Solving The Unsolvable Dilemma

When Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, he said that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” Just before the angel showed up Luke noted that Mary was “pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David (Luke 1:27, 32).

At this time in history marriages were often arranged to preserve and strengthen family lines. Both Joseph and Mary could trace their family lineage through the royal line of Israel’s King David. 

Mary is betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal was considered as strong as a marriage with the only exception being that the couple didn’t yet live together nor sleep together. Betrothal usually lasted a year and would require a divorce to cancel it. 

Mary tells Joseph what Gabriel said to her and then she leaves to visit Elizabeth for the next three months! Joseph is left alone to consider his options. 

The word Luke uses for “consider” is not even close to what’s happening in Joseph’s mind. The word means to revolve around and around in your mind, like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. 

Consider Joseph’s options. If he divorces Mary—which was apparently his first reaction—Mary would be publicly embarrassed. Not to mention that Joseph knew that God hated divorce. 

If Joseph decided to proceed with the marriage, he would either have to confess he was the father of her child—which could result in both of them being stoned—or admit that she was pregnant by another man—which would be a permanent disgrace for Mary’s family. 

In either case, both families would be shamed! 

While Joseph was still considering all these unsavory options an angel says to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.” By calling him by that title he is really saying, “I know how important your family heritage is to you. I know how important Mary’s family heritage is to her. But do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because this all fits into God’s plan. 

Would it have been easier on Joseph and Mary and their families if God could have waited until after they were married? Of course! But then it wouldn’t fit into God’s miraculous plan, because 700 years earlier God promised that Jesus would be born of an unmarried virgin. 

Fearing what’s coming in the future means we have forgotten Who already knows the future. 

God knows YOUR future too! It’s a future He already saw as good and fruitful, if you will put your trust in Him (Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 29:11; John 15:16).

If you seem paralyzed by a no-win dilemma like Joseph was, first DON’T do what Joseph did: pray! Then DO what Joseph did after hearing the angel: obey. 

Remember Who knows you and Who knows your future, and then take each step on your journey as God directs you. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Clinging To God’s Words

When it comes right down to it, faith and fear both hinge on our beliefs: Fear believes something bad; faith believes something good. Fear is an invitation for us to evaluate in who or in what we have placed our trust.  

According to the dictionary, fear is a distressing emotion we feel whether the threat is real or imagined. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Even more recently, an extensive study found that 85 percent of things people feared never happened!

According to the dictionary, faith is trust in something even without proof or evidence. That sounds tremendously close to the biblical definition of faith: Now faith is the assurance—the confirmation, the title deed—of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP) 

Mary is the second person to whom an angel says “Do not be afraid” in the First Advent story. Consider her story alongside Zechariah’s story and especially notice when these words were spoken. The angel Gabriel first tells Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 

Mary’s initial response is being “greatly troubled.” This Greek word means an internal agitation that today psychologists would call “cognitive dissonance.” In other words, what Mary believed about herself didn’t line up with what God believed about her. Her next response is wondering how she could ever measure up to God’s high standard of her. 

It’s at this point that Gabriel says those key words, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have already found favor with God.” She didn’t have to make herself worthy of God’s favor because she already had it! Now Mary just had to believe it. 

Fear is overcome by clinging to God’s words instead of the world’s words. 

Mary did indeed choose this. Her song (in vv. 46-55) is loaded with Old Testament references, and she concludes by singing to God, “You have helped Your servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as You said to our fathers.” 

Here’s the truth—

  • Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89) 
  • God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) 
  • And Jesus would tell us that clinging to God’s words puts us on the surest of foundations that no storm of life could ever shake (Luke 6:46-49)! 

Clinging to God’s words lets us realize God’s grace toward us. 

If you know Jesus as your Savior, you can insert your name in the same place where Gabriel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid, ____________, you have found favor with God!” 

If you have missed any of the messages in our Advent series Do Not Be Afraid, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Fear’s Invitation

Have you ever had a really good scare? Maybe in the dark or when you were young? Then in the light or as you got older you thought, “Why was I afraid of that?” Our relief came from the fact that we think we know more. But here’s the problem: there is a difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear, so not every fear is something we should try to alleviate.

Sometimes we treat too lightly the things that are really quite powerful. Consider the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem. There are more angels sent by God surrounding this one event than anywhere else in all the Bible. Yet all four angelic appearances have the same message: “Do not be afraid.” 

Why would people fear what we now celebrate as such a joyous event? I think it’s because God Himself—the All-Holy Creator of the Universe—is coming near to sinful man (see John 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:15-16). 

God is holy, and His holiness is unapproachable by sin. At the exact same moment, God is love, and His love desires for us to approach Him. We cannot make this happen on our own, which leads to more fear. 

Thankfully for us, God Himself has provided the way for sinful man to approach His awesome, unapproachable holiness!  

In the Greek language of the New Testament phobeō is the main word for “fear.” This word can be defined as either fleeing from a terrible thing or clinging in obedience to an awesomely reverent thing. Jesus said the same things when He told us, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Luke 12:4-5). 

In the Advent story, the first appearance of “Do not be afraid” is when an angel appears to Zechariah. Why would Zechariah be so afraid at the approach of God? I think there may have been three reasons: 

  • Herod was king—making the society Zechariah lived in politicized and irreligious 
  • Zechariah was without a priestly heir to carry on his family name 
  • his wife Elizabeth may have sinned—at least that’s what people would have whispered about her barrenness 

All of this added up to Zechariah feeling like God was displeased with them and that He was only coming close to bring fiery judgment. 

The angel told Zechariah not to fear because “your prayer has been heard.” In other words, “I am inviting you to trust in what God HAS already done versus trusting in what you might or might not be able to do on your own.” Phobeō was an invitation to choose reverential obedience (holy fear) of the eternal over the terror of the temporal. 

Sadly, Zechariah initially clung to the negative phobeō. Yet after Elizabeth did conceive and John was born, this was transformed into holy, reverential fear, as heard in the Spirit-inspired song he sang. Notice in Luke 1:67-75 Zechariah’s emphasis on all that God has done: He has come, He has redeemed, He has raised, He said, He has kept His covenant, He has rescued, He has enabled.  

Have you put yourself in the category of “unworthy of God’s favor”? Has fear crippled you—like it had done with Zechariah—from continuing to pray, believe, and try? 

Fear is an invitation to evaluate in who or in what I have placed my trust.

I invite you to accept the invitation to take your eyes off the temporary and put them on the Eternal One. “…The time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed. (Habakkuk 2:3 GNT) 

Check out the other messages in this Do Not Be Afraid series by clicking here. 

“Do Not Be Afraid”

There are more angels sent by God concerning one event than anywhere else in the Bible—the Advent of Jesus. Clearly, this is a big deal: The coming to earth of God Himself! 

You would think this would be an occasion for great joy. But all four of the angelic appearances around the birth of Jesus have the same message: Do not be afraid. 

Why are people so afraid? It’s because fear invites us to make a decision to trust God completely. People remain crippled by fear when they try to deal with fear by themselves. But when they learn to fear God instead, there is an almost inexpressible joy and freedom that explodes in our hearts! 

Join us for this Advent series where we will explore why this “Do not fear” message is still relevant for us today. Please join us either in-person or on Facebook. 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series, check them out here:

Podcast: Fearless Leaders

On this episode of “The Craig And Greg Show” we talk about: 

  • Greg used to trick his younger sister into doing something he was afraid to do  
  • fear makes us tunnel-visioned   
  • Craig teaches Greg a new phobia  
  • doctors say only two fears are innate; all the rest are learned fears   
  • “If fear is learned, it can be unlearned, and a new path relearned,” says Craig 
  • the lessons we’ve learned in the past can help us conquer today’s fears
  • what we can learn from the acrostic F.E.A.R.  
  • how Greg’s Dad helped him overcome a fear of failure  

Check out this episode and subscribe on YouTube so you can watch all of the upcoming episodes. You can also listen to our podcast on Spotify and iTunes.

Our Joyful Burden

I shared last week that the judgment of God should be a cause for both fear and rejoicingboth regret and comfort—for those who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But for those who have no relationship with God, the judgment of God is a cause for only fear and regret. 

How did Nahum respond to this word of judgment God spoke through him? His opening words say, “The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (NKJV). The Hebrew word for “burden” is almost always associated with a word God has spoken. It’s a realization of God’s weighty glory; it’s never, ever something we should trivialize! 

Prophets don’t just prophesy future events, they also announce in the present tense where people have departed from a lifestyle that robs God of His glory and how they can be forgiven of sins. 

“The prophets foretell (speak to what will happen in the future) and forth-tell (speak to what we should be doing in the present), both in the light of God’s heart for His own glory among all peoples of the world.” —Dick Brogden 

God never makes idle threats nor empty promises. Truly His Word is His bond. Through Nahum, God foretold that Assyria would be utterly destroyed, twice saying, “I am against you” (Nahum 2:13-3:7). 

The world may rejoice at God’s justice on evil (3:19), but how does God feel about carrying out His judgment? Ezekiel records God saying, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) 

And Jesus declared, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

The Bible shows that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. This is the message that must be both foretold and forth-told by Christians. 

“But what can I do,” you might ask. “I’m just one person. I’m not a big-time evangelist.” That sounds a lot like Nahum. He was just a guy from Elkosh—no special family lineage, no large city to claim as his home. 

God is looking for just one that will speak out His words (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Just one who will be humble enough to search their own heart first and then both boldly and lovingly deliver a message of both judgment and escape (Matthew 7:1-5; James 5:20). 

Foretelling God’s judgment is a burden. Forth-telling God’s forgiveness is a joy. All Christians have been given the joyful burden of this both-and ministry! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

10 Quotes From C.S. Lewis

Any day is a good day for some C.S. Lewis quotes! 

“To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” —C.S. Lewis 

“If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude,’ you will probably be disappointed.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” —C.S. Lewis 

“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity.” —C.S. Lewis 

“The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Faith, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” —C.S. Lewis 

“And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” —C.S. Lewis 

“A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” —C.S. Lewis

Where’s God When I Fear Death?

Is death the #1 fear people have? The simple and complicated answer is: It depends. Fear of dying is a BIG fear in those that statistically are the least likely to die: the young. But fear of dying is very LOW for those on death row, the elderly, and the terminally ill.

I hope to convince you of a fourth group that shouldn’t fear death. It’s a group that all of us can be a member of: Those who understand that physical death is not the end. 

In the Garden of Eden, God planted one tree that was off-limits, and He said that the penalty for eating from this tree was death (Genesis 2:16-17). satan tried to get Adam and Eve to doubt what God said, and after they ate the fruit, it appeared satan was correct—they didn’t die. At least not physically.

But their sin did something far, far worse—it separated them from God’s presence. Now when God appeared, Adam and Eve hid in fear. In fact, Jesus even told His followers that the greatest fear wasn’t physical death but spiritual death (Luke 12:4-5). 

Jesus came to lift our hope to something beyond this physical world. He said, “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not die, but would have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Famed atheist Bertrand Russell said, “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” 

On the other hand, Jesus DID die for His beliefs and proved He was right by His resurrection! 

Friend, listen to me—We’re definitely not living our best life now. We are all terminal. Unless Jesus returns, the chances of our physical death are 1-in-1. 

But physical death is not the end! Death of the body means freedom for the soul. Jesus has defeated Death once for all! “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades,” Jesus said (Revelation 1:17-18) 

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) 

Invite Jesus into your life right this moment!! 

Once you have invited Jesus into your life, and your sins have been forgiven, and your destiny following your physical death is assured, this is how you should now live: 

  1. Live in joyful hope. Not optimism—that’s just the belief in what you think you can do. But hope is the belief in what you know Jesus has already done!
  1. Live free of all anxiety and the fear of death. Because nothing can separate you from God’s love and presence (Romans 8:38-39).  
  1. Live telling others about your Risen Savior. It’s the most loving thing that you could do for anyone. 

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that to be a Christian and to be fearful of death is a sin. A fearful Christian gives God no praise, robs Him of glory, and paints God in a bad light. A happy, secure Christian knows the Lord is his strength, his comfort, his supply. A happy Christian lifts God high and invites others to know this All-Good, All-Happy God too! 

We can live this way because Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sins that separated you from God, and He was resurrected back to life to assure you that your eternal home in God’s presence is secure!

Certainty In Uncertain Times

… Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf … The God we serve is able to save us from the furnace…but even if God does not save us… (1 Samuel 14:6 and Daniel 3:17-18).

We often remember and even hold in high regard those leaders who rise up in times of crisis or uncertainty. But I think we might be shocked if we knew exactly how scared these seemingly unflappable leaders actually were! 

The Philistines really had the Israelites on the ropes. Israel’s army was slowing melting away, as soldiers one by one were deserting and heading home. The Philistines had captured all of the sword-makers, so that there were only two swords left—one for King Saul and one for his son Jonathan. 

And to make matters even more desperate, the Philistines occupied all the strategic high ground, so that even if the Israelites were going to attempt an attack, they would have to scale the cliffs in order to do so.

For Jonathan, this situation was unbearable. So he said to his armor-bearer (keep in mind that this armor-bearer didn’t really have any armor to bear!), “Let’s go attack the Philistines.” And then he adds this line that probably didn’t instill too much confidence in anyone, “Perhaps the Lord will give us victory.” 

Perhaps?!

Many years later, when the nation of Israel was in exile in Babylon, three Jewish young men found themselves in a literal hot spot. King Nebuchadnezzar had built an enormous statue of himself and commanded that everyone bow down and worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been promoted into leadership positions in the capital city of Susa, so there was no hiding in the outreaches of the countryside for them. Their disobedience to the king’s command would make them stand out to everyone. The king had ordered that anyone who disobeyed his edict would be thrown into a fiery furnace. 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were God-fearing men and knew that they could not worship any other god except Yahweh. When the king confronted their disobedience, they also responded with words that didn’t sound very confident, “God can save us, but we’re not sure if He will save us. But even if He doesn’t, we’re not going to bend our knee.” 

If?!

“Perhaps” and “if” don’t sound like very confident words, do they? 

And yet these godly leaders were totally certain in their uncertain times. They weren’t certain of the outcome, but they were certain of God’s ability to bring the ultimate victory. Even in dark times of crisis, godly leaders are certain that God is greater than their uncertain circumstances. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who has a certain confidence in God even in an uncertain crisis.

Jonathan, and Shadrach, and Meshach, and Abednego would all tell us, “Whether God was going to give us victory in the moment of crisis or not, we will remain in God’s presence! We will not compromise. We will not give in to fear. We will not disobey God. We will continue to cling to Him—rescue or not—knowing that He will be glorified in whatever way He chooses to respond.” 

These young men teach an invaluable lesson for all of us even today: Trust God no matter how uncertain the times are. 

This is part 45 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

On Living In A [COVID-19] Age

In 1948, World War II had come to a close and the nuclear age had dawned. The Cold War was beginning to ratchet up and the fear of nuclear annihilation was gripping people’s hearts. 

In this environment, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Living In An Atomic Age. I have changed the word “atomic” for “COVID-19,” and I think you will see the relevance. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 virus. “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the COVID-19 virus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the COVID-19 virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

For Christians, I would urge you to think in ways in which I am certain C.S. Lewis would agree: 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)

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