Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fearless

by John D Ramsey

Gabby picked a fight with a bumblebee. She tried to smash it so that it could not sting her. Gabby missed, and the bee stung her on her eyebrow. It also stung her on beneath her arm. She knows better now.

This happened at our Independence Day celebration at Mom and Dad's. Mom and Dad live in Amish country in northern Missouri. Pharmacies are not too far away, but they are not conveniently located, either. We probably would have retreated to the relative comfort of the city except my niece and her husband carry a bottle of Children's Benadryl for their toddler.

Even while Gabby's eye was swelling shut, she was a real trooper. Kids can be so resilient when they are not afraid. Gabby was a little fearful after the sting, but I held her and told her, “I know it hurts, but don't be afraid, it will be all right.” She calmed almost immediately. A few minutes later, she insisted that she get to go fishing. She tried to hold the pole while she also held an ice pack, but soon the ice pack was discarded in favor of fishing. Gabby caught the first and biggest fish of the afternoon. It was a small but lively largemouth bass. We were fishing at the pond by the road because the access was easier for the kids. This pond contains mostly bass and bluegill. The bass were biting, but only the small ones. Still, the kids caught fish while I struggled with the gear. Later in the evening, Gabby kept up with the cousins when it was time to light the fireworks. Again, she was fearless.

Diphenhydramine hydrochloride works wonders for bee stings, but Gabby still looked a bit rough and tumble when we took her to church on Sunday. Her eye was still swollen shut although her cheek was not as puffy as it had been. By Sunday evening her eye was completely open and the swelling in her face was not very noticeable. I am glad that Gabby's swollen eye healed quickly. After all the kind attention she received at church on Sunday morning, she was wearing it as if it was a trophy.

I would not claim that Gabby has no fear, but she is not fearful. Gabby preemptively attacked the bumblebee! She might have been undiplomatic, perhaps reckless, but certainly not fearful. A fearful child would have run away screaming at the sight of a bee. I would like to think that Gabby is not fearful because Lisa and I have not taught her to fear.

I am glad the Gabby is not fearful because fear is a prison. Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus became flesh and blood so that “by his death he might destroy him who hold the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14 (NIV) Do you notice what power the devil holds over humanity? He holds the power of death, which is actually men's fear of death. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we no longer fear death and the devil has no real leverage against us: resurrection follows crucifixion. What have we to fear?

The Psalmist, David, wrote “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” People read Psalm 23 as a source of comfort, and what a wonderful comfort it is. David fears not because the Lord, his shepherd is with him. When we are afraid, what a wonderful privilege it is to pray, I will not fear, because you, Lord, are with me. What we often fail to understand or perhaps acknowledge is that the Lord did not follow David into the valley of the shadow of death; the Lord as David's shepherd, led him there. Likewise when we are confronted with fearful situations it is our Lord who has led us into the shadows.

Sometimes we cannot grasp this. We argue that our own stupidity (or someone else's) is to blame for our predicament. We are willing to blame anyone before simply acknowledging that God has a purpose that we cannot understand. Yet, Paul writes, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” 2 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV) Paul had left a fruitful ministry in Troas to search for Titus about whom Paul worried. Paul reacted in fear, but even though his fear caused him to make a humanly bad decision, Paul understood that God was still leading him. God always leads in triumphal procession in Christ. God is always triumphant even when we fail. If this is true, then why do we still fear?

We still fear because we do not always want what God wants. We fear because we still want to assert our authority over our lives, and we rightly fear that our ambitions will fail. God leads us in his triumph, not in our own, which means that we have to trust him. When we learn to trust him we also learn to love him, and “perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18 (NIV) It is easier to surrender to God's will when we know him well enough to love him than when we are still struggling just to trust him.

Other than Jesus, no person in Scripture illustrates total surrender to God's will better than Job. Job, at the onset of his suffering, declared,


Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
Job 1:21 (NASB)

The NIV says, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job understood the temporariness of his life and wealth. Job did not understand why he suffered, but he understood that God's purposes were right. God is always triumphant, even when it hurts us. Nevertheless, Job's faith was not merely resignation or stoicism; Job anticipated true reward at the end of his suffering. He proclaimed,

I know
that my Redeemer lives
,
and that in the end he will stand
upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes
– I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me !
Job 19:26,27 (NIV)

Even in Job's suffering, he longed most for the day when he would see his Redeemer face to face. This greatest hope of his, the hope of resurrection, exceeded his desire for healing, vindication, and the restoration of his wealth. Likewise when our Great Shepherd leads us into fearsome places, we should not fear. We are fearless not because nothing painful can touch us; we are fearless because our hope clings to God's triumph. Paul spoke of his passion, which should be our passion, when he said,

I want to know Christ
and the power of his resurrection
and the fellowship in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death,
and so, somehow,
to attain to the resurrection of the dead.
Philippians 3:10, 11 (NIV)

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples many things, which are recorded in John chapters 14 – 16. At the end of his discourse, Jesus said,

I have told you these things,
so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have trouble.
But take heart!
I have overcome the world.
John 16:33 (NIV)

Whatever sting this world has for us will come, but yet we fix our eyes upon a distant horizon. We fix our eyes upon the one who loved us so much that he gave himself as our ransom. Trusting him, we see his love for us, and seeing his love for us, we respond with love for him. We do not fear the momentary pain because we have the hope of an eternity with him living in God's triumph.

Is this a reality in our lives? Probably not; at least not yet. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12 (NIV) Likewise, we need to commit our fears to the one who loves us most. When we do, we will hear him say, “In the world you will have trouble, but . . . I have overcome the world.”

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