Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 1

Today’s post is 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.


Chapter 7

Fear

Even the Christian must fear God. But it is another kind of fear. It is a fear rather of what might have been than of what is; it is a fear of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear there can be no true love; for love of the Saviour is proportioned to one’s horror of that from which man has been saved. And how strong are the lives that are suffused with such a love! They are lives brave, not because the realities of life have been ignored, but because they have first been faced – lives that are founded upon the solid foundation of God’s grace. May such lives be ours! ~J. Gresham Machen

Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there. ~Author Unknown

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I stood there naked, in plain sight, head hanging down, mortified at the exposure. I faced humiliation as public as any I could imagine.

I am speaking of my fear of Judgment Day.

This fear defined me for decades. It lurked in the shadows of everything I did.

The legalist mantra says, “Fear helps keep the faithful faithful.”

Worked for me. I feared final judgment. I feared loss of salvation. I feared God’s disapproving frown. I feared the loss of status with my spiritual peers. I feared a remarkably unenthusiastic welcome into the heavenly realms. I feared failure. I feared I hadn’t done it right in the first place, and wasn’t really saved.

There was a Bible verse I heard a thousand times as a kid growing up: “What a man does in secret, he will one day shout from the rooftops.” No doubt, this was the Death Star spawning my last-days’ phobia.

It wasn’t till I was much older that I made a startling discovery: there’s no such verse in the Bible. Yes, some come close, but those words simply aren’t biblical, not, at least, when it comes to the believer’s final judgment.

Here’s the closest to it I can find:

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. (Matthew 10:26,27)

Even if we apply this verse to the last judgment, it’s still debatable whether it applies to believers in Jesus or not. Otherwise, why would Jesus begin this saying with an exhortation not to fear? At any rate, this is certainly a far cry from the frightening prospect that a naked little me would be shouting my secret sins from any rooftops throughout this life or the next. That discovery blew my mind. Like an addict’s intervention, it changed the course of my life.

Here’s how God’s grace intervention took the stinger out of my life’s greatest fears.

The Guilt Trip

God used a book. The setting was my cavernous high school gym. I was a senior at Chicago’s massive Lane Technical High School, student body over 5,000 at the time. My gym coach was absent for the day, so we sat on hard wooden bleachers and used the hour as a study hall.

I’d brought a book with me about Satan.[i] Little did I know that the last quarter of that book shined a spotlight on guilt and the Cross of Christ. Growing up fundamentalist, as I did, I’d heard about the Cross a million times. But this time was different. It was the first time the death of Christ really clicked with me.

I suspect the reason is because the author framed the Cross within the topic of guilt – which happened to be my middle name. He explained how the devil’s favorite tool was guilt. And how the devil screwed guilt into our backs to slam us around every once in a while.

Who told this guy about me?

My little high school heart was pounding. Pick-up basketball games echoed in the background. The smell of old gym shoes, rubber basketballs, and sweat permeated my senses. My world narrowed to a single point – words on a page illuminated by God’s own Spirit. There, the message of the Cross pierced my guilt and shame. I learned how my sins were lifted out of me that they might be transferred to Christ. I discovered how this transfer was comprehensive – encompassing every moral failure, past, present, and future. I read in wonder how the hammer of heaven heaped justice on the head of Christ, punishing him for my sins instead of punishing me.

And then I read about those wonderful words, IT IS FINISHED, the best words ever uttered on planet earth.

What was finished?

Everything that ever had to happen to bring my sorry soul to heaven without the slightest whisper of my secret sin or shame.

Suddenly, the cosmic plasma screen shattered in a million pieces.

Behind it, I saw the smiling face of God, my Father, who approved of me, and delighted in me more than words could tell.

Grace was real.

It was stronger, far more beautiful, and infinitely more effective than I’d ever thought it was before.

That day, God converted a gym into a sanctuary, as he settled a stupendous promise into my dysfunctional soul: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; / And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

What an epiphany!

I didn’t need to fear the face of God for even one more nanosecond. He was eternally satisfied with me, just as I was.

I wanted to shout Hallelujah, but it felt weird in that setting.

Legalism’s germs proliferate in the dank cellars of fear. They thrive in the moisture of an implacable deity – a God who simply can’t be satisfied with a worm like me.

And yet, that day, God’s sun shined down into the cellars of my heart, and my fear and shame withered away.

I do not count that day as the day of my salvation; I was saved before that, and I’m convinced it “took” and it “stuck” with me forever. God is that faithful.

I do, however, count that day as the day of my assurance. A major healing of much of my Grace Deficit Disorder. I have never seriously doubted my salvation since then, and I have never again stooped beneath the burdensome anticipation of a humiliating entrance to God’s everlasting kingdom.

My guilt was gone, and with it the fear of judgment that fueled so much dysfunction in my life.


 

[i] Hal Lindsey. Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972).

Thank you for reading. Please share using the buttons below. Thanks.
Part 2 tomorrow.

 

Friday: What Does Christ’s Death Mean?

jesuscross

On Friday — the day we call Good Friday — Jesus Christ was nailed to an old, rugged Cross. I can only imagine. The cosmos paused in stunned silence to see the Son of God, bearing our sin, forsaken of God, torn by a whip and hounded by Satan. There he hung, the God-man, winning the ages-old battle for souls. There has never been a moment like that moment — and all the ages of eternity will echo with ceaseless wonder at what happened the day Jesus died.

I thought it would be good to apply our minds and hearts, on this day, to that central day of history when our Savior died for us all.

There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95. Continue reading

Think About Jesus

Here’s what happens when a funky groove meets Jesus-preaching… thanks to Bob G’s creative editing for this.  It’s about 2.5 minutes audio about who Jesus is and what he’s done for you… Just in time for Christmas.  Click the link below.

Look at Jesus

Tiger Woods’ Feet of Clay

The expression, “to have feet of clay,” comes from the Bible. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dreamed of an image with feet of clay. The rest of the thing was metal. Here’s his dream, as the prophet Daniel interprets it:

31 “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 “This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 “its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 “You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:31-35, NKJV).

The feet of “iron mixed with clay” were the weak spot. The vulnerability. The Achilles’ heel. When the “stone cut without hands” struck the image, it was on that exact spot. The stone crushed the image to dust, starting with the feet of clay. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed that dream something like 2600 years ago.

A thousand years ago, a controversy erupted in the eastern Christian church over the use of icons. Statues, images, and paintings of Jesus were deemed to be the very “graven images” prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Idol-breakers, called “iconoclasts,” which is Greek for… uh… “idol-breakers,” went on a rampage. They destroyed statues, paintings, windows, adornments, and even coins — any likeness of Jesus or the saints. Church councils debated and put anathemas (damnations) on people who made icons or any artistic depiction of Jesus.

It seems to me that it’s human nature to create icons and tear them down.

My heart goes out to Tiger Woods. He’s got everything money can buy, and he’s still not happy. He worked hard to get to the top of game, I give him that. At the same time, he was the willing accomplice in the creating his own image, his own icon.

Apparently, sports media writers knew of his indiscretions, but they chose not to cover them. I have no argument with that. Media rarely covers the sexual dalliances of the stars… think of various U.S. Presidents and the hush-up of their adulterous ways.

But then something triggers a feeding frenzy. Monica Lewinski. A gay masseuse. Bite marks on a woman’s back. Or, in Tiger’s case, a late-night crash into a tree with his wife left holding the nine-iron.

All bets were off. The very media that created the icon, crushed it. They’re still beating it to fine powder today.

Iconoclasts. We’re all infected.

In How to Keep Your Inner Mess from Trashing Your Outer World, I wrote:

‘Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the
light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors
will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!’
(Luke 12:3, NLT)

…. No matter how practiced you are at containing your Inner
Mess, you will one day shout it from the rooftops. My Sunday
school teachers first laid that verse on me when I was in junior
high. My twelve-year-old mind pictured a cosmic TV screen
with my latest sins broadcast for the entire universe to see. It
scared me then. It scares me today.

Imagine shouting your deepest, most embarrassing secrets
from a rooftop. Or posting them on YouTube. Or printing
them in the church bulletin. Some small-town newspapers
publish the names of men who have been arrested for picking
up hookers. The drive to hide the Inner Mess is a powerful motivator. My friend Tommy [names have been changed] produced pornography before he met Jesus. He tells
heartbreaking stories of young women begging
him to get their pictures back. But it was too late. The rights
to their pictures had been sold and the pictures had been
distributed on the Internet. Their secrets were being shouted
from the rooftops.

Jesus is not teaching that God broadcasts your sins to the
world. He’s teaching that you’ll do it. You’ll crack. You’ll ‘out’
yourself. You can’t contain your Inner Mess forever. It’s only a
matter of time before you slip.

And no matter how many religious practices you might
observe, they cannot gloss over a life dominated by your Inner
Mess. In fact, the more religious practices you pile on, the
more you become a hypocrite.

In the physical realm, nature abhors a vacuum.  Maybe, in the spiritual realm, truth abhors a hypocrite — anyone who nurtures a massive disconnect between public image and private reality.

I look at Tiger and think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” What if your latest scandal were broadcast on the evening news? Yikes!

The good news is that this is Tiger’s moment to really shine. He can step into God’s grace. He can incarnate the tune he’s probably sung: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me… God is inviting Tiger to step into the only life that can satisfy his soul.

Here’s a guy with money, sex, and power — more than most of us can ever imagine. Is he happy?  Even before his fall, was he happy then? No. Paying for prostitutes (allegedly) and collecting mistresses (allegedly) is the hallmark of a frustrated man, a heartbroken man, a searching, unsatisfied man, not a happy man. My soul aches for Tiger… not in judgment, but in sympathy.

Only Jesus can satisfy your soul.

When Nebuchadnezzar suffered his crash, he fell into a psychotic state that lasted seven years. At the end of that time, he wrote his incredible testimony:

34 And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. (Daniel 4:34-37, NKJV).

There’s always hope. Even for Nebuchadnezzar. Even for you or me. When God brings us down, he’s not being spiteful. He’s being kind. He’s delivering us from the chains of a delusional life into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Daniel’s “stone cut without hands” is Jesus. He brings us down from our self-destructive pedestal that he might set us on the foundation of his heart-liberating, soul-satisfying Self.

Maybe Tiger Woods will write the same story as King Nebuchadnezzar. We can only pray. I know that I’ll be writing that story — we all will.  It’s just a matter of time.

Because we all have feet of clay.

Until we are anchored to the Rock.

Fundamental #5: The Return of Christ

preacher repentAs a high school sophomore, I never thought I’d see my junior year. I remember wondering why I should even bother with homework. An evangelist named Jack had blown through Chicago at the McCormick Place Exhibition hall. My Sunday School Class went.  Jack and his accordian playing wife told us that Jesus was going to come within the next few months… it was that imminent.  So I disinvested from my future. If you haven’t had a similar experience, you don’t know Jack.

Can you understand why I’m cynical about date-setters? We had a guy (not from our church) put leaflets on all the cars in our church parking lot, setting a date for the 2nd coming of Christ. He had all kinds of complicated calculations based on Bible verses.  Well, his date came and went, and no Rapture. No nothing.  A month later, he put out new leaflets with pretty much the same calculations and a different date.

That’s how to stay in business!

I guess Jesus meant it when he said no one knows the hour. Truth is, no one knows the era.  I’m good with that.  Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, and maybe soon… Jesus is coming again.   Live as if you’re going to live a hundred years, but be prepared to meet Jesus tomorrow.

I came of age in The Late Great Planet Earth era. A perennial best seller.  The Left Behind series still sells tens of thousands of books every month.  Christians sure love their prophecy!

I believe in the second coming of Christ. I believe that coming will be literal — he will come to earth in a body, just as he ascended to heaven in a body. In that coming, Jesus will bring world history to its fitting and ordained conclusion.

The return of Christ gives history a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without it, the world and its inhabitants float along till the sun burns out, in random streams of poopiness.  Meaningless.

Here are some Scriptures for your perusal: Job 19:25,26; Mt 16:27,28; 23:39; 24:1-51; 25:1-13,19,31-46; 26:64; Mr 8:38; 9:1; 13:1-37; 14:62; Lu 9:26,27; 12:37-40; 17:22-37; 18:8; 19:12,13,15; 21:5-36; Joh 14:3,18,28,29; Ac 1:11; 3:20,21; 1Co 1:7,8; 4:5; 11:26; 15:23; Php 3:20,21; 4:5; Col 3:4; 1Th 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:2,3,23; 2Th 1:7-10; 2:1-3,5,8; 3:5; 1Ti 6:14,15; 2Ti 4:1,8; Tit 2:13; Heb 9:28; Jas 5:7-9; 1Pe 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:4; 2Pe 1:16; 3:3,4,8-14; 1Jo 2:28; 3:2; Jude 1:14,15; Re 1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 22:12,20 (click “more” below to see them all printed out for your meditation).

The return of Christ throws a monkey wrench into our actuarial tables of doom. You might figure an 80-100 year life span… BUT… the return of Jesus can cut that down till this afternoo…

Be ready. I believe in the Immanent Return of Christ.  There is no way to take the Bible at face value and deny Christ’s return.  That’s why it’s such a fundamental belief… it is the only fitting denouement of the story that is Jesus. To deny the second coming is to deny the authority and/or clarity of Scriptures.

““And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:3, NKJV.

“who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”” Acts 1:11, NKJV.

Part of that complex of end-time  events will be a final evaluation for believers in Jesus. This is hugely important, and we neglect it.  The shape of your eternity depends on the shape of your ternity… er… your time on earth.  Your decisions in this life determine the level of reward and blessing you experience in eternity. We won’t be equal in heaven.  I posted on that a long time ago… click (Jesus, the Great unEqualizer, 3 parts).

Honestly now, does anyone want me to review the millenarian and rapture positions?  Show of hands please.  Anyone? Anyone?

No one?  Great.  Let’s skip it.

Let’s just look to heaven… our redemption draws nigh.

Okay… okay..  Sign up for the Wiseguys! Newsletter… I’m going to send out an 8 page lesson on the pre-trib, pre-mil end times scenario.  It’ll go out on Monday, so sign up today.  Don’t get all excited about debating, because… forget-about-it…

Here are all those Bible verses, from Nave’s Topical Bible, about the 2nd coming….

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