Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 2

Today’s post is part 2 of a BONUS CHAPTER from Grace Intervention on Fear. There is a growing supply of free resources for you to do a Grace Intervention with your church, small group, or retreat: Click here.

If you missed it, here’s part one of today’s blog.


 

Breaking Bondage

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

You’re always running on one of two operating systems, legalism or grace. The spirit of bondage or the Spirit of adoption. You need to switch operating systems. Make the change from legalism to grace. And as often as you fall into to legalism – either neo- or traditional – you need to switch back again. The burden of this book’s intervention is to motivate, hasten, enable, persuade, instruct, and celebrate that far-reaching switch.

To use a biblical term, you need to repent.

Biblical repentance is never a legalistic addition to the gospel. It is not the super-imposition of behavioral demands on the Walking Dead who are incapable of doing good. It does not consist of self-effort, self-will, or self-improvement.

Repentance is a radical change of mind – swapping out one worldview for another. Changing operating systems. Repentance is the work of God, by the Spirit of God, applying the Word of God to the child of God.

By it, you undergo a radical transformation of your whole way of looking at God, yourself, and your relationship with him. By it, you change your mind – your perspective on reality. It’s time to swap out your old, tired, self-serving worldview for God’s holy, life-giving worldview.

  • Do you harbor the delusion you are good enough for God? That if you are a sinner, you are only a sinner-lite? Repent.
  • Do you grade yourself on the curve? Do you justify yourself by comparing yourself to someone else – say a serial killer, or a “Bridezilla,” or a serial-killing Bridezilla – and conclude you’re just not that bad? Repent.
  • Have you swallowed “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1), or have you suppressed the truth (Romans 1:18), elevating your own definitions of reality above the revealed declarations of God in the Scriptures? Repent.
  • Do you diminish the value and efficacy of the death of Christ on the Cross as sufficient payment for your sin? Have you pursued the demented fallacy of self-atonement? Or denied you need atonement at all? Repent.
  • Are you chasing the happiness-butterfly through activities the Bible calls sin? Or worldliness? Or foolishness? Or evil? Repent.
  • Do you honestly think you can reach God by climbing a latter of perfection? Do you have a solution for your sins apart from the finished work of Christ? Repent.

You can’t just add the grace app to legalism’s operating system and call it good. The whole thing is going to crash.

You need a whole new system, a grace-centric outlook on everything that matters.

Enter the most beautiful, coherent, logical, generous, all-encompassing Theory of Everything ever revealed in this cosmos or any other, humbly titled the Grace of God. There is nothing like it in the annals of world religion. Take history’s smartest philosophers, the world’s greatest religious leaders, and society’s most noble women and men, throw them in a room together for a thousand years with the directive to concoct a religion, and the smartest people in the room would never come up with a system of grace. They’d come up with yet another variation on the same old theme: humans by human effort seeking to merit the approval of God.

Legalism owns the human instinct. That’s because the Fall hardwired a lie into the soul. So Grace Deficit Disorder spreads like black mold beneath life’s happy exterior.

You need to swap out the old system for the new one. The old covenant for the new covenant. Legalism for grace.

That swap is surgical. It’s transformative. It’s repentance.

Always More To Do

Legalism is “a spirit of bondage” which produces “fear.” Under legalism, you can never be confident. You can never breathe easy. There’s always another law to obey, sin to conquer, good work to perform. Under the Old Testament system of sacrifices, there was no end to the blood flowing from the altar, as sacrifice followed upon sacrifice with no end in sight. You could never just sit down and rest in the abiding love of God. Fear of God. Fear of man. Fear of final judgment. Fear of exposure. Fear of people’s opinions. Fear of the disapproving frown. Fear of outsider status. Fear of death, hell, the devil, and the corruptions ever ready to erupt from your own lunatic heart.

The legalistic operating system is built on this fear. It’s what keeps the faithful faithful.

Thank God for the Cross.

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:11,12)

He sat down because his work was complete. The age of bondage was over. Fear no longer owned mankind’s instinct. A new age had been inaugurated.

The Spirit of adoption. You are no longer a slave, but a son or a daughter in the royal household of God.

Under grace, the cry of your heart is no longer, “I’m scared,” but “Abba, Father.” Dad, I’m home.

Love now keeps the faithful faithful. Gratitude. Grace. The great mystery of Christ in you.

Repentance is that eye-opening moment of realization in which you finally get what a dummy you’ve been, trying to work your way to heaven instead of receiving a gift purchased by the blood of Christ.

It is the epiphany that your happiness lies in the hand of a Father who every day reaches toward you with a compassion that knows no bounds.

It is the discovery life’s anxieties are wasted in the presence of a throne of grace.

It is the stark realization of the stench rising up from your sins, and an urgent turning and returning unto the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to wash you white as snow.

Repentance switches operating systems from legalism to grace.

It’s epic.

Monumental.

By it, you switch from works to faith.

From earning it to receiving it.

From sweating over it to resting in it.

From earning a paycheck to accepting a gift.

From your efforts to Christ’s efforts.

From your dedication to Christ’s dedication.

From your sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice.

From shadow to substance.

From image to reality.

From religion to relationship.

From despair to hope.

From fear to faith.

From hell to heaven.

And from self to God.

You can’t change your ways until you change your mind, and repentance is that change of mind.

Under grace, God has pre-positioned all your blessings for just-in-time delivery. There’s nothing you face that God hasn’t already seen, and having seen, provided for. If God is for you, who can be against you?

When God delivered me from my fear of judgment, he delivered me into a tremendous sense of peace. Whatever turmoil swirls around my life, whatever storms batter my ship of faith, I know my anchor holds, and one day, I’ll sail into the haven of rest and step into that glorious realm where fears are no more.

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I’m here, Father.

Welcome home, Son.

 

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How to Handle Stage Fright

I speak in public; I am a preacher. Most weekends I speak 4 times to a total audience of a couple thousand people.  Public speaking is the normal person’s greatest fear — so say the statistics. I have stage fright, yet I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. It’s been said that Johnny Carson had stage fright before every show. He kept paper clips on his desk so he could fiddle with them during the program.

For my first two years as a pastor, I was sick to my stomach before I preached (not barfing, but the other end… sorry… ). So while everyone was preparing to start our church services, I was in the bathroom… Ugh.

I have not fully conquered stage fright; but I’m able to manage my fears and get the job done. Here are some hard-won tips:

  1. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE. You can reduce a whole lot of fear through thorough preparation. Know your topic, know your main points. I am a manuscript preacher and like to write out my whole sermon. That doesn’t work for everybody — you have to find what works for you. There is no excuse, however, for a preacher, or any public speaker, who wings it. Lazy prep is our unpardonable sin. Prepare well, especially…
  2. FOCUS ON YOUR OPENING. If you don’t want to write out your whole talk, at least try writing the opening. The hardest part is getting started. Once you’re going, you’ll do great. Spend extra time figuring out your exact opening words and sentences. This may include a thank you to whoever introduced/invited you. It may include a Scripture verse (easy, because it gives you permission to read, thus getting your voice properly modulated). Whatever gets the ball rolling, prepare it well.
  3. USE HUMOR. If it suits your topic, use humor. Make sure your funny story contributes to your overall theme — a random joke will come across as just that. But if you have a funny illustration, story, or opening that is RELEVANT to the group, use it.
  4. ARRIVE EARLY TO NAIL DOWN LOGISTICS. Come long before the crowd arrives. Stand behind the podium. Look across the empty chairs. Figure out how to arrange your notes. Do your sound check. Find the clock. Know your stop time (don’t look at your watch unless you want the whole audience to follow suit). Find out how you will be introduced. Find out where you will stand/sit before you speak. That last thing you want is to have to pick your way around instruments, or to discover you have no podium for your notes, right when you’re beginning to speak. No surprises. Do not come late; do not make yourself feel rushed. Yikes! Getting comfortable with your surroundings well before speech-time relieves a lot of anxiety, thus freeing up mental and emotional harddrive space for your talk.
  5. DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR STAGE FRIGHT. Unless you’re giving a talk about having stage fright, do not mention it to your audience. It’s manipulative. All they can do is feel sorry for you (or disgusted). You are the speaker… you are there to bless your audience, not to unburden yourself. “S..s..sorry, b-but I’m nervous…” only undercuts your speaking credibility.
  6. DRESS COMFORTABLY. I wear a button shirt and nice jeans most of the time. Anything else feels like a costume to me. The real me wears jeans. However, it’s not your call. Honor your host by honoring the dress code for the event. Find out, and then dress as comfortably as you can within those parameters. Wear comfortable shoes. I read an old preacher who said that your attire should not be an issue… Your audience should focus on the content of your talk, not on something you wore or didn’t wear.
  7. PRAY. Before I walk to my pulpit, I pray two prayers: “Casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), and “Lord, fill me with your Spirit, because I can’t deliver what these people need without your help and power.”

You can’t erase your fears, but you can rise above them and bless people with your words.

What other tips can you add to help people overcome stage fright? What has worked for you?

Before I Preach… I Panic…

preacher repentAnybody who wants to understand a preacher’s weekend should read this article by veteran preacher, Walter Wangerin Jr. (click here)

It’ll help explain why any preacher who’s really INVESTED in his or her message isn’t very “chatty” before the sermon. And why that’s the worst possible time to bring up problems in the church or discuss the volume of the music or ask for counseling. Great article.

I’m glad I’m not the only one.

I’m sure this pre-sermon panic doesn’t just afflict preachers. How about a lawyer before closing arguments? or teacher before a major presentation? or an architect or engineer who has to submit a bid? or a student before a presentation? Our trials are “common to mankind” (1 Cor 10:13).

lockerrm2.jpgBefore I preach, I feel like a fighter in the locker room. Focused. Jittery. Trying to contain myself. Calm myself. I make an effort to be gracious and available (as time permits… I’m usually running to get to the next service)… but please know that deep inside, I’m not all there.

But you already suspected that.

Just a confession.

One more thing… (about this weekend’s message)

alfredeneuman.jpg What, Me Worry?

Yes, the tagline of my favorite cartoon face, Alfred E. Neuman, inspired the title of this last weekend’s sermon. A message on worry. Click here to listen/watch/read it. It’s usually posted on Wednesday; this week probably on Thursday because of the holiday.

I based my message on what Jesus said about worry in his Sermon on the Mount.

For me, the most important point was a new perspective on Matt 6:33:

““But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33, NKJV. Continue reading

33 Killed at Virginia Tech: Other People’s Craziness

virginiatech.jpg

If you watch the news, I’m sure that you are saddened and angered over the evil, cold-blooded murders at Virginia Tech. Our hearts go out to every parent, family member and friend who lost a loved one so suddenly and so horrifically. Our hearts also go out to every student and young adult across the country who is coming of age in such a difficult culture. We pray for you.

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Courage

Little did I know that my first experience in public speaking would be such a disaster. I froze. I didn’t know what to say. So I mumbled, “Thank you,” and ran off the stage. My stomach tied itself in knots. I could only look down. It seemed like hundreds of people were laughing at me. I was humiliated.

FearI was five years old. The scene was the annual kindergarten Christmas play at Portage Park School, a public school in Chicago. Except I didn’t know it. I was the emcee, except I didn’t know that either. All I knew was that for weeks I memorized some words about “the Christ child.” I had no idea what I was in for.

 

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