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Cliffs, fear and doing God's will.

Photo courtesy of garychrist
A few summers ago I had the opportunity to work with an outdoor ministry. The overall goal was to take teenagers out into the woods, push them beyond their comfort zones and give them tangible experiences that had deeper spiritual truths. The entire time spent in the woods the group was sub-divided into two teams that were competing for some non-existent prize at the end. It began with the challenge of starting a fire with no matches then moved on to kayaking, rappelling, adventure racing and, of course, cliff jumping. "Cliff jumping?" you say. "Yes" says I. We would take the teens to a thirty to forty foot high cliff on a lake and make them jump off into the water. To some of you this sounds about as intimidating as the chocolate bunny you wolfed down a few weeks ago at Easter. To others, who are more like myself, this may sound like an impossible feat. Either way, for the majority of the teens this was one of the highlights of the trip because it was a moment of overcoming fear and putting trust in the leader's instruction.

Now, as one of the primary leaders on the trip it was my responsibility to, not only oversee this particular event, but also to demonstrate it for each group that came through. This is momentous because, how can I put this delicately, I'm not a huge fan of heights. No matter how many times I stepped to the edge of that cliff and jumped off, it never got easier. My heart always began to pound under my life jacket and I could feel my stomach churning...it was not easy! If nothing else though, my own fear gave me a unique viewpoint from which to encourage the more timid participants in this event and there were only a handful the entire summer who absolutely couldn't do it.

What reminded me of this story was reading and teaching through the book of Ezra. The first few chapters of the book recount how the first wave of Jews was able to return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Upon their arrival they found pretty much what they expected, a city in utter ruin. However, for these fifty-thousand Jews there was only one thing to do once they returned to the Promised Land...offer a sacrifice to God. The narrative tells us in chapter 3 that all the nation gathered in Jerusalem and that Zerubbabel and the priests built an altar. Then in verse 3 it says this;

So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings morning and evening (NASB).

In the NIV translation it reads a little more clearly.

Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both morning and evening sacrifices.

Now, we don't hear about the opposition to the Israelites from the inhabitants of the land until later on in chapter four so we don't have a context for this statement unless we read on in Ezra. However, the statement has been placed there by Ezra for a very important reason. That reason, as far as I can tell, is to show the reader that the Jews were doing what God commanded even in the face of their fears and opposition. The question that keeps haunting my mind is, "Will we do the same?" When the going gets tough and the odds and opinions are stacked against us, will we follow Christ and His directives? Will our desire to do God's will override our desire to fit in? I brought this up in our Wednesday night Bible study and I believe that this question cannot be answered now, verbally. It must be answered when the situation demands that we choose God over popular opinion. It is like asking someone if they are willing to die for Christ. We can say "yes" all we want when we are comfortable and no one is threatening our lives. The real answer comes when the enemy has a gun to our heads.

A timely example of this comes from the Manhattan Declaration, which I would encourage you to read and research. In this declaration these people have decided to take a stand on life, marriage and religious liberty. The drafters and signatories are clear that they will stand on these values even in the face of legal punishment or threat of jail time. Despite their fear these people are taking a firm stand on these three core beliefs.

There was a time when the Christian faith was a defining characteristic of the American people. There may come a time, and it may have already arrived, when Christianity will not define Americana but stand in opposition to it. To be sure, even now we cannot equate "being American" with "being Christian." The question for us, as believers, is will our deepest loyalties lie with Christ or with our country? Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to make this same decision seventy years ago. The question for him was, "Is my true leader das Fuhrer or King Jesus?" History has shown that his choice was Christ and he paid with his life. Despite the fear of death and imprisonment he chose to stand, not only with God, but with Israel as well. Young David faced the same situation when the Israelite army was being shamed by the Philistines and Goliath. Despite the fear of the rest of the army he stood up with nothing more than a few stones and a sling and issued a counter-challenge to Goliath. The beauty of this story is that David was not trusting the strength of the stones or his accuracy in slinging them. He was trusting the power of God.

We can translate this question to almost any area of our life and any stage in our life. Is our deepest desire to do God's will or be "cool" in the eyes of our peers at school? Is our goal to honor God or make as much money as possible in our business transactions? Is our motivation to worship the Lord in spirit and truth or attract as many people to our worship services as possible? You can fill in your own question here according to your own life situation, but hopefully you see the pattern.

The good news in all of this is that, like David facing Goliath and the Jews fearing the inhabitants of the land, we can know that we stand with God when we seek to honor Him and do His will. Jesus tells us this in Matthew 10:28-31;

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. Are not two sparrows sold for cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.

The message that I read here is that our fear and trembling should not come at the threats of earthly powers but at the powerful hand of God. Our loyalty must lie with God first and foremost. That does not mean that we become rebellious people who are disobedient to earthly authority just to be rebellious. The Bible is clear that we are to live peaceably with the governments of our countries...unless that authority begins to run contrary to God. At that point we must stand in opposition to it and congruent with God.

Finally, I want to reiterate what I said earlier. I am not trying to illicit a response right now. Again, I believe this is a question that can only be appropriately answered when the time arises. However, we Christians must prepare ourselves for the time when we are asked to choose our deepest loyalty. I can say with all conviction that our choice will not make us popular with society (read Mark 13 if you don't believe me) but we will be standing with the Almighty and the reward will be given by Him. When the time comes remember the words of Ezra 3:3, Despite their fear of the people around them, they built an altar...

Godspeed,
Christian

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