Thursday, January 19, 2012

Making Peace with our Fears

Fear can be a very negative thing.  One can read any of a number of books or articles about various phobias that hurt people's lives.  We have all probably experienced some level of irrational, even limiting, fear from time to time.  Indeed, this kind of fear is not good, and we should work to overcome it.

In partial contrast, I want to focus a moment on the positive side of fear.  I'm not a psychologist, but as a pastor, a husband, a father, and a man who's lived with his own fears a long time, I have a few thoughts I'd like to suggest about why I embrace some of my fears.

My fears balance my impulsive tendencies.  Fear of financial damage curbs the tendency toward impulsive spending.  Fear of getting a ticket helps keep my driving under control.  Fear of "getting caught" weakens the enticing power of many daily temptations.

I have a fear of letting people down. This leads me to fulfill my obligations, follow through with my promises, and persevere even when I don't feel like completing the task to which I have committed.

I have a fear of hurting my family.  This leads me to guard my marriage and not let any other relationship surpass the relationships I have with my wife and my kids.  This keeps me from pursuing any of a number of titillating explorations that would cause irreparable damage to my family.

I have a fear of emotionally scarring my children.  This leads me to temper my moments of anger and measure my words carefully.  This leads me to apologize when I've blown it, and to admit to them that I am not perfect, but I too am growing and learning.

I have a fear of portraying the Lord as anything other than Who He is.  This leads me to carefully read the Scriptures and learn all He has revealed about Himself.  This guides me to choose carefully the authors I read so I am constantly filling my mind with thoughts that are Scripturally accurate.  This causes me to be very careful in how I speak of the Lord to others - to represent Him well.  It's not that He needs good P.R., but I absolutely don't want to be guilty of causing anyone to think about Him incorrectly.

Fears can be a good thing.  When we make peace with our fears, and see the good side of them, we can accept the good and God-honoring boundaries they provide, then move forward with confidence and joy.  

If our  fears turn to something dark, we go back to God, and remember many passages like Psalm 56:3-4: "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. ...In God I trust; I shall not be afraid."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Plans of Man - and God's "No"

In 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17, we read about a time when David made a bold plan to serve the Lord.  He wanted to build a temple - a permanent place where the Lord would be worshiped.

What a wonderful goal this was!  Even Nathan the prophet immediately confirmed the plan, saying, "Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you" (1 Sam. 7:3).

Then something changed.  The Lord appeared to Nathan and told him to tell David, "No."  God had given David many blessings, and throughout history since we have seen those blessings unfold.  But the privilege of building a temple would not go to David.  David had a great plan, but God said, "No."

As I ponder this, I think about all the times I think of something great I want to do to please God.  I have big dreams, and in my heart I truly want to honor the Lord - this is good and right.  But sometimes as I set out in one direction or another, I hear the Lord say, "No."  Sometimes it startles me.  Sometimes I am tempted to protest - to defend my plan - to tell the Lord what a good idea it was, because surely He didn't understand it fully before giving a negative answer. This may seem silly, but this is how my mind works (and perhaps yours does as well).

David accepted God's "No."  I am wise when I do the same.

As we read in Proverbs, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand" (19:21, see also 16:1 and 16:9).  In James we read that we "ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'" (4:15).  We can plan - and we should plan - but those plans should always be subject to the leading of the Lord.  God's ways are truly best!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Laws of Love

God has given us His Word, filled with glimpses of His love and His character.  The Bible is a treasure chest filled with endless gems more valuable than anything this world can offer.

Sometimes I hear (or read) people's ideas that the Bible is just a bunch of antiquated lists of things to do or not do.  Most of those people express - either explicitly or implicitly - that God is just some kind of cosmic killjoy with rules that don't apply to today's society.

This idea is prevalent outside the church, but I have found shadows of this kind of thinking even inside the church.  Sometimes it seems the boundaries God has set for our lives are - well - inconvenient.  Sometimes they seem too hard to follow.  We may (consciously or subconsciously) even try to pick and choose the things we want to follow and then ignore the rest.  Rules feel restrictive, and by nature we tend to want to rebel against them.

Perhaps we need to think a little differently about this altogether.  Please allow me illustrate.

I love my children more than I can possibly express.  My exuberant four-year-old is obsessed with jumping on furniture, or jumping from the sofa to the floor, or other kinds of daredevil activities.  She is unaware of the dangers; she just wants to play.  She thinks I am unfair when I tell her not to jump on the furniture or jump down from a high place.  Even when she has gotten hurt while doing these things, she still desires them, and pursues them again and again.  Because I love her, I keep enforcing the rules - to protect her and to help her grow up to be healthy and strong.  We have even purchased her a little exercise trampoline that she can jump on at any time - in hopes she will enjoy jumping on that instead of on the furniture.

We keep these boundaries out of our love for her.  The same is true of the boundaries we keep on all three of our children: limits for internet usage, time limits when playing video games, limits on eating sweets, etc.  These boundaries are expressions of our love for them and our desire to help them be healthy emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

The same is true of the boundaries the Lord sets on our lives.  These are expressions of His love for us.  If I stay within the boundaries, I will find much joy, safety, and blessing.  These are laws of love from my Heavenly Father, and I will do well to follow them with obedience and gratitude.  

Within those boundaries there is still much freedom.  I take much joy in my time with my wife and children.  I enjoy many material blessings (probably too many) He has graciously provided.  I have wonderful friendships with many people.  I am so blessed!  When I spend time enjoying these blessings, I temporarily forget about some of the enticing things that are outside the boundaries.  

Adam and Eve were given access to every tree in the Garden of Eden except one.  Yet it was the one that drew their attention, and their first step outside of God's boundaries began thousands of years of sin and pain in our world.  Likewise, when we step outside God's boundaries, venturing into sin, there will be inevitable pain.  Let's stay within God's laws of love and find great joy in all He has given us.