to help us in and through Jesus to the very end.

fear or love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:18

The older I get, the more I realize just how important it is to understand the experience of living in God’s grace/favor in terms of love. So that if we fear, somehow we are falling short of what we have in Christ: namely God’s love.

God’s love is not merely theoretical, or something we know in our heads. It is indeed something we’re to enjoy in our hearts. Bringing us peace, not fear.

So in a sense we should always be running away from fear toward love.

I am coming to judge more and more God’s direction in terms of whether or not I have God’s peace about something, which comes out of his love. A note: This is from John and in John’s gospel account of Jesus’s Upper Room discourse on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus ties peace and love together, that in him his disciples are to have peace, so that they’re not to let their hearts be troubled. That they’re live in his love, just as he lives in the Father’s love (John 13-17).

If I am quite troubled, or fearful about something, that’s a good indication that God is not in it. I’m not referring to a healthy fear, which is something entirely different. For example a fear that I will hurt someone in some way. But rather a debilitating fear in which one’s existence in some way or another feels threatened. In God’s love in Jesus there is always peace, even the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). And that includes God’s convicting work of our sin, as well. It is never condemning in Jesus, the point of the 1 John passage quoted above. The devil’s argument to us is that God is out to get us in condemning us, rather than the truth that God is out to love us in and through Jesus. And as Jesus said, that he had not come to condemn even the world, but to save the world.

It’s either one or the other. Of course that doesn’t mean we have God’s peace apart from God’s love. God’s love certainly involves living in Jesus, which means living in God’s will. We don’t just do whatever, and think that we’re living in God’s love. God’s love for us in Jesus is always present, but we have to return home, and live in that love, not in the pigsty and deception of the world (and the flesh and the devil). We learn to live in the Father’s embrace, as imperfect as we are, even when we might be a mess, and struggling with a sin issue. Always and forever it is God’s love in Jesus which makes the difference for us, a love which we share with all others. The love of God in Jesus.

not letting the pressing duties of life get to us

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14

Life is pressure, period. Work is never entirely predictable, and even when it is, that predictability might have us living on the edge at times. And if you “own” a home, in some ways the home owns you as well, because if there isn’t one thing, there’s another to look after to maintain it. On top of this, there are always possible things to worry about on the side. Like is one’s car safe enough? Or where is the money (and/or time) going to come from for the next need. For those who have plenty of money in store, there are always potential problems, as well. In this world, there’s no short supply of that.

First of all we might say, yes, we need to do the best we can to do what we can, and certainly take care of what absolutely has to get done (like a house roof, which for me of course, means hiring a company to do it). But we as Christians do all of this as those on mission in Jesus for the gospel. That is our chief concern, indeed the passion that drives us, the very life we have in Jesus, which we would like in love to share with others.

Jesus imparted words of strength and comfort to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (see John 13-17 for that entire time in John’s gospel account). And even though they were Jesus’s appointed messengers and representatives of the gospel, we as Jesus’s followers can receive those same words for ourselves, since we too, even though not set apart in the same way, still are present as receivers and sharers of the gospel.

Jesus gives us his peace, and at the same time tells us not to let our hearts be troubled nor afraid. Even if we’re caught up in fear, we can let go of it by the Lord’s strength in the peace which he gives, and live in that peace once more, trusting in him to help us through whatever situation we might be in, as well as life in general. Including trusting even when things don’t go well.

Something I am learning, and want to hold on to in and through Jesus.