Tag Archives: fear

A Shortstop’s Kind of Readiness

I’ve just suffered through one of the worst seasons that the Kansas City Royals have ever played. The team that won the World Series in 2015, lost 104 games, topped (bottomed?) only by 106 losses in 2005. As painful as their season proved, they showed signs of hope with some promising young players.

Watch baseball for very long and you’ll see that there are players who are in the lineup mostly for their fielding and some mostly for their bats. When you see a powerful hitter who plays in the field like he’s competing in a sack race, that player will normally be positioned in right field, the spot where he’s least likely to do much damage.

On the other hand, a shortstop who cannot field is a terrific liability. Sure, you’d like him to be able to hit, but he absolutely must be able to range around the left side of the infield, snag balls hit his direction, and make long, accurate throws to first base. Without that talent, the team is sunk.

Any shortstop worthy of playing professional baseball wants the ball to come his way in critical moments. With the game on the line, he should be not just thinking, “What do I do when the ball is hit to me?” but also, “Hit it here. Hit it here. I dare you.”

On the other hand, that right fielder, the one who wouldn’t be on the team if he couldn’t smash the ball with his bat, might be excused for standing out there at the crossroads between victory and defeat, whispering, “Don’t hit here. Please don’t hit it here!”

Which player do you more resemble in the ballgame of Christian service? Are you the shortstop, eagerly wishing for the chance to start a game-winning double play or the right fielder hoping beyond hope that the ball goes somewhere, anywhere else?

Esther initially wanted to hide in the outfield. When encouraged to bring the Jews’ problems to the king, she tried to get off the hook. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai lays it on the line for her. Unlike in baseball, God’s tasks will get done if we don’t do them. But if we fail, if we try to avoid the play, then the glory will go to someone else.

In 1985, when my Royals won their first World Series, the right fielder, Daryl Motley, caught the twenty-seventh out in game seven, clinching the series. I’ve remembered that for thirty-three years. My guess is that I’ll remember it for another several decades.

While we might be frightened to see the ball coming our way, we need to overcome fear and get ourselves into the game. A bad season for a baseball team is no big deal. A bad season for the church is regrettable. And the individual Christian often gets only one significant season to play.

A Leper’s Kind of Risk

I have to admit that when my pastor used the lepers from 2 Kings 7:3-4 as examples of those who didn’t lose out on opportunities from playing it safe, I found myself skeptical. These guys were living just outside the city gate of Samaria, unable to go inside because of their illness and unable to leave because a Syrian army had the city throttled in a tight siege. Rather than slowly succumbing to the siege, they elected to try their luck with the enemy camp. “If they kill us, then we were going to die anyway,” they essentially say as they make their way to the Syrian camp.

These guys really weren’t taking a risk, were they? I’m sure they had been depending on gifts of food from the people inside the city. With the siege in full force, nobody inside would be sharing food with them now. They were most likely starving a little more quickly than the people inside. So what did they have to lose by heading to the enemy camp? That was my thought as I listened to the pastor’s sermon and checked my memory for some better examples of those who truly risked themselves rather than playing it safe.

Matthew left a lucrative tax-collecting franchise to follow Jesus. So did Zacchaeus. Peter, Andrew, James, and John all left the family fishing business to traipse about the Galilee with a homeless guy. And Paul was on the fast track to Pharisee superstar status when he ditched it all to follow Jesus. All of these seemed like better examples than those lepers.

As admirable as the risk-taking of the disciples mentioned above proves, as bold as the steps taken by Abraham and Noah and Daniel appear, there’s something to be said for the action of the lepers. Those guys recognized that they had nothing. They not only had nothing but they had nothing to lose. Unlike most people, these men saw reality. They were as good as dead already.

Look at Thomas in John 11:16: “Let’s go so we may die with Him.” It seemed foolish to the disciples to head back to the environs of Jerusalem where the powers wanted to kill Jesus. Still, Thomas couldn’t do anything but follow. He seemed to have understood on that day that if following Jesus was a risk, then it was a risk too good not to take.

Like most people, I like safety. I keep good insurance on my house and car. I’ve saved money for emergencies and for retirement. Somehow I don’t think these are moves that God would mark off as foolish, but I also hope that when the opportunity to take a risk comes along, I won’t be encumbered by my safety and security. Instead, I’d like to think that I would behave like these men with rotting flesh, stepping out with nothing to lose. Because in reality, I have nothing of value to lose.

Grasshopper or Locust, Part II

I can’t get past Numbers 13, so bear with me. Last time, I focused on the end of the chapter when the bulk of the scouts sent to check out the Promised Land declared themselves grasshoppers in comparison to the scary people they would be facing. Today, I’d like to slide back to the opening of the chapter, Numbers 13:1-3:

The Lord spoke to Moses:  “Send men to scout out the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites. Send one man who is a leader among them from each of their ancestral tribes.”  Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran at the Lord’s command. All the men were leaders in Israel.

The twelve men sent out, men who are named in the ensuing verses, were leaders among their respective tribes. Lest we miss that fact, it’s repeated in these verses. They were leaders.

Leaders? This is what leaders do? These guys came back from their little tour. From everything I can discern they all stayed together and saw the same things. After seeing those things, some of them–we don’t know how many–said, “Yeah, the land’s really great but there’s no way we can conquer it.”

Were these guys really leaders? Weren’t they the same leaders who had seen all the mighty works of the Lord in the preceding year? Honestly, they behaved more like Muppets than men.

After this Muppetry, Caleb stands up and presents the minority report:

Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!

That’s a leader! But the others became more determined in their cowardice. They compared themselves, as we saw before, to grasshoppers. Are you a grasshopper or a locust? These guys were content to be grasshoppers.

Before you jump to their defense and say things about the better part of valor and leaders exercising prudence, let’s look back to Numbers 13:17-20. Did Moses ask them to determine whether or not they advised an attack? No. Back in Numbers 13:2, God declared this to be “the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites.” He was giving it to them. These twelve were just to figure out the details.

The last two instructions Moses gave are intriguing to me:

Be courageous. Bring back some fruit from the land.

Be courageous and bring me some fruit. What a combo! The twelve men did the second of these but failed in the first. Why, if the people were so formidable, did the scouts slow themselves down with a two-person bunch of grapes? Could it be that they had more of a stomach for grapes than for any hint of danger?

Of course, the ten weak-willed spies received their punishment fairly quickly. But how often are we just as faithless? We’re pleased to accept the fruits of God’s provision but we back away when there’s a whisper of risk. Am I man or am I muppet? A grasshopper or a locust?

I Can’t Look! You’re Gonna Fall!

Afraid of HeightsI have, among other slight psychological disorders, something that I call, Vicarious Acrophobia Syndrome. VAS (which is not included in the the American Psychological Association’s DSM-5, is a very real problem. It means that you have fear of heights for someone else. Just to be clear, I have very real fear of heights for myself. Only in recent years have I gotten to where I can scale a ladder and get onto my own roof, but watching somebody, like this fool sitting on the edge of oblivion in the photo, makes me crazy.

I first recognized my struggle with VAS back at Boy Scout camp a number of years back. As an adult, I had been enlisted to help out with an evening’s adventure, guiding boys to scramble up a challenging but not terribly dangerous rock formation. I say that it was not terribly dangerous, but the top of the formation was also the top of a 60-foot cliff.

The guys in charge of the outing had me go up the rocks first. “Just keep everyone from going crazy up there,” they told me.

To me, the way that you keep from going crazy at the top of a cliff is to hold onto a tree–or better yet lash yourself to said tree–30 or 40 yards away from the edge. Instead, these boys would walk up to the brinkof the cliff and stare down into the void. I thought I would die.

My rational mind knows that a 12-year-old boy can stand on the edge of something–a rug, for example–look down, and not totter over onto the floor. Why shouldn’t he be able to stand on the edge of a cliff? That’s my rational mind, but my VAS-afflicted, emotional mind was going crazy.

Why am I thinking about this today? That’s probably fodder for another entry, should I ever get around to it, but thinking about my lifelong struggles with VAS leave me wondering about a struggle I don’t have.

Every day, I see people who are standing on the brink of an eternity in hell just as surely as those Boy Scouts were standing on the brink of the cliff. And while those Boy Scouts were not about to suddenly plunge to their deaths, these unsaved peoplewill someday face death and plunge into that doom unless something brings them to Christ.

Why do I, the VAS-obsessed guy, not have a similar dread of their very real fate? Why is a highly-unlikely physical risk so much more frightening to me than a completely-certain spiritual risk? I wish I could answer that. More importantly, I wish I could generate the sort of empathy for those standing on the brink of hell that I have for those standing on the brink of a cliff.

Nothing but Fear Itself? (Psalm 19:9)

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
and all of them are righteous. (Psalm 19:9)

Franklin Roosevelt famously warned America that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Spoken during the worst of the Great Depression, these words, uttered by a powerful politician, were amazingly silly. Did the people of Oklahoma not have to fear all of their topsoil blowing away to the east? Did people not have fear crime? Was starvation not a genuine object of fear? While Roosevelt’s line might have sounded good coming through the radio, it really didn’t have much substance to it, at least not as he intended it.

Fearer of Fear?What student of the Bible has not encountered Proverbs 9:10, which admonishes us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Apparently, FDR never read that. Let’s consider the fear of fear versus the fear of God for a moment.

That long-ago president urged us to essentially fear nothing. We didn’t need to fear death, disease, war, starvation, crime, poverty, ignorance, violence, racism, unemployment, or any of a hundred other significant things. Proverbs tells us essentially the same thing, except that we are to fear God.

FDR replaced the fear of fear with a can-do attitude and clever government programs. Proverbs replaces the fear of God with nothing. Nothing can replace it. FDR sought to banish fear; Proverbs seeks to embrace a particular fear.

The fear of the Lord endures forever, our verse today asserts. What other fear lasts forever? Pain is temporary. Unemployment ends. The Great Depression and the Dustbowl ended. World War II, not even on Roosevelt’s radar at this point, ended. Even death, through our hope in Christ, ends. Of all the objects of fear, only God remains as such forever.

The only thing we have to fear is God Himself. What if Roosevelt had spoken those words? What difference would it have made? A proper fear of God looks to God for all of its answers, all of its protection and provision. The absurd fear of fear looks to human efforts for all of its answers.

Those other fears, temporary as they are, can be considered impure, while the fear of God is pure. We don’t have fear fear itself. We should fear the lack of fear in the God who created us.