Friday, January 31, 2014

Fear is a Dangerous Thing

"But the midwives feared God and did not do
as the king of Egypt commanded them,
but let the male children live." 
Exodus 1:17
I used to secretly believe that emotions were like God's little "oops" when he created women. There are several reasons I had that belief. One is that some emotions are quite uncomfortable and I didn't like  feeling them. Second, my father was quite stoic, as is my husband, and any emotion displayed against their stoicism always seems out of control. Third, there were several times in the church that I was admonished for expressing an emotion that was normal and I had come to believe that I was defective as a believer for experiencing emotions. Fourth, I was pretty intuitive from early childhood and I could sense and see little changes indicating things were not right, but when I asked questions, I was usually told everything was fine. So, I began to doubt my ability to see accurately and assumed the emotions that were triggered by what I thought I saw were not valid. 
A few years ago I wrote a curriculum for our high school group on the book of Matthew. As I read through the book, I looked for the relationships Jesus had with people. I also looked through the other gospels for the relational interactions recorded in those books. What was interesting is that I began to see that Jesus' feelings were recorded in the Scriptures. Jesus passionately expressed anger, sorrow, ambivalence, compassion, love, grief, and frustration. I began to realize that the culture He was born into was a more emotionally expressive culture than this culture I live in. 
I remember at one point the youth pastor saying to the students that the only legitimate fear object is God. I don't know that I totally agree with his statement because I believe fear has a duel purpose, but I do agree with what he was trying to say by his statement. 
First, fear was given to us to signal that there is impending danger and we need to take action to stay safe by fleeing, fighting, or freezing. Now, as a person who has experienced trauma in the past, I realize my danger sensor is set extra high and I over react. I am that person that screams and runs from rubber snakes just like I do rattle snakes. I tend to be jumpy in the car and slam my foot on the dash board when I feel like my husband isn't braking fast enough or assume he hasn't seen a car I have seen. In my defense, I've prevented two serious accidents in our almost forty years of marriage. In his defense, I have unnecessarily scared him thousands of times!  
Second, I believe God gave us fear to drive us to relationship with Him and to govern how we choose to live in this world. This is the part of fear that the youth pastor was addressing when he made his statement. To explain it, I am using the first chapter of Exodus. A new king who did not know Joseph had come to power. He saw that the number of Israelites living in the land had grown quite large. He feared that if Egypt were to go to war, the Israelites would join the enemy armies and if they did the Israelites could escape and the Egypt would easily be defeated.  
His fear drove him to make rotten decisions. He set up taskmasters and enslaved the Israelites. But God was on their side! The more the king oppressed them, the more they began to multiply. The more the Israelites multiplied ,the more the Egyptians feared them. Enslavement and oppression was no longer enough to make the king feel safe, so, he told the Hebrew midwives to kill every baby boy that was born to the Israelites. My stomach churns at the thought of being ordered to do that. Midwives are supposed to help mothers deliver babies safely. How horrible to think that midwives in such a trusted position would destroy the lives they were delivering. Thankfully two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, feared God more than they feared the Egyptian king. They continued to deliver babies, but they didn't kill the little baby boys as ordered. Instead, they lied to the king, saying the babies were born before they got there. God honored their fear and blessed their actions by giving them families of their own. 
This chapter assures me that fear is not sin. It is a God-given emotion that has the potential to lead either to life or lead to death, both physical and spiritual. The Egyptian king didn't understand that it is God who births nations and God who removes them. He didn't understand that it was God who anointed him king and God who would take him out.
The king enslaved and oppressed God's chosen people because he feared them, not their God. His fear lead him to order women, against their own conscience, to carry out a mass murder of babies. In the spiritual realm the king aided the Enemy as he tried to stop the line of the promised Messiah. On the other hand, the fear--the reverence the midwives had for their God caused them to risk their own lives to obey God. As as they fulfilled their purpose and they preserved the lives of the baby boys, God used them to preserve a nation and the family line of the future Messiah. 
God-given fear can physically save our lives when danger triggers it and we take appropriate action. The fear of God's wrath surfaces when we realize the Creator is a holy God and we are an unholy people and that healthy fear grows as we realize it is Him who holds our lives and our eternal destiny in His hands. That fear drives us to the Messiah--the Savior who took our shame and our guilt on the cross so that we can be reconciled to Him. His perfect love casts out the fear and replaces it with a sense of reverence, of awe, a deep love, and a growing desire to know Him. As long as we remember who He is and who we are, as long as we are grateful for what He as done, we will make choices that honor Him and preserve, protect, and produce life. 
When we lose sight of what Christ has done for us, that old fleshly fear of man can resurface and  drive us to do things that destroy life, both physically and spiritually. I can't help but wonder how often the fear of man impacts still impacts what we do, even as believers.
Have we participated in gossip or slander, assassinating the reputation of another? Was it motivated by a fear of not belonging or a fear of another looking at our messy lives? 
Have we spoken harsh words, piercing the hearts of our children, spouses, or friends? Could it be that the anger driving those words covered a fear of being found less than perfect as a parent,  spouse, or friend?  
Have we stayed in bondage to behaviors, substances, or relationships, because we are afraid of what others might think if we asked for help to break the stronghold? 
Have we done something our boss, spouse, or church leader asked us to do that we knew was wrong because we were afraid of a loss of position or afraid to stand up to someone who has the power to ask us to leave? 
Have we failed to say  no to participating in sin for fear of losing friends? 
Have we viewed porn or not confronted a husband who does, because it comes into our home and no one, but, the grieving God who died to set us free?  
Have we had an abortion because we feared what the church would say if they found out we conceived a baby marriage while hoping God would understand our why?    
Have we failed to ask for prayer, because we are afraid it would our weaknesses or that we would be judged? 
I remember talking to a friend that I occasionally work for about a friend who thought something negative about me. Instead of getting all wrapped up in what the friend said, he quietly asked, "I wonder how much more freedom you would enjoy if you gave her permission to think what ever she wants to think?" I realized that if we just give other people permission to think what ever they want to think about us, it frees us to became more focused on what Christ has done for us and in us, and maybe, just maybe we would be filled with such a sense of wonder and gratitude that it would drive us to make God-honoring, life-preserving decisions.
Then gossip would turn into affirmation and life-building encouragement. Stinging words would be replaced by words of blessing that molds and shapes hearts rather than shredding them into pieces. Fear would be overshadowed by the courage to get help breaking strongholds that hold us tightly in their grip. Lives would begin to reflect the heart of a loving God to a dying world. Work ethics would reflect the belief that God is the real Boss with the real power. We would live morally pure lives, promoting peace rather than shame and fear of being found out. Decisions and choices would more consistently preserve life and create joy and peace. Pride would melt into humility enabling us to rely on a great and loving God who is mighty to save. 
I realized, as I read this story, that I don't want to fear man, I want to be a Puah or a Shiphrah who fears God and God alone. I want to be a preserver of life rather than someone who destroys it. That is important in this dark time when the church doesn't look all that different than the world.
Hebrews calls the church a peculiar people, maybe the state of the church is that we are afraid to be peculiar even though peculiar means se are loving, kind, patient, forgiving, and growing in holiness, grace, and truth. Even though it means we are living beyond our fear and are a part of God's plan of redemption. Come to think of it, peculiar doesn't look so bad. So, in the face of the many choices I face ever day, the question I must ask myself daily, is "Who is it you fear?" 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!