IS FEAR A SIN?

I want to be very clear in my answer to the question asked in the title of this post, “Is fear a sin?” I don’t know for sure, but my sense is that maybe it is and maybe it isn’t; it all depends.

I’ve never run the numbers myself, but I have heard from multiple sources that “fear not” appears in the Bible 365 times – one for each day of the year. The repeated instruction “fear not” is clearly something Christians need to hear and take seriously.

I read a article yesterday by Megan Briggs in which she reported “the Bible verse most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted on the YouVersion Bible app during 2020 is Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Through the years I have used that verse many times in funerals I have conducted and other difficult situations. It is a comforting and encouraging statement relevant to many situations we face in life.

But there are other passages in the Bible that instruct us to fear. Most readers probably are familiar with Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Not everyone will remember the book, chapter, and verse; but most readers will have heard Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 14: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Which is it? Are we to fear or are we not to fear? My answer is both. To fear God doesn’t mean we cower in fear of him, but rather to respect, honor, and worship him for who he is and what he has done and does. In Luke 12:4 and 5 Jesus tells us more: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” 

Sometimes Christians overstate the maxim that faith overcomes fear. Faith certainly helps us face and deal with fear, but it doesn’t always melt our fears. Two definitions I read that make sense to me are “fear is threat of harm, real or imagined,” and “fear is one of the most basic human emotions,”

I’m pretty sure the reason the most popular Bible verse(s) of 2020 tell us “not to fear” or “fear not” is the Covid-19 pandemic. In the interest of transparency, I have been fearful at times of being infected. And I’ve also been fearful of what the outcome could be for me if I did become infected.

Here’s the point I want to make about this subject of fear: to not fear does not mean because we are Christians everything will always go well for us.  Nor does to not fear mean we can be irresponsible, overly casual or reckless, take risks we don’t have to take, or think we are somehow not vulnerable to problems, illness, tragedies, pain, and many other things both unbelievers and believers fear.

Because of our deep and growing faith we should appropriately fear God and continue to trust him as we experience and deal with the many fears of which we may be vulnerable. And when we do realize we are fearful, we might remind ourselves that our Heavenly Father is a God of grace and forgiveness.

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ARE YOU AFRAID?

Right now the question “Are you afraid?” relates to the current Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s a question that can be asked in many situations. I’m not going to ask you the question, but I know some are afraid. I don’t know that I’m afraid, but at my age, and with diabetes, I am well aware of the need to be aware and alert.

I have not counted for myself, but I’ve always heard that the instruction “Fear not” is in the Bible 365 times. Does that mean that to be afraid is a sin? My definitive answer is “yes” and “no.” Fear is not always a sin, but it can be.

While he was writing in a different time and under different circumstances, Paul’s reminder to Timothy in II Timothy 1:7 is applicable to Christians today, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline”(NIV).

Note Paul affirms that God gave the same spirit to both Timothy and himself. My sense is that he is speaking of the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to everyone who determines to follow Jesus. That means, I think, that Christians today can claim that God’s Spirit does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

The word translated timid in the New International Version is the only place it is used in the New Testament. Other translations render the phrase “a spirit of fear” or “a spirit of cowardice.” The New Living Translation covers two bases with “a spirit of fear and timidity.”

So God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but he gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control. What is a spirit of power? It doesn’t mean power in the way we usually understand it, but rather strength of character to “go boldly forward” (NT scholar Donald Guthrie).

What is a spirit of love and self-control? It means that the power (or strength) God gives us is to be used in the guidance of love and under self-control. While some use the word enabling, I don’t because of the negative connotation is sometimes has. My preference is the word empower. If we take advantage of the spirit God has given us, he will empower us to deal with fear (I don’t believe we will always be free of fear) and help us live the way he has called us to live.

That’s what I’m trying to do and what I encourage you to do as well.

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COMPLIMENT HIM OR CRITICIZE HIM?

Most people, whether they go to church or not, know something about the New Testament account of Jesus walking on water. We all have probably heard jokes that assume we have some knowledge of Jesus doing so. Many of those who know something about the account of Jesus walking on water also know that Peter joined him.

Both Matthew and Mark tell about Jesus, but only Matthew tells us about Peter. Both tell how the disciples went ahead of Jesus in the boat, how they were having trouble going into the wind, and how Jesus walked on the water to them. Both tell how the disciples saw Jesus, thought he was a ghost, and were afraid. And both quote Jesus as saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

Only Matthew tells that after Jesus identified himself, Peter answered, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus invited Peter, and he responded by walking on the water to Jesus. Matthew 14:30 and 31 report, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”

Here’s a question to ponder: should we compliment Peter or criticize him? In my experience I have heard a lot more criticism of Peter than I have compliments. And I don’t think that is fair, do you?

No doubt, there is a note of scolding in Jesus’ words to him afterwards: Peter’s faith shrank and doubt entered. And there is certainly a challenge for us today in hearing what Jesus said to him. All of us probably need to cultivate more faith and chip away at our doubt.

But I want to compliment Peter. He did ask Jesus to call him to come to him. And Peter did walk on the water. I admire Peter’s courage for getting out of the boat. There were 11 others in that boat that night who did not ask Jesus to call them and who did not walk on the water. Peter’s faith was not as strong as it could have been, and the wind did cause him to doubt, but he walked on the water.

I’ve tried to imagine the discussion in the boat later that night among Peter and the others. I seriously doubt if anyone was critical of Peter. I’m confident they wanted to know what it was like to walk on water; and other than Jesus, Peter was the only one who could tell them.

Should we compliment Peter or criticize him? I’m perfectly willing to let Jesus do any correcting that is necessary, and I’ll compliment Peter.

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A 37 YEAR BATTLE CONTINUES

Last week an online Christianity Today Meditation entitled “The Gift of My Anxiety” got my attention and prompted this blog post. In the article author Laura Turner tells about her lifelong relationship with fear that began when she was four or five years old. She acknowledges “mostly I fear the future” and reveals “try as I might, I can’t get rid of it.” To my surprise she not only calls her anxiety a gift, she says “every bout of anxiety has driven me closer to God,” “persistent fear has kept me tethered to God,” and “If I could snap my fingers and be rid of my anxiety, I wouldn’t.”

I too battle anxiety. My first bout came on totally unexpected and for no reason when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in my late 20s. I had never experienced it before that evening and there was nothing specific I was afraid of or concerned about. I was just overcome with anxiety and I have battled it on and off since then.

Through the years I have read widely and deeply about anxiety, consulted with counselors, and tried a variety of medications. Most of the time I have no anxiety, but there are times when I do have it—ranging from mild to somewhat debilitating. For the most part the only sure predictor for me is when I am preparing to travel by air—the intensity grows on the way to the airport, waiting to get on the plane, and then peaks as we board. Once we get to where we are going I am usually fine.

Experts report that while both women and men deal with the issue, women are more likely to deal with the problem than men. I guess that means I am deeper and more sensitive than most guys! My self-diagnosis is that my anxiety is neurotic and irrational and is technically called Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Unlike Laura Turner’s report, as best as I can tell, my anxiety isn’t really about the future. Nor do I see it as a gift; and if I could snap my fingers and be rid of it I would in a second. Of course I pray about it and do my best to trust and lean on the Lord, but I don’t see how it has driven me closer to God or kept me tethered to Him. I think I’m tethered and close to Him with or without the anxiety.

I think Laura Turner’s Meditation is informative and worth reading. I agree with her on the helpfulness of sharing your anxiety issue with someone. On more than one occasion when I have been with a friend and anxiety has come upon me it has been lessened by telling my colleague about it. Not only that, occasionally as others hear about my anxiety they are encouraged to learn someone besides them struggles with it. That’s my primary reason for writing about my anxiety in this blog. If you deal with anxiety perhaps you will be relieved to know there are others too.

Share this post on social media if you think others would benefit and feel free to leave a reply below or send me an email (bobmmink@gmail.com).

Here’s the link if you would like to read Laura Turner’s Meditation: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/julaug/gift-of-my-anxiety-ear.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=15819991&utm_content=454389237&utm_campaign=email

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