Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Beyond Fear

For many years, I thought that I was not a very fearful person.

But as I got in touch with my codependency, I realized that I was really afraid of what people thought of me. Did they think I was a good person? I was afraid of being judged inadequate, irresponsible and insensitive. A lot of my emotional energy was spent trying to please people. In fact, I came to realize that fear was probably the biggest debilitating issue in my life.

One of my early spiritual fathers, Dr. Albert Grimes, once said to me, "You must get healed from 'fear of people' because it will ruin your ministry."

Even now, after years of working on the underlying issues, I find that my own fears and anxieties, when left unchecked, are often at the root of some of my worst decisions.

That's one of the reasons I love Timothy so much. Evidently he struggled with fear in his ministry.

Timothy was Paul's young protege, the lead elder over the church in Ephesus. No minor assignment. And Paul wrote two of his most personally moving letters at the end of his ministry to his "son in the faith." Timothy had traveled with Paul and experienced his bold preaching and power ministry first-hand. But evidently, Timothy exhibited a kind of timidity when it came to preaching the gospel.

"For God did not give us the spirit of timidity (fear, cowardice), but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God..." (2 Tim. 1: 7-8).

One of the key issues underlying fear is shame. Shame is the painful feeling that is evoked when my vulnerable and imperfect self is exposed for others to see. Shame can be one of the most intense and riveting emotions. Shyness and fear of public speaking are both
primarily about shame.

So, how did Paul encourage Timothy to get beyond his shame-based fear. Essentially, he encouraged him to turn from focusing on himself and what he might suffer--to God, his Spirit, and how He can empower us. From God's Spirit, we receive power, love and self-discipline.

Paul, himself, had found the freedom to serve God without giving in to fear.

"I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." (Rom. 1: 16).

"I am convinced that [nothing in all creation]...will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8: 38-39).

What are your fears? In what ways have you been timid about sharing the gospel?

How about asking God to fill you with his power, his love and his self-discipline?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Beatitudes

Jesus began his longest discourse in Matthew's Gospel with what we call, "The Beatitudes."

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..." (Matt. 5: 3).

This list of kingdom proverbs is unusual for Jesus, who normally taught using parables. Each of the eight (some say nine, counting vv. 11-12 as separate from vs. 10) begins with the pronouncement of kingdom blessing.

"Blessed" means "joyfully favored by God." Those who are blessed now stand in the joyous shalom enjoyed by all the people of God who are under God's kingdom rule. Thus, for some reason, Jesus is saying that those who are "poor in spirit" actually stand in a state of blessedness.

The conventional Jewish wisdom was that it was those who felt powerful, together and confident who stood under God's blessing. Poverty was a sign of being cursed, not blessed. Spiritual pride was a sign of blessing.

Not all riches were seen as bringing blessing. The tax collectors may have been materially rich, but they were also "poor in spirit." They might be rich, but they could not feel pride before God.

Thus the story that Jesus tells in Luke 18: 9-14 about "The Pharisee and The Tax Collector." The Pharisee has done his religious duty and is able to confidently thank God for the holiness he has achieved. The Tax Collector cannot even look up towards God because of the shame he feels. Between the two, he is the one who is indeed "poor in spirit." And the punchline of this parable is that it is the Tax Collector, the one who is poor-in-spirit, who goes home justified before God.

Simon and Garfunkel wrote the song, "Blessed," inspired by the Beatitudes. "Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on..."

Read through the list to understand the attitude of the one who is truly blessed in God's kingdom:
•  The poor in spirit--
(those who realize that they have nothing in themselves and need God's salvation);
•  The mourners--
(those who let go of their own agenda to take up their cross);
•  The meek--
(those who don't act out of ambition and lust for power, but learn to serve humbly);
•  The hungry/thirsty for righteousness--
(those in touch with their desire for godliness);
•  The merciful--
(those who care for others who are needy, rather than simply look out for self);
•  The pure in heart--
(those with a single mind focused on God with no hidden agendas);
•  The peacemakers--
(those who sew peace in relationships rather than stirring up strife);
•  The persecuted--
(those who accept the scorn of the world out of love for Christ).

The Beatitudes were revolutionary for Jesus' time. It was not the prideful and arrogant leaders of temples and palaces and commerce who were entering into the kingdom. It was "the sat upon, the spat upon, the ratted on." They heard with joy the promise of blessedness and came streaming into the kingdom.

How about you? Are you in touch with your own poverty of spirit? Reach out in humble dependence on him. If you do, you will be blessed and the kingdom of heaven will be yours.