Typically I drive around town without thinking too much about my speed. I follow the rhythms of traffic and obey the natural laws of the road (curves, hills, obstacles, terrain) that govern how fast I can safely travel. But occasionally, I’ll pass a police officer and glance down to see that my instinctive speed-o-meter is in direct violation of the signpost law. I’m surprised how reliably this triggers an adrenaline release–heart races, stomach turns, fingers and toes go numb, breath shortens, antiperspirant fails. I’m actually experiencing this physiological response right now, just by thinking about it. Weird.
Our so-called “fight or flight” adrenaline response is known to have best-served its purpose when man lived in more primitive conditions, often requiring a boost of survival strength to fight or flee from a foe. In our modern world, the same response shows up most often when dealing with stressful situations–financial concerns, relational struggles, public speaking, rush-hour traffic. Our battles may not seem as deadly as an encounter with a saber-toothed enemy, but make no mistake… we do have an enemy. Only the battleground has changed. Some of the most difficult battles we face today take place in our minds, which doesn’t make them any less real. We make fight or flight decisions every day. Will we stay stuck in survival mode, focusing on fear rather than Christ’s love? Or will we suit-up and use the armor God provides? Will we fight to the victory? Flee temptation? (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Corinthians 6:18)
To enjoy abundant life, we must move beyond a state of adrenaline-soaked, mini-crisis to mini-crisis living and accept the relief only Christ can offer.
In the LORD I put my trust; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain”? – Psalm 11:1
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7
Don’t Read This!
You rebel you… you’re reading even though I told you not to! Some of us seem hard-wired to follow rules and others seem bent in doing the opposite. Neither extreme will serve us well.
The would-be run-in with the law I relayed yesterday highlights several things. Today, let’s look at discernment. Following an internal speedometer may serve just fine, but because everyone’s internal guides may not be safe and sane, to ensure safety of the masses we have external laws in place.
Spiritually, grace and law operate much the same way. God’s law is external and was needed until Christ gave us grace and an internal guide–the Holy Spirit. We can still look to His external laws and the bible for guidance, but even these are best interpreted through the eyes and heart of God, through tuning in to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus often shocked people with his “rebellious” ways. He walked with the Father, which doesn’t look like black and white rule-following, but colorful, vibrant, obedient living that brings glory to God.
They (the Pharisees) came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him. – Mark 12:14
Your Thoughts Betray You
Darth Vadar told Luke Skywalker he’d given away valuable information: “Your thoughts betray you.” Although it’s a subject of some debate, most bible scholars do not believe that the devil can read our thoughts… that is a privilege reserved for our omnipresent and omniscient God. But many believe he is a master at studying us and can suggest thoughts that we take as our own. Mysteries of the spiritual realm aside, our thought-life is where much of the battle action happens.
We don’t have control over our emotions or any adrenaline responses triggered by stress. But it’s up to us to decide what we do with our thoughts and emotions. First, it helps to remember that our thoughts can betray us. Was I in any real danger in just passing a policeman? Nope, but my body responded as if I was. Now that was an easy one… I was able to let it pass quickly as my rational mind rejected the emotions I was experiencing.
There are other times when it isn’t quite so easy. When grief, anger, fear, resentment and other powerful emotions rule the roost, we need to send in reinforcements: bullets of biblical truth deftly aimed by our trusty sharpshooter, the ever-victorious Jesus Christ.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Cor. 10:5
You Can’t Go Home Again
Past experiences can trigger emotional responses in the present. It makes sense that we draw from experience if we are to learn from it. What doesn’t make sense is to let past experiences drag us backward. Are there situations, environments or relationships that seem to suck you back in time and really expose your flesh? I certainly experience this. Sometimes I’m weak and fall back into old patterns… even the negative ones somehow feel comfortable like an old pair of shoes, molded just for my feet.
But then I remember… “Wait. That’s not who I am.” We are new creations in Christ. Whether we feel like it or not. Remembering that gives new energy to my spirit and I kick off those old sandals and put on my warrior gear (I happen to be a barefoot warrior, but you can choose your own new shoes–steel toe might be nice).
Every morning God gives us another chance (Lam. 3:22-23). I believe we’ll face similar battles again and again until they finally become easy for us. Little-by-little, the time gap will narrow between our patterned flesh response and remembering who we really are in Christ. And little-by-little we’ll realize not only that we can’t go “home” again, but that we don’t want to. We have a new home being prepared just for us (John 14:2), and I gotta think the view is amazing. Location, location, location.
What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. – Ecclesiastes 3:15
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. – 1 John 4:18
Fear is a confusing emotion and a confusing word, biblically speaking. We are told to fear God (Luke 12:5), but also told His perfect love expels all fear. Part of the confusion stems from the application of the word. The definition of fear includes not only panic and terror, but also respect and reverence. Certainly God might inspire all of these, and it is good to remember His awesome power and perfect holiness. It’s in recognizing His supremacy (which challenges our egos) that we truly appreciate how amazing it is that He calls us friends and wants an intimate relationship with us. If we know Him, our trembling before Him is not in terror… we have nothing to “fear” if we are His. And yet we fall down before Him in fear (respect and reverence), in awe of His goodness, His holiness.
Why does passing a police car while exceeding the speed limit cause an adrenaline release? I’m afraid of getting caught, plain and simple. I’m focusing on myself and what’s going to happen to me. Focusing on the law breeds panic. But what if punishment wasn’t an issue? Passing the car wouldn’t make me feel anxious… it would just remind me to check my speed and make sure I was being safe. I’d have nothing to fear… not even fear itself.