Friday, November 13, 2009

Fighting Flu, or Fear?

I was shopping in my favorite aisle (think chips!) of my favorite grocery store (think Kroger!) when I saw her. An older coworker who was forced into retirement by unrelenting health issues, it had been months since I’d seen her last. Remembering the many times she had made me laugh, I now reached over to give her a hug, whispering “How are you?” into her ear as I did so. And it was only when we were in the middle of a tight embrace that she answered me with, “Honey, I’m sicker than a dog!”

Great!” I thought to myself, releasing my hold on her immediately and backpedaling rapidly before I experienced a possible H1N1 download. While I’m quick to say that I’m not swine-flu-phobic, there is really no need to be hugging people who advertise that they are deathly ill! As it turned out, her symptoms resulted from severe pain from a strained back; she wasn’t contagious at all. And yet I still felt the urge to rush to the restroom to wash my hands, my face, and maybe take a shower!

I needn’t have been in a hurry. Clearly I was already showing symptoms, not of flu, but of fear. Our enemy is less concerned about whether we actually catch the virus than he is that we fear that we will. His goal is to plant dread so deeply in our beings that it accomplishes two purposes that work in his favor.

First, he is interested in our preoccupation. Nobody among us has time or thought to give to Kingdom living and saving the lost when we are spending every waking minute washing our hands, spraying disinfectant on everything within reach, walking the aisles in the pharmacy and searching the internet for the first available flu shot clinic.

The enemy’s second goal is separation. He knows that together we are so much more powerful than we are individually. The Bible promises that where two or three are gathered together in His Name, Christ is there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). And so he doesn’t want us meeting together, praying for one another or encouraging our fellow believers’ hearts in any way. Fear of catching a serious flu virus accomplishes that goal. The Bible instructs the sick to call for the elders of the church to pray for them, but suddenly we wonder if the elders will come, without at least having second thoughts about doing so. We question whether gathering together on a Sunday morning with all those possibly germy people is really such a good idea. He makes us think twice about hugging, kissing, even touching other people. And so we distance ourselves from the hope, help and encouragement that we find in one another, especially in times of need. The gifts God has placed inside of us go unused for fear that operating in them might put us out of circulation ourselves, perhaps for good.

The long-awaited flu vaccine is slow to make its way to this area. Daily the news programs detail the locations of flu clinics that are open to high-risk clients, and people flock to those sites and wait in long lines for the protection they seek. Yet we don’t have to wait for help to come in the form of a vapor mist or a flu shot. If we are at high-risk for fear of the flu there are steps we can take to inoculate ourselves against infection. The first is simply to enlarge our view of God. When we see Him in all His glory we magnify the greatness of His might and minimize the size of the enemy that we fight. The Bible gives us a clear view of Who God is and all that He longs to do for us.

A few weeks ago a lady in our church lost her husband just hours before the mid-week service was to begin. The pastor and his wife were obviously busy ministering to the family members, and the church service went on as usual without them. There was a heaviness in the hearts of the church family, however, an unease among us as we felt a burden for these loved ones as well as the weight of other needs in the congregation. At some time during the worship service, the door opened and the pastors came in and took their usual seats in the front row. There was an almost audible sigh of relief throughout the congregation as they did so. It’s said that the sight of the shepherd among his sheep will calm a nervous flock. And so it is with God’s people that our fears flee when we keep our Shepherd clearly in our sights.

Everywhere we turn these days we’re reminded of the simple hygiene tips we need to practice to slow the spread of sickness among us. They include washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze, and staying home when we’re sick. Perhaps the most relevant to us spiritually is the admonition to cover our mouths. We simply need to watch what we speak. Too often our words of fear become self-fulfilling prophecies over our lives. The more we fill our hearts, thoughts, and mouths with faith-building scriptures, the less room there is in our lives for doubt and dread. And they’re easy to find – just about anywhere we open the Bible, the words, “do not fear” are soon to appear, surrounded (as we are!) by the precious promises of God.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”
(3 John 1:2 KJV)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Package Deal

Many years ago when my husband, Jim, and I were newly married and living in Washington state, we worked in separate divisions of the same company, he as a computer analyst, and me as a field forester who spent her days in the woods. Then one day came the announcement that the computer department was going to relocate to the company’s central office headquarters in Dallas, and Jim was asked to make the move. Excited as he was about the new opportunities that awaited him there, he realized that the job possibilities for foresters in that busy metropolis were slim at best. Our company had no land holdings in the area, hence no need for timber management professionals. Jim told those in charge of the relocation that he could not transfer unless they provided a job for his wife in the company office, as well. We were a package deal. So, because they needed Jim’s computer ability and management experience, I soon found myself behind a desk in a nice office, learning how all the field data that I used to spend my days collecting fit into the company’s forestry computer models. While it was nothing I’d ever done before, the work was interesting and good experience for whatever would come next for me in my career.

In the middle of our four-year stay in Dallas, Jim switched jobs and went to work for another paper company in the area. Soon came the news that he was again to be transferred, this time to Ohio. Once again he instituted the “package deal” concept in his employment negotiations, insisting that a job would have to be provided for his wife, as well, before he could agree to relocate. Amazingly, the company complied and I soon found myself employed as a computer programmer of forestry systems.

Gratified as I was by my new employer’s generosity, there was yet one huge problem in this scenario, that being my complete lack of training in computer science! My once programming class in college was little help as it wasn’t even a computer language the company was using. It was one thing to plug numbers into a computer model that was already written, as I did in Dallas, and another thing entirely to write the computer program behind the model. I felt absolutely lost at sea and managed to keep the job only with the help of a crash course in programming, fervent prayer, and a total reliance on God to supply the wisdom I lacked. Again and again He came through for me until I was eventually laid off when the economy forced widespread cutbacks in the paper industry.

Lately the enemy’s been reminding me of the days when I was part of a package deal in Jim’s job situations, highlighting the fact that I brought little to lay on the table myself in those scenarios, and was hired only so that the companies involved could acquire my husband’s computer expertise. What the devil mocks in my job situations he likewise scorns in my ministry efforts for the Lord, whispering that I only have the opportunities to serve that I do because I’m a “package deal” with my more spiritually effective husband.

I’m not alone in receiving his accusations. In recent years I’ve met many spouses in ministry teams who, while never verbalizing their thoughts, have believed him when he’s intimated that they hold the positions they do solely on the basis of who they are yoked to in marriage. We feel unqualified, unappreciated, and , worse yet, unnecessary to the work of the Lord.

And we couldn’t be more wrong. God wonders why we listen to such lies, when He’s written in His Word repeatedly that we all have received a measure of faith, (Romans 12:3), that we all have gifts and callings (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:7), and that in the latter days He will pour His spirit out on all flesh (Joel 2:28). Each of us has a work that we were specifically created and anointed to do, and God will hold us personally accountable if we allow the devil’s lies to keep us inactive and unfruitful.

Getting what you need on the basis of somebody else’s qualifications is not always a bad thing. Just as I found myself without the resources I needed to accomplish the programming tasks I was assigned, I’m even more unqualified to work my way into Heaven. I simply haven’t got the sinless life and absolute purity that God requires in His Word. Once again the solution to my predicament is found in prayer. Jesus comes alongside me in response to my request for help and provides what I cannot - a perfect sacrifice in payment for my sins. And He makes me a promise… that someday when we stand together at Heaven’s Gate, the door will be opened and a welcome provided… only because He smiles with His arm around me and proclaims, “We’re a package deal.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8,9 NKJV)
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