Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't Panic (Part 1)...

There are two kinds of fear – panic and the fear of the Lord. Both are present in my life. I have on more than one occasion panicked, taken matters into my own hands, messed things up royally. And, amazingly, I’ve feared the Lord too. I’ve taken matters to God and seen Him come through.

Panic and fear – I’m a mixed up mess of both.

A few years back I was faced with a situation that I feared would turn explosive. There were a couple of people involved who had, in the past, had difficulties working together. I was already nervous about the whole thing when one of the two called me with tons of questions about the project. I heard the questions he was asking and panicked. I was sure his queries would stir up trouble. What was I going to do? I didn’t want this venture to grind to a halt.

I decided to call the other guy and ask the questions myself, hoping that keeping the two separated would maintain peace. Now, mind you, I didn’t ask God about this course of action. I didn’t even think about it much. I just acted. The results were disastrous. My actions drove a wedge between me at the guy I called to question. We were at odds for months. We hardly spoke to one another. And, I’m sure this won’t surprise any of you, the endeavor I so much wanted to protect died. I learned the hard way what many of you probably already know: Panic almost always leads to pain, disaster or destruction. I say almost always because God is sometimes gracious. He sometimes protects us from our own foolishness.

Panic concerning the increasing numbers of Israelites in his land led Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to enslave God’s people. When that didn’t work, his panic led him to command the midwives to slaughter every baby boy born to an Israelite woman and when these women failed him, he demanded that every Hebrew boy be thrown in the Nile.

Pain, disaster or destruction! Panic will lead to one of these nearly every time. Am I right? You’ve seen it in your own life, haven’t you? Have you also seen how fearing God can lead to blessing?

Fast forward a year or two or three and our Executive Council starts talking about hiring a youth pastor. I know, as we’re discussing the matter, that there’s going to be opposition to the idea when we go public with it. There is always opposition when any venture that involves risk of any kind, but it’s especially strong when that undertaking involves financial risk. So I’m sure each time we meet that questions are going to fly when we first bring up the idea to others. We talk about that. We try to dream up questions together. What will questions will we be asked? How can we best answer them? Our meetings are really good.

We finally decide to bring up the matter, so I put the first mention of hiring a youth pastor in the bulletin on a Sunday I’m away on vacation. Maybe that’s a bit of panic. I don’t know. And the questions come. Everyone corners the chairman of our elders and asks what’s up. The head of Executive Council gets grilled after church. I enjoy my vacation.

So the day of the meeting finally arrives. We meet together as a congregation to talk things over. I choose to trust God – to fear him rather than panic. I choose not to manipulate those who oppose the idea. I just sit back and see what God does. I make a only a few comments, mostly for clarification.

The meeting was really good. Those who opted to stay home missed a good one. God was present as we discussed peacefully the difficulties involved in hiring a youth pastor and the benefits. No one got bent out of shape when someone disagreed with them. The questions and comments were all spoken and answered politely and with consideration of others. There were folks for and against the idea who were passionate, yet respectful. Peace ruled rather than anger.

Fear of the Lord always produces blessing – for the God-fearer or for those he or she serves. Our meeting for clearness was an example of that truth. There are many others. You can think of events that went extremely well, better than expected, when you trusted God with them.

Peace, joy and thankfulness to God always flow from his children’s hearts when they trust him and see him work.

The Hebrew midwives trusted God. They feared him more than they feared Pharaoh. They would not kill the baby boys as they were born though they knew the consequences could be grim for them. They were summoned before the king – an event they had to have foreseen. They did not panic. With God-given wisdom, they avoided death. And because these women feared God more than man’s sword, they and the nation of Israel were blessed. God gave them families of their own and their names and actions are remembered to this day. Moses told Shiphrah’s and Puah’s story at the beginning of Exodus. And why not? A whole generation of Jewish men owed these God-fearing women their lives.

Two kinds of fear – panic and the fear of the Lord. You see both and the results of each so clearly in the actions and reactions of Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives and in the lives of almost every character whose story the Bible tells. More often than not you see both kinds of fear in the same person. You find men whose backs are up against the wall trusting God to act on behalf of his children. And the next time you hear about this guy he’s arrogantly choosing his own way and bringing pain to God’s people. Funny how they’re just like you and me.

Over the next couple of days, we’re going to take a look at a couple of mixed up messes. We’re going to see how panic causes pain and how fear of the Lord brings blessing in David’s life and in Saul’s. Then when those stories are done, we’ll see how we can make good use of this panic vs. fear of the Lord distinction in our own lives.

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