Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Fear of Man

“Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43)

About three years ago, I had unfriended someone on my Facebook page because, at the time, I had felt that their posts were a little rough around the edges, so to speak, and I wanted to maintain a proper “ministerial” profile. The problem however, was that I knew God was working in and through this person, though their ministry style seemed a little unorthodox and unconventional to me at the time. I knew, deep down in my heart, that to unfriend them would be wrong, but I did it anyway in order to stay in good with the “brothers.” I didn’t fully realize my motives at that point, for I had deceived myself into thinking what I was doing was right.
Several weeks later, I began to notice that something was not “right.” My anointing was not operating like I was used to, and I couldn’t write as fluently, preach or teach, and all around basically felt as though God had left me. This went on for a period of time, and then I sought the Lord in prayer and fasting. He answered me, and told me what the problem was. I contacted this person and made it right, and they have since turned out to be a great blessing in my life, helping me learn to have a different perspective on some things and to get rid of certain preconceived religious thinking.

When Saul of Tarsus was on a murderous rampage and headed to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him in such a way that Saul understood precisely who He was and what He wanted (Acts 9:4). After knocking him off of his horse, He made an amazing statement… “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Jesus wasn’t asking him “Why do you persecute my people?” He asked, “Why do you persecute ME?” He took it personally. What Saul was doing to God’s people, he was doing directly to Jesus.
Jesus also revealed this principle in dealing with sheep and goats at the end of the age. To the goats He said, “I was a hungered and you gave me no drink... In prison and you visited me not…” And so forth, but then He told them, “When you did it not unto the least of these, you did it not unto me…” (Matthew 25:41-45). Many are trying to please those whom through which they can get advantage, those in prominent positions, while those who seem insignificant are cast aside. Jesus was in their midst but they recognized Him not, and many who did recognize Him were ashamed of Him, as they are today.

Back in Jesus’ day, many of the chief rulers in the synagogues believed in Him, but yet they wouldn’t confess Him because of the Pharisees. They were afraid that they were going to get booted out of the church. Their heart was telling them one thing, and the fear of man another. The same thing is happening today. We can have knowledge of what God is doing in a person’s life, but reject them and cast them aside because we are afraid of what church leaders or other congregation members may think.
People may think, “Well, God understands…” No, He doesn’t understand. The fear of man brings a snare, whether it’s fear of persecution, or simply wanting someone’s approval, it still brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25). A snare, by nature, is something that entraps and ensnares, and results in destruction and bondage.

Pontius Pilate knew that there was more to Jesus than what the Pharisees were leading him to believe, and he feared. In fact, his wife even had a dream, warning him to have nothing to do with Jesus (Matthew 27:19), and then Pilate sought all the more to release Him. However, the people shouted, “If you let this man go you are not Caesar’s friend” (John 19:12-13). When Pilate heard these words, he turned Jesus over to be crucified. Pilate had the authority to let Jesus go, but he valued Caesar’s approval more than he did God’s. He was more afraid of Caesar than He was of God. Pilate thought that by symbolically washing his hands of the matter that he could absolve himself of the responsibility. He thought that he could have the approval of men and at the same time, appease God with a religious act. There is no more mention of Pilate in the Bible after this, but tradition reports that he later died a horrible, tragic, and painful death.
The people who were standing on Jesus’ left hand at the end of the age were surprised that they had missed Him (Matthew 25:44). They thought that they knew Jesus, and maybe they had served in church, done many good deeds, and obeyed their leaders, but they didn’t recognize Jesus. They didn’t recognize him working in their midst. Many believe that having gifts of the Spirit manifest in their churches is recognizing Jesus, but this is not the totality of it (Matthew 7:21). These are gifts. Recognizing Jesus is having His heart, and recognizing His workings in His people. It’s what you value. Do you value what Jesus values? Is it the lost soul, or is it the favor of the religious, political order? Is it the brokenhearted and the captive, or the next promotion or preaching engagement? Do you have time for the evangelist or prophet that flies in on the private jet, but yet you simply endure the single mother who comes in with all her “baggage?” What do you value? What is your passion and pursuit?

Proverbs 17:23 says, “A wicked man takes a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment. Of course a financial gift (bribe) blinds even a wise man (Exodus 23:8), but a gift can be anything. It doesn’t have to be money (depending on what’s in the heart). Many times it’s the praise and acceptance of men. Balak approached Balaam and offered him riches and honor, but God told him not to go with him. When Balak’s servants returned with a better offer, Balaam went back to God and asked Him Again! Can you imagine? Balaam was blinded (as if God’s going to change His mind for more money and favor). God then allowed Balaam to pursue the idolatry that He was determined to pursue, and He told Him… “GO!”

Judas was blinded by the love of money, and just like Pilate, he deceived himself into believing that he could have it both ways. He thought that he could betray Jesus, and that Jesus would just walk through the crowd of soldiers (or otherwise get away). Judas would be left holding the loot, and still have Jesus for another day (kind of like Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”). But when it didn’t turn out that way, he came to his senses but it was too late (Matthew 27:3-5). Satan knows what will make us stumble, and he will target his attacks accordingly. For example, Jesus told Peter, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times…” Peter adamantly denied, “No way Lord, it’s not going to happen!” But Peter had something on the inside of Him. Jesus knew it, and the devil knew it. It was pride, and self-confidence. Peter had good intentions, but his confidence was in his own strength and ability, and not in the Lord’s. When he came under pressure, he fell. With a love for man’s acceptance or approval in the heart, a person will transgress for as much as a simple compliment (Proverbs 28:21). This is the reason why many young women date and marry wrong guys. The guy knows what to say, and because there’s a craving in the heart for a man’s approval, she’ll throw away her honor and, many times, her whole life, just for a period of perceived acceptance. When we have this in our heart, though it may not be willful, it becomes a form of idolatry, and a snare.
Several years ago, while working for a different company, I delivered a load that I couldn’t do legally in order to appease my boss. I had been “stretching” my log hours, and the Holy Spirit had been convicting me for it. I was doing it because I thought that it was necessary in order to keep my job and my boss happy. After I told him that I couldn’t do it, my boss said, “Find a way!” My inward thought was that “God will understand…” I knew that it was wrong, yet I did it anyway.

God did NOT “understand,” and after I got to Dallas, and thought that my boss would be happy, he was not. He was angry at me for something else. Then I went through two months of hell. Over the next week and a half I received THREE overweight tickets at scales. To put this in perspective, I have only received one overweight ticket in addition to these in over six years of driving over the road. I received three over that two-week period and the fines were substantial. The Lord told me “This is your ticket for cheating on your logs!” He was merciful, because in the end, I only had to pay one of them. Even though I had done something illegal, what deeply offended God was the fact that I had chosen to honor man’s word above His. It became personal.
A month or so after all of this, the opportunity arose again. My boss again asked me to run an illegal load. This time I said no way, and absolutely refused to do it. They made me park my truck at a truck stop, and sent another driver to pick up the trailer, who would run the load. I thought that would be the end of my job, but when I got back to the shop, they were all real happy, treated me like a king, and gave me the best load that I had been given in a long time! I was shocked and perplexed. The Lord said to me, “Favor comes only from me.” God set me free, and this is how He did it. He asked me this question, Who are you going to be more afraid of… ME or them?” (Luke 12:5)

We cannot live to please men and God. We must make a choice. Saul made a choice that day on the road to Damascus, and though he sure didn’t like being blind for several days, in the end, he definitely knew who Jesus was. He would no longer be called Saul, but rather the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest men who would ever walk the earth.