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Wisdom

Illogical Fear

Before this week if you had asked me if I was claustrophobic (defined as a fear of enclosed spaces), I would have said: “Of course not, I was on submarines!” As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I said to the technician seconds before they rolled me into this very small tube known as an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine.

They had me lay down and place my left shoulder in this cup-like device on the table. Then they wrapped my torso like a mummy, not tight but snug so I wouldn’t be tempted to move. They then asked me what kind of music I wanted to listen to, and for some reason I blurted out “classical” (on retrospect I should have asked for something with words so I would have something to distract me). The last thing they did was hand me this little bulb and said: “squeeze this if there is a problem”. He didn’t call it a “panic button”, but that is exactly what it was. Then the table I was laying on started moving into the tube. For some unknown reason my heart and breathing started to speed up. Within seconds of being in there I wanted to push the “panic button”. Even as I type this, I can feel a bit of that in my stomach. My first thought was how embarrassed I would feel if I pushed this button for them to come get me out. I also thought that if I couldn’t go through with it how would the Doctor know what was wrong with my shoulder.

I immediately started praying for help. I said as much of the 23rd Psalm as I could remember. I thought of my wife and children. Baseball. Everything I could think of that would take my mind off of the fact that I was in a tube only slightly larger than me with this extremely loud noise screaming at me.

And I had to be inside for 30 minutes.

For the first 10-12 minutes I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff with a strong breeze blowing against my back trying to force me over the edge.

…and it was completely ILLOGICAL. There was absolutely no reason for me to be afraid. It was all in my head. I knew this, but it was taking entirely too long to convince myself of this fact.

Slowly but surely I started to settle down a little. The tech came over my headphones, asked me if I was alright, and to let me know we were at the halfway point. I vaguely remember saying “I’m fine.”

As I was getting dressed afterward, I was thinking how strange it was to feel fear or anxiety when there was no danger or reason to be afraid. Right then it hit me how many people feel fear and anxiety every day without any real or logical reason to be afraid. Fear of all sorts of things:

  • screwing up (aka failure)…
  • what will she/he/they think of me…
  • what if I’m wrong…
  • what if I’m right…
  • and many many others.

And when asked by someone if they are alright, the canned response is just like mine: “I’m fine.”

The Bible says “Fear not” or the equivalent a few hundred times. Here is the one spoken by Jesus in Matthew chapter 10 that seems most appropriate:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31(NIV)

I think most of us (maybe all of us) need to be reminded every single day that we have no reason to be afraid….

….because we are each loved, without condition, by our heavenly Father, and He will see to our every need.

Has anyone else experienced a fear or anxiety that you knew was completely illogical? How did you respond? How long did it take to recover?

NEED vs. WANT

In the news recently four young men have filed lawsuits accusing an Atlanta area pastor, Bishop Eddie Long of sexual misconduct. You can Google it, or read the Atlanta Journal Constitution article here. I was listening to CNN Radio, and they went on to describe his church, which they called a “mega-church,” his style of preaching, and his lifestyle. According to this report, Bishop Long is a proponent of the “prosperity gospel”. Wikipedia lists him and many others in this link as a prosperity preacher. And it appears that he lives the prosperity lifestyle: a $1.4 million dollar home, a $350,000 Bentley, and a $1 million dollar annual salary according to this article in the AJC.

Right around the time I first heard about this I happened to be reading in 2 Peter chapter 2 about False Teachers. In the first three verses Peter says this:

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. 2 Peter 2:1-3 (NLT)

Now I’m not saying that Bishop Long is guilty. That is for the court to decide and ultimately between him and God. What hit me while reading this chapter is the unique connection between “NEED” and “WANT”. When a preacher decides his desire (WANT) for wealth and power are more important than his responsibility (NEED) to preach the truth, then he will justify this WANT to himself first by whatever means possible, then begin preaching it to his congregation. But it is our responsibility to recognize these false teachers by their teaching. The Bible is full of these warnings (Acts 20; Galatians 3 & 4; 1 Timothy 1, 4, 6; Jude 1). Jesus said this in Matthew chapter 7:

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” Matthew 7:15-20 (NLT)

I must admit that I used to wonder why so much was written about this subject of false teachers and false doctrine. I was under the naive impression that there must be some sort of checks and balances in place in the church that would prevent this type of thing from happening. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

But how do we know if we are hearing false teaching? First of all, read through all of the references above (and there are others) to hear from Jesus, Paul, Peter, Jude, etc. on how to recognize it. But there is a another way that is simple…but not easy. If you go to church week after week and hear only those things you WANT to hear and nothing you NEED to hear, odds are you are under the influence of a false teacher. And I’m pretty sure if your pastor drives a Bentley, that’s a pretty strong sign as well.

Final point: Discerning between our NEED’s and WANT’s is something that can be applied to virtually every aspect of our lives, not just who we choose as our spiritual guides. The starting point is the Word of God. To truly know what we need, we must first believe He is who He says He is and go from there. I wish I could say I am able to do this 100% of the time, but that would be a “false” statement. But thank God I am a work-in-progress, and most days, moving in the right direction.

Do you know anyone who matches the biblical description of a false teacher/prophet? How did you handle it? How do you discern between false doctrine and biblical doctrine?

Hummingbird lost

Yesterday evening I walked out into our garage to find a hummingbird had flown in and was buzzing around the ceiling. At first I didn’t think anything of it. I called the kids out so they could see her (for some reason I felt like it was a she–not sure why). The kids thought she was really cool. I pointed out the differences in a hummingbird and other birds they had seen. It was a pretty nice teaching moment. Lori and Sarah had to run an errand so that took care of removing one car. I pulled my car out thinking that would allow her more room to fly out. Noah and I played in the front yard for a little while then went and checked on her–still in there.

I got the broom and tried to carefully guide her out, but she just kept flying right up by the ceiling and around the lights. It was starting to get a little darker outside so I turned all the lights off in the garage hoping she would see the natural light coming out of both open garage doors. Still she wouldn’t leave. She would fly for a while then land on a mounting bracket for the garage door opener. We could tell she was tired and scared, but nothing we did could make her find her way out. We decided to just hope for the best and went inside.

Right before bed I went to shut the garage doors for the night. Before I did I looked for the hummingbird. At first I didn’t see her and thought maybe she found her way out, but then I saw her perched on a bracket right up by the ceiling. She didn’t look very good. Her wings were kind of hanging loose, and I was really worried that she was dead or very close. I decided to try one last idea. I quietly got the ladder and placed it carefully on the wall closest to her. I slowly climbed up, and very carefully reached out my hand to hold her, thinking at any minute she would fly away, or worse, she would fall into my hands dead. Neither happened. I wrapped my fingers carefully around her tiny little body, and after about a second, felt her wake up and move. As quickly and carefully as I could, I climbed down the ladder and walked outside to the front yard. I thought I would put her on the ground just in case she was disoriented, but as soon as I opened my hand she flew over and landed on the tree in our front yard. I almost cheered I was so happy she was okay.

As I was thinking about this today, it came to me what a great analogy this is for us. Sometimes, through inattention, distraction, or more likely some foolish decision, we find ourselves in a scary, dark, and strange place. We try our best to find our way out, but things keep getting in our way or distracting us. After a while we grow weary, and we just want to stop and rest and maybe forget that we shouldn’t be here, but soon we realize that doesn’t help at all. Every so often we think we feel God trying to guide us out, but we’re so tired that we start doubting that He would bother with us after all this time in a place we know we shouldn’t be.

But when it finally gets darkest…

And we are at our absolute lowest…

He reaches down, wraps His wonderful hands around us, and takes us out of the dark and scary place and sets us free.

Decisions…

We make decisions of all kinds every single day. Simple decisions like:

  • What time should I wake up tomorrow?
  • What do I “need” to do today?
  • What do I “want” to do today?
  • What should I eat?

Some of the more complex decisions are:

  • Where should I go to college?
  • What do I want to be when I grow up?
  • Should I marry him/her?
  • Should I take this job or that job?

From time to time we must make decisions we wish we didn’t have to make. These are the “tough” decisions between that which is good and that which is best. “Best” could also be defined as “that which is most wise”. Andy Stanley gives excellent guidance on making tough decisions in his book titled The Best Question Ever: “In light of your past experience, current circumstances, and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for you to do? [And] what do the wise people around you consider the wisest course of action for you to take?”

Unfortunately, there are times when these decisions will have a negative impact on people you really care about. I recently had to make a tough decision like this, and it sucks. Sometimes discerning God’s will for your life can be….tough.

Love fights fair

Every married couple will experience conflict–period.  Just as Paul warned us we will all experience trials when we follow Christ, every one who choses to marry another person, because of our fallen nature, should expect to also go through trials in their marriage.  Here are some of the key paragraphs from The Love Dare followed by some rules to help make sure your “heated fellowship” stays fair…and above the belt, so to speak.

The deepest, most heartbreaking damage you’ll ever do (or ever have done) to your marriage will most likely occur in the heat of conflict. That’s because this is when your pride is strongest, and your anger is hottest. You’re the most selfish and judgmental.  Your words contain the most venom.  You make the worst decisions.  A great marriage on Monday can start driving off the cliff on Tuesday if unbridled conflict takes over and neither of you has your foot on the brakes.

But love steps in and changes things.  Love reminds you that your marriage is too valuable to allow it to self-destruct, and that your love for your spouse is more important than whatever you are fighting about.  Love helps you install air bags, and to set up guardrails in your relationship.  It reminds you that conflict can actually be turned around for good.  Married couples who learn to work through conflict tend to be closer, more trusting, more intimate, and enjoy a much deeper connection afterwards.

But HOW?  The wisest way is to learn to fight clean by establishing healthy rules of engagement.  Basically there are two types of boundaries for dealing with conflict: “We” boundaries and “Me” boundaries.

“We” boundaries are rules you both agree on beforehand that apply during any fight or conflict.  And each of you has the right to gently but directly enforce them if these rules are violated.

    1. We will NEVER mention divorce!
    2. We will NOT bring up old, unrelated issues from the past.
    3. We will NEVER fight in public or in front of the children!!
    4. We will call a TIME OUT if conflict escalates to a damaging level.
    5. We will NEVER EVER touch one another in a harmful way!
    6. We will NEVER EVER go to bed angry.
    7. Failure is NOT an option. Whatever it takes, we WILL work this out!

“Me” boundaries are rules you personally practice on your own. Here are some examples:

    1. I will LISTEN first before speaking. “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
    2. I will deal with my own issues up-front. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s [spouse’s] eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7:3)
    3. I will SPEAK GENTLY and keep my voice down. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Fighting fair means changing your weapons. Disagreeing with dignity. It should result in building a bridge instead of burning one down.

Remember, love is not a fight, but it’s ALWAYS worth fighting for.

This may be the best advice a married couple could get.  Here’s a suggestion: cut and paste the above rules onto something you can print.  Make a couple of copies. Maybe even laminate it and keep it somewhere you can find it when you need it.  Maybe give a copy to a friend.  I know I plan to.

One more thing: Choose to follow these rules NO MATTER WHAT….even if your spouse chooses to break them.  And yes, this advice is for me too!


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