Fear

Fear

What about the Other Babies?

In Matthew 2:16-18, we have one of the most troubling accounts connected to the birth of Christ. Herod the Great, a paranoid king, desperate not to allow this new “King of the Jews” to survive, sends his soldiers on an errand of terror—slaughter all the baby boys in the region of Bethlehem.

The execution of these children was probably a fairly quick day’s work for Herod’s soldiers. Terrible, no doubt, but quick, since Bethlehem is a mere five miles from Jerusalem. One of the troubling aspects of this passage, though, is that God predicted that this would happen. In preserving the life of Jesus, God permitted the murder of the other baby boys in Bethlehem.

This is troubling. God predicted the murder of these children and the weeping of their mothers. The complete fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15 means that these children were killed. Think of what this means—if you have a young son or know a young boy under the age of three, this would mean the death of that child. Imagine the name of your child being one of the boys slaughtered. We see the sovereign mercy of God in sparing Christ and rejoice. But what about the other children? Why did God not tell all the families to flee?

We can’t fully and finally settle this question for good in one blog post. But consider this: at the Fall, when Adam and Eve broke God’s law in the Garden, they introduced cosmic brokenness into the world. Only a cosmic solution can fix that brokenness. In the meantime, there are many small and great evidences that creation is broken. Whether it’s the reckless slaughter of babies in Bethlehem or the murder of unborn babies in a slaughterhouse posing as a medical clinic or the murder of people by terrorists in San Bernardino, CA, each of these stories is a reminder than we need something much greater than deliverance from individual tragedy. We need a Rescuer who can take a cosmic system of evil and set it ALL right. Jesus Christ is a king who can do that, but until he does, we deal with the evidence of living in a broken, fallen world.

So what is the purpose of all this pain and grief in the meantime? It’s at least two-fold. (1) First, pain and heartache pushes people to look for a redeemer. Brokenness moves us to repentance. Without sin and sadness, we wouldn’t need a Savior. (2) Secondly, it’s a reminder of the infinite value of Christ in comparison to every temporary pain. We ask, “Why would you let ____ happen?” We view things individually, rather than cosmically. But God’s plan has never been small, like our thoughts.

Later in Jeremiah 31, after the prophecy of weeping, the Lord promises a new covenant when the law of God will be written on the hearts of his people and he will remember their sins no more. God’s redemptive plan will set everything right to the point where Revelation 21:3-4 are fully and finally realized: 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

A God who can take the world we see around us and make it a new place with no grief at all is a God worth worshiping.

When Fear Is Cute

Kids are cute.

One of the cute things about kids is their innocence. My three-year-old makes my life more enjoyable because so much of life is a discovery of something new and exciting. We walked through a store recently, and it brought so much joy to see her so excited about things I walked past without a second thought–a zebra on a shelf, a poster of a tiger, a football.

Kids are afraid. But not always.

Because children are innocent, they are often scared of things more educated people are not … like being scared of the dark. And sometimes it's cute.

On the other hand, children don't have the fear of man that more “worldly-wise” people have. Ever been with a small child in a library or a nice restaurant? You may be paralyzed by the child's loud laughter, but the child just knows the enjoyment of that moment, without the fear of what other patrons may think (I'm not advocating poor behavior for children in public places!). The beautiful thing about childlike innocence is that he/she may just be naive enough to miss pressure a more “educated” person would experience.

Adults are like big kids.

What about adults and fear of others? That's not cute.

The thing about fear of man is … it's fake. Others have power over you only insomuch as you allow them to have power. What sophisticated library patrons think doesn't have ill effects on a child secure in the love of his parents. And the approval of others shouldn't affect children of God who rest secure in the love of their Heavenly Father.

The Monster Within (Part 2)

Hope for fearful people

Last week, we looked at signs that indicate you may be struggling with the fear of man. This week, we'll focus on hope for those who are struggling with or controlled by the fear of man.

Be honest.

Perhaps the biggest struggle any person has is the battle to recognize sin as “sin.” Because the fear of man can masquerade as love for others (I'm being deferential, not fearful…), it is easy to be self-deceived. How can you tell the difference? Love for others is motivated by a desire for their good. Fear of others is motivated by a desire to be safe, to protect yourself.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that you're loving someone else, when you're actually watching your own back. It doesn't serve you well, and it doesn't serve them in the end either. Over time, people will be able to tell the difference and begin to recognize the fear that characterizes your relationships.

Be captivated by God's love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…. We love because he first loved us.” These words from 1 John 4:18-19 give us the key to living in love, rather than being controlled by the fear of man: recognize that God loves you far more deeply than any human being ever could, and revel in that fact!

You who once were God's enemy have now been made a friend of God. He has made you accepted in Christ (Eph 1:6). No matter who else rejects you, God will not. Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus (Rom 8:38-39). You see, when God is for you, it doesn't matter who else is against you.

Conclusion

Are you living in fear or in love? Why don't you ask someone who knows you well?

Are you living in fear and calling it love? Call your fear what God calls it: “sin.” The next time you find yourself lacking the necessary courage to have a difficult conversation, think about the fact that God will accept you, even if that person rejects you. When you are tempted to manipulate others out of fear of failure, remember that even your greatest failures can't separate you from the love of God.

God's love is so great that it produces love for others, even when love requires great courage. Perfect love casts out fear.

See part 1 of this post, for signs that may indicate you struggle with the fear of man.

 

The Monster Within (Part 1)

What Monster?

One of my daughter's favorite books is The Monster at the End of this Book, starring “lovable, furry, old Grover.” It's a fun book for kids … about a monster that doesn't really exist.

I've recently given some thought to a “monster” in our culture: the fear of man. This monster exists in our minds, and it paralyzes many believers. I've sensed it frequently in my own life. How do you know if your life is characterized by an unhealthy fear of man?

The following characteristics might indicate that you are struggling with the fear of man. If you find that these characteristics pervade your life, you may even be experiencing spiritual or emotional paralysis as you are held hostage by these feelings.

Characteristics of the fear of man:

  • Preoccupation with what people think about what you say and do … even people that are “fringe” people in your life
  • A desire to control and manipulate others, so that you won't look bad when they mess up (children, spouse, friends, co-workers)
  • Failure to follow through on conversations you know you should have–both good and bad
  • Oversensitivity to criticism and a tendency to take things personally … even from the people that love you the most
  • Qualifying your statements so much that people aren't quite sure what you're getting at
  • Belligerence that comes across as overconfidence, so that no one will know how insecure you feel inside
  • Utter fear of being a failure or of ever failing at all
  • Judging the motives of others and resenting their success
  • Failure to lead consistently, according to the roles God has given you (church, family, work, etc.)
  • Reluctance to share the gospel consistently–with those who know Christ and with those who don't

You may wonder how I came up with this list. Good question! It's largely because I've seen so many of these characteristics in my own life.

Next week, in part 2, we'll look at hope for those who find themselves ensnared by this monster.