Fearful, fruitless; fearless, fruitful…

It would be within the bounds of reason to say that we live in fearful times. Once common sense exited our culture years ago, common decency soon vacated the premises as well. So, here we are in what appears to be, for the most part, a culture lacking good sense and goodness. A question then bubbles to the surface: as Christ-followers how do we live in these fearful times?

The answer is simple: do not be fearful. Easier said than done, right? Our culture sells products, policies, and philosophies based on the creation of fear. How? The message that is subtly delivered is one that suggests that if you do not have certain things or ideas in your life then you will miss out. Fear motivates; fear sells. But, it can only influence for a little while. How are believers — who certainly have natural, internal fears about family, finances, work, etc. — to climb above our society’s effective creation of fear and prodding at fear that we already harbor? By not buying into it.

The principle that must be grasped straightaway in combating fear is that we have to learn to identify “voices” and listen to the only One that is trustworthy. There is only one Speaker who has both the knowledge and veracity to deserve our full attention — God.

We hear Him speak above the shoutings of our society and the mumblings in our minds when we sit before Him and read His Word. From front to back of the Bible God repeatedly tells His people to “fear not” and “do not be afraid.” He means it. Search an online Bible for the phrases, “fear not” and “do not be afraid.” Go ahead. You will be surprised at how many times God told, and still tells, His people to avoid fear.

To dig in further we need to know why fear is so harmful. Fear is actually selfish, and self-promoting. Harboring fear in your heart and mind is to walk by sight instead of by faith. It is trusting what you see before you, know inside you, and plan to do about it all rather than trusting God. In a sense it’s a way of saying, “I’ve got this,” yet lacking the power or resources to resolve your situation at all. On the other hand, faith is taking God at His word and trusting Him instead of the shrieking voices around you and the nagging voice within your own mind. It boils down to whom you will listen to and trust to take care of you.

Here are some examples of how to fatally attack fear with the spear of God’s Word :

  • Do you ever have a flash of fear ignite in your mind for no reason? Here’s a remedy to it: “Do not be afraid of sudden fear…” (Proverbs 3:25)
  • Do you have a general sense of fear most of the time? Here’s God’s plan for that: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and power and a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).  So, a spirit of fear does not come from God, and is not His design for you. He gives us a spirit of power and a sound mind (Whew!).
  • Are you in the middle of a thunderstorm, avalanche, or sinkhole in life? Then read this slowly, lap it up: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1-2)

You get the picture. Whatever you are facing — whether internal or external, large or small — God’s word speaks to you and your situation in a voice loud and clear: “Do not fear, trust Me to take care of you in this.”
In closing, it would be profitable, and a wee bit painful, to diagnose how you respond to fear. It is one thing to treat symptoms with Scripture, it is an entirely different thing to kill the infection that causes the symptoms. So, here are some questions for you to answer honestly and prayerfully as a way to help you to present fear its notice of eviction:

  1. Are you fearful and worrisome by nature? If so, memorize 2 Timothy 1:7.
  2. Are you a good host for fear? In other words, do you welcome fear into your mind/heart, offer it tea and cookies, and allow it to sit by the fire and get comfortable? If so, stop it; toss fear out on its rear and grow your faith (it replaces fear) by memorizing Scripture.
  3. Is your first response to fear to dwell on it, or to immediately pray for wisdom and strength?
  4. Do you have godly folks to talk to about what you are dealing with? Proverbs 11:14 states that with an abundance of (godly) counselors there is safety and wisdom. Allowing fear to roam around freely in your mind can be combatted by talking about it with godly friends or your pastor.
  5. Do you really want to be free from the paralyzing effects of fear? If so, you can by spending more time in God’s word and in prayer. It really is that simple.

My grandmother — an outstanding worrier — used to say, “hard work won’t kill anybody, but worrying will.” She ultimately died of a stroke. No kidding.

Get a handle on fear by getting ahold of God’s Word, listening to what it has to say, and allowing it to silence the voices of anxiety and fear.

Of note: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

‘Nuff said…

You’ve got (real) mail….

When was the last time that you looked forward to checking your mail? Not your email, but the kind of mail that arrives with a stamp. This week has been the first time in a long time that I have been eager to open the mail box. Why, you ask? Two of my three daughters went away to a girls’ camp this week. It was their first stint away from parents, home, and grandparents that exceeded a couple of nights. Did I mention they are not allowed to make or receive phone calls, unless it’s an emergency? Several moms just shivered.

The bright side is that we were allowed to send them letters. Rather than trusting the USPS to deliver my letters, I wrote them beforehand, and gave them to the girls just before we left the camp. Each daughter has her own “dad” letter to read each day as well as a card for them to enjoy together each night. The nighttime cards are loaded with some of our silly sayings and inside jokes with the hope that they will smile and giggle together, and feel as if they are close to home at bedtime.

The writing of letters — and the hope of receiving some — has shown me some things. Actually, it has rekindled something that has been smothered by e-mail, blog posts, text messages and tweets. We live in the age of instant, limitless communication, and it has robbed us of some habits and virtues.

Not so many years ago our interpersonal communication was either face-to-face, via an odd-colored, rotary dial telephone, or by mail. Until a century ago only two of these existed. I suspect that communication was more meaningful then, and also carried out with a more robust vocabulary and better grammar.

In pondering these things a Bible verse trickled through my mind:

“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God…” 1 Peter 5:12

This passage shows us that letters are personal. They are written to someone, by someone.  Peter’s words were “I have written to you…” The relationship is understood, and being nurtured. The words, thoughts, and familiar penmanship all meant something, something personal, just like FaceBook. Just kidding, Heh-Heh. Sadly, communication that carries a personal touch approaches extinction nowadays.

Let’s place these thoughts alongside the days when folks in our society commonly sent and received letters. In doing so we will learn a few bits about ourselves that will aid us in communicating with meaning, and also reveal what we have lost over the past three decades of e-talk — the personal touch.

There are invisible, internal benefits received from writing and receiving letters. In the days of communication through handwritten and hand-delivered mail there was anticipation by both parties. The anticipation caused both to think of, and perhaps long for the other. As the recipient sorted the mail, anticipation would build: What would be said? How would it be said? As the letter was read, emotions were engaged and the mind skated about freely. Throughout the reading, and even more so afterward, the words were pondered, thoughts distilled, meaning was extracted, a response simmered, and a reply was composed. As the reply was sealed, stamped, and sent away something of meaning had happened. Two people had related in a way that strengthened their bond. Instant communication assassinates this process.

It sounds delightful; it was, and it still can be. Give it a try. A priceless benefit of writing to someone is that handwritten notes can be kept. Kept, and read again, savored over and over. Countless letters and cards have been treasured long after the sender has gone or passed away.

Now apply this to the letters in the New Testament. A whole “other” meaning is added. The letters are from God. As such they carry his eternal truth, and presence. It would be remarkable to have observed the early believers as they held their breath, huddled, and soaked in the words penned by the beloved apostles.  I must admit that it sounds fantastical. It was. It still can be. You have the letters of God, read them, bathe in them, reflect on them. Recover the wonder of His written Word that is both eternal and personal. Then, do something with it — take a moment, pray for someone dear to you, and write a letter to him or her. Tell them about what you read in God’s Word, how they came to mind, and that you prayed for them. It will be good for you and the recipient. Letters work like that. By design, God’s design…

Oops, it’s time to go check the mail, again.

Emptiness to fullness

 

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul states that he wants believers to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with all of the fullness of God.”

Christ’s love for us does something amazing: it surpasses our very knowledge and understanding of it.

When I have thought of the word “surpass” in the past, I have thought of it wrongly — as I have just discovered.

Here are the variety of definitions that I previously had filed in my head for “surpass:”

  • to outrun, or catch up to and run past.
  • to rise above, as in gaining stature or position above something else.
  • to have more than another, as in surpassing riches.

All of my descriptions show an error in thinking. Namely, my error was thinking that two things were equal, or close to being equal, with one eventually overtaking the other. While this may describe an earthly definition of “surpassing,” it is wrong when thinking of the love of Christ surpassing our knowledge. Bad wrong.

Christ’s love and my knowledge, or any human knowledge, have never been peers, or stood within any measure of being comparable. Christ’s love has always exceeded my knowledge, or yours, or all of humanity’s combined. At the bottom of the rung of Christ’s love and the top rung of our knowledge of it lie an incalculable chasm.

The correct definition of “surpass” in Ephesians 3:19 is that one thing (Christ’s love) transcends the reach, capacity, or powers of another (our knowledge). So, Christ’s love for us transcends the reaching hand, available capacity, and weak powers of our knowledge. Or, to put it more plainly, the greatest reach of our knowledge, deepest capacity to learn, and keenest powers to know fall eternally short of comprehending His love. Period.

I can only know the infinite love of Christ when He makes it known to me, and fills my weak, shallow, groping mind beyond its ability to grasp, contain, or appreciate it.

Thankfully, His Holy Spirit will reveal His love to us. In fact, Romans 5:5 tells us that God’s love is poured out (abundantly) into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. So, the pressure is off. My mind and heart cannot strive for, or grab hold of the depth of the love of Christ. Rather, it is given freely by His grace and poured into my heart. It’s the same for you too.

Let’s circle back to last part of Ephesians 3:19. Paul longed for believers to have the fullness of God in Christ. Today, each of us still has that same desire. To receive God’s fullness requires that we must know the love of Christ. To gradually and increasingly — it’s not an event; it’s a process — know this we must first understand that we cannot know it on our own … because it is beyond our reach. So, in a sense, to gain fullness we must continually understand and embrace our emptiness of ability to know His love apart from Him revealing it to us through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.

In sum, realizing our emptiness precedes receiving His fullness. That makes perfect sense; a full container cannot be filled further. If we are full of ourselves, and an expectation that we can attain understanding or growth in Christ on our own, we will not see the need for the thing that we lack. When we see what is missing from or impossible for us, we can then take the first steps toward knowing His love and receiving His fullness. The road to fullness in Christ begins at the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender. It is an intersection that we do not like to approach, but it is where growth begins.

Here are some words of advice: if you decide to proceed to the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender, do not rush through the intersection; pause at the intersection, stop and sit on the curb … and linger there. The time spent there will make a difference later. A big difference.