Friday, January 29, 2010

Fear Factor

“Don't be afraid!" Moses replied. "God has come only to test you, so that by obeying him you won't sin."

-- Exodus 20:20

Are you one of the millions of Americans with a phobia – a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger? Maybe it’s something common like claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed areas) or aviophobia (the fear of flying) – or perhaps one of the biggest fears of them all: glossophobia (speaking in public). But you also wouldn’t be alone if you suffer from galeophobia (the fear of cats) or even coulrophobia (the fear of clowns). And what about folks diagnosed with panophobia? They have a fear of everything!

Christ-followers aren’t immune from phobias. But it might surprise you to know that some suffer from zeusophobia -- a fear of God. To be fair, maybe it’s more accurate to say that many Christ-followers aren’t so much afraid of God as they are of saying yes to Him. One of the problems is that we too often think of God as a cosmic consultant offering well-intentioned suggestions rather than the all-knowing Creator who made us, loves us and wants only the best for us. When you get down to it, saying no to God is perhaps the most basic definition of sin. And human beings have been doing just that since those early days of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

We know in our heads and our hearts that God loves us. In fact, He loves us so much that he sent His only Son to die on the cross to pay for all our failures in life. So with this in mind, why would anyone say no to God?

First, saying no and playing it safe is a basic human instinct. Fleeing from danger (real or perceived) makes perfect sense when we consider our innate desire for self-preservation. We also can say no to God when He calls us to do something uncomfortable or inconvenient. And that seems to be more often than not. Maybe it’s His call to help a neighbor who’s between jobs, drive a shut-in to the grocery store or talk with a co-worker who’s approaching a spiritual crossroads. Taking that first step can be awkward, difficult – and sometimes scary.

But maybe selfishness is the biggest reason so many people say no to God. After all, saying yes to Him usually means saying no to us. But be forewarned: When we say no and turn our backs to God, we need to prepare for a certain level of spiritual storminess and turmoil. God knows what He wants and How He wants to do it. So it’s only fitting that we’ll often find ourselves in a much worse situation after our refusal than if we had just said yes to Him in the beginning. As the old saying goes, sometimes we need to feel the heat before we can see the light.

Are you afraid to say yes to God? You’re not alone. And He’d like to talk with you about it.

“God's Spirit doesn't make us slaves who are afraid of him,” the Apostle Paul tells us through the Book of Romans. “Instead, we become his children and call him our Father.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Easy Button

Then I looked things over and told the leaders, the officials, and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of your enemies! The Lord is great and fearsome. So think of him and fight for your relatives and children, your wives and homes!"

-- Nehemiah 4:14

If you’ve worked in a corporate environment or held a job in just about any organization, you surely know the drill:

That high profile project from your company’s vice president has taken you days, weeks or maybe even months to complete. Thousands of dollars are on the line and you’ve lost track of all your overtime hours. You’ve done a great job holding it all together and now can see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. But then … CHAOS!

Out of nowhere comes a last-minute “concern” from a co-worker or supervisor, or a “new vision” from a client. Your tight schedule is now in total disarray and there’s no way that you can meet your promised deadline. Can’t anything in business (or life in general) ever be easy?

It sounds like you need one of those Easy Buttons that they sell at Staples. Just put it on your desk and hit it anytime your workday starts going crazy. And just like magic, all your problems will disappear.

(That was easy!)

It’s too bad reality doesn’t work that way. And as Christ-followers, we’re particularly susceptible to the obstacles of life when we say yes to God and work to do His will in the world. Note first that these obstacles can take several disheartening forms. It might be criticism or ridicule of your efforts from an enemy, co-worker or even a family member or spouse. And in extreme cases, the situation could even turn malicious or violent.

The observation that “no good deed goes unpunished” is also all too true. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we take some heat for trying to help others see the light. In fact, we actually need to watch out if our faith journeys are too smooth and quiet: it just might mean that the devil doesn’t consider us a threat to his plans. It’s then that we can become our own worst enemy.

“How terrible when everyone says only good things about you,” warns Jesus, “because their ancestors said the same things about the false prophets.”

So what should we do when doing God’s will gets a bit too rough? The first thing is to know your opposition and acknowledge its existence. Running away, ignoring the situation or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it disappear. Then pray for God’s help and guidance -- and pray for your enemy. Finally, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you’re doing. If it’s something that comes from God, saying yes to Him and fighting for what’s right is worth the effort.

That’s a tall order. But remember that we’re not in the fight alone. In fact – because Jesus already paid the price on the cross for the world’s sins – the fight is already won. And when we say yes to God, victory is already ours.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

-- Micah 7:7

Call it a milestone of age and maturity: it's that longing we all eventually get for "the good old days." They were the times when life was slower, folks knew their neighbors and the world's troubles were thousands of miles away. But maybe like fine wine, memories too get better with age. Consider Otto Bettmann's sobering paperback The Good Old Days -- They Were Terrible! It explains why this so-called Golden Era was only good for a privileged few and why it was unrelentingly difficult for most. Pollution, crime, tainted food and drug addiction were actually common in 19th Century America.

(Some things never seem to change.)

Does this mean that today's Age of Convenience is really the best of times? We live in a 24/7 world of hurry -- one of instant communications, Walmart Supercenters and microwave popcorn. And just about anything we want is literally available to us at the click of a mouse. But take another look and you'll discover that we're not always on the move. Efficiency experts report that on average each day, a person spends an estimated 45 to 62 minutes waiting. That covers common tasks like waiting in line at the bank, waiting at the restaurant for the waiter to take your order, and even waiting for your car to fill up at the gas pump. (All-in-all, that’s about three years of waiting by the time we reach age 70!)

Few people like to wait, and multi-tasking to make the most of down-time has become a valued life skill. But the fact is that waiting isn't always a waste. It’s actually an essential part of God's plan for our lives; it's that process that enables us to become. This concept might be difficult to grasp because the human viewpoint of time differs greatly from that of our Creator. Thankfully, the Apostle Peter helps to put it into perspective: "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends," he wrote. "To the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."

As Christ-followers, we must understand that what happens while we're waiting is often more important than what we're waiting for. Ask anyone who has spent grueling hours at the hospital contemplating the health and future of a loved one. Did their soul-searching experience bring a closer dependence on God? It should have. After all, it's when we're so humbled and powerless that we realize we can do nothing on our own.

So maybe our never-stop, 24/7 world actually revolves around waiting. Let's therefore make the most of our time in God's Waiting Room -- a place where we can look for ways and opportunities to say yes to Him with a sense of expectancy and hope.

"Be still, and know that I am God," He tells us through Psalm 46:10. "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Friday, January 8, 2010

What If...

You came near when I called you, and you said, "Do not fear."

-- Lamentations 3:57

Recently, a well-known insurance company ran a series of television commercials that asked viewers to ponder a small – yet profound – question: “What if?”

What if you get sick and can’t work? What if you get married and have triplets? What if you die and your family can’t live without your lost income? The company’s commercials were effective reminders that real-life situations have real-life implications. And if you’re not prepared (such as with the right insurance coverage), you really might have something to fear. After all, millions of people endure serious illnesses and injuries every year, and a person’s financial needs tend to correspond to their changing life issues. And we can’t forget the most obvious “What if.” Unless Jesus returns during our lifetimes, every one of us will die one day. The mortality rate is 100 percent. And no one gets out of here alive.

The sad reality is that we live in a scary world full of violence, disease, death and economic uncertainty. It’s been that way for centuries. And Christ-followers aren’t immune from any of it. But we do have an answer to facing the gnawing fears that grip so many who don’t know the Son of God as their personal Savior. It’s His supernatural peace that defies all human understanding.

“I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give,” Jesus reminds us in John 14:27. “It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid.”

Jesus also says that when we say yes to Him and become His followers, He’s always right there by our side. That’s reassuring news. And the Bible (God’s Word to us) also provides more practical advice for addressing life’s most daunting challenges. First, we should face our fears with other believers rather than going it alone. And like an Olympic athlete preparing his or her body for gold medal competition, we must remain spiritually prepared for our opposition. That means depending on God and His power rather than on self-reliance. Finally – and above all – we must always follow God’s call and do His will (regardless of the world’s consequences). It’s often a scary proposition. But that’s because God demonstrates His power and goodness by choosing folks to do the things they never could accomplish on their own. Consider how young David must have felt when God selected him to slay the 8-foot-tall Philistine warrior, Goliath?

Yes, we live in a frightening world of what-ifs. But Christ-followers have nothing to fear because God is – and always has been – in control in every situation. Jesus’ disciples came to understand this reflection of His love and power the day they faced death in the stormy waters of Lake Galilee. "Master, Master! We are about to drown," they warned Jesus as He slept in their small boat. But Christ was unfazed: He simply got up and ordered the wind and waves to be calm.

And they did.

"Who is this?” the disciples asked in amazement. “He can give orders to the wind and the waves, and they obey him!"

Why not embrace the Answer to the disciples’ profound question? It’s only through Jesus that we can say yes without fear.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Inferiority Complex

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

-- Mark 10:27

If you’re even a casual sports fan, you’ve no doubt seen it dozens of times. It’s that “John 3:16” sign that at least one fan brings to the stadium:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This simple sentence is really the Bible’s message in a nutshell. It’s the Gospel, which translated means “good news.” And good news it is! For Christ-followers, it means there’s no more reason to fear death. All our past, present and future failures won’t be held against us. And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, all believers can look forward to endless days of unimaginable joy and celebration.

That’s great for after we’ve finished our short lives on Earth. But what about everything before then? What does God have to tell us about getting through the challenges of everyday life and following Him day by day? Well, here’s some more good news: God is for the little guy (and gal) who says “Yes” to Him and His plans – even when we feel inadequate or inferior. And we know that because it’s a consistent theme throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

Let’s look at some examples. There was Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers and unjustly imprisoned in Egypt. But God made him that powerful nation’s governor and used him to save Israel from famine. Mighty King David started out as an obscure shepherd boy. But God used him and his slingshot to slay Goliath – the fearsome 8-foot-tall leader of Israel’s arch enemy, the Philistines. Moses was a poor speaker who stuttered, yet God chose him to face Pharaoh, bring the Israelites out of slavery and lead them to the Promised Land. And let’s not forget the Apostle Peter. He was a lowly fisherman who actually disowned Jesus three times when things got tough. Yet God still picked him to lead the growing band of Christ-followers in Jerusalem and help spread the faith across the known world.

Today’s Christ-followers are like the heroes of the Bible in many ways. We’re imperfect human beings that can fail to hear God’s call or even decide to avoid or refuse it. We sometimes feel discouraged and abandoned when we don’t feel God’s presence. And our self-image is often one of inadequacy. But the truth is that God knows the plans He has for us. He also sees us for what we can become, not for who we are at the moment.

Saying yes to God starts with listening for His call and asking Him for the wisdom and power to discern His message and do His will. And as for all things with Christ-followers, it’s our God-provided faith in Jesus makes it possible.

“I am the vine, and you are the branches,” explains the Gardener. “If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me.”