Friday, December 25, 2015

“No Fear!” God Is Near!

From the mid-1990’s into the early 2000’s, “No Fear” was a popular clothing brand marketed by No Fear, Inc. through various retail and company-owned stores.  Although Americans now rarely wear this message on their outerwear, many of us wish we could express “No Fear” in response to the circumstances of today’s world.  Instead, many of us carry at least some “Fear!” 

What do you fear most?  If we are honest, here are some of the things high on the list:

1.   ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
2.   Immigration – How many terrorists are we admitting?
3.   Insolvency – Can I keep up with my bills?
4.   Infection – What microbes are lurking out there?
5.   Intolerance – Will I offend by word or action?
6.   Insecurity – Can I still hide who I really am?
7.   Invasion – Are my home and privacy secure?
8.   Impotence – When will I lose my virility?
9.   Incompetence – Will I remain effective in my work?
10. Infinite – the seeming number of other causes of fear.

Fear can be a constant companion.  We can slip into a fearful mood at any time, often without any particular reason.  The unknown, the uncertain, the invisible, and even the indefinable factors around us may cause us to be unsettled and uncomfortable.  It is part of the human DNA to have fears.  The Bible teaches that there is a place for fear.  We have been created with the ability to have fear; and then, to react in a way that preserves our lives from danger.  Fear and reverent respect are strong motivations against acting upon temptations that lead us to sin, sorrow, and possibly spiritual and physical death.

God our Creator and Sustainer not only uses fear for our good, but He also has made provision to calm and even erase our fear.  Nowhere do we see this fact more clearly than in the biblical account of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ as it unfolded to bring about that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago.  On each occasion in which God through the angel Gabriel announced a miracle about to transpire, He immediately attempted to address the fear that would be a natural response.  God in all of His great power and might came gently and lovingly to members of humanity, knowing the human tendency to react in fear.

Consider three occasions in which the angel’s glorious appearance was accompanied by a heavenly effort to assuage human fear.  First, when the angel Gabriel appeared to John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias while he was taking his turn to offer incense in the Holy of Holies, the angel said, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard…(Luke 1: 13).   Later, when Gabriel appeared to a teenage girl named Mary who would conceive miraculously to bear God’s Son, Jesus, the angel again immediately addresses the “fear factor,”  saying, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God (Luke 1: 30a).  And months later, the angels appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, saying, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people (Luke 2: 10b).

The message of Christmas comes to us today, post marked with the words, “Fear not.”  It is not a sin (rebellion against God) to have fear. But if we reject God’s Gift Who is Jesus Christ, the “Prince of Peace,” then His intended peace is not present in our lives and fear becomes our constant companion.  Someone has said, “When fear knocks at our door, and our faith answers, there is no one there.”  On the other hand, Jesus says in Revelation 3: 20:

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

And this Jesus is the One of Whom God spoke centuries earlier through the prophet Micah who predicted that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2) when He said (emphasis mine),

And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.
– Micah 5: 4-5a

This Jesus, the Scripture teaches, is the One Who did come that first Christmas night, and Who now offers peace to the fearful because He faced all the familiar fears we have listed above and more; and, went to the cross, died, and rose again to purchase us victory over sin, fear, and death.  And, as Micah states above, He is coming again to bring peace …to the ends of the earth—to every dark corner—when He sets up His kingdom for which Christians pray.

An estimated 100,000 Christians die for their faith annually.
What do you fear?  Which item on the “list of ten fears” above is at the top of your list?  I’ll admit it.  At times, I’m afraid of the threat of ISIS when compounded by the possibility that even one terrorist could slip through our porous borders.  But then, I realize that God has called me to faith, not fear.  He calls all of us who bear the name “Christ-ian” with these words …love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…(Matthew 5: 44b-45a).  Christ came into the world full of grace and truth (John 1: 17).  Even at the hour of His birth on that “silent night” the message was proclaimed, Fear not…!  Christ had only the earthly possessions he could carry with him.  He had no place on Earth to call His home (Matthew 8: 20).  Jesus was misunderstood, mistreated, violently seized and abused, and finally nailed to a Roman cross.  Through all of this, He displayed no fear; only gentleness and forgiveness.  Before His death on the cross, Jesus spoke these words to sinful humanity, Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23: 34).

When I am fearful, I try to picture my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who daily face persecution and even death for claiming faith in Jesus Christ.  Over the past 10 years, an estimated 100,000 Christians die for their faith each year!  Thousands of Christians endure forced displacement from their homes, brutal persecution, and even death as a testimony of their love for Jesus.  Would my faith in and love for God be this strong?  Would I have “no fear?” Or, would I deny Christ and refuse the call to join the millions of Christian martyrs over the centuries who follow in the holy procession beginning with Christ’s own procession to Calvary?

"Fear not, for I bring you good news...." (Luke 2: 10)
May God help us to be fearless in these troubling days so that we might glorify Him in the routines of our lives.  May we be faithful to pray for those who stand on the front lines for Christ today.  And if we are threatened with severe persecution, may we too remember that Christ has come and suffered persecution while giving back nothing but love and compassion for the many He saw as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9: 36).  This is the Savior of Whom we sing this Christmas, the first verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem:”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight

Those who claim faith and obedience to God, can claim this slogan:  “No fear!  God is near!”

Family Christmas Letter (click to read)
Here is our family Christmas letter if you’d care to read a brief summary of our year, 2015.  In truth, our family faces many of the same causes of fear that confront you.  If you are a believer, know God personally, and have put your faith in Him for your daily walk, we covet your prayers that each of us will remain true to our responsibilities and commitments as we enter the New Year, 2016.

How About You?  You may have read this article and are left with a sense of confusion, uncertainty, and even fear.  If you have never encountered the “Good News” or Gospel, let me help.   The “Good News” is summarized in an outline called “
Steps to Peace with God” which explains God’s love, our predicament (sin and separation from God), what Jesus has done to address our predicament, and what you can do by faith to receive God’s righteousness (right standing with a Holy God).  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

God's Not Fixin', He's Transformin'

In the 1960’s, rapid societal transformations, assassinations, race riots, and other factors caused many people to ask, “Is God Dead?”  Some answered, “Yes.”  Others reacted defensively in ways that showed little Christian gentleness toward their neighbor and little reverence for God.  Still others did nothing to defend their faith, nor did they encourage those who were seeking meaning and purpose in life.  Meanwhile, on April 15, 1965, the song by Jackie DeShannon, "What the World Needs Now Is Love," was released with music composed by Burt Bacharach.  The lyrics by Hal David resembled the message of many in the 1960’s who perhaps could not voice their need as well:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of…

As time passed, what some called the "moral majority" was replaced by a "secular majority."  Today, America appears to be moving toward an "immoral" or "agnostic/atheistic majority." More and more Americans support the removal of prayer and all vestiges of God and Jesus Christ from our schools, colleges, and communities.  After all, why pray to a God Who either doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist?  Or why turn to a God that would allow so many to experience personal and environmental tragedies?

This morning, following the tragic attack on the social services center in San Bernardino, CA, the NY Daily News used its front cover to mock presidential candidates who encouraged Americans to pray for loved ones of those killed or injured by the attackers.  The headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” allows that God may still be alive, but implies He should be blamed for “not fixing the problem.”  I suggest that another headline might be more appropriate—“Americans Are Not Listening to God.”

Many Christians have been quick to point fingers at those we deem responsible for the moral decline in America.   Our standard lines have been much like the ones I used above-- lines like: “Well what do you expect? They’ve taken God and prayer out of our schools.”  Christians also point to the courts of our land which have disregarded the sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage as defined in the Bible.  Throw in our access to social media, and some, including this writer at times, can be anything but “gentle and reverent” when we enter into “discussions” about political and social issues.  Pointing our fingers or trying to win arguments may give our conscience a sense of relief, but it does little to solve the problems.  Nor does it encourage those who wonder if God exists, and if so, what their responsibility is toward Him.

Lately, I have been thinking much about my own spiritual life, my values and priorities, and my responsibilities toward my wife, family, neighbor, church, and community.   Some of this thinking has been reflected in Oikonimia and is included in the following blog articles:

Individual Accountability and Spiritual Awakening
Local Churches and Spiritual Awakening
Christianity Shines in Dark Places
Do You Reckon God Is Real?
Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority
How Do You P-R-A-Y This Thanksgiving?

Besides thinking and writing, I have been “listening” to what God is saying in His Word.  Rather than be surprised to read a headline like “God Isn’t Fixing This” or condemning those who think it is true, I’ve been learning more about how God has already done His part to “fix it.”  The Apostle John tells us how much God has done, sending His only Son to do more than “fix it.”  Jesus came so that anyone, by faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, could have the gift of new Life—to be “born again” as  a“new creature” so that the old passes away, and all things are new in us (John 3; 2 Corinthians 5: 17). 

As God’s children, we have the privilege of daily communion with our Heavenly Father, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit to walk along side us as our Helper (John 14: 26).  If we are reborn spiritually and walking in communion with God, His Spirit speaks to our souls,“Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4: 6).  And in response to the Spirit within us, we join Him in exclaiming with warm, endearing affection and worship, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8: 15).  In this loving resonance between the Father God and His child, love, faith, and eternal hope are affirmed.

Having God’s nearness to us; yes, even His presence within our hearts ought to encourage us to praise and thank Him for not only “fixing us,” but transforming us.  We are, or can, by faith (see Romans 10: 8-11), be new creatures in Christ.  We can have a new internal disposition toward our neighbor and the world around us.   Living such transformed lives anytime, especially during this season of Advent and Christmas ought to be such that Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:14-15 describe what God can do through us:

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness,
you are blessed.
And do not fear their intimidation,
and do not be troubled,
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give an account
for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence…

God is not dead.  Nor is He hard of hearing.  He has done His part to “fix it” and then some!  Now it’s our turn as God’s children by faith, and as members of God’s Church, the “body of Christ,” to live so that Peter’s command applies to us--being ready to suffer fearlessly when God’s righteousness is offensive; and yet, being ready to answer others who ask why we are hopeful when so many people are hopeless, yet with “gentleness and reverence.”

But how can we give an answer for the hope that is within us in a culture that is increasingly dark, defensive, and even dangerous as many fellow Christians can testify if they haven’t been martyred already?  I like the example provided in Acts 17 by the Apostle Paul when he addressed the Greek philosophers and teachers of his day.  When Paul observed stone statues in Athens erected in honor of many different Greek gods but not to the God of Christianity, He chose not to insult them.  Instead, he acknowledged that they were very religious because they worshipped many gods in hopes of appeasing all the gods that exist.  But Paul then said to them while pointing to the statue erected “'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD:'

The Apostle Paul introduces Greeks to the "Unknown God"
Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;  nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we also are His children.” Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.  Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17: 23-31).

In response to this oration from Paul, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this (Acts 17: 32)." Later, Paul’s epistles to the churches referenced many among the Greeks who had put their faith in God and had become leaders in the movement that would soon  sweep across the Roman Empire and northern Europe, and lay the foundation for the positive influence of Christianity in the Western Hemisphere.  

If God could “turn the world upside down” through the lives of the few followers of Christ in the first century, can he not bring revival to our whole troubled world?  Maybe it is already beginning.  Jesus has already given the call (Luke 9: 23):  If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

The world may ask, “Is God, ‘fixing this,’ or isn’t He?”  We who know Christ should ask, “Am I a faithful steward where God has placed me, or not?”

Comment if you please:  What do you find most difficult to bear in today’s world?  How have you found help through your faith?   What particular helps or suggestions can you offer to those of us who want to grow in faith and stewardship of time, material resources, and abilities?