Fear vs Loved

fear-love

            I John. 4:18  tell us “There is no fear in love, instead perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. (or fear has it’s own punishment or torment) So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.”   Of all the human emotions fear is the bases for worry, anxiety, none chemical depression, anger, loneliness, with drawl, passivity, insecurity, and the list goes on.  I’m sure you could add to it.  Sadly we live in a fear based society.  When fear is the base line of our lives, as I John. 4:18 states there will be torment.  Sadly my birth family and my own life have been based for way to long on fear.  Thankfully the Holy Spirit is showing me the way out.

The way out is learning to understand what or who is perfect love is. Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.”  Fear in our modern english is a poor word to use. The awe of the Lord would be a better way to put it.  If I’m in awe of something, it usually means that there is a destructive side and a constructive side that I want to be part of.  Over my life I have been around horses which were a pleasure to ride, but I also realized that if they desired to use their power in the wrong way, it was going to be a rough day.  I’ve also had friends who I would describe as “gentle bears.”  They were people who I was very glad to be on their side.  I realized that if I was not on their side and they decided to pitch me over their shoulder, it could happen in a heart beat, but that is not what they desired to do.  If I PUSHED it, it could and would happen, BUT not something they desired to do.  It’s awesome to ride that kind of horse or have that kind of friend.  We know that if something goes upside down when we are with them, we are protected.

How about if I change the wording?  The awe od the Lord is the beginning of protection.  In this life there is going to plenty of “normal” or at times life is going to be difficult.  If I call the difficult times of this life “normal”, which they are.  Nothing happens to me, that hasn’t happened to somebody else.  “Normal” keeps me from throwing the victim card.  When the “normals” happen, which they will!  If I’m in fear of my God, believing that He is out to get me or is mean, my whole life is fear based and tormented.  If I’m in awe of my loving God and the normals of this life happen, I will run to Him for protection.  This is not to say that if I choose to go against God’s will, that He will not correct me.  He will, but His desire is not to destroy me, which He could, but His desire is to restore me to a loving relationship with Him.  So this is my choice, do I live my life in fear of my God and run from Him, thus a life of fear and torment, or do I live my life in awe of my loving God, thus when the “normals” of this life happen, I run to Him knowing that I will be loved and protected through them, just as Jesus was.  It’s my choice!!

Tim Smith

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I AM JONAH – Part 2

Jonah

God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry as I could possibly be!” The Lord said, “You were upset about this little plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!
-Jonah 4:9-11

Jonah cared more about a weed that provided him shade, than all the people of Nineveh combined. His love was grounded in selfish comfort—what it did for him. Yet God, who gains nothing from man (Acts 17:25), intricately and lovingly crafted every human being in that great (and corrupt) city, and cares for them just as He did Jonah (and you and me).

God has spoken so profoundly through this video for the past several days. While a great illustration to communication in marriage, I believe it is a greater illustration to showing grace to others.

I immediately identified with the man (naturally), but God quickly spoke to me while mulling it over. “You have nails in your head too.”

But I don’t act like it.

My love tends to be selfish like Jonah’s, loving those who love me; forgiving those who forgive me; being patient with those who are patient with me. That kind of love profits me nothing (Luke 6:32). God has shown such immense grace in my life, and I often withhold that same grace to others. I look back and see how tenderly God has dealt with me in the same struggles I’ve wallowed in for years (like Jonah and his hatred to the Assyrians). Yet when I’m with someone else with a problem I so easily see, I am incredibly self-serving in my aid. I am quick to point out the obvious flaws in others, “speaking truth” but not in love (Ephesians 4:15). Because while there are times to point out the problem—when our Heavenly Father tells us to (thus, in faith)—my desire to do so is often rooted in, well, me. Like Jonah before the withering plant, I want their problems to stop inconveniencing me. I just want to throw them a life saver, and yell at them to reach for it as they splash frantically about. I don’t want to have to jump into their mess and patiently and tenderly help their hands find deliverance. After all getting wet is uncomfortable, and I might get hurt in the process.

Yet there is a reason God is not allowing them to see what is so plain to me (the reason we don’t want to remove the nail). Two reasons: He sees the deeper issue in them that has to be attended to first. And He sees the deeper issue in me.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love…. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” -Ephesians 4:1-2, 32

It’s easy to give the advice of Bob Newhart (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw). But few find it truly helpful, no matter how true the statement is. Rather, we are called to “long-suffering,” extending to others the patient and graceful love that God has extended to us.

Lord, help me extend grace to others that you have extended to me.

Billy Neal

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I AM JONAH, Part 1

JonahFor many, Jonah is a familiar Bible story. The book of Jonah is indeed a great work of literature, a condensed narrative, a fantastic story, and also an uncomfortable mirror into our own lives. God asks Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, but he runs in the opposite direction. God sends a storm, and then a fish to swallow him and let him mull over his decision before spitting him back on land for a second run at the original request.

But why did he run in the first place?

He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
-Jonah 4:2

There are times we are disobedient because we cling to an idol and choose to believe lies about God, but Jonah disobeys precisely because of what is TRUE about God (that he is compassionate and forgiving). Jonah wanted grace for himself, and judgment for his enemies (don’t we all, like James and John, quick to call down fire on others in their rebellion—see Luke 9:53-55). And so God’s question there in the end is one for all of us: Should God not show compassion to OUR enemies?

I’ve seriously considered the question lately. I believe I can say I, “I’m at peace with God saving members of ISIS,” (perhaps the equivalent of how a Jew would see an Assyrian). But I’m also not a guy who has tasted war with the enemy, and had personal friends murdered at my side by hateful men. Nor have I had family members beheaded for their faith. To me, ISIS is a disconnected, theoretical enemy, not a personal one (and that in itself is problematic). But are there not individuals from whom I withhold the good news, withhold my prayers?

If I’m honest, I believe so. By my silence, I have purposely done as Jonah, and attempted to withhold salvation from another. I have judged. I have despised. I have hated (whom the Lord said love, Matt 5:44).

I am just like Jonah. I may know the truth about God, but I have chosen to believe a lie about myself: That I am better than “those people.” But the truth is, while I am Jonah, I am also Nineveh. I have forgotten, I was once an enemy of God. Worse still, I have devalued God in that moment, forgetting that my transgressions amassed an immeasurable debt because they are against an infinitely valuable God. And I devalue the precious blood of Christ, so freely given, but yet such a lavish and priceless gift.

Thanks be to God, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Now may I obediently go forth in joy to do His service of truly loving my enemies.

Billy Neal

 

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Run as if to Win!

Running to WinMany Christian men run. But how many adult Christian men run to win?  Do I? Do you?

To run to win, we must first run in the right way.  We all know of men that work the career ladder hard, right?  Is that Christian (like Christ)?  Often not, but maybe.  If God assigned us there, revealed this as our territory, and favored us, then yes. In fact, if we don’t progress in the area he has assigned and promoted, we may even be disobedient. Alternatively though, if we are self-promoting, stepping on others, and gaming the system, then this is worldly vs Christ-like.  The worldly designation describes most men; unfortunately it describes some ‘Christian’ men.

So we’ve first got to run the race in the way Christ described and modeled. What does that look like? Surrendered to God’s will (His Kingdom work), with Christ ever before us, trusting in Him, and giving God the glory.  That is a lot right, realistically taking somewhere between 3-30 years to figure out? It took the disciples 3 years and some of us are even slower learners.  But then, for the mature Christian men who are running, and are running right, are we ‘running to win’?   In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul says, “Know ye not that those who run in a race all run, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain it.”  Upon first read it sounds a little selfish. If the same gospel of Christ says “the first will be last and the last will be first”, then how is it right to seek the winners circle glory and prize?  Is that humility or servant leadership? For the simplistic mind this seems contradictory, but remember, ‘God is not simple’.

The winner truly desires the prize. In the case of Christian men, the ultimate prize is Jesus. When we run well, we get Jesus. We get His forgiveness, His favor, His nature, His love, His peace, His wisdom, His contacts (the Father and the Holy Spirit) and even some share of delegated rule and reign. We get Jesus in place of what we really deserve, which is Hell.  This is not some minor “pop-one-balloon county fair gimme” prize. It is desirable! It is The Great Pearl prize. It is worth a winning-focus, effort, and passionate life.

If you think of unapologetic winners  the legendary Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant comes to mind quickly.  Talking of himself, the Bear said, “If wanting to win is a fault, as some of my critics seem to insist, then I plead guilty. I like to win. I know no other way. It’s in my blood.”  If wanting Jesus is a fault, then let me be found guilty.  One of the stranger things in the Bible is that God used Jacob to move his will forward.  In his early years, Jacob was a deceiver. He tricked his father and cheated his brother and wrestled with God, but in the end, he bore the name of ‘Israel’.  One thing that Jacob did though; He passionately desired God. He desired a spiritual inheritance and the realization and fruition of God’s promise to His forefathers. Compare this to his brother Esau, who cared nothing for the father’s inheritance.

How are we running? As a person and as a church?  Are we running like we have a great hope and promise? If we are going to run, let’s passionately run as if to win. Run as if to win the great prize – Jesus and a truly amazing inheritance.

Derek Dougherty

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Life’s Challenges: Your Choice

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15

Choose

Here in the South, bugs hitting your windshield are a part of life. You can’t help but get those splats on your windshield when driving, especially at night – lovebug season in Florida is the worst. But when driving, what do we focus on? Do we  focus on the messy windshield or on the road? If we focus on the bugs, we end up in the ditch or worse.

In his farewell speech, Joshua recounts God’s goodness and gives Israel a choice – a choice we also need to make. Joshua mentions gods, or idols,  and we think of man-made objects, carved of wood, stone or precious metals, but let me give you a definition of an idol – anything that takes our attention away from God. We make idols of our circumstances and let them take our focus from God. Like focusing on bugs on the windshield, this can be dangerous.

A good deal of Joshua’s message was reminding Israel of God’s continued PRESENCE in their lives. Our part is in the listening and God’s part is in the leading and loving.

As we move into a relationship with Jesus and look at our identity in Him, we become dependent on God’s POWER – the same power that raised Jesus from the grave! A power that comes from God’s grace. We are called to walk, as God welcomes and wakens us to this new life – dependent not on our feeble attempts to make life work but on Him.

In Genesis 17:1, God told Abraham to “walk before Me FAITHFULY”. In Isaiah 40:31, the prophet tells us, “those who walk by faith shall not faint…” (Isaiah 40:31). We walk by faith and God Himself provides the faith as a gift!

We are in a spiritual battle. Everything that Jesus did while on earth was spiritual warfare – taking back what man had forfeited back in the Garden of Eden. Jesus calls us to walk with Him and that presents another choice of commitment or surrender. Commitment is a mental agreement; surrender is an agreement of the heart. Too many times we are committed to God but we haven’t surrendered to Him. We control what we can explain. And we try to explain God or make Him into something we can explain. Well, if I could explain God, He wouldn’t be god enough for me!

You are in the oven because you are not done yet! We often hear, “God will never give you more than you can handle”. I don’t believe that; God will never give you more than He can handle! And He promises to be there with you. Psalm 23 says “yea, though I walk THROUGH the valley of death, thou art with me”. God says, “I will never leave or forsake you”.

Recently, I was blessed to take a trip to Jordan. While there, we could hear bombing happening in Syria (we were about 7-8 miles from the border). I chose not to worry and probably slept through most of it. After coming back, I’ve had some visits with my doctor. I was diagnosed with diabetes. Not being naïve, but I choose to not claim that as part of my identity. I can give in to fear and worry (and do sometimes) but I choose NOT to because I trust God and what His Word says about me; I base my identity in Him. I’m not asking for healing – though I want to be healed – but I’m asking God to reveal Himself more to me.

There are three disciplines we must follow: first, choose which voice you listen to. Jesus says in John 10 that He came to bring us life – abundant life. He also says that the enemy comes as a thief to steal, kill, and destroy. The enemy cannot steal anything that you don’t have, he cannot kill what is not alive, and he cannot destroy what has not been built. You have something he wants or he would not be bothering you!

Second, screen everything through faith. Since God gives us the gift of faith, we should use it and screen all that life throws at us and not little all the little bugs and garbage of life enter our world. Keeping our focus on Jesus is key.

And finally, pray HARD! Remember Daniel in the lion’s den; if he was not praying hard then, I don’t know what constitutes praying hard. We need to have some serious one-to-one, heart-to-heart talks with God – where we listen as well as we speak (maybe more than we speak). We should pray like our lives depend upon it – because they do. This is not to get God to  change our circumstances (though I admit to wishing often He would do that) but to get us through our circumstance.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” (Zechariah 3:1-4)

Zechariah’s vision shows us that in the midst of the battle, the Lord takes away our sins. The Lord Himself snatches us from the fire and puts in in right standing or “clean clothes”. We can claim the names God gives to those He loves: Restored, Renewed, Clean, Free.

Never doubt what in the dark what God told you in the light. Amid our darkness, God reminds us of what He told us in the light of better times. What is your choice today?

Colossians 1:15-18 In Him ALL THINGS hold together.

Steve Pierce

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