A Spectacle of Fear; An Easy Calm

“What preserves the order of things?” asks Bill the Butcher in the film, GANGS OF NEW YORK. “The spectacle of fear. If someone steals from me, I cut off his hands. If someone insults me, I cut out his tongue.” Our adversary, like Bill the Butcher, hopes for us to live in fear, in misgiving and anxiety, in utter terror if he can manage to bring us to that condition. For Satan, putting us into a state of fear and keeping us there “preserves the order of things” for him.

God, instead, desires and plans to rescue us from fear. His perfect love drives out fear, for fear has to do with punishment. If we fear punishment, we are yet to be made perfect in and through His love. His love, as is demonstrated on the cross of Calvary when He gives up His only Son as a ransom for us, rescues us from anxiety, fear, and the utter terror Satan tries to bring upon us.

God achieves this casting out of fear through Christ living “in [our] hearts through faith — that [we], being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19,ESV)

In being “filled with all the fullness of God” there is no room for fear, misgiving, anxiety or terror. For where there is love, there is an easy calm.

Father God, we praise You for rescuing us from sin, for bringing us Your love and gaining for us freedom from fear. Your love saves us from Satan’s “order of things,” from his “spectacle of fear.” In Jesus’ Name, amen.

The Arrogance of Total Belief

Faith, it occurs to me, is over confidence. Faith is taking for granted that you will have what you ask for, what you hope for, what you anticipate. Faith is certainty. In one way, faith is almost an arrogance. “I believe; therefore I have.”

Not often in my life have I experienced that certainty, that arrogance of total belief that something I want is also something I will have; that what I desire falls in line with the plan of God for my life or for the life of someone I love. Frankly that level of certainty — that taking it for granted — is utterly terrifying.

Is this self-deception? Of course, true faith — total certainty — precludes that question, eliminating the possibility of self-deception. Nevertheless, I’m frightened. Yet, perfect love also precludes fear. Therefore — perhaps — my certainty is only arrogance.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of faith. Thank You that belief “as tiny as a mustard seed” is completely effective. Help us to ask You, Lord for that which is in line with Your will and not ours. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

A Living Call

Why is it that the final ‘HARRY POTTER” film has attracted 1 billion dollars in its first two weeks since its release in worldwide theatres? What is particularly attractive about J.K. Rowling’s series of books and the films based on them?

In my opinion, it is the same reason that C.S. Lewis’ series, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA remains popular around the world — it is the ageless struggle of GOOD versus EVIL in the form of characters with whom the average person is able to relate.

Harry Potter is the perfect hero — young, innocent, vulnerable, caring. Voldemort or ‘He who must not be named’ is the perfect villain — old, decrepit, spiteful, hating. Every person who is willing is able to see that Harry Potter represents a savior. That Harry Potter is a popular hero indicates — to me at least — that the world still recognizes its need for salvation.

Rather than take advantage of the world’s obvious desire for a great hero — an awesome beyond-belief Savior — many Christians have focused on — what? That Harry Potter is not a Christian, that J.K. Rowling promotes gay pride, that she upholds magic and witchcraft, and so on. C.S. Lewis — a learned man who wrote MERE CHRISTIANITY and THE WEIGHT OF GLORY and other fine Christian treatises — also wrote a fantasy series with satyrs and witches. He wrote about good magic and Santa Claus and about a lion named Aslan who represents Christ and about four children who are disobedient and wayward and loving, and so on.

Christians need to recognize the opportunity present in the Harry Potter series. The world is crying. We need to hear, to genuinely listen to the love expressed for the boy, Harry Potter. He is a counterfeit, for sure. But the fact that people flock to see him and his friends as they battle evil together is proof enough that the call to evangelize the world is not dead and bygone. The call is alive; the need is real.

Caught In A Loophole

The Pharisees are big talkers about adhering to the law of Moses. They criticize Jesus for picking grain heads on the Sabbath so He and His disciples can have a snack. When dining in the home of the ruler of the Pharisees — yes, Jesus does not only dine with sinners; He also dines with high religious leaders — He asks the lawyers and Pharisees presumably dining with them if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. “But they remain silent.” (Luke 14:4,ESV)

Now there is a man “who has dropsy before Him.” (Luke 14:2) Jesus decides to heal him and send him away. The Pharisees are reclining at dinner, marveling at Jesus’ unwillingness to obey the law of Moses. Jesus challenges them, saying, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out.” (Luke 14:5) Jesus may as well say to them, “You’ve completely misinterpreted the intent of the law of Moses. The law is not meant to harm, but to heal.”

Father God, help us to remember that the law originally was designed to protect people from illnesses, maintain and promote community life, and support righteous living. The law of Moses was never intended to make us perfect. Only Your Son is able to sanctify us. Help us to be grateful. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Stay Awake, Pray; Get Up, Let’s Go

Today — still exhausted from my trip and lack of sleep last night — I kept thinking about Peter and the two sons of Zebedee falling asleep while Jesus agonizes in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has asked them to “sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36, HCSB) I can imagine Peter sitting down on the ground, perhaps leaning against a tree while Jesus grows ever more “sorrowful and deeply distressed.” (Matthew 26:37) About this time, Peter and the sons of Zebedee must be somewhat bewildered. Why is the Son of God so distressed?

Jesus says, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow — to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Such deep sorrow is imaginable for us, who have experienced the loss of a child, a parent, a dear friend, a spouse — these sorts of sorrows we understand. Jesus is facing utter isolation as well as intense physical suffering. No wonder He “falls facedown and prays, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.'” (Matthew 26:39) No wonder He is disturbed when He finds Peter and the others asleep rather than keeping watch with Him. He commands, gently I am certain, “Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41)

He goes away to pray again. When He returns, He finds Peter and the sons of Zebedee asleep, “because they can not keep their eyes open.” (Matthew 26:43) Right now, I can barely keep my eyes open. I understand physical and mental exhaustion. Peter doesn’t fully grasp what it is that they are doing in the garden. Why are they sitting there? Why is Jesus in such agony? The third time Jesus goes away and comes back to find Peter and the disciples asleep, He tells them, “Look the time is near. The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let’s go! See, My betrayer is near.” (Matthew 26:45-46) I imagine Peter and the others scramble to their feet right quick at that message from Jesus.

And when Judas appears to kiss Jesus, “one of those with Jesus reaches out his hand and draws his sword. He strikes the high priest’s slave and cuts off his ear.” (Matthew 26:51) Now the disciples spring into action when earlier they are unable to remain awake to watch with Jesus even for an hour.

Notice how “get up, let’s go” is easier than “stay awake; pray.” Such is human nature. Doing is easier than watching. Keeping busy seems more desirable than sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. Won’t you keep watch with Jesus for an hour.


Speaking of Directions

This morning, I’m exhausted from driving 5.5 hrs. to meet my daughter arriving from Japan, then driving back home for 7.5 hrs. Longer coming back because we stopped more times than I did going; and I got us lost once. Interstates that run east and west but are marked west in one location and north in another; east in one location and south in another are — well, let’s just say, yucky! However, getting lost was actually my fault. I took the wrong interstate towards the wrong city! My only explanation — I used to live in that direction.

Getting lost is not hard to achieve. Directions are confusing, especially when you are backtracking. GPS is grand if you have it, and if you’ve set it up properly.

Speaking of directions and GPS, directions for living well are easily found. These are located on a great map in the pages of the Bible. GPS is less easily acquired. GPS is essentially equivalent to God, the Holy Spirit. He is my global positioning system. He always knows where I am, and He knows the direction in which I am heading. He sends me brightly colored, clear messages — even big alerts — to show me the best route for reaching the perfect destination — that’s the destination He has in mind for me, not the one I have in mind for me.

The problem is not the satellite connection, of course, between myself and God. Rather, the problem comes when I ignore or occasionally misunderstand the directing messages; or fail to check those messages against the map — the map being the written Word of God. I say this because, of course, there are many competing messages. Messages from myself, from friends, from family, from media, from FB — that’s Facebook–, from the adversary and the agents of that adversary. Sometimes, as in my illustration of heading in the wrong direction just because I once lived in that direction, I just go backwards or frankly in the wrong direction on the worst path for me.

Then, the solution — yes, you guessed it — is to turn around!

Blessed If Not Offended

Herod is excited. Pilate is sending Jesus to him because Jesus is a Galilean and therefore under Herod’s jurisdiction. To make matters even easier, it happens that Herod is in Jerusalem “in those days.” (Luke 23:7, HCSB) Herod is anticipating a thrilling encounter, having heard a lot about Jesus. Above everything else, Herod wants to see a miracle!

When Jesus is brought before him, Herod asks Him many questions; but Jesus does not answer any of them. At the same time, somewhat on the sidelines, the chief priests and scribes are taunting Jesus. You can almost hear them as they spit out vehement accusations.

Eventually, Herod realizes Jesus is not going to perform a miracle. Likely frustrated and angry, Herod — in conjunction with his soldiers — treats Jesus with contempt. Herod mocks Jesus, and has Him dressed in a colorful robe. Disappointed in the proceedings, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate.

Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you do not believe.” (John 4:48) And the Son of God prays, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You hide these things from the wise and learned and reveal them to infants. Yes, because this is Your good pleasure.” (Matthew 11:25-26) Jesus speaks to the crowds about John the Baptist, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces.” (Matthew 11:7-8) “If anyone is not offended by Me, he is blessed.” (Matthew 11:6)

Father God, keep us from needing to see signs and miracles in order to believe. Help us to trust the ordinary events of our days as within Your sovereign will. Help us to know the real person of Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, and glorified. In Jesus’ Name, amen.



‘Big Red’ Heart for God

In 1973, I live in Southern Indiana, not more than 45 minutes from the site of the Kentucky Derby. I vaguely recall watching the Derby on television that day — the day Secretariat, the most famous, the greatest racehorse of all time wins the first leg of the Triple Crown. I do not remember my young reaction, whether I cheer or cry or look on with vague misgiving. I say misgiving because I am always fearful for the horse when watching a race.

Today, I watch the film SECRETARIAT and cry. I cry twice — when Big Red wins the Derby and again when he takes the Triple Crown by 31 lengths! And I do pray, “Oh God, to have a heart that big for You!” The soaring emotion I feel here is one I feel occasionally in worship, not usually when lifting my arms during song or even while listening to a pastor tell his sermon; but sometimes when alone — which is difficult to come by in today’s modern, locked church buildings — praying in a pew. The tears stream, and I can’t stop them.

Today, my heart feels like it is bursting in my chest. I want to run that fast for You, O Lord. Oh to be a Secretariat!

Writers Write

I just — yes, just this moment — confess that although I seek to bring glory to You, O God; I also want my writings to be read. After all, writers write to be read. Not much point in word-craft, otherwise.

Thank You, dear Heavenly Father, for the gift of word-craft. This is a gift You gave me from a young age; one that completely failed to impress the LSAT, but one that makes me happier than any other gift You’ve bestowed. Thanks for forgiving me for my failings, my faults, and my sins. In Jesus’ Name, amen.