Fear No More

2018-06-25

(C) Michael Leuning

After Jesus had been crucified, we’re told the disciples were in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews (John 20:19-20).

There was much to be feared. When Jesus died on the cross all their hope and dreams had died with him – at least that may have been their perspective before Jesus’ resurrection. For the Eleven, it would have been reasonable to expect that the people who wanted Jesus dead would want his key followers dead as well. So they were petrified. Inside that room they held their breath at every footfall, every knock on the door, every sudden sound.

So they had taken appropriate measures, and barricaded themselves in a room, locked the doors, turned out the lights, speaking in muted whisper of how they would hold the line and what they would do to make a last stand together. These actions were sensible, and we should not mock them.

My own capacity to cower before my fears never ceases to amaze me. I admit: I lock the doors and draw the curtains way too quickly. In that initial response I think I am working for my own preservation, but it tends to cut me off from those who are near to me. It deafens me to their words of hope and encouragement. It keeps me insulated from the comfort and nearness of those who love me more than I know. So, there are always some bills to be paid.

And then I see here what Jesus does, not just in our fears, but to our fears. Almost imperceptibly, he enters by miraculous, sovereign, and surprisingly gentle means. He does not rebuke the Eleven for their fear or their lack of faith: he just enters into it, and as he does, those fears are transformed into all joy and hallelujah.

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Somehow I imagine these followers, some years down the track, reminiscing over a meal and saying, “hey, remember the time we’d locked ourselves in our room, and we were packing it, and how Jesus just showed up…?”

Displaying his hands and feet reminded them of two things. One: the victory had been won. Two: now there was only love and life. In that very act they were changed.

So now, when I retreat, I will do well to recognise that even in that locked room Jesus is with me. He not only enters my fear, he shows me his resurrected hands and feet, and takes that ‘locked room’ of ‘what’s going to become of me?’ and it becomes instead a place of “peace be with you” and “receive the Holy Spirit.” All joy and hallelujah!

When I am gripped with fear, and all I want to do is retreat to my locked room, I should tell that to all my insecurities.

Why do I pray so timidly?

Good God, why do I pray so timidly, offering hesitant requests when I’m your loved child? I’ve been commanded – almost dared – by Jesus to trust your generosity in my prayers. Give me the expectation of a child that through Jesus Christ I will receive all I ask from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

(See Belgic Confession, Art 26)


[from Seeking God’s Face, Philip F. Reinders, Faith Alive Christian Resources: Grand Rapids, 2010 (see my review of SGF here)]

On Australia Day

As I celebrate this Australia Day, I recognise that I live on the lands of the Nyungar people, and I pay respect to their elders past, present and future. When James Cook landed in Botany Bay, there were some 250 nations of first Australians already here. They had been here for tens of thousands of years, and there could have been anywhere to a couple of million in number.

Europeans did not discover this land, but their arrival started to change it forever, as the first Australians had also changed it. The European colony brought many good things, but it also eventually led to removal of the first Australians from many areas, and without due recompense. History is woefully overladen with accounts of their suffering and debasement at the hands of European colonists. Indigenous peoples still carry much of this pain. Many European Australians deny it in equal measure.

My prayer for Australia now is that we own this history, or it will continue to own us. We need to acknowledge our first Australians in our constitution. We need to listen to their voice, we need to hear their cry, and we need to act in equity and justice. This is what God would want from us. One day we sill stand before him and render account for how we have addressed this situation.

Let our shared love for this country and our awareness of God’s grace gloriously received move us forward into reconciliation, gracious embrace, and a future where all can thrive.

I’m celebrating today because the move toward reconciliation will always outlive the voice of hate and cowering fear. I love my country, and in it everything God has given to me, my children and grandchildren. I doubt there is a better place to live on earth. And I know this great land will only get better as we walk, with our First Australians, into God’s good future.

Stop Being a Control Freak

Read: Genesis 27

You may wonder why you’ve been asked to read a passage like this. I mean, there are hardly any attitudes worth emulating. Rebekah is a conniving mother and Jacob is wimpish and complicit.

Scripture of course does not always give us clear behaviour to emulate. Sometimes it shows us the ugliness of humanity and the deceit of the heart. That’s what we’ve got here. Rebekah knows God’s covenant promises will be kept. Even so, she looks at her oldest son and thinks ‘shivers, is he really to be the hope of the world? He’s more about his toys and achievement than faithfulness to the Lord. I better do something about that …’  The rest is history.

Maybe Rebekah had forgotten how the Lord tends to use the weak and ridiculous to bring his purposes about. She had to know this. Her husband was born to a 100 year old father and a 90 year old mother. Surely she knew the Lord had good form for faithfulness and working well beyond human expectation and circumstances.

But that was not good enough for Rebekah. She wanted the blessing to land on the youngest son. She wanted her own outcome. She wanted control. And what an ugly mess she made of it.

This always happens. When we want to control the future, we’re often doing so to stay in control. We’ll manipulate people. We’ll fudge on the details. We’ll stop listening to God. We simply will not trust his unambiguous promises. We’ll cast him aside believing we can do a better job ourselves.

Ringing any bells?

Have you been closing yourself to God’s will so you can get it done your way?

Listen: this never works. Even if you get an immediate result – like Jacob receiving a blessing – cutting God out of your picture will have serious consequences.

Think of the fear that governed Jacob’s life until his rapprochement with Esau. Think of the ongoing tension and warfare between Israel and the Edomites. Who knows how God would have worked if it wasn’t for Rebekah being a control freak and Jacob withdrawing into passivity. The Lord would have kept his promises however the human characters would have acted.

And this is where God challenges you: you need to trust him to be faithful.

You need to allow him to be your Lord.

You need to believe that he is good, and has the best intentions for your life.

You need to stop being a control freak, and starting following the God entrusting your actions and your plans to him.

Phillip Reinders has a tremendous prayer around this passage:

God of blessing, what a mess I create when I wrestle the future out of your hand and take it upon myself. I pray for patient trust today and good confidence for tomorrow, knowing that nothing can separate me from your love, because my curse fell on Jesus so your blessing can come to me. Amen

[Seeking God’s Face, p.577]

Like a beer on a hot day…

Who would have thought that those who live and share the good news of Jesus are like a beer on a hot day? Not just to other people, but to God.

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No. It had never occurred to me, either.

But my reading this morning took me to Proverbs 25:

Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master. (Prov 25:13, NIV)

It says nothing about beer, but a snow cooled drink? Imagine how wonderful that would have been to a culture which knew nothing about refrigeration.

It took me back to days in western Sydney, moving house with a friend. It was such a hot day, and we stopped – briefly – at the Plumpton Inn for a breather. We both bought a gloriously cold beer – it was so good. We even breathed the involuntary ‘aaaaahh’ as a chaser.

This is what it’s like to share the news about Jesus. God looks on. He’s with us and in us, working through us. He knows our efforts aren’t perfect (have to say that as a Calvinist), but being gracious he observes what we do, and as we do it faithfully, it’s like a beer on hot day to him. ‘Aaaaahh … that’s so good!’

Not sure about you, but that thought seeds a growing desire to share more of the good news of Jesus!

The prayer in “Seeking God’s Face” today reads as follows:

Sending God, never let me think the call to share the good news of Jesus is for a select few. You send me, along with the whole church, to all people with the gospel. May my obedience as a messenger of the gospel be refreshing to you, like a cool drink on a sweltering summer day (Canons of Dordt. II.5)

 

Yes, you are religious

In Australia people are giving up on religion, so the ABS says. Personally, I doubt it. There may be less people attending church, and a reduction in the number of those who have nominal attachment. But really, everyone is religious. Even the ‘no religion’ response is a religious response.

Those who do not believe in God still offer a response to God – one of unbelief. As those who are agnostic say ‘we don’t know if there is a God.’

Maybe there are just different religious responses.

Those who ignore God, and live as though he doesn’t exist.

Those who avoid God. Who know he’s probably there, who tip toe around his fingerprints, and do their best to think about other things.

Those who manipulate God. Or at least try to. If I

  • work on my broken relationship
  • pray harder
  • get to church more
  • stop that terrible behaviour
  • give to that charity
  • fill in the blank

…then God will do what I ask, bless me, accept me.

Then there’s following God. Receiving his gift of grace, forgiveness and life, and living a life that shows his true intent for life and humanity. This is the life Jesus has come to give.

‘No religion’ is not an option, so which one are you? And how is that working?

Remember: Satan’s Power Is Limited

Whatever happens today, remember that as strong and as ugly as the evil one appears to be, he has limited strength and ability. Jesus Christ, ruler of our universe, has all power and authority. He is on the throne and rules all nations. You can trust this powerful Saviour to be near you and to give you all you need today to follow him.

Rev 12:1-9 “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.”  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. “

Prayer: High King of Heaven, this strange visit fits our this world. Every news story of misery and corruption is an echo of the dragon waiting like a thief to devour all that is good and to vandalise your shalom. Thank you for the good news that evil has met its match in Jesus, and give me the patience in this day as I wait for its complete end. Amen
(Philip F. Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, p.537 – using material from Belgic Confession, Article 12)