“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18
Reading the Bible you become aware of what appears to be conflicting thoughts concerning fear. There is the oft stated command to fear God compared to the verse above to cast out fear through perfect love. This apparent contradictory counsel is found throughout the Bible, but is reconciled by the contexts in which the word “fear is found and by understanding what God is asking of you when he tells you to fear Him. If you do not know the meaning of this kind of fear you may not know God at all. The very first thing we hear about that remarkable man Job when he is first introduced to us is, “he feared God and shunned evil. This is the primary mark of his godly character: to fear God and depart from evil. Yet God has made us with the emotion of fear within; to fear death, to fear danger, to fear evil, and to fear those who perpetrate evil. C.S. Lewis writes, “The act of cowardice is all that matters; the emotion of fear is, in itself, no sin (The Screwtape Letters).
There is so much in this world to produce fear in you. There are Christians throughout the world who fear death for themselves, but especially for their own children in the most evil and gruesome ways. Today we have brothers and sisters in Christ who face physical death every day; an environment of horror that calls for those of us who love these brothers and sisters whom we may know, but in most cases whom we have never even met, to be in daily earnest prayer for them. The militant, besieged church on earth calls out to us for the faithful and tearful prayers of the saints for these fellow saints who are being martyred FOR THEIR FAITH!
We have recently viewed an excellent film which we highly recommend called Trade of Innocents, starring Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino, which portrays the heinous evil of sex slave trafficking which increases exponentially every year resulting in many including millions, yes millions, of young children who live in abject fear every moment of their brief, terribly abused, imprisoned lives. Beheadings, massacres, torture, rape, pillaging, inflamed riots, murderous gun wielders; all produce fear in the hearts of all who do not trivialize the taking of human lives as do other human devils under Satan’s control. Those who discount and ridicule the wrath of God will fearfully face it in the Judgment, unless by the Spirit of God they miraculously cry out for His mercy to transform them as He did the Apostle Paul, who, as Saul, persecuted the followers of Jesus. It is not for us, we jars of clay, to question the Potter’s plan or the way He has chosen to do His work before our eyes, though his ways are high above our ways. It is the condition of your own soul and those whom you love or He puts in your path which ought to focus your personal responsibility and utmost concern; not whether His plan is just, fair, or right in your eyes. “He is righteous altogether, the Psalmist expounds in speaking of God’s character. You either believe this or you don’t., but your belief or denial does not alter the truth of who God is.
In The World’s Last Night, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Perfect love, we know, casts out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear. Fear works in us to our benefit many times. The fear of not doing well may motivate us to excel beyond what we thought we were capable of doing. But that fear may not be needed when we reach the stage that our best possible effort comes from the ultimate motivation of doing it to the glory of God alone; not concerning ourselves with the praise or lack of praise from man.
Fear drives us to reliance on God and to a passionate and faithful prayer life when we find ourselves in dire circumstances. Fear makes us prudent, when we should not be taking risks. Fear of offense to a neighbor makes us tactful and kind. But the fear that we most desire to be cast out of us is the fear that any man can do anything to us to cause us to deny our Lord and Savior. Iraqi Christians were asked to deny Christ and swear allegiance to Allah on threat of death. Many, many of them chose death. Would you?
Martin Luther when on trial for heresy under threat of the punishment of execution concluded his defense of the true faith with these words, “Here I stand! I can do no other. His knowledge of the truth of God’s Word and his commitment to the authority of the Scriptures; that is, in other words, his absolute (perfect) love for Christ who said, “If you love me you will obey my commands; you will not only hear what I say, but you will act on it, cast out Martin Luther’s fear, and he publicly took his stand for Christ. Jesus said “If you will confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father in heaven. This is the type of perfect love, which will cast out abject fear, and at the same time bring your fear of God into full maturity.
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Before coming to the Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH) at age 18, Billy was a drug addict, an alcoholic, and was being held in jail on two counts of burglary, two DUI’s, fleeing an officer, and five other misdemeanors. Statistically, Billy’s future was a life of incarceration, addiction, unemployment, limited education, and unhealthy family patterns. Instead, almost 25 years later, Billy is now a husband, father of three, college graduate with an MBA, and an Owner/Operator of a Chick-fil-A. That is a radical change from the young man who ran away from his home at the age of 16.
When Billy ran away from home, it was because he never really felt loved by his parents. He never believed anything good about himself nor was confident that he could accomplish anything. His actions followed his beliefs. He became a high school dropout, lived on the street, and literally slept on the side of the road for four months. It seemed that if he drank enough, he could sleep anywhere. He would rather be high and hungry than sober and full. The only joy he knew came from drugs and that was okay with him. He believed this about life: in this world, you have to take what you want.
Looking in the mirror
Coming to the PAYH was a radical departure from the life he had been living of breaking into construction sites so that he could find buildings to sleep in, stealing food and living with no authority but his own. From his first morning when he woke up at 6am to run, along with new rules, expectations and strict discipline the transition was not easy. Slowly he began to change in ways he had not expected. One night, after he had been in the program for several months, Billy looked at his reflection in the gym mirror.
At the Home he had been exercising, working out, eating right and had a brand new wardrobe. Seeing himself in the mirror that night, for the first time in his life he thought, “I might go to college. He had a new sense of hope. After all, he had changed physically in ways that he had never dreamed possible. He was in the best physical shape of his life. He was off drugs and alcohol. He felt like a new man.
As he began to consider all the things the PAYH provided for him, the opportunities he had for change, growth and hope, he realized that everything the staff did with and for him was for his own good, and it was working. Instead of a lengthy jail sentence, he had learned to work, study, get in shape, act socially, and become disciplined in every aspect of his life. What he had been taught was making him better and he liked himself for the very first time. So he began to really pay attention to what the program offered him and what the staff was saying to him. He began to ask questions. Soon, he accepted Christ as his savior. On July 25, 1990, Billy graduated from the Paul Anderson Youth Home and headed off to college.
The ripple effect of change
The year and a half at the PAYH made an eternal difference in his life and others. Going from a high school dropout to a college graduate with a Master’s degree is by all definitions, a radical change. Certainly the long-term financial value of rescuing one life is significant. A Vanderbilt study places the value of rescuing a youth like Billy between $3.1 and $5.2 million dollars. While that number is staggering, it doesn’t compare to the real impact that one changed life can have on others. Billy is a sterling example of this truth. For all those who Billy knows and loves, they understand his real value far more than any number can adequately measure. While working at Chick-fil-A in Boston, he met and eventually married Christine. They have been married since 2002 and together they have three beautiful children; Aron, Roby, and Paige. As a father, Billy intentionally raises his children to know they are loved. He works to maintain a feeling of safety and confidence in his home so that his wife and children never have to experience the insecurity he felt growing up. His life is motivated by love.
Those he leads at work see the same motivation in his actions. As an Owner/Operator for Chick-fil-A, at any given time, he has around seventy employees working for him. It only takes a few brief moments with his team members to realize Billy is an exceptional man. More than just a boss, Billy knows and cares about his employees. More than fifteen years after he began managing employees in Boston, many of those he hired, only sixteen or seventeen years old at the time, still keep in touch with Billy. They still call him the greatest boss ever. Recently, when he moved to a new store, many of his employees from his old store followed him. To them, he is much more than just a boss. He is a father figure and a friend, someone they depend on for advice. Someone they trust to care. Those Chick-fil-A team members have families. Some who have wives, husbands, and children regard Billy as being a part of their family. All of them are impacted by his generous spirit.
It is seeing Billy through their eyes that gives you an idea of just how significant his impact is on others. When you begin to look at the ripple effect that took place in Billy’s life, both within his home and those with he works, you truly get a sense of the immeasurable value of one redeemed life. After having received so much through the kindness of others, Billy knows no other way to live his life than in service. To Billy, caring for people is the ultimate expression of that service and how he lives his life. Billy epitomizes what the PAYH desires for all our young men: that they would be assets to society rather than liabilities. Givers rather than takers. What Billy has learned from his experiences is something he himself feels fortunate to have learned when he did; that it is far better to give than to receive. Change starts with one! One that did not become a statistic, but a husband, father, employer, friend, and mentor.
Together, we can create more opportunities for change for young men like Billy. Make a contribution today that will provide another young man with the opportunity to change his story.
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Joy In Toil
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24
Last week a man celebrated his 101st birthday at where else? His job, where he has worked for 73 years. Obviously, he found joy in his toil. You wonder if caring for and tending the Garden of Eden was hard work for Adam and Eve. Were there thorns and thistles and weeds before sin entered the world? Or did those noxious elements in the Creation only come with the world’s fall into sin? I rather imagine that there was work and toil before sin brought a change over everything in the Creation; but the stench and result of sin made work drudgery; a wearisome, toxic labor. Before sin hard work and toil was actually a meaningful joy even if many do not believe it, thinking work is never good. Was tent-making for Paul a burden or a joy? It was definitely hard work, but he did it to not be a burden to others, to support his and others’ ministry, and to help neighbors. The young men at the PAYH do not do backflips of excitement over the prospect of toiling on the campus in the hot sun and humidity of a Southeast Georgia summer with gnats buzzing around their face and sweat rolling down their bodies.
The word ‘toil’ in the Scriptures when you see its use in context appears to always refer to arduous work which is a heavy, unlikable burden. Wise Solomon perusing the meaning of life and of work in the manner all men do asks the same question most ask, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? He goes on to give the usual outcome of such thought, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
When reviewing my life I remember the hard work and sometimes boredom of jobs which easily dredge up for me the experience and knowledge of toil and monotonous, sheer laborious work. As early as Junior High School I worked construction jobs all the way through college to buy clothes, help my parents, and pay for school. Oh, I remember to this day digging in a pit of sucking-clay in the rain for a week on one job all by myself, and then on to something similar the next week; or, jack-hammering concrete because someone had not followed the blueprints and poured concrete with steel re-bar in the wrong place; or shoveling out of its wood forms wet-beginning-to-set concrete for hours because the forms bent slightly on a huge entry stairway of a school, and my employer was a man of integrity and had a standard of pleasing the Lord. And after finally gaining a college degree which you think might provide opportunities other than unskilled labor jobs, I slogged through the jungles of Vietnam day after day for a year with all the miserable discomfort of its environment and the constant anxiety of wondering when the next bullets would scream at you or a sudden explosion would blow yours or someone’s leg off. Toil is not absent from most of our lives, ever.
Yet the antidote for the pall of sin over toil and work, whatever it is, is stated clearly above, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. To do whatever we do, even those things others consider menial, we are to do it, and actually can do it, with excellence and genuine joy. Impossible? Foolish? Fantasy? Not so, according to the One who personally designed and made you. The essence of faith is recognizing you are not alone in your work, or just a mere lackey among a bunch of other lackeys pursuing meaninglessness in whatever you are doing at the moment, dreaming about the weekend and having “fun, whatever “fun means, and doing it all over again the next week, ad nauseum. Faith is believing He, your God and Savior, really is, and that He rewards you as you earnestly seek Him. It is believing He is present with you in your work, setting the standard for how to do it, and providing joy in that work and its outcome.
Work is never meaningless when it is done for the Lord, thanking Him for your life and purpose for living, recognizing that an inheritance awaits you by His promise; a promise which is as certain as the new heavens and new earth. And your inheritance is not just way off in the distant future; it is immediate, in the joy and comfort and support of His presence in what you do today. Faith changes your entire outlook and perception. Where misery reigns faith is lacking. Where joy is present, even in sorrow, faith is at work. Faith isn’t an illusion; it’s not a meaningless, fictional crutch existing only in the complexity of your mind; faith is a reality rooted in a promise which God backs with the proof of Himself throughout the centuries of human history, and in His specific intent of love for you in sending Christ His Son, in history, to accomplish what you and I cannot.
There is a noxious lethargy in much of our society today because work is hated and despised and avoided. For others who nevertheless still do it, work is monotonous misery to be endured, not enjoyed. Employers are under constant criticism; the pay is never enough; retirement, if it is to be, cannot come quickly enough; coming back to work from vacation is a burden; living life on the largess of the government or others and eschewing work never satisfies the longings of the human soul. It is but an existence without meaning or reward. We were made to be employed in work with a purpose to please God in whatever we do; finding joy in the most menial of tasks, because we do it unto the Lord, and not ourselves or other men. Sounds revolutionary or even gibberish, but it is basic to the makeup of the human soul. Joy in toil is the test of faith. It is a treasure to secure and put to use, with thanks to the One who calls you to work.
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Why Did I Choose This?
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish…to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. (Jean de La Fontaine, French Poet, 1621-1695) One wonders if La Fontaine was not partially inspired to write this by his acquaintance with the story of Jonah. When you look back at what transpired in your own experience with a decision you made or a road you took to avoid something or someone, what is it you have discovered as a result? A few have chosen to change their travel plans at the last moment and the plane they were scheduled to fly on crashed. Some have raced to catch the plane which then crashed. Others chose to do something else to avoid what they know they ought to have done or were encouraged to do and the alternately chosen route set their life’s course.
At the PAYH we often have considered what brought a young man to our campus other than the fact that we know God in His providence brought him to us. The young man chose to do something or not do something, he chose one path against another, with no intent whatsoever to come to a place like the PAYH in Vidalia, Georgia; yet this is where he ends up. It is always our hope, and it has so often been the case that his sojourn with us enormously impacts his destiny. This truth came freshly home to us with our just concluded 600 mile annual Bicycling Challenge in which not only current young men rode, but alumni, and parents of both. We saw firsthand the life changing influence their time at the PAYH had made on their lives and the life of their entire family; a road they had neither foreseen nor chosen for themselves just a few years ago.
It is always true that God knows the path we take, but we often do not even know ourselves which road we are going to choose until the last moment. The deciding factors, in our own minds, are not always honorable, or courageous, or wise; but the result determines your destiny; a destiny which may be good or bad, successful or ruinous. Mercifully, God’s grace can turn vinegar into wine, filthy rags into gold, and the precipice of destruction into a bridge to victory. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9) It is because of Him that no one must despair of the wrong road taken, because He is able to make the crooked ways straight. All the money in the world, and all the worldly success, do not equal satisfaction, or determine a desirable destiny; Robin Williams’ bitter despair manifests such truth.
So even if you have taken a path out of avoidance, even if your appetite for sin has selected your road, it need not determine the fullness of your destiny. God always provides a turning point. No road is so saturated with quicksand that the Rock cannot become a foundation step to climb out of the pit of despair. “He took my feet from the miry pit and set me on a rock. Jonah met his destiny on a ship tossed wildly by a fierce storm, and in the way which God insured his presence in Nineveh. Is God the determining factor in your present path? If so, He is your destiny no matter what you have initially chosen. Your plans may have been such and such at one time with no acknowledgment of His presence, but now your steps are determined by Him. It is a good and glad thing to acknowledge and know. To not know it is to despair and find no pleasure in your life and vocation. But to know that He consumes your life’s path is glory.
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Back To The "Normal"
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18
Summer is waning away. The almost exquisite vacation is in the past. The 600 mile bike ride is completed. Your escape from “normal life, whatever it was, is in the rear view mirror. Now back to what makes up your “normal, which just might be best described by St. Paul in the verses above. Much of life is like this for many of us; an oasis from the storm alleviates for a little while the press of the “normal. A respite is a welcome change from getting up early for work, preparing children for school, cleaning house, washing clothes, paying bills, cooking meals, dealing with the myriad problems of everyday living and its work. For most “normal is not a perpetual vacation. We expend rigorous preparation, pain, sweat, and tears, for a big challenge, a taxing event, which has galvanized our anticipation for days and months, creating anxiety about how we would perform; and then the event is past, and even the exhilaration of accomplishment fades quickly as “normal returns.
This is the challenge of life, it is the God designed test of faith; this is where God intends for you to learn what it means to fix your eyes, not on what is seen, but on the unseen; to live always with eternity in your eyes. It is a most difficult task; in fact, it’s simply and bluntly an impossible task! You cannot do this by yourself. The respite, the break, the oasis, the change of pace is an “un-normal, mostly brief encouragement to get back to the test of “normal life, to the discovery of the mettle of your faith, the formation of your Christian character. Many never get there. Their life continues to be drudgery; never fulfilling, it simply doesn’t satisfy; and life wastes away as the years slip by. As the man of great wisdom, Solomon, recounts for us: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’. Ecclesiastes 12:1
In truth, return to the “normal ought to be a great thrill in returning to pursuing with renewed vigor what God has prepared for you to do with your life; to refresh your calling; to be faced with the challenges of overcoming each and every test of faith which presents itself in your “normal. The oasis, the rigorous challenge of an event, the idyllic vacation, is not your “be all and end all; your life vocation is, your calling by God in life, your being victorious and joyful in the “normal; whether you be wife, husband, mother, father, businessman, laborer, pastor, boss, employee, student, son, daughter, or in preparation to be what God is calling you to be and do with your life; you only get one this side of Jordan.
“Normal makes up the crucible in which you are intended to find joy in your work, fixing your eyes on the unseen, always acknowledging that “your light and momentary troubles are achieving for you an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. If you do not see that, there will be no joy in your “normal. If your eyes of faith can grasp the truth, your “normal will become a creation of joy!
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