Thursday, February 12, 2015
The Joy of Freedom from Fear's Grip
I often receive private messages, emails, and the like about the many different things that can kill me. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are also inundated with news about things that can kill me: microwaves, carrying my cell phone in my pocket, caffeine, a lack of caffeine, whole milk, meat and dairy products containing antibiotics, Mad Cow, Mac & Cheese, the second-hand smoke I inhaled as a kid from my chain-smoking parents, vaccinations, not getting vaccinations, medications, not taking medications, drinking tap water, living or driving underneath radio towers, terrorists who want to kill me because I'm an American, FEMA camps, being on "The Grid." The list goes on an on. In fact, I'm a bit hesitant to post this article, anticipating warnings and conspiracy theories showing up in the comments (which are strictly moderated, by the way).
(To those of you who have sent me correspondences about the less-than-silly things mentioned above, I am NOT making fun of you. I love you for your concern for me. And I am grateful. This post is NOT about you; it's about ME.)
I used to have a very unhealthy, unbiblical, and frankly sinful fear of death and dying. It effected where and what I ate. It effected where and when I would travel--even to minister the gospel. It effected where and with whom I stayed when I traveled. It negatively impacted my family and close family relationships. It permeated every area of my life, including my faith. Thank God that He was and is faithful, even when I was and am faithless, because He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Those outside my immediate family who know me very well know how bad I got.
I was a functional and very secretive hypochondriac. Which also made me a liar.
No, I wasn't being tormented by Satan. The devil wasn't making me do it. The sin--both the thinking and the doing--was all mine. I alone was responsible (James 1:12-15).
Several years ago, God set me free from this particular, debilitating sin of the flesh--from this love of self, from this lack of faith and trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. The Lord used His Word, prayer, the prayers of others, biblical counsel, tough love from family and friends, and a whole lot of patience from the same folks. The Lord used the biographies about and/or writings of men like Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, and Jerry Bridges (to name a few), to help me right the ship of my mind. The Lord used many things and a few very special people (family and friends) over the years to release me from fear's grip.
Someday I might write more extensively about this aspect of my life that is, by God's grace, behind me.
So, why am I telling you this. Well, I'm not sure. Maybe it's, in part, the recent dust-up over the vaccination debate. Maybe it's the comment I recently received on Facebook from a good friend who, in response to a post I wrote about the goodness of God as seen in the provision of a new microwave oven. He innocently shared that his research about the health risks related to microwave ovens led to his decision years ago not to have one in the home. I dunno.
What I do know is this:
I spent many, many years--time my family and I can never get back--worrying about the myriad things the world says can, might, or will kill me. What does that say about who ultimately received my worship during those times of worry, anxiety, and fear? It says that I receive my worship. It says that I feared man and the world around me (seen and unseen) more than I feared God. It said that in those times of worry, anxiety, and fear, I would have rather stayed here on earth (with unholy motives, unlike the apostle Paul) than be with my Lord in heaven (Philippians 1:23-25). It said I feared physical and emotional pain more than I was thankful for the pain and suffering Jesus endured to save me (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:4). It said I was not willing to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).
Now, this is not to say that I throw all caution to the wind. I believe I am still obligated to be a good steward of the physical life God has given me. But I am so obligated as a means of worshiping Christ, not as a means of preserving my physical life so I can worship myself.
I will be 51-years-old in ten days (Feb. 22). I will never again have the waistline when, as a 23-year-old, I graduated from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Training Academy. Life and ministry does not allow me to spend 3-4 days in the gym every week. I'm on the streets most days, and I travel away from home 80-100 days each year. I do not have the time, or the practical ability to count calories, milligrams of fat and cholesterol (I know, I know, those things can kill me, too). I have to eat what's available. I have to eat what's put in front of me. And I have to do so with joy and praising, with thanksgiving in my heart, for the provisions of my great God and King.
As an aspect of ministry, I have to travel (a lot) by land and air in packed petri dishes. And the day could very-well come when I have to get used to and be thankful for.....jail food, a plastic-covered mattress used by hundreds of criminals before me, and roommates infested with bugs or infected with disease.
Yes, I need to try to take care good care of myself. But I cannot allow the fear of death, the fear of disease, the fear of injury as a result of my own carelessness or as a result of the hateful act of another human being (this last one has never bothered me much, probably because of my 20 years as a deputy sheriff) keep me from serving Christ. I cannot allow it to hinder me from loving God and loving people. I cannot allow it to become an opportunity for sin--declaring myself sovereign when only God is.
Since being brought to repentance and I believe wholeness in this area of my life, the Lord has allowed the ministry to which He has given me stewardship to flourish. He has allowed me to travel to places I never thought my eyes would ever see or my feet would ever trod. He has allowed me to meet Christian brethren I otherwise would never have met. He has allowed me to stay in their homes and sit at their tables. He has allowed me to be adopted by so many young ones, as "uncle" or "grandpa." Oh, what a tragedy it would have been to not be loved by the brethren around the world who have shown me such great, sincere, and sacrificial love! Oh, what a tragedy it would be to one-day stand before Christ and have Him say something like, "But Tony, had it not been for your sin, I had all of this for you, too!"
Some will see what I've shared in this article as an opportunity to question, to gossip, to deride. Others will see what I've shared as a balm, an encouragement, a provision of hope. I pray, dear reader, you are the latter. And if you find yourself in the former group, well, I pray for your repentance.
A godly, young man once share with me a very biblical way to battle the sins of the mind--what my family and I like to call "stinkin' thinkin'" (also not an original thought). I, in turn, have shared what he taught me with many Christians who struggle with sins of the mind. I present it in a sermon titled "How to S.T.O.P. Wrong Thinking." I hope you find encouragement in this humble offering.