Category Archives: 44. Fear

Fear (Sunday)—Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Paul’s fors and so thens are worth noting. They reveal his habit of using cognitive energy to connect the dots. For the Romans, and us, Paul has taken reason from his tool kit and is using it to connect the ideas of living and being led.

Granted, Paul is a smart guy, but it’s not just his intellect that attracts me. He wasn’t just a repository of Bible facts. He also had encounters with Jesus in his data storage, which required zero mental initiative. Paul knew God spoke to men even when the scrolls were unopened. He learned to honor both the Holy Spirit and the written Word. Paul was a great example of one whom God had found who would worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Paul was a mystic with an agile mind. This attracts me to him.

We need to understand what the flesh is if we are to glean much from Paul.  Here is my understanding: the flesh is simply that part of us which lives by its wits, independent of God. Too often flesh conjures visions of mere debauchery. While the flesh will wallow in sensual indulgence, it will also participate in brilliant reasoning, persuasive speech and socially beneficial deeds. My point (and I believe Paul’s) is that flesh can be just as happy in a church as it is in brothel—just as long as it gets its way and has its needs for attention met. Having a definition of flesh that transcends immoral behavior expands the meaning of our passage:

 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if, by the Spirit, you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.

Paul, is helping us to renew our minds by reconnecting the dots…

 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

If you have read much in MwM, you know I managed to disconnect my own dots through works-based religion. My flesh and I had a pretty good deal worked out. In our arrangement, there was an abundance of man’s approval, but, in the long haul, it obscured the Spirit’s witness that I was a son of God (independent of my doings). I discovered first hand that the approval of men is the bread of death to insecure hearts.

In the drift of my Abba-orientation, I clung to the scriptures as my sole source of revelation. I shunned the notion that light could survive any prolonged exposure to reason or intuition. I just knew that pure revelation could be destroyed by either the cognitive or the subjective. After all, with the presence of the Bible and the absence of the gifts, why would the Holy Spirit involve Himself in things so childish as thinking or prophecy? (Sarcasm intended).  

To shore up my eternal security, it was easier to posture myself before a Holy God as one defiled in my flesh—a penitent, casting himself continually on God’s mercy. While this might sound right, it excludes the notion that a son can stand in his Father’s presence without fear.

The scriptures are central and essential revelation. However, living, moving and having my being in God (who is love) has liberated me to trust He can also speak to me through the Spirit. “Living” and “being led” by the Spirit has evolved into a collaboration. My ongoing conversation with God includes Bible study, meditation, and prayer. It may include reasoning and experimentation or a prophetic word. He may speak directly to me or indirectly. In light of our orientation and proximity to Him, is He really limited to sola scriptura? Hearing God’s voice has even come to include listening to my own heart, which I had previously written off as a mirror image of my flesh.

I once related to God as a servant who might hear his Master’s voice, if he studied and complied. I endeavored to build my life on the principles I harvested from Bible study labors. Applying the principles was the essence of my obedience and the proof of my love for God. In retrospect (aka: wisdom), I see I was not just loving God in my study and application; I was also fashioning a life that worked out pretty nicely for me.

However, as a son, I am invited into a place with much greater freedom—a place where I may know His heart and hear His voice. His words are not just static principles to which I must conform. His Word (expressed in myriad arenas) is transforming me by way of a dynamic relational process from within. It’s an inside job. That’s why we must diligently watch over our hearts.

Father, Help us to see our obligation to Your Holy Spirit. May your Spirit prevail over our flesh however productive and influential it may be. We declare our desire to live and be led by You. May our Abba-orientation give us enough boldness to see ourselves as fellow-heirs with Christ. Strengthen us to accept any plowing that may be necessary. Help us to persevere until we see the harvest.

 Now to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling, and to make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Question for reflection: In the telling of our story (which is what children of light do), can we identify occasions, where, by the Spirit, we have put to death the deeds of the flesh? This is a big question because “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

 

Fear (Saturday)—Isaiah 41:8-10

In terms of obscure origins, we have much in common with Jacob. In a real sense weren’t we, alienated from God in Adam, also taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts? We share something else with Jacob: favored status. While he was referred to as a servant, God has called us His children. Servants carry out their master’s will hoping to avoid punishment. They win favor by performance. Offspring inherit their father’s DNA and live out His will from a new nature. They can’t win Father’s approval—they were born again with it. Being His beloved is their inheritance. Slaves operate out of fear, which produces religion. Children operate out of love, revealing Life.

Sadly, even His children can get their identities entangled in religion. I can testify that hearts with rejection-wounds are easy prey. Satan gets us to trade our labors for approval, conditioning us to function with a slave’s mentality: “If I cease to perform, I cease to be approved. And that is unacceptable.” As men applaud us and the system promotes us, we can form a likable image of ourselves—disciples in good standing on the merits of our work. While it should be the honored hero, grace is left just holding the door. This is elder brother—religious energy. How much of what is done in Jesus’ name is fueled by this energy? What kind of light does it produce?

 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Our litmus test as disciples is whether or not we are anxiously looking about. We might ask, “Isn’t anxiety just a knee-jerk reaction to threatening circumstances? By choosing, can we really alter our anxiety?” If being anxious were not in our wheelhouse, God would not have commanded, “Stop it.” Following this line of reasoning, God must think of threatening circumstances as an issue of our perception. When we see threatening circumstances, He is saying we must adopt His vantage point and… Fear not.

What things are currently threatening you with anxiety? Our perception-deceptions will not be overthrown unless we name them. Unless we humble ourselves by acknowledging where fear rules, we cannot even change direction. Let’s press on to know the Lord by admitting where fear and anxiety are shaping our thoughts and emotions. Let’s offer them up to God and invite Him to occupy these newly vacated spaces in our hearts. Let’s persevere until our identity—as offspring—is fully restored and we stare down our circumstances (those within and those without) with bold confidence that we are, by nature, over-comers.

Father, You have forgiven us of our sin. Forgive us also for trafficking in performance-based religion—where we have traded the joy and freedom of offspring for approval and applause as servants. Pour Your Spirit out upon Your children. Deliver us from religious darkness. Show us where we are anxiously looking about. Lay the axe to our works-oriented roots. Rather than the noisy gong of religion, let the world hear the resounding ring of laughter and song flowing from bold and celebrant hearts, living in stunned awe at Your overwhelming love and Your abundant life. Let this be.

 

Fear (Friday)—II Timothy 1:6-12

In the 7th grade, a classmate of mine lost control of his bowels during class. Sadly, he was never to be seen again. My personal classroom catastrophe (the first on that is) occurred the next year in speech class. I had two primary character traits at 14. I was lazy and I was painfully shy. These liabilities merged on the fateful day I was to deliver my first speech.

When my name was called to come to the stage, fear struck my soul like a lightening bolt. Although the sting is finally gone, I can still recall standing on that stage in front of my classmates with zero preparation and fear paralyzing my mind and powers of speech. Whatever I might have said was lost—sucked up into the intensifying storm raging in my mind. I imploded into self-condemnation and self pity. In my own way, I had also soiled my pants, and, in a sense, that was the last that was seen of me for a long, long time.

Timothy was also shy, but he had Paul as a mentor, Paul, who helped him see that he was a new person. Timidity had passed away and had been displaced by Christ. Paul made it clear that Timothy now had a spirit of boldness and sound mind: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

The speech class debacle confirmed my deepest fear, one that I had been flirting with since I was quite young and especially since going from a grade school class of 20 into a junior high class of 200. I was lost and I had a growing suspicion that I was worthless. My speech-less experience cemented this idea into the foundations of my identity.

However, I found a new friendship that relieved some of my pain—alcohol. It was available in abundance in my own home. For the following decade, I eased my paralyzing social misery with Jim Beam and Jose Cuervo. My new friends accompanied me to every social event for a full decade. If I hadn’t arrived, I was well on my way to drug addiction at 23.

By the time I met Christ in 1976, the dark thoughts, that had attached themselves to me in the eighth grade, had progressively strengthened and coiled around my identity so tightly that I knew I would soon suffocate. This may sound like hyperbole, but I knew without a doubt, something evil and powerful held me in its grip. For years, an agreement had been forming between it and myself. We both understood it was going to kill me at some point. What could be more appropriate for someone as worthless as I?

The wrecked cars and incarcerations were further evidence that Jim and Jose had turned on me. Other than the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I was a sheep without a shepherd. I was utterly lost and lonely. My mantra and meditations did not alter the fact that I was quietly madder than hell at myself and the world. This is the prison Jesus liberated me from.

As if it were yesterday, I recall George Strella asking me if I knew Jesus as my personal savior. I assured him that I had no clue what he was talking about. I think I preempted his Evangelism Explosion spiel, and simply said, “Look, I believe in Jesus, and I will give Him my life. I am ruining it.” After our prayer, as far as I knew, I had ceded the deed of my life to Christ. I held nothing back (that I knew of). Why would I? The next thing I knew, I was a walking miracle.

Whatever, or whoever, had its claws in me, had been evicted. When Christ came in, that thing left. Jesus totally took me by surprise. My heart was doing backflips in joy and astonishment. I had been set free and was profoundly grateful to my Liberator. A new spirit of boldness had won the battle for my soul. The shy introvert could not keep from sharing about the new life he had found, or more accurately, the Life that had found him. “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.”

I returned to college and graduated. I didn’t read my diploma, but I’m sure it said, “This boy is officially not stupid!” This was huge because I had dropped out of school in 1974 with full conviction that I was. In his frustration, my Dad had once said, “Robby, you could #%*! up an anvil with a rubber mallet.” To prove his point, I lived in progressive agreement with this lie for a long time.

Being somewhere between slow and stupid had been a core conviction of my old life. However, I had been raised from the dead! I began thinking for the first time in my life. The boy who never read now loved reading. Where did this come from? It had to be a Jesus thing! I had been Robby—the loser. I was now Rob—the reader and the redeemed. My new family in Christ preferred calling me Rob. Okay. Under the circumstances, a name change did not seem inappropriate. I just went with it. I was not lazy, shy, or stupid. I was now Rob—a new creation in Christ. I now belonged to Another.

Father, You have saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to Your own purpose and grace which was granted us in your Son from all eternity, but has now been revealed by the appearance of Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! I know You! I believe in You! I love You! I am convinced that You are able to guard what I have entrusted to You (which is all of me) until that day. You are my all in all. Amen.

Here is the chorus of Bob Bennett’s “Lord of the Past.” It is so fitting.

Every harsh word spoken / Every promise ever broken to me / Total recall of data in the memory / Every tear that has washed my face / Every moment of disgrace that I have known / Every time I’ve ever felt alone   

Lord of the here and now / Lord of the come what may / I want to believe somehow / That you can heal these wounds of yesterday (You can redeem these things so far away) / So now I’m asking you / To do what you want to do / Be the Lord of the Past / Be the Lord of my Past / Oh how I want you to / Be the Lord of the Past

All the chances I let slip by / All the dreams that I let die in vain / Afraid of failure and afraid of pain / Every tear that has washed my face / Every moment of disgrace that I have known / Every time I’ve ever felt alone

Well I picked up all these pieces / And I built a strong deception / And I locked myself inside of it / For my own protection / And I sit alone inside myself / And curse my company / For this thing that has kept me alive for so long Is now killing me. / And as sure as the sun rose this morning, / The man in the moon hides his face tonight. / And I lay myself down on my bed / And I pray this prayer inside my head

Lord of the here and now / Lord of the come what may / I want to believe somehow / That you can heal these wounds of yesterday / So now I’m asking you / To do what you want to do / Be the Lord of my Past / You can do anything / Be the Lord of the Past / I know that you can find a way / To heal every yesterday of my life / Be the Lord of the Past

 

 

Fear (Thursday)—Isaiah 43:1-7

In our passage we are paddling out over some deep and mysterious currents created by two seemingly opposing ideas. One is that man is an agent of free will, determining his fate, one choice at a time. The other is that God has written a script and that man is just playing his part. We should know something about these waters because what’s below is going to effect us.

Isaiah refers to fires and floods that Israel will encounter. Fear producing possibilities are crouching along our paths as well. Perhaps we will have some kind of Indiana Jones or John Eldridge kind of life, but it is as likely that our part will be to simply live life alongside others, who like ourselves are being challenged by our vocations, our relationships, our health, and, sadly, (as we are reminded in this election cycle) even our government.

Most people have an awareness that, beyond our consciousness, there are powerful forces—like tectonic plates which, with only a modest shift, any one of them might produce a tsunami capable of swamping our little canoes. Even a near-sighted prophet could predict the potential of an economic tsunami. When it comes, no one will be exempt from the potential of fear. Who will save us then? Will it be our government? Our guns and our gold? Our prepping?

From verse 25 we see that it is possible that some who were on fire and burned were not even aware of it! They had somehow become accustomed to the heat. (I wish this did not remind me of the church in western culture.) This phenomena reminds me of those who subscribe to a scripted cosmology where a loving God, who desires that none should perish, stands idly by, watching them do so. Those subscribers, like the God they have imagined, are indifferent to the consequences of the high waters and the fires:  “Oh well, Thy will be done.” (Big time sarcasm intended.)

It is wise to acknowledge that God does not exempt His chosen ones from threatening circumstances. They are inevitable. If our theology removes or insulates us from the potential of earthquakes and tsunamis, we have not read our Bibles. Instead, we have only placed our trust in some sick spiritualized version of the American dream. In other words: an idol. (The father of lies, who doth work us woe, is the architect of this myth.) The value of fire and flood is that they will reveal whether In God We Trust or in the American economic engine.

Satan, who is waging a cosmic war from his platform of deception, further darkens the waters. Deep currents swirl in the interplay of wills—God’s, Satan’s, and our own. The tension between these three would-be sovereigns is the origin of earth’s cultural-spiritual weather patterns.

We do not have the luxury of exhaustive revelation. We cannot rest in the certainty of a comprehensive light. However, the scriptures and the Spirit within us, provide sufficient revelation by which to navigate. There are vast mysteries below, but we paddle on by faith, trusting in His prevailing goodness and power.

            A mighty fortress is our God, who is our helper in the midst of the flood of prevailing mortal illness. God is our fortress against Satan—our ancient foe, who is armed with cruel hatred. Even though this world is filled with devils, who threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed that His Truth should triumph through us. We can endure Satan’s rage, for his doom is certain. In fact, one brief Word shall fell him—Christ Jesus is this Word and He must win the battle. This Word—“Jesus,” is above all earthly powers!

Clearly, that last paragraph was constructed from the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Martin Luther. Luther concludes the song by describing our part in the contest: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s Truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever!”

In His kindness, God often uses modest little waves. He allows them to hit our boat so that we can become better oarsmen and to promote course corrections. High water and fires have led many a soul to repentance. It often takes a trial for us to reconsider our hurtful ways. Repentance is simply a God-prompted change of thought and redirection of our will.

God will ultimately be the prevailing power in the water below and the air above. We must not fear for He has won the battle. He has not only given Egypt as ransom for the chosen nation of Israel; He has given his Son as the ransom for us—His beloved children. We do not need to fear the coming tsunamis. Where they appear, grace will abound all the more. Regardless of what waves hit our boats, they are all driven by a persistent love designed to awaken us from our indifference, our delusion, and our hardness of heart. God tells us:

 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name; you are Mine!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,

Nor will the flame burn you.

For I am the Lord your God…(from Isaiah 43:1-2)

Lord, you have told us that momentary trials are sometimes necessary. When they are, teach us to give thanks for them and the redemption within. Help us to harvest the revelation of Yourself within each wave. May the ongoing story of Your goodness and love be revealed to those whom You love, yet who remain asleep. May we respond to our trials and, in them, turn to You as our Savior, our Refuge and, as our Life.  Amen.

 

Fear (Wednesday)—Genesis 3:6-10

And Adam said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”

Today’s passage marks the entrance of fear into human affairs. To better understand it, let’s take a look at God and man, before fear laid hold of him.

God is revealed as a being with a personality. He possessed all knowledge and was moving about on earth in a body, interacting with man. He was provoking him to think and explore everything He had created. Since He had designed him in His image, there was going to be some very large discoveries!

Most prominent in our story is man’s relationship to God—something like breathing which Adam and Eve took for granted. God and man were intimately connected. That is how the story begins and, after a long season, that is how the story will conclude: Jesus is making all things right – repairing the tragic breach.

Satan, a bitter and proud angel, was already a resident of earth when Adam and Eve were created. Through his involvement in human affairs, he has proven himself a liar, a murderer, and a thief. He hates God, God’s people, and has a singular mission to disrupt and destroy God’s plans. His method is to sow masterful deceptions into the heart’s of men.

His methods are subtle. He packaged his lie to Eve as a proposal that God may be withholding something from her. In Eve’s case it was wisdom. Apparently she could be more than she was: she could be wise like God! The poison our parents ingested contained knowledge about both good and evil—knowledge God had warned them would cause their death.

As the toxins were absorbed into their being, their capacity to live comfortably in God’s presence without fear died. The forbidden substance, now operative in them, obscured their awareness of God and left them instead with a miserable substitute—an acute awareness of themselves and their lack. Their newfound knowledge informed their consciousness that they were inadequate and inferior and that God was the one they must fear and hide from.

Adam and Eve feared the Lord. We are told in Psalm 111:10 that fearing God is a prerequisite to wisdom. So, was this the beginning of their wisdom? It was surely the beginning of a worldly type of wisdom, which equips the sons of Adam with a particular kind of genius in dealing with their fears. Men find ways to cope with their fears of isolation, failure, intimacy, and myriad others. Men either live from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or the Tree of Life.

Fear, born of the knowledge of good and evil, can birth both good deeds and evil deeds. Our self-orientation and fear produce both the devout and the debauched. The root motive for both the alms giver and the murderer could have a common denominator in fear. Both of them can exercise their worldly wisdom—compensating for their acute insecurities, traceable to the garden.

Yesterday’s passage was I John 4:16-20. We read, “Perfect love casts out fear.” While one tree produces fear and religion, the other produces love and intimacy. The Tree of Life reestablishes the human spirit’s capacity for intimacy with God. Our fatal wound of Eden is healed in Jesus’ wounds at Calvary: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

In the wisdom rooted in the cross, we learn a new definition of fear. The old definition, which anticipated punishment from an angry God, was cast out by love.By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in the world.

There is a wisdom available to us that will allow us to once again think, explore and discover in the context of a relationship with God where we do not need to hide ourselves in fear of punishment, where the notion of additional sacrifices are nonsensical. There is no condemnation for us who are in Christ because Christ absorbed the punishment due us. God desires that we avail ourselves of this costly gift, by which has made it once again possible to walk with Him and others in intimacy.

Father, may we see with new eyes that You have laid the axe to the root of our old nature, rooted in fear. May we comprehend that, in Christ, we are grafted into You—legally immune to accusations of inferiority. Thank You that we are completely acceptable and welcomed into Your presence. Let us resume our intimate communion. Now to Him, who is able to keep us from stumbling, and to make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. Amen.

 

Fear (Tuesday)—I John 4:16-21

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1John 4:16-21)

New Christians seem to instinctively grasp “the love which God has for them. They just know, “God loves me!” Being loved is natural to them. It is as though life flows directly up through the root system into the new heart: flowers bloom and fragrances abound. Yet, new Christians often wilt. It’s as though a winter overtakes the new plant, robbing it of its color and aroma. What has happened? Having bloomed and wilted, I have asked, “Are we annual or a perennial plants?”

Annual plants are only enjoyed for one season. When the first freeze comes, they perish. Perennial plants also appear to die at the first frost, but they return each year because their root systems remain alive. Christians are like perennial plants, except our above ground beauty and fragrance appear in less predictable cycles. Because our root system lives, we can bloom and provide color and aroma even in times of drought and harsh weather. A scene comes to mind:

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26)

Plants that sing in prison have learned to abide. Sadly though, an abuse of this word has wilted many a plant and kept a multitude imprisoned in a perpetual winter. It is essential to remember that abiding is facilitated exclusively by the Master’s grafting skills. Beyond acknowledgement and thanksgiving, we make zero contribution to this miracle. However, religion is crouching at the door with its anti-gospel, preaching that it is our job to cling to the root in order to abide. We are encouraged to cling with all our hearts to the Lord. A young and child like heart recoils: “Yikes! What happens if I can’t cling tight enough?” Fear has now reentered the garden. Religion has challenged grace and the plant has begun to wilt.

How then must l be saved?

Religion asks this question then provides the answers, “Thou shalt comply.” “Thou shalt commit thyself.” Embedded in our religious codes are penalties for those unwilling to comply. In myriad and sundry ways, religion enforces its codes. Penalties await the non-compliant and uncomitted. Religion threatens the young plants:

“If you do not conform, if you do not commit, then … pick your poison; then, you will be bad; then, God will be angry; then, you will be rejected. The if-then thought loop is religion’s maximum-security prison. Fear (our jailer), taunts, “Just you try and escape!”

Sitting in our cell, we might dream of escaping; What would happen to our relationship with God, with the church, if we went non-compliant with that most hallowed practice of the group’s particular religious code? It could be church attendance, baptism, recomittment, bible study or all the above. It really doesn’t matter as long as you believe that anything you could do might  currie favor with God.

The degree to which we fear the penalty is the degree to which we are imprisoned. The lie that imprisons us is thinking we could ever cling tight enough to secure ourselves to the root. We cannot sustain in our own strength what God has miraculously done in His. We can’t sustain with works what began in grace. Just ask the Galatians. Paul called them foolish.

What is the Christian life, then, if it is not working out right and wrong in fear and trembling, always uncertain about the then penalty? Isn’t this the fear of God? These are the dead end questions of religious bondage. The only escape plan that has ever worked is abiding.

We must abide in order to draw life from the root. Abide simply means to remain in, to continue in, to dwell in. To illustrate abiding, I am going to draw upon Wayne Jacobson. He is working with the Father to set captives free. He exposes the if-then and the we-must-cling myths for the damning lies they are. Listen to this paragraph from his book, He Loves Me:

“He loves me. He loves me not… He loves me. He loves me not. A little girl stands in the backyard chanting as she plucks petals one by one from the daisy and drops them to the ground. At games end, the last petal tells all: whether or not the person desired returns the affection” (From Chapter 1: “Daisy Petal Christianity”).

This picture seems innocent, but the child has been bitten by a cobra. Its venom, mingling with the child’s insecurity, does its work. It produces an alternating conscience driven by fear. In He Loves Me, Jacobson exposes the bite and provides the anti-venom. He exposes the myth that God’s feelings about us change when our sin management failsHe makes a clear case: we were not designed to cling—we were designed to abide. Abiding is not clinging. It is simply remaining and continuing at rest in the gift of God’s initial grafting. It means that, with each petal plucked, we voice the refrain: “He loves me. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.”

Color and fragrance return when we are liberated from religion. As we rest in God’s love our identities are sealed. We start to see who we actually are. We are His with zero outstanding debts. Free of the backbreaking burden of trying to please God, we are now free to enjoy the gift—Christ in us, the hope of glory. We can return to childlike innocence where we too know, “God loves me!”

Father, let this be the day and the hour that you put your foot on religion’s neck. Expose every place this spirit has its claws in us. Liberate us from the constriction of works-oriented religion. Where evil has abounded in this way, let grace abound all the more. Clarify to our deepest selves that, in your love, there is zero basis for fear. Let us walk among the religious captives. May they hear our song. May the earth be shaken. May the captives finally go free. So be it.

 

Fear (Monday)—Mark 6:45-52

 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)

If the disciples had gained the intended insight from the loaves and fishes incident, what should their response have been to Jesus walking on the sea? Instead of astonishment, what reaction would have been appropriate? Mild terror? What was it that Jesus wanted to convey? At the very least, it was this: the rules have been changed! Things weren’t happening as they previously had. The sick are healed, food just materializes, men walk on water, and astonishingly, even tax collectors repent! Suddenly there is a new baseline for normal. All things are apparently possible now with Jesus!

How does this all-things-are-possible thing play out? After witnessing a miracle, were the disciples supposed to just flip a switch and open a new faith circuit? Jesus told them the problem was that their hearts were hardened. How did this happen? “Did they do this to themselves, Lord? You didn’t do this to them, did you?”

Whose domain is the heart anyway, God’s or ours? Who has access and responsibility for the circuitry of our hearts? Who wired them in the first place? I propose that we credit God as the master engineer who had wired his prototype (Adam) without a flaw. Let’s assume God is keenly interested in this circuitry and has told us to watch over it with all diligence. What will that look like? Will Bible study and memorization repair the damaged wiring? Will the confession of God’s Word solder the loose ends back together? Will another sermon be the fuse for our blown circuits? In our quest for answers, let’s begin with this idea: In Adam, our wiring was fried. This was the hardened condition of the disciples’ hearts—and ours.

When we are born again, do we get rebuilt hearts—ones that have been worked on, reissued, and are now warrantied by the factory?  I don’t think so; we aren’t going to be made into the image of Christ with used parts. New hearts, capable of relating rightly to God, are central to the New Covenant. Christ in us is our new circuitry. So, is that the end of it? Are we to have no further heart problems? Can we now flip that switch, default to auto-heart pilot, and cruise on in without any turbulence? With no fear and trembling?

No. As long as we have choices and there are commands in Scripture, there is some kind of mysterious joint venture going on between God and ourselves. We have shared responsibility for the domain of our hearts. Since all life flows through our heart, it is essential that we have some idea of what our responsibility is and what is God’s.

It is helpful to acknowledge that God created us with access to the switch. Man had to be able to choose. This was essential to our hearts as well as to the ultimate kingdom power grid. Since the kingdom’s power is based in love, and choice is essential to love, the plan necessitated human access to the switch. It is tragic, isn’t it, to think of God watching his children turn out their own lights? After Adam threw his switch, God was no longer central in his heart—Adam was. He now had the desire of his heart, and the flow of Eden-current ceased.

How does this work though? If our wiring is now good, why do we still do bad? Think of a child’s brain. It is a universe of potential electrical connections, which will either be made or not. For the child to reach its potential, it must have the right kinds of stimuli. Our hearts are similar.

Like the field of the child’s brain, the potential for circuitry is all in place. In Christ, this is true of our hearts as well. Scripture would say, we are saved and are being saved. Our metaphor says that we have new wiring and that, we are completing our circuitry—in fear and trembling. The uncertainty of things has to do with the mind of our flesh, which might be thought of as the remnants of the wiring we inherited in Adam, which has been tampered with by the world and the devil. Through these temporal circuits, phantom currents flow, carrying dying impulses of a life that has been buried in Christ.

The stimuli required for our new wiring is the moment by moment relationship we now have with God. Experience upon experience, encounter after encounter, the potentials of our new hearts are realized. As God shows us where we are still maintaining the old circuitry, by way of our agreements and choices, we see, by design, we still have access to the switch.

To my fleshly mind, it seems like a fearful risk to allow my grubby mitts anywhere even near a switch—yet love demands it. Understanding love’s requirements, we surrender our exclusive rights to this switch and a grace is released which connects miles of potential circuitry in our hearts. Mysteriously, this inner grace makes a way for Jesus to express himself outwardly through us to the world.

Brace yourself for some heavy theology: Our heart circuitry is fried in Adam yet it is brand new in Jesus. In this sense our hearts are good hearts with the capacity to process Truth. Our minds are another matter. They must be renewed. There are synapses and relays yet to be connected. As these connections are made, we are transformed, one circuit at a time, back into the image of God in Christ. This is how we are becoming the light of the world.

This is our joint-adventure with God.  As steward-partners with Him, it is our simple, yet fearful task (in light of the voltage) to yield those circuits to God where its obvious His abundant life is not yet flowing, asking Him to have His way in restoring us to the original schematic—His image.

Father, like the disciples, perhaps we could use a little terror or astonishment, at least enough to remind us that the rules have been changed. Please let us be the generation who learns to live from your new baseline of normal where our hearts are not hardened, but are rather, in Christ, discovering that all things are new and truly possible with You. Help us to see that in Christ, the light of Your kingdom is now within us and, by nature, it radiates outward into all creation.

Father, help us to recognize the kingdom is our domain—yours and ours. Teach us to jealously guard this space. Teach us to live the types of yielded lives which allow grace to flow from our new hearts out to the world. Help us to renew our minds that we may be radiant with your glory and shine into all the dark places around us.  Amen.

 

Fear (Sunday) – Romans 8:12-17

Fear – Romans 8:12-17

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Paul’s “for’s” and “so then’s” are worth noting. They reveal his habit of using cognitive energy to connect the dots. For the Romans, and us, Paul has taken reason from his tool kit and is using it to connect the ideas of living and being led.

Granted, Paul is a smart guy, but its not just his intellect that attracts me. He wasn’t just a repository of bible facts. He also had encounters with Jesus in his data storage, which had required zero mental initiative. Paul knew God spoke to men even when the scrolls were unopened. He learned to honor both the Holy Spirit and the written Word. Paul was a great example of one whom God had found who would worship him in Spirit and Truth. Paul was a mystic with an agile mind. This attracts me to him.

We need to understand what the flesh is if we are to glean much from Paul.  Here is my understanding; the flesh is simply that part of us which lives by its wits, independent of God. Too often flesh conjures visions of mere debauchery. While the flesh will wallow in sensual indulgence, it will also participate in brilliant reasoning, persuasive speech and socially beneficial deeds. My point (and I believe Paul’s) is that flesh can be just as happy in a church as it is in brothel – just as long as it gets its way and has its needs for attention met. Having a definition of flesh that transcends immoral behavior expands the meaning of our passage …

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if, by the Spirit, you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.

Paul, is helping us to renew our minds by reconnecting the dots …

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

If you have read much in MwM, you know I managed to disconnect my own dots through works-based religion. My flesh and I had a pretty good deal worked out. In our arrangement, there was an abundance of man’s approval but, in the long haul, it obscured the Spirit’s witness that I was a son of God (independent of my doings anyway). I discovered first hand that the approval of men is the bread of death to insecure hearts.

In the drift of my Abba-orientation, I clung to the scriptures as my sole source of revelation. I shunned the notion that light could survive any prolonged exposure to reason or intuition. I just knew that pure revelation could be destroyed by either the cognitive or the subjective. After all, with the presence of the Bible and the absence of the gifts, why would the Holy Spirit involve himself in things so childish as thinking or prophecy? (sarcasm intended)  

To shore up my eternal security, it was easier to posture myself before a Holy God as one defiled in my flesh – a penitent, casting himself continually on God’s mercy. While this might sound right, it excludes the notion that a son can stand in his Father’s presence without fear.

The scriptures are central and essential revelation. However, living, moving and having my being in God (who is love) has liberated me to trust he can also speak to me through the Spirit. “Living” and “being led” by the Spirit has evolved into a collaboration. My ongoing conversation with God includes bible study, meditation and prayer. It may include reasoning and experimentation or a prophetic word. He may speak directly to me or indirectly. In light of our orientation and proximity to him, is he really limited to sola scriptura?  Hearing God’s voice has even come to to include listening to my own heart, which I had previously written off as a mirror image of my flesh.

I once related to God as a servant who might hear his Master’s voice, if he studied and complied. I endeavored to build my life on the principles I harvested from bible study labors. Applying the principles was the essence of my obedience and the proof of my love for God. In retrospect (aka; Wisdom), I see I was not just loving God in my study and application; I was also fashioning a life that worked out pretty nicely for me.

However, as a son, I am invited into a place with much greater freedom – a place where I may know his heart and hear his voice. His words are not just static principles to which I must conform. His Word (expressed in myriad arenas), is transforming me by way of a dynamic relational process from within. Its and inside job. That’s why we must diligently watch over our hearts.

Father, Help us to see our obligation to your Holy Spirit. May your Spirit prevail over our flesh however productive and influential it may be. We declare our desire to live and be led by you. May our Abba-orientation give us enough boldness to see ourselves as fellow-heirs with Christ. Strengthen us to accept any plowing that may be necessary. Help us to persevere until we see the harvest.

Now to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling, and to make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Question for reflection; In the telling of our story (which is what children of light do), can we identify occasions, where, by the Spirit, we have put to death the deeds of the flesh? This is a big question because …

 If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, (thenyou will liveFor all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (parenthesis mine)

 

Fear (Saturday) – Isaiah 41:8-10

Fear – Isaiah 41:8-10

 

In terms of obscure origins and favored status, we have much in common with Jacob. While he was referred to as a servant, God has called us his children. Servants carry out their master’s will hoping to avoid punishment. They win favor by performance. Offspring inherit their father’s DNA and live out his will from a new nature. They cannot win Father’s approval because they were born again with it. Being his beloved is their inheritance. Slaves operate out of fear producing religion. Children operate out of love revealing Life.

Sadly, even his children can get their identities entangled in religion. I can testify that hearts with rejection-wounds are easy prey. Satan gets us to trade our labors for approval, conditioning us to function with a slave’s mentality –  “If I cease to perform, I cease to be approved. That is unacceptable.” As men applaud us and the system promotes us, we can form a likable image of ourselves as disciples in good standing on the merits of our work. While they should be the honored hero, grace is left just holding the door. This is elder brother – religious energy. How much of what is done in Jesus’ name is fueled by this energy? What kind of light does this energy produce?

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Our litmus test as disciples is whether or not we are anxiously looking about. We might ask, “Isn’t anxiety just a knee-jerk reaction to threatening circumstances? By choosing, can we really alter our anxiety?” If being anxious were not in our wheel house, God would not have commanded, “Stop it.” Following this line of reasoning, God must think of threatening circumstances as an issue of our perception. When we see threatening circumstances, he is saying we must adopt his vantage point and …

Fear not.

What things are currently threatening you with anxiety? Our perception-deceptions will not be overthrown unless we name them. Unless we humble ourselves by acknowledging where fear is ruling, we cannot even change direction. Let’s press on to know the Lord by admitting where fear and anxiety are shaping our thoughts and emotions. Let’s offer them up to God and invite him to occupy these newly vacated spaces in our hearts. Let’s persevere until our identities, as offspring, are fully restored and we are staring down our circumstances (those within and those without) with bold confidence that we are, by nature, over-comers.

Father, you have forgiven us of our sin. Forgive us for trafficking in performance-based religion where we have traded the joy and freedom of offspring for approval and applause as servants. Pour your Spirit out upon your children. Deliver us from religious darkness. Show us where we are anxiously looking about. Lay the axe to our works-oriented roots. Rather than the noisy gong of religion, let the world hear the resounding ring of laughter and song flowing from bold and celebrant hearts, living in stunned awe at your overwhelming love and your abundant life. Let this be.

 

 

 

 

Fear (Friday) – 2 Timothy 1:6-12

Fear – 2 Timothy 1:6-12

In the 7th grade, a classmate of mine lost control of his bowels during class. Sadly, he was never to be seen again. My personal classroom catastrophe occurred the next year in speech class. I had two primary character traits at 14. I was lazy and I was painfully shy. These liabilities merged on the fateful day I was to deliver my first speech.

When my name was called to come to the stage fear struck my soul like a lightening bolt. Although the sting is finally gone, I can still recall standing on that stage in front of my classmates with zero preparation and fear paralyzing my mind and powers of speech. Whatever I might have said was lost – sucked up into the intensifying storm raging in my mind. I imploded into self condemnation and self pity. In my own way, I had also soiled my pants and, in a sense, that was the last that was seen of me for a long long time.

Timothy was also shy but he had Paul as a mentor who helped him see that he was a new person. Timidity had passed away and had been displaced by Christ. Paul made it clear that Timothy now had a spirit of boldness and sound mind …

         For God has not given us a spirit of of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

The speech class debacle confirmed my deepest fear, one that I had been flirting with since I was quite young and especially since going from a grade school class of 20 into a junior high class of 200. I was lost and I had a growing suspicion that I was worthless. My speech-less experience cemented this idea into the foundations of my identity.

However, I found a new friendship that relieved some of my pain – alcohol. It was available in abundance in my own home. For the following decade, I eased my paralyzing social misery with Jim Beam and Jose Cuervo. My new friends accompanied me to every social event for a full decade. If I hadn’t arrived, I was well on my way to drug addiction at 23.

By the time I met Christ in 1976, the dark thoughts, that had attached themselves to me in the eighth grade, had progressively strengthened and coiled around my identity so tightly that I knew I would soon suffocate. This may sound like hyperbole but I knew without a doubt, something evil and powerful held me in its grip. For years, an agreement had been forming between it and myself. We both understood it was going to kill me at some point. What could be more appropriate for someone as worthless as I?

The wrecked cars and incarcerations were further evidence that Jim and Jose had turned on me. Other than the Mahreshi Mahesh Yogi, I was a sheep without a shepherd. I was utterly lost and lonely. My mantra and meditations did not alter the fact that I was quietly madder than hell at myself and the world. This is the prison Jesus liberated me from. It was an authentic OMG moment.

As if it were yesterday, I recall George Strella asking me if I knew Jesus as my personal savior. I assured him that I had no clue what he was talking about. I think I preempted his Evangelism Explosion spiel, and simply said, “Look, I believe in Jesus and I will give him my life. I am ruining it.” After our prayer, as far as I knew, I had ceded the deed of my life to Christ. I held nothing back (that I knew of). Why would I? The next thing I knew, I was a walking miracle!

Whatever, or whoever, had its claws in me, had been evicted. When Christ came in, that thing left. Jesus totally took me by surprise. My heart was doing backflips in joy and astonishment! I had been set free and was profoundly grateful my Liberator. A new spirit of boldness had won the battle for my soul. The shy introvert could not keep from sharing about the new life he had found, or more accurately, had found him.

                               Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.

I returned to college and graduated. I didn’t read my diploma but I’m sure it said, “This boy is officially not stupid!” This was huge because I had dropped out of school in 1974 with full conviction that I was. In his frustration, my Dad had once said, “Robby, you could !*#! -up an anvil with a rubber mallet.” As living proof, I lived in progressive agreement with this lie for a long time.

Being somewhere between slow and stupid had been a core conviction of my old life. However, I had been raised from the dead! I began thinking for the first time in my life. The boy who never read now loved reading. Where did this come from? It had to be a Jesus thing! I had been Robby – the looser. I was now Rob- the reader and the redeemed. My new family in Christ preferred calling me Rob. OK. Under the circumstances, a name change did not seem inappropriate. I just went with it. I was not lazy, shy or stupid. I was now Rob- a new creation in Christ. I now belonged to Another.

 

Father, you have saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to your own purpose and grace which was granted us in your Son from all eternity, but has now been revealed by the appearance of Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel….Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! I know You! I believe in You! I love you! I am convinced that you are able to guard what I have entrusted to you (which is all of me) until that day. You are my all in all. Amen.

Here is the chorus of Bob Bennett’s Lord of the Past. It is so fitting.

Lord of the here and now / Lord of the come what may / I want to believe somehow / That you can heal these wounds of yesterday – You can redeem these things so far away / So now I’m asking you / To do what you want to do / Be the Lord of the Past – Be the Lord of my Past / Oh how I want you to / Be the Lord of the Past

Bob us such a stud! Here are the full lyrics …

 

LORD OF THE PAST – Bob Bennett

Every harsh word spoken
Every promise ever broken to me
Total recall of data in the memory
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I’ve ever felt alone   

Lord of the here and now
   Lord of the come what may
   I want to believe somehow
   That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
   (You can redeem these things so far away)
   So now I’m asking you
   To do what you want to do
   Be the Lord of the Past
   (Be the Lord of my Past)
   Oh how I want you to
   Be the Lord of the Past

All the chances I let slip by
All the dreams that I let die in vain
Afraid of failure and afraid of pain
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I’ve ever felt alone

Well I picked up all these pieces
And I built a strong deception
And I locked myself inside of it
For my own protection
And I sit alone inside myself
And curse my company
For this thing that has kept me alive for so long
Is now killing me.
And as sure as the sin rose this morning,
The man in the moon hides his face tonight.
And I lay myself down on my bed
And I pray this prayer inside my head

   Lord of the here and now
   Lord of the come what may
   I want to believe somehow
   That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
   So now I’m asking you
   To do what you want to do
   Be the Lord of my Past
   You can do anything
   Be the Lord of the Past
   I know that you can find a way
   To heal every yesterday of my life
   Be the Lord of the Past