Expecting to Fear No Man

I’m pretty sure that it has been at least 20 years since I attended my last Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. That changed Sunday when my son bought us tickets to see the home team play the Jacksonville Jaguars. All week long, the hubbub from people who know things about football had been trumpeting the “elite” Jacksonville defense. “Sure,” they suggested. “The Chiefs have a good offense, but they haven’t been up against a unit like this one.”

By the end of the day, the Chiefs offense had scored a healthy 23 points on this elite defense (the KC defense adding another touchdown), and the Browning boys went home happy. We can be certain that the Chiefs knew very well how talented their opponents would be, but they believed in themselves, in each other, and in their leaders.

Why do I mention something as unspiritual as NFL football? Am I dealing with my feelings of guilt for playing hooky from worship? I don’t think so. Instead, I’m reminded of a simple fact about life: when we expect ourselves to fail, we usually come through and live down to that expectation.

Read Numbers 13 and consider the differing responses of the scouts sent by Moses into the Promised Land. After some vocal members of the scouting party have bragged on the place, somebody, Numbers 13:28 tells us, voices that troubling word: “however.” Yeah, the land is great; however, the people are giants. We can’t beat them.

In response to these words, up jumps Caleb: “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” What a guy, this Caleb! Wouldn’t you be inclined to follow his leadership. He heard the same things that the others heard. He saw the same walled cities and tall enemies. So why was Caleb saying “Let’s go up now” while the others were drifting toward the rear?

Clearly Caleb believed in himself. For some reason, despite what he’d heard, he believed in his fellow Israelites, but most importantly, he believed in their leaders–yes, Moses and Aaron, but their ultimate leader, God himself.

When we believe that we will be defeated by whatever faces us this week, we’ve taken the first step to failure. Rarely do we succeed when we expect to fail. On the other hand, we sometimes fail when we expect to succeed, but the odds are far stronger.

This week, I expect to face a few challenges from other people. I can shrink from them or I can assume that God will be beside me. Like Caleb, I can say, “Let’s go up now!”

Come with Confidence (Hebrews 4:16)

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Several years back, we had a changing of the guard in my department at school. John, our dean for some 10 years, retired, making way for Andy, who had been a professor since before I arrived on the scene. Although I always got along wonderfully with John, others had a hard time with the man. They found him difficult to deal with. Pretty much everyone agrees that Andy is terrific in the role.

Recently, I had to beg off of attending graduation since I had managed to book myself doing something else that evening. Penny worried about this, assuming that I’d be in deep difficulty as a result. I knew better. I walked in to Andy’s office and, confident of his response, said, “I’m going to need to skip graduation tonight. I’ll go twice next year if you like.” He smiled and nodded, reminding me to return my rented regalia so the school would receive credit.

It’s nice to be able to approach the permission-giver with confidence. It’s nice to be able to ask, even when you know the response is in question, and still be certain that you won’t come out both with a “no” and feeling a fool. It’s especially nice to be able to approach, knowing that you’ve earned the right to be given strong consideration for whatever you ask.

That’s never how it will be with God. I will never have earned any rights from God. Like Isaiah, I should be terrified at prospect of standing before my God, knowing that I’m a man of sinful lips (and hands, mind, and feet). That’s what is so great about Jesus.

Confidently, I can approach the throne of grace in the name of Jesus. That’s it. In the name of Jesus, I have standing. Without it, I’m reduced to a cinder in no time.

How often do we remind ourselves as we come to pray just how amazing it is that we can bring that petition in the name of Jesus? I’ll confess that I don’t keep that idea in the front of my consciousness. What about you?


My Pastors Sez… (Hebrews 4:14)

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (Hebrews 4:14)

When I was in high school, I knew a guy–his name escapes me now–who had a singular verbal habit. Nearly half his sentences began with “My pastor says…” We’d talk about some television show and he’d say, “My pastor says that MASH is evil.” When the topic of politics would come up, he’d spout off that “My pastor says Ronald Wilson Reagan is the Antichrist. See, he has six letters in each name. That’s 666. That’s what my pastor says.”

Okay, this guy didn’t actually say either of those things, but he did constantly tell us what his pastor said. Now I have no problem with people listening to their pastor, assuming that the pastor is a worthy source of opinion and information. If your pastor is Harold Camping or Fred Phelps or Joel Osteen, then please don’t repeat his words, but in other cases, pastors can be useful.

The problem arises when people don’t recognize that their pastors are people as well. They foul up. They substitute their own ideas for God’s ideas. They don’t know that’s what they’re doing most of the time. Sometimes, I suppose, they do it on purpose. They’re just people.

My high school friend would have sold everything he owned and walked around barefoot if his pastor said so. All too often people expect such great things from these humans only to be let down.

But then there’s the promise of Christ. His lieutenants might behave like boneheads now and again, but Jesus never does. He is the great High Priest. He’s capable of making intercessions, something my pastor, for all his great qualities, can’t touch. He’s incapable of failing, something that my pastor can manage. What a great source for confidence.