David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Fear”

Fear Not! (2014-10-03 Daily) [1 of 2]

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.”

—Victor Hugo

 

January 1985. I drove north on Interstate 81 through Cortland, New York under a brilliant blue, cloudless sky. Outside the temperature hovered near 5 degrees, but inside my mom’s 1976 Chevy Impala I sat toasty-warm, bundled in my heavy winter jacket with the heater blasting. No passengers accompanied me except my thoughts as I transitioned from the frost-covered rolling hills of New York’s Southern Tier into the windswept plains of the Tug Hill Plateau. Syracuse lay 35 miles in front of me. From there my route took me past the east shore of Lake Ontario where I’d catch U.S. 11 in Watertown on my way back to Potsdam and another semester at Clarkson University.

My thoughts weighed as much as the car’s cram-packed trunk. Only a week out of the hospital, my stomach muscles, not yet recovered from major surgery, ached from the exertion to sit upright. Despite my parents’ efforts to convince me to take the semester off, I had made the decision to press forward and return to college to keep my education—and my graduation date—on track.

Instead of upending me, the tribulations I’d experienced over the past month had done just the opposite: they’d shifted my way of thinking away from fear and shyness to one of fierce resolve and determination. Despite the pain and memories, I was unstoppable. A bleeding ulcer had almost killed me when it perforated an artery. A after that, anger and extreme frustration spun into a fury which I took out on a plate glass window. I’d added insult to injury. Literally.

The broken glass won, almost severing the tendon in my right elbow and putting me in the hospital yet again. A week later, surgeons sliced open my abdomen, removed my duodenum, took out the lower third of my stomach, and permanently severed my vagus nerve in an effort to prevent a future bleed out caused by another ulcer. The enemy had struck a severe physical blow in an effort to kill me. But what he killed was my fear. His plan had backfired.

As I continued north on Interstate 81, the Syracuse skyline came into view. The sun still shone brightly and the roads were still dry, but beyond the city a gray wall of clouds spread across the horizon from west to east like a giant fog bank. Above the line of clouds I could still see bright blue sky; below, the cloud bank obliterated the horizon. More fascinated than alarmed, I drove into it. Instantly, it began to snow. Visibility dropped to mere feet as the heavy snow, driven by the engine of a lake effect blizzard, pounded my car relentlessly.  I snapped on the windshield wipers. As I drove further, I dialed them up to full throttle. The wipers couldn’t scrape the snow away fast enough despite their spastic flailing, and soon I couldn’t see the end of my hood. A foot of snow spread across the highway and I struggled to keep the Chevy’s tires in the ruts formed by the cars in front of me.  As the visibility deteriorated, I learned first-hand what the term “white out conditions” meant; I was driving through it.

At one point I spied a state trooper standing next to his patrol car on the right shoulder, attempting to clear his back window with an ice scraper. His car had slid off the interstate and had plowed into the mountain range of snow accumulating along the berm. The officer shrugged, helpless, as I drove by. That’s when the first electric twinge of fear hit my gut. If a cop had crashed, how could I do any better traveling on this snow-clogged highway?

Leaning forward against the steering wheel and peering through the struggling windshield wipers, I tried to figure out where the berm ended and the interstate began. The driving blizzard erased the lines and blurred my path. As I squinted and focused on keeping my tires in the ruts, the car ahead of me suddenly plunged off the side of the highway to the left, falling sideways down a shallow embankment and erupting in an explosion of white. The car disappeared completely. As I rolled along, I saw the passenger door, covered in at least four inches of snow, crack open as the people attempted to escape from their vehicle now entombed in a frozen grave.

My first thought was to pull over and render aid, but my survival instinct kicked in, revving my heart and wrenching my gut even tighter. Witnessing the disabled state trooper and the sudden crash of the car in front of me drove home the very real fact that I was now in danger of becoming stranded in the middle of a lake effect blizzard. I’d brought along some food, but I realized I could very well die out here on the interstate turned frozen tundra. I pressed on nonetheless, white knuckled now, doing all I could to remain calm in the worsening situation.

Ahead of me two circles of dim red appeared. Another car! I crept up to the back end of the vehicle until the two tail lights shone through the blizzard, beacons of hope in an otherwise bleak situation. As I drew closer I recognized the car I now followed was a four-wheel-drive Jeep. I focused on the two moving circles of light leading me through the storm as the snow on the road became so deep it began scraping the undercarriage of my car with a loud growl. Fear would not relinquish its hold on me as visions of becoming stranded in the blizzard with the temperature hovering just above zero bombarded my thinking. But somehow I knew I would be okay. Somehow, deep in my twisted gut, I believed I would emerge from this latest tribulation intact. I continued on.

After thirty miles of constant apprehension, the snow tapered a bit, to where I could actually see the car ahead of me. The left and right berms became clearer and I relaxed a little as I realized I’d actually make it to the other side of the storm. Suddenly I popped out of the blizzard, emerging from the pelting snow in the blink of an eye, into the storm’s hazy, swirling fringe. After another mile, bright sunshine again poured down on me. There was no snow on the ground. The roads were absolutely dry. A man standing on a bridge spanning the interstate waved his welcome, as if I’d just driven through a time warp into another era. Behind me the massive gray storm wall rose above the horizon, but ahead of me it was nothing but blue skies and sunlight. I’d made it.

Two hours later I arrived at the off-campus farmhouse on the outskirts of Potsdam and began to unload the car. “Why are you here?” one of my college roommates asked as he met me at the front door to help me unpack.

“What do you mean?” I said, confused.

“They closed Route 81 due to a lake effect blizzard.  It’s already dumped three feet of snow.”

“It wasn’t closed when I got on it,” I answered. But it should have been. I knew I’d been extremely lucky to have made it those arduous and nerve-wracking thirty miles. Now I know I was blessed.

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 5: Joy in Fearing the Lord [1 of 3]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

                      –Proverbs 1:7 NIV

 

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I looked forward to Saturdays, not only for the Saturday morning cartoons, but for the Saturday afternoon monster movie matinees.  Yes, my siblings and I would sit for hours glued to the TV on any given Saturday, especially when the upstate New York weather put the kibosh on romping around in four-foot-deep snow drifts, or hiking through the woods because it was pouring down rain.

I loved those old black-and-white movies like The Crawling Eye, The Blob, Them, King Kong, The Monolith Monsters, and all the Godzilla movies.  The theme of monsters being created by radiation rang loud and clear back then, as the nation slogged through the Cold War, and the fear of nuclear annihilation hung like a pall of neutrons over our heads.  We even practiced air raid drills in elementary school.  But my favorite movie at the time had nothing to do with being vaporized by an H-bomb, but being scared to death by the ghostly skeleton of a woman dressed in a white wedding gown. I remember watching the 1958 classic, The Screaming Skull, at my friend Kevin’s house one Saturday afternoon after a sleepover in their big, creepy two-story house in the woods, complete with a graveyard hidden deep in the shadows of the backyard copse.

So on that fateful day, when the ghost of Marion, the murdered wife, appeared in snowy black-and-white on Kevin’s television, I hid behind the sofa in utter fear until he somehow coaxed me out and convinced me to watch the rest of the flick with him. After recently renting The Screaming Skull through Netflix, and inviting Mary to watch it with me, I now know how campy, stupid, and poorly-acted that movie really was, but back then, to such a young and impressionable pre-adolescent mind, it scared the bejeezus out of me!  That, to me, was the definition of fear–plain, simple, and all-too-real.  I don’t remember spending very many more nights at Kevin’s house after that.

Thus my initial confusion when I first started reading the Bible and came across the phrase “fear of the Lord.”  Fear of the Lord?  Really?  I mean, I feared screaming skulls, being in the woods at night, driving in a blizzard, the crawl space in the basement, going to confession, talking to a girl, reading out loud in class, and getting a B in a third-year engineering class, but fear of the Lord?  I thought God was supposed to love me, protect me, and wrap me in peace, provision, and security; why should I be afraid of Him?  It wasn’t until recently that the true meaning of the term “fear of the Lord” came into the light–it was an “ah ha” moment which brought into focus my theological understanding of fear.

The Hebrew word for the noun “fear” in this context is yir’âh, which can mean both fear or terror and reverence or respect, depending on the context.  In Isaiah 11:1-3a (NIV), one of Isaiah’s prophecies about the birth and ministry of the Messiah includes the noun yir’âh as one of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit:

 

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him–

    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

    the Spirit of counsel and of might,

    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—

and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

 

This Old Testament passage is the source of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (the “Spirit of the Lord”), of which the gift of “fear of the Lord” is stated, then reiterated as something to be delighted in–to take joy in!

Likewise, in the New Testament, the Greek word for the verb “to fear” is phŏbĕō, which also has a multi-faceted meaning: to fear, to frighten, or to be afraid and to reverence or to venerate.  And the Greek word for the noun “fear” is phŏbŏs, meaning fear or terror and (interestingly) reverence for one’s husband.  In his first epistle, the apostle John wrote:

 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

–1 John 4:18 (NIV)

 

Because the fear John is writing about here is phŏbŏs, i.e., terror, this kind of fear cannot stand up to God, the Source of perfect love and perfect security; on the contrary, since perfect love drives out phŏbŏs, fear of just punishment is replaced by awe, wonder, reverence, and respect.  This reverential joy, this fear inspired by redemption and fullness of relationship with God is the kind of fear He desires from His adopted sons and daughters.  “Serve the LORD with fear,” the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 2:11, “and rejoice before him; with trembling pay homage to him.” (Psalm 2:11a NASB).

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

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