Tuesday, July 10, 2018

77-1 Fear

Inspired by the song "Afraid" by Tenth Avenue North from their album Followers.
Available at YouTube, iTunes & Amazon.

Emotions are strange.

They kind of exist and they kind of matter, but really they don't, and it always seems that if we make decisions based on our feelings that they will come back to bite us. Therefore, it is easy to try to ignore or cover up our feelings and emotions so that they don't affect us in a negative way.

But feelings do in fact matter, and they matter to God. God, in all His might, doesn't need to care at all about how we insignificant creatures feel about anything. But he does, and he shows it consistently throughout the Bible. It is how he shows that we aren't just numbers or names on a list, but that He has a personal connection to us that goes beyond casual acquaintance.

But fear is different than the other emotions. It is negative. It brings anguish to a person's soul. And, in reality, fear is more than just a feeling: it is actually a lack of faith.

Ah, I know that seems harsh, but sometimes things that are difficult to hear need to be heard nevertheless. Fear is really a type of doubt. I define fear as a momentary lack of trust in God's ability to take care of us in any situation. It is the belief that maybe God isn't big enough or strong enough to handle whatever it is we are presently facing.

Let's put this into perspective.

I am a machinist. I take little bits of metal and make them smaller. Sometimes, these bits of metal are significantly larger, and therefore significantly more expensive and more important for the completion of the project. If I mess it up when I load the part into the milling machine, or make a mistake when I write the program that the machine follows, CRASH, BOOM, BANG, and there goes four hundred bucks. As you may imagine, this creates a lot of pressure.

So when I am what we call "proving out a program," or running it through its paces the first time to make sure everything works right and the part ends up on size, I typically am a nervous wreck. I don't yet have the nerves of steel my dad, who is also my boss, has developed after doing this for 31 years.

It used to be that I would almost be in tears because I was so afraid of what might happen. I am a realist, and therefore I am acutely aware of all the things that could go wrong. It causes my blood pressure to go up, my hands to get clammy, and I am petrified to press the green button to start the program.

There are a few reasons why this attitude is ridiculous.

First, I am a professional; I know what I'm doing. I've been doing this for the better part of ten years and I am extremely well-trained. This is proven by the fact that I rarely ever waste a part, to the order of three or four out of the hundreds of parts I machine each year.

Second, I remember my mistakes from the past. This does not cause me to doubt myself; it instead causes me to remember exactly the things I need to check for. Are my settings right? Will it call up the right tool offset? Is enough material sticking up past the vise jaws? I know what I am looking for, and therefore I am very unlikely to make a mistake on these details that matter.

Third, no one will die if I ruin a part, though it may seem like it at the time. Our standards are so high, too high in fact, that we treat a lost part as failure when most shops expect a few losses in the process. I, however, am grounded in reality and know that lost parts means lost money and wasted time, and not the apocalypse! I don't make airplanes or artificial hearts, I make french fry cutters. Though I expect excellence from myself, it's not as big of a deal as it is often made to be.

And fourth, God is with me.

This is the fourth item on my list for the sake of dramatic flair and literary intensity, but it all too often becomes the fourth item on my mind in the moment. I forget that God is present and bigger than all of my issues or situations. I forget that He loves and cares for me, and that he goes before me and walks beside me. He is my Father, shepherd, helper and comforter. He can fix anything and is willing to get His hands dirty if that's what He wills to do. If He desires to let things be, than I can trust Him all the more that the inevitable result will be right within the outcome He willfully allows.

That last point can be hard to accept when it comes to cutting metal into chips. But it is way harder when it means watching someone you love die.

At my church, we are going through a time of watching two of our most faithful members slowly waste away from their battles with cancer. A few years back, we experienced the same thing with one of our most beloved choir members. These people are and were amazing followers of God. Their fruit was evident. Their witness sure. And the pain they experience is entirely unfair, for them and for us.

How can their families stay faithful in these times? Because they trust in God. Maybe it's because the battles that they face are so completely outside of their control that they need someone bigger on which to rely. But even in this, I can only imagine the legitimate fear that they are experiencing; the fear of what is happening, the fear of what may be coming, and the fear of what will follow.

To call fear a lack of faith in these context seems incredibly insensitive. Nevertheless, all fear comes from the momentary lack of trust in God. Sometimes it's a conscious decision, and sometimes it's just the inevitable result of our humanness.

But there is hope. Oh, there is hope.

Throughout the scriptures, God speaks to the individuals who we view as heroes of the faith: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, and so many others. He also speaks to the nation of Israel in much the same way. And what He says brings the greatest of encouragement.

Here is a tidbit from Isaiah 41:9-10 where God is speaking to the nation of Israel:

I took you from the ends of the earth,
   from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
   I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
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.

Do you hear the condemnation in there because of their lack of faith? NO! Of course not, because God cares about His people. He cares about how they feel. And instead of reprimanding them for their fear, He shows them compassion and simply tells them not to fear.

And He tells them why: because He is their God.

He is bigger than any problem we may face. He is faithful to follow through with what He has promised. And He will always be the Rock on which we can find our strength. Because even in the toughest of times, we can put our trust in the fact that God loves us and has given us the hope of heaven that will be realized in our lives no matter what.

So fear not, because He is your God. And when you do fear, remember that God is not mad at you because of it. He simply invites you to put your trust in Him.

So Lord, Help us to trust that You are the great God who is higher, stronger, and wiser than any other being who has ever existed. Help us to remember that You love us and want what's best for us, to the point of even dying on a cross for us. Let our trust cast out our fear. Thank you that we don't have to afraid anymore.

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