First Things First

Dispelling Fears

June 27 – Dispelling Fears

Wheaton College experienced a remarkable revival in 1950. A letter from psychiatrist and professor of psychology, Philip B. Marquart, M.D., was sent to Dr. David Howard. It illustrates how the fear of God is the one fear that has the potential to dispel all other fears:

Now here are some astounding psychological facts [coming out of the revival] . . . Several dozen cases of emotional problems melted away in the revival. I lost all my student counseling interviews. One by one they came around and declared that they were cured. So I merely asked them to return once more to give their testimony – which I wrote down in my revival notebook. That means that if we had continuous revival all over the world, believers would need psychiatry much less than they do. I began to wonder whether the Lord wasn’t rejecting, for me, the idea of psychiatry of any kind.

Then I began to get an avalanche of new patients. Most of them were under conviction – and in conviction it is possible to get every kind of mental abnormality, as long as they resist. One student who had scoffed at the revival became beset with a serious phobia – a fear that he might be catching epilepsy. This phobia was the punishment for his scoffing. Secular methods were of no avail. Finally, I led him to confess to the Lord. Here he resisted. He had scorned the revival in the first place, because he was against confession. As soon as he confessed, his phobia left him.

You will not be fearful of any other fear object or be anxious for tomorrow if you choose to believe that your omnipresent and omnipotent heavenly Father is with you all the time. He promises to never leave you or forsake you. Would it help your fears and anxieties if you heard Jesus praying for you in an adjacent room? Distance makes no difference. He is praying for you. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Dad Knows!

June 26 – Dad Knows!

The fear of God should be understood as a holy reverence that motivates us to live a righteous life. Every believer will someday appear before the judgment seat of Christ. This is not a judgment for sins committed, for we have already been forgiven. Jesus, “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile toward us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Co. 2:14). For believers in Christ, where we spend eternity has already been decided, but how we spend eternity is still to be judged according to our faithfulness. We have only one physical life and it will soon be past; only what has been done for Christ will last.

According to the apostle Paul, we will all be held accountable before God, and that is a powerful motivating force. “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:9-11). Knowing we will be held accountable should motivate us to please God and live a righteous life. It is a sobering reality that we will all stand before God one day and give an account for every deed done and every word spoken. How we live on earth determines our rewards in heaven.

One day I received a call from the principal of my son’s high school. My son had been caught off campus, but it was discovered later that he had a pass. The principal only called to tell me that everything was okay, in case I had heard otherwise. He said, “I did discover, however, who I need to call in the future should there be a real problem. When I asked your son who I should call, he said, ‘Don’t call Dad.’” Karl didn’t fear punishment from me. He didn’t want to look bad in his father’s eyes. If he did something wrong, he didn’t want me to know, because he didn’t want me to think any less of him. That is how I fear the Lord, and I live with the understanding that “Dad” already knows. Knowing the fear of the Lord I try to live my life pleasing God and long to hear Him say; “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see www.ficmm.org/blog

In Awe but not Afraid

June 25 – In Awe but not Afraid

In the Old Testament, the term “sanctuary” referred to the tabernacle of Moses and later to the temple of Solomon. A sanctuary was the place where God manifested His presence to His people. It was a holy place of communion with the Almighty. No matter what might happen to the nation, the city of Jerusalem, or even to its temple, God was assuring Isaiah that his presence would always be a sanctuary for His people.

The fear of the Lord was the door that opened that sanctuary, which is not a physical location or building. It is the presence of God. We find our sanctuary “in Christ,” which is a spiritual position, not a physical location. The writer of Hebrews provides a powerful picture of our relationship with God under grace as opposed to the terror-stricken aversion of God that the Israelites experienced when introduced to the Mosaic covenant of law in Exodus19: “For you have not come to a mountain that may not be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.’ And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’ But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 12:18-24).

“God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him . . . There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 Jn. 4:6,18). God’s love for us and our love for Him does not negate the fear of God. Perfect love casts out the fear of punishment for our sins. Too many live in fear of punishment; they live as though the hammer of God will fall upon them if they make the slightest mistake. Dear Christian, the hammer fell! It fell on Christ. The punishment we deserved has already fallen on Christ. In what way then should we still fear God?

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Fear of the Lord

June 24 – Fear of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of Jesus in Isaiah 11:1-3, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord.” How does one “delight in the fear of the Lord?” It sounds more like a contradiction, than a blessing. You don’t delight in the fear of snakes, or any other fear object. In fact you are more inclined to run away from, rather than run toward the object of your fears.

We have to understand the nature of God in order to decipher what it means to fear the Lord. Recall from last week that a fear object must possess two attributes in order to be legitimate. It must be present, and have some perceived power. The fact that God is omnipresent and omnipotent is what makes Him the ultimate fear object. All others fear objects pale in comparison. We do not worship God, because He needs us to tell Him who He is. We worship God, because we need to know and be continuously aware of His divine attributes. If you believed that God was also vengeful and vindictive, you would likely run from His presence, but where would you go? “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there” (Ps. 139:8). You can’t run from or hide from God, but you don’t want to.

We are living in days of shadow governments, conspiracy theories, and corrupt leaders who would take away our freedom. Because of technology such people can spy on us with drones, read our emails, listen to our phone conversations. So what? If you are living a righteous life, what do you have to hide? “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy, and he shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread, then He shall become a sanctuary” (Is. 8:12,13). The fear of God trumps all others.

“Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. He nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the people. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Ps. 33:8-11).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Fear of Satan

June 21 – Fear of Satan

The Exorcist was a horror movie that frightened millions around the world. The poor pathetic priest was no match for the demons that tormented the little girl. What a lie! What the movie did, and others like it, was to establish Satan as a greater fear object than God in the minds of the viewers. To fear Satan more than God is to elevate Satan as a greater object of worship than God. Most Christians fear Satan more than they fear God, which is in direct opposition to Scripture. Have we lost the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom?

I was in a radio studio as a guest along with a Catholic Priest who was also a guest by way of the telephone. He represented a diocese that had filmed an exorcism that was a ritual similar to one attempted in The Exorcist movie. The video had been shown on cable television the night before. I said, “If I could show you a way to set that person free without losing control and with none of the manifestations shown on your video, would you be interested?” The Priest said, “Of course,” and the host went to a commercial. During the break the host indicated to me that he was moving on to another topic against my protest. He never did give me a good reason why he wouldn’t let me explain our approach.

The apostle Peter wrote, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by brethren who are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8,9). Why does a lion roar? Some will stand over a smaller animal’s den and roar. When the frightened animal comes out of his “sanctuary” the lion consumes it. They also roar to paralyze their prey in fear and then consume them. But what if the lion’s only “bite” is the roar? Don’t minimize that ability. People all over the world are paralyzed by fear, or compelled to do foolish things. Remember, all you have to do is remove just one of the attributes of a fear object, and it is rendered impotent. Satan and his demons fill this earth, but they are disarmed (Col. 2:15), and every child of God has authority over them. The answer is to resist him, firm in your faith. It is what you believe that enables you to stand firm.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Fear of Man

June 20 – Fear of Man

All fear objects are subcategories of the three major fear objects, namely; death, people and Satan. Behind the fear of snakes, sharks, and enclosed places, etc. is the fear of death. God has eliminated physical death as a fear object, because it is no longer potent. Should we die physically tomorrow we would still be spiritually alive. We would be absent from the body and present with the Lord. The ultimate value is not our physical life, but rather our spiritual life, which is eternal. With that in mind, consider these words from our Lord, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

I said earlier that fear is a powerful motivator and devious people use that to manipulate others. Suppose you have a very intimidating boss. You are not afraid of him as you read this, however, because he isn’t present. Only when he is present or potentially present do you fear him. Taking a break in the lunch room can function like a sanctuary for you, because you are away from his presence. Fear is diminished when he is not present, so you can manage your fear by staying away, but you can’t do that forever. What power does he have over you is the most important question.

Some bosses can threaten physical harm, or can be physically imposing, but that is less common in our modern world. The potential of being fired, demoted, or humiliated is the bigger threat. How could we overcome that? We start by realizing who we are in Christ, and by knowing that no person can keep us from being the person God created us to be. The only power others have over us is what we give them. Not allowing others to determine who we are, nor letting their intimidations compromise how we live, while staying submissive to governing authorities is one of our greatest challenges. “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:13-17).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Fear of Death

June 19 – Fear of Death

Anxiety disorders include fear, anxiety and panic attacks. Anxiety is like fear without an adequate cause. People are anxious because they don’t know. Fear, on the other hand, has an object and we categorize fears by their object. Claustrophobia is a fear of enclosed places. Agoraphobia literally means a fear of the market place. Arachnophobia is a fear of spiders, etc. For a fear object to be legitimate it must have two attributes. It must be imminent and potent, i.e. it must be present and believed to have some threat to our physical or psychological safety.

For instance, I don’t like rattlesnakes. However, as I sit at my desk writing this blog I have no fear of them. Why not? Because there are none present in my room. If someone threw one of them through the door and it landed at my feet, I would go instantly from peace to panic, because it is both present and potent. What if the rattlesnake that landed at my feet was dead, provided that I was sure it was dead? It is now present, but no longer potent. I may still feel a little uncomfortable, and check every now and then to make sure it isn’t hibernating, but I wouldn’t be afraid. Additionally, I wouldn’t be afraid if I didn’t see the snake at my feet whether it was alive or dead. Any fear reaction is dependent upon our perception. A movie audience will feel great apprehension as they watch a criminal or animal stalk an innocent person, but the unaware victim isn’t sensing anything even though a fear object is present and intending some harm.

To overcome any fear, you have to eliminate just one of the attributes of the fear object. For instance, physical death is still imminent, but it is no longer potent. The apostle Paul wrote, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54,55). He would later write, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Christians don’t have to fear physical death, because they are eternally alive in Christ. That is not a license to commit suicide, because we are called to be good stewards of the life that we have been entrusted. The person who is free from the fear of physical death is free to live a responsible life today.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

God-Given Fear

June 18 – God-Given Fear

Fear is what we should feel when our physical or psychological safety is threatened. It is for our protection and part of our survival instinct. Even animals have that natural tendency or they would all be road kill. We are born with some natural instincts, but knowing what and when to fear and what not to fear is part of our development. A child learns to have a healthy respect for heights after falling from stools and chairs. Getting burned by a stove or from a flame teaches us to stay away from intense heat.

Suppose a two year old child is playing in the back yard and a harmless garden snake slithers through the grass. The child would probably be curious and pick it up if they had no previous knowledge or instruction about snakes. What do you think the average mother would do if she saw her child do that? She would probably freak out. What would an experienced snake handler do? He, like the child, would have no fear at all. Fear responses are conditioned by our learning experiences. Bondage to fear comes from false or little knowledge, while truth liberates.

Experience is a good teacher, but we don’t always learn well. Remember, we are not shaped by our environment, but rather by our perception of the environment. Suppose the above child had seen a movie where poisonous snakes had bitten people and they died. The child would likely conclude that snakes kill people, which some can, but most don’t. Believing that all snakes are poisonous is an irrational fear or phobia. How could you help people who are afraid of anything that slithers? You could teach them the truth about snakes. Help them distinguish between a harmless snake and ones that need to be avoided. That could be done in a class room, but that alone would not eliminate fears for most people.

Since phobias are irrational fears there is something we are believing that is not true. That cannot be resolved until the lie is exposed and the truth is acknowledged. You can see how the father of lies could be source for many irrational fears. However, to completely overcome the fear of harmless snakes you would have to pick one up. Do the thing that you fear the most and the death of fear is certain.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Fear Not

June 17 – Fear Not

“Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself’” (Gen. 3:9,10). God knew where Adam was. The purpose of the question was to establish some accountability. Fear was the first emotion expressed by fallen humanity, and anxiety disorders remain the number one mental health problem of the world to this day. Four hundred times we are told in the bible to “fear not.” Fortunately the Bible tells us a lot more than that since telling a frightened individual to not be afraid is woefully inadequate.

Fear is a powerful motivator and can persuade us to do foolish things like Adam hiding from an omnipresent God. “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). Boldness is a characteristic of a spirit-filled person as demonstrated by the early Church. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (acts. 4:31). Carlos Valles wrote in his book, Let Go of Fear:

I say this to bring to the clearest possible light the fact that it is our fear that lays us open to manipulation. Fear is the handle we ourselves give to those who would turn us around to their will. Terrorism exists because we are afraid. There are international commissions that meet regularly to analyze the spread of terrorism and propose remedies. They are not likely to do away with the plague. The ultimate remedy lies in the human heart. Fearlessness alone can free us from the snares our fears have built.

Why is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? How is that fear the one fear that can expel all other fears? That is the subject of my blogs for the next few weeks as I explain anxiety disorders, which include fear, anxiety, and panic attacks. If you want or need a fuller account let me encourage you to read, Freedom From Fear (Harvest House), which I co-authored with Rich Miller, our U.S. president.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog