More about the Christian life

Fear, Faith, and the Long-Range View

     Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
     Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
—Luke 12:32-40, NIV

The opposite of faith is fear, not disbelief.

You must admit that there are some things in Christianity that are a little difficult to believe. All Christians have some intellectual misgivings here and there. Then someone reminds us that we are saved by faith. It is a relief to find out that we won’t be graded by our works, because few of us who are truly honest with ourselves can measure up even to our own standards, let alone to God’s. But when we learn that faith is the criterion, some of us swap one terror for another: What if we should die without being fully convinced that Jesus walked on the water, or fed the five thousand, or was born of a virgin, or rose from the dead on the third day? How terrible it would be to come so close to heaven, and then flunk the entrance exam!

Fortunately, it doesn’t work that way at all. The Greek word translated ‘faith’ as a noun and ‘believe’ as a verb primarily means ‘trust.’ We are saved neither by the works of our hands nor by the works of our minds, but by trusting in Jesus alone.

Take comfort from the apostles: If you can’t believe that Jesus walked on the water, remember that Peter and his companions thought they were seeing a ghost. If you can’t believe that Jesus catered an affair for five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes, remember that Andrew didn’t believe it either. If you have trouble believing that Jesus could raise Lazarus after all that time in the tomb, remember that Martha had a problem with that one too. And if, despite your very best efforts, the resurrection is still a stumbling block for you, remember that Thomas refused to believe it until he saw Jesus first hand. If the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry had intellectual problems with these things, then it’s understandable if you do!

I remember being terrified during an alarmingly bumpy airline flight. Just as I was beginning to hyperventilate from panic, I noticed that the man next to me was taking the ordeal very calmly. I asked him why he wasn’t frightened like everyone else. He admitted it was the roughest flight he could remember, but he reminded me that if the airplane crashes, the pilot will die with the rest of us. Therefore he reasoned that the pilot would do everything possible to keep that from happening. His calmness wasn’t based on the knowledge of the laws of aerodynamics, nor was it inspired by insight into the airline’s maintenance schedule. His calmness was based on his trust that the pilot would be highly motivated to take us safely home.

I realized why the New Testament more often contrasts faith with fear than with disbelief.

So consider two groups of people: both say they are Christians. The first group affirms all doctrine, but they fear for their lives when there is adversity and hardship. They allow themselves to diverge from Jesus’ commandments because of the circumstances. The second group has intellectual reservations about this and that, but when the chips are down, they bet everything on Jesus, doing His will in spite of everything. Which group has faith in Jesus? Before you answer, remember that the apostles fit into the second group.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

This is a fill-in-the-blank test.

Suppose the police phoned you at the office during the day and told you they were investigating a daytime burglary at your house. You quickly make arrangements to leave the office, and as you drive home, you pray, “O dear God, I hope they didn’t steal my ———!” Or suppose your house caught fire and everyone got outside in time. If you had enough time to go back in for one item, which item would you save?

The item that would trouble your heart the most is the item in which you have the greatest investment, whether that investment consists of time, money, effort, or emotions.

Now suppose that one weekend you come across some television reporters who are interviewing passers-by for a live, nationwide television show. Before you can do anything to prevent it, they grab you by the arm and thrust a microphone in your face. They ask you a loaded question about your religious beliefs. You don’t have much time to think: if you affirm your faith, you will look stupid in front of 20 million viewers. If you give an answer that sounds reasonable, you will appear to deny your faith.

Now I am sure that Jesus will understand if you make the wrong decision, but what will you do? What do you treasure more, your image or your savior? Remember, wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

How to be prepared for the Second Coming.

Over the years since I started submitting to Jesus’ authority in my life, I have seen many would-be end-times prophets come and go. I heard about a book that predicted Christ’s return in 1988. I remember hearing people say that the Gulf War was the beginning of Armageddon. Zondervan still has the books on the shelves that proclaim that Gorbachev is the anti-Christ and that the Soviet Union is a key player in the final showdown, even though Gorbachev is now a private citizen and the Soviet Union no longer exists. I want to make a few points here:

The disciples were so impressed with Jesus’ Ascension that they stood there just looking at the sky. They were so engrossed that angels (no less) had to come and shake them out of it. The angels told them to stop looking at the sky and get to work, because Jesus is coming back.

So the more you believe in the Second Coming, the less time you will spend trying to figure out its exact timing. No one has been given look-out duty; the watchmen are self-appointed and in error. Jesus commissioned us with a lot of things to do, and we don’t know how much longer we have to do them. The fields are ripe for harvest; let Him find us reaping and not standing around gazing at the sky.