Monday, May 03, 2010

What "fear factor?"

“There are four great impelling motives that move men to action: Fear, Hope, Faith, and Love—these four, but the greatest of these is Fear.”

Fear makes people do the strangest things. The Russian revolutionary Joseph Stalin had eight bedrooms that could each be locked up like a bank vault, and nobody knew which room he was sleeping in on any given night. “Cockpit country” in Jamaica was once called the “Land of Look Behind” after the 1600’s. Runaway slaves (“maroons”) fled into the jungles and waged guerilla warfare against the English. The government troops so frequently looked over their shoulders to avoid ambush that they gave the mountainous area it’s name.

Fear does not prevent us from greeting a stranger in the grocery store, nor does it keep us from talking about the best deals in town (we may perhaps even swap coupons) or discussing the best brand of toilet paper (I was being random). Yet, turning the corner in the store and seeing some young men with nametags that read "The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints"--what happens to conversation? Is a greeting ever exchanged, much a less a conversation about the taste of steak sauce? Hardly. We don't agree theologically, so why carry on in mundane conversation? Yet, what good does theological silence do? Did you see the woman wearing the burka unloading groceries in the parking lot, with her husband standing by? When it comes to worldviews, why don't we engage?

Psalm 56 was written when David was running from Saul and fled to hide amongst the Philistines. Certainly his situation seems to be much different from our own, but right away the parallels are amazing when one considers how we tend to run from engagement to engagement, trying to avoid a conversation because of some unconfronted fear. Being in the world and not of it is to the advantage of the follower of Christ--we are surrounded and they can't get away! Still, through the differences, we can learn from David's experience as he fled from the presence of one enemy into the presence of another.

David prayed because of the oppression, the trampling of the enemy (v.1). Our fear of being bulldozed by the other worldview keeps us from engaging the culture. Simply put, we don't like to be wrong, so we don't try. Two observations to make here:

First, we don't pray. Many of those with opposing worldviews spend incredible amounts of time in prayer to gods that do not exist while we take pride in our belief in the true and living God. Belief is not a subject of pride, but of relationship. Religion is driven by pride. Truth be told, we have grown to rely on our own confidences that we do not pray. David knew that in order to be productive for what God wanted to accomplish, he had no choice BUT to pray! The reason why David prayed about being trampled is because when you look at big picture, the treat was against God and His work through David rather than against David and his life.

This leads to the second observation: fear magnifies the bulldozer, which overshadows the worldview. In other words, we are not defending some personal idea that we grew out of our head. There are only two worldviews: God's and man's. Man's worldview is built on a god of his own understanding--even a god of his own fears. These cannot stand in the presence of the true and living God. This is not our truth we speak, but God's and we should do it in his power.

I remember one particular night of street ministry. One night we were so eager about going downtown for evangelism, we did not pray. The first person we met that night was a man on crutches as he had only one leg. He saw us coming with our Bibles in our hands and hopped onto the sidewalk right in front of us. He pointed the stump of his leg at us and grunted, "heal me, Father. Heal me." We took a step back, and he took a step toward us, "heal me!" More demanding this time. We took more steps back and he took more steps toward us shouting, "HEAL ME!" We ran back home, chased from the street by a one-legged man. Our fears came from the fact that we ran into battle with a featherduster--we had not prayed.

“There is not a more blessed and powerful weapon for the children of God, than that they should give themselves to prayer. For thus they can have the power of God on their side—the almighty power of God.” (George Muller 1805-1898)

Next, he trusted Him to whom he prayed (v. 3). David’s prayer was not to bridge some sort of desperate disconnect in his life, but came out of a life of prayer--a life of living conversation with the God who is "there." He was expressing his full dependence on God as was his regular habit. This sounds almost trite because we are in bad practice of prayer. Those who are spiritually strong pray because they know how weak they really are. A small view of God, our sinfulness and weakness results in small prayers. A large view of God, our sinfulness and weakness results in a life of prayer. David felt helpless, but his trust came from his large view of the true and living God. An impersonal god cannot be trusted because he is not present. His trust in God acknowledges that God is intimate, involved with His creation.

This is a major point of our contention with other worldviews: a god of one's own understanding does not exist; therefore, their ideas are built on the strength of the force of an idea. Bullying. The lover of God trusts the maker of heaven and earth, to whom belongs all power and strength and wisdom and honor and glory and blessing.

David demonstrated confidence in God’s Word (v. 4; 10-11). David makes two profound statements here, the first being, "in God I will praise His Word." How could he say this? Because the words of the LORD are pure words, "like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." (Psalm 12:6; 19:8). They are also perfect, sure, and right causing conversion for the soul, making the simple wise, bringing rejoicing to the heart and light to the eyes (Psalm 19:7-8). God's Words are forever settled in the heavens (Psalm 119:89), is true from the beginning and His judgments endure forever (119:160).

What or who is greater than God, that is able to change His Word? God’s Word is more powerful than men of flesh. He probably did not have much more than the first five books of what we now call the Old Testament; yet, he found enough there to be confident in what God had revealed about Himself there. He was confident because God's Word does not change.

The second profound statement of David is this: "in God I have put my trust." Whom then shall be feared? The LORD is light, salvation and the strength of life (Ps 27:1); a refuge and present help in time of trouble (46:1). David learned the lesson of the Hebrew midwives: men, leaders and nations are not divine. Polycarp learned the lesson of David and feared God enough to tell those about to kill him by lions that they could not because it was illegal--and they didn't! Because of these two confessions, David has no fear of what flesh could do.

Fourth, he depended on the justice of God (v. 7). David has listed their crimes: they trample, oppress, attack, injures his cause, have evil thoughts against him, stir up strife, lurk, spy on him, and want to kill him. How do we face these today? We are trampled by those who take advantage of the ministry. I was once approached in the parking lot of a grocery store by a woman begging for change, even for food. I felt that because she changed her plea and asked for food directly, that she was indeed hungry. After a while she left with a couple of dollars and some change, but she never made it into the store. I saw her walking on the opposite side of the street, toward a street where drugs were sold.

We are attacked by those we try to love. Groups hold meetings for the sole purpose of countering the outreaches we try to perform. One specific group actually trains their people to swoop in to exhaust resources so others cannot have them.

I've had my life threatened on the street while sharing the gospel with another man.

David is making a prophetic statemement concerning God's final judgment. Evil will never triumph, it only goes down screaming. When God is exalted in all His perfections, men see their imperfections, their sinfulness and there is no place to hide. This is what is meant by the reference to God's anger, or wrath. God's anger is not the emotional "fly-off-the-handle" kind of display; rather, the outrage of justice. Though the enemies of truth press hard against those who speak it, a day will come when all men will stand before God to give account. David is placing his faith on the justice of God, that God would judge and punish those who have broken His moral law.

David was on God’s side (v.9). No person or group has a monopoly on God; that is, God is on nobody’s side but His own. "Hezbollah," literally means "party of God;" that is to mean this group hi-jacked "god" and refashioned him to be their own. Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and others hold that if one does not gain levels of secret knowledge revealed only to them, one cannot be "saved" (whatever that may mean in their context). How different this is from being a follower of Christ. The Bible is filled with the distinctions between those who sought after and cried out to God from those who do not. The New Testament book of Acts describes "God-fearers."

Finally, David charted a course of obedience to God (v. 12-13). There are those who hold that the gods must be appeased or manipulated in order to gain favor. This is not what David is saying here. He is talking about responding to God in manners of thanksgiving--not manipulation, but gratitude for what God has already done. Remember, the context here is in a period of upheaval, yet nothing will change with David's approach with God. No enemy can make David break with his walk with the LORD. Again, Polycarp lived his life for the LORD, why die in disobedience?

If grace has taught the heart to fear, and grace those fears relieved, then what is stopping our bold stand in the power of God's Holy Spirit from speaking His truth in love?

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