Character


We will not fear…

Psalm 46:2

I think most people, including myself, get pretty freaked out at times. The world can be a scary place. The things that happen to us through the course of life can, at times, cause enough fear that we freeze; we freeze at a time and moment in our lives where we no longer progress, no longer move forward, no longer keep building and growing. We more or less quit. Stasis. Death.

I think this is more common than most of us even realize. At some point in our lives we can begin to play it perhaps too safe. We learn that we “can’t do it” and so we stop trying. The reasons for this are many, but I think most of them have to do with our fear of getting hurt. Hurt physically, hurt emotionally. Its the very few who actually keep moving forward. Many of the few who move on and keep risking, keep building and growing, etc. can be categorized as the very brave, the very ignorant, and even the very dysfunctional.

The Very Brave

Some people just have that thing in them. You know the thing I am talking about? It’s a kind of moral compass that brings them into situations and circumstances which require them to be brave. Bravery only happens when we fear something and when that something we fear threatens the well-being of ourselves or others. These kinds of people stick their necks out when others won’t. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime who fit this description. When others run away, they run toward. It’s just who they are. And though they share the same fear, uncertainty and anxiety that everyone does, they are not deterred by it.

The Very Ignorant

These people just don’t know that what they’re doing is even risky. They move through life with a kind of blissful obliviousness about them. They aren’t motivated to do hard things or to face danger because of some internal moral compass, they just don’t realize that there is a struggle going on around them. They don’t know that they should be afraid. These kinds of people can actually BE dangerous themselves because they tend not to take regard for the well-being of those around them. They simply assume everyone feels as they do. They often don’t measure the risk.

The Very Dysfunctional

Then there are those who gravitate toward risk and danger because they need to. The risk and danger they face at any given time represents something else for them. A war they are still waging. They need to risk. They need to feel the anxiety and experience the chaos. It’s a kind of therapy. A high. It reminds them they’re alive. These types of people are most dangerous because they don’t fight for a noble cause; they fight only for themselves.

A Fourth Category – The Very Faithful

These are very general descriptions, of course. Notice the reasons for facing risk and danger for each type of individual move in a progression: from self-sacrificial to no reason to self-centered. Outward > neutral > inward. But there is a fourth category. One that transcends the others. Psalm 46:10 says:

Be still (have no fear) and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

This is a totally different reason for “not fearing”. The motivation comes from another place. It doesn’t depend on our internal moral compass and our ability to pluck up the courage. It doesn’t require us to be ignorant. It also does not require that we possess some kind of weird internal struggle which motivates us to find danger and chaos and crisis. What it does require is for us to know Who is in charge.

Psalm 46 is a Psalm about conquering fear. It grants the first premise of courage which is:

There are things which are worthy of fear.

Courage (literally, strength of heart) is not the absence of fear, but the presence of faith in the midst of fear. And if the first premise of courage is true, that there are things which are worthy of fear, then it stands to reason that what we then require is a catalyst. Something that, when introduced into the mix, produces a sort of steadfast faith or unconquerable hope. That thing is actually a person; the God of Jacob.

The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (v.7)

What we need is Someone who fears nothing. Someone of whom all others in fact should be afraid. Someone whose faithfulness and character are such that to know Him is to stand upon a Rock which cannot be moved.

We will not fear…

“But the oceans are roaring like a typhoon!

We will not fear…

“But the mountains are crumbling into the depths of the sea!

We will not fear…

“But your world is falling out from under you!

The God of Jacob is our fortress.

It’s not a fearlessness born of bravery, ignorance or dysfunction, but a fearlessness born of faith in a God Whose will cannot be resisted, Whose plans are holy, perfect and good, and Whose love casts out all fear.

Have no fear. The God of Jacob is your fortress. He will be praised among the nations. He will be exalted in all the earth. Selah.

I was once asked: “Isn’t it disingenuous for a Christian to develop a friendship with someone if there is an ulterior motive of leading them to Christ?”

The suggestion being made was that the value of the person and the friendship itself should be the driving force. Any ulterior motive for the friendship necessarily subverts and devalues both the friendship and the person being befriended.

At the time I was asked this question I wasn’t sure about what I thought, but thought that it was an interesting point being made.

As I’ve thought about it over the years though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the point being made is a red herring. Here’s why:

People do not have what might be called “intrinsic” value, actually no created thing or entity has intrinsic value. People have value that is conferred value. It is a value that is conferred on them due to the fact they are made in the image and likeness of God. This is what fundamentally drives a desire to appreciate, understand and get to know other people; we actually see something of the nature and character of God which attracts us to them or piques our interest in getting to know them as friends.

But there is a problem: this value, which has its origin in our invaluable God, has been marred by sin. And any and all relationships I might build with other people, any friendships I may pursue, are actually marred by this same sin. They can never know me rightly and I can never know them rightly due to the infection of sin. It is as if a great cancer has ravaged each of us so that we do not see who we actually are, but only the husk of what we were. The effort then is to remove and kill the cancer so that life in its fullness and relationship in its fullness can be restored and enjoyed.

If, in any friendship, we are trying to pursue the knowing of a person, it seems reasonable that we would want to remove all barriers in getting to know them and in our appreciating and understanding them.

This is quintessentially demonstrated in marital relationships where there must be no “fig leaf” of separation if the married couple hopes to develop a lasting, fulfilling, honest, beautiful relationship over their lifetime together. The couple must both be getting know Christ better and better and be expressing this knowledge of Christ more and more in order for this to occur. As Christ is pursued more and more, as He is glorified in the marriage, the relationship becomes deeper, richer and truer. Back to friendship.

If I am going to cultivate a friendship with anyone that gets better, that improves; becoming more open, honest, loving, giving, etc., it only stands to reason that it is essential to the dignity of the person and the friendship that I, as a follower of Christ, be in the friendship with an ulterior motive, actually a primary motive, i.e. that they may come to know Christ. That is my purpose. Why? Because this is what serves the friendship best. This is what preserves and improves the friendship best. This is what recognizes and appreciates the dignity and value God has placed in the person most vigorously.

In fact, the relationship cannot progress beyond the level of pleasantries if Christ is not the goal. It is the image of God which is under restoration in this other person and in me, therefore to pursue a friendship absent Christ would actually be a disservice, a dishonoring of the conferred value which God has bestowed on both me and this person.

Would I wish to see this dignity, image and value ever fully restored and redeemed? Would I wish to fully experience who this person is in all their conferred God-like-ness? Would I wish to know them as God has meant for me to know them and visa-versa? Then I cannot enter into any relationship where this pointing them, leading them, introducing them to Christ is not the goal. Anything less, and this relationship can only become a sin-marred perversion of what it was meant to be. Dishonoring to them, to me and to the God who lives in perfect triune relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. Rich, beautiful, joyful and good.

The purpose of friendship then?making sure that Christ stays at the center; that He remains the primary motive. Once we have come to know the truest friend, we will then be released to be a true friend.

So, the election is over. The commercials have, thankfully, ceased. The rhetoric is slowly decreasing from its fevered pitch and we are entering that relatively peaceful political space known as the lame duck session. I don’t know about you, but I have, for the most part, tuned out of the 24-hour news cycle, and am sort of in the process of crawling back into my little hobbit hole in the Shire, perfectly content to allow the world to begin to pass me by. I am tired, worn out, ALL of my people lost. You get the drift.

It is in times like this, in the midst of cultural and political upheaval, that Christians must continue to remember those things that are most important. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

How, why are we to walk this way with one another? Why would Paul urge us to walk this way? Well, I’m glad you asked, Paul continues:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
(Ephesians 4:4-7 ESV)

Grace was given to each one of us. I forget that sometimes.

Fortunately, grace was given to me in my forgetfulness. Grace is a gift. It is given to us from God who is over all and through all and in all. Will I choose to look past political differences, even those I believe to be important, those that keep me up at night repenting for our nation, and choose to find the one Spirit in my brother or sister with whom I disagree?

Christian Fellowship is a spiritual discipline. It should be challenging, but it should also be a force for good in the world. A force which reminds each one of us that we are moving toward something much greater than we could possibly imagine. We are practicing for eternity with God, and he has given us the responsibility of demonstrating the coming Kingdom to the world around us now.

How will Christians live in fellowship with one another in the eternity that is to come? I am not so sure about the specifics, but I am absolutely certain that it will not look like what many of us all just experienced in this last election season. I think it may be the fulfillment of Paul’s vision for the church, which is really God’s vision.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

May each of us who call ourselves members of Jesus’ body demonstrate in fullness this most lovely command in our lives, in our homes, in our churches, in our communities. By this all people will know we are his disciples.

Last week a young pastor named Jared C. Wilson authored a blog post in which he meant to bring criticism against the very popular and vulgar book, 50 Shades of Grey. In this post Jared utilizes an excerpt from Douglas Wilson’s (no relation, I think) very good book Fidelity.

This excerpt was originally from Doug Wilson’s (henceforth, Doug) section of the book which dealt with the idea of rape. One of Doug’s purposes in this section was to show the juxtaposition of the way men sinfully misuse their God-given attributes of strength, power, authority, etc. and pervert these attributes to harm and shame women. This is what rape is. It is the taking of God’s good gifts of sex, strength, authority, etc. and perverting them into something grotesque, which we call rape. It is a sin. It is an abomination to God. It is unacceptable.

Now, to me, who has read Doug’s very good book, the meaning of Jared’s post and Doug’s original excerpt combined to bring criticism against 50 Shades of Grey was very clear.

But the blogosphere did not think so. They’ve not read Doug’s book. They don’t understand the way in which he utilizes the terms in the particular excerpt in question (terms like penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants) and, I think for many, they actually refuse to understand. They are trying very hard to obfuscate and mislead. What do I mean? Let me draw an analogy.

The Apostle Paul wrote some very interesting and provocative things in his epistles. Many people approach these sections of Paul’s writings with an attitude of humility, intending earnestly to discover the meaning that the author originally intended. These people are to be commended. And I think that if Paul were here to explain himself, to tell us what he meant by some of these oft times confusing passages, we would accept his explanation, thank him for it and move on. At least I think most of us would.

But, what if the Apostle showed up, sat us down to read through…oh let’s say the book of 1st Corinthians with him, explained everything he wrote, clarifying where we have misunderstood him, and then we, in our absolute arrogance and self-importance, refused to accept his explanation and instead insisted that we knew better than he, and that if he really wanted to say “thus-and-such”, he would have said it “in this way” and “with these words”; in ways that we, the arrogant and self-important readers, all would understand, and that because of the confusion we have been through, he should retract what he said, and how he said it, and if he didn’t, then he was guilty of some sort of insensitivity and condescension. Ludicrous, right? Paul wrote what he wrote. It’s our problem, now two thousand years removed, to figure out what he meant.

But this is exactly the situation that has happened to Jared. Both Jared and Doug have taken the time to clearly explain in follow up comments and posts what they actually meant. And though they have done this, there is a certain group of readers which refuse to accept the clarification. Now, who do you think is being uncharitable?

Writers get misperceived all the time. Even the President of the United States has to clarify, almost on a daily basis, comments he has made and things he has written. It happens to the best. Most decent people accept the clarification, thank him for it and move on. But there exists a certain segment of the population who are either so extremist, or who are so easily given to drama and hyperbole, that they refuse the explanation. This is sad.

It is particularly sad in this case because both Wilsons (again, no relation, I think) are good, Godly men who shepherd their flocks well. Both men are quick-witted, controversial, and skilled with words, so they are able to quickly and deftly wake up the reader’s senses and draw out points of view that many of us may simply have not considered. Such is the case with the post in question.

It is also sad because the people bringing the most ridiculous of the accusations and harshest judgments are supposedly Christians.
The Wilsons have done their part to explain. Can we thank them, and move on please?